Monday, March 24, 2014

#499: Alice

1988, TSPDT Rank #878

Jan Svankmajer's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is a new addition to the TSPDT list, but it has been a well-known cult favorite for a long time. It has all of the ingredients that a devotee of weird and unusual films could desire: it's a feature-long adaptation of Lewis Carroll's absurdist fantasy, which consists largely of creepy stop-motion animation and ditches any trace of sugar-coating to make room for plenty of dark surrealism. The stop-motion style will feel familiar to anyone who has seen any of Svankmajer's earlier animated shorts, but the overall concept and effect is much more ambitious. Watching this film really is like falling down the proverbial rabbit hole, and it is very powerful in its singular strangeness. There is a recurring motif of sawdust and stuffing (which I personally found to become disgusting as the film went on), with most of the creatures in the film being some bizarre combination of taxidermy animals and puppets. However, I think the key to film's eventual success is due to Alice being portrayed by a live-action child actor. This makes her immersion into the absurd dream world of the film more effective and entrancing. The film has a powerful cumulative effect as Alice moves along through the various episodes of Carroll's story at a constant pace, which makes it easy to get lost within the film and its world. I think this is probably what Svankmajer was hoping to achieve with this film, and on these terms it is definitely successful. Like many cult films, it takes a certain type of person to enjoy it, but if you are up for a truly original and surprising viewing experience, you won't be disappointed by Alice.

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