Jolly Good Thursdays – Naked

Naked (1993, dir. Mike Leigh)

Starring David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Gregg Crutwell, Claire Skinner
When viewing a Mike Leigh film you typically expect to see a slice of life portrayal of contemporary England. The focus will on the ins and outs of daily life for working class people. However, with this picture, Leigh creates an abrasive, violent, surreal universe which does adhere to the tenets of his standard films: there are no big illuminating answers or moments.
We first see Johnny (Thewlis), the film’s protagonist, in the middle of raping a woman in an alleyway. Hardly a way to endear us the character we’ll be following through the rest of the movie. The woman runs away saying she’s going to get brothers and they will beat Johnny to death. Johnny runs home, grabs a few things, steals a car and heads to London where he imposes himself on old flame Sophie (Sharp). Johnny gets involved with Sophie’s flatmate (Cartlidge), leaves in a huff and encounters a series of strange characters living and working in London. Johnny is paralleled by Jeremy (Crutwell) an utter misogynist and sociopath that gives Patrick Bateman a run for his money.
Director Leigh seems to be using Naked as sandbox in which to play with the audience’s expectations of their characters and the flow of plot in film. There is a palpable trajectory to the film for its first 30 minutes, and then suddenly it veers off into an episodic series of encounters between Johnny and other random characters. The introduction of Jeremy is intentionally confusing and appears to have no bearing on the overall plot of the film. Jeremy’s abusive exploits don’t feature any characters from Johnny’s portion of the film and seem as if they were cut in from another film. When the two plots cross into each other in the last 40 minutes of the film there is no explosive conflict or release of tension.
Naked could easily be seen as an extremely misogynistic film, but that would be selling short. Yes, women are brutalized numerous times throughout the film, Jeremy himself rapes about three women. However, I think Leigh is testing us to see what we will accept from characters in a film. What is the line they cross that makes them intolerable for us? In addition, every single characters is away from home: Johnny is on the run, Sophie is sub-leasing, her friend Sandra (Skinner) is off traveling through Zimbabwe. The moment the film finds its resolution is when all the characters have assembled in Sandra’s flat after she has returned home. It’s in this moment the genre of the film becomes rapid fire and even more absurd. There are elements of farce, romance, drama, and in the end it all falls apart. Johnny ends up even more broken than he had been at the start and where is going is now unknown and inevitably even further into the gutter.

Newbie Wednesday – Mammoth

Mammoth (2009, dir. Lukas Moodysson)

Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Michelle Williams, Marife Necesito, Sophie Nyweide, Nathhamonkarn Srinkikornchot
We are constantly alone, even when we’re with the ones we love. And when the decision comes to be away for money, we seem to choose to be away even if it makes us miserable. Swedish director Lukas Moodysson examines these ideas in a very well-acted, but ultimately cold and derivative film. The strongest influences here are the work of Alejandro Innaritu (Babel, Amore Perros) and the 2005 film Crash.
The picture begins with the happy family at play: Leo (Bernal) is a video game designer, Ellen (Williams) is an emergency room doctor specializing in pediatrics, and their daughter, Jackie (Nyweide) is a precocious child caught up in her love of astronomy. Also in their lives is Gloria (Necesito), a live in cook/maid/nanny whom Jackie seems much closer to. Leo leaves for a long business trip in Thailand and Ellen becomes caught up in the tragedy of a stab wound victim brought to her and jealousy of Gloria and her daughter. Gloria is dealing with anxiety of being separated from her own sons back in the Philippines.
Moodysson’s outlook on the world is a bit too simple and feels very predictable. Ellen’s jealousy over Gloria could be seen from the opening frames of the film, and doesn’t really develop in relevant way. The situation with Gloria’s children also comes to a close on a very unsure note, and not in a thought-provokingly ambiguous way, but rather uninspired. The film also makes some bland cross cutting: a pile of elephant dung is followed by Gloria cleaning toilets. These scenes feel more proud of how clever they are than really possessing any real cleverness.
The problem with not creating any sort of metaphors between his ideas and his characters, causes Moodysson to end up moralizing to us in the most patronizing of ways. Much like Crash, a horrific example of patronizing and pretentious cinema, Mammoth slaps us over the head with its message multiple times and then with a barrage in the final scenes. At the end of the day though, the question arises “What is the point?” Yes, I think everyone is aware of the global disparity of wealth and power. The film provides no ideas as to where we go next, which makes it makes of little value.

