Alice

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Murdoch
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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#51 Post by Murdoch » Tue May 17, 2011 1:22 pm

I think my head's gonna explode if I don't get my hands on this soon, just one more week

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Der Spieler
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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#52 Post by Der Spieler » Tue May 17, 2011 1:22 pm

This is one of the first films that got me into "serious" cinema years ago and it's always been a favorite of mine -said the White Rabbit. So I'll most definitely pick it up and I can't thank the BFI team enough for this beautiful release.

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bigP
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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#53 Post by bigP » Fri May 20, 2011 5:58 am

I received my copy through the door today and it's an absolute revelation. The print is breathtaking and the complete package is, I'm sure, going to remain as the cream of the crop of this years (and any other years) releases. Congratulations Michael and all at BFI on such a terrific release.

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#54 Post by MichaelB » Fri May 20, 2011 6:15 am

James White (as ever) deserves the bulk of the credit, as he was the man who actually supervised the transfer from telecine in Prague through digital restoration in London - and Upekha Bandaranayake did the rest of the actual production work. In fact, I was genuinely surprised to end up with a co-producer credit, as all I really did was make suggestions, answer questions and point them in various directions - but I was hardly going to turn it down when it was offered.

But I'm delighted that you're so pleased with it, and I agree with you: it's an unrecognisable improvement on all previous releases. I first watched the finished Blu-ray over the weekend, and it was almost like watching the film for the first time - I don't recall even the 35mm version looking quite that punchy. And given the constant frustration in this business of having to deal with less than wonderful materials (often not even supplied on film), it's such a treat when you get the chance to do it properly, using the best possible 35mm source and controlling every stage of the process.

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#55 Post by MichaelB » Fri May 20, 2011 9:19 am


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ambrose
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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#56 Post by ambrose » Fri May 20, 2011 10:15 pm


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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#57 Post by MichaelB » Sat May 21, 2011 3:20 am

The Beaver review confirms that Alice is definitely region-free.

(It was always supposed to be, but I don't have a non-Region B player, so couldn't check this myself.)

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#58 Post by manicsounds » Sat May 21, 2011 11:13 am

MichaelB wrote:The Beaver review confirms that Alice is definitely region-free.

(It was always supposed to be, but I don't have a non-Region B player, so couldn't check this myself.)
c'mon michaelb, we got on dad1153's case about not having a region-free dvd player until recently, but you gotta get yourself one for BDs!

Yes, I'm very excited about this release. A few months ago, after seeing clips on a Japanese morning talk show, I was excited to see the clips enough, but for a BD is a blessing from the BFI. I am a little disappointed in the lack of retrospective featurettes or commentary, but I hope the booklet suffices.

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#59 Post by colinr0380 » Sun May 22, 2011 7:48 am

I'd forgotten until watching this again just how much of a vandal Alice is! Particularly in the regular pulling off of drawer knobs! No wonder the various characters start attempting to commit violent acts against her, even before the Queen of Hearts shows up! (There's an utterly bizarre and terrifying moment where the axe-wielding White Rabbit performs what could only be interpreted as a homage to the "Here's Johnny!" scene from The Shining!)

I was also reminded again when watching the sequence of Alice falling/travelling down a lift past various levels of bric-a-brac, that I'd wondered when watching Inception whether the sequence in that film of travelling down through layers of memories had taken any inspiration from the Švankmajer!

I haven't reached the extra features yet but the film itself looks perfect and I'm glad that the English language audio was added as an option, since I just feel it adds an extra sense of strange dislocation from the lip movements that works beautifully along with the transitions from live actions to animation. Perhaps it is because it is not as talky but it doesn't bother me quite as much as it does with Faust, where there were a number of important passages of dialogue rather than just repetitive, gnomic statements (Faust I think works well viewed as the more 'adult themed' companion piece to Alice, especially in the scenes of the human onlooker chasing after a mysterious figure and then having the tables turned on them/their wishes for attention granted; and in the use of the theatrical backdrop used to perform to our main character, who then manages to force their way onto the stage and even further into the backstage area to become part of the action. Or the puppets various head changes taking place with the heads rolling towards or away from the stage across beautiful, incongruous landscapes that change to fit the emotional mood of the scene).

