Georges Méliès was among the most important directors of all time and perhaps the most extraordinary and mythical character of the origins of cinema.It was he who invented the first tricks of the cinema such as the disappearances, the fades and the coloring of the film. From a certain point of view it could be said that the first use of montage is also the work of Georges Méliès.
His life is no less cinematic than movies. Passionate about magic shows, he runs away from home to escape the pressure of his father, a shoe trader, who wanted to persuade him at all costs to take up a “normal” profession.
He moves to England where he studies with the magician David Devant and hones his ideas for his future shows. Back in Paris, he starts performing in the prestigious Houdini theater, of which a few years later he even manages to become the owner.
Shocked by the Cinema
Méliès is literally struck by the screening of the Lumière Brothers on 28 December 1895 at the “Cafè des Capucins”. He wants to use the cinema at all costs. After the screening he approaches the two brothers to ask to buy one of their cars but the two men refuse, saying that they are not for sale.
Méliès then contacts one of his trusted engineers and begins the personal construction of his own version of the Cinematograph. He has no doubts that cinema is the means of expression that interests him most and is willing to make any economic sacrifice to get it.
The Méliès Style
Having made the device, Méliès ventures into the making of some documentary films inspired by the genre of the Lumière brothers. But shortly thereafter he begins to use the film medium in a different way. He begins to study the connections that can exist between cinema and magic. He begins to use the makeup of the disappearance and to explore other territories of expressiveness with the short film “Escamotage d’ une dame chez Robert-Houdin “.
The disappearance is one of his most famous inventions. He tells Lumiere who discovered it while he was in the Piazza dell’Operà in Paris doing some rehearsals. The camera jammed and he managed to restart it a few minutes later. When he saw the film again impressed he noticed the disappearance of people, buses, carriages that were transformed into something else, due to the jam of the sliding of the film.
Tricks and Special Effects
The disappearance trick is used by Melies in many of his films. Sometimes in a grotesque way. In the first short film in which he uses it, he makes a woman disappear to make a skeleton appear in her place. It was basically the step-one technique that would be used in animation cinema.
To contribute to the mythical aura of Georges Méliès was his being an artist and artisan of cinema at 360 °. Histrionic interpreter, creator and director, creator of special effects and builder of a unique soundstage in his garden house on the outskirts of Paris. A soundstage made entirely of glass, built in a specific position to make the most of the sunlight.
Inspiration for a large group of people who were infected by his enthusiasm. Costume designers, set designers and technicians who created very daring things for his films for the time. In some short films complex gadgets and animated machines are used that interact with the actors. Tunnels, changing houses, labyrinths and gigantic monsters that engulf the characters.
Some creations, like the ice monster in the movie “The conquest of the Pole“, are very reminiscent of carnival floats, they moved through hydraulic or mechanical mechanisms.
After building his studio, Melies works tirelessly and reaches the figure of about 500 short films distributed all over the world. His films tell of explorers, adventurers, conquerors of impossible worlds, monsters and other fantastic characters. They are films that take us to an absurd and unreal universe. It is the invention of fantastic cinema, a fantasy world that will be more successful than reality films. The main vocation of cinema seems to be the dream.
The conflict of reality cinema with fantasy cinema seems to always remain present. Different schools of thought will alternate over time, each time preferring one or the other. Subsequently, television will seem to take the place of cinema to tell reality. Many recent film movements have tried to refocus their gaze on the cinema of the real during the history of cinema.
While the world around him was evolving in the direction of an industrial cinema for the masses, Georges Méliès instinctively continued to create films and sell them individually, without realizing that the rental formula would be much more profitable for him and would brought earnings from the showing of films all over the world for a long time. He sold his films of him individually for a fixed amount and passed all his rights to the buyer, without time limits. Those who made big money from Méliès’ films were these buyers and not Georges Méliès himself.
Melies was part of that category of brilliant artists, inventors, interpreters and innovators who, however, do not know how to integrate wise entrepreneurial management into their business. He was an instinctive who felt within himself the sacred fire of art and continually needed to create new things. But he was not interested enough in the evolution of the film industry from a commercial point of view.
