Alice dozes in a garden, awakened by a dithering white rabbit in waistcoat with pocket watch. She follows him down a hole and finds herself in a hall of many doors. A key opens a small door... See full summary »
Alice dozes in a garden, awakened by a dithering white rabbit in waistcoat with pocket watch. She follows him down a hole and finds herself in a hall of many doors. A key opens a small door: eventually, she's through into a garden where a dog awaits. Later, in the rabbit's home, her size is again a problem. She tries to help a nanny with a howling baby, then a Cheshire cat directs her to a tea party where the Mad Hatter and March Hare dunk a dormouse. Expelled from the party, Alice happens on a royal processional: all the cards in the deck precede the Queen of Hearts, who welcomes then turns on Alice and calls on the royal executioner. Alice must run for her life. Written by
For 1903, this is a rather long and elaborate fiction film, although exhibitors could also buy the scenes separately. This was when exhibitors still retained editorial control and the final appearance of the films they screened; however, by 1903, producers were gaining more control over this, and this film is a reflection of that. By then, story films were becoming more popular than the single shot-scene attractions and novelties of cinema's beginnings. "A Trip to the Moon" (1902) and "The Great Train Robbery" (1903) remain the most popular examples of the new story film.
Hepworth's "Alice in Wonderland" is said to have been originally 800 feet and, perhaps, as long as 12 minutes, with 16 scenes. The print available today suffers severe negative decomposition and lasts about 8 minutes. That's longer than most films from then. "Alice in Wonderland", however, isn't so much a story film in the sense of continuity and self-contained narrative, but, rather, is a series of images, loosely connected, to illustrate selected parts of Lewis Carroll's novel. They're based on those by John Tenniel. If one were unfamiliar with the novel, this film would make little sense; its narrative isn't self-contained. The filmmakers assume audience foreknowledge and relied upon lecturers to explain the film at showings with the aid of Hepworth's catalogue description of it. In the tableaux style, the film's title cards describe the action before we see it, and tell some of the narrative that isn't shown. Dissolves are often used as a transition, too, which was quite common back then, since Georges Méliès did it.
Regarding the titles, one thing I found remarkable about this film is that the title to the film overlays the opening image, via multiple-exposure photography. I've rarely seen this before the 1920s, although an earlier British film, "Scrooge; or Marley's Ghost" (1901), which was also selected images to accompany a popular novel, featured a similar overlap of images and title cards.
The rest of the picture is rather unremarkable. There are a few cutaways and insert medium shots and match-on-action cuts, but some are awkward and primitive. There's also a reverse-angle shot when Alice is trapped in the rabbit house. The multiple-exposure (or superimposition) trick photography was nothing new, except for the aforementioned use. Prints were originally toned. The film is notable as a comparatively large production for its time, but there were more advanced story films then, which had self-contained narratives and that invented continuity editing. One of these would by Hepworth's 1905 film "Rescued by Rover".
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