Alice in Wonderland (1903)
February 26, 2010 4:09 PM   Subscribe

Alice in Wonderland (1903), directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow
posted by brundlefly (32 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
As noted on the YouTube post:
With a running time of just 12 minutes (8 of which survive), Alice in Wonderland was the longest film produced in England at that time. Film archivists have been able to restore the film's original colours for the first time in over 100 years.
I was wondering if this would be in vivid colors, but it's just film tinting by way of soaking the film in dye, a technique which started in the 1890s. Very keen!
posted by filthy light thief at 4:27 PM on February 26, 2010


Cute kids in playing-card sandwich boards = 100-year-old WIN.

That was awesome!
posted by missmary6 at 4:28 PM on February 26, 2010


Imagine being someone in 1903 seeing this when it was new. It boggles the mind to think of the sheer novelty of it.
posted by evilcolonel at 4:32 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Special effects! Growing and shrinking, very cool. And if you've read the book you can actually tell what's happening. I wonder which other scenes were originally included?
posted by bitslayer at 4:32 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eat your heart out, Tim Burton!
posted by william_boot at 4:39 PM on February 26, 2010


Watching this with The Knife - Heartbeats in the background is excellent.
posted by empath at 4:44 PM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Although it's hard to compete with "Old Man Drinking a Glass of Beer" (1897).
posted by brundlefly at 4:45 PM on February 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


That was delightful! Although I must admit, there were some things about pacing that they hadn't quite learned yet at that stage.

Also: "In an act that was to echo more than 100 years later, Hepworth cast his wife as the Red Queen"
posted by moss at 5:20 PM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also: "In an act that was to echo more than 100 years later, Hepworth cast his wife as the Red Queen"

Isn't Tim Burton married to what'shername? I agree though, they could have made that a little less dependent on breaking American pop culture references.
posted by DU at 5:23 PM on February 26, 2010


Delightful. Thank you for the link.

It has to be said -- Martin Short was the best-ever Mad Hatter.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 5:29 PM on February 26, 2010


I still consider the 1976 version definitive.
posted by planet at 5:49 PM on February 26, 2010


Features film's first lolcat.

CHESIRE CAT IZ READY FOR HIS CLOSEUP.
posted by Partario at 6:27 PM on February 26, 2010


The cat looked thoroughly unimpressed at 5:10.

Scooped by a LOLCAT fan, I see.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:47 PM on February 26, 2010


This is so wonderful. Although that Dormouse is GIGANTIC.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 6:58 PM on February 26, 2010


Isn't Tim Burton married to what'shername? I agree though, they could have made that a little less dependent on breaking American pop culture references.

I don't know how it can be called an American pop culture reference when half the couple is British and they live in London. (And I don't think Burton is actually married to Helena Bonham Carter though though they've been together for a while now -- at least in celebrity-relationship years)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:28 PM on February 26, 2010


Why didn't any warn me -- that giant white rabbit is the stuff of nightmares!!!

But with the exception of that, this is delightful. I'm actually really impressed with the way the first shrinking effect looks. Reminds you why they call the f/x "special" and not "realistic" -- it's about getting the point across in a way that hooks the audience, not necessarily just fools them.

Or maybe I'm just an olde timey film dork.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:06 PM on February 26, 2010


Umm. I smell a rat. The frame-rates are too consistent, and there's way too much lattitude for circa-1909 cinema film. Lots of lovely, yet unmistakably modern tonality and very modern contrast. Old stuff is flat, flat, flat under consistent lighting - and under natural light, even on a cloudy day, it can't capture the highlights and shadows as well as the mid-tones. Look up Metropilis on Youtube for 1920's era filmstock under studio lighting, and Buster Keaton stuff for outdoor lighting of same - and this is with gear 15 years more advanced than the purported age of this film. I'd put it down to one hell of a resto job, but... you can't put back in what wasn't there to begin with.

BFI was snookered - there I said it. This is a recent film doctored with fake damage (that conveniently goes away when the narration pops onscreen, yet retains some degree of "scratch and pop", so its not just a modern replacement introduced during resto.)

I'd go so far as to say it was shot on a prosumer-grade HDTV videocam. It has that more-real-than-real look you can't get with 35mm stock, nevermind 16mm. The depth-of-field is wrong for 35mm lenses, too, which contributes to the effect.

(See? I knew pursuing a BA in Photography and a relentless habit of gear-worship would one day come in useful!)
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:11 PM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Just not in my career.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:19 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


And here's some more info on that 1976 version of Alice in Wonderland, for those who aren't familiar with it…
posted by LMGM at 8:49 PM on February 26, 2010


This is a recent film doctored with fake damage

Um, this isn't some recently discovered footage or anything. So unless you're suggesting they managed to find someone to play Alice who looked extraordinarily like the May Clark who was in 13 other documented films that decade I think you might be overthinking that particular beanplate.

In Hepworth's biographical notes on screenonline, they do make particular note that his production company's work had high photographic quality. Apparently he also published a book, Came the Dawn, in 1951 so there might be some more info about his methods there.
posted by Sparx at 8:50 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seen a lot of 'shops in your day, have you, Slap*Happy?
posted by brundlefly at 8:59 PM on February 26, 2010


BFI was snookered

By whom? Someone who recently shot the footage on HD video, transferred it to nitrate film, artificially aged it by 100 years, and then planted it in the BFI vaults where the archivists would find it and restore it? Or are you suggesting that the BFI shot it themselves and made up the rest of the story?

Also, I think you have a distorted view of what films from that era can look like. To my eye, there's nothing particularly anachronistic about the lighting, tonality, or contrast of the film. Alice in Wonderland looks quite similar to Rescued by Rover, directed by Cecil Hepworth in 1905 - and I've seen that on film and can verify that it's real. Of course they both look a bit video-y on Youtube - because you're watching a low-res digital derivative of a video copy of a film.
posted by Awkward Philip at 9:03 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oooh, thank you for posting this! It was a pleasure to watch, especially the cards running at the end.

