Thoughts On: The One Man Band (1900), and various other films by Georges Méliès
Today we will be exploring the career and films of Georges Méliès (and so this will be a long one).
Georges Méliès is probably the best-known filmmaker from the earliest days of cinema’s expansion – and for good reason. Off of the back of his own achievements, thanks to film historians, journalists and inspired filmmakers, and thanks to the movie Hugo which was based off of the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Méliès should be no stranger to even the average film lover. To begin this post, we should start to talk about Hugo, which may be many peoples’ primary, maybe only, contact with the cine-magician.
Whilst you can feel Scorsese’s love for film history in Hugo, this is not a very good film. Its shining elements come with its exploration and dramatisation of the career of Méliès as well as the manner in which his glass studio and the wonders that were created within were brought to life. Everything outside of this plays as a dull, failed attempt towards a film that someone such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet, with Marc Caro, could make work. Putting the negatives aside, however, it should be emphasised that much of this film, whilst it contained real characters and was based on some true events, is highly romantic and, in large part, a made up story.
The basic elements of Méliès’ career that are caught by this film are of course his first encounter with the Lumières’ Cinématographe, his rise to fame, his fall from the public eye around WWI, the destruction of his films and his rediscovery in the late 1920s. There are a few integral, yet missing, elements of his career that leave this a romantic tragedy of sorts. Moreover, the representation of his filmography is quite shallow. What we will then do today is fill in a few of the gaps that this film leaves whilst chronicling Méliès’ career before looking at a selection of his films.
Méliès was born in 1861 in Paris to wealthy boot factory owners, Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès and Johannah-Catherine Schuering. He attended the prestigious Lycée Louis-le-Grand where he received a classical formal education and would later go on to attend Ecole des Beaux Arts, an art school in which he developed his creative interests. As a child, he would often be more focused on his drawings than actual work, and so often found himself in trouble. Looming over his head during his time at Lycée Louis-le-Grand would be his parent’s boot factory that he and his two brothers, Gaston and Henri, were inevitably going to inherit. Méliès had no interest in working for, or managing, his family’s factory, though he had to endure this for a period before, following a mandatory 3-year service in the French military, he was able to continue his education in London. It was then in 1884 when Méliès was sent to learn English and be a clerk in Britain that he would come into contact with pantomimes and magic shows put on by John Maskelyn and George Cooke in the Egyptian Hall.
Returning to Paris the following year, in 1885, Méliès had found his passion: he wanted to be an illusionist. It’s here that he would then attend Ecole des Beaux Arts. He put himself through school by again working at the factory so that he could focused on painting, puppetry and set-design whilst learning the craft of illusionism and developing his skills as a magician. Also upon his return he married Eugénie Génin, who he would later have two children with, against his parents’ wishes.
In the years that he worked at his father’s factory Méliès would frequently attend performances at the Théâtre Robert-Houdin whilst taking magic trick lessons from a man named Emile Voisin who would later allow him to put on his first shows. This was all until 1888. In this year Méliès’ father would retire and Georges would sell his share of the company to his two brothers. Using this sum he would take over the Théâtre Robert-Houdin. He worked here as a showman for almost a decade, developing over two dozen of his own magic tricks whilst updating the theatre as to keep the slowly disappearing audiences present. Also during this time he worked as a cartoonist and met Jehanne D’Alcy, an actress that would become Méliès’ long-time mistress, later a performer in his films and even later his wife.
Having, by now in 1895, established himself as a significant figure in the Parisian entertainment world, Méliès would find himself on the list of 200 attendees invited to the private unveiling of new innovations in colour photography as well as some dabbling in motion picture photography. This invitation was of course to the Lumières’ show in the Grand Café where they demonstrated the Cinématographe in action for the first time. Astounded, Méliès would want to buy the device. He was then among many who would offer the Lumières money so they could fulfil their own visions of what this device could do. Much like Alice Guy-Blaché, Méliès then saw potential in this device that the Lumières would never conceive of. However, no Cinématographes were sold on this day; the Lumière brother’s father, Antoine – who Méliès knew – denied all offers. Méliès would then return to England, likely having been told of a projector device that his mistress, Jehanne D’Alcy, may have seen whilst on tour. He would meet with the inventor of this device, Robert W. Paul, and purchase the Animatograph alongside some of Paul’s films and a few of Edison’s Kinetoscope shorts.