His film production company, Star film, went out of business. He had to sell the Houdini theater to pay off the debts. He met again by chance a former actress of his Jeanne d’Alcy who managed a kiosk in a Paris station. The two got married and Georges Méliès ended up selling toys in the Montparnasse station. Even his films, after all, were beautiful toys that made adults feel like children again.
Melies Films not to Be Missed
The Astronomer’s Dream (1898)
“The Astronomer’s Dream” is a short film made in 1898 by cinema pioneers Georges Méliès. This film is known for being one of the earliest examples of science fiction cinema and is a milestone in the history of filmmaking.
The plot of the film is simple yet captivating: a man takes a dive and reaches the moon, walking on its surface. This representation of a man exploring space and the moon was innovative for its time and showcased Méliès’ creativity and mastery in producing special effects.
The film is notable for its visual effects, which included the use of cinematic tricks and animations to create the illusion of walking on the lunar surface. Méliès demonstrated incredible inventiveness in crafting this short film.
“The Astronomer’s Dream” is a work that contributed to shaping the science fiction film genre and remains an iconic example of the early days of cinema. Its brevity and visual impact make it an important piece in the history of the seventh art.
“Cinderella” is a short film made in 1899 by cinema pioneers Georges Méliès. This film is based on the well-known fairy tale of Cinderella and is one of the earliest cinematic adaptations of this classic story.
The plot of the film faithfully follows the fairy tale: Cinderella is a young woman oppressed by her stepmother and stepsisters, but with the help of her fairy godmother, she transforms and attends the royal ball. There, she meets the prince and a love story begins. However, she must return home before midnight when the magic wears off. The lost golden slipper becomes the means by which the prince searches for her.
The film is notable for its use of special effects typical of Méliès’ work. Cinderella’s transformation, the magic of the fairy godmother, and appearances and disappearances are examples of how Méliès utilized the technology of the time to create magical effects on screen.
“Cinderella” is a fascinating example of how cinema was used from its early days to bring forward familiar stories and fairy tales. It’s a tribute to Georges Méliès’ talent in using imagination and special effects to bring these iconic stories to life.
Joan of Arc (1900)
“Joan of Arc” is a short film made in 1900 by cinema pioneer Georges Méliès. This film draws inspiration from the historical figure of Joan of Arc, the legendary French heroine of the 15th century.
The plot of the film is a simplified adaptation of the story of Joan of Arc. It depicts Joan in armor leading French troops against their enemies. The film captures the essence of her heroic figure and her crucial role in French history.
Georges Méliès, known for his special effects and visual creativity, uses cinematic tricks of the time to create the illusion of battle scenes and the appearance of Joan of Arc.
This short film is an example of how Méliès brought historical events and legendary figures to the screen through his unique cinematic vision. Although the film is brief, it captures the imagination and the significance of Joan of Arc in French culture.
The Brahmin and the Butterfly (1901)
“The Brahmin and the Butterfly” is a French short film from 1901 directed by Georges Méliès.
The film presents a fantastical tale in which a golden butterfly emerges from a chrysalis (the transition stage from caterpillar to butterfly). The golden butterfly symbolizes beauty and transformation. Throughout the film, the butterfly embarks on a series of magical flights through an enchanted world, encountering animated creatures and objects along the way. In the end, the butterfly alights on a flower and disappears in an explosion of golden light.
“The Brahmin and the Butterfly” is a visually stunning but brief film. The golden butterfly represents beauty, metamorphosis, and the fleeting nature of life, themes often found in Méliès’ work. Méliès employs special effects to render the butterfly and animated objects, showcasing his technical prowess in the cinema of the era.
Blue Beard (1901)
“Blue Beard” is a 1901 French short film directed by Georges Méliès.
The film is an adaptation of the popular tale of Bluebeard. It portrays the story of Bluebeard, a wealthy and mysterious aristocrat with a series of missing wives. His previous wives have been kept in a secret room in his castle, and their disappearance remains a mystery. However, Bluebeard’s new wife begins to suspect something amiss and discovers the secret chamber. Inside, she finds the remains of the previous wives and confronts Bluebeard’s terrible secret.
