Friday, 3 December 2021

Sky Arts's V and A Exhibition documentary is a love letter to Carroll's work, its impact on culture and why it matters


"All in the golden afternoon

Full leisurely we glide;

For both our oars, with little skill,

By little arms are plied,

While little hands make vain pretense

Our wanderings to guide."

- Lewis Carroll, frontispiece poem for Alice's adventures in Wonderland, used as the first lines of this documentary.

(Trailer above: click to play)

The V and A documentary Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser (co produced by Trafalgar releasing and Sky Arts UK) is nominally a look around the V and A exhibition of the same name. However the commentary and voices used build it into a much bigger picture: a love letter to Carroll's works and their impact on culture. The piece is presented by Andi Oliver and features heavy contributions from Kate Bailey, who devised the London exhibit. 

Starting in the Victorian era, with the Liddell sisters, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and the Alice's adventures Underground manuscript, the documentary charts a path from there to now, across 100 + years of theatre, film, art and fashion. 

The look at Charles Dodgson and his life is beautifully measured and mature, a rarity in any cultural work which speaks about Dodgson (this and the ARTE documentary mesh wonderfully together!) 

Included in this documentary are many impressive rooms and shots from the London exhibition, from a glowing video room comprised entirely of text from Carroll's books, to a seaside pier which slowly changes into the form of Carroll's caterpillar. Sometimes the camera will cut to shots of a little girl dressed as Alice exploring the exhibition rooms in wonder, these parts aren't too intrusive and we get to hear pieces of Carroll's books recited beautifully via a voice over. 

In particular attention is paid to how Alice has been appropriated by various different art movements up to the present day. Here we see art by Max Ernst and Ralph Steadman from the 20th century but also Chris Riddell's recent illustrations.

In a way, this piece argues that Carroll's place in popular culture isn't just a place but a way of thinking. As one contributor says "its a way of life, isn't it?"

Overall, a beautiful documentary which deserves to be seen and a beautiful prosperity recording of a very special exhibition.

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Reacting to the Alice, Through the Looking Trailer (POFF 2021 festival trailer)

(Saskia Axten as Alice in Alice, through the Looking. Image from the trailer) 

Down went Alice after the rabbit, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again....

The official trailer for Adam Donen's political AIW for adults, Alice, Through the Looking was released a few weeks ago. This trailer is for the POFF festival in Estonia, where the film will have its World Premiere in mid November (November 25th to be exact!) 

No UK release date has been set, but as always this post will be updated if that changes.

Press synopsis (from POFF Festival):

Alice, Through the Looking: À la recherche d'un lapin perdu Composer-turned-director Adam Donen brings his pleasingly bizarre, Brexit-referencing Alice in Wonderland retelling to Black Nights for its world premiere. Leading us through this new reality is the soothing voice of Vanessa Redgrave as narrator, alongside Slavoj Žižek, among many other surprises, visual and auditory.

 Set in London on the day of the 2016 referendum on EU membership, philosophy student Alice loses her newfound boyfriend Rabbit and has to search for him in an upside down version of London which is part Wonderland, part post Brexit anxiety landscape.

Trailer can be watched here. (TW: trailer contains some strong language and sex, so potentially slightly NSFW)

Official film site (with links to social media) here

My thoughts: 

  • At first glance this looks very, very different to every AIW character using film or adaptation. Alice is 20 here and in a romantic and sexual relationship with Rabbit (this element reminds me of the 1982 film Alicja, where a grown up Alice was also in love with a man called rabbit, however the relationship looks slightly more explicit here) 
  • Wonderland-Brexit-London is also depicted as being a somewhat harsh place (the politicians laughing at the end of the trailer, the bloodstained Queen) than is traditionally seen. Add to this the carrollian voice over of the elderly lady (paraphrasing a line from carroll) and the tonal shift is very deliberately marked. Sections of the film appear to feature characters not from Carroll, signalling that this might be a half adaptation or character using film only (we don't know yet) 
  • However this trailer also includes several elements that will be familiar to most carroll fans, namely the function of the mirror, the fun scene with the caterpillar private detective (still in keeping with Carroll's ideas) and the brief shots of Dum and Dee as policemen. Whilst its certain this version will go to darker places than expected (due to the political context) there is also an eccentric, off the wall tone in this trailer too. 
  • Despite the Carroll characters looking different from how we might expect, the look and costumes of the Queen and Alice echo their tenniel originals.
  • The press notes state that at one point in this film Alice splits into three people. Again this personality split appears to be inspired by Carroll. 

