Disc Jockey: Jan Svankmajer’s ‘Alice’ will traumatize your children

Jan Svankmajer's "Alice" features creepy images like this. Credit: First Run Features
Jan Svankmajer’s “Alice” features creepy images like this.
Credit: First Run Features

‘Alice’
First Run Features
$24.95

Like snowflakes, no two films of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” are the same. Each of the many adaptations picks what segments they think work best, then chucks the rest. (Only Tim Burton’s woebegone 2010 monstrosity, which is more a fanboy threequel mash-up, could be charged with disrespecting the source.) Even among these, the 1988 stab by Czech stop motion animation legend Jan Svankmajer, is unusual. It lacks the warmth, the glee of most other adaptations. But it heightens the weird and the menacing several times over.

Here, Alice (Kristyna Kohoutova) is a dour girl who lives not in an idyllic countryside but in the depressing confines of a vaguely Communist-era Eastern European locale. The rabbit is an ugly, taxidermically stuffed beast who escapes through a drawer. Alice follows him, finding herself in a series of drab rooms, where she meets stuffed creatures whose blood is sawdust, gnarly puppets, living animal skeletons and other things that will traumatize young children.

“Alice” was Svankmajer’s first feature length film, of only six, following decades of short work. Actually, that’s not true: From 1972 to 1980 he was forbidden by state authorities from working, having correctly noted the subversive nature of not-very-childlike shorts, such as 1968’s “The Flat,” a pessimistic parable about life in then-Czechoslovakia in which a man becomes imprisoned inside an apartment that runs by its own absurdist, spirit-crushing dream logic.

Svankmajer wasn’t all gloom, though. He has a playful streak, albeit one run by gallow’s humor. “Alice” retains the language of Carroll, with a little girl narrator who reads all the parts, complete with insert shots of her mouth speaking. His sticks to some, if not all, of the most-tackled bits, including her entrapment in a house, the Mad Tea-party and the business with the Red Queen, a scene populated by talking playing cards. The caterpillar is now a dirty sock with eyes and scary dentures.

Everything is fantastical but within extreme limitations. There is no money in Svankmajer’s nation, so even magical creatures in a fantasy world have to make due with what little is around them. It’s a wonderland done on the extreme cheap, and instead of stoking Alice’s imagination, with more absurdist, nonsensical adventures to come, it only makes her tough and brittle. For a girl like her in that place at that time, that will do her more good anyway.

Also out:

‘The Invisible Woman’ Ralph Fiennes’ fierce look at Charles Dickens’ relationship with his secret mistress got a bit lost in the winter rush, which is a shame because it features some terrific work, especially from Felicity Jones as his increasingly withdrawn gal pal. And Fiennes is a helluva director.

‘Breaking the Waves’ Lars Von Trier’s porno “Nymphomaniac” wound up being his (arguable) funniest, warmest work. So go back to a time when he was really tough, i.e., when he had a dim Irish woman (Emily Watson) who embarks on a sexcapade for her injured husband (Stellan Skarsgard).

‘Fill the Void’ One of last year’s most impressive debuts was by filmmaker Rama Burshtein, an Orthodox Israeli who offered a loving but critical glance inside her cloistered world.

‘Touch of Evil’ Orson Welles’ outstanding B-movie thriller, with Charlton Heston as a Mexican cop squaring off aginst Welles’ crooked sheriff, was gutted for original release, then reshaped twice, last in 1998. All three versions are on this release.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

National

New York Times calls for legalization of pot

The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea.

National

Two injured after cable snaps on Ohio amusement…

(Reuters) - A cable on a large swing ride at an Ohio amusement park snapped and struck two riders as the swing was in motion,…

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…