“Blue Beard” is based on the popular tale of Bluebeard, which tells the story of a wealthy man with a dark secret. Méliès adapted this story for cinema, creating a visually engaging adaptation. The film creates a gothic and mysterious atmosphere typical of Bluebeard stories, with the use of set design and Méliès’ special effects contributing to a suggestive setting.
Gulliver’s Travels among the Lilliputians and the Giants (1902)
“Gulliver’s Travels among the Lilliputians and the Giants” is a silent film from 1902 directed by Georges Méliès. This film is based on Jonathan Swift’s novel “Gulliver’s Travels” and represents a remarkable example of Méliès’ talent in adapting literary works for the cinema.
The plot follows the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver, the protagonist of Swift’s novel, as he explores the world of Lilliput and the giants. Méliès uses special effects and cinematic tricks to create the illusion of Gulliver interacting with the tiny inhabitants of Lilliput and later confronting the giants.
This film is known for its visual inventiveness and sense of humor. The portrayal of the inhabitants of Lilliput and the giants is playful and fantastical, capturing the spirit of the original novel.
“Gulliver’s Travels among the Lilliputians and the Giants” is an extraordinary example of how Georges Méliès brought literary stories to the screen in an era when cinema was still in its early stages. His talent in combining special effects with classic narratives has made this film a work of great historical and cinematic interest.
Trip into the Moon (1902)
The film that consecrated Méliès’ success was a Trip into the moon. The public at the time had never seen anything like it: at the entrance to the shows many people thought they were being teased. Instead, the success was enormous. The film was shown all over the world and several directors made remakes. Cinema had discovered its vocation to show the inner worlds of the imagination.
This film is an icon of auteur cinema and cinema history itself, considered one of the earliest science fiction films ever made. Let’s delve more deeply into this masterpiece.
Plot: The film tells the story of a group of astronomers, led by Professor Barbenfouillis, who decide to undertake a journey to the Moon. To do so, they construct an enormous bullet-shaped spacecraft called “La Luna” and launch it towards the Moon using an enormous cannon. After a voyage through space, the spacecraft lands directly in the eye of the Moon.
On the Moon, the astronomers explore the lunar terrain, discovering a bizarre and fantastical landscape. They encounter alien creatures, known as “Selenites,” and are forced to escape from them. Ultimately, they manage to flee the Moon due to an explosion caused by a clash with the Selenites.
The film concludes with the spacecraft plummeting into the sea and being recovered by a group of fishermen, returning the heroes to Earth, where they are welcomed as heroes.
- Technical Innovation: Georges Méliès was a pioneer of special effects in cinema, and “Le voyage dans la lune” is an extraordinary example of his technical ingenuity. Méliès used innovative cinematic tricks, such as editing, superimposition, and the use of models, to create the film’s extraordinary visual effects. The scene of the spacecraft landing on the Moon, with the vessel striking the Moon’s eye, has become an icon of cinema.
- Visual Storytelling: Méliès tells much of the story through imagery rather than dialogue. This is a distinctive element of silent cinema and demonstrates his skill in conveying the plot and emotions through visual language.
- Literary and Theatrical Influences: The film is partly inspired by the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, popular science fiction novelists of the time. Méliès was also a former magician, and this is reflected in his ability to create illusions and visual tricks.
- Social Commentary: “Le voyage dans la lune” can also be interpreted as a representation of colonization and exploration, relevant themes of the time. European astronomers “conquer” the Moon, encounter its native inhabitants (the Selenites), and ultimately depart, leaving the Moon undisturbed. This interpretation suggests a critique of the colonial ambitions of the era.
In conclusion, “Le voyage dans la lune” is a film that has left an indelible mark on the history of cinema. Georges Méliès created a visual masterpiece that anticipated the era of cinematic science fiction and demonstrated the magical potential of cinema as a narrative medium. The film continues to be admired for its creativity, technical ingenuity, and historical significance in the world of cinema.
The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903)
“The Kingdom of the Fairies” is a silent film from 1903 directed by Georges Méliès. This film is a masterpiece of early cinema and showcases Méliès’ remarkable skill in creating magical and imaginative worlds on screen.
