Georges Méliès 1861-2011

Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès, the magician of early cinema, was born this day one hundred and fifty years ago. Though it seems to be pure coinicidence, his 150th year has been marked by a succession of notable Mélièsian events, culminating in the release this month of Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo, in which Méliès (played by Ben Kingsley) features as a leading character, and in which the production of Méliès’ films is lovingly created.

In celebration of the French master’s 150th, here is a set of links to the main DVDs, websites, publications and past Bioscope posts on Georges Méliès.

DVDs

Websites

Publications

Past Bioscope posts on Méliès

I’ve not provided any links to online videos, because we have a rule here at the Bioscope about not linking to films which have been ripped from DVDs, and practically every Méliès available on YouTube has indeed been ripped in this way. The films are in the public domain (though their new soundtracks are not), but it’s a shame to see, especially when the producers of such DVDs have gone to such trouble and expense to compile their productions in the first place. But for those who don’t know, don’t care, or who believe as a matter of principle that everything should be for free and online anyway, there is plenty to be found – and doubtless Georges would be thrilled that his productions continue to delight new generations.

Some of that delight is demonstrated by the many remakes of Méliès’s films or filming techniques that can be found online. It’s practically a genre in itself. So as a different sort of tribute we’ll show you one of these instead; most of them show more enthusiasm than skill, but I quite like this one for its simplicity and Mélièsian spirit:

And finally, a quotation, written by yours truly when reviewing the 5-DVD set back in 2008, which says all that I need to say on the matter.

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 appeared, in a profound sense captured the imagination.

Bonne anniversaire, Georges.

26 responses

  1. Thanks for the tip. I’ve added it to the list, though it looks to be the same as StudioCanal’s two-disc 2008 release of the same title, though there don’t appear to be any extra films, just an extra booklet. Does anyone know better?

  2. On the first disc are (until today not published on DVD):

    1899
    Star-Film no. 175-6: Cléopâtre
    180: Luttes extravagantes
    182: L’Ours et la sentinelle

    1907
    1023-9: La Perle des servantes

    1933
    Publicité pour la Régie des tabacs

  3. Thank you! That’s the first time Cléopâtre and Luttes extravagantes have appeared on DVD, I think. Maybe the others too? I have a master list somewhere that now needs updating.

  4. The new Studio Canal set is very interesting. It’s a nicely produced 128p book (245mm x 285mm) containing a text by Julien Dupuy and lots of pictures, with the DVDs set into pockets in the cover. Discs One and Two are the same as the 2007 Studio Canal set. The third disc contains the following films :-

    *26. Une Nuit Terrible (alternate copy)
    *156. Pygmalion et Galathée, 1898
    *171. Salle à manger fantastique, 1899
    *183. L’illusioniste fin de siecle (two different versions)
    *205. Évocation spirite, 1899
    *218. La Pyramide de Triboulet, 1899
    *237-240. Les Miracles du Brahmine, 1900
    *284. L’Artiste et le Mannequin, 1900
    *397. Éruption volcanique à la Martinique, 1902
    *399-411. Voyage dans la Lune, 1902
    *417-418. La Femme volante, 1902
    *422-425. Une indigestion, 1902
    *560-561. Benvenuto Cellini ou Curieuse Évasion, 1904
    *581-584. Le Merveilleux Éventail vivant, 1904
    *596-597. Les Mésaventures de M. Boit-sans-soif, 1904
    *740-749. Le Raid Paris-Monte-Carlo en automobile, 1905

    Non-Star Catalogue Title
    – L’Agent gelé, 175 m. 1908

    Together with the 53m documentary ‘Méliès, magie et cinéma’, a record of the 2002 Méliès exhibition in Paris.

    Most of these haven’t been on DVD before at all or in this form. ‘Une Nuit Terrible’ is the British print with the joke with the chamber pot cut out. ‘Éruption volcanique à la Martinique’, ‘Le Merveilleux Éventail vivant’ and ‘Le Raid Paris-Monte-Carlo en automobile’ are all coloured prints (coloured prints of the latter two also appear on the Dutch DVD ‘Het fantastische luchtschip’). Two versions of ‘L’illusioniste fin de siecle’ are included – the one that’s been on DVD before and an interesting alternate with a different set design and some differences in the tricks. The version of ‘Voyage dans la Lune’ is a tinted print missing the first scene. It’s not the same as the tinted print with German intertitles included on the DVD accompanying the book ‘Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination’. This one combines tinting with what looks like hand painting of smoke and explosions in some scenes – apparently it was specially coloured for the Gala held for Méliès in 1929. ‘Les Mésaventures de M. Boit-sans-soif’ is interesting since it’s the first I’ve heard that a copy existed.

