Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Response to Steph's assessment of Burton's "Alice"


This would have been a fun one to have seen and then commented on, but regarding this bit –

"Alice in Wonderland" does offer its share of slender pleasures: Wasikowska plays Alice as bright and unassuming, and watching her is never a chore, even when the story devolves into a "Girls can do cool stuff, too!" empowerment tale. (Stephanie Zacharek, “Tim Burton’s Alice in Underland,” Salon, 4 March 2010)

-- I'm sorry to hear she plays it unassuming, mostly because I'm tired of unassuming people being praised -- SPEAK UP, DAMN "YOU"! DON'T SQUEAK ABOUT LIKE A MOUSE: PRESUME! PRESUME! -- but also because it's a significant deviance from the Alice I very much liked in the book. Alice was notable as much (if not in fact, more) for her default inclination TO PRESUME on the tilted creatures that keep frothing up to spook at her with unsteadying strangeness, as it was to accommodate and defer to them, and as a result she is often shown to sort of spark the creatures she meets into a state that comes a bit closer to recognizable sanity -- she gets real and recognizable, not just crazed and abstract, conversations and reactions from them, and by so doing SHE brings THEM into unfamiliar territory. You can read Alice as an initially quiet and unsettled stranger who quickly becomes someone who could see through the lies and breast the cowering and possibly idiosyncrasy-inspiring intimidation, to near take down the queer king (queen)dom. It's the Caucus Race where I first felt her influencing Wonderland -- making "it" experience the uncertain step toward a larger field of consciousness --not just reacting to it, but all these instances are significant as setting her up as at least a potential agent of unsettling change:

`Did you say pig, or fig?' said the Cat.

`I said pig,' replied Alice; `and I wish you wouldn't keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly: you make one quite giddy.'

`All right,' said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.

and this bit:

`Have some wine,' the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. `I don't see any wine,' she remarked.

`There isn't any,' said the March Hare.

`Then it wasn't very civil of you to offer it,' said Alice angrily.

and this bit:


`Nonsense!' said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.

The King laid his hand upon her arm, and timidly said `Consider, my dear: she is only a child!'

and this bit:

`You promised to tell me your history, you know,' said Alice, `and why it is you hate--C and D,' she added in a whisper, half afraid that it would be offended again.

`Mine is a long and a sad tale!' said the Mouse, turning to Alice, and sighing.

`It is a long tail, certainly,' said Alice, looking down with wonder at the Mouse's tail; `but why do you call it sad?' And she kept on puzzling about it while the Mouse was speaking,

and of course, of course, the final bit:

`Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. `The idea of having the sentence first!'

`Hold your tongue!' said the Queen, turning purple.

`I won't!' said Alice.

`Off with her head!' the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

`Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) `You're nothing but a pack of cards!'

@ Patrick M-H

Excellent comment.

I too read that bit of SZ's review and thought "... wait a minute". What are either of the two Alice stories BUT "girls can do things too" empowerment? In the first story, a girl essentially stands up to tyranny. In the second, she become QUEEN.

(Perhaps SZ's objection is to this movie's way of depicting the empowerment; I haven't seen it yet, so I can't say. But the theme alone is extremely "Alice".)

I'd like to see the film, even if I suspect it won't be very good. I'm interested in the visuals, and I care enough about "Alice" that I'd like to see even a bad version in order to be able to talk about why I thought it failed. (If I end up thinking that.)

I'll say at the outset that unless SZ and other reviewers are leaving out plot points, what has irritated me since the beginning of the advertising blitz is this:

Carter is playing THE QUEEN OF HEARTS. Not the Red Queen. Playing cards = "Wonderland". Chess Set = "Through the Looking Glass".

I would find it interesting if this movie suggested that the Queen of Hearts had assassinated and usurped the role of the Red Queen, as a bid to take over all of Wonderland. That would make her opposition to the White Queen make sense. But she isn't the Red Queen in and of herself -- that's a separate and actually *helpful* character, not at all like the tyrant Queen of Hearts.

If the movie loses that distinction entirely, that's more than disappointing. (sgaana, response to post, “Tim Burton’s Alice in Underland”)


Re: "I'd like to see the film, even if I suspect it won't be very good. I'm interested in the visuals, and I care enough about "Alice" that I'd like to see even a bad version in order to be able to talk about why I thought it failed. (If I end up thinking that.)"

One of the things Stephanie does is show that there is fairly considerable pleasure to be had in pinning down exactly what it is about a BAD film/performance that made it so bad. I sometimes see her as an artful cafe-flaneur, taking some pleasure in going wherever needed to best delineate the experience of what strides/flashes forth before her, who can near lull you into agreeing with her just so you can accord her wordings some rightful permanence -- even, that is, if something inside is telling you she may even be obfuscating, that she did something worse than not nail it.

I'd love it if they'd let us know that certain films would stay on Salon until the end of the weekend. I'd love to hear what this most intelligent/sensitive audience of readers, after being challenged by Stephanie's assessments, concludes about how THEY themselves experienced them, and so offer the sorts of eye-opening, conscious-raising disagreements/discussions we are able to offer when discussion revolves around (for instance) a book we all happen to have read. Stephanie's sharp, and makes you conscious of how exactly you experienced things, and thereby, I think, leave you with tools to move beyond just asking yourself IF you liked/hated a film, toward asking yourself WHY in particular you love/hate films that are/do such and such. With her help, you can not just get to know the film but also yourself, better. Alternatively, it can help you see HER better -- her own predilections (let's say) -- and I can't but think Stephanie would like it if contributers here helped her see what, for some investigation-worthy reason, she was prevented from seeing in the first place.

Appreciate you chiming-in. If not with "Alice," hopefully with other films and books, we'll get to talkin'.

Link: Tim Burton’s Alice in Underland (Salon)

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