November 22, 2011
With Scorsese's Hugo coming out soon I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of Georges Melies' early films (Hugo features a fictional Melies). Melies was a magician who originally used his films in his act, but the films quickly took over and by 1898 he was the largest producer of staged films in France.
Melies was one of the first filmmakers to use film to tell a story with sets, he created the first proper movie studio (with moving sets, and glass walls to let in the maximum amount of light), he was one of the first filmmakers to experiment with long form film, and he shot the first erotic film (After the Ball) and of course the special effects techniques he perfected still underly most modern effects. Melies' special effects techniques are even more impressive if you consider that most were created in-camera by rewinding and re-filming various parts of the scene. He made hundreds of popular films, but never made much money from them. Distribution was expensive and he had problems with counterfeiters. (Thomas Edison copied and distributed Melies' films in the US and never paid Melies a dime.) By 1913 his film was failing and he sold what remained of it. Most of Melies' archives were destroyed (the majority of his cellulose film stock was melted down by the French Army to make boot heels). His wife died and he married his mistress. For many years he was a toy salesman at a kiosk in Montparnasse station. His plight was discovered by a writer in a French film journal and soon after some of his films were discovered, restored and exhibited. A group of filmmakers put together a pension fund for him and he spent his last years in a home for cinema veterans.
Thanks to web, Melies' existing films are very easy to find. I've included a few below (my favcorites are starred).
Note most of these films include bad modern soundtracks and are better watched silent.
1896 - The Haunted Castle ✶
1896 - A Nightmare
1896 - The Vanishing Lady
1897 - The Haunted Castle (tinted)
1898 - Un Homme de Têtes
1898 - The Astronomer's Dream
1898 - The Magician
1899 - Man With a Rubber Head ✶
1899 - The Mysterious Portrait
1899 - Evoking the Spirits
1899 - Cinderella
1900 - The Magic Book
1900 - One Man Band
1902 - The Devil and the Statue
1902 - The Eruption in Martinique
1902 - Gulliver's Travels
1902 - A Trip to the Moon
1903 - The Melomaniac ✶
1903 - The Infernal Cauldron
1903 - The Infernal Cakewalk
1904 - Untamable Whiskers ✶
1904 - Le voyage a travers l'impossible"
1904 - The Mermaid
1905 - The Black Devil
1905 - The Fantastic Dirigible ✶
1905 - Living Playing Cards ✶
1905 - The Gambler's Paradise
1906 - The Merry Frolics of Satan
1907 - Satan in Prison
1907 - Hilarious Posters
1909 - Le Locataire Diabolique
1908 - La Photographie electrique a distance
1912 - The Conquest of the Pole ✶
For decent copies of these films you should splurge and get the Melies 5 DVD set. It features 170! shorts.
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