Sunday, 21 March 2021

Sincerely Yours, Lewis Carroll (2004) is a rare example of biopic depiction of Carroll done right



(Mark Zsifkovitz as Charles Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll, still from the film)

My friend Curiouser Archive uploaded a better quality version of the 2004 short film Sincerely Yours, Lewis Carroll recently on Youtube, and every time I watch this film (and yes, I have seen this several times now. I love it that much) I am struck with director and writer's mature approach to the life of Charles Dodgson. It is so far the only decent "biopic" of Lewis Carroll I have seen.

The film takes place a few years before 1862, when Dodgson told the Liddells Alice's adventures Underground. The film tells the story of the year Dodgson first discovered photography and the events in this year. The film does this via Dodgson's own diary excerpts and poems. Unlike other Carroll biopics, this film does not just centre on the Liddells and Alice Liddell. We are given far more insight into Dodgson's life and hobbies than in other fictionalized portrayals. As a result Dodgson feels much more like an actual person here and not a caricature or a monster. By ignoring sensationalist inaccuracies that Leach termed "the Carroll myth" entirely, this film presents a refreshingly realistic and biographically accurate Dodgson. 

 No, its not completely perfect, it could have been a wonderful full length film. No Duckworth, or Dodgson's intellectual adult friends aren't characters. But it is a decent start, and I hope it will inspire other filmmakers and writers to write more accurate portrayals, and look past the temptation to fulfill the myths Dodgson has much been subjected to.

After seeing so many terrible portrayals of Dodgson for my journal article, watching this was like throwing back curtains and letting the light in. 

Highly, highly recommended :) 

Friday, 5 March 2021

Exploring the world of Carroll depictions through a post myth lens...

Its been a wild few months for me, which is why I forgot to post here for a long while! You may remember that a long while back I posted about a long academic essay I was doing about depictions of Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) in film and TV. I have now very nearly completed what is part 1 of a 2 part retrospective on this. 

Throughout these last few months I have been consuming works such as Dreamchild (1985) and Alice (1965) Examining what they say about 20th century thoughts on Dodgson (non surprise: there's a lot of Freudianism and opinions stated as facts...) and what they say about their author, Dennis Potter.  

Throughout this reading the work of Will Brooker, especially his study Alice's adventures in Popular Culture, has made me contextualize these portrayals. I hope my final piece of work whenever it is finished, can illuminate truths about Dodgson, and more importantly, how society views and misinterprets as eras stretch further into history. 

Get Lost, and the future of Alice based films...

 I'm sure many of you saw the news yesterday about the Alice film project Get Lost, which together with Netflix's Alice musical and In the Land of Wonder, is the third AIW inspired film to be greenlit in the space of three years. 

Get Lost will be set in a night time Wonderland-Budapest, and feature a teenaged Alice (here called Alicia)

Which does beg the question: which of these projects will make it to the end of production? And will Lewis Carroll's novels figure in any of these films, if at all?

Whilst I don't know the answer to these questions, I will most definitely try and follow along these productions as much as I can. 

You can follow Get Lost on instagram, if you're interested :) 

And if Alice adaptations and their future interests you as much as it does me, you might like the talk on this subject hosted by V and A museum which is happening virtually in april... 

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Theatre Review: A small review of Theatre Du Ville’s Alice


(ALL IMAGES VIA THEATRE DU VILLE, TAKEN BY Jean-Louis Fernandez) 

...Remember when I used to do theatre reviews for this blog? Its been a while.  

In January I managed to get to see the livestream of Theatre Du Ville’s Alice (both parts) in French. Although I have an extremely limited understanding of French (J'étudie le français en ce moment!) I enjoyed the plots of these two highly unique versions (a vague synopsis was thankfully available via downloadable programmes). The cast did a formidable job, some actors playing up to 5 characters per adaptation! As with all theatre du ville content, the staging was exceptional and at some points, gasp worthy. Not dissimilar to the production value of the UK’s National Theatre, which also enjoys a large budget for shows. 


