Archive for Tim Burton

To Wonderland

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on February 11, 2022 by dcairns

The 1915 ALICE IN WONDERLAND escaped my notice awhile back when I was comparing different film and teevee versions of Lewis Carroll’s book/s. It’s quite nice. Primitive, but not for 1915. Director W.W. Young has only one other credit on the IMDb, as editor of a 1930 lecture-film on Darwinian evolution, but I’m sure he must have done plenty more.

The Tenniel-inspired costumes are great. You need good visuals if you’re making a silent version of a book where all the humour is verbal. The few visual bits with potential for being funny are the special effects sequences the makers of this film didn’t feel bold enough to tackle. I don’t know why not, since the principles involved had existed since Melies, and anyway, we hardly need to the fall down the rabbit hole or Alice’s growth spurts to be conventionally convincing.

This is the only version I can think of in which Father William actually appears as a character.

They do try to get a bunch of the rhymes in, but have to break them up to fit the intertitles, and they don’t break them sensibly.

The alarmingly thin Viola Savoy lived to be 87, so if she had an eating disorder, she presumably recovered. Nobody else makes much of an impression as they’re trapped inside sweltering Disneyland costumes, as in the 1933 Paramount job. As I say, for as an approach for a silent, it makes sense, though something that allowed performance nuances to come through would also be nice. Of the Banana Splits grotesques, the ones with necks are the ones that work best, even if the Dodo takes things a bit too far, with a head that wobbles alarmingly; the neckless mouse, dormouse, etc, are just kind of horrifying lumps. Lovecraftian Shoggoths. The caterpillar is like something out of Wakamatsu.

Otherwise, the most interesting feature is the prologue, far longer than Carroll’s, but without any plot, just showing Alice puttering about. The attempt is to make a Freudian ALICE, whereby the items and characters in the Wonderland dream are inspired by things she sees in her real quotidian life. It’s an interesting conceit, but while it doesn’t make Carroll’s imagery any less weird, it’s an attempt to do so. I don’t despise it as much as the Tim Burton film’s kack-handed attempt to turn the story into a typical battle-between-good-and-evil narrative, complete with Disney Princess. I think the thing to do when adapting Carroll is to be true to his odd affect, his good jokes, and treat the events as if they had a rigorous logic that must be respected, even if we aren’t allowed to understand what makes it work.

The Letters Column

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2019 by dcairns

It’s worth trawling through everything in an old films and filming, from the small ads to the letters column. My June 1962 edition, the earliest I own, has Bryan Forbes writing in to defend his anti-union picture, THE ANGRY SILENCE, and the producer — also the director — of THE MASK — that part-3D Canadian horror movie with Slavko Vorkapich dream sequences — agreeing with the poor review the magazine gave his epic ~

You will have no argument from me since I would guess from editorial opinion and articles published that I agree in the main with your point of view. I deplore the gimmich film and the spurious attempts to bring people into the theatre. I went along with the point of view that the 3D sequences might be interesting enough from a fantasy point of view to make the project worthwhile. Believe me, we did try to give some credence and feeling in the 2D sections to an absolutely shoddy story. My greatest error was perhaps in not insisting on a better story. Mea culpa. I sincerely hope that my next film will be enough to expiate my sin and something we can both be proud of for Canada’s sake and mine. JULIAN ROFFMAN, 3 Ridge Hill Drive, Toronto. Canada.

I like THE MASK, personally, but only really for the dream sequences. The 2D is only useful as a kind of wadding to separate the dreams. But I like the voice saying “Put on the mask! Put on the mask!” but really meaning “Put on your 3D glasses!” It wouldn’t be half as good if it were all in 3D. (I would like Tim Burton’s awful ALICE IN WONDERLAND at least 5% more if he’d been allowed to make the scenes in England flat, as originally planned.)

