Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Alice: “Twas brillig!”
Robert L. Fielding
In Alice in Wonderland (108 mins), directed by Tim Burton, with an excellent screenplay by Linda Woolverton, based loosely on Lewis Carroll’s words, Alice Kingsley, Australian, Mia Wasikowska, plays the young woman who doesn’t quite fit into polite Victorian society. Shortly after the death of her father, she shuns a proposal of marriage and ‘escapes’ down a rabbit hole into the world inhabited by the creations of the mind of the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson -Lewis Carroll.

In the topsy-turvy world she finds herself in, the bright-eyed Alice soon comes up against the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), the grotesquely white-faced Iracebeth of Crims and her minions, who have helped her to conquer Underworld by stealing the crown from her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

The day will come when Alice has to fight the Jabberwock (with eyes aflame) on that day of days, the Frabjous Day. Meanwhile, labouring under a misunderstanding, Alice is pronounced to be ‘the wrong Alice’ – she has shrunk to a mere six inches in height, later to an improbable 20 feet tall.

She becomes the White Queen’s champion, eventually slaying the Jabberwock, the Red Queen’s dragon, that terrorises her subjects, keeping her on the throne.

Johnny Depp adds to his incredible versatility (Sweeney Todd, Chocolat, Public Enemy, Edward Scissorhands et al) playing the frenetic milliner, Tarrant Hightop, the Mad Hatter, complete with magical hat at the usual price of 10/6, and multiple personalities, one of which speaks Glaswegian based upon Rab C. Nesbitt, no less. He fights the Knave of Hearts, Ilosovic Stayne (Crispin Glover), to complete the Frab Day.

The graphics in Tim Burton’s creation are amazing – Carroll would have been ‘wellpleezed’, and the voice-overs from the likes of Stephen Fry (The Cheshire Cat), Barbara Windsor (Mallymkun, the dormouse), Micheal Sheen (the white rabbit), Timothy Spall (Bayard Hamar, the bloodhound), and Paul Whitehouse from The Fast Show (the March Hare) are a joy to hear and recognize.

Real people on screen included the multi-talented but now sadly infrequently seen Lindsay Duncan (Oliver Twist, GBH), and Geraldine James (The Calendar Girls, Ghandi) and the favourite from British television, Frances de la Tour (Rising Damp’s Miss Jones) – all playing the usual suspects in Burton’s/Carroll’s masterpiece.

The question that remains to be answered, for me, is whether Carroll or Burton, or both, intended any allegorical meaning in the production. I took it as telling me to be true to my own spirit, and/or alternatively, what can happen when despots hold sway – I could be wrong on both counts. Only wikipedia readers will tell you that the White and Red Queens represented the Houses of York and Lancaster, to the rest of us, it was what Carroll intended – ‘literary nonsense’ – much beloved by children and teachers of discourse analysis – ‘curiouser and curiouser!’
Robert L. Fielding

Robert L. Fielding
‘Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite them, and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum – and vengeance is sweet until what goes around comes around – the essence of the messages Shakespeare may have intended in Titus Andronicus, his earliest tragedy. Titus (162 minutes) also depicts the brutality and the futility of our ‘need’ for revenge, and our abuse of power.

Sir Anthony Hopkins (Titus) is magnificently cruel, even sinister, while displaying sensitivity – the tragedy of a man doomed to follow a trait that leads him to his downfall (cf Hamlet, Coriolanus, KingLear, Macbeth etc).

His nemesis, Tamora (Jessica Lange) is the epitome of a vengeful, scheming, nasty piece of work, who seduces the corrupt Saturnine (Alan Cumming) to act in ways that are symptomatic of a Rome in its decline – with unutterable savagery and unspeakable decadence.

The film rather puzzlingly begins with a device straight out of a workshop for film directors/writers; a small boy stages a military debacle with his toys on a kitchen table, until a bomb explodes and he is taken (with us) into the world of agoras and temples in ancient Rome.

It has been suggested that the boy is a ‘stand-in’ for us – perhaps to involve us, perhaps to remove any alienation we might feel from the action, perhaps to place us centre stage. In all respects, the device failed – the boy was nearly always somewhere, which puzzled me, I must say.

The real action, when it begins, comes thick and fast, hot on the heals of Tamora’s plea for her son to be spared by Titus. No mercy was shown him and his death marked the first in a series of acts of brutal revenge, finishing, as Shakespearean tragedy usually does, with the deaths of most of the cast.

Violence begets more violence, and with malign dictators, violence knows no bounds. Saturnine, newly crowned Emperor of Rome starts as he means to carry on – with sadistic orgy and madness.

The appearance of what looked for all the world like staff cars from 1930s Germany, carrying the Emperor on his feet shouting at everyone gave the film a sort of universal appeal – this is how dictators in all ages behave.

Using cinematography/computer graphics to great effect, Luciano Tovoli, was able to bring the hatred of a soliloquy onto the silver screen. If they had had these techniques in Shakespeare’s day, this is how he would have done it!
Robert L. Fielding