Moving Pictures: How They are Made and Worked

edison_studio

Edison studio with battery of lights and electrically-driven camera, from Moving Pictures: How They are Made and Worked

There has been a rush of newly-available e-books on the Internet Archive following expansion of digitisation activity on Google Books, and we’ll be pointing out some of the key titles in coming weeks and placing them in the Bioscope Library. First up is one of the classic early texts on film, a reference work still cited today, F.A. Talbot’s Moving Pictures: How They are Made and Worked.

Frederick A. Talbot was a British writer of popular works on science and engineering subjects, but had a special interest in motion pictures, producing both Moving Pictures (1912) and Practical Cinematography and its Applications (previously written about here) in 1913. Moving Pictures: How They are Made and Worked was originally published in Britain in 1912, in a revised edition in America in Britain in 1914, and a second, completely re-written edition in 1923. The copy in the Internet Archive is the 1914 revision, though it seems to be largely the same as the 1912 original.

Talbot’s task was to explain the phenomenon of the new age. “A vast industry has been established”, he writes, “of which the great majority of picture-palace patrons have no idea, and he moment appears timely to describe the many branches of the art”. Talbot’s focus is on technology and industry, rather than art or entertainment, and his chief interest is in the motion picture as a medium of discovery. But unlike the many dry works from this period which explain the mechanics of motion picture production and exhibition for the benefit of the technician, Talbot’s book bubbles over with enthusiasm. Some of his judgements need to be challenged, but his keen eye and thorough research (including contact with many of the leading figures in the industry) have kept the book fresh and valuable to this day. It is easy to read, and a easy source for good quotations.

He begins by explaining how we are able to see “animated photography”, and it is this section that has probably had the most influence, as Talbot’s somewhat muddled explanation of the “persistence of vision” has been taken as lightly read by many writers. We now know that the persistence of vision is not the reason why we are able to perceive motion (whether motion pictures or any other kind of motion, which is the real matter in hand – see an earlier post on this for an attempt at an explanation). Michael Chanan’s The Dream that Kicks is recommended for its sympathetic analysis of what Talbot got wrong yet how he struggled for the right answer at a time when science (optics etc.) had not properly supplied the information needed.

automobile

Talbot find more solid ground when he traces the history of the medium, through experiments in sequence photography of Marey and Muybridge, the discovery of celluloid, the construction of the Edison Kinetoscope and other machines, before moving on to perforations, celluloid manufacture, the taking, developing and printing of films, and their exhibition. He covers the staging of fiction films, though his interest is more in the mechanics than the aesthetics, while his real passion is revealed to be the trick film. Talbot devotes a remarkable six chapters to the trick film, revealing an almost childish enthusiasm for the simple transposition, substitution and distortion effects which characterised early trick films (and which were mostly well out-of-date by the time he wrote the book). The photograph comes from The Automobile Accident (man is driven over by a car, severing his legs, which are then repaired by a passing doctor) which he illustrates and explains in minute detail.

Talbot’s other great enthusiasm is for the motion picture as a medium of education and science. There is some fascinating, well-observed material on microcinematography, electric cinematography and chronophotography, with information (and fine illustrations) gleaned from experimenters such as Percy Smith, Jean Comandon, E.J. Marey and Lucien Bull. Finally, Talbot speculates most interestingly on the possibility of the motion picture as a news medium (“the animated newspaper”, or newsreel, was in its infancy), films in colour (he is an observant Kinemacolor sceptic) and motion pictures in the home.

Though care needs to be taken over some of the evidence and its presentation, Moving Pictures: How They are Made and Worked still stands up as a fine illustration of what possibilities lay before a young medium whose rules had not yet been firmly established. In the 1923 edition Talbot expresses some disappointment that progress in the fields of education and science “has been less spectacular than in that devoted to pure entertainment”. In 1912 motion pictures might yet do anything.

Moving Pictures is available from the Internet Archive in Flip Book (25MB), PDF (6.9MB), full text (702KB) and DjVu (8MB) formats). Note that the PDF link takes you to a Google page which seem only to have sections of the book available – the full PDF version can be found by clicking on the Internet Archive’s “All files: http” link.