Wild Card Tuesday – Fish Tank

Fish Tank (2009, dir. Andrea Arnold)

Starring Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing
Mia is angry at everyone and everything. She headbutts a girl for simply mouthing off to her. She fights constantly with her mother. She’s considered an oddball by the boys. She’s been kicked out of school. This her last chance. Andrea Arnold’s portrait of a 15 year old girl growing up in contemporary Essex, England is an incredibly immersing film. I have to admit, I sat down to watch it less than enthused but found myself completely engrossed in the picture. Arnold’s emphasis on naturalism comes shining through and every frame of the film feels honest and real.
Mia’s world is changed when her mother brings Conner home. Conner is a handsome, charming man who treats Mia and her younger sister with kindness. The four make a nice little family, going out for a drive in the country one day, and Conner and Mia catching a fish together. But there is a palpable tension between Mia and Conner. The film constantly veers from her seeing him as a replacement father but also an object of sex. And for a girl in Mia’s situation, such a confusion would be understandable. There is no single strong male or female influence in the girl’s world, so when one comes along she clings to him for dear life.
There’s a recurring action of Mia’s that is glanced in the first moments of the film and repeated throughout. A ragged emaciated horse stands chained to large boulder in the middle of gravel covered field. Mia climbs a fence and uses a stone to smash at the chain and free the horse. With each attempt she find the action more and more futile. Another action which Mia repeats again and again is when she busts into an abandoned tenement flat and practice hip hop dancing. Music becomes a link between she and Conner and also a possible mode of escape. Where Mia and her family end up is a balanced mix of sadness and hope, and Conner’s role in it all is the most shocking.
The film is all about newcomer Katie Jarvis who, in her film debut, is absolutely amazing. Katie’s personal life is not too different from her character’s. She was a mother at 16 and was discovered while screaming at her boyfriend on the street. The same anger and fire in Mia is all brought to the film by Katie herself. Director Andrea Arnold is also a powerful force, making this world feel completely honest and knowing when and what to show the audience. An amazing achievement in contemporary British cinema.

DocuMondays – Elia Kazan: A Director’s Journey

Elia Kazan: A Director’s Journey (1995, dir. Richard Shickel)

Narrated by Eli Wallach
The career of Elia Kazan is one of the most impressive of any American filmmaker, but also tainted by involvement in the McCarthy hearings and much controversy caused by his work. Even Kazan’s detractors find it hard to discount the amazing body of work he produced though. Kazan is a real story of an immigrant coming this country and making their way, while never compromising their personal convictions.
Kazan was born in 1909 to Greek immigrants in Turkey, who emigrated to the United States in 1913. The documentary doesn’t spend much time talking about Kazan’s childhood, instead jumping to his career as an actor and director of the stage in New York. Kazan was part of communal theater group who focused on work of social importance. Melodrama was discarded in favor of tackling leftist issues, particularly those related to the working class. These techniques and themes would carry over into Kazan’s film work years later. Once he was picked up as a mainstream Broadway director, Kazan’s star really shone, particularly when he won a Tony for the original production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
Because of Kazan’s deep friendship with Tennessee Williams he was a natural to bring A Streetcar Named Desire to the screen. In the documentary, Kazan relates a tale of how Williams had a bit of a crush on Marlon Brando, causing him not to worry all that much when critics focused on Stanley Kowalski so much, and not the larger conflict between Stanley and Blanche for Stella. This film and many others had a trademark jazz score and very inventive camera work that reflected his protagonists’ dementia. Kazan was also gifted at discovering great talents. Among his finds were Marlon Brando, James Dean, Karl Malden, Lee Remick, and Andy Griffith. Kazan explains his method of getting to know an actor by meeting the people important in their lives, spending time with them, going out to dinner with them, and basically figuring out who they are a person because that is what they are going to bring to their performance.
The part of Kazan’s career that causes the most dissonance for people was his involvement in the HUAC proceedings. Kazan named names of fellow actor and performers who had been members of the Communist Party with him. As a result many of them were blacklisted and unable to find work for years. This stood out as strange as Kazan was never anything but up front about his own leftist beliefs. Years later he stated his reason being that he was tired of the socialist movement in America hiding, and decided it was now or never for them to come out, even if it was against their will. He didn’t do this believing there would be long term harm, but that America would see that socialists weren’t scary bogey men. While aiding Joseph McCarthy and his communist witch hunt may have not been the best idea, it is understandable in a way.
Kazan’s film career ended officially in 1976, but in reality his light had dimmed about a decade earlier. Hollywood became focused on younger, iconoclastic directors of the late 60s, and the director is very understanding of this. He states that it is a natural cycle of the filmmaking art to look for freshness and he had made the statements he wanted to make. This is a great documentary that takes its story straight from the subject’s mouth and will get you excited about seeing the masterpieces of Elia Kazan.

