Watch a 1915 Film Adaptation of Alice in Wonderland Enhanced in 4K, with Costumes Based on Briginal Illustrations by Sir John Tenniel

Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land pre­dates the inven­tion of cin­e­ma by a cou­ple of decades. Nev­er­the­less, much like the “Drink me” bot­tle and “Eat me” pre­sent­ed to its young pro­tag­o­nist, Lewis Car­rol­l’s fan­tas­ti­cal tale has called out the same mes­sage to gen­er­a­tions of film­mak­ers around the world: “Adapt me.” This cen­tu­ry, though not even a quar­ter of the way over, has already brought us full-length Alice movies (to say noth­ing of tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tions) from Europe, South Amer­i­ca, and of course the Unit­ed States. Those last include sep­a­rate adap­ta­tions of Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land and its sequel Alice Through the Look­ing Glass by no less an auteur than Tim Bur­ton.

Both of those books were also tak­en on by a writer-direc­tor named W. W. Young more than a cen­tu­ry ago, though he sim­ply com­bined por­tions of both nov­els into a sin­gle fea­ture. You can watch this silent Alice in Won­der­land from 1915 above, in a ver­sion its uploader calls “by far the high­est qual­i­ty ver­sion of this film on the inter­net,” assem­bled “pri­mar­i­ly from two prints scanned by the Library of Con­gress, along with a few oth­er sources.

Enhanced with “scene-by-scene image sta­bi­liza­tion,” it also excis­es “many title cards which were not part of the orig­i­nal film” added to sub­se­quent ver­sions, “and which slowed down the film con­sid­er­ably.”

Run­ning just under an hour, this recon­struc­tion includes scenes with such wide­ly known char­ac­ters as the Cater­pil­lar, the Cheshire Cat, the Mock Tur­tle and the Queen of Hearts. Young’s footage of such fig­ures as Twee­dledee and Twee­dle­dum and Hump­ty Dump­ty has, alas, been lost to time. Still, unusu­al­ly for a film adap­ta­tion, this ver­sion includes much of Car­rol­l’s par­o­d­ic poem “You Are Old, Father William” — more, even, than made it into Dis­ney’s beloved ani­mat­ed fea­ture of 1951. With its stiff cos­tumes (based on the orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions by Sir John Ten­niel) and Long Island back­drops, Alice in Won­der­land may not boast quite the same pro­duc­tion val­ue, but watch­ing it now, long after the silent era, one can’t help but feel trans­port­ed to anoth­er real­i­ty alto­geth­er.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The First-Ever Film Ver­sion of Lewis Carroll’s Tale Alice in Won­der­land (1903)

The Orig­i­nal Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land Man­u­script, Hand­writ­ten & Illus­trat­ed By Lewis Car­roll (1864)

Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land Read by Sir John Giel­gud

When Aldous Hux­ley Wrote a Script for Disney’s Alice in Won­der­land

Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land, Illus­trat­ed by Sal­vador Dalí in 1969, Final­ly Gets Reis­sued

Curi­ous Alice — The 1971 Anti-Drug Movie Based on Alice in Won­der­land That Made Drugs Look Like Fun

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Russian Animators Who Have Spent 40 Years Animating Gogol’s “The Overcoat”

“Steady Pushkin, mat­ter-of-fact Tol­stoy, restrained Chekhov have all had their moments of irra­tional insight which simul­ta­ne­ous­ly blurred the sen­tence and dis­closed a secret mean­ing worth the sud­den focal shift,” writes Vladimir Nabokov in his Lec­tures on Russ­ian Lit­er­a­ture. “But with Gogol this shift­ing is the very basis of his art.” When, “as in the immor­tal ‘The Over­coat,’ he real­ly let him­self go and pot­tered on the brink of his pri­vate abyss, he became the great­est artist that Rus­sia has yet pro­duced.” Tough though that act is to fol­low, gen­er­a­tions of film­mak­ers around the world have attempt­ed to adapt for the screen that mas­ter­work of a short sto­ry about the out­er­wear-relat­ed strug­gles of an impov­er­ished bureau­crat.

One par­tic­u­lar pair of Russ­ian film­mak­ers has actu­al­ly spent a gen­er­a­tion or two mak­ing their own ver­sion of “The Over­coat”: the mar­ried cou­ple Yuri Norstein and Franch­es­ka Yarbuso­va, who began the project back in 1981.

