Julia Elizabeth Evans
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), better known as Lewis Carroll, wrote logic textbooks during his day job. Alice In Wonderland is what Carroll did in his spare time. While I do not profess to write logic books, I did study logic before venturing into the world of filmmaking. My studies pertained to math and empirical philosophy, and for the longest time, I disdained my analytical degree because it felt so inanely distant from the creative world of filmmaking. Today, I recognize my logic background much like Lewis Carroll’s day job to be my superpower.
So many reasons compel me to apply for the 16th-Annual 2020-2021 Wonderland Award. For one, I have always had an affinity for Lewis Carroll, who I believe to be an artist-thinker. Currently, I am working on the personal concept— filmmaker-thinker. Filmmaking is the world of make-believe such that the crazier the world, the clearer the parameters must be. When writing and making films, we are defining, dealing with, following, and enforcing logic. What is so iconoclastic about Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is the storytelling paradigm. The story is simple— a little girl on an adventure of her own imagining. The hyper-imaginative aesthetics plus the constantly changing physical rules and social parameters challenge the reader to read critically.
As a filmmaker-thinker, I am aware that cinema affects its audience far more easily and rapidly than more traditional art forms. The way I see it, a great director must also challenge conventional thinking. Lewis Carroll’s stories, of course, engage in the same creative motivation. Lewis Carroll’s comedic sensibility thrills me. Carroll constantly experiments with logic, truth, and make-believe. Albeit a fanciful universe, there’s a lot of truth in Wonderland. In Chapter 2, Alice declares most famously, “Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.” Throughout Lewis Carroll’s work, identity is slippery. That slippage is funny. That is to say, the limits of our self-perception are funny. Comedy does not shy away from philosophy. Anything that exposes the gap between who we think we are or who we aspire to be, which is infallible angels, and what we are, which is fallible creatures is—funny. There is a premise gap in our lives. Like Alice, we assume that reality is in our control, but that’s just fallacious thinking. Essentially the philosophical problem of our ever-evolving identities is the making of comedy. Comedy is philosophy in action. Exactly as Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland showcases, comedy is a demonstrated premise— “what if” or “as if”, carried out to its logical extreme.
It was not until as an adult, I re-discovered Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. While reading Aldous Huxley after college, I learned Huxley wrote the first “Alice” screenplay for Disney, entitled Alice And The Mysterious Mr. Carroll. This tiny fact prompted a deep dive in all things Lewis Carroll, whereupon immediately, Lewis Carroll’s lighthearted, comedic sensibility attracted me. Still today, what most interests me about Carroll’s comedy is that there are no unsuitable subjects. Comedy is human life viewed from a distance or in Carroll’s idiomatic phrase, “through the looking glass.” As a filmmaker, my creative voice dances between levity and sincerity. Setting up jokes while hitting plot points, I write fun-fast dialogue with an affinity for Carroll— blending 19th century Alice in Wonderland aesthetics with themes contemporary to 2020.
Flash to the year 2020. I literally jumped for joy upon discovering my grad school’s gigantic Lewis Carroll collection. Before the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, I foraged collection and found a letter dated October 13, 1945, in which Aldous Huxley writes,
Albeit short, this letter inspired me to make a flesh-and-blood episode of my own life, precisely in the fanciful spirit of Lewis Carroll.
“I am about to sign up with Disney for the script of an Alice in Wonderland, which is to be a cartoon version of Tenniel’s drawings and Carroll's story, embedded in a flesh-and-blood episode of the life of the Rev. Charles Dodgson.”
