May 30, 2016

Georges Méliès - The Inspiration for HUGO

Scene from Hugo, Paramount Pictures
 I first posted this story 2 years ago. I've just returned from seeing Martin Scorsese's Hugo and I hadn't realized that the film was so closely tied with the story of the real Georges Méliès. Here's a synopsis of Méliès life. Please enjoy the accompanying films. 
Many of us have seen a clip of the ancient film where the poor Man in the Moon gets smacked in the face by a rocket. Georges Méliès, born in Paris in 1861 is responsible for that early film and as a film maker Méliès was the first to utilize cinema's potential to tell magical stories.

Méliès was an illusionist by trade. Before making films he was a stage magician at the Theatre Robert-Houdin (how wonderful).

In 1895, after seeing a demonstration of the Lumière brothers' camera, he became interested in film. Two years later he established his own studio.

From his rooftop property in Montreuil, Méliès directed 531 films ranging from 1 minute in length to 40 minutes. These early films are similar to the magic tricks that Méliès had been performing on stage featuring disappearing objects or people. Despite this, Georges Méliès revolutionized early cinema. Although many of Méliès’s early films were devoid of plot, his special effects and storyboards became fundamental aspects of filmmaking. His films were even pirated!

He wrote, directed and acted in nearly all of his films. His most widely-known film is 1902’s A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la Lune) includes the celebrated scene mentioned above in which the rocket-ship hits the Man in the Moon.

However, Méliès, the poor guy, could not compete with the larger studios like Pathé (who eventually bought him out) and he spent his last years selling toys in a boutique in Paris’s Montparnasse train station.

Méliès did not grasp the value of his films, and he allowed most of his film stock to be melted down into boot heels during World War I. Many of his films were recycled into new film and as a result much of his legacy does not exist today. Luckily, a copy of Méliès's 1899 short film Cleopatra, believed to be lost, was discovered in Paris in 2005.

The importance of his work was recognized in the years prior to his death. In 1932 the Cinema Society gave Méliès a home in Château d'Orly where he died in 1938.
Please enjoy these Méliès videos found on Youtube.



Brian Miller said...

i wonder if he ever thought it would actually come true...last year.

California Girl said...

fun to watch. he might have called "le monstre" (sp) "the conjurer" too.

Poetikat said...

Wonderful post, CP!

Such a sad story—especially that bit about him ending up selling toys at a train station. This would make an interesting bio-pic, don't you think? (Along the lines of La Vie en Rose without all the addictions, perhaps?)

You don't realize how much can take place in the span of a minute until you watch that 59 sec. film of The Conjuror. I really enjoyed that.

I have a review up on one of the inheritors to this trade of silent film. You might like it.


The Clever Pup said...

I'm on my way, Kat!

Lorenzo Lapis Lazuli said...

A couple of years ago, the local municipal "filmoteca" where I live, had a "La Magia de Mélies" (the magic of Méliès) night dedicated to this unique film maker. It was quite a treat as I was unfamiliar with his work and life's story. Most memorably for me, the showing of the films was accompanied by a pianist as in the old silent movies days (along with a clarinet and bass).

I remember being impressed by some of the special effects, considering when they were done.

The rocketing hitting the moon face is an outstanding iconic image, and though perhaps intended for comical effect, I find it more painful than humorous. For many years now I cannot look at the moon without seeing Billie Holiday's face there, so I guess that seeing Lady Day so mistreated made me turn my eyes away.

Any way, a very nice post.

David Engel said...

Thanks for pointing this out. Those are fun little films. I wish I could make some people disappear so easily!



Lidian said...

I love his films and find them quite weirdly fascinating. Thanks for posting these wonderful clips!