The plot of the film revolves around a young prince who is captured by fairies and taken to their enchanting kingdom. Inside this kingdom, he encounters various magical creatures and witnesses breathtaking scenes of fantasy and wonder. The film is known for its elaborate set designs and special effects, which were groundbreaking for its time.
Georges Méliès, a pioneer in filmmaking, used innovative techniques such as stop-motion animation and multiple exposures to create the fantastical elements in the film. “The Kingdom of the Fairies” is a visual spectacle, filled with enchanting and whimsical imagery that continues to captivate audiences.
This film is a testament to Méliès’ creativity and his ability to transport viewers to otherworldly realms through the medium of cinema. “The Kingdom of the Fairies” remains a classic example of early fantasy filmmaking, and its influence can be seen in the fantasy genre for years to come.
The Infernal Cauldron (1903)
“The Infernal Cauldron” is a 1903 French short film directed by Georges Méliès. In English, the title of the film translates to “The Infernal Cauldron.”
The film presents a fantastical story in which an evil magician or sorcerer, portrayed by Georges Méliès himself, is concocting a potion or spell using a large cauldron. Inside the cauldron, a series of magical transformations occur, including the transformation of objects into living creatures and vice versa. The magician creates an atmosphere of magical chaos as he continues to stir his potion.
“The Infernal Cauldron” is another example of Méliès’ talent for fantasy and special effects. The film is replete with magical transformations and visual illusions that were distinctive features of his work. Méliès often appeared in his own films, and in this case, he takes on the role of the malevolent magician. This is another demonstration of his versatile skills in cinema.
The Impossible Voyage (1904)
“The Impossible Voyage” is a silent film from 1904 directed by Georges Méliès. This film is another testament to Méliès’ extraordinary creativity and mastery in the field of cinematography.
The plot follows a group of men who embark on a fantastic journey through time and space. The film features a series of extraordinary adventures, including encounters with prehistoric dinosaurs, explorations in exotic lands, and even space travel.
As is typical of Méliès’ work, the film is rich in special effects and innovative cinematic tricks for its time. Méliès used green screens, stop-motion, and other techniques to create the illusions that make the film so captivating.
“The Impossible Voyage” is an extraordinary example of art and fantasy cinema. Méliès constantly pushed the boundaries of the cinematic technology of his time to convey an adventurous and enchanting narrative. This film remains an icon of pioneering cinema and continues to inspire cinephiles around the world.
The Christmas Angel (1904)
“The Christmas Angel” is a 1904 French short film directed by Georges Méliès, translated as “The Christmas Angel.”
The film depicts a Christmas scene where an angel magically appears on the Christmas tree, bringing joy and happiness to a family. The angel performs acrobatics and magic tricks, creating a festive atmosphere. The film portrays a Christmas scene and utilizes special effects and typical Méliès magic tricks.
“The Christmas Angel” is a short Christmas film that captures the charm and magic of Christmas through the appearance of an angel.
A Moonlight Serenade (1904)
“A Moonlight Serenade” is a 1904 French short film directed by Georges Méliès.
The film portrays a fantastical story in which a man and a woman prepare for dinner by the light of the moon. However, as soon as the moon rises in the night sky, it magically transforms into a gigantic cheese. The man and the woman begin to cut the lunar cheese, creating an unusual meal. In the end, when they have finished eating, the moon returns to its original state in the sky.
“Au clair de la Lune” is an example of humor and fantasy found in Méliès’ films. The transformation of the moon into cheese and the ensuing unconventional meal are elements of surprise and comedy. Méliès uses special effects and visual tricks to create the transformation of the moon into cheese and other illusions in the film. These effects were a significant part of his directorial skill.
An Adventurous Automobile Trip (1905)
“Le Raid Paris-Monte Carlo en Deux Heures” is a short film from 1905 directed by Georges Méliès. This film is known for being one of the early cinematic works to explore the theme of car racing, a subject that was becoming increasingly popular at the time.
The plot of the film is simple but action-packed: a pilot embarks on a daring race from Paris to Monte Carlo in just two hours. The film captures the excitement and energy of this automotive adventure, with scenes depicting the pilot facing challenges along the way.
Georges Méliès uses his expertise in creating special effects to create the illusion of speed and action. Despite its brevity, the film manages to capture the enthusiasm for car racing of that era.
