Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Movies Begin part four

The Movies Begin: A Treasury of Early Cinemas (1894-1913) Volume Four: The Magic of Méliès

Georges Méliès was a supremely talented artist who made extraordinarily boring films, with some notable exceptions. Mr. Stop Motion was the master of the double exposure and a clever editor, but the “magic” in his films was often very literal. Much of his work serves as a perfect example of film in service to theater. He simply set up a stage show in front of the camera and filmed it. Worse, he was an illusionist, and many of his films are just magic tricks done for the camera and enhanced by special effects.

One of the exceptions to this is the deservedly famous Le Voyage dans la lune / A Trip to the Moon (1902), which is on the first disc of this anthology. Disc four is all Méliès, and it includes L’ Voyage à travers l'impossible / The Impossible Voyage (1904), a wonderfully imaginative, hand colored science fiction movie in which the special effects really are magical. As with A Trip to the Moon, it was based on a Jules Verne story. The sets and model-work are very creative, and, although it is as cinematically static as his other films, this 24 minute romp involving trains, automobiles, dirigible balloons, submarines and boats is totally silly and very entertaining.

The last item on this disc is Georges Méliès: Cinema Magician, a documentary by Luciano Martinengo and Patrick Montgomery, which I found impossible to watch, just because it seemed to consist mainly of more footage of Méliès performing magic tricks for the camera. After about seven or eight minutes, I gave up.

There’s no doubt that Georges Méliès is a significant figure in cinema history. A Trip to the Moon alone would guarantee that fact. He was the first to use production sketches and storyboards. Edison discovered stop-motion, but it was Méliès who explored its possibilities. In his bio at the IMDB, Chaplin is quoted, calling Méliès “the alchemist of light,” and D.W. Griffith, too, who said, "I owe him everything."

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