Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Couldn't they have used a little girl?

This 1903 short is the first version ever put on celluloid of the Lewis Carroll classic. Seen today, it's of great historic value, and it's amazing that it still exists, given that many silent films were lost forever. The surviving print is in a pretty bad shape, with many big white spots and missing frames, but no one should be surprised. Anyway, it's watchable enough.

The film, which, at a running time of 10 or 12 minutes in a common silent movie projector, was the longest ever produced in UK to the day (the standard being 3 or 4 minutes, and so, some distributors bought and showed just some parts of this Alice, not the full footage), is more an illustration of Carroll's book than an adaptation. That is, the director assumes you know the story, and so the movie is more like filmed drawings from the book than a filmed story. All the best-known passages are here: the White Rabbit, Alice shrinking and growing up to pass through the door (very primitive but strangely effective FX), the garden, the oversized Alice inside the Rabbit's house, the Ugly Duchess, the baby-pig, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter's tea party (with a March Hare that looks amazingly like "Frank" from Donnie Darko!), and the Queen of Hearts procession. You won't find Carroll's witty satire here (as you won't find it either in most of the posterior versions), but it's actually a cute set of vignettes and illustrations from the book... if it wasn't that the actress portraying Alice is old and ugly! Couldn't they have used a little girl?

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