(1966, b/w) Perhaps you'd prefer the Disney animation or Tim Burton's latest entry to this particular retelling of Lewis Carroll's famous story of preadolescent Alice (Anne-Marie Mallik) and her adventures: "That's the great puzzle. Who am I?" If so, off with your head! Or so director/producer Jonathan Miller might exclaim, much like the Queen of Hearts (Alison Leggatt), for his intention, as the commentary provided on the DVD expatiates, was to capture in the film the "peculiar logic of dreaming," its "subliminal oddness" and the quality of innocence and vision from childhood, lost to us like a place of pleasure, a secret garden, a time of inaccessibility, once we are adults.
Miller excised the jollity and joking often associated with other interpretations, preserving a darker tone of sadness and melancholy; Alice here is ever solemn and serious. For the opening and closing of the movie, Miller borrowed lines from Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality."
Made for television (in black-and-white to suggest the century before color photography) and produced by the BBC, with a musical score from Ravi Shankar, all of the characters are attired in Victorian fashions; none of the actors appears in an animal costume.
Accompanying her older sister outside, Alice falls into a reverie, while her sister reads a book, and tumbles into slumber - but not a rabbit hole. She follows the White Rabbit in top hat and gloves in a hurry into a strange mansion. She drinks, eats, and changes sizes, confusing her as to who she is.
The Rabbit, wanting her to fetch his gloves and fan, calls her Mary Ann. When the Caterpillar (Sir Michael Redgrave), comfortably seated in a library - no hookah or even a pipe - asks her, "Who are you?," she can't answer.
She recites verses and listens to the Mouse read dry, academic history to an audience as a method of drying them off before rushing off to the Caucus-race through a hall of stained-glass windows and hymns, at the end of which the Dodo announces: "Everybody's won, and everyone must have prizes."
An idiotic fellow in a uniform officiously offers to do nothing for her. From the sneezing Duchess (Leo McKern) in drag, with the Peppercook nearby, Alice receives a piglet. She carries on a conversation with the invisible Cheshire Cat, who leads her to a tea-party with the voluble Mad Hatter (Peter Cook), the morose March Hare (Michael Gough), and the drunken Dormouse (Wilfred Lawson). Alice makes the acquaintance of the Queen of Hearts at her croquet party with flamingoes and hears the nurse's nonsense of morals.
The dumbfounding dialogue is taken directly from the page; the wordplay is as serious as swordplay. As an audience to the Mock Turtle (Sir John Gielgud), Alice - advised by the Gryphon (Malcolm Muggeridge) to be patient - awaits his story: "The master was an old Turtle - we used to call him Tortoise." "Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn't one?" asks Alice. "We called him Tortoise because he taught us!" Among the regular courses of his schooling taken at the bottom of the sea, the Mock Turtle continues: "Reeling and writhing, of course, to begin with, and then the different branches of Arithmetic - Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision." Beginning with ten hours a day of lessons, the hours steadily decreased each day, explains the Gryphon: "That's the reason they're called lessons, because they lessen from day to day."
The dream concludes during Alice's trial as witnesses, beginning with the Mad Hatter, are summoned forth and questioned by the King of Hearts (Peter Sellers) for their evidence, while a man shaves in a balcony box, a woman sleeps in a bed inside another, barnyard noises arise from pigs and chickens. Don't be too quick to judge - "Sentence first, verdict afterwards" - as does the Queen of Hearts.
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