“Le Raid Paris-Monte Carlo en Deux Heures” is an example of Méliès’ versatility as a director, able to tackle a wide range of cinematic genres. This film offers a fascinating glimpse into the culture and excitement of early car racing in cinema.
The Palace of the Arabian Nights (1905)
“The Palace of the Arabian Nights” is a French short film from 1905 directed by Georges Méliès. This film, also known as “Le palais des mille et une nuit” in French, is a fascinating example of Méliès’ pioneering work in auteur cinema and the use of special effects.
The film tells the story of a traveler who enters a mysterious oriental palace, the “Palais des mille et une nuit.” Inside the palace, the traveler encounters a series of marvelous adventures and encounters with fantastic characters. The palace is a magical place, populated by enchanted and extraordinary creatures, and each room reveals new surprises and mysteries.
Méliès, with his mastery of special effects and cinematic trickery, creates an atmosphere of dream and wonder. The film is a masterpiece of the silent film era and showcases Méliès’ visionary creativity in bringing fantastical stories to the screen.
This short film is a significant work in the history of auteur cinema and represents an early example of fantasy cinema. Its aesthetics and sense of adventure have influenced many generations of filmmakers and audiences.
Rip’s Dream (1905)
“Rip’s Dream” is a French short film from 1905 directed by Georges Méliès.
The film is loosely based on the story of “Rip Van Winkle” by American writer Washington Irving. The story follows the protagonist, Rip Van Vinckle, an ordinary man who, after drinking a mysterious potion, falls asleep and awakens many years later. During his slumber, the world around him has changed radically, and he must adapt to a reality completely different from what he knew.
Méliès uses his talent for special effects to create the effect of the passage of time while Rip Van Vinckle sleeps. The film is an example of Méliès’ innovative use of editing and transformation techniques.
This short film is another example of Méliès’ work in auteur cinema and demonstrates his ability to bring fantastical and adventurous stories to the screen.
The Merry Frolics of Satan (1906)
“The Merry Frolics of Satan” is a 1906 French film directed by Georges Méliès.
The film presents a series of comedic and bizarre situations in which the devil, played by Méliès himself, enjoys playing pranks on various characters. These pranks include transformations, magical disappearances and reappearances, and other surprising situations. The devil seems to greatly relish his series of antics, and the film is an example of the visual humor characteristic of Méliès’ work.
Méliès uses special effects and editing techniques to create a series of magical and fantastical effects. The film is a fascinating example of auteur cinema and Méliès’ creative flair in bringing his whimsical ideas to the screen.
Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship (1906)
“Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship” is a 1906 French short film directed by Georges Méliès.
The film narrates the extraordinary adventures of a fantastical dirigible that takes flight and soars over incredible landscapes. On board the dirigible, we witness a variety of breathtaking scenes as the air is filled with wonder and amazement. This short film is an example of Méliès’ mastery in using special effects to create fantastical worlds and extraordinary adventures.
Méliès uses his ingenuity and skill in editing to bring this magical journey through the skies to life. The film is a captivating example of auteur cinema and Méliès’ ability to transport viewers to places beyond reality.
The Witch (1906)
“The Witch” is a 1906 French short film directed by Georges Méliès.
The film presents the story of a young princess, portrayed by one of Méliès’ regular actresses, who is cursed by an evil witch known as la fée Carabosse. The witch casts a spell on the princess, transforming her into an old woman. The aged princess seeks help from a knight who ventures into an enchanted castle, where he faces various trials and dangers to try to break the spell and restore the young princess to her original form.
The film is a classic example of Méliès’ work in the fantasy genre and the use of special effects to create transformations and magical settings. The story, inspired by traditional fairy tales, captures the viewer’s imagination with its sense of wonder and adventure.
Under the Seas (1907)
“Under the Seas” or “The Nightmare of the Fisherman” is a 1907 French short film directed by Georges Méliès.
The film tells the story of a fisherman who embarks on an extraordinary and surprising fishing expedition. When he casts his line into the sea, he catches not fish but a series of incredible sea creatures, including a mermaid and a massive fish. His underwater adventures quickly turn into a nightmare when he is swallowed by an enormous whale. Inside the whale, the fisherman encounters other strange marine creatures and must find a way to escape the perilous situation.