A Unique Vision 

Made in 2013 and 2020 respectively by Frabice Meliquot (of Alice in China infamy) and Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, theatre du ville’s 2 adaptations feature a teenaged, 17 year old Alice (played in the revival I saw by Isis Ravel) dreaming her way into not just Wonderland and Looking Glass world but also accidentally bumping into other famous literature characters. 

In Wonderland, Alice is teased by a mermaid type figure whilst in the pool of tears, is annoyed and fascinated by Collodi’s Pinocchio, and discovers adolescence via dancing with the wolf from red riding hood. In part 2, whilst in Looking Glass World,  Alice becomes entangled in a bizarre who is dreaming what scenario. This involves herself, Zazie from Zazie in the metro, Dorothy from Beaum’s the Wonderful Wizard of Oz and a modern girl named Rose. 

The casual carrollian may wonder what the point of this is, but in cross referencing these works as well as using random blasts of British songs in certain scenes (case in point: Unicorn’s entrance in part 2 is soundtracked to David Bowie’s Space Oddity: yes really) Melquot and Mota seem to be making a statement about British culture of many eras surrounding the Alice books, and how the tales fit in with other world literature. Also, its a fun idea, and Carroll himself was always playful, so why shouldn’t adaptations be this way? Plus, these adaptations already adapt all of both books, so us purists are well catered for. 


Alice and her dreams of Wonders

Except for when Alice awakens at the end of each adaptation, Meliquot and Mota‘s adaptations are entirely cocooned in their protagonist's dream-worlds. In this adaptation, reality is not important and the circumstances of Alice’s dreams matter even less. There is however one major theme threaded among both parts, Alice’s maturing into adolescence and a hint of coming of age. This is thankfully done very subtly and does not overtake Carroll’s narratives or the cultural playfulness these adaptations use. Instead Alice’s growth and shrinking and encounters with the Cheshire cat, red riding hood wolf, white knight, and eventual coronation across both parts are seen here as metaphors for growing older. 

This theme, coupled with the dark-playful tone of these adaptations, reminded me greatly of a toned down Valerie and her Week of Wonders. There is even a scene where the Cheshire cat, during the famous “we’re all mad here” conversation, enfolds Alice with a coat, directly reminding me of a scene from the film version of Valerie.  (Picture comparison below)





Tone and acting styles

I very much respect these adaptation's ideas to not go cutesy either, Sarah Karabasnikoff‘s Duchess, Jauris Casanova‘s wolf and Karabasnikoff‘s sheep are acted as bizarre, funny and vaguely threatening characters. The Queen of Hearts enters to the song another brick in the wall part 2 by Pink Floyd, here re-framing the character as a sort of harsh headmistress type. But the fun is very much still there (with the queen of hearts entrance, the entire cast break out in dancing) 

There were many standouts in terms of acting. Isis Ravel’s Alice positively embodied Carroll’s title character and gleefully ambled through wonders and horrors in a believable way. The Cheshire Cat wore a vast coat and was characterized by actor Gérald Mailet as being ambiguous as his grin. The Duchess’s baby was here seen as a fully grown man crawling around, Walter N’guyen putting in an amazingly horrifying and wonderful performance. The Red Queen, wonderfully snappish as played by Sandra Faure, carried a chess board in her hand constantly. The whole cast give their all and overall it works wonderfully. 

Philosophy

In these adaptations there are also several points of philosophical musing, particularly in the looking glass adaptation. In her room, modern girl Rose goes through her mirror and meets up with Alice, as well as Zazie, and Dorothy, each bewildered to learn that the other exists. The question of who dreamed what in Looking Glass is in the book (there it was either Alice or the Red King) but by adding more players to this conundrum, Melliquot and Mota re ask the question as something more slippery and far odder. When Alice realizes that the dreamer is her at the end of Looking Glass, there is a real sense of despair in her eyes. Another point of this style of musing comes in Wonderland, where the Cheshire Cat sings and we see a video projection of Alice traversing the world itself. Similarly in the introduction to Wonderland, Alice speaks of Alice Liddell. 


