Sunday 7 March 2010

BFI restores first ever film of 'Alice in Wonderland' (1903)

The first ever film version of Alice in Wonderland has been restored by the British Film Institute (BFI) and is now available to watch on the BFI's YouTube channel. I've seen this link on so many blogs and websites already - it's great to see the interest this film has generated. It must be very gratifying for the folks at the BFI who were involved in restoring it to see how popular it has been. It has already had 445,832 hits on YouTube since 25 February!

Here's a bit more information about the film - taken from The Bioscope.

"Alice in Wonderland was produced in Britain by Cecil Hepworth (left), whose studies were in Walton-on-Thames outside London. Denis Gifford, in his British Film Catalogue, credits the direction to Hepworth and his regular director at this period, Percy Stow. Mabel (May) Clark, who had joined Hepworth as a film cutter, plays Alice; Hepworth himself plays a frog, his wife Margaret plays the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts, while future director of Irish films Norman Whitten plays the Mad Hatter and a fish, while cinematographer Geoffrey Faithfull and his brother Stanley are two of the playing cards. The film was originally 800 feet or twelve minutes in length (though it was divided up into sixteen scenes which could be bought separately). Eight minutes survive today, in a somewhat ragged state. It was the longest British film yet made.

Alice was made with close attention to Tenniel’s original drawings, though it was bold enough to include its own additions to the narrative, giving Alice a magic fan (Tim Burton adds the Jabberwock to his version of the tale, which seems a somewhat greater liberty to take). Its special effects, achieved using optical printing and some ingenious use of scenery, allow us to see Alice grow large and small with impressive effectiveness. But perhaps the most delightful element is the procession of playing cards (filmed at the Mount Felix estate at Walton), which seems to have involved the participation of a local school. The narrative makes no sense when viewed with cold logic, but then neither does Lewis Carroll’s original. In short it is random – but cool. Now go tell someone about it.

There's some interesting debate about the merits, or otherwise, of film archives using YouTube and other similar mediums to disseminate films and archival material on The Bioscope. I first came across this Alice in Wonderland film on the BFI website, then on various other film and archive related websites and blogs - however I also admit to reading Perez Hilton (I'm never sure whether this is something to admit, or something to try and cure, but hey, there you go, it's out in the open now!) and I was really pleased to see this film embedded on his website - anything that promotes the work of film archivists to a wider audience, and just makes these types of films available for folk to enjoy, is a good thing, is it not? I realise that taking archival material out of its context is a big archival 'no no' but I think it's exciting! As long as the original context is still there in the cataloguing, preservation and original access medium, then it's great to see the archival object, whether it be a film, a letter, a photo, or anything else, being used in different ways. I'm not so naive that I don't realise the potential problems with the context being lost i.e. films being used in completely inappropriate ways to represent things that are against the original context or creation, but going by the example of the wide appeal of Alice in Wonderland it's looking like the positives will outweigh the negatives. What do other folk think about this?

1 comment:

  1. I think that silent film particularly is such a relatively tiny niche interest that almost anything which can be done to expand it beyond those parameters is worthwhile.

    What annoys me is that every week Turner Classic Movies here in the US plays a silent film, but it doesn't air until midnight on Sunday, which is probably the worst possible time slot for someone who has to be up early the next morning to go to work. And, if TCM runs any special series, the silent film is the first thing to go.

    If the ratings were better, I'm sure the channel would have no issue placing it much earlier in the evening.