Returning to Paris, Méliès would develop plans to show his collected films at the Théâtre Robert-Houdin. He would also work with an engineer, Lucien Reulos, to convert this into his own camera which he patented and called the Kinematograph.
Within months of his return from England, Méliès would then be screening Paul’s and Edison’s films at the Théâtre Robert-Houdin and starting to make his own pictures using film from Eastman Kodak that he would have to perforate himself using a machine designed to do so (because, by this point, Edison’s type of film stock hadn’t become standard, nor available to the public). This was then the start of a profoundly important career in which, over the span of over 15 years, Méliès would make more than 500 films, most of them short, but a few coming in over 10 minutes with a select few pushing towards the 20, 30 and even 40 minute mark. It was in his first few years of work that Méliès established himself as the cine-magician who was not only creating narrative films like no other was, but was almost single-handedly responsible for the development of special effects in the cinema. Working in the studio that he constructed in Montreuil during 1897…
… with new cameras from Pathé, Gaumont and even the Lumières he made a diverse set of films that stretched far beyond what became his most popular – later, most iconic – film, A Trip To The Moon. He would spend his most prolific years working between Paris and Montreuil, making films during the day and running them in the Théâtre Robert-Houdin at night. Méliès evolved exponentially in this handful of years until, about the mid-1900s, his work plateaued. He then spent the latter half of his career revising old tricks and putting on an already aged show.
The fall of Méliès’ career came around 1910 when his methods and intentions concerning cinema as an artistic and creative outlet couldn’t keep up with international expectations and when his films stopped drawing an audience. It was then after the huge success of A Trip To The Moon that Méliès had to establish a presence in America as to protect his films from copyright infringement and piracy. He sent his brother, Gaston, who was happy to abandon the failing boot factory, to set up the Star Film Company office in New York in 1902. The two brothers could produce films that would be distributed across America in a regulated fashion. Not all of these films were made by Georges, instead, produced by Gaston, especially in their later years.
The Star Film Company would later be apart of the Motion Picture Patents Company (a conglomeration of film companies brought together by Edison to establish control over the film industry). Gaston would then produce films in America, helping Méliès supply the contracted 1000ft of film per week to Edison, the president of the company. However, unhappy with the monopoly, and its distribution structure, that Edison was creating in America, Méliès opted to become an independent filmmaker again in 1909. Around this time he would be venturing elsewhere in the entertainment industry and so, from 1907, film production would be on, off and sparse with Méliès making ambitious, but nonetheless, few films. Eventually, with ties between Edison and Georges more or less cut, Gaston would work on a separate branch of Star Film and continue to supply Edison with movies up until 1912. Gaston then produced over 150 films between 1910 and 12 whilst Georges focused on a new contract.
In this two year period, Méliès would sign a contract with Pathé that involved a lot of money, but also put Méliès’ home and glass studio in Montreuil at stake. Producing some of his most elaborate films for Pathé, Méliès found no financial success. Whilst he had upped the production value and run-time of his movies, they were still not much more sophisticated than his work in the early 1900s. Meanwhile, in 1912, Gaston was on a journey throughout Asia and the South Pacific, sending film back to New York to fill his quota with Edison. However, the footage received was not acceptable and the journey cost far more than it produced. Indebted, Gaston had to sell the American Star Film branch to Vitagraph Studios. He would live the last of his few years out of contact with his brother.
In late 1912, Méliès’ contract with Pathé failed and he now had nothing to solve his debts. He was bankrupt. In the following year, Méliès’ wife died. The year after that, WWI broke out. The year after that, Gaston died. Because of the war, Pathé could not take the Montreuil studio as a moratorium had been put in place, but, that only allowed soldiers to use the main studio as a hospital in the latter half of the Great War. What’s more, during the war, the French military confiscated over 400 of Méliès’ original prints, melted them down and, almost as an act of unjust fate, used the celluloid to make heels for shoes. There was, however, a second studio in Montreuil. Méliès turned this into a theatrical stage and, with his family, would put on shows until 1923. It was in this year that Pathé could take the studio as well as what was left of Star Films. Added to this the Théâtre Robert-Houdin was torn down. Enraged by seemingly endless misfortune, and with no place to store the left over possessions, Méliès destroyed everything from the Montreuil studio. This included sets, costumes and the remaining negatives of his films.