This really has to stand as the best Alice film (I remember watching it the last time Channel 4 showed it very late at night through the summer of 2001 when it was cut down into 20 minute segments. I had seen it full length before that and remember thinking that it was rather sacriligeous to have cut the film around like that but it still worked well, and certainly managed to have enough 'cliffhanger' moments to inspire a viewer to catch the next episode!) It is not afraid to be beautifully creepy (the rabbit eating its own stuffing; the siege sequence of the full sized Alice trapped inside the dolls house defending herself from the White Rabbit and his skeleton chums trying to get at her. And I have always found that moment of the rat setting up camp on Alice's head and hammering the pegs into her skull to be rather wince-inducing!), but still working with a child-like sense of wonder and exploration, of not being too taken aback by some of the more bizarre twists and turns - the perfect representation of "curiouser and curiouser"!
Last edited by colinr0380 on Sun May 22, 2011 8:12 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#60 Post by colinr0380 » Sun May 22, 2011 8:05 am

manicsounds wrote:
MichaelB wrote:The Beaver review confirms that Alice is definitely region-free.

(It was always supposed to be, but I don't have a non-Region B player, so couldn't check this myself.)
c'mon michaelb, we got on dad1153's case about not having a region-free dvd player until recently, but you gotta get yourself one for BDs!
I've just upgraded my computer with a Blu-Ray drive that was Region B locked. I have since found some software (thank you, internet!) that allows you to specifically choose Region A, B or C. I've just clicked it over to Region A locked and tried playing the Alice Blu-Ray disc, which is working perfectly fine as I'm typing this (unfortunately the BD version of PowerDVD doesn't seem to have the option of allowing screen captures to be taken, which is a shame!)

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#61 Post by MichaelB » Sun May 22, 2011 8:40 am

colinr0380 wrote:I'd forgotten until watching this again just how much of a vandal Alice is! Particularly in the regular pulling off of drawer knobs! No wonder the various characters start attempting to commit violent acts against her, even before the Queen of Hearts shows up!
One of the peculiarities of this interpretation is that Alice is a good deal younger than usual - she's normally portrayed in the 8-10 range or even older, but this one is definitely no more than six. I watched the film with my own six-year-old daughter last weekend (she loved it, and requested a repeat screening the next day), so I'm acutely aware of what they're like at that age - 'vandal' isn't the half of it. But they get bored very easily, and so have a compulsion to fiddle with things.
I haven't reached the extra features yet but the film itself looks perfect and I'm glad that the English language audio was added as an option, since I just feel it adds an extra sense of strange dislocation from the lip movements that works beautifully along with the transitions from live actions to animation.
There was never any question of omitting the English version. Not just for nostalgists, as in the vast majority of cases it will be the only soundtrack they were previously familiar with, but because Švankmajer wasn't joking when he said that it was a film for children (perhaps), which of course is why it was dubbed into English in the first place.
Perhaps it is because it is not as talky but it doesn't bother me quite as much as it does with Faust, where there were a number of important passages of dialogue rather than just repetitive, gnomic statements.
It shouldn't bother you, as there's really nothing to choose between the English and Czech versions of Faust - both are voiced by a single actor, both are obviously post-dubbed, and the lip-sync is decidedly imperfect in each (it's a quite different situation from Alice, whose lip-sync unambiguously favours the Czech version). And while I might change my mind if I ever get the chance to sample the Czech version with subtitles (I've only seen an imported VHS), at the moment I much prefer Andrew Sachs' rendition - not least because it includes explicit quotations from Christopher Marlowe that obviously wouldn't come across in the Czech. (I assume the Czech version draws on the culture's own Faust legends, but you'd have to be a native to spot this).
And I have always found that moment of the rat setting up camp on Alice's head and hammering the pegs into her skull to be rather wince-inducing!), but still working with a child-like sense of wonder and exploration, of not being too taken aback by some of the more bizarre twists and turns - the perfect representation of "curiouser and curiouser"!
Weirdly enough - or maybe not - my daughter didn't have a problem with that at all. In fact, she didn't have a problem with any of it: she was utterly enraptured by the whole thing. And it occurred to me when watching her watching it that she'd probably never seen a film before with a protagonist who was exactly like her (they even look similar) - her other favoured role models are all cartoon characters or much older people like Tracy Beaker or Sarah Jane Smith.

