paulwitcover (paulwitcover) wrote in theinferior4,

Soup of the Evening . . .

The new issue of the New Yorker features a glowing review by Alex Ross of a new opera based on Alice in Wonderland, with a libretto by composer Unsuk Chin and playwright David Henry Hwang (of M. Butterfly fame).

Alice and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, have been adapted for the stage and screen many times. There are a lot of clips available on youtube, from this amazing silent version from 1903 to excerpts from the Disney 1951 travesty and others equally insulting to the original. Why do so many adults who set out to bring Carroll's work to the screen turn it into a preachy allegory or moralistic fable? The problem, I suspect, lies in viewing the books condescendingly as "children's literature."

But amidst the dross, there are some versions, like the silent film already mentioned, that shine out as truly exceptional, either riffing on Alice to make something comparably strange (like Jan Svankmajer's disturbing Alice, or even the brilliant animated short that opens American McGee's computer game Alice) or by remaining faithful to the tone and spirit of Carroll's books -- and here I'm thinking of Paramount's extraordinary 1933 version, directed by Norman McLeod, with a screenplay by Joseph Mankiewicz and an unbelievable cast that includes W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty, Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle, Gary Cooper as the White Knight, Sterling Holloway as the Frog, Edward Everett Horton as the Mad Hatter, and others too numerous to mention. This film has never been officially released to video or DVD, but copies can be found on eBay nonetheless -- I bought one myself just last year! Here's the ending of the film, from the point where Alice encounters the White Knight:

And what of the book that started it all?

The British Library has a super-cool feature allowing you to "turn the pages" of rare books online:  among them is Lewis Carroll's original manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, complete with his illustrations -- well worth a visit!

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