ALICE IN WONDERLAND || 1903, UK || Fantasy || Directed by – Cecil M. Hepworth, Percy Stow / Written by – Cecil M. Hepworth (based on the novel by Lewis Carroll) / Produced by – Herman Casler, Cecil M. Hepworth, Elias Koopman, Marry Marvin / Cinematography by – Cecil M. Hepworth / Starring – May Clark, Cecil M. Hepworth / Running time: 10 mins.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has been adapted numerous times on the big screen and yet this 1903 is known to have been the very first. Its story, after all, seems to have been perfect for early cinema – the cinema of attraction – also because its references to an imagined world could allow pioneering cinematographers to test the limits of their equipments and experiment with special effects. Indeed, the director of this film is none other than Cecil M. Hepworth (who co-directed with Percy Stow).
Hepworth is regarded as one of the founders of the British film industry, and at the time of making Alice in Wonderland, he had already made a number of shorts, some of which are still credited to this day for contributing greatly to the language of fictional filmmaking – he filmically replicated an imagined perception of being hit by a car in his 1900 film How it Feels to Be Run Over, for instance.
Unfortunately, parts of his Alice in Wonderland are lost. What is left reveals a fun film with lots of spectacular and imaginative effects – such as Alice’s descent down the white rabbit’s hole. The sequences are also shot in a number of different sets, which also reveals a certain ambition behind the project, along with some elaborate theatrical costumes. The story is also moved forward by the use of inter-titles, which shows an awareness of narrative convention that was not at all common at this early stage of cinema. The restored version, while incomplete, is presented by the British Film Institute (BFI) in its original film tinting. – 4/5