Their nine­teen-sev­en­ties short films Hedge­hog in the Fog and Tale of Tales had already received inter­na­tion­al acclaim from both fans and fel­low cre­ators of ani­ma­tion (their cham­pi­ons include no less an auteur than Hayao Miyaza­ki), with dis­tinc­tive­ly cap­ti­vat­ing effects achieved through a dis­tinc­tive­ly painstak­ing process. Whol­ly ana­log, it has grown only more labor-inten­sive as dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy has advanced so rapid­ly over the past few decades — decades that have also brought about great social, polit­i­cal, and eco­nom­ic changes in their home­land.

The Atroc­i­ty Guide video above offers a glimpse into Norstein and Yarbuso­va’s lives and work on the “The Over­coat” — to the extent that the two can even be sep­a­rat­ed at this point. Once, they were vic­tims of Sovi­et cen­sor­ship and sus­pi­cion, giv­en the ambigu­ous morals of their visu­al­ly lav­ish pro­duc­tions. Now, in their eight­ies and with this 65-minute-film nowhere near com­ple­tion (but five min­utes of which you can see in the video above), the prob­lem seems to have more to do with their own artis­ti­cal­ly com­mend­able but whol­ly imprac­ti­cal cre­ative ethos. They work to “sadis­ti­cal­ly high” stan­dards on a film that, as Norstein believes, “should be con­stant­ly chang­ing” — while also prop­er­ly express­ing the Gogo­lian themes of strug­gle, pri­va­tion, and futil­i­ty that can “only be cre­at­ed amid feel­ings of dis­com­fort and uncer­tain­ty” — hence their insis­tence on stay­ing in Rus­sia.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Niko­lai Gogol’s Clas­sic Sto­ry, “The Nose,” Ani­mat­ed With the Aston­ish­ing Pin­screen Tech­nique (1963)

Three Ani­mat­ed Shorts by the Ground­break­ing Russ­ian Ani­ma­tor Fyo­dor Khitruk

Watch The Amaz­ing 1912 Ani­ma­tion of Stop-Motion Pio­neer Ladis­las Stare­vich, Star­ring Dead Bugs

Watch the Sur­re­al­ist Glass Har­mon­i­ca, the Only Ani­mat­ed Film Ever Banned by Sovi­et Cen­sors (1968)

A Sovi­et Ani­ma­tion of Stephen King’s Short Sto­ry “Bat­tle­ground” (1986)

Enjoy 15+ Hours of the Weird and Won­der­ful World of Post Sovi­et Russ­ian Ani­ma­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Read Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World: The First Sci-Fi Novel Written By a Woman (1666)

For a vari­ety of rea­sons, sci­ence fic­tion has long been regard­ed as a most­ly male-ori­ent­ed realm of lit­er­a­ture. This is evi­denced, in part, by the eager­ness to cel­e­brate par­tic­u­lar works of sci-fi writ­ten by women, like Ursu­la K. LeGuin’s Earth­sea saga, Octavia But­ler’s Para­ble nov­els, Joan­na Russ’ The Female Man, or Mar­garet Attwood’s The Hand­maid­’s Tale (uneasi­ly though it fits with­in the bound­aries of the genre). But those who pre­fer the ear­ly stuff can go all the way back to the mid-sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, where they’ll find Mar­garet Cavendish’s The Blaz­ing World, read­able and down­load­able in all its strange glo­ry free online.

The Blaz­ing World was first pub­lished in 1666 and is often con­sid­ered a fore­run­ner to both sci­ence fic­tion and the utopi­an nov­el gen­res,” writes book blog­ger Eric Karl Ander­son. “It’s a total­ly bonkers sto­ry of a woman who is stolen away to the North Pole only to find her­self in a strange bejew­eled king­dom of which she becomes the supreme Empress. Here she con­sults with many dif­fer­ent animal/insect peo­ple about philo­soph­i­cal, reli­gious and sci­en­tif­ic ideas. The sec­ond half of the book pulls off a meta-fic­tion­al trick where Cavendish (as the Duchess of New­cas­tle) enters the sto­ry her­self to become the Empress’ scribe and close com­pan­ion.”

In the video just below, Youtu­ber Great Books Prof frames this as not just a work of pro­to-sci­ence fic­tion, but also a pio­neer­ing use of the “mul­ti­verse” con­cept that has under­gird­ed any num­ber of twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry block­busters.