As usual, Méliès uses special effects and his creativity to bring extraordinary adventures to the screen. This short film is a captivating example of his work in the fantasy and adventure genre.
The Eclipse: Courtship of the Sun and Moon (1907)
“The Eclipse: The Courtship of the Sun and Moon” is a 1907 French short film directed by Georges Méliès.
This film is an example of Méliès’ creative use of special effects. The plot revolves around a solar eclipse in which the sun and the moon appear to be engaged in some sort of celestial courtship. The moon, personified as a female figure, moves in front of the sun, creating the effect of an eclipse. Throughout the film, we witness a celestial dance between the sun and the moon as they draw closer and then move apart from each other.
Méliès employs tricks and special effects to create this magical representation of a solar eclipse, showcasing his mastery of using cinematography to produce extraordinary visual effects.
Tunnelling the English Channel (1907)
“Tunnel under the English Channel” is a 1907 French short film directed by Georges Méliès.
The film depicts an imaginary project of building a submarine tunnel under the English Channel, separating France and England. Georges Méliès employs special effects and visual tricks to create the illusion of workers digging a tunnel through the ocean surface and pushing through to England. Along the way, they encounter strange and surprising adventures, including encounters with marine creatures and comedic situations.
The film showcases Méliès’ creative use of cinematography to depict an ambitious underwater tunneling project, with elements of fantasy, adventure, and humor.
“Tunnel under the English Channel” is a whimsical and imaginative short film that reflects the era’s fascination with exploration and technological progress.
The Conquest of the Pole (1912)
“The Conquest of the Pole” is a 1912 French film directed by Georges Méliès.
The film is a fantastical and adventurous representation of an imaginary polar expedition. A team of explorers embarks on a journey to the North Pole, facing a series of challenges and obstacles along the way. During their expedition, they encounter extraordinary creatures and surprising situations, including encounters with beings from the deep sea and alien creatures.
Georges Méliès uses special effects and his distinctive visual creativity to create a fantastical and surreal world in which this polar adventure takes place. The film is an example of Méliès’ boundless imagination in bringing adventurous and extraordinary stories to the screen.
Baron Munchausen’s Dream (1911)
“Baron Munchausen’s Dream” is a 1911 French short film directed by Georges Méliès.
This film is inspired by the stories of the legendary Baron Munchausen, known for his incredible and often exaggerated adventures. In the film, Baron Munchausen finds himself involved in a series of extraordinary and fantastical situations. He travels through fantastical worlds, performs heroic feats, and encounters bizarre and fantastic characters.
Méliès, with his mastery of special effects and visual creativity, creates a series of surprising and surreal scenes that capture the spirit of the Baron Munchausen stories.
The Knight of the Snows (1912)
“The Knight of the Snows” is a 1912 French short film directed by Georges Méliès.
The film tells the story of a valiant knight who finds himself battling the forces of evil in a snowy and enchanted world. The knight embarks on extraordinary and perilous adventures as he seeks to protect his kingdom and his beloved from the darkness that threatens to engulf them. During his journey, the knight encounters magical creatures, faces terrifying monsters, and challenges magic itself.
Georges Méliès uses special effects and his distinctive visual creativity to create a magical and adventurous world. The film captures the viewer’s imagination with its fairy-tale atmosphere and compelling storytelling.
Cinderella or the Glass Slipper (1912)
“Cinderella, or The Glass Slipper” is a 1912 French short film directed by Georges Méliès.
The film is an adaptation of the famous Cinderella story. It tells the tale of a young girl, Cendrillon (Cinderella), who lives with her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Thanks to the magic of a fairy godmother, Cendrillon has the opportunity to attend a royal ball but must return before midnight when the enchantment will wear off. During the ball, the prince falls in love with Cendrillon, but she flees, leaving behind a glass slipper. The prince searches desperately for her, and when he finally finds her, Cendrillon and the prince live happily ever after.
Georges Méliès uses his skill in cinematic tricks to bring this classic fairy tale to life. The film captures the magic and beauty of the Cinderella story.