Mise en scene and direction

Other things that struck me were how stylish the mise en scene staging looked. Extremely well done video projections, occasional wild lighting, and stylish non typical costumes were exhibited in these productions. In particular Alice’s costumes, a yellow and white daisy dress in Wonderland and a sparkly purple party dress in Looking Glass, had a sense of style and modernity. 

Perhaps the best way to sum up these beautiful adaptations would be from the programmes that were available to download before the streams. In a note, Theatre Du Ville states that Alice as a character is an  “unlimited traveller and adventurer, “ and in these adaptations, there is definitely a sense of an endless story. Multiple Alices forever with curiosity, bounding through wondrous dream-worlds. 

Now if only we could find somebody to provide sous-titres en anglais for this!

Monday, 31 August 2020

An update on the blog and the theatre list....

 You might have noticed I haven't blogged anything since July essays.

I also have not brought back the theatre list, because of the current climate and there currently being no theatre in general until October. I may revive the streaming list if more Alice productions decide to move to Zoom or other paid ticketing service.  The places I take for the theatre list are currently all cancelling their Alice productions. Until this is different... the list on this blog can't be a thing again.

Secondly about this blog in general, I am currently engaged in a far too long project with friends to correct biographical portrayals of Carroll in fiction. Carroll is as I'm sure you are aware, wildly ill served by writers and I aim to counter this by producing PDF correction guides for major portrayals.

I am also toying with the idea of writing a major academic essay on the many portrayals of Dodgson in media and how and why this tends to ignore Karoline Leach and others's research. I don't have all the answers, and after reading some of Will Brooker's research on Carroll and popular culture I confess I suspect this is partly a deep rooted societal issue, but all I can do is explore the subject.

I aim to open up a dialogue as to how Carroll is portrayed the way he is when all new evidence points contrary to this.

This is all a long way of saying I may be leaving this blog for a while... again.

I will update with news on the V and A london exhibition if there is any, and of any research into film versions of Alice.

Until then, stay safe.

Chloe :) 

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Down the Rabbit Hole Project: After Hours (1985)


After Hours - Trailer - YouTube

Office worker Paul Hackett faces the weirdest and worst night imaginable after a date goes wrong and he is stuck in late night downtown New York. He encounters an unstable woman with a bizarre fixation on burns,  a cynical artist who makes sculptures shaped like bagels, and a doorman who recites Franz Kafka. As the night goes from bad to worse, Paul begins to wonder if he'll ever make it back home, or even alive.

 

A black comedy nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions, After Hours is a fantastic exercise in paranoia. Despite all its recalling of Kafka's works several reviewers and essayists have drawn comparisons to Lewis Carroll's work, and it is these comparisons that this essay will focus on an explore. 


Whilst the film is devoid of any wonder it does play with some of the darkest aspects and tones of the Alice stories, as an extremely subtle down the rabbit hole film it conveys a sense of carrollian unease several ways.

 

Curiously comparisons with After Hours and other works have been made by reviewers but not generally with carroll. The comparisons include the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (1939), Franz Kafka's novels and Greek Myth, but only Arnette Wernblad's 2014 essay Down the Rabbit Hole in her book The Passion of Scorsese makes a direct scholarly comparison with the works of Lewis Carroll.

 

Context


This Cinematic Life: After Hours (1985)


 

"An exercise completely in style," (Martin Scorsese on After Hours)

 

Made in 1985 on a tight budget of 4 million dollars, and a script written by Joseph Minion, director Martin Scorsese has characterized his film as a emotional "reaction against [Scorsese's] year... In Hollywood trying to get The Last Temptation of Christ made" (Wernblad, 2014, passion of Scorsese) This sense of frustration is embodied in the film itself, and multiple producers persuaded Scorsese away from a darker ending. British director Michael Powell "kept repeating that Paul not only had to live at the end, but to end up back at his office." (Ebert et al, After Hours review, 2019) and it is this ending that made it into the finished film.