By the mid-20s Méliès had married his mistress, the actress Jehanne D’Alcy, and now owned a small shop in Montparnasse station from which he sold sweets and children’s toys. He lived humbly with his wife and young grandchild, but would eventually be re-discovered and, by 1929 would be apart of a gala that looked retrospectively at his recovered works. Since then, Méliès has gained his place in the film history books, often being given some of the brightest and most dazzling chapters concerning the birth of cinema. To date, over 200 of his 500 films have been found and preserved with a majority of them readily available to access. However, what of these films?
Let us start the story all over again with a new perspective. Having been to the Lumières’ private show, having constructed his own camera, Méliès would begin making short films in 1896. Une Partie de Cartes, or, Playing Cards was the first of these:
Méliès began where many pioneering filmmakers of the late 1800s began: the simple street scene. Resembling many of the Lumières’ constructed table scenes, Playing Cards simply features three friends playing cards whilst drinking as well as a waitress who serves them – two of the friends being Gaston and Georges Méliès and the waitress Georges’ daughter. In fact, Playing Cards is thought to be a remake of the Lumière short of the same name that came out in this same year. This would make Méliès’ first film an example of the endless re-constructions – these are hardly individual enough to be considered remakes – that would occur in the early silent era. Without really knowing what to point and shoot at, filmmakers would imitate successful films. The Lumières’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat and The Sprinkler Sprinkled were amongst the first and most widely reconstructed films that then set a president of recreation that took more than a decade for film industries to begin controlling. Even in the 19-teens, however, imitation across international markets would still be incredibly prevalent. (In short, a lot of people stole off of the French; firstly Méliès and then the filmmakers at Pathé).
What we are then seeing with Méliès’ first film are humble, somewhat plagiarised, beginnings that would soon give way to extravagance and originality. So, having gotten his first film under his belt, Méliès would continue to test his camera, shooting street scenes, magic tricks that he would perform on stage and small situational comedies that have all been lost. With his comedies he would again be following in the footsteps of the Lumières by working in narrative forms that, whilst they undeniably are narratives, don’t strike someone as more than a staged street scene. Alice Guy-Blaché, discluding the films of Charles-Émile Reyaud, was then the first to formulate a story constructed for its subtext and meaning with The Cabbage Fairy, not just its entertainment factor as with the first narrative film, The Sprinkler Sprinkled. This was all a few months before Méliès made his first narrative film (that has survived to this day), A Terrible Night.
Simple, and staged for the sake of fright – maybe with an edge of comedy – A Terrible Night can also be considered Méliès’ first known endeavour into the genre of horror, which he would return to quite frequently. An example of this would be Méliès’ most impressive film from his first year, The Haunted Castle. However, before we touch on that, we must first look at The Vanishing Lady:
The Vanishing Lady is not the first trick film ever made, but it is Méliès’ first. As the legend goes, Méliès was one day shooting a street scene of cars exiting a tunnel. As Méliès cranked the camera it jammed briefly. Thinking little of this, he continued cranking after the pause. Looking at his footage he saw a bus come out of the tunnel, but then suddenly turn into a hearse. Whilst this is technically a jump cut and a mere mistake, but Méliès saw the potential of this error. This wasn’t just a jump cut, it could be a substitution splice or a stop trick.
The first known filmmaker to make this discovery and utilise it was Alfred Clark working in the Edison Manufacturing Company. (And before this magic lantern shows had dissolves, moving parts and changing plates, which means that the idea of a cut wasn’t completely foreign to filmmakers). It was with The Execution Of Mary Queen Of Scots that Clark shot an executioner hold his axe above the head of Queen Mary. Just before he brings it down on her neck everything stops. The actress is replaced by a doll and the action continues to the effect of a grizzly trick beheading. Méliès independently applied this exact principal within The Vanishing Lady, utilising the contrivance of cinema to put on a unique magic show that could only be captured on screen. And thus, it seems, Méliès The Cine-Magician was born.
Expanding on his first trick film, Méliès would then later delve into the horror genre again with The Haunted Castle:
It is with this short that Méliès combined his ventures into narrative cinema – into storytelling – with his trick film for the first time (in a surviving picture). The Haunted Castle is then one of the most profoundly significant films to come out of 1896 – dare I say the whole of the early silent film era – because it represents cinema not only being used to tell stories, but to tell stories that only cinema can tell. Méliès understood this better than any filmmaker in this time. We know this because it was Méliès’ cinema that is defined as the narrative trick sensation. The Lumières, Alice Guy-Blaché and Edison, whilst they all made narrative or trick films before Méliès were not unique artists like Méliès was. Beyond novelty and money, the Lumières’ only interest in cinema, if any, was claimed to be scientific (socially). Edison didn’t make films, he managed a new technological enterprise that made money. Alice Guy-Blaché, the most artistic so far, made narrative films. However, she rarely showed interest in much other than the narrative capacities of cinema. It is Méliès who developed narratives that could not be staged anywhere other than the cinematic realm.