The Blaz­ing World con­tin­ues to inspire: actor-direc­tor Carl­son Young put out a loose cin­e­mat­ic adap­ta­tion just a few years ago. Cavendish her­self described the book as a “her­maph­ro­dit­ic text,” pos­si­bly in ref­er­ence to its engage­ment with top­ics then addressed almost exclu­sive­ly by men. But it also occu­pied two cat­e­gories at once in that she orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished it as a fic­tion­al sec­tion of her book Obser­va­tions upon Exper­i­men­tal Phi­los­o­phy, one of six philo­soph­i­cal vol­umes she wrote. In fact, her work qual­i­fied her as not just philoso­pher and nov­el­ist, but also sci­en­tist, poet, play­wright, and even biog­ra­ph­er. That last she accom­plished by writ­ing The Life of the Thrice Noble, High and Puis­sant Prince William Cavendish, who hap­pened to be her hus­band. Let her life be a les­son to those young girls who simul­ta­ne­ous­ly dream of becom­ing a princess and a writer whose books are read for cen­turies: some­times, you can have it all.

Relat­ed con­tent:

100 Great Sci-Fi Sto­ries by Women Writ­ers (Read 20 for Free Online)

The First Work of Sci­ence Fic­tion: Read Lucian’s 2nd-Cen­tu­ry Space Trav­el­ogue A True Sto­ry

When Astronomer Johannes Kepler Wrote the First Work of Sci­ence Fic­tion, The Dream (1609)

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Every Pos­si­ble Kind of Sci­ence Fic­tion Sto­ry: An Exhaus­tive List Cre­at­ed by Pio­neer­ing 1920s Sci­Fi Writer Clare Winger Har­ris (1931)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Great Gatsby Explained: How F. Scott Fitzgerald Indicted & Endorsed the American Dream (1925)

When The Great Gats­by was first pub­lished, it flopped; near­ly a cen­tu­ry lat­er, its place at the pin­na­cle of Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture is almost uni­ver­sal­ly agreed upon. Of the objec­tors, many no doubt remem­ber too vivid­ly hav­ing to answer essay ques­tions about the mean­ing of the green light on the Buchanans’ dock. Per­haps “the most debat­ed sym­bol in the his­to­ry of Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture,” it tends to be inter­pret­ed simul­ta­ne­ous­ly as “Gats­by’s love for Daisy, mon­ey, and the Amer­i­can dream,” as James Payne puts it in his new Great Books Explained video above. Exam­ined more close­ly, “what it may sug­gest is that the Amer­i­can dream’s most un-dis­cussed qual­i­ty is its inac­ces­si­bil­i­ty.”

“Fitzger­ald felt that the Amer­i­can dream has lost its way,” Payne says. “Base­ball, Amer­i­ca’s pas­time and the purest of games, had been cor­rupt­ed by the Black Sox game fix­ing of 1919, a real-life scan­dal men­tioned in The Great Gats­by. Fitzger­ald used it as an alle­go­ry of Amer­i­ca: if base­ball is cor­rupt, then we are real­ly in trou­ble.”

Hence Gats­by’s ulti­mate dis­cov­ery that Daisy, the woman for whom he had whol­ly rein­vent­ed him­self (in that quin­tes­sen­tial­ly Amer­i­can way), falls so far short of what he’d imag­ined; hence how Gats­by’s own “clas­sic rags-to-rich­es sto­ry” is “com­pli­cat­ed by the fact that he made his mon­ey in boot­leg­ging.” In the end, “the Amer­i­can dream only belongs to estab­lish­ment fig­ures,” those “who were born into it. Every­one’s class is fixed, just like the World Series.”