 

Curiously about half an hour of Minion's script was plagiarized almost word for word from a radio play called lies which was written by Joe Frank.  According to Andrew Hurst, who has written an analysis of this affair: Frank was “paid handsomely by producers of a Hollywood film... that plagiarized his dialogue.” (Hurst, 2004, After hours... origins) And certainly listening to the radio monologue it is undoubtedly the same dialogue and set up as the first half of After Hours.

 

A taxi cab ride as a fall


After Hours (1985) - Photo Gallery - IMDb


"Down, down, down. Would the fall NEVER come to an end!" (Carroll, "Wonderland", 3)

 

Paul's hurtle into late night new York begins with a taxi cab ride which is filmed akin to a fall. And it is significant that Paul is leaving Manhattan and travelling downwards: towards SoHo. The fast editing and occasional lights conveying to the audience that the ride is framed like a tumble into the unknown. Paul also has no time to reflect on if going to see Marcy was a bad decision as his last dollar flies out of the window. In her video essay from 2016, Film Formula compared this scene to the tornado scene in the Wizard of Oz (1939) but in a way this scene is also reminiscent of Carroll's line about Alice jumping down the rabbit hole:

 

"never once considering how in the world she was to get out again." (Carroll, "Wonderland", 2)

 

and unfortunately the consequences for Paul are largely negative.


A Dreaming Protagonist?


Room 207 Press: On a Thousand Walls #6: After Hours (1985)


The film opens with boredom. Paul's office colleagues are so dull they nearly put him to sleep (or do, depending on if you subscribe to the dream theory in regards to this film). Hearing a colleague boast about where he is going in life, Paul longs for something different. 


Much like Carroll's works this evocation of boredom by the protagonist gives way to a bizarre series of events contained in a dream state which entrap the protagonist in ever stranger situations.

 

There are several hints in After Hours that Paul's late night voyage may be at the very least unreal, and at most extreme an actual dream or rather a nightmare. We do not see Paul fall asleep or awaken but from the scene where he first meets Marcy the film begins to take on an increasingly surreal tone. 


Early on in the film at his flat "Paul is lying on the sofa... And it is possible to assume he falls asleep and that his journey...is a dream" (Wernblad, 2014, passion of Scorsese) Paul could also have fallen asleep at his office, as he ends up there at the film's close. "In a... surrealistic moment Paul enters the office... And his computer says good morning paul" (Filmformula, 2016, After Hours urban Oz)

 

Like Alice, Paul's reading from waking life returns to manifest in his dreams. In much the same way that in the trial scene, Alice in Alice's adventures in Wonderland:

 

"Had never been in a court of justice before, but she had read about them in books and newspapers, and was quite pleased to find she knew the name of nearly everything there" (Carroll, "Wonderland", 117)

 

Paul's desk at work contains a newspaper with a story about burns, and his apartment contains at least one alarm clock by his sofa. As a word processor, Paul's work allows him to interact with bizarre news stories daily. The newspaper story about burns manifests itself when Marcy is revealed to have connections to Paul's childhood traumas. Similarly a clock ticking, which could well be the clock on the table next to Paul's sofa is the film's near constant soundtrack, leading Paul deeper into the night.


Doors, mirrors,  Paul's personality and plays with time

 

 "at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Carroll, "Wonderland", 43 - 44)


After Hours – [FILMGRAB]


In keeping with mythic elements essayists such as Arnette Wernblad have seen in After Hours, the film focuses a lot in its first act on doorways and entrances. There are two significant entrances that Paul goes through in the first act, the entrance to Marcy's apartment, which is signaled by Marcy's artist friend Kiki throwing down a key to him, This door is "on the threshold of an unfamiliar world"(Wernblad, 2014, passion of Scorsese) Other entrances are the Taxi ride and the blocked entrance down in the Subway, which Paul cannot traverse due to the subway fare going up just a minute earlier.

 

Wernblad also points out that the earlier taxi ride could be considered "a symbolic crossing into hades" (Wernblad, 2014, passion of Scorsese) referencing the Greek myth or Orpheus and Eurydice, but this element of the story in regards to the subway also functions in a similar way to the garden door in Carroll's Wonderland, an unattainable entrance leaving the protagonist trapped in an unreal place.