Maybe Sundays – The Crazies (2010)

The Crazies (2010, dir. Breck Eisner)
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Danielle Panabaker, Joe Anderson

The Crazies is only a zombie film by default. It’s “monsters” aren’t the walking dead at all, but people infected by viral weapons designed by the United States military. And one could easily debate if the villains in the film are the townsfolk or the emergency response military troops that come to kill them all. Based on a 1973 George Romero cult flick, this film follows the same premise but with some modern tweaks and a lot better character development than the original.
The story begins with Ogden Marsh Sheriff David Dutton attending the opening game of the high school baseball season. A town farmer arrives on the field, behaving strangely and brandishing a shotgun. David to shoot and kill the man when he draws his weapon on the crowd. Over the next day, more cases of similar behavior surface causing David and his doctor wife, Judy to suspect something sinister is at work. In the middle of the night military forces show up in Ogden Marsh, rounding up citizens in makeshift internment camps.
It’s obvious the film is expanding on the anti-government paranoia of the 1970s with a post 9-11 spin. What I picked up on most was that almost every infected townsperson is a familiar face that we’re allowed to pick up some details about before they become a monster in the film. With the military, we only see one soldier’s face. The rest are constantly wearing hazmat suits or full fatigues with gas masks securely planted over their faces. This conceit causes the military to come off as much more of the mysterious evil force than the infected. In fact, the greatest horror of the film is performed by the military in the film’s finale.
Despite this, the film falls into the most cliched of cliches in the horror business. There was an inordinate number of times where we were given a cheap jump scare from someone being touched on the shoulder. And I counted at least twice where a scare was revealed by the camera simply panning to the right to reveal an infected in the room. It’s these easy paint-by-the-numbers techniques that take a film, which could have been interesting and tapped into some interesting zeitgeist, and turn it into a $5 DVD bin flick for Wal-Mart.

Double Feature Theater: Walkabout/Rabbit Proof Fence

This is a new feature I’ll be doing alongside Hypothetical Film Festivals. The thought behind Double Feature Theater is to pair two films that share some similarity; be it thematically or actor or, even most interesting, the two films contradict each other in some way. Hope I can provide you with some ideas for your own double features.

Walkabout (1971, dir. Nicolas Roeg)
Starring Jenny Agutter, David Gulpilil, Luc Roeg

Rabbit Proof Fence (2002, dir. Phillip Noyce)

Starring Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan, David Gulpilil, Kenneth Branagh

The relationship between the Australian aborigine and the Australian settler has been as volatile, if not more than, the Native American/American settler relationship. The aggression seems to have come mainly on the British side of things, as the indigenous Australians seemed quite helpful to the settlers in the early days. Each of these films chronicles the interaction between the two cultures and shows high points of cooperation and low points of conflict.

In Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout we’re introduced to the world of the Australian Outback through violence. An unnamed teenage girl and her younger brother are taken for a picnic by their father deep into the wilderness. Once there, he suddenly begins shooting at them, having what appears to be a complete nervous breakdown. As the terrified girl and boy hide in the nearby rocks, their father sets himself and the car on fire and burns to death. The siblings journey farther into the desert and eventually meet a young Aborigine boy on his walkabout. The Aborigine takes a liking to them and helps find water and food, while experiencing deepening feelings for the teenaged girl.
Nicholas Roeg is one of the great editor-directors of all-time. The way he intercuts scenes to emphasize connections between characters or actions is masterful. There is one sequence where the Aborigine hunts, kills, and butchers a kangaroo which is mixed with quick cuts of footage of an English butcher at work. There are constant shots of the flora and fauna of the Outback and Roeg seems intent on getting across to us how alive this place is. Despite its arid conditions, so much thrives here. One of the key themes of the film is communication and our inability to do so effectively. As the content becomes more abstract, the line of communication begin breaking down between the Aborigine and the girl until she becomes unnecessarily frightened of him and they must part ways. The sadness of these characters is how impossible it is for them to get across their thoughts and feelings despite standing in front of each other.
While Walkabout tells the story of the Aborigine/settler relationship through a lens of abstraction, Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit Proof Fence takes a more factual, historical approach. Based on the novel by Doris Pilkington, the film follow three girls from the Jigalong village in southern Australia. The three girls are taken by Australian police as part of an effort at the turn of the century to breed the Aborigine peoples out of existence. They’re taking to the Moon River Settlement, north of Perth to be trained as part of a servant class, but escape and begin a 1,500 trek home on foot through some of the brutal conditions the Outback can throw at them.
On the surface, Fence highlights a great injustice that was done to the Aborigine people which the government of Australia has been slow to make reparations for. Kenneth Branagh plays A.O. Neville, the government official assigned to oversee the Aborigines and believes in some twisted way is protecting them through these inhumane policies. On a deeper level, the film is meditation on the contemporary Aborigine’s connections to their ethnic roots. Author Pilkington is the descendant of the girls in this story is based on and the retracing of their steps through the narrative is a retracing of the history of the natives of Australia. In addition, Fence’s cinematography is a stunning achievement. Every thing about the wilderness has a dreamlike veneer over it, causing this world to be both familiar yet eerily alien.
Both films, tell the story of a group of people we rarely hear about, and do so in very different, yet equally interesting ways. If you have an interest in learning more about the fascinating continent of Australia or have an interest in global human rights, I highly recommend these pictures.

Seventies Saturdays – A Wedding

A Wedding (1978, dir. Robert Altman)

Starring Carol Burnett, Geraldine Chaplin, Mia Farrow, Paul Dooley, Desi Arnez Jr, Lillian Gish, Lauren Hutton
The old money and the nouveau riche come together when Dino Correlli and Margaret “Muffin” Brenner get married. And while the film may be called A Wedding, the majority of its two hours take place in the reception. Of all Altman’s comedies, I don’t think I ever laughed as harder than I laughed at this picture. All of his stylistic flourishes are there (zoom ins, overlapping dialogue, language play) yet they are delivered with such madcap humor. I kept thinking of classic 1930s farces as the confusion and misunderstandings increased during the film. And it’s a amazing that with 48 characters I never felt like anyone was ignored. Every personality is apparent and you feel like you are sitting in on a real reception where the groom and bride’s families are hiding some major dislike.
The Correllis are a mix of an Italian businessman, Luigi, who married into a rich Floridian family of all daughters. He is made caretaker of the estate by his mother in law, Nettie on the condition that none of his family, whom are in with the mafia, are allowed to step foot in the house. The Brenners are from trucking money, Liam “Snooks” Brenner (Dooley) having made a fortune on coast to coast trucking. From the get-go there are numerous cultural clashes involving wealth, ethnicity, and class. It’s also apparent that there has been some illicit trysts going on between the maid of honor, Buffy Brenner (Farrow) and the groom as well as many other guests at the reception.
The best parts of the film are where information in exchanged but with the context completely misinterpreted. Early on in the film Nettie passes away and her other son in law, Dr. Jules decides to keep it secret so as not to ruin the festivities. Of course the information leaks and dozens of family members relay it a real life version of the Telephone game. The wedding planner (Chaplin) runs the show with an iron fist, making sure both staff and guests follow strict and traditional wedding protocol, assigning ludicrous acronyms (Father of the Bride becomes FoB, Mother of the Groom is MoG) to be more efficient. Snooks Brenner is uncomfortably close to his daughter Buffy and ignores his wife, Tulip (Burnett) so that he can spend more time with his pride and joy. The best moment comes when Tulip is seduced by Corelli family member, Mac, who convinces her to join him in an excursion to the family’s greenhouse. This is interrupted by the arrival of the half-dozen children of Burnett’s born again brother-in-law.
The film is never completely a comedy, none of Altman’s movies are ever one genre, but it is apparent that there was much silly joy in making this film. Altman developed a system of wireless microphones that allowed him to not interrupt large scenes, but rather pull volume up and down on the conversations he wished to focus on. It’s this genius move that makes it so the director never interrupts the flow of productive acting and works with Altman’s naturalist intent for his films during this period. I would say that even if you have passed Altman over as a director you might enjoy, this is one of his few films that I believe could appeal to a larger audience.