Born from a magician who also wanted to paint and create sets, Méliès’ films, in themselves, were undeniable arguments for the fact that cinema is and always has been a unique art. Méliès can then be considered the first self-defined artist in the cinema. He wasn’t an inventor, a pioneer or a plain filmmaker, he developed a plastic art with a unique aesthetic that was approached and conceived of in a way that no one did before him.
Not forgetting that we are still in 1896, the year in which Méliès began making films, we can see the momentous nature of the achievements he had already attained. It was in this year that Méliès made up to 82 films, 7 of which still exist. One of his last significant efforts from this year is then A Nightmare:
A Nightmare is a notable early film of Méliès’ as this is where we see his style – which is represented best by A Trip To The Moon – really come to life. Méliès would often paint and construct his own sets, props and costumes, and so, when it is said that something such as A Nightmare represents his style, this includes everything from the story down to the smallest props. As his productions expanded in his later years, Méliès’ collaboration would of course be far more intense, but there is nonetheless an easily recognisable individuality about his films.
Taking a moment to consider Méliès’ style, we find absurd and surreal aesthetics. Whilst the surrealist art movement didn’t begin until the 1920s, it seems that a film such as A Nightmare approach this kind of sensibility. This is, of course, because of the function of the unconscious and the dream that are present in the typically “Méliès” film. Some of Méliès famous lasts words were:
“Laugh with me, laugh for me, because I dream your dreams”
This seems to define his style. Méliès didn’t just bring dreams to life in the sense of bringing hopes and wishes into being, instead, he manifested imagination and the unconscious. As A Nightmare will attest, Méliès would often project the actual dream and imagination through his cinema. If we then take a moment to reflect on the last Every Year Post where we discussed special effects, we then see Méliès, too, using the formal trickery that can be managed with cinema for the sake of impressionism. By projecting the dream and the imagination, Méliès didn’t just create fantasies – though, this is what he predominantly did – he also captured the perception of his characters.
These are all integral steps toward a form that somewhat resembles what we know cinema to be today, and, to repeat myself, these were all taken in the first year in which Méliès began to make movies. However, now we have covered some elements of what most will already know Méliès for, let us delve into the often overlooked elements of Méliès’ filmography.
Beyond being a pioneer in the realm of trickery and the narrative film, Méliès also made a few pioneering steps in the realm of (what would become) pornography. Apres Le Bal, or, After The Ball, sees Jeanne d’Alcy (Méliès mistress and future wife) strip down to skin-coloured undergarments, bodystockings, that imply nudity as she’s washed by her maid. This is one of the first known erotic moving pictures or “stag films” ever made – the first is said to be Le Coucher de la Mariée by Albert Kirchner, but this is sometimes dated to 1899, sometimes 1896. Stag films would be popular way into the 1960s and 70s, until pornography (in America) first made its way into theatres. They were essentially erotic, soft or hardcore movies that would be shown in private venues or sold to clients. Méliès is known to have made a limited selection of these movies and, if anything, knowing this adds a bit more of an edge to the simple, once-joyous, now miserable, character that Kingsley portrays in Hugo.
Other kinds of work that Méliès would produce would be reconstructed newsreel such as Divers At Work On The Wreck Of The Main:
The Maine was an American battleship that sunk in the Havana harbour during the Cuban revolt against Spain in 1898. The reason for this occurrence is unknown, though some “yellow journalists” (those who report without well-sourced, known facts) used this as a political tool and blamed Spain. Méliès’ decision to recreate a scene like this – which was in fact one of multiple films centred on this event – is quite questionable. As with his successful 1902 film, The Coronation of Edward VII, he re-creates an event for the sake of relevancy or with the intention to trick audiences into believing what they are seeing is a newsreel. With Divers At Work On The Wreck Of The Main, Méliès can then be seen to either be exploiting a current event, putting his talent and skill as a filmmaker to immoral use, or capturing a current event like no newsreel ever could. This is a contentious idea that is even more relevant to The Dreyfus Affair:
As well as being one of the first known film serials, The Dreyfus Affair is another example of Méliès dipping his toe into politics and current events – which he often did between 1897 and 1902. Instead of recreating the aftermath of an accident that was, after the fact, politically charged like he did with Divers At Work On The Wreck Of The Main, with The Dreyfus Affair, Méliès chronicles an entire event (which was on-going at the point of production) through eleven one minute episodes. Over the course of this narrative he then puts to screen multiple events concerning Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish artillery captain who was falsely convicted of treason. Because of the realism and context, this film was seen to imply anti-Dreyfus (and so antisemitic) sentiment, and so it was banned, becoming one of the first films to be censored – possibly the first film ever to be censored on the grounds of politics.
