Saturday, July 25, 2009

DR. MILLER IN WONDERLAND

The Caterpillar
I did not attend SDCC but did the next best thing recently: I watched Jonathan Miller's ALICE IN WONDERLAND.Amir Avni recently posted a passel of Miller tidbits, which sent me on a binge of YouTube searches, as well as revisiting the DVD of BEYOND THE FRINGE, the landmark comedy revue starring Miller, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennet, back in 1960. Along with the 1950's GOON SHOW, BEYOND THE FRINGE is credited with launching the United Kingdom's post modern comedy boom that made shows like MONTY PYTHON and THE MARTY FELDMAN COMEDY MACHINE possible. Now in his 70's Jonathan Miller remains an admirable figure: a comedian, a genuine PhD., a very un-snobby deep thinker and from all appearances a gentleman. Also a brilliant mimic.
Leo McKern as The Duchess
After this glut, I realized I had never seen his mid-sixties film of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, produced for the BBC. Fabled for its oddness, the film is shot in glorious black and white and stars a luminous cast of actors (including Cook and Bennet). I am certainly glad I got around to renting it, but found it not quite what I had hoped, although a proper film version of ALICE seems to elude everyone.

Though he sticks scrupulously to the text of the book for most of the dialog, his goal was to avoid the daffy jollity of most versions and instead to do a meditation on the sadness and boredom of childhood's end and the perverse incoherence of dreams. Perhaps he succeeds on all three counts, but relentless incoherence, boredom and sadness are not entirely easy to watch for very long.

The Doormouse, Hare and Hatter.
Almost everyone plays it very straight and serious (the girl who plays Alice seems to be seething with anger as well), except for two actors. Peter Cook does a typically satirical turn as the Mad Hatter, playing him as a nasal twit prone to prancing like a marionette and generally acting thick. I wish Miller himself had played the character, much as I admire Peter Cook. No human being looks more to me like the illustrations of the Mad Hatter than Jonathan Miller. Oh well. One other actor, John Bird gets some of the few genuine laughs from a turn as 'The Frog Footman". Bird astonished Miller by improvising a few moments of invented dialog that were so funny and correct that he allowed it as one of the few deviations.

John Bird in powdered wig.

In his own quiet way, Bird quite steals the show, which led me to recall him doing the exact same thing in Monty Python's JABBERWOCKY (1977), where he does a brief turn as a long winded king's herald who gets quickly beheaded. Bird made me and my friend Mike Gillett laugh so hard we went back to see the highly uneven film several times just to see him. Mike even did a caricature of him for class at Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

I don't know much else about John Bird, but he does seem to be one of the least celebrated of the UK's many funny people. Undeservedly so too.

14 comments:

Wormen said...

Awesome sketches Will!

ThomasHjorthaab said...

Hey Will!...
It's Wormen, but I've changed my nickname, to my real name, also I've changed the link to my blog, because it was too morbid:D...

I've posted some new stuff on my blog... Would appreciate if you'd take look, and comment if you like:)

- ThomasHjorthaab

Will Finn said...

Nice work! The possums look promising.

Boris Hiestand said...

Seems lots of blogs have Alice themed posts recently...
These are incredible doodles!

ThomasHjorthaab said...

Thanks man:)

Gabriel said...

hi Will, have you seen Jan Svankmajer's Alice? It's quite weird too, no jollity at all. Alice is a real girl, everything else is stop motion. I like it.

Will Finn said...

Thanks Boris and youre welcome Thomas.

Gabriel--good suggestion. I will rent it soon. I have only seen LITTLE OTEK.

Weirdo said...

Terrific sketches. Maybe I'll check it out.

Weirdo said...

Actually, your sketch of the actor who played the Caterpillar reminds me of William Hartnell, the original Doctor Who.

Will Finn said...

thanks weirdo. the caterpillar was i think one of the richardsons, but i forgot which. not ralph.

Joseph Lee said...

I love the line quality to your sketches!

vitalik shu said...

Greetings William!!! Magnificent sketches and a tasty blog))) one sight at your drawings suffices for inspiration!! Thanks for a post and welcome in my blog!!!!

Amir Avni said...

Hey Will
Great sketches, and thanks for mentioning my post :)
I gotta watch Miller's Alice

B! said...

the looseness and spontaneity of these drawings are amaaazing!!