Hypothetical Film Festival #8 – Visions of Wonderland

So Tim Burton’s rendition of the Wonderland story has been unleashed upon theaters. This, of course is not the first time this story has hit the big screen and it won’t be the last. In fact the archetypal elements of Lewis Carroll’s 19th century novel have been incorporated into films that might not be immediately recognizable as Wonderland. Here’s a line up of pictures that re-tell Alice’s adventures in a new way, with new twists.

Dreamchild (1986, dir. Gavin Millar)

Starring Ian Holm, Coral Browne, Peter Gallagher
It’s the 100th birthday of Lewis Carroll and a radio station in Depression-era New York has brought the real Alice, Alice Lidell, overseas to recount her friendship with the late author. As Alice is asked to think back to her childhood, she begins to lose track of the line between reality and fiction. We see her hallucinates as she walks from her hotel room into the Mad Hatter’s tea party where is berated for having become so old. The film also doesn’t shy away from addressing the possibly inappropriate nature of Carroll and Lidell’s relationship. The author was known for his photographs of young girls in various states of undress and in the years that followed his death this had led to much speculation. While this is no masterpiece, it is a very inventive look at the mind of Lewis Carroll.

Labyrinth (1987, dir. Jim Henson)

Starring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, Terry Jones, Elaine May
You have a young girl who is pulled into a magical world where she encounters absurd and insane creatures. Labyrinth is very much influence by Alice and her adventures. If you haven’t seen this classic 80s flick, young Sarah wishes her younger brother away and this is granted by the Goblin King (Bowie). Now Sarah has 13 hours to navigate a giant maze before her younger brother is transformed into a goblin. The creative force of Jim Henson is behind this film which means it is a art director’s dream. The set and creature design is of the highest caliber and reminds us of a time when not every thing in a fantasy film was computer-generated.

Spirited Away (2001, dir. Hayao Miyazaki)

Starring (in the English version) Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Marsden, Michael Chiklis
The very different and wonderful Japanese take on Alice in Wonderland. Master animator Hayao Miyazaki takes young Chihiro on a journey through a strange tunnel in the woods. She ends up in a world where her parents have been transformed into pigs and she is forced into servitude by an evil witch at a bathhouse for ghosts. She befriends a young wizard, Haku who helps her discover the secret of defeating the witch and rescue her parents. The animation in this film proves that this form of art is not just for children. It is amazing that a human hand could create such lush and gorgeous worlds.

Tideland (2005, dir. Terry Gilliam)

Starring Jodelle Ferland, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly
This is a very dark and twisted take on the Wonderland myth, but that’s to be expected when dealing with Gilliam’s work. Jeliza-Rose is the daughter of a burnt out and drug addicted rock star (Bridges) who takes his girl to his mother’s old house in the middle of a unnaturally beautiful field somewhere in middle America. Jeliza doesn’t realize it but her pop O.D.s on drugs and is dead in the house for days as she ventures out to explore. She meets a mysterious veiled woman and her mentally challenged son who believes there is a land shark lose in the fields. Jeliza become more and more wrapped up in this fantasy world until she may be lost in it. The direction this film goes in its finale is very unexpected.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro)

Starring Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Maribel Verdu
As expected, del Toro puts both a Spanish and uniquely fantastic spin on Carroll’s original story. Here the instigator of the White Rabbit is replaced by a demonic faun who convinces young Ofelia that she is the long lost princess of a magic kingdom. Ofelia explores the forest surrounding her new home and encounters a series of mystical and fantastic challenges. Del Toro adds a real world flipside which is infinitely more horrific than anything Ofelia faces. Not only is this a great reinterpretation of the Wonderland source material, it is one of the best pieces of Spanish cinema ever made.

Phoebe in Wonderland (2009, dir. Daniel Barnz)

Starring Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman, Bill Pullman, Patricia Clarkson, Campbell Scott
Phoebe suffers from a form of Tourettes which leaves her feeling like the odd one out at school and home. Her parents try to take deal with her condition in very different ways, dad acts like it doesn’t exist and mom wants to face it head on. Only when Phoebe becomes involved in her school’s production of Alice in Wonderland and meets the director, Miss Dodger does she find a place where she can express herself. This film is such a loving and gentle piece of cinema that never comes off as maudlin or dishonestly manipulative of the audience’s emotions. Phoebe is no angel and can be quite snarky. In addition, the fantasy sequences where Phoebe loses herself in Wonderland are visually rich and impressive that they used no computer generated effects.

