Synopsis: Alice in Wonderland is a 1915 silent film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, directed and written by W.W. Young and starring Viola Savoy as Alice.
To wrap up my mini-Alice in Wonderland fiesta, I decided to watch the live-action, silent adaptation from 1915. It’s not the oldest I’ve seen (the 1908 one is!), but this one’s lengthy enough -at approximately three quarters of an hour- to warrant commenting on.
It was difficult to give it a rating. After all, it was made almost a century ago and the quality of the production leaves much to be desired. Keeping this in mind, however, I decided to give it a relatively passable note. It is, overall, a moderately enjoyable film despite its many flaws.
I’m not well-versed on the book itself, having never read it, but from what I can tell there are huge chunks of it that are missing. There even appears to be a loose adaptation of the material, starting with the White Rabbit beckoning Alice to go with him – instead of her seeing and running after him.
What takes place is that we see Alice’s spirit lift itself out of her dormant body to follow the rabbit – indicating to us from the onset that she is only dreaming. I’m not sure why this choice was made, aside from showing what must have then been high-grade special effects back then, but this pretty much eradicated the surrealistic, magical quality of the story from the onset.
Further to this, by being a silent film, Lewis Carroll’s playful word games are completely lost. This is problematic because a large part of the humour is anchored in the text. Evidently, as a silent film, intertitles come up from time to time to keep us abreast of what is going on, but, for most part, the text is absent from the production.
Between this and the shortness of the picture, the story becomes disjointed – more so than any other version I’ve seen so far aside from the one from 1908. In fact, if I didn’t already know the material a little bit, it would have been unfathomable trying to follow it; sequences simply don’t flow into one another in a coherent way (and this in a tale that is already largely abstract!).
This incoherence is likely due to the brevity of the scenes and the excision of others:
For instance, as peculiar as this may seem, the Tea Party sequence is completely missing. No joke. This is probably everyone’s favourite moment in the story – so I wonder what they were thinking.
In some cases, the excision of original material was done for purely practical reasons: with 1915 technology, many of Carroll’s creations couldn’t be rendered on-screen with ease or at all (case-in-point: all the moments wherein Alice would change sizes have been altered).
In other cases, they made feeble attempts at bringing the moments to life, but it didn`t quite work (the Cheshire Cat scene, for example, should only show his grin floating in mid-air, but the filmmakers were only able to plop the still Cheshire cat mask on a branch to simulate it ).
The impressive thing about this particular production are the sets and costumes: as cheap as they might look today, the fact remains that they were all hand-crafted from natural materials – so one can only imagine the amount of work that went into trying to recreate what Carroll had put on the page. Granted, today we could make much more divine and accurate representations of Wonderland’s characters – but, given what they had to work with, these ones are actually quite splendid.
Which leads me to conclude that, at under an hour in length, this version of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is worth the brief investment of time. It may only be a mere curiosity for some, but completists and die-hard fans of the book owe it to themselves to see this – warts and all, it’s still a treat on some levels.