The Initiation of Alice in Wonderland: The Looking Glass of Lewis Carroll
by Jef Burnham
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I appreciate how hard it is for an independent filmmaker to put any film together, let alone a documentary. I myself have put together a number of short films and understand that the amount of time and effort one must devote to the completion of but a ten-minute film is considerable to say the least. But as we all know, the completion of a film in and of itself is not enough to satisfy the demands of an audience. For an audience to become invested, one cannot simply present them with interesting information. A film must be dynamic and alive, and there comes a point when every filmmaker must question whether or not their material is appropriately dynamic to warrant a feature film. In the case of The Initiation of Alice in Wonderland, I would have to say it is not.
Given writer/director Philip Gardiner’s limited means, I will not hold The Initiation of Alice in Wonderland to the standards of documentaries with corporate backing such as those you might catch on The History Channel, Discovery or even released theatrically, but instead judge it on its own merits. The Initiation of Alice indeed offers a fascinating exploration of how Lewis Carroll’s obsession with mysticism and the neurological disorders from which he suffered shaped the world of Alice’s Wonderland. But this exploration is done solely through the film’s narration and as such would have been far more engaging as a book rather than a film.
The structure of the film is as follows: the endless, didactic narration is laid over repetitive, spinning stills, often unrelated CG imagery, and a little girl dressed as Alice crawling in the grass or green-screened into CG environments. The result leaves you feeling as though the most boring person you know tried to read you a pseudo-psychoanalytic biography while a video artist attempted to hypnotize you. Thus, the information is nearly impossible to digest, which is sad considering how otherwise fascinating it really is.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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