Monstrosities

peppersghost

http://www.monstrous-media.com

Monstrous Media/Spectral Subjects is the enticing title of the Ninth Biennial Conference of the International Gothic Association. The conference takes place 21-24 July 2009 at Lancaster University, and it touches pre-cinema and early cinema themes, with much else besides, as the conference description explains:

Gothic forms and figures have long been bound up with different media, from the machinery of Walpole’s modern romance to Robertson’s phantasmagorical shows in the eighteenth century; from uncanny automata to ghostly photographs and monstrous kinetograms in the nineteenth; from cinematic shocks to digital disembodiments in the twentieth. More than merely exploiting new technical developments in cultural production and consumption, the Gothic mode, in adopting and adapting new media, engages with excitements and anxieties attendant on social and technological change.

Examining conjunctions of literary, visual, spatial and digital texts in relation to spectral and visceral effects and affects, the conference aims to stimulate discussions of the relationship between the Gothic novel and other cultural forms, media and technologies. Doubling the monstrous with the spectral, it sets out to explore the cultural production and consumption of monsters and ghosts from the eighteenth century to the present.

Topics expected to feature in the conference include:

  • Early visual technologies (phantasmagoria/ magic lantern shows/spirit photography)
  • Gothic embodiments (staging, smoke and mirrors, automata and mechanical curiosities)
  • Gothic on screen
  • Digital Gothic (web, video games, hypertext)
  • Visualising Gothic narrative (graphic novels, comics and illustration)
  • Monstrosities (subjects, texts, bodies, forms)
  • Media monsters
  • Spectralities (subjects, spaces, environments, images)
  • Transgeneric crossings (cyborgs, science, fictions)

The call for papers has passed, and they report an overwhelming response which is making the selection of papers take longer than expected, so no programme as yet. However, the plenary speakers will be Elisabeth Bronfen, Tanya Krzywinska, Marina Warner and Christoph Grunenberg.

More information now, and later, from the conference website.

Prometheus Triumphant

Trailer for Prometheus Triumphant, from Mad Monkey Productions

It’s been a while since we had a look at any modern silents – the examples on show at Pordenone last year rather set back the cause of the silent film for today, I thought.

But now we have Prometheus Triumphant, or, to give its full title, Prometheus Triumphant: A Fugue in the Key of Flesh. Reportedly two years in the making, this is a feature-length film shot silent (with intertitles) in German Expressionist mould, as you may judge from the trailer. It was made by Mad Monkey Productions, directed by Jim Towns and Mike McKown, and stars Josh Ebel and Kelly Lynn in a tale of a white-masked young man seeking to raise back to life the dead body of his lover. Mad Monkey’s YouTube section has a number of curious videos about the film’s production.

Much more than that, I cannot tell you, except to say that there’s a plot synopsis on Film Baby, that Cinema Epoch is selling it on DVD, that it runs 79mins, that it reportedly aims to be explicit about the sexuality that the German Expressionists left implicit, and that maybe the German Expressionists knew more of what they were doing than those who have come after them…

Any more for Metropolis?

metropolisimage

Metropolis

You will remember the great excitement earlier this year when a 16mm copy of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis turned up in Argentina, with scenes missing from existing 35mm prints. We await the outcome of whatever restoration will eventually bring those scenes to us, but now we hear of more on Metropolis from South America.

A 9.5mm print of the film has turned up in Chile, specifically at the Cinemateca de la Universidad de Chile. A report in the Ecuadorian newspaper El Telégrafo (never let it be said that The Bioscope does not search far and wide in its quest for the best news and information for you) says that the print was uncovered in 2006, though it had been in their vaults for years, but wasn’t immediately recognised as a priority. Now they have sent it to the folk at Murnau-Stiftung, which already has care of the Argentinian material.

We shouldn’t be throwing our hats up in the air over this one, as Pathé-Baby 9.5mm copies for the home market were generally cut-downs from full releases. In any case, no examination has been undertaken of the print, and it will be at least six months before we get any news concerning its contents, as the report states (you can get the drift of it through Google Translate’s English interpretation):

Apareció original de Metrópolis

La cinta en formato 9,5 milímetros de Fritz Lang fue hallada en Chile

Una edición presumiblemente original de la película Metrópolis, realizada por el alemán Fritz Lang en 1926 y uno de los símbolos del cine expresionista, fue descubierta en la Cinemateca de la Universidad de Chile.