Sunday, 17 October 2021

The new ARTE documentary about Carroll might be the best documentary ever made about this author

Unlike other things in the past, ARTE TV very much did their research here, featuring in the documentary prominantly is Oxford based Alice scholar Franziska Kholt and World expert on Lewis Carroll Edward Wakeling. The documentary is mainly about the path from Dodgson telling what would become Alice's adventures in Wonderland to the Liddell sisters and friends to the publishing of the expanded story, and the original draft manuscript eventually being given to Alice Liddell. In particular the documentary elaborates on what this meant for culture. Also features some very beautiful views of Oxford and surrounding places. 

The documentary also dismantles what Leach termed "the carroll myth" and explains why Carroll's reputation soured in the 20th century, a fault that lies with badly informed extremely early psychology hack writers and misunderstandings between the societal treatment of children in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Unfortunately this documentary hasn't quite had an English language release yet (although according to this page, it is coming) but I will update if/when this happens. For now, English language readers will have to autotranslate the youtube subtitles. Not perfect, but hopefully offers some glimpses into how good this piece is. 

Please enjoy :) 


Saturday, 16 October 2021

Down the Rabbit Hole Project: Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974): Hour 1 (identity, fluidity and houses)

 This is part 2 of a 4 post look at Rivette's 1974 film Celine and Julie go Boating. The introduction can be read here.


"Besides, she’s she, and I’m I, and—oh dear, how puzzling it all is!" (Carroll, "Wonderland" , 14)

Unlike Alice, Celine and Julie are untroubled by their identities (even if it may be one sole person that exists) 

The first half of Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) functions as an introduction to its characters and themes. For this first hour much emphasizes is placed upon Celine’s boredom with day to day living (specifically her job, her absent boyfriend and her empty flat) and the disruptive and welcome change Julie brings with her. In a sense Julie is a white Rabbit to Celine’s Alice at the beginning of the film. The film paints Celine and Julie’s meeting as seemingly pre-destined by tarot cards and library books. When the two do finally meet, Celine is destined to look after the now amnesiac Julie, and both are destined to solve the mystery of the house on rue des pommes. This first hour frequently presents themes of predestined fate, from Celine’s tarot cards to Julie’s stumble into Celine’s flat. 

"suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her. There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!” (Carroll, Wonderland, 2)

Scholar Beatrice Loayza identifies the first scene of Celine sitting on a park bench, reading a book and suddenly seeing Julie as “like the muttering White Rabbit running late for his appointment in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” (Loayza, 2021, State of Play By making this the key first scene, Rivette places notions of carrollian whimsy at the forefront of his film. This can also be seen in this first half in the many scenes in which the two women swap identities (Julie becoming Celine to break up the other’s relationship to her boyfriend, Celine becoming Julie when she has to miss a magic show) In essence Rivette’s film absorbs the identity themes of Carroll’s novels and takes them to their furthest point: here both Alice like characters are “split” but are so intertwined that other characters easily mistake them for each other. As such Julie could also be considered an invention by Celine due to boredom or a projection of a more carefree side of her psyche. This could be a potential reason as to why Celine is not unnerved by Celine's sudden arrival at her flat and integration into her life. 

The first hour of the film is all about this act of merging identities and places. Many parts of this hour feel arbitrary but later take on a deeper significance. Celine standing in at the magic show and Julie annoying Celine’s boyfriend all seem like detours but can be also perceived as laying the groundwork for future intrigues. 
Like the Maries in Daisies (1966), an influence on this film, Celine and Julie's personalities appear Interchangeable and interlinked. Less hedonistic and a few years older than the 17 year old Maries of Daisies, Celine and Julie do share a similar sense of playfulness and by extension and Alice style sense of curiosity. Scholar Kirsten Yoonsoo Kim identifies that structurally this first hour also mimics Daisies,  "Céline... Julie... meet, move in together, and frolic around the city and fool men." Like the Maries, their identity swapping is an act of rebellion, the identity swapping detours involve both Celine and Julie not bowing to the wishes of the people around them: “Julie... intentionally blows an audition that might have catapulted Céline into globe-trotting fame” (Broughton, 2021, a Feminist adventure...

By smashing up other character’s perceptions and wants from them, Celine and Julie free themselves to dive head-first into the carrollian mystery of the house on rue des pommes. The house is at this point seen only in glimpses, Celine remembers glimpses of working there, but the audience at this point are only shown flashes. The most we glimpse of the house in this first hour is in an carroll like scene where Celine attempts to get into the house, after seeing a cat rush out of the door. The house is set up as a hanging mystery which is elaborated on much later in the film.


Broughton, Lee "A feminist adventure unfolds when Celine and Julie Go Boating" Popmatters, January 9th, 2018. 

Kim, Kristen Yoonsoo. “The Triumph of 'Céline and Julie Go Boating'.” The Nation, April 6, 2021.

Loayza, Beatrice. “Céline and Julie Go Boating: State of Play.” The Criterion Collection. Accessed July 13, 2021. 


