Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913)

Georges Méliès

The outstanding Flicker Alley 5-disc set Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913) is now published, and I have my copy. Naturally, it’s a sensational package. Put together by Eric Lange (Lobster Films) and David Shepard (Blackhawk Films) from the archival holdings from seventeen collections across eight countries, the elegantly-presented DVDs comprises 173 titles (including one unidentified fragment) – almost (though not quite) every extant Georges Méliès film, plus the Georges Franju 1953 film, Le Grand Méliès. The DVDs are region 0, NTSC format.

The set comes with a well-illustrated booklet, which has essays by Norman McLaren (something of a surprise – it’s a transcript of an audio recording he made for a conference he couldn’t attend) and a long piece by John Frazer on Méliès’ life and work, adapted by Shepard from a text first written by Frazer in 1979. The full list of titles is now available on the Flicker Alley site, but here’s The Bioscope’s version, with the titles in the chronological order in which they appear on the DVDs, with Star-Film catalogue number, original French title and English title.

1896
1 – Partie de cartes, une/Playing Cards
26 – Nuit terrible, une/Terrible Night, a
70 – Escamotage d’une dame chez Robert-Houdin/Vanishing Lady, the
82 – Cauchemar, le/Nightmare, A

1897
96 – Château hanté, le/Haunted Castle, The
106 – Prise de Tournavos, la/Surrender of Tournavos, The
112 – Entre Calais et Douvres/Between Calais and Dover
122-123 – Auberge ensorcelée, l’/Bewitched Inn, the
128 – Après le bal (le tub)/After the Ball

1898
147 – Visite sous-marine du Maine/Divers at Work on the Wreck of the “Maine”
151 – Panorama pris d’un train en marche/Panorama from Top of a Moving Train
153 – Magicien, le/Magician, The
155 – Illusions fantasmagoriques/Famous Box Trick, The
159 – Guillaume Tell et le clown/Adventures of William Tell, The
160-162 – Lune à un mètre, la/Astronomer’s Dream, The
167 – Homme de têtes, un/Four Troublesome Heads, The
169 – Tentation de Saint Antoine/Temptation of St Anthony, the

Entrevue de Dreyfus et de sa femme à Rennes

Entrevue de Dreyfus et de sa femme à Rennes

1899
183 – Impressionniste fin de siècle, l’/Conjurer, The
185-187 – Diable au couvent, le/Devil in a Convent, The
188 – Danse du feu/Pillar of Fire, The
196 – Portrait mystérieux, le/Mysterious Portrait, The
206 – Affaire Dreyfus, la dictée du bordereau/Dreyfus Court Martial – Arrest of Dreyfus
207 – Ile du diable, l’/Dreyfus: Devil’s Island – Within the Palisade
208 – Mise aux fers de Dreyfus/Dreyfus Put in Irons
209 – Suicide du Colonel Henry/Dreyfus: Suicide of Colonel Henry
210 – Débarquement à Quiberon/Landing of Dreyfus at Quiberon
211 – Entrevue de Dreyfus et de sa femme à Rennes/Dreyfus Meets His Wife at Rennes
212 – Attentat contre Me Labori/Dreyfus: The Attempt Against the Life of Maître Labori
213 – Bagarre entre journalistes/Dreyfus: The Fight of Reporters
214-215 – Conseil de guerre en séance à Rennes, le/Dreyfus: The Court Martial at Rennes
219-224 – Cendrillon/Cinderella
226-227 – Chevalier mystère, le/Mysterious Knight, The
234 – Tom Whisky ou l’illusionniste truqué/Addition and Subtraction

L’Homme-orchestre

L’Homme-orchestre

1900
243 – Vengeance du gâte-sauce, la/Cook’s Revenge, The
244 – Infortunes d’un explorateur, les/Misfortunes of an Explorer, The
262-263 – Homme-orchestre, l’/One-Man Band, The
264-275 – Jeanne d’Arc/Joan of Arc
281-282 – Rêve du Radjah ou la forêt enchantée, le/Rajah’s Dream, The
285-286 – Sorcier, le prince et le bon génie, le/Wizard, the Prince and the Good Fairy, The 289-291 – Livre magique/Magic Book, The
293 – Spiristisme abracadabrant/Up-to-date Spiritualism
294 – Illusioniste double et la tête vivante, l’/Triple Conjurer and the Living Head, The
298-305 – Rêve de Noël/Christmas Dream, The
309-310 – Nouvelles luttes extravagantes/Fat and Lean Wrestling Match
311 – Repas fantastique, le/Fantastical Meal, A
312-313 – Déshabillage impossible, le/Going to Bed under Difficulties
314 – Tonneau des Danaïdes, le/Eight Girls in a Barrel
317 – Savant et le chimpanzé, le/Doctor and the Monkey, The
322 – Réveil d’un homme pressé, le/How He Missed His Train