Though not well-received in its day, The Great Gats­by offered a pre­mo­ni­tion of dis­as­ter ahead that sub­se­quent­ly came true in both the Amer­i­can econ­o­my and Fitzger­ald’s per­son­al life. But even in the book, “despite his fear that Amer­i­ca is lost, he still offers hope.” Hence the vivid qua­si-opti­mism of the clos­ing lines about how “Gats­by believed in the green light, the orgas­tic future that year by year recedes before us,” which frames Amer­i­cans as “boats against the cur­rent, borne back cease­less­ly into the past” — a pas­sage whose inter­pre­ta­tion teach­ers are always liable to demand. If you hap­pen to be a stu­dent your­self, sav­ing Payne’s video in hopes of a quick and easy A on your Eng­lish lit exam, know that there are few more time-hon­ored tech­niques in pur­suit of the Amer­i­can dream than look­ing for short­cuts.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Free: The Great Gats­by & Oth­er Major Works by F. Scott Fitzger­ald

T. S. Eliot, Edith Whar­ton & Gertrude Stein Tell F. Scott Fitzger­ald That Gats­by is Great, While Crit­ics Called It a Dud (1925)

The Great Gats­by Is Now in the Pub­lic Domain and There’s a New Graph­ic Nov­el

83 Years of Great Gats­by Book Cov­er Designs: A Pho­to Gallery

Haru­ki Muraka­mi Trans­lates The Great Gats­by, the Nov­el That Influ­enced Him Most

The Wire Breaks Down The Great Gats­by, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Clas­sic Crit­i­cism of Amer­i­ca (NSFW)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Hunter S. Thompson Sets His Christmas Tree on Fire, Nearly Burning His House Down (1990)

It was some­thing of a Christ­mas rit­u­al at Hunter S. Thomp­son’s Col­orado cab­in, Owl Farm. Every year, his sec­re­tary Deb­o­rah Fuller would take down the Christ­mas tree and leave it on the front porch rather than dis­pose of it entire­ly. That’s because Hunter, more often than not, want­ed to set it on fire. In 1990, Sam Allis, a writer for then for­mi­da­ble TIME mag­a­zine, vis­it­ed Thomp­son’s home and watched the fiery tra­di­tion unfold. He wrote:

I gave up on the inter­view and start­ed wor­ry­ing about my life when Hunter Thomp­son squirt­ed two cans of fire starter on the Christ­mas tree he was going to burn in his liv­ing-room fire­place, a few feet away from an unopened wood­en crate of 9‑mm bul­lets. That the tree was far too large to fit into the fire­place mat­tered not a whit to Hunter, who was sport­ing a dime-store wig at the time and resem­bled Tony Perkins in Psy­cho. Min­utes ear­li­er, he had smashed a Polaroid cam­era on the floor.

Hunter had decid­ed to video­tape the Christ­mas tree burn­ing, and we lat­er heard on the replay the ter­ri­fied voic­es of Deb­o­rah Fuller, his long­time sec­re­tary-baby sit­ter, and me off-cam­era plead­ing with him, “NO, HUNTER, NO! PLEASE, HUNTER, DON’T DO IT!” The orig­i­nal man­u­script of Hell’s Angels was on the table, and there were the bul­lets. Noth­ing doing. Thomp­son was a man pos­sessed by now, full of the Chivas Regal he had been slurp­ing straight from the bot­tle and the gin he had been mix­ing with pink lemon­ade for hours.

The wood­en man­tle above the fire­place appar­ent­ly still has burn marks on it today.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hunter S. Thompson’s Har­row­ing, Chem­i­cal-Filled Dai­ly Rou­tine

Hunter S. Thomp­son Chill­ing­ly Pre­dicts the Future, Telling Studs Terkel About the Com­ing Revenge of the Eco­nom­i­cal­ly & Tech­no­log­i­cal­ly “Obso­lete” (1967)

Hear the 10 Best Albums of the 1960s as Select­ed by Hunter S. Thomp­son

Hunter S. Thomp­son, Exis­ten­tial­ist Life Coach, Gives Tips for Find­ing Mean­ing in Life

The Entire Manuscript Collection of Geoffrey Chaucer Gets Digitized: A New Archive Features 25,000 Images of The Canterbury Tales & Other Illustrated Medieval Manuscripts

Ear­li­er this year, Oxford pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture Mar­i­on Turn­er pub­lished The Wife of Bath: A Biog­ra­phy. Even if you don’t know any­thing about that book’s sub­ject, you’ve almost cer­tain­ly heard of her, and per­haps also of her trav­el­ing com­pan­ions like the Knight, the Sum­mon­er, the Nun’s Priest, and the Canon’s Yeo­man. These are just a few of the pil­grims whose sto­ry­telling con­test struc­tures Geof­frey Chaucer’s four­teenth-cen­tu­ry mag­num opus The Can­ter­bury Tales, whose influ­ence con­tin­ues to rever­ber­ate through Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture, even all these cen­turies after the author’s death. In com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 623rd anniver­sary of that work, the British Library has opened a vast online Chaucer archive.


