Pretty Old Films

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Alice in Wonderland

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

This is the English film pioneer Cecil Hepworth’s 1903 version. He gives us detailed intertitles, and then shows us all the action the titles have just described. This production is very much of its time—of course, and how could it not be?—and it’s ripe for grammatical or syntactic reform. There are limitations, but there are a number of charming and resourceful things in the midst of them.

The drink me/eat me part is quite good; the size changes are ingeniously executed. There’s a frog, the marchioness and the baby, a few thrown dishes, a pig transformed. The Cheshire cat is a Hepworth family pet. The compositions here are nicely pictorial, but the Mad Hatter section suggests the need for close-ups and inserts or alternatively for more carefully, cinematically—compositions, performances—long shots. The courtly procession of the cards and such is really well distributed through the frame, but it’s dramatically inert. So too the confrontation with the Red Queen. Great costumes, lots of energy.

As amply discussed elsewhere on the website (Edison, Gaumont, Méliès), this adaptation of a famous literary work assumes that the audience knows the story. Dramatized parts suggest the familiar whole. Though the industry would evolve toward features, reports indicate that for some time audiences were quite understandably, quite properly satisfied.