L’Homme à la tête en caoutchouc

L’Homme à la tête en caoutchouc

1901
325-326 – Maison tranquille, la/What is Home Without the Boarder?
332-333 – Chrysalide et le papillon, la/Brahmin and the Butterfly, The
335-336 – Dislocation mystérieuse/Extraordinary Illusions
345-347 – Antre des esprits, le/Magician’s Cavern, The
350-351 – Chez la sorcière/Bachelor’s Paradise, The
357-358 – Excelsior!/Excelsior! – Prince of Magicians
361-370 – Barbe-Bleue/Blue Beard
371-372 – Chapeau à surprises, le/Hat With Many Surprises, The
382-383 – Homme à la tête en caoutchouc, l’/Man With the Rubber Head, The
384-385 – Diable géant ou le miracle de la madone, le/Devil and the Statue, The
386 – Nain et géant/Dwarf and the Giant, The

Voyage dans la lune

Voyage dans la lune

1902
391 – Douche du colonel/Colonel’s Shower Bath, The
394-396 – La danseuse microscopique, la/Dancing Midget, The
399-411 – Voyage dans la lune/Trip to the Moon, A
412 – Clownesse fantôme, la/Shadow-Girl, The
413-414 – Trésors de Satan, les/Treasures of Satan, The
415-416 – Homme-mouche, l’/Human Fly, The
419 – Équilibre impossible, l’/Impossible Balancing Feat, An
426-429 – Voyage de Gulliver à Lilliput et chez les géants, le/Gulliver’s Travels Among the Lilliputians and the Giants
No number – Sacre d’Edouard VII, le/Coronation of Edward VII, The
445-448 – Guirlande merveilleuse, la/Marvellous Wreath, The

1903
451-452 – Malheur n’arrive jamais seul, un/Misfortune Never Comes Alone
453-457 – Cake-walk infernal, le/Infernal Cake-Walk, The
458-459 – Boîte à malice, la/Mysterious Box, The
462-464 – Puits fantastique, le/Enchanted Well, The
465-469 – Auberge du bon repos, l’/Inn Where No Man Rests, The
470-471 – Statue animée, la/Drawing Lesson, The
473-475 – Sorcier, le/Witch’s Revenge, The
476 – Oracle de Delphes, l’/Oracle of Delphi, The
447-478 – Portrait spirite, le/Spiritualistic Photographer
479-480 – Mélomane, le/Melomaniac, The
481-482 – Monstre, le/Monster, The
483-498 – Royaume des fées, le/Kingdom of the Fairies, The
499-500 – Chaudron infernal, le/Infernal Cauldron, The
501-502 – Revenant, le/Apparitions
503-505 – Tonnerre de Jupiter, le/Jupiter’s Thunderbolts
506-507 – Parapluie fantastique, le/Ten Ladies in an Umbrella
508-509 – Tom Tight et Dum Dum/Jack Jaggs and Dum Dum
510-511 – Bob Kick, l’enfant terrible/Bob Kick the Mischievous Kid
512-513 – Illusions funambulesques/Extraordinary Illusions
514-516 – Enchanteur Alcofribas, l’/Alcofribas, the Master Magician
517-519 – Jack et Jim/Comical Conjuring
520-524 – Lanterne magique, la/Magic Lantern, The
525-526 – Rêve du maître de ballet, le/Ballet Master’s Dream, The
527-533 – Faust aux enfers/Damnation of Faust, The
534-535 – Bourreau turc, le/Terrible Turkish Executioner, The
538-539 – Au clair de la lune ou Pierrot malheureux/Moonlight Serenade, A
540-541 – Prêté pour un rendu, un/Tit for Tat