This archive comes as a cul­mi­na­tion of what the Guardian’s Car­o­line Davies describes as “a two and a half year project to upload 25,000 images of the often elab­o­rate­ly illus­trat­ed medieval man­u­scripts.” Among these arti­facts are “com­plete copies of Chaucer’s poems but also unique sur­vivals, includ­ing frag­men­tary texts found in Mid­dle Eng­lish antholo­gies or inscribed in print­ed edi­tions and incunab­u­la (books print­ed before 1501).”

If you’re look­ing for The Can­ter­bury Tales, you’ll find no few­er than 23 ver­sions of it, the ear­li­est of which “was writ­ten only a few years after Chaucer’s death in rough­ly 1400.” Also dig­i­tized are “rare copies of the 1476 and 1483 edi­tions of the text made by William Cax­ton,” now con­sid­ered “the first sig­nif­i­cant text to be print­ed in Eng­land.”

Four cen­turies lat­er, design­er-writer-social reformer William Mor­ris col­lab­o­rat­ed with cel­e­brat­ed painter Edward Burne-Jones to cre­ate an edi­tion W. B. Yeats once called “the most beau­ti­ful of all print­ed books”: the Kelm­scott Chaucer, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, which you can also explore in the British Library’s new archive (as least as soon as its ongo­ing cyber attack-relat­ed issues are resolved). As its wider con­tents reveal, Chaucer was the author of not just The Can­ter­bury Tales but also a vari­ety of oth­er poems, the clas­si­cal-dream-vision sto­ry col­lec­tion The Leg­end of Good Women, an instruc­tion man­u­al for an astro­labe, and trans­la­tions of The Romance of the Rose and The Con­so­la­tion of Phi­los­o­phy. And his Tro­jan epic Troilus and Criseyde may sound famil­iar, thanks to the inspi­ra­tion it gave, more than 200 years lat­er, to a coun­try­man by the name of William Shake­speare.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Behold a Dig­i­ti­za­tion of “The Most Beau­ti­ful of All Print­ed Books,” The Kelm­scott Chaucer

Ter­ry Jones, the Late Mon­ty Python Actor, Helped Turn Chaucer’s Can­ter­bury Tales Into a Free App: Explore It Online

Dis­cov­er the First Illus­trat­ed Book Print­ed in Eng­lish, William Caxton’s Mir­ror of the World (1481)

40,000 Ear­ly Mod­ern Maps Are Now Freely Avail­able Online (Cour­tesy of the British Library)

The British Library Puts Over 1,000,000 Images in the Pub­lic Domain: A Deep­er Dive Into the Col­lec­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Alain de Botton Presents an ASMR Reading of Proust’s Swann’s Way

Mar­cel Proust wrote Remem­brance of Things Past (À la recherche du temps per­du) over many years. The first vol­ume, Swan­n’s Way (Du côté de chez Swann), came out in 1913, and the last vol­ume, Time Regained (Le Temps retrou­vé), was pub­lished posthu­mous­ly in 1927. A mon­u­men­tal explo­ration of mem­o­ry, time, and human expe­ri­ence, the sev­en-vol­ume nov­el con­sists of 1,267,069 words. That dou­bles those in Tol­stoy’s War and Peace, mak­ing it one of the longest nov­els ever writ­ten.

Above, you can hear Alain de Bot­ton (author of How Proust Can Change Your Life) read the open­ing lines of Swan­n’s Way, with the goal of … well… putting you to sleep. His YouTube chan­nel writes: Proust’s nov­el “is very beau­ti­ful — and in a way a lit­tle bor­ing too. This is for all those among us who suf­fer from insom­nia — to send you into the best kind of sleep.” Make sure you add this 26-minute record­ing to your sleep/ASMR playlist. For de Bot­ton’s intro­duc­tion to the lit­er­ary phi­los­o­phy of Mar­cel Proust, watch this video here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

An Intro­duc­tion to the Lit­er­ary Phi­los­o­phy of Mar­cel Proust, Pre­sent­ed in a Mon­ty Python-Style Ani­ma­tion

Mar­cel Proust Fills Out a Ques­tion­naire in 1890: The Man­u­script of the ‘Proust Ques­tion­naire’