La cinta, en formato de 9,5 milímetros, permaneció durante decenios en las bodegas de la Cinemateca y solo en el año 2006 se constató que se trataba de una edición similar a la que se exhibió en Alemania para su estreno comercial, en 1927.

Así lo confirmó al diario La Tercera Luis Horta, restaurador y encargado técnico de la Cinemateca, que precisó que las latas que guardan el filme solo decían Metrópolis en la cubierta.

“Chequeamos y vimos que era una rareza; se trataba de una versión en 9,5 milímetros, formato que está obsoleto, y que tiene una perforación al medio y no al costado como el de 35 milímetros, lo que hace imposible proyectarla”, dijo.

El experto explicó que el descubrimiento no se hizo público de inmediato, (en 2006), porque la Cinemateca tenía como prioridad la recuperación de cintas de los chilenos Raúl Ruiz, Helvio Soto y Miguel Littin.

En todo caso, anunció que la próxima semana la película será enviada a Alemania, a la Fundación Murnau, dueña de los derechos de Metrópolis, para su verificación.

A juicio de Horta, solo en esa fundación podrán determinar si la encontrada en Chile es la edición de 1927, tras un proceso de verificación que durará entre seis meses y un año.

Sostuvo que hasta la década de los 40’s, circuló una edición de 120 minutos realizada por la compañía estadounidense Paramount, pero en 2001 la Fundación Murnau hizo una restauración en base a varias copias y logró agregarle algunas escenas, que aumentaron su duración a 147 minutos.

Sin embargo, recordó que esa versión, estrenada el 10 de enero de 1927, era una reducción hecha por el propio Lang, cuyo original duraba 210 minutos.

Horta manifestó que la película fue olvidada por décadas, porque tras el golpe militar de 1973, época de quema de libros y destrucción de la cultura en Chile, el entonces director de la Cinemateca, Pedro Chaskel, cambió los rótulos de algunas películas para evitar que fueran destruidas por los militares.

My thanks to regular Bioscopist David Pierce for bringing this to my attention, and acknowledgment to DVD Savant where he spotted it.

London loves silents

Trafalgar Square screening, 2007

A reminder to anyone in London on 23 or 24 October of the free open-air evening screenings taking place in Trafalgar Square. On the 23rd, starting at 18.30, you can see the British science fiction silent High Treason (1929) – “the British Metropolis” – directed by Maurice Elvey and starring Basil Gill and Benita Hume, with live piano accompaniment by Neil Brand. A fun film to catch, showing a London where we were to be travelling about the city in helicopters, communicating by television, and wearing dodgy fashions. The accompanying short is Gaston Quiribet’s trick film vision of a future London, The Fugitive Futurist (1924).

On the 24th, also at 18.30, there’s a programme of fifteen archive films under the title ‘London Loves’. Among the silents in the programme are the bizarre The Smallest Car in the Largest City in the World (1913), a long-time favourite of those at the BFI National Archive, in which a miniature Cadillac drives sedately down London’s streets; news footage of Charlie Chaplin’s return to London in 1921, with esctatic greetings from the crowds; and an evocative travelogue, London’s Contrasts (1924). The star attraction, however, is going to be Living London (1904), Charles Urban’s truly dazzling documentary portrait of London life, a 10-minute epic only recently rediscovered by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia and shown earlier this month at the Pordenone silent film festival. It returns to London after 104 years, and on the big screen, in that location, the impact should be tremendous. Among the sound films, look out especially for John Krish’s masterpiece of poignant regret, The Elephant Will Never Forget (1953), on the last trams in London – until they bring them back again, of course. Music will be provided by three musicians, names as yet unpublicised.