Whilst he is remembered as the cine-magician, taking into consideration these films – the reconstructed newsreel, the stag film and also the comedies and street scenes – we can come to have a better understanding of Georges Méliès as a little more than the magician who purchased a movie camera. What these films, the trick films included, all imply is, again, the idea that Méliès “dream[ed] your dreams”. The stag film and the reconstructed newsreel then have a particular link to Méliès’ fantasy and sci-fi pictures as they all used cinema as a means of accessing a world – whether it be behind closed doors or deep under water – that no other art form could. So, if Méliès was just a magician with a camera who devised a few new tricks, then almost all filmmakers are ‘just magicians’. After all, cinema is synthetic, contrived and constructed despite all notions of verisimilitude and realism, which means that the grandest of fantasy films have the same roots as the based-on-real-events drama or even the porno. These roots all meander down to, in very many respects and capacities, one man: Georges Méliès.
We cannot yet conclude our exploration of this incredibly significant character. What forged the spine of Méliès’ career was his developed trick films and sci-fi fantasies. We have already looked at The Vanishing Lady and The Haunted Castle, and so have seen initial examples of the stop trick edit. There are two other major innovations in editing that Méliès made: the dissolve and the multiple exposure. The first film in which the dissolve is known to have been used is the 1899 adaptation of Cinderella:
Méliès uses the dissolve in this short to move from location to location – which is an idea far beyond his time. The dissolve itself is an abstract piece of cinematic language that is far too quickly taken for granted. We accept it now to mean that time has passed, but did audiences assume this when first watching Cinderella in 1899?
I don’t think this is a question that can be answered, but, if we take a quick look at another short in which Méliès utilises the dissolve, we may find an access point into breaking it down.
The Untameable Whiskers is a trick film in the same vein as How He Missed The Train from 1900. How He Missed The Train was variation on the can’t-get-dress/undressed comedy short that was quite a popular means of showing ones skill with the stop trick edit for filmmakers around the 1900s. The Untameable Whispers replaces the hard cut of these films with a softer edit: the dissolve. This implied something less abstract than clothes zipping off and about a person as it’s clear that Méliès’ facial hair is morphing and changing forms. The dissolve thus means transformation.
Taking the idea of the morph and re-contextualising it back onto Cinderella, we can understand that Méliès was possibly attempting to imply connected spaces – that Cinderella’s home morphed into the palace hall when her dreams materialised. Presumably, audiences would, however, perceive this transition to be a movement through time more than space as the dissolves are not between two matched cuts (as they are in The Untameable Whiskers). Thus, this transition in Cinderella would, again, presumably, literally be understood temporally, but figuratively be understood psychologically: the material spaces are connected by compressed time, yet also through Cinderella’s imagination. This dual function of the edit in Cinderella then implies the mechanics of the dissolve as a piece of cinematic language.
Méliès would achieve the dissolve quite simply; after shooting a scene, the camera would be stopped, the film would be rolled back by hand and then set up again for the next shot. The final result would be the end of previous shot being superimposed onto the start of the next: the dissolve. Whilst you would assume that this would naturally give birth to the multiple exposure shot – which is otherwise known as a superimposition shot – Méliès actually thought to create this first.
One of the earliest surviving films that is known to contain the multiple exposures would be The Four Troublesome Heads:
Whilst the stop edit and the dissolve are tricks that most people could figure out in an instant, the trickery presented in The Four Troublesome Heads has me befuddled for quite some time. But, once you know how some parts are managed, the rest becomes obvious.
