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Georges Méliès (1861 - 1938)

Related: early cinema - French cinema - first narrative films - film - special effects

Le Grand Méliès (1952), the life of Georges Méliès, is told in this biodrama directed by Georges Franju.

Titles: The Devil's Castle (1896) - Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)


Georges Méliès (December 8, 1861 - January 21, 1938), full name Maries-Georges-Jean Méliès, was a French filmmaker famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in the earliest cinema. He was born, and later died, in Paris, where his family manufactured shoes. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_M%E9li%E8s [Oct 2004]

He was very innovative in the use of special effects. He accidentally discovered the stop trick, or substitution, in 1896, and was one of the first filmmakers to use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted color in his films.

Before making films, he was a stage magician at the Theatre Robert-Houdin. In 1895, he became interested in film after seeing a demonstration of the Lumière brothers' camera. In 1897, he established a studio on a rooftop property in Montreuil. Actors performed in front of a painted set as inspired by the conventions of magic and musical theater. He directed 531 films between 1896 and 1914, ranging in length from one to forty minutes. In subject matter, these films are often similar to the magic theater shows that Méliès had been doing, containing "tricks" and impossible events, such as objects disappearing or changing size.

His most famous film is A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune) made in 1902, which includes the celebrated scene in which a spaceship hits the eye of the man in the moon. Also famous is The Impossible Voyage (Le voyage a travers l'impossible) from 1904. Both of these films are about strange voyages, somewhat in the style of Jules Verne. These are considered to be some of the most important early science fiction films, although their approach is closer to fantasy. Agents of Thomas Edison bribed a theater owner in London for a copy of A Trip to the Moon. Edison then made hundreds of copies and showed them in New York City. Méliès received no compensation.

In 1913 Georges Méliès' film company was forced into bankruptcy by the large French and American studios and his company was bought out of receivership by Pathé Frères. After being driven out of business Méliès became a toy salesman at the Montparnasse station. In 1932 the Cinema Society gave Méliès a home in Chateau D'Orly. Long after burning his negatives in despair, Méliès was rediscovered and honored for his work, eventually taking up stage performance.

Georges Méliès has been awarded the Légion d'honneur (Legion of honor).

Méliès died in Paris and was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

The name of his assistant for Le Voyage dans la Lune, Jean-Luc Dupont, is a possible source for the name of Jean-Luc Picard, a character from Star Trek.

The music video for the Smashing Pumpkins song "Tonight, Tonight" was largely shot in the style of Méliès' most well-known films. [Dec 2005]

December 28th. 1895

Downstairs inside the Grand Café at 4, Boulevard des Capucines on December 28th. 1895 sat an audience waiting to watch the Lumiere brothers first cinematic performance. Amongst the public who were charged one franc to sit in the Salon Indien were invited members of the Paris entertainment world including the directors of the Folie-Bergere, the Grévin Wax Museum and thirty four year old Georges Méliès who was director of the Théatre Robert-Houdin.

Antoine Lumiere had rented a photographic studio directly above Méliès' theatre in 1895 and had entered Georges office one day with a mysterious invitation to attend a public screening of their patented Cinématographe at the salon. Georges Méliès never forgot the performance he witnessed: --http://www.mshepley.btinternet.co.uk/melies2.htm [Nov 2005]


  1. Melies the Magician (1997) - Jacques Mény [Amazon.com]

    Méliès' Magic Show: 15 restored films (The Four Troublesome Heads 1898, A Trip to the Moon 1902, The Infernal Cakewalk 1903, The Scheming Gambler's Paradise 1905, The Music Lover 1903, The Infernal Boiling Pot 1903, The Man with the Rubber Head 1901, The Living Playing Cards 1904, Hilarious Posters 1905, The Devilish Tenant 1909, Untameable Whiskers 1904, Imperceptible Transmutations 1904, Bluebeard 1901, Fat and Lean Wrestling Match 1900, The One-Man Band 1900) (55 min., with original music by Eric Le Guen)

    A guaranteed treat for fantasy buffs and students of the silent era, Méliès the Magician provides a definitive study of French film pioneer Georges Méliès (1861-1938). A special-effects innovator best known for his 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, Méliès is honored by Jacques Mény's exceptional documentary, which uses faithful reenactments, archival documents, expert interviews, and Méliès's own films to examine a life as rich as Edison's in its embrace of invention and creative ingenuity. Mény's non-chronological approach is liberating and fresh, allowing a free-form understanding of Méliès and his work, his involvement in the birth of motion pictures, and the visual trickery he developed after a thriving career as a stage illusionist. Following the documentary, "Méliès Magic Show" is hosted by Méliès's granddaughter and presents 15 Méliès films as they would've been shown in Paris at the turn of the century. Then and now, the magic of Méliès is timelessly enchanting. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

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