The screenings, organised by Film London and the London Film Festival, follow on from last year’s highly successful showing of Blackmail and a programme of archive shorts. It was a magical experience – not just seeing the films in such an extraordinary yet somehow rightful setting, but for the experience of audience watching. Some settled on the steps of the Square and took in every frame; some stopped by for a while to catch the experience before moving on; some paused briefly, on their way to catch a train, puzzled at what on earth was happening. Neil’s music pounded out, down the streets and over the rooftops, filling the evening air, drawing in people from all around to see what strange activity the capital was up to now. Film was bound up with the life of the city. An experience to savour.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 6

Silents at the LFF
The London Film Festival takes place 15-30 October, and a number of silents are included in the ‘Treasures from the Archives’ strand: Fedor Ozep’s The Living Corpse (1928-29), Douglas Fairbanks in A Modern Musketeer (1917) paired with Max Davidson in the immortal Pass the Gravy (1928), and William Desmond Taylor’s The Soul of Youth (1920). Read more.

London Loves
Part of the London Film Festival is London Loves, a repeat of last year’s hugely successful open-air screenings of silents and archive films in Trafalgar Square. On 23 October Maurice Elvey’s High Treason (1929), paired with Gaston Quiribet’s The Fugitive Futurist (1925), each provide a science fiction vision of London, with live piano accompaniment by Neil Brand. On 24 October, London Loves… is a collection of silent and sound archive films on London, from travelogues to home movies. Read more.

New DVDs from Kino
Kino International has announced two major forthcoming silent DVDs. A ‘restored deluxe edition’ of The Last Laugh is released on 30 September; and a two-disc deluxe release, The General: The Ulimate Edition, in a high-definition video transfer, with a choice of three music scores. It’s released on 11 November 2008. Read more.

Big Bang at the ICA
On 28 September the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London is holding a one-day interactive music workshop and performance with silent films, organised by Big Bang Lab (an initiative formed by composer Sergio López Figueroa). Budding silent musicians are invited to bring along their acoustic instruments (or voices) to a workshop putting music to two contemporary silent works, followed by a programme of silents including Un Chien Andalou. Read more (PDF file).

‘Til next time!

On not finding London After Midnight

Lon Chaney in London After Midnight

When the news first starting buzzing across the wires that lost scenes from Metropolis has been discovered, many old hands in the film world suspected a hoax. There have been so many such bogus announcements, perpetrated by the naive, the over-optimistic, and – increasingly – the fraudulent. It is so easy to create a narrative, a plausible history bolstered up with links, pictures and air of expert knowledge, and then to have such rumours speed around the world, finding out the credulous.

The amazing thing about Metropolis, and the discovery last year of Bardelys the Magnificent, is that the rumours were true – the lost films had indeed been found. But the lost silent film that is most subject to fantasies of discovery, and which indeed probably comes at the top of many silent film buffs’ wish list of films that they would love to see discover, is London After Midnight. And today the rumours have gone flying around following a rambling but insistent account on a horror film forum that the 1927 Lon Chaney horror film had been found (the argument is that MGM had been hiding it under its alternative release title, The Hypnotist). Of course it hadn’t, as should be obvious to anyone with grain of sense who reads it – it’s riddled with naiveties and fantasies.

The last known print of London After Midnight is believed to have been destroyed in a vault fire at MGM in 1967. Ever since then the rumours have circulated that a print had survived somehow: that a 16mm copy was in secret circulation, that one or other of the renowned collectors was sitting on a print (not daring to announce its existence for fear of losing it to rights-holders MGM), that MGM itself was sitting on material that for assorted mysterious reasons it had chosen to suppress. Or, in the case of this most recent claim, that MGM was somehow unaware of what was lying on its own shelves.

This basic history you can get from Michael Gebert’s London After Midnight Myths pages (though beware that the first few pages do their best to tease the unsuspecting with ‘evidence’ that might indicate the film does exist). It is true that you can find London After Midnight on the TCM schedules every now and then, and on DVD accompanying Chaney’s The Unknown, but this is a 45-minute compilation by Rick Schmidlin of extant stills, recreating therefore what the film looked like. Until a print turns up one day to expose all the so-called experts to ridicule – who knows, as Metropolis has shown, it might be in South America – the Schmidlin recreation is the nearest to this most celebrated of all lost silent films that we have.

For more on lost films, see Moving Image Collections’ Lost Films list, the Deutsche Kinematek’s Lost Films wiki and Silent Era’s Presumed Lost section. And continue to dream.

