Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Alice In Weirdoland

The BFI, as part of their mission to continue being completely brilliant, recently released Czech fruitcake Jan Švankmajer's Alice on DVD and Blu-ray. It's a loose adaptation of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice's Adventures In Wonderland' filtered through the marbles of a man whose films are the surrealist nightmares of a unique kind of demented genius.

For those unfamiliar with Švankmajer's work, may I refer you to this short film, and the following stills, all of which are considered completely normal in his world:
With this in mind, it will come as no surprise that Švankmajer's Alice, made in 1988 when most people were watching Die Hard, is an insane work of brilliance and a flawed but undeniably powerful adaptation of a dark childrens' classic made even darker by a man who's undecided whether his film is aimed at the playschool or the asylum. As Alice herself says at the beginning: "Now you will see a film made for children... perhaps".

Švankmajer's trademark stop-motion animation and disconcerting editing technique (displayed amazingly in another BFI box set) are in full effect in his first feature length film after nearly 25 years of equally disturbing short films. With a cast of one human, several animals (live and stuffed) and one or two items of clothing, this version of the classic tale is much weirder than anything Tim Burton could ever have dreamt up for his cack-handed adaptation.
Alice herself is played alternately with wide-eyed awe by Kristýna Kohoutová and by a mildly terrifying doll, and is ably supported by sock caterpillars, fish skeletons with legs and birds with monkey skulls for heads. It really is that kind of film.

At its heart, Alice is a surrealist meditation on dreams that just happens to use Lewis Carroll's work as a starting point, but it's also a fine example of the kind of avant-garde cinema that you might only be exposed to on a Film Studies course. It's not perfect - the Mad Hatter / March Hare scene seems to repeat itself interminably - but it is enjoyable, eye-opening bonkersness, and it's exactly the kind of thing we should be cherishing the BFI for making available to us. Stick it on your DVD rental list and impress your friends. Unless you're Helena Bonham Carter.


  1. Don't you know anything? Simple!
    #1 Fervescent mouthwash.
    #2 Tap on the head to cure water on the brain
    #3 This is how you would look if your feet smelled and your nose ran.
    #4 Some socks get so ripe that they hum. This sock is so ripe it can set its own teeth on edge before the smell hits you.

    As I was going down the stair
    I met a man who wasn't there
    He wasn't there again today
    I wish that man would go away

  2. I've always thought this was the kind of movie you'd keep on bootleg VHS and only play to a crowd of dissaffected hipsters and drug-addicted, asexual transvestites in the basement of a German-run, Thailand-set discotheque.

    Make it happen, internet.

  3. PS I'm not anonymous to be creepy, Blogger's being a pain in the ass again.