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Georges Méliès, the Cinemagician
February 3, 2010 9:47 AM   Subscribe

He invented or popularized a startling array of the fundamental elements of film: the dissolve, the fade-in and fade-out, slow motion, fast motion, stop motion, double exposures and multiple exposures, miniatures, the in-camera matte, time-lapse photography, color film (albeit hand-painted), artificial film lighting, production sketches and storyboards, and the whole idea of narrative film.
By 1897, in a studio of his own design and construction – the first complete movie studio – his hand forged virtually everything on his screen. Norman McLaren writes, "He was not only his own producer, ideas man, script writer, but he was his own set-builder, scene painter, choreographer, deviser of mechanical contrivances, special effects man, costume designer, model maker, actor, multiple actor, editor and distributor." Also, his own cinematographer, and the inventor of cameras to suit his special conceptions. Not even auteur directors such as Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles, John Cassavetes, and Stanley Kubrick would personally author so many aspects of their films."
Inside: 57 films by Georges Méliès, the Grandfather of Visual Effects.

Méliès made about 500 films between 1896 and 1914; around 150 survive today.

1896

A Terrible Night / Une nuit terrible [IMDB]
The Vanishing Lady / Escamotage d'une dame au théâtre Robert Houdin [IMDB]
A Nightmare / Le cauchemar [IMDB]
The House of the Devil / Le Manoir du diable [IMDB, Wiki] Film begins 36sec in; this is often credited as the first horror movie

1897

The Haunted Castle / Le château hanté [IMDB]
The Last Cartridges / Bombardement d'une maison [IMDB] A film recreation of De Neuville's Les dernières cartouches
Sea Fighting in Greece / Combat naval en Grèce [IMDB]
On the Roof / Sur les toits [IMDB]

1898

The Astronomer's Dream / La lune à un mètre [IMDB]
The Four Troublesome Heads / Un homme de têtes [IMDB, Wiki] Singing auditions with disembodied heads
The Magician / Le magicien [IMDB]
The Temptation of St. Anthony / La tentation de Saint-Antoine [IMDB] Jesus turns into a woman
Panorama From Top of a Moving Train / Panorama pris d'un train en marche [IMDB]

1899

The Pyramid of Triboulet / La pyramide de Triboulet [IMDB]
The Devil in a Convent / Le diable au convent [IMDB]
Summoning the Spirits / Évocation spirite [IMDB]
An Up-to-date Conjuror / L'impressionniste fin de siècle [IMDB] Méliès began his career as a stage magician
Cinderella / Cendrillon [IMDB]
Joan of Arc / Jeanne d'Arc: Full film, 1 2 [IMDB, Wiki]
The Dreyfus Affair / L'affaire Dreyfus : Full film, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 [IMDB]

1900

The One Man Band / L'homme orchestre [IMDB] A seven-person all-Méliès band
The Artist and the Dummy / L'artiste et le mannequin [IMDB]

1901

The Man With the Rubber Head / L'homme à la tête en caoutchouc [IMDB, Wiki] Méliès inflates his head with bellows
Bluebeard / Barbe-bleue [IMDB, Wiki]

1902

A Trip to the Moon / Le Voyage Dans La Lune: Full film, Full film [IMDB, Wiki] The most famous Méliès film; this is often credited as the first sci-fi movie
The Volcanic Eruption in Martinique / Éruption volcanique à la Martinique [IMDB]
Gulliver's Travels Amongst the Lilliputians and the Giants / Le voyage de Gulliver à Lilliput et chez les géants [IMDB, Wiki]
The Treasures of Satan / Les trésors de satan [IMDB]
The Human Fly / L'homme mouche [IMDB]

1903

The Monster / Le monstre [IMDB]
The Infernal Boiling Pot / Le chaudron infernal [IMDB, Wiki] Demonic sacrifice and floating ghosts
The Magic Lantern / La lanterne magique [IMDB]
The Melomaniac / Le mélomane [IMDB]
The Infernal Cake-Walk / Le cake-walk infernal [IMDB] The cake-walk was a popular minstrel dance in the late 19th century
Misfortune Never Comes Alone / Un malheur n'arrive jamais seul [IMDB]
Jupiter's Thunderbolts / Le tonnerre de Jupiter [IMDB]
The Enchanted Well / Le puits fantastique [IMDB]

