Movie Information

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Alice at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 20m at Phil Mechanic Studios (109 Roberts St., River Arts District, upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332,
Genre: Downright Strange Fantasy
Director: Jan Svankmajer
Starring: Kristyna Kohoutova, Camilla Power (voice)
Rated: NR

This is surrealist filmmaker/animator Jan Svankmajer’s take on Alice in Wonderland. It was made in Czechoslovakia in 1988 and appears to have played in New York in 1989. It is most certainly … peculiar. The fact that it is peculiar seems to have made the film sacred in the minds of a great many. I am not sure why. I can admire some of the technique behind the film—though I think it errs badly in several instances—and I was fascinated (and a little repelled) by its relentless strangeness for a while. The problem with the strangeness is that, for me, it turned into tedium before the halfway mark. And the sheer grotesqueness of it all had become wearingly unpleasant somewhat before that. The film does generally follow the template of Lewis Carroll’s book, which is to say you’ll have no trouble recognizing the events. I am not, however, convinced (others are) that it’s true to the spirit. (Did Carroll envision a taxidermied rabbit with nasty teeth and bugged-out eyes who keeps leaking sawdust onto his pocket watch, which he then licks clean?) On the other hand, I am sure that the device of cutting to an extreme close-up of Alice’s mouth after each line of (admittedly sparse) dialogue so that she can say, “the rabbit said” or “the Red Queen screamed” or what have you doesn’t work at all. (Advocates for the film generally call this a “minor” problem, but after the 50th time, I didn’t find it that minor.)  The only living things in the film besides Alice are a pig, some chickens and a few hedgehogs. Everything else is stop-motion. Bear in mind, I’m in the minority here, but this has risen to the top of my least-favorite versions of the story.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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6 thoughts on “Alice

  1. There is definitely room out there for a truly whacked-out version of this story, but this doesn’t seem to be it. Is it worth watching once, despite its issues Ken?

  2. Ken Hanke

    Is it worth watching once, despite its issues Ken?

    Bear in mind, a lot of people (“a lot” in terms of people who are likely to sit through a film like this in the first place) think very highly of it. I merely found it unpleasant.

  3. Ken Hanke

    This of course is my favorite version of Alice in Wonderland.


  4. Ken Hanke

    It’s most surreal version methinks.

    That doesn’t necessarily translate into the best for me. While I accept the idea that there are dark undercurrents to the story, I see absolutely no balance here. It’s all unpleasantly nightmarish — there’s nothing whimsical to any of it.

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