Home > Film Selection > Sunday Screening #36: Alice

Sunday Screening #36: Alice

That’s right! We’re going to watch the entire 10-year run of the T.V. series Alice! Hope you’ve got a couple days to kill.

OK… not really. Jan Svankmajer is an amazing animator who’s made any number of twisted stop-motion films. He was/is a huge influence on Tim Burton. I’ve never seen all of Alice and have been looking for an excuse to just sit down and watch it. Given the history of Lewis Carrol’s story and it’s any number of adaptations, I feel like there will be a lot to discuss, especially where this fits in with the rest. It’s available on Netflix Instant View.

Here’s a tasty nugget:

And because I’m a shameless whore… my stop-motion efforts:

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  1. Lisa
    September 25, 2011 at 8:46 PM

    Could this be true? Am I the first one to comment on this movie? Well then, let’s get this comment started.

    I have to admit, if it wasn’t for Sunday Screenings, I probably wouldn’t of sat and watched the whole thing. It was a little too creepy for me.

    I appreciated what it was, and the stop motion was amazing. I had to focus on turning off the “how did they do that” part of my brain. I can definitely see how Tim Burton was influenced by him.

    I also appreciated the story. In the sense that it was close to the actual story of Alice in Wonderland. It sucks that most only know the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. The truth is, there is some much more to the story, and I’m glad some of it was shown.

    Even if it was in creepy stop motion creatures.
    The White Rabbit was creepy, but not as creepy as the skeleton characters. That was almost too much for me. Or what about the River Mouse (can’t remember if it was suppose to be the Dormouse) and the fire, that was disturbing. I would of figured the Queen of Hearts would of been way worse considering.

    I did enjoy the Mad Hatter scene. The creepy and crazy worked perfect.

    Lastly, this is definitely not a movie to be watched by anyone who has issues with dolls.

    • September 26, 2011 at 3:39 PM

      The Alice doll is terrifying. I totally agree with that.

      I know you kind of talk about things that you thought were creepy by what/why did you find it creepy (an abstract question, I know)? Do you normally have problems with creepy/scary movies or was there something in particular that set you off here? Is there a distinction you make between creepy and scary entertainment? What other movies cause this reaction in you?

      Sorry about all the questions, but I’m mildly fascinated by what weirds people out.

      • Lisa
        October 5, 2011 at 11:07 AM

        I think what made the dolls and such creepy were the fact that they were anamorphic. It’s weird, but as I get older, the things that aren’t suppose to be alive that are alive in film don’t sit well with me. The skeletons that moved and had eyes, not okay. Also, I the eyes were a big issue. Eyes without lids are creepy. It was also all in the way it was done, in the sense that they might not have meant to be creepy but were… Like The Gentlemen in the Hush episode of Buffy. These guys had huge smiles on their faces while they were cutting out hearts.
        The dolls with the eyes that close, no bueno, but that might just be because of those kid ghost stories you used to tell at sleepovers.

        I normally don’t have a problem with scary movies. I don’t really get scared, to be honest. The ones that do scare, the rare ones that do, all revolve around ghosts and spirits and the stuff we can’t control and see. Not that I could contain a mass murder or anything, but the unknown is scary.
        I do have a huge fear of spiders and aliens. Will NEVER see Aracnophobia or Fire in the Sky/The 4th Kind. Oh, and every since I was little, hated/was scared shitless over the Bloody Mary thing in the bathroom mirror.

        Creepy is something that just makes me feel weird, doesn’t sit right with me but I can’t look away. Scary is when I’m huddled under blankets wanting to turn it off.

        This makes it sound like I’m afraid of everything, but I really am not (minus spiders and aliens). I like watching scary movies, but usually end up laughing. I also hate how they all have a reason at the end. You’re being haunted cause the lady wants to save you from the abusive husband. That, and they aren’t the best produced movies.

        Hope this helps, and I don’t mind talking about it at all.

        • October 5, 2011 at 1:02 PM

          I always find eyes without pupils to be really creepy. Something about the void is terrifying.

          I used to be exponentially more afraid of spiders than I am now. When I was in high school, a friend and I walked about two miles to and from Blockbuster solely to rent Arachnophobia and be terrified by it (he was even more afraid of spiders than me). It was a great experience. Especially for the spider sex scene.