    Two years ago I attempted a list of what was known to exist but not yet on DVD. Taking out the titles in this set leaves :

    *180. Luttes extravagantes, 20 m. 1899
    *175-176. Cléopâtre [Le Sacrilège, L'attentat. Résurrection de Cléopâtre] 40 m 1899
    Non-Star Catalogue Titles
    – Un film dont il ne subsiste que quelques images montrant Méliès en clochard, manipulant un cigare. [date unknown]
    – Tribulation or the Misfortunes of a Cobbler. 1908
    – Publicité pour la Régie des tabacs. 1933

    To which we can add the recently restored version of ‘Voyage dans la Lune’ and two films which were shown in December in France as part of the 150th anniversary events :

    194-195. Automaboulisme et autorité (1899) and
    430-443. Les aventures de Robinson Crusoé (1902) 280m (there’s a fragment of this in the Flicker Alley ‘Méliès : Encore’ set but this version was apparently 280m long).

    Have any other titles turned up recently ?

  5. Many thanks for the extra information, though I’m puzzled – comment no. 7 to this post says that Cléopâtre, Luttes extravagantes and Publicité pour la Régie des tabacs are on the new Studio Canal set. Your list says otherwise, which is confirmed by this listing: http://www.studiocanaldvd.com/fr/produit_6_scv_82125_acheter_COFFRET_DVD_Georges_M%C3%A9li%C3%A8s_en_stock.php. Where did the other information come from?

    I’ve not heard of any new discoveries beyond those you mention.

    It would be good to put all of this information together so that there is a definitive list of what Méliès produced, what survives, and what is available on DVD. I’m three-quarters of the way through putting the information into a spreadsheet, based partly on what’s been aired on these pages. Or has someone done the complete work? It would be then good to have it available on the ‘official’ Méliès site (www.melies.eu), which has a not terribly helpful title-only filmography at present.

  6. I am comment no. 7. and I read about the other films in a german forum.
    I will try to contact the man who wrote about or I buy the set…

  7. Sorry. I was wrong. I misunderstood the post in the german forum.
    That means that the films in comment 7 are still missing on DVD.

  8. That’s OK – thanks for keeping an eye on this post, and for replying. I think all the more there needs to be published a definitive list of what was made, was exists and what is commercially available. I’ll work on it.

  9. *1023-1029. La Perle des servantes is missing from my list of what’s not yet on DVD.

    182: L’Ours et la sentinelle (listed from the German forum) is interesting. In Malthête and Marié’s 1997 book ‘Georges Méliès, l’illusioniste fin de siècle ?’ there is a list of what the Cinémathèque Méliès held in 1996 which includes it with a note against it “(film de Méliès ?)” suggesting some doubt as to what it was they had. I don’t think it’s listed in Malthête and Mannoni’s 2002 filmography as existing (can’t check till I get home). Had they concluded what they held wasn’t ‘L’Ours et la sentinelle’ ?

    (Equally 545. ‘Un peu de feu S.V.P’ was included in this list of their holdings with the note “(titre douteux)” and it isn’t listed as existing in the 2002 filmography).

    Like the surprise appearance of ‘Les Mésaventures de M. Boit-sans-soif’ on this DVD, I guess it illustrates the problem of trying to establish what has survived.

    The last filmography showing what existed that I’ve seen was in Malthête and Mannoni’s 2002 ‘Méliès Magie et Cinéma’. Obviously stuff has come to light since then, no doubt stimulated by the increasing interest in Méliès, but it doesn’t all get widely announced. And on the other hand attributions are overturned.

    I scanned the 2002 filmography – there’s a pdf of that online against what was in the first Flicker Alley box. If it would be useful I could update it against the other DVDs and supply the result in a more user friendly form.

  10. If you could do that would be handsome. It would be better than me trying to, as I’d only be borrowing from your discoveries in any case. I’d be happy to published the list as a post on the Bioscope, duly credited to yourself, if you’re agreeable to this.

  11. And there’s more! This has just appeared on Blu-Ray.com:

    http://www.blu-ray.com/news/?id=7984

    French distributors Lobster Films have revealed that they are preparing a Blu-ray release of Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune a.k.a Voyage to the Moon (1902). This legendary short film, which was meticulously restored after a hand-colored print was discovered in 2002, is considered the screen’s first science fiction story.

    In addition to Le voyage dans la Lune, Lobster Films’ release will also include director Méliès’ shorts Le Chevalier mystère a.k.a The Mysterious Knight (1899), L’antre des esprits a.k.a The House of Mystery (1901), Le royaume des fées a.k.a Fairyland: A Kingdom of Fairies (1903), Le tonnerre de Jupiter a.k.a Jupiter’s Thunderballs (1903), Les cartes vivantes a.k.a The Living Playing Cards (1904), and Le chaudron infernal a.k.a The Infernal Boiling Pot (1903).

    Exact technical specs and region coding status for this release are unknown at the moment, but the preliminary release date set by the French distributors is April 26th.

  12. I just received my giant French book with the 3-discs of Melies films from StudioCanal. The films are in horrific condition. Most of them are found on Flicker Alley releases in much, much, much better condition (and way better musical accompaniment). However, there are a number of films on disc 3 that are not found on the Flicker Alley releases. It’s always good to see a “new” Melies film; but wow, the quality is terrible and the music is mostly very bad. I’d like to see how David Shepherd would restore some of these.