Carroll, Lewis "Alice's adventures in Wonderland" London: Puffin Books, 1994.


Friday, 30 July 2021


 Get Lost is now filming!

With their instagram all set up, you can now follow the progress of Get Lost as filming takes place in Budapest, Hungary. 

Unfortunately I don't want to post photos here as this is perhaps a legal grey area, but I would encourage you to go and follow the film's instagram and associated pages.

Very exciting times for Alice based properties.

Other News: 

Manchester's Alice musical Alice in Wonderland has sadly been cancelled due to covid, but many outdoor events are still going ahead. A new theatre list will be on this blog soon.

I'm still writing the essays for Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), they are coming, I promise. 

Yesterday V and A museum announced that their Alice exhibition would be screening as a film in October (On October the 14 to be exact) more info here

Irish National Opera announced a few weeks back that Gerald Barry's Alice opera will be streaming online in November. Info here

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Down the Rabbit hole project: An introduction to Celine and Julie go boating

We didn’t have a message. We wanted to create a performance film, a magical film.” Julliet Berto on Celine and Julie go boating 

 "I had sent my heroine straight down a rabbit-hole ... without the least idea what was to happen afterwards" - Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) on the creation of Alice's adventures in Wonderland


Made in 1974 by French New wave director Jacques Rivette and filmed over a summer in paris, Celine and Julie go boating is a bizarre looping dream of a film about 2 interconnected Parisian women who share each others lives and stumble upon a mystery in a house which involves memory, a troubled young girl and magic sweets. 

For the basis of this film Jaques Rivette performed a “controlled improvisation” with the actors, mainly the two leads, Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier. In particular Juliet Berto remembers that during filming “we started off with the notion of amusing ourselves by creating interchangeable characters”. (Berto, Celine and Julie... BFI booklet) This freewheeling nature also extended to the narrative itself. For example the key story point of the magic sweets that transport Celine and Julie in and out of the world in the mysterious house was thought of by Rivette quite late: “it allowed us to link all the elements together to provide… a mechanism for holding the film together” (Rivette, Celine and Julie.. BFI booklet)

 Other examples of spontaneous ideas are identified by essayist Beatrice Loayza. For example of the chase sequence towards the beginning of the film, where Celine runs after Julie in the streets of Paris: “Rivette’s handheld 16 mm camera captures Berto and Labourier’s antics and comes across as free and spontaneous” (Loayza, 2021, State of Play

Due to the sheer weight of ideas and lines used from the actors in the film, from small ideas to last night’s dreams. Of the process, Labourier who played Julie, reminisced:  “We got up early in the morning and told each other our dreams, which the film depended on” (Labourier, 2021, state...) . As such, the script for Celine and Jullie is split in attribution several ways. “scénario” credits are given to “Berto / Labourier / Ogier / Pisier / Rivette” (Kristen Yoonsoo Kim, 2021, Thick as Thieves) Nearly all of the main actors are credited with the story. 

The other major influence on the film was literature, particularly the Victorian melodramas of Henry James, and also the whimsy and nonsense of Lewis Carroll. Carroll’s influence is a strong one and shines through clearly, even down to the impromptu story ideas, and the dream logic tone the film takes, Celine and Julie’s curiosity “It doesn’t matter who understands Céline and Julie so long as they understand each other.” (Kristen Yoonsoo Kim, 2021, Thick...) this is also prominently seen in film’s detours into other worlds. 


We have covered the French New Wave era of cinema previously in Down the Rabbit Hole project essays with Zazie dans le metro, Black Moon and Alice or the Last Escapade respectively. 



Kim, Kristen Yoonsoo. “The Triumph of 'Céline and Julie Go Boating'.” The Nation, April 6, 2021.

Loayza, Beatrice. “Céline and Julie Go Boating: State of Play.” The Criterion Collection. Accessed July 13, 2021. 


BFI. Celine and Julie Go Boating. London: BFI, 2004. Essay booklet from the UK BFI DVD

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Alice's day 2021

Happy Alice's Day 2021!

Above you can watch Chris Riddell's drawing session and talk for the Story Museum which has just premiered on Youtube.

There are also other online events which you can find inside the 2021 programme

As always #alice'sday is very active on instagram today and you can catch up with what is happening currently in Oxford there :)

For Portuguese speaking Carrollians, Carrollsday in Brasil is on the 4th of July and an online programme including a talk by Adriana Peliano is available. 

Other suggestions on how to celebrate this day:

Go and watch an alice adaptation, or a film inspired by the Alice books. There are many and can fit most tastes and styles. 

Go and read the Alice books, or other works by Carroll (Link via Phantomwise blog)

Learn about Lewis Carroll (essay by Jenny Woolf)