In preparation for the Fall 2020 semester’s production, I re-visited the Edward Cassady, M.D., and Margaret Elizabeth Cassady, R.N., Lewis Carroll Collection online between May and August 2020. In keeping with Alice’s own declaration at the beginning of her story, “pictures are what makes a book worthwhile,” pictures dominated my research. I pursued John Tenniel’s original illustrations for The Nursery “Alice” and researched the process of the cover art’s coloration. One of my favorite references is Marcelle Saulnier’s text, “Illustration as Adaptation,” which details how the first adaptation of Alice was in fact created by Carroll himself. Further still, via my school’s online catalog, called “Alice Online: The Works and World of Lewis Carroll,” I discovered another critical text— “Textual Adaptation in The Nursery Alice, 1889” by Emily Caruso. One of the footnotes moved me, specifically Caruso cites to the art historian Amanda Lastoria as cementing Lewis Carroll “as the ‘art director’ of his time.” After reading this, the art direction for “Absorb Everything” became primary.
I modeled the entire aesthetic of “Absorb Everything” after Lewis Carroll. In turn, I developed a particular eye for Victorian dress and girl-ish pinks. For instance, rather than dressing Aniko in Alice's familiar sky-blue apron dress, the protagonist in “Absorb Everything” wears pale pink. The costume is a reference to Terreil’s original cover art. In the original cover art for 1889’s The Nursery, Alice is depicted as wearing a pale pink knee-length dress and dark blue stockings. As such, in the opening two scenes of “Absorb Everything,” Aniko wears a pale pink knee-length dress and blue/green plaid leggings. The style of Aniko’s dress is cut like an apron to mimic Alice’s apron. As I said, I got very specific with visuals. By the time I started shooting in October 2020, my bedroom had transformed into a 1910 Terreil colored lantern slide.
The Carrollian universe of "girlishness" or "hyper-femininity” touched everything in “Absorb Everything.” I think something rather nice came out of it. In Fall 2020, I followed my school’s strict COVID protocols and directed an ambitious short film, entitled “Absorb Everything.” What thrilled me about “Absorb Everything” is the film’s Carrollian posturing. The protagonist pings back and forth between two different planes— conversations and concepts all while jumping back and forth between two hyper-aesthetic settings: the protagonist’s bedroom and her installation space. The film explores sensitive topics such as sexual assault, selfhood, and *transgenderism, infusing each with a sense of alacrity and grounded understanding.
The story is— a young woman, Aniko, blames herself for being inappropriately harassed at work until a Facetime call with an old friend, Theresa, snaps her out of it. About halfway into Alice in Wonderland, Alice speaks to the Mock Turtle and Gryphon now very famously, about time and experience. She says, “it’s no use going back to yesterday — because I was a different person then.” Because Lewis Carroll was an artist-thinker, not simply writing a children’s story, it is safe to assume that this line points to something deep, specifically, about the ways in which we all grow older and lose our innocence. The significant events in our lives change us so much that we can barely relate to who we once were and by extension, to friends we used to keep. To me, Alice is in essence describing maturity. This idea of maturity, “yesterday...I was a different person,” guided me as I wrote and directed “Absorb Everything.”
At its core, “Absorb Everything” is a film about friendship. The friendship is between two women, Aniko Sebo and Theresa Glass. The imaginary circumstances before the film starts are simple: it’s been over a year since these two women have talked. When Aniko answers, Aniko misgenders. She says, “Hi Michael!” Both Aniko and Theresa come to the phone conversation with a memory of the other as someone entirely different. Up until “yesterday,” referring to the earlier Lewis Carroll quote, or up until this phone call, Theresa was “Michael” in Aniko’s mind. Switch viewpoints. To Theresa, Aniko used to be much more innocent akin to Alice before she fell into the Wonderland rabbit hole. The point of the film is to affect new ways of thinking, specifically about sexual assault, transgender identity, and female friendship.
The Wonderland Award is a dream come true and a goldilocks opportunity. Much like Lewis Carroll, I am an analytical philosopher turned artist, specifically my medium is filmmaking and dramatic comedy. To receive the 2020-2021 16th-Annual Wonderland Award would not only validate me, but it would generate more Carrollian movies. Thank you so much for your consideration.