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#62 Post by colinr0380 » Sun May 22, 2011 9:17 am

I take your point on Faust - I should say that I'm only familiar with the English language version of that film. As with Alice though I think it is certainly in the running as one of the best filmic adaptations and any dubbing issues I might have are really only very minor ones (and as you say it is very obvious on watching with the original audio and seeing the synch-up that the original language of Alice is Czech, which sounds very different from the Faust situation).

I also do not mean any condemnation on Alice for being a vandal (I certainly remember being forced to clean up my messy bedroom and being told off about not drawing on the walls when I was that age!) - but I love the way that it gets your sympathies to shift between the characters in a nice way so that sometimes it feels like the busy White Rabbit is rightfully annoyed at being followed around by this curious girl destroying rooms in order to continue on into the next one, and at others she is being horribly abused by them as she gets ganged up on so it is understandable that she lashes out!

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#63 Post by zedz » Sun May 22, 2011 7:52 pm

MichaelB wrote:And it occurred to me when watching her watching it that she'd probably never seen a film before with a protagonist who was exactly like her (they even look similar)
I think that's a major part of the film's genius: it's always seemed to me like Alice is the best representation ever captured on film of what child's play is really like, with Alice exploring her immediate surroundings and transforming all the bits and bobs she finds there into a living, breathing fanstastical narrative. Thus a desk drawer can become a portal to another world, a bucket of water an ocean, a doll's house a fortress. And the violent mayhem is also an intrinsic part of children's narrative-making (". . . and then there was a huge earthquake!" (shakes table).)


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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#65 Post by colinr0380 » Mon May 23, 2011 5:54 pm

Having read the essays in the booklet on my journey to work today, I note from the Claire Kitson piece that she talks about the way that Alice was originally produced in both series and feature versions because of the German part of the funding coming from their children's programming budget! That explains the existence of the multiple episode version that I mentioned seeing above, being somewhat curious of why it was done. However I do think that Alice works beautifully in both formats!

While the Philip Strick essay from the Monthly Film Bulletin reproduced in the booklet leans rather too heavily on the dark aspects of Alice (while I've talked about her being abused by the characters in the comment above I still like the way it is a child-friendly fantasy as well, while Strick's essay makes it sound like a Lynchian nightmare of the soul! Although I do think the Lynch connections are appropriate, as there is a similar very understated undercurrent here of a child perhaps coming to terms with abusive adults, somewhat sublimated through their playthings. This of course is also a regular feature of Lynch's work), I think his interpretation of many sequences is wonderfully enlightening, such as the way that the a sub-theme of the film is of education with Alice moving through the desk full of protractors and pricking her finger on a compass early on (dangerous knowledge!), to literally consuming education through drinking the pot of ink to progress further, through to the way that she is handed a textbook at the final trial scene as a kind of final exam testing her on what she has learnt (or eaten!) during her travels! When Alice gets annoyed at the way that she has to spout bizarre, untrue and unintuitive information by rote and deviates from the book, that is the point at which she in some senses 'transcends' her dream world and returns to 'reality', but a changed girl - perhaps more mature, at least more worldly.

Strick's esssay then has this to say about the final scene, which I think is both beautifully put and quite chilling. I'll spoiler tag it:
Philip Strick wrote:
SpoilerShow
The political message, complete with beheadings, is remarkably clear - in fact it makes more sense than Švankmajer's insistence that his film is "a pure example of an infantile dream". But the ending, with Alice waiting to snip off of the head of her treacherous 'teacher' [the White Rabbit who has previously taken on the role of the Queen of Hearts' executioner], is also balefully personal: she is now free from the tyranny of her elders, but the only power this realisation has given her is the power of destruction, Švankmajer's final image is of Alice's anticipatory smile, undoubtedly mirroring his own. He has fathered another fine delinquent.
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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#66 Post by MichaelB » Tue May 24, 2011 7:54 am

BluRayDefinition.com.
Rhythm Circus.