Voyage à travers l’impossible

Voyage à travers l’impossible

1904
547-549 – Coffre enchanté, le/Bewitched Trunk, The
552-553 – Roi du maquillage, le/Untamable Whiskers
554-555 – Rêve de l’horloger, le/Clockmaker’s Revenge, The
556-557 – Transmutations imperceptibles, les/Imperceptible Transmutations, The
558-559 – Miracle sous l’Inquisition, un/Miracle Under the Inquisition, A
562-574 – Damnation du Docteur Faust/Faust and Marguerite
578-580 – Thaumaturge chinois, le/Tchin-Chao, the Chinese Conjurer
581-584 – Merveilleux éventail vivant, le/Wonderful Living Fan, The
585-588 – Sorcellerie culinaire/Cook in Trouble, The
589-590 – Planche du diable, la/Devilish Prank, The
593-595 – Sirène, la/Mermaid, The
641-659 – Voyage à travers l’impossible/Impossible Voyage, The
665-667 – Cascade de feu, la/Firefall, The
678-679 – Cartes vivantes, les/Living Playing Cards, The

1905
683-685 – Diable noir, le/Black Imp, The
686-689 – Phénix ou le coffret de cristal, le/Magic Dice, The
690-692 – Menuet lilliputien, le/Lilliputian Minuet, The
705-726 – Palais des mille et une nuits, le/Palace of the Arabian Nights, The
727-731 – Compositeur toqué, le/Crazy Composer, A
738-739 – Chaise à porteurs enchantée, la/Enchanted Sedan Chair, The
740-749 – Raid Paris – Monte-Carlo en deux heures, le/Adventurous Automobile Trip, An
756-775 – Légende de Rip Van Vinckle, la/Rip’s Dream
784-785 – Tripot clandestin, le/Scheming Gamblers’ Paradise, The
789-790 – Chute de cinq étages, une/Mix-up in the Gallery, A
791-806 – Jack le ramoneur/Chimney Sweep, The
807-809 – Maestro Do-Mi-Sol-Do, le/Luny Musician, The

1906
818-820 – Cardeuse de matelas, la/Tramp and the Mattress Makers, The
821-823 – Affiches en goguette, les/Hilarious Posters, The
824-837 – Incendiaires, les/Desperate Crime, A
838-839 – “Anarchie chez Guignol, l'”/Punch and Judy
843-845 – Hôtel des voyageurs de commerce ou les suites d’une bonne cuite, l’/Roadside Inn, A
846-848 – Bulles de savon animées, les/Soap Bubbles
849-870 – Quatre cents farces du diable, les/Merry Frolics of Satan, The
874-876 – Alchimiste Parafaragaramus ou la cornue infernale, l’/Mysterious Retort, The
877-887 – Fée Carabosse ou le poignard fatal, la/Witch, The

L’Tunnel sous la Manche ou le cauchemar anglo-français

L’Tunnel sous la Manche ou le cauchemar anglo-français

1907
909-911 – Douche d’eau bouillante, la/Rogues’ Tricks
925-928 – Fromages automobiles, les/Skipping Cheeses, The
936-950 – Tunnel sous la Manche ou le cauchemar anglo-français, le/Tunnelling the English Channel
961-968 – Eclipse de soleil en pleine lune/Eclipse, or the Courtship of the Sun and Moon, The
1000-1004 – Pauvre John ou les aventures d’un buveur de whisky/Sightseeing through Whisky
1005-1009 – Colle universelle, la/Good Glue Sticks
1014-1017 – Ali Barbouyou et Ali Bouf à l’huile/Delirium in a Studio
1030-1034 – Tambourin fantastique, le/Knight of Black Art, The
1035-1039 – Cuisine de l’ogre, la/In the Bogie Man’s Cave
1044-1049 – Il y a un dieu pour les ivrognes/Good Luck of a Souse, The
1066-1068 – Torches humaines/Justinian’s Human Toches 548 A.D.

1908
1069-1072 – Génie du feu, le/Genii of the Fire, The
1073-1080 – Why that actor was late
1081-1085 – Rêve d’un fumeur d’opium, le/Dream of an Opium Fiend, The
1091-1095 – Photographie électrique à distance, la/Long Distance Wireless Photography
1096-1101 – Prophétesse de Thèbes, la/Prophetess of Thebes, The
1102-1103 – Salon de coiffure/In the Barber Shop
1132-1145 – Nouveau seigneur du village, le/New Lord of the Village, The
1146-1158 – Avare, l’/Miser, The
1159-1165 – Conseil du Pipelet ou un tour à la foire, le/Side Show Wrestlers
1176-1185 – Lully ou le violon brisé/Broken Violin, The
1227-1232 – The Woes of Roller Skates
1246-1249 – Amour et mélasse/His First Job
1250-1252 – Mésaventures d’un photographe, les/The Mischances of a Photographer
1253-1257 – Fakir de Singapour, le/Indian Sorcerer, An
1266-1268 – Tricky painter’s fate, a
1288-1293 – French interpreter policeman/French Cops Learning English
1301-1309 – Anaïc ou le balafré/Not Guilty
1310-1313 – Pour l’étoile S.V.P./Buncoed Stage Johnnie
1314-1325 – Conte de la grand-mère et rêve de l’enfant/Grandmother’s Story, A
1416-1428 – Hallucinations pharmaceutiques ou le truc du potard/Pharmaceutical Hallucinations
1429-1441 – Bonne bergère et la mauvaise princesse, la/Good Shepherdess and the Evil Princess
No number – unidentified film

