The first wizard of cinema

Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema

Georges Méliès: The First Wizard of Cinema, from

2008 is not four weeks old, and yet what will have to be the silent DVD release of the year has already been announced. It won’t become available before 3 March 2008, but that just gives you a month’s worth of delicious anticipation, awaiting Flicker Alley’s thirteen-hour, five-disc DVD release, Georges Méliès: The First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913).

The collection brings together over 170 films, comprising nearly all the surviving films of Georges Méliès (he made just over 500), from his first 1896 production Une partie de cartes (discovered by yours truly some twelve years ago – my very modest claim to early cinema fame), to his uproarious final film, Le voyage de la famille Bourrichon (1913). It includes such classics as Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), Les quatres cent farces du diable (Satan’s Merry Frolics) and A la conquète du pôle (The Conquest of the Pole). Fifteen of the films are reproduced from partial or complete hand-colored original prints, while thirteen are accompanied by the original English narrations meant to accompany the films, written by Méliès.

The collection has been put together by the pre-eminent preservationist-producers Eric Lange (of Lobster Films) and David Shepard, from archival and private holdings in eight countries. A major extra is the half-hour documentary, Le Grand Méliès (1953), made by Georges Franju, which features Georges Méliès’ widow and star of many of his films, Jehanne d’Alcy and André Méliès portraying his father.

The Moon

Le voyage dans la lune

Georges Méliès (1861-1938), the pre-eminent artist of early cinema, a creator of ingenious fantasies coming out of his magicianship background, but which employ the cinema’s own entrancing trickery to the full. The sheer joy of filmmaking that his films express means that his best work does not date and continues to delight each generation that comes across him (just take a look at some of the admiring comments made of the many films of his to be found on YouTube). He is particularly deserving of the complete box set treatment, even if the majority of the films that he made are now lost (though more titles keep turning up). It is seventy years since his death, and presumably it is no accident that the DVDs are appearing this year, since under European law his films should be coming out of copyright in 2008 i.e. the rule that says copyright remains in a film production until seventy years after the death of the author. What the position is of the Méliès family, who have been so protective of his heritage up until now, I don’t know. Perhaps one of our knowledgeable readers might be able to say.

At any rate, warmest congratulations to Messrs. Lange and Shepard for a herculean piece of work, and to Flicker Alley for issuing such an ambitious release. It’s available at special pre-order price of $71.96 (do note that it will be Region 1 DVD). I’m off to pre-order mine.

(There will be more on Méliès on the Bioscope in a couple of months or so’s time, if I ever finish a small project I’m working on)

5 responses

  1. No way! I’m totally excited about this… but at the same time I’m looking at my pocketbook with a sinking feeling. While there’s a will, there’s a way… Thanks for giving us the head’s up on it!

  2. It was thirteen years ago, so doesn’t quite come under the category of news. Late in 1995, as preparation for a season of Victorian cinema (film to the end of 1900) which I programmed at the National Film Theatre, Jan-Feb 1996, I went through all of the National Film and Television Archive’s films for this area which were marked as ‘unidentified’. And one film, which had been in the Archive since the 1930s, was recorded simply as French, c.1896, men in garden playing cards. I put it on the screen (I remember now, it was in a preview theatre at the Archive’s preservation centre at Berkhamsted), and there was the action as described, but the middle man was very clearly Georges Méliès. It wasn’t a film I recognised, but it was an obvious imitation of the 1896 Lumière film Partie de Ecarté, and I had a hunch this was an exciting discovery. A quick check in the reference sources, and it was evidently Une Partie de Cartes, filmed May 1896, Star-Film catalogue no. 1, Méliès’ official first film. I didn’t know then that it was for sure a ‘lost’ film I’d discovered, since a frame still was reproduced in Sadoul’s Histoire Générale du Cinéma, but it turned out that it was, and they were very pleased about it in France. Maybe another copy has turned up since – I don’t know.

    You can find my synopsis for the film on the BFI database, at

  3. I’ve yet to see that particular treasure. My favourite has to be Deshabillage Impossible, where Melies gets caught up in an endless nightmare cycle of trying to undress only for his clothes to reappear on him. Comedy though it may be, it’s also a pure piece of horror.

    If a full list of the titles on the DVDs gets published, I’ll post something here.

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