Let’s see, what did Julian Roffman make next? Well, he never directed another feature. As producer, SPY IN YOUR EYE, four years after THE MASK, starred Brett Halsey and Pier Angeli. Whether Canada would be proud is moot, since it’s an Italian production, an espionage romp in which the Russians are learning US secrets via a camera hidden in Dana Andrews’ artificial eye. Works on the same principle as Trump’s android phone, I suppose.

Then Roffman is back in Canada for EXPLOSION, then he makes THE PYX which I do kind of like, though not necessarily better than THE MASK. It has a goddamn beautiful and eerie Karen Black soundtrack (!). He finishes his feature career with THE GLOVE, so nearly all his films are about things that you wear, including Dana Andrew’s glass eye (but I’d give it a wash first). That one is about an ex-con (Rosie Grier) beating his former tormentors to death with a metal glove. John Saxon is the bounty hunter hired to bring him in, and Joanna Cassidy, Aldo Ray and Keenan Wynn also appear.

I stand by my assertion that any Rosie Grier movie in which he ISN’T wearing Ray Milland’s cranium on his shoulder ought to be titled THE THING WITH ONE HEAD. And I say that with all due respect.

Oh, before THE MASK he made The BLOODY BROOD, a killer beatnik movie with Peter Falk in a non-lead role. Come to think of it, he should have had Falk in that Dana Andrews role…

Julian Roffman’s dreams of making Canada proud lie shattered like a glass eye punched with a steel glove.

Airless in Wonderland

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2016 by dcairns


I had never even heard of this 1949 British ALICE IN WONDERLAND. I have suspicions it may have been suppressed by Disney, but maybe it was just judged not entertaining enough. But if so, how to explain the 1972 ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, possibly the least entertaining thing since the Aberfan disaster, which got tons of airplay in my dim youth?

This one has wonderfully smooth stop-motion animation — their ways of integrating the live-action Carol Marsh (of BRIGHTON ROCK fame) are simple, but adequate. Split-screen predominates rather than matte shots or rear projection. Lou Bunin, whom I had never heard of, was in charge of animation. A Russian-born American and former apprentice to Diego Rivera…


Unfortunately the script pursues some pointless conceit of Lewis Carroll’s characters all having real-life analogues. This extends the framing structure endlessly, a real problem since the movie also reproduces all of Alice’s to gain access to the garden of Wonderland — I’ve never seen the caucus-race presented on-screen before, and now that I have I understand why it’s usually cut.

Pamela Brown plays Queen Victoria and voices the Queen of Hearts. A couple of other popular actors do voice-only duty: Peter Bull (unspecified role/s) and Joyce Grenfell (Duchess AND Dormouse). There’s a preponderance of French crew, including Claude Renoir as co-cinematographer.

It’s curiously unaffecting, maybe because the material is so familiar and the film does nothing very effective to re-energize it. There’s an arch style of playing which nearly everybody adopts when doing Carroll (which is why Ian Holm’s White Knight is so startling), and you then need either magnificently odd production design or some other means of refreshing it. Here, the smoothness of the animation is coldly admirable but the designs and characterisations aren’t uniformly beautiful or charming, though there’s some nice use of Regency stripe and some of the flattened stylisation is pleasing in its approach to Yves Tanguy.



Worse, it isn’t funny. Disney’s version is criticised for Americanizing the characters but it does have a certain slapstick energy. When I saw it as a kid, on a double-feature with CANDLEWICK, it made me feel stoned, before I knew what that was. It’s interesting that Disney couldn’t completely Disneyficate this unconducive material. One reason I hated the Tim Burton version more than I hate my own body is that it mutilates and malforms Carroll’s nonsense into a bogus “empowering” Disney princess tale. There aren’t enough thunderbolts in heaven to punish anyone who (a) thinks that’s a good idea (b) attempts to do it (c) breaks box office records by doing so. The only good thing is that schoolchildren drawn to the book by the Burton monstrosity are due to have their minds blown all over the nursery walls by the unexpected psychedelic hilarity.