  13. I’ve had a go at updating the table but it involved some messing about so I’m going to give it a good proof read. In the course of doing it some things came up :

    I have no idea how I got the idea that *1023-1029. La Perle des servantes exists – unless someone can point me to a source other than my earlier lists I must assume this is an error by me.

    182: L’Ours et la sentinelle – an article in ‘Méliès et la naissance du spectacle cinématographique’ (1984) refers to the Cinémathèque Méliès holding copies of two films ‘L’Ours et la sentinelle’ and ‘Le déjeuner impossible’ attributed to Méliès by different archives but which they weren’t sure about. Since ‘L’Ours et la sentinelle’ isn’t shown as existing in recent filmographies produced by the Méliès family I’m assuming they’ve concluded it isn’t his. (Alice Guy made a film of that name for Gaumont and later so did Pathé – perhaps it’s one of those).

    I referred above to their doubts about ‘545. ‘Un peu de feu S.V.P’. I’ve just realised that the fragment included under this title in Flicker Alley’s Méliès Encore is what they list as ‘Un film dont il ne subsiste que quelques images montrant Méliès en clochard, manipulant un cigare. [date unknown]‘. So that is on DVD.

    ‘Publicité pour la Régie des tabacs. 1933′. Méliès appeared in cigarette advert(s) for Jean Aurenche and Jacques Brunius and the latter included the footage in his 1939 film ‘Violons d’Ingres’. This is included in a 2004 R2 DVD set ‘Mon Frère Jacques’ of films by Jacques Prévert. So that footage (or at least some of it) is also on DVD.

    So that leaves :
    *180. Luttes extravagantes, 1899
    *175-176. Cléopâtre [Le Sacrilège, L'attentat. Résurrection de Cléopâtre] 1899
    *194-195. Automaboulisme et autorité (1899)
    *430-443. Les aventures de Robinson Crusoé (1902) (the longer version)
    Non-Star Catalogue Title
    – Tribulation or the Misfortunes of a Cobbler. 1908
    Plus any other cases where better or longer copies exist than are already on DVD.

    There was a week long conference about Méliès at Cerisy last July
    [details here : http://www.ccic-cerisy.asso.fr/melies11.html ]
    and on the 29th there was a showing of “dix-neuf films de Georges Méliès non édités, sur vidéo ou DVD”. Anyone have a list of what was shown ?

    Lastly I had another look at the unidentified fragment on Disc 5 of the Flicker Alley box. I don’t know if this has already been pointed out but a glass plate photo of this scene is reproduced on page 235 of Malthête and Mannoni’s ‘L’Ouevre de Georges Méliès’. Its from 1132-45 Le Nouveau Seigneur du village. (The version of this film on Disc 4 of the Flicker Alley box is about half the length of the original and seems pretty self-contained – I gather this fragment is from a different sub-plot in which the Seigneur tries to seduce a village girl on her wedding day and gets his comeuppance).

  14. Pingback: A Trip to the Moon / Le Voyage dans la Lune | Spectacular Attractions

  15. More highly welcome detective work and deductive logic, for which thank you. If the 19 titles not available on DVD were presented by Jacques Malthête, presumably they come from a Méliès family source? Presumably too it means 19 alternative prints rather than 19 films not available on DVD at all.

    Whatever happened to Cléopâtre? Discovered in 2005, where and by whom it was never said, and not a word of it since.

  16. I’ve been watching and reviewing some early Méliès films as part of a look at the history of science fiction over on my blog. I’m pretty sure Le Voyage dans la lune and La Voyage a travers l’impossibles were the first two sci-fi films of all time, loved watching them!

  17. I’m glad you’re enjoying Méliès’ films so much.

    Interestingly, though Le Voyage dans la lune was made in 1902 it wasn’t the first science fiction film – it wasn’t even Georges Méliès’ first science fiction film. He made La lune à un mètre, in which an astronomer has a vision of the Moon, in 1898. There were other trick films around and before then which one could argue as being science fiction, but La lune à un mètre is certainly the first fiction film that looked to outer space.

    French astronmer Camille Flammarion made a film in 1898 which illustrated planetary motion through models, but it wasn’t fiction (though he himself was also a noveliest) – see http://www.victorian-cinema.net/flammarion.htm.

  18. Hmm yes, I’d seen La lune à un mètre before, and decided I wasn’t going to count it as science fiction as I’m thinking of it; it’s a hazy call though, and it’ll probably come back to bite me on this challenge…
    La lune à un mètre really shows off the stop-substitution technique a lot! Very entertaining film, I’ll grant :)

  19. Fair enough, though it’s hard to be precise about these things when at the very point of first being thought up by filmmakers. La lune à un mètre is a trick film, whereas Le Voyage dans la lune is a real adventure into other worlds, so you could be right.

  20. Mmm, I think those were my thoughts really. It’s a really hazy area to work this stuff out in though; some people even listed Le Voyage dans la lune as 1903, but I’ve pretty much discarded that now… Soon I’ll be watching 20000 lieues sous les mers!

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