|Georges Melies, a professional magician by training, first saw the
new "moving pictures" in 1895. Little over a year later, Melies was filming
and projecting his own creations. By accident, he discovered that he could
use stop-motion photography to render trick visual effects. Melies was
also the first to use techniques such as the fade-in, the fade-out, and
the dissolve to create the first real narrative films.
Melies made over 500 films, but his most famous, Voyage dans la lune,
Le (1902) (Voyage to the Moon) made him a fortune. Still, Melies, trained
in classic eighteenth century theater, conceived all of his films in terms
of fully played-out scenes. Unable to keep up with the changing industry,
the end of his life was wrought with poverty, yet his films would be monumental
stepping stones for great auteurs such as D.W. Griffith.
Hammond, Paul, 1974, Marvelous Melies
Melies, Georges, 1938, Mes Memoires
Grand Méliès, Le (1952)
Source: Michael Kaminsky, Internet Movie Database
The life of George Méliès is the stuff of great fiction.
As a child, Méliès found an escape from his family's machinery
business by skipping off to Paris theaters, where he was captivated by
the optical illusions of magician Robert Houdin. By age 34, Méliès
would own the Houdin Theater, where he himself would perform illusions.
In 1895, Méliès saw a demonstration of the Lumière
brothers' Cinematographe in Paris, the first public display of motion pictures.
After unsuccessful attempts to purchase a system from the Lumières,
Méliès rushed home to build his own camera-projector.
A presentation of films at Méliès's theater just four
months later consisted of shorts made at the Thomas Edison studio in conjunction
with a live program of magic. But the Edison shorts, like the Lumière
previews, were 60 second recordings of factory workers leaving for home.
This was not the bill of fare a magician could combine with live theater.
So Méliès set out to make his own films.
He built a studio and designed elaborate sets and costumes. He crafted
scripts and recruited pretty French girls. And then he filmed his fantastic
stories, experimenting with camera tricks like slow motion, dissolves,
fade-outs, and superimposition. By trial and error, he learned to make
performers disappear by stopping his camera in mid-shot.
These films were wildy successful and imitated in the United States.
As the master of ceremonies, Méliès often dressed as a conjurer
who could dismember the limbs of victims through special effects. Most
of these films were less than ten minutes long, and between 1897 and 1904,
Méliès created more than 400 of them, a great majority of
which have since been lost.
What Méliès entries lacked in theme and execution he
made up in energy and imagination. Even his mini-epics CLEOPATRA (1899)
and HAMLET (1908), show his knack for sheer entertainment. He made over
500 films in all, financing, directing, photographing, and acting in nearly
every one. The enormous popularity of A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902) put the
fiction film first and changed the course of motion picture production.
At one time the world's largest producer, piracy and rising costs of
independent distribution caught up with Méliès in 1905, and
before WWI his film career was over. He tried briefly to revive the Theatre
Houdin, but died penniless at 77.