It's another extra from the BFI DVD of Svankmajer's Alice
, I'm afraid! More precisely it's a public information film about food labelling from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
It's also great.
Firstly and arguably most importantly, it fulfils its function. It's entertaining enough to keep you watching happily from beginning to end, but at the same time it's educational. I now know more than I did about food labelling. They even make it interesting. Admittedly this isn't the most glamorous of subjects, but it's still worth knowing about.
Alice in Wonderland fits brilliantly with this. "Eat Me" and "Drink Me" are perhaps the world's most famous food labels, but in addition, if you think about them, they're terrifying. One of the most shocking things about Svankmajer's Alice
is the way the title character will on no provocation at all go around drinking ink and eating transformed stones. This is a clever (and funny) starting point for an educational film on food labelling.
Lots of familiar characters crop up, most obviously Alice herself. These are cleverly used, letting the film make serious points in a natural, amusing way. Mock Turtle soup refers to Carroll's Mock Turtle. Broadly speaking the film's first half is more audience-friendly, with comedy and lots of familiar faces, then the second half gets down to the nitty-gritty of educating us about food labelling.
The illustrations are cute, but Alice looks faintly like one of Lovecraft's Deep Ones and the Mad Hatter is creepy. But in a good way.
It's also worth mentioning the voice actors involved, incidentally. The narrator sounds a bit like a paedophile and their Alice is well-spoken without being anyone you might conceivably have heard of, but there's a cameo for the great William Rushton. (I've just looked him up on imdb and seen that he had a lower profile than I'd always assumed, but even so this is an actor, writer and comedian who's surely revered by generations of British audiences.)
DIGRESSION: I'm going to discuss more extras on that BFI DVD, because they're cool enough to be worth mentioning but I don't have enough to justify separate reviews. There's an eight-minute Cadbury's advert from 1921 called Elsie and the Brown Bunny, which I'm sure is good but is only on the DVD. (I did a split with Simon Bucher-Jones and took the Blu-ray.) However I did watch the Stille Nacht music videos, which are in the style of silent movies. The first one (Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?) is more reminiscent of Carroll than the other, but for me was only okay. It's dreamlike non-narrative imagery, worth a look but nothing you'll feel the need to rewatch. The second though (Stille Nacht IV: Can't Go Wrong Without You) has a multiple-materialisation skull-faced ghost doing what looks like masturbation while peeping through a keyhole as the White Rabbit wets himself. It also has anti-gravity eggs that jump up to the ceiling. That was a laugh.
Returning to Alice in Label Land, I liked that too. It's very much of its time, but that's a good thing. It's a time capsule from 1974, playing witty games with a much-loved children's book to make an entertaining short film out of what could have looked like the most boring subject matter on Earth. I never knew the BFI's DVDs had extras like this. Note to self: buy more BFI releases.