Import Fridays – Revanche

Revanche (2008, dir. Götz Spielmann)

Starring Johannes Krisch, Irina Potapenko, Ursula Strauss, Andreas Lust, Johannes Thanheiser, Hanno Pöschl
The desire to lash out in revenge against those you believe have wronged you is a deep and powerful urge in humanity. Particularly when the actions of another have caused great loss in your life. The issue of the death penalty bring up the philosophical questions of what we are entitled to when wronged in horrendous ways, and the fact that there is no end in sight to such a debate is proof of how nuanced and complex it is. Revanche, a 2008 Austrian film, takes on this debate and provides many more questions.
Alex is an ex-con, who has gotten romantically involved with Tamara, a Ukranian prostitute that works at the brothel where Alex is a handyman. The must keep their relationship secret from the brothel owner who has designs on turning Tamara into a sex slave for his higher end clients. Alex devises a plan to run away with Tamara, rob a bank, and live their days out in Ibiza. He has a perfect plan. Paul is a police officer who is uncomfortable with his sidearm and the way his fellow officers talk casually about shooting and killing perps. He happens to end up in front of a bank one morning and finds a woman sitting nervously in a car and praying to herself. Paul asks some questions and a tragedy occurs.
Revanche is about two men living in their personal Hells. Alex is torn apart by the loss in life following the bank robbery and Paul is equally shattered by the results of his actions. The two men’s lives become more and more entwined until the film’s climax which is surprisingly redemptive. The heart of the film is Alex’s grandfather, Hausner, a man living on a farm in the deep woods. He has just lost his wife and has not allowed it to crush his spirit. Hausner seeks out the simplicity of life, finding enjoyment a meal of bread and sausage and picking up his old accordion and remembering his youth. Hausner starts out as a convenience for Alex, a place to hideout but goes on to inform Alex on how he can cope with his loss.
Also central to the story is Susanne, Paul’s wife. She miscarried three months before the start of the film and even before Paul’s incident at the bank there is a distance between the two. Susanne ends up being an unofficial caretaker of Hausner, visiting with him in his home and accompanying him to church on Sundays. She develops a friendship with Alex that plays out in a very unlikely way and ends up binding Alex and Paul together forever. The way Revanche comes to its finale, a meeting between Alex and Paul by a pond in the woods, felt very atypical compared to what an American-ized version of this film would do. Despite its bleak and violent world, the film leaves us on a note of hope that we don’t have to be shackled to the pain of our pasts.

Jolly Good Thursdays – Alice in Wonderland (1966)

Alice in Wonderland (1966, dir. Jonathan Miller)

Starring Anne-Marie Mallik, Peter Sellers, Leo McKern, Michael Redgrave, Peter Cook, Michael Hough, John Gielgud, Eric Idle
Lewis Caroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been adapted in many ways and forms since the advent of film. The majority are informed by the 1951 Disney animated feature and, because of that constant influence, seem bland. Not so with this BBC television adaptation. Jonathan Miller, a popular director and comedian who worked with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore extensively, brings us one of the most surreal and abstract versions of Wonderland. Here no one is dressed up like a white rabbit or caterpillar, instead they resemble the British aristocracy Carroll was mocking in his text.
The image above, which is the opening title of the film, evokes a very strong tone. Alice is something primal here, this is not the light-hearted English schoolgirl but a figure with a sinister air about her. Alice doesn’t speak for the first 20 minutes of the film, what we get is a whispering stream of consciousness. The most intriguing evolution of this conceit is how the whispering voice becomes the Cheshire Cat later in the film. It ends up highlighting pieces of dialogue from Carroll’s work that portray Alice as deep in contemplative thought about identity. This extends to her experiences eating and drinking items that distort her physical self, and as emphasized int this film, her psychological perception of herself and her environment.
It’s quite jolting to hear the silly dialogue, attributed originally to anthropomorphic figures, coming from the mouths of English nobility. That aesthetic choice emphasizes the absurdity of British aristocracy in Carroll’s time. The Caucus Race, which is Alice’s first major episode in Wonderland, occurs in an Anglican cathedral and involves stodgy nobles running around the pews and performing the sign of the cross. Every thing has an atmosphere of malaise, intensified by the wandering sitar music of Ravi Shankar. Alice sits at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, slumping down in her chair, washed over by the utter boredom and inanity of the dolts surrounding her.
This is by no means a children’s adaptation or one meant for mainstream audiences. This is a very masterful and crafted adult interpretation of classic story that operates on multiple levels of satire and philosophy.