A 113-year-old, silent adaptation of Lewis Carrol’s classic Alice in Wonderland has been restored and made available to the public for viewing. And not only is it a valuable glimpse into the history of cinema – it’s also a slice of special effects history.
Alice in Wonderland has a multitude of film adaptations – versions from 2010, 1972, as well as 1951 are all parts of the general public consciousness. However, the very first adaptation put to film comes from 1903 – just eight years after the birth of cinema. Clocking in at just twelve minutes, the film was the longest produced in England to date when it was released.
Although only one copy is known to remain, the film is severely damaged from poor preservation. Though a full restoration of the footage, as well as its tint, was attempted in 2010 by the British Film Institute, the film unfortunately still remains partially incomplete, despite the best efforts of those working on the project. This restored version contains about 75% of the original, and clocks in at just under nine minutes.
What survives, though, is nothing short of an amazing look into the past. The brainchild of Cecil M. Hepworth, who wrote, directed, produced, filmed and played the role of “The Frog” in the adaptation, Alice in Wonderland also stars early silent film actress May Clark in the titular role of Alice.
Both Hepworth and Clark are better remembered for, and would later be immortalised in, their work on the timeless classic Rescued by Rover. Often considered one of the most important productions in the history of cinema, and the turning point at which the general public’s perception of film shifted from “novelty to…art”, Rescued by Rover was the first film in history to feature paid actors, and is today considered the United Kingdom’s first major fiction film.
However, Hepworth and Clark’s work on Alice in Wonderland is just as – if not more – noteworthy. Throughout its five scenes, Hepworth manipulates both camera and film in then-unprecedented ways, employing unorthodox angles to alter perception of Alice’s size as she enters the Hall of Many Doors and the White Rabbit’s Home. The film also features one of the first examples of a dissolving transition between scenes.
A restored version of Alice in Wonderland is available for viewing below. Trust us: you won’t regret watching this amazing piece of art.