Multiple exposure is a trick dependent on light and darkness. To give the simplest of explanations, film has a chemically active layer that hardens when it comes into contact with light. The pattern of this hardening is what produces an image, and this is dictated by the electromagnetic characteristic of a wave of light. With black and white film stock, the spectrum of visible light will be registered in terms of brightness and darkness; the most colourful elements of a picture are the whitest and the least colourful, blackest. This is because white, speaking in terms of physics, is the blending of all colours whilst black is the absence of all colours–of light itself. What this would then imply is that colourful lights would effect a piece of film stock more than the absence of colour. Furthermore, the absence of light wouldn’t actually effect the chemical make-up of film at all.
Understanding this, the function of black curtains in Méliès’ films is revealed. Darkness in Méliès’ frame is a section of canvas that he can still paint upon. He paints with light by selectively blacking out his frame. So, after Méliès has ‘taken’ his head off with the assistance of a stop edit which allows him to put a replica of his own head in his hands, Méliès would likely put something black over his actual head. As a result, this would blend into the background and not expose, the final effect being that he is headless. Putting his ‘head’ on the table, there is then another stop edit in which the head in his hand disappears. This is where the first multiple exposure begins when a new, real head appears. Here, we can imagine that Méliès is on an empty, all-black set with an all-black suite on and possibly a section of the table on his shoulders. Nothing in the frame would register on the film stock apart from his head. Thus, when this set-up is exposed to the same piece of film in which Méliès places fake heads down on tables that, with stop edits, disappear, live heads seem to be placed on the tables.
As complex as that explanation may be to comprehend, imagine what it’d be like conceiving of, then directing and performing this. It was Méliès’ task to perfectly match all of his actions across all shots, remembering every beat of every action that he performs in each set-up. You could imagine this would be hard to do four times with four versions of yourself in one frame, but what about seven…
The One Man Band is our subject today and is an example of one of Méliès’ most technologically complex short films. Utilising seven multiple exposures in one frame and managing seven individual performances across multiple takes, this is, in my view, the height of cinema as a ‘mere’ attraction. What this in turn symbolises is the fact that cinematic experimentation and evolution were motivated by novelty and entertainment in early cinema. We find this to be the case with the likes of Edison’s Manufacturing Company also. As in-artistic and un-cinematic as you may argue the Kinetoscope shorts to be, they were conceived of and produced for audiences. The cynical perspective to take here would be that these figures were only motivated by money (which may have been quite true). Nonetheless, through money or mere spectacle, cinema grew by and for an audience – which is something unique to the cinema alone.
All other major arts were arguably founded without such democracy; dances and performances would be developed for relatively small-scale crowds, and endeavours such as painting and sculpture were often dependent on one client. All of these arts have their commercial sides, but they are nonetheless not products of the industrialised era, and so they did not develop as an art that had to be mass-produced. Cinema, because it is only successful when thousands upon thousands, maybe millions, of people attend and like a screening, has always used spectacle and novelty as to progress and evolve, often at odds with the individual artist, into the most accessible, expressive and wide-spread art form of all time.
Méliès embodied such a paradigm when he hit the height of his popularity in the early 1900s. Films such as A Trip To The Moon, An Impossible Voyage and The Kingdom Of The Fairies all evolved from the films we have been exploring today. They were narrative fantasies, surreal and rife with technical tricks, and they spread across international markets like fire (with a lot of piracy in the mix), helping set a trend of a universal silent cinema. So, when we look beyond 1905 when Méliès arguably stopped evolving and then to 1909, which was the start of his decline into obscurity, there is a sense of misfortune. However, Méliès decline was also a signal that film industries where evolving faster than he could or would. 1909 is thought to be the start of the D.W Griffith era, one defined by more complex narrative films and sophisticated cinematic language. Take for example camera movement. You almost never see this in Méliès’ films. In The Man With A Rubber Head and A Trip To The Moon, there is a dolly forward that is used to achieve the ‘blowing up’ effect, but almost all of Méliès films are iconically static. This is just one signifier of why his cinema petered away. But, suffice to say that Méliès greatest years were around the turn of the century, and this is where they stayed.
Despite his decline and the ever-mounting misfortunes that defined this period of Méliès life, we can look back on his brightest days to find one of the most concentrated pools of innovation that has ever manifested. Whilst he wasn’t always the first, and whilst he wasn’t always the only one, Méliès embodied his innovations and integrated them into an individual style like no one else ever did. And so, above everything else, Méliès was arguably the first to develop and utilise the cinematic space and the editing that stitches its regions together as the canvas upon which the filmmaker would learn to paint and as the amplifier through which they would learn to speak.
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