The First Known Footage of Mar­cel Proust Dis­cov­ered: Watch It Online

The Cork-Lined Bed­room & Writ­ing Room of Mar­cel Proust, the Orig­i­nal Mas­ter of Social Dis­tanc­ing

6,000 Let­ters by Mar­cel Proust to Be Dig­i­tized & Put Online

Watch the Trailer for the Long-Lost First Film Adaptation of The Great Gatsby (1926)

Despite being a peren­ni­al con­tender for the title of the Great Amer­i­can Nov­el, F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s The Great Gats­by has elud­ed a whol­ly sat­is­fy­ing cin­e­mat­ic adap­ta­tion. The most recent such attempt, now a decade old, was pri­mar­i­ly a Baz Lurhmann kitsch extrav­a­gan­za show­cas­ing Leonar­do DiCaprio; nor did its pre­de­ces­sors, which put in the title role such clas­sic lead­ing men as Robert Red­ford and Alan Ladd, ever dis­tin­guish them­selves in an endur­ing way. But these pic­tures all met with hap­pi­er fates than the very first Gats­by film, which came out in 1926 — just a year and a half after the nov­el itself — and seems not to have been seen since.

The first actor to por­tray Jay Gats­by on the sil­ver screen was Warn­er Bax­ter, who would become the high­est-paid star in Hol­ly­wood a decade lat­er (and a fix­ture of West­erns, crime seri­als, and oth­er B‑movie gen­res half a decade after that). In the role of Daisy Buchanan was Lois Wil­son, an Alaba­ma beau­ty queen turned all-Amer­i­can silent-era star­let (who would lat­er turn direc­tor); in that of Nick Car­raway, Neil Hamil­ton, whom tele­vi­sion audi­ences of the nine­teen-six­ties would come to know as Bat­man’s Com­mis­sion­er Gor­don. But none of The Great Gats­by’s cast­ing choic­es will please the old-Hol­ly­wood con­nois­seur as much as that of a young, pre-Thin Man William Pow­ell as George Wil­son.

“The reck­less dri­ving that results in the death of Myr­tle Wil­son serves to bring out a ster­ling trait in Gats­by’s char­ac­ter,” New York Times crit­ic Mour­daunt Hall wrote (in 1926) of a mem­o­rable scene in the nov­el that seems to have become a mem­o­rable scene in the film. “Pow­ell, while not quite in his ele­ment, gives an unerr­ing por­tray­al of the chauf­feur.” Though Hall pro­nounced The Great Gats­by “quite a good enter­tain­ment” on the whole, he also point­ed out that “it would have ben­e­fit­ed by more imag­i­na­tive direc­tion” from Her­bert Brenon, who “has suc­cumbed to a num­ber of ordi­nary movie flash­es with­out incul­cat­ing much in the way of sub­tle­ty.”

For Brenon, a pro­lif­ic auteur who direct­ed no few­er than five pic­tures that year, this crit­i­cism could only have stung so much. But as lat­er came to light, F. Scott and Zel­da Fitzger­ald judged this first adap­ta­tion of the nov­el much more harsh­ly. “We saw The Great Gats­by in the movies,” Zel­da wrote to their daugh­ter Scot­tie. “It’s ROTTEN and awful and ter­ri­ble and we left.” Only its trail­er sur­vives today, and the glimpses it offers give lit­tle indi­ca­tion of what, exact­ly, would have spurred them to walk out. But now that the orig­i­nal Great Gats­by has entered the pub­lic domain, any of us could try our hand at mak­ing an adap­ta­tion with­out hav­ing to shell out for the rights. Maybe our inter­pre­ta­tions would­n’t please the Fitzger­alds either, but then, what ever did?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Free: The Great Gats­by & Oth­er Major Works by F. Scott Fitzger­ald

Gertrude Stein Sends a “Review” of The Great Gats­by to F. Scott Fitzger­ald (1925)

83 Years of Great Gats­by Book Cov­er Designs: A Pho­to Gallery

The Great Gats­by Is Now in the Pub­lic Domain and There’s a New Graph­ic Nov­el

Haru­ki Muraka­mi Trans­lates The Great Gats­by, the Nov­el That Influ­enced Him Most

Revealed: The Visu­al Effects Behind The Great Gats­by

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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