I also like how much the Duchess and the Mad Hatter look like the Tenniel illustrations. It's interesting to see what gets included and what's left out; they spent quite some time in the "Hall of Many Doors", perhaps partially because that was a great place to do effects, but less time in Wonderland proper. I feel like the Duchess is fairly likely to be omitted but she was in this whereas the caterpillar wasn't and they didn't have the croquet, but you totally still get the feeling of Wonderland out of it out of it (or at least I did -- these definitely aren't criticism, just stuff I think is interesting). Thanks again for posting -- I wouldn't have seen this otherwise and I'm really glad I did.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:23 PM on February 26, 2010


One of the BFI archivists, or one of the companies subcontracted for same, perhaps. I'd be reeeeal interested to see a densitometry comparison between Alice in Wonderland and Rescued by Rover indoor scenes, and wonder why Fritz Lang and Charlie Chaplin couldn't match the Alice In Wonderland level of quality with 1920's Hollywood budgets and equipment. Or why the Rescued By Rover film looks like utter crap besides the obvious. (Ah, uncoated vintage optics! UV haze FTW.)

Still trying to track down decent quality stills of the actress to see if I'm nuts or not. The collie certainly isn't the same.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:32 PM on February 26, 2010


The collie certainly isn't the same.

Really? Because the dogs in the two films look pretty similar to me - they both even have the same white spot on their foreheads.

And honestly, I think you're going pretty far out on a limb here. For your theory to be true, the entire staff of the British Film Institue would have to conspire to produce a fake film, include the fake film as an extra on a DVD produced in 2003, create an elaborate backstory about the restoration process, and screen the "restored" version of the fake film at a special event at the British Library earlier this week, all without anyone ever suspecting what they had done (until now...).
posted by Awkward Philip at 10:15 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is still my favorite Alice movie and song.
posted by kenlayne at 10:24 PM on February 26, 2010


Slap*Happy: “I'd be reeeeal interested to see a densitometry comparison between Alice in Wonderland and Rescued by Rover indoor scenes, and wonder why Fritz Lang and Charlie Chaplin couldn't match the Alice In Wonderland level of quality with 1920's Hollywood budgets and equipment.”

That's really weird - I didn't know UFA was in Hollywood.

“BFI was snookered - there I said it. This is a recent film doctored with fake damage (that conveniently goes away when the narration pops onscreen, yet retains some degree of "scratch and pop", so its not just a modern replacement introduced during resto.)”

You don't know what you're talking about. I remember watching this in film classes at the College of Santa Fe and being told it was a great example of early film. Here is an unrestored copy over at Internet Archive (this film is, after all, in the public domain) if you'd like to do some comparison.

The BFI isn't putting this forward as being a classic of early film - it has been recognized as an early classic for at least 80 years. If anybody's being fooled, it's the general consensus in scholarly film history for the last three quarters of a century. If that is so, however, they've pulled off the even greater coup of inventing a time machine.
posted by koeselitz at 11:22 PM on February 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


It should be noted, by the way, that this isn't by any stretch a 'new find.' It's been around, and widely regarded, for many decades. It's been watched by millions of people. The DVD of this film has been out there for years, and as I've said, before that there were simple film transfers of the (admittedly low-quality) reproductions of the master. I've seen them before.

The only thing that's really new is the recoloring of the film and the fantastic restoration. It's really a great thing - and thanks for this, brundlefly. But let's keep in mind that this film has been kicking around out there for a long, long time - it's not some vault discovery that might be a big hoax. I think it's categorically impossible that this was shot with an HDTV videocam, for one, since I know for a fact that it's been screened many times over the years. I personally recall watching it around 1998 - but that was already after more than fifty years of screenings of these ten minutes of footage.
posted by koeselitz at 11:52 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


A catchy remix of the 1951 Disney classic.
posted by samsara at 8:32 AM on February 27, 2010


Great post, and a very enjoyable movie (though May Clark wasn't exactly charismatic—I'm not surprised her movie career ended in 1907). This (from the "1903" link) really amazed me:
Its unusual length meant that it was not suitable for all film showings, where a variety of short subjects was considered ideal, so all the scenes were sold individually. A showman need only buy and show a single sequence, such as the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, not the whole film, which was less a self-contained story than an illustration of key moments from the book.
Twelve minutes was too long to show all at once? And they say we have short attention spans today!

(I presume/hope Slap*Happy is attempting some sort of straight-faced leg-pulling; otherwise, yeah, that's a pretty dumb idea.)
posted by languagehat at 9:07 AM on February 27, 2010


Slap*Happy: "The depth-of-field is wrong for 35mm lenses, too, which contributes to the effect."

What on earth makes you think that they were using 35mm film and lenses in 1903?

Anyway. Is this really the restored version? Because if it is, it's not particularly good restoration, in my opinion. Maybe there's some aversion to regenerating missing information and so on in historical films, which might be understandable, but I see many places where entirely removing the damage wouldn't be particularly difficult.

For instance, in the sequence with the little door, there's a bunch of severe damage to the sides of the frame. It wouldn't be very hard to fix by just interpolating the frames before and after. The same goes double for the majority of the dust, stains, and intermittent scratches.

Also, it seems that fixing the register wouldn't be too hard, and the intertitles, which are basically just stills of text, should be possible to restore to perfection.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:31 AM on February 27, 2010


I think it's clear SlapHappy is having some fun here. I wouldn't worry about convincing him of that which I am sure he knows so well. Still, it's an unfortunate joke derail.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 12:10 PM on February 27, 2010


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