          I guess what I’m asking is: don’t you have the impulse to watch something you know that will make you uncomfortable just for the thrill of it? Isn’t that part of the fun of scary movies? I know for me they make for the best stories about cinematic experiences.

          And Bloody Mary used to scare the shit out of me when I was a kid, too (let’s add Candyman to that equation).

          • October 5, 2011 at 4:11 PM

            It’s been a while since I’ve truly been scared by a movie, but I still continue to be disturbed/creeped out by some of them. And that is a thrill that I look forward to in horror movies. For me, it’s also the thrill of knowing you’re watching something that’s a little transgressive that makes the experience special.

            And, for the record, I am scared of spiders. Arachnophobia disgusts me because of the plethora of spiders, but I do think it’s a great flick.

  2. September 26, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    I’ve seen a few of Svankmajer’s shorts and loved them, so I was expecting to have a much stronger reaction to Alice. Part of that, I think, can be blamed on the fact that I was exhausted watching the film and had the whole burning eyes tired thing going on. The other part is that it’s hard to sustain a 1.5 hour story based on cool visuals and sound effects alone. Everyone is mostly familiar with Alice in Wonderland, so when a scene starts to drag, as I felt the Mad Hatter scene did (though the editing was great), I just wanted to move on to the next part of the story. The close-ups on Alice’s lips were mildly annoying and completely unnecessary as their is never any confusion as to who is saying what even though it’s the same voice. Also, Alice is completely passive in every respect (which she kind of is in the story since she’s always confronted with some kind of lunacy, but at least she is curious). The movie continually felt like Alice shows up, something weird happens, she isn’t too fazed by it, then she moves on.

    That said, I loved the animation and the use of real objects as opposed to clay or building models from scratch. The sound design is pretty sweet (though I wanted to stab my ears with an ice pick during the baby crying scene). There are tons of fun camera tricks and a surprising amount of humor. The rat building the fire (seriously, how tolerant is Alice?), the bone creatures (Alice killed Bill!), and the caterpillar ruled as did most of the Queen of Hearts stuff, especially when she walked through the hole in her card.

    Elements of Alice really spoke to me since I started doing my own silly stop-motion things. It is encouraging to see someone as accomplished as Svankmajer still have jerky animation, especially since it doesn’t come off amateurish. I can’t help but think of the in-between shots time where the adjustments are made and how frustrating that must have been at times. Even though I’ve watched tons of stop-motion, I never really thought about that before. Near the beginning of Alice, there is a shot of the white rabbit going into the drawer with a real sky background and the clouds change in every shot. The fact that that didn’t concern Svankmajer is really inspiring to me as it’s very easy to get caught up on little things that don’t really matter.

    Observations:
    — Was it me, or were there frames removed in some of the live action scenes?
    — Alice is brutalized in this movie.
    — I feel like Wes Anderson must have been inspired by this style of stop-motion for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
    — Hedgehogs are the cutest.

    • Lisa
      October 5, 2011 at 11:11 AM

      Random Notes:
      I couldn’t stand the lips dialogue either. It actually took me out of the story and made me really remember I’m watching a creepy stop motion.
      I liked the real object stop motion instead of clay, just wish it wasn’t so creepy.
      The fire on Alice’s head, I keep wondering if it was in he original story, I hadn’t ready it in so long.
      It does remind me of Mr. Fox, good point.
      I’d have to say woodchucks are cuter. Especially when they can’t hold an apple yet and fall over.

      • October 5, 2011 at 1:05 PM

        And we’re both wrong… this is the cutest:

  3. October 2, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    I’m late to this party (work has been crazy lately), but I did watch this tonight, finally. I was also very impressed with the stop motion, but not so much with the result. I blame the girl. I don’t know if it was her blank character, or her perpetually wide-eyed expression, or the horrible British voiceover, or the incessant lip close-ups which drove me nuts, but I found her presence profoundly irritating, which made the film hard to sit through.

    The only thing that kept me going was just waiting to see what interesting and creative stop-motion effects were coming up next. For the most part, that was enough, because they were quite inventive and fascinating. And I liked that they were pretty creepy. But after a while even this wasn’t enough to hide the fact the I just barely felt involved in what was going on. Maybe it was the lack of music?

