Monday, 7 April 2008

Svankmayer's Alice

Is there some special appeal to east European sensibilities in Alice in Wonderland? This Czech surrealist take was a bit unsettling for a Sunday afternoon and remarkable for being very faithful to the original yet almost entirely visual. The original 'Alice' is already surreal, but highly verbal. Even Graeme Hobbs' clear and knowledgeable introduction slid over that last incongruity.
I was reminded of an old acquaintance who had spent a postgraduate year in Russia. He found that 'Alice' was very popular and got hold of a Russian edition. It was provided with pages of end-notes almost all of which consisted of one word - something like 'Igraslov'. He assumed that it was the Russian equivalent of 'Ibid', but later found out that it meant 'a play on words'.
So how do you do 'Alice' with just a few words? Visual puns and puzzles take the place of wordplay - the sawdust stuffing draining out of a doll becomes deeply disturbing, and drawers that open only after the handle has come off in your hand are a puzzle worthy of Carroll. But to be honest, I missed the words. A masterpiece of animation it may be, but I felt there was a dimension missing.

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