© 2010 by James Clark
In La Dolce Vita, Fellini had surprised himself on getting embroiled in a campaign outstripping his well-developed cinematic resources. He could only hope that hefty swatches of well-tuned narrative playing themselves out in weird emotional shock and abuse could serve to deliver a concrete complement to a thematic architecture speaking to uncharted sensual exigencies. (Subsequent pyrotechnics did not exactly attain to heart-stopping revelations.)
Fifty years later, in Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton, cultivating the same unforgiving terrain, a land in the meantime becoming an obsession (a recurrent nightmare) to Jacques Demy and David Lynch, found himself equipped with technical wonders he was not slow to appreciate and apply with gusto.
Particularly like Demy, Burton, through many years, has not impressed the market as a figure apt to get Geiger counters hopping. So, on undertaking a vaguely Lynchian makeover of Lewis Carroll’s beloved (and, that is to say, harmless) antidote to too much mathematics, he was, so to speak, in all-red attire, strolling into an enclosure of bulls (bulls, though, quite prepared to pay for their shot, in great numbers). The deprecation greeting his effort cannot but remind one of Demy’s being stigmatized for life (perhaps forever) as “that French idiot trying to make MGM musicals.” This turmoil, mother’s milk to the aforecited intrepid, attaches one with special adhesion to Johnny Depp’s fey “Mad Hatter,” smiling and speaking with gossamer and secretly supercharged glee and melancholy, very much like Delphine Syrig’s “Lilac Fairy” getting things done in Demy’s “fantasy,” Donkey Skin (1970). (The Hatter takes such an exhilarating deep breath in ushering a unique protagonist into her role of dragon slayer; the Lilac particularly rises to the occasion in steering a high-maintenance princess away from the very poor idea of agreeing to marry her father.) (more…)