    • October 3, 2011 at 11:48 AM

      Thank god Paul forgot to pick another movie so you had time to check this one out. And of course, he’s still missing from this discussion even though he was enthusiastic about the choice. I tells ya…

      You bring up a point that I find mildly fascinating: “Maybe it was the lack of music?”

      So often, there are complaints of music being manipulative and cloying, like those swelling strings during big moments of older films. Music can be cheap (meaning easy) way of playing with the viewers’ emotions and making up for the fact that what is being watched is trite and unoriginal. One almost wants to say that having no score is a bold move (just think of No Country for Old Men, which is largely scoreless, or even The Front Page/His Girl Friday, which I just wrote about on my blog). Of course, music does manipulate emotions, but it’s good for so much more than that. At its best, it’s a companion to the film, just as good cinematography doesn’t really change the material, but can enhance the experience.

      I think in Alice, Svankmajer was going for a symphony of sounds, using the sound design as the score. I don’t think it really worked since so many of the sounds were unpleasant, but I do think that he probably though music would overwhelm the intended effect. I tend to agree that I would have liked music. Perhaps a different style for every room/environment Alice entered. Anything to drown out the dish crashing and baby crying…

  4. Lisa
    October 5, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    I liked how there was no music. I think that tells a lot about the director when he can use no music at all. The only sound issues I really had were the over dramatic sound effects. Maybe if there was music it wouldn’t have been so bad, but I honestly didn’t really notice there wasn’t a score. (Then again, I was too worried about the creepy figures. Seriously, I’m the only one really bothered by this. Tear.)

    The question becomes, then, which is better. Using music in an innovative compelling way, or using no music and having your audience not even notice?

    • October 5, 2011 at 1:12 PM

      I’m not sure I’d classify it as a which is better argument, but it’s an interesting question. Clearly if the audience doesn’t notice there’s no score then the director and everyone else involved has done a masterful job of creating an involving story. And for as many innovative scores there are (and Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood score comes to mind), there’s probably a large contingent out there that finds the score distracting (for the record, I LOVE that score).

      I have a tendency to reject those older scores with lots of swelling strings, so in that case, I’d rather have no score. However, for every movie that doesn’t have one or had one thrown out… are we missing an opportunity to experience something unique? Probably not, but I like to think that someone could have come up with a memorable score for pretty much anything.

      Another question is do you think that there’s a particular genre better suited to being scoreless or, conversely, one that benefits more than others by having a score?

      • October 5, 2011 at 3:36 PM

        I like the way you put it Nate – music enhances the experience. Personally, I love film scores; I listen to them by themselves all the time, and paying attention to the music always enhances my enjoyment of film (although I realize this probably is not the composer or director’s intention…they’d prefer I’d be so involved in the story I don’t even notice the music). I don’t mind that I’m being manipulated or “told” how to feel during a scene by the music; for me, it’s just part of the art form.

        Films by Eric Rohmer tend to have little to no score, and for his films, I think this is the right choice. His films are very talky and cerebral, and a score wouldn’t enhance what’s on screen too much. So there’s a case where I think no score benefited the film.

        But whether any particular genre needs a score, or benefits from having a score, or benefits from not having one, is probably just a case by case basis thing – I could say that an action film would benefit greatly from a rousing, energetic score, but maybe someone out there has a way of doing a great action movie with little to no music, and then I’d be wrong.

        As an aside, I really miss the classical, symphonic approach to film music that in recent years has been giving way to glorified sound design. You used to be able to follow the film narrative just through the music, aided by clever instrumentation and emphasis on themes and motifs. Granted, this is not an appropriate approach for every single movie, but a survey of contemporary scores at any given time shows that that style seems to have fallen out of fashion, and that’s a shame.

        • October 7, 2011 at 11:57 AM

          As far as action movies go, I know I’ve seen some scoreless swashbuckling and it always seems a little flat (unless the score simply cut out momentarily). That might also have to do with the filming style as I’m visualizing it all in longshots… and actually… I think it was trying to focus on the repartee, so I’m talking out of my ass. I could just delete this portion of my comment, but why bother?

          A recent example of what you talk about in the last paragraph is in Inception where the main musical motif is all based around that Edith Piaf song that recurs in the film. Even the low, drony music is that song slowed down. I’d say I find I miss scores more when the film has a shitty soundtrack in it’s place just to sell records. Then again, if said soundtrack rules, more power to them.

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