1904

The Impossible Voyage / Le voyage à travers l'impossible: 1 2 3 [IMDB, Wiki]
The Living Playing Cards / Les cartes vivantes [IMDB]
Untameable Whiskers / Le roi du maquillage [IMDB] Méliès storyboards the film he's in
Culinary Sorcery / Sorcellerie culinaire [IMDB]
The Wandering Jew / Le juif errant [IMDB]
A Mesmerian Experiment / Le baquet de Mesmer [IMDB]
Tchin Chao, The Chinese Conjurer / Le thaumaturge chinois [IMDB] Begins at 2:40

1905

The Black Imp / Le diable noir [IMDB]
The Palace of a Thousand and One Nights / Le palais des mille et une nuits: 1 2 [IMDB]

1906

The Merry Frolics of Satan / Les quatre cents farces du diable [IMDB]
The Mysterious Retort / Alchimiste Parafaragamus ou La cornue infernale [IMDB]
The Scheming Gambler's Paradise / Le tripot clandestin [IMDB] The best damn pet shop in town!
Soap Bubbles / Les bulles de savon animées [IMDB]
The Hilarious Posters / Les affiches en goguette [IMDB]


1907

The Eclipse / L'éclipse du soleil en pleine lune [IMDB, Wiki] The moon and sun get it on
Good Glue Sticks / La colle universelle [IMDB]

1908

The King and the Jester / François Ier et Triboulet [IMDB]

1909

The Devilish Tenant / Le locataire diabolique [IMDB] In the style of Mary Poppins
The Spider and the Butterfly / Le papillon fantastique [IMDB]

1912

The Conquest of the Pole / À la conquête du pôle [IMDB, Wiki] Look for the snowball fight with a frost giant 25 minutes in

Supplementary material

Méliès in 3D
Index of Méliès films
Bio at Who's Who of Victorian Cinema
Segundo de Chomón's Excursion dans la lune, a 1908 remake of "A Trip to the Moon"
Smashing Pumpkins' Tonight, Tonight, a 1996 remake of "A Trip to the Moon"

Méliès compilations on DVD

Méliès the Magician
Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913)
Méliès Encore: 26 Additional Rare and Original Films by the First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1911)
posted by Paragon (31 comments total) 130 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh happy day, thanks so much for putting this together.
posted by scrowdid at 9:56 AM on February 3, 2010


This is wonderful. Thank you.
posted by brundlefly at 10:01 AM on February 3, 2010


Excellent post! Much thanks!
posted by Thorzdad at 10:04 AM on February 3, 2010


Awesome. It's sad that visual effects impresarios didn't inherit more of Méliès playful spirit; since he stopped making movies, visual effects have (mostly) been left in the hands of cold technicians - for every Gilliam or Gondry, there are a hundred faceless Dennis Murens who are more concerned with making their work look realistic than imbuing it with any kind of creative vitality. It's been over a century since he made his first films, and he still has few equals when it comes to capturing the sheer joy of experimentation.
posted by Toby Dammit X at 10:06 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Holy shit! This is a great post!
posted by OmieWise at 10:09 AM on February 3, 2010


and yet we complain about plotless special effects extravaganzas today.
posted by empath at 10:19 AM on February 3, 2010


I would like to nominate this for best post of the century. We can all just take the next 90 years off after this one.
posted by echo target at 10:23 AM on February 3, 2010


Jesus Christ. And here was me thinking I was going to be productive for the next few hours ...
posted by Len at 10:28 AM on February 3, 2010


BRAVO! *wild applause*
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:31 AM on February 3, 2010


Heh, I was about to point out that the Visual Effects Society's VES Award statuette is the Moon from Le voyage dans la lune. Someone at Pixar unboxed his on his blog, which lets you see how it lights up and so on.

