Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Melies' Innovations: A Trip to the Moon

The Movie
   The first two minutes of this antique movie looks more like a convention of wizards from Harry Potter than a trip to the moon, but if you stick with this (for its full 12 minutes), the group eventually gets there, shot out of a giant cannon.  On the moon they experience a snow storm, enter a cave full of giant mushrooms and are escorted to the moon-man city.  Gravity being what it is, they tip their ship off the edge of the moon and fall right back to Earth to land in the salamander-filled ocean.  A Trip to the Moon was directed by Georges Melies in 1902 - he took inspiration from the film from two earth sci-fi books, one by Jules Verne (of '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' fame) and the other by HG Wells ('War of the Worlds' author).

A Film Pioneer
   Georges Melies was present at the first showing of the moving picture machine (Cinematographe) invented by the Lumiere brothers.  After the Brothers dismissed his offer to buy their machine, Melies found another camera projector to view and study, then built one for himself.  He began by showing other peoples' work, but soon moved on to producing his own, short 'trick' films that highlighted the innovations in technique he pioneered.  Most of his ground-breaking work was produced in the late 1800s; by 1905, he was behind the curve of new techniques.  His background as a magician, set designer and theater owner contributed to his unique style; he personally designed all the sets in A Trip To The Moon
   The very earliest techniques discovered by Melies were enabled when the film he was working with was accidentally doubly-exposed or changed speed in some way.  He also invented the purposeful double-exposure, used the first dissolve and the first scene of an actor playing opposite himself.  He applied his sense of theater to films, being the first director to put scenes together, rather than film in a single shot.
   Story was a part of Melies' oeuvre, but in general, he was more concerned with appearance and visuals (mise en scene) than in pushing the envelope of technique.  The truth was that he had found techniques and a format that appealed to him, and he was most interested in exploring all the boundaries of that format.  After a few years, cinema techniques had progressed to the point where his films were looking distinctly old-fashioned.  His films fell out of favor, and he ultimately declared bankruptcy, losing his theater.  After eking out an existence selling trinkets in a small shop, his was rediscovered in the 1930s, ending his days as a recipient of the Legion of Honour for his contribution to cinema.  A quote about Melies describes his skill:
Ultimately, Georges Méliès wasn't a filmmaker. He was, in truth, a film magician. A conjuror who experimented with films, but who was more concerned with how the film reflected his concept for the tricks involved than for the evolution of the new art form. As a filmmaker, Méliès may have stopped producing important films by 1903. But as a magician, he continued to create dazzling presentations of cinematic marvel.  - E.H. Larson

Victorian Inspirations
   Inspirations from this film include the Smashing Pumpkins' 'Tonight, Tonight' music video and influences can also be seen in modern-day Victoriana, like the film Moulin Rouge.

Links and Sources
Georges Melies, Wikipedia
Georges Melies, EarlyCinema.com
Georges Melies
Georges Melies, Victoria Cinema

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