1909
1495-1501 – Locataire diabolique, le/Diabolic Tenant, The
1508-1512 – Illusions fantaisistes, les/Whimsical Illusions

1911
1536-1547 – Hallucinations du Baron de Münchausen, les /Baron Munchausen’s Dream

1912
Pathé – A la conquète du pôle/Conquest of the Pole, The
Pathé – Cendrillon ou la pantoufle merveilleuse/Cinderella
Pathé – Chevalier des neiges, le/Knight of the Snow, The

1913
Pathé – Voyage de la famille Bourrichon, le/Voyage of the Bourichon Family, The

Almost needless to say, the quality of the digital transfers is excellent, sometimes startlingly so. There are fifteen examples of beautiful hand-colouring. Many musicians have provided scores, making the DVD a fascinating demonstration in itself of different approaches to the task of accompanying Georges Méliès (even if, for myself I find the American taste for organ accompaniment baffling). They are Eric Beheim, Brian Benison, Frederick Hodges, Robert Israel, Neal Kurz, the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Alexander Rannie, Joseph Rinaudo, Rodney Sauer and Donald Sosin. Some of the films come with Georges Méliès’ original English narrations, designed to be spoken alongside the films, and here are spoken by Serge Bromberg and Fabrice Zagury (with some rather quaint mangling of the English language in places).

Georges Méliès is confirmed here as among the pre-eminent artists of the cinema, perhaps the most exuberant of all filmmakers. The films display imagination, wit, ingenuity, grace, style, fun, invention, mischief, intelligence, anarchy, innocence, vision, satire, panache, beauty and longing, the poetry of the absurd. Starting out as extensions of the tricks that made up Méliès’ magic shows, to view them in chronological order as they are here is to see the cinema itself bursting out of its stage origins into a theatre of the mind, where anything becomes possible – a true voyage à travers l’impossible, to take the title of one of his best-known films. The best of them have not really dated at all, in that they have become timeless, and presumably (hopefully) always will be so. Méliès in his lifetime suffered the agony of seeing his style of filmming turn archaic as narrative style in the Griffith manner became dominant, but we can see now that is his work that has truly lasted. The films will always stand out as showing how motion pictures, when they first did appeared, in a profound sense captured the imagination. And there is that consistency of vision that confirms Méliès as a true artist with a body of work that belongs in a gallery – or in this case a boxed set of DVDs – for everyone to appreciate.

What a great publication this is. Every good home should have one.

Update (January 2010):
For information on a sixth, supplementary disc with an additional 26 titles, see http://bioscopic.wordpress.com/2010/01/08/melies-encore.

9 responses

  1. Hi Joe,

    It’s certainly well worth forking out a little extra for such a deluxe and damn near comprehensive production. Rumour has it that the Méliès family is planning its own DVD production – no idea as yet how it will differ, nor which prints they will be using. Should be intriguing.

  2. This sounds like a wonderful set! I’m very glad that as of yesterday, my student finance issues have worked themselves out… I think I might celebrate by purchasing this! ^_^

  3. Apologies for the shameless plug, but I started a blog three weeks ago with the aim of offering 500 word plus reviews of every film on Flicker Alley’s DVD – at the time of writing, it’s 21 down and 153 to go.

    Feel free to have a rummage on http://filmjournal.net/melies – and comments are most welcome.

  4. Very late comment, I know. Followed through to this post from the Hugo Chabret review. Edison’s Eve was published in the UK under the title “Living Dolls”, and does indeed have a section on Melies. Brian Selznick cites it as the primary influence for his book.

    And yes, the Flicker Alley boxset is beautiful.

  5. Pingback: Méliès encore! « The Bioscope

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