Georges Méliès, magicien du cinéma

http://www.cinematheque.fr

Why so much activity concerning Georges Méliès just now? First the (virtually) complete DVD box set of his work released by Flicker Alley, and now a major exhibition with lavish catalogue, screenings, DVDs etc from the Cinémathèque française. He’s neither one hundred years born nor one hundred years dead. In fact he’s seventy years dead, and that’s the point. Under European copyright law, 2008 is the year when the works of Georges Méliès, who died in 1938, come out of copyright, under the rule which says a creative work remains in copyright until seventy years after the death of the author.

So M. Méliès has become fair game – a fact which can be of no small amount of irritation to the Malthete-Méliès family which has so assiduously guarded his legacy until now. They had nothing to do with the acclaimed Flicker Alley set, but they have co-operated with the Cinémathèque française exhibition, which opens in Paris on 16 April and which is described in some detail (in French) on the Cinémathèque’s website.

Where to start? The exhibition itself is divided into three sections: Magie et cinématographe, Le Studio Méliès de Montreuil and L’univers fantastique de Méliès, covering his life, background, work and influence. Many artefacts not previously exhibited in public are promised, and Méliès is championed for the modern generation as the master of special effects and fantasy cinema, foreshadowing Georges Lucas and Steven Spielberg. A 360-page catalogue has been produced, edited by Jacques Malthete et Laurent Mannoni, with some 500 illustrations, which from reports I’ve had so far sounds like an outstanding production in itself.

There are two DVDs published to coincide with the exhibition. The first, Georges Méliès, produced by StudioCanal/Fechner Productions, is a two-disc set featuring thirty remastered Méliès films 1896-1912, with 32-page booklet but no indication of what film titles are included nor their source.

The second DVD is Méliès, le cinémagicien, another two-disc set, produced by Arte Vidéo. This features a documentary, La magie Méliès, by Jacques Mény (1997, 130 mins), a selection of fifteen of the films from 1898 to 1909 (55 mins in total) and the renowned Georges Franju film Le grand Méliès (1952, 37 mins) which is also available on the Flicker Alley set.

This documentary, which introduced many to his films for the first time, features Méliès’ son André, playing his father, and Méliès’ second wife and star of many of his films, Jehanne d’Alcy (then aged ninety).

And there’s more. There are screenings in April-May of Méliès films and in June-July of ‘L’héritage méliès’. A complete Méliès filmography is also promised, which will be a boon, particularly if it goes the whole hog and identifies the films by Star-Film catalogue number (his production company), length, English release title, which copies are extant and where. Meanwhile, Méliès, magicien du cinéma looks like a very good reason to visit Paris over the next few months (as though there weren’t reasons enough anyway, but you know what I mean).

Where to find out more about Georges Méliès? It’s a shame – indeed something of a mystery why there isn’t a single good site dedicated to him (interesting to see that http://www.melies.com, http://www.georgesmelies.com, http://www.georgesmelies.org and http://www.georgesmelies.fr have all been bought up opportunistically by domain sellers). Cinémathèque Méliès (in French) is a so-so effort of ancient design which I’ve had trouble accessing, but you can trace it back through the Wayback Machine. The Magical World of Georges Méliès likewise isn’t going to win any design awards, but it has a biography, filmography, and links to his films on YouTube. There’s a useful one page biography (written by David Robinson) on the Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema website. The Flicker Alley DVD set Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913) has already been championed here, and serious questions will have to be asked of any silent film enthusiast who hasn’t purchased a copy before the year is out.

As for reading matter, apart from the new catalogue (which is in French, of course), a really good book in English doesn’t exist. The best, albeit slim and not easy to track down nowadays, is David Robinson’s Georges Méliès: Father of Film Fantasy (1993). Elizabeth Ezra’s Georges Méliès (2000) is one for the film studies courses. A standard, substantial, up-to-date biography in English (I don’t know of one in French, either) ought to be written – we repeat so much that has already been written in the film history/film studies field, and yet we leave a yawning gap like this. So you will have to make do with Brian Selznick’s haunting children’s book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007), already championed by The Bioscope, in which Georges Méliès features as a central character. And wait to see if Martin Scorsese really does decide to make a film out of it.

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 https://bioscopic.wordpress.com/2010/01/08/melies-encore.

The first wizard of cinema

Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema

Georges Méliès: The First Wizard of Cinema, from http://www.flickeralley.com

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)