Damn thing is deceptively heavy thanks to that battery setup; one of my officemates received one last year and we were all passing it around and pretending to fall over under the strain.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:37 AM on February 3, 2010


Anyone who's interested in George Méliès should definitely check out The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a really cool novel that mixes text and illustrations really effectively (and won the Caldecott Medal for illustration). The story was inspired by Méliès's films and they are featured heavily in the plot.
posted by cider at 10:44 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I came in to say what cider did -- The Invention of Hugo Cabret (a gorgeous and moving book) is how I first heard about Méliès, just last year, so this post is coming at a fantastic time for me personally. I can't wait to explore those links! Truly a paragon of an FPP -- muchas gracias.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 10:56 AM on February 3, 2010


Thank you for such a wonderful post!
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:57 AM on February 3, 2010


He invented or popularized a startling array of the fundamental elements of film: the dissolve, the fade-in and fade-out, slow motion, fast motion, stop motion, double exposures and multiple exposures, miniatures, the in-camera matte, time-lapse photography, color film (albeit hand-painted), artificial film lighting, production sketches and storyboards, and the whole idea of narrative film.

That is to say, he adapted many lighting, curtain, and blocking effects used in theatre to use in the film camera and stationary movie screen.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:00 AM on February 3, 2010


cider: "Anyone who's interested in George Méliès should definitely check out The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a really cool novel that mixes text and illustrations really effectively (and won the Caldecott Medal for illustration). The story was inspired by Méliès's films and they are featured heavily in the plot."

FYI, Martin Scorsese has bought the rights to that book.
posted by brundlefly at 11:04 AM on February 3, 2010


These are fantastic! I'd seen Le Voyage Dans La Lune, but I had no idea Méliès was so prolific. Thanks!
posted by cjelli at 11:13 AM on February 3, 2010


Ces n'sont pas les frères Lumières.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:23 AM on February 3, 2010


Some neat information about him in the last episode of the "Apollo" series that HBO produced a few years back. Thomas Edison kinda shafted him, if I recall.
posted by Melismata at 11:26 AM on February 3, 2010


Fucking hell, this is awesome! Thank you so much!
posted by jokeefe at 11:29 AM on February 3, 2010


Amazing post!
posted by serazin at 11:30 AM on February 3, 2010


I'm still not happy that in the Special Edition of Le Voyage Dans La Lune, the Moon shoots first.
posted by panboi at 11:31 AM on February 3, 2010


I knew there was something else Avatar was ripping off...
posted by Naberius at 12:07 PM on February 3, 2010


Awesome post, man! I'll 3rd (4th?) the suggestion of Invention of Hugo Cabret. My daughter adored the book and it was really fun to read together.
posted by cell divide at 12:08 PM on February 3, 2010


57LYTF.

This is fantastic. I'd hardly heard of this guy, and now I am totally in love with the exuberence in his work. Some of it is the theatricality of the time, sure, but there also is a sense that he is really trying to use the new media and show something amazing. Thank you!
posted by Schismatic at 12:17 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Smashing Pumpkins - Tonight, Tonight
posted by empath at 12:25 PM on February 3, 2010


Wow, a post about a person ... who isn't dead yet. I have to say, this somehow made my day.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:32 PM on February 3, 2010


Whoa!. Good stuff.
posted by Rashomon at 12:34 PM on February 3, 2010


Wow, a post about a person ... who isn't dead yet.

That's the magic of special effects right there.
posted by Wolof at 2:49 PM on February 3, 2010


Thomas Edison kinda shafted him, if I recall.

Edison distributed an illegal copy of "A Trip to the Moon" in the US. So Méliès started filming with two cameras: one negative for the European market and one for the American market. By an absurd coincidence, the cameras were about the same distance apart as 3D cameras ... so with a little editing some of Méliès' films are available in 3D.

(See the link in the Supplementary material section)
posted by Paragon at 6:29 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


That is SO amazing about the 3D! Thanks!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:59 PM on February 3, 2010


As I was reading the first link, I was thinking "Bah! Useless without video!"

I should have known better!
posted by Acey at 4:55 AM on February 4, 2010


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