It's also the lead review in this month's Uncut magazine, but I don't think it's online.

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#67 Post by Finch » Tue May 24, 2011 12:01 pm

Not surprised that Philip French didn't like it, as mentioned in the booklet: not exactly the most perceptive critic! I hadn't seen Alice until today but it looks absolutely beautiful and the film is quite an experience: I was spellbound from start to finish, and will let the DVD to curious friends that I have recommended the film to already. The BFI keeps delivering the goods and then some.

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#68 Post by swo17 » Tue May 24, 2011 12:05 pm

If you liked this, don't hesitate to pick up BFI's excellent collection of Švankmajer shorts!

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#69 Post by MichaelB » Tue May 24, 2011 12:11 pm

swo17 wrote:If you liked this, don't hesitate to pick up BFI's excellent collection of Švankmajer shorts!
Yes, the shorts are undoubtedly where Švankmajer's true genius lies - I don't think he's ever topped the best of those. If you've never seen Dimensions of Dialogue... what are you waiting for?

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#70 Post by Roger Ryan » Tue May 24, 2011 1:31 pm

MichaelB wrote:
swo17 wrote:If you liked this, don't hesitate to pick up BFI's excellent collection of Švankmajer shorts!
Yes, the shorts are undoubtedly where Švankmajer's true genius lies - I don't think he's ever topped the best of those. If you've never seen Dimensions of Dialogue... what are you waiting for?
Thanks so much for this link. I found ALICE to be quite charming, but DIMENSIONS OF DIALOGUE is absolutely magnificent!

It strikes me that the Lynch comparison must be related more to the director's artwork and early short films (where stop-motion animation was utilized to show heads vomiting, etc.) than to thematic similarities found in the features. Or are there parallels found in (unseen by me) features like LUNACY and GREEDY GUTS?

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#71 Post by MichaelB » Tue May 24, 2011 1:50 pm

I don't think Lynch and Švankmajer have a great deal in common, on the whole. There are some superficial similarities as regards certain preoccupations (both are obsessed with the texture of objects, for instance), but you'd never mistake one man's work for that of the other. That said, Švankmajer is a fan of Lynch - though he probably wouldn't have had a chance to discover his films until after he'd already made the bulk of his work, and of course he made half his short films before Lynch ever picked up a camera.

(The Monthly Film Bulletin once speculated as to whether Lynch could have been influenced by Švankmajer, but this seemed to be based purely on the fact that Lynch's tutor at the AFI was Frank Daniel, previously František Daniel, who moved in Czech film circles before emigrating to the US).

Incidentally, Greedy Guts doesn't exist - or rather, it was only ever a provisional title for what became Little Otík. That's the film I'd most recommend for fans of Alice looking for something in a similar vein, though my favourite of all his features is still Conspirators of Pleasure.

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#72 Post by swo17 » Tue May 24, 2011 2:05 pm

MichaelB wrote:my favourite of all his features is still Conspirators of Pleasure.
Ditto. Any chance of BFI tackling this one? (Hint: You could market it as an upmarket porn film!)

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#73 Post by MichaelB » Tue May 24, 2011 2:07 pm

No idea. I think the rights to all his other features are up for grabs, but I suspect sales of Alice will be a crucial factor. Mind you, it doesn't seem to be doing badly so far.

And Conspirators of Pleasure is an upmarket porn film - Švankmajer was cheerfully open about his ambition to make the first entirely pornographic film that nonetheless doesn't contain a single pornographic image.

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#74 Post by zombeaner » Tue May 24, 2011 4:04 pm

I remember sitting in the UC Theatre in Berkeley as a 16 year old attending a screening of M when they played a trailer for Conspirators of Pleasure. It blew my tiny teenaged mind. That trailer was one of the many small revelations that drove me to alternative cinema.

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Re: Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)

#75 Post by zedz » Tue May 24, 2011 4:04 pm

MichaelB wrote:And Conspirators of Pleasure is an upmarket porn film - Švankmajer was cheerfully open about his ambition to make the first entirely pornographic film that nonetheless doesn't contain a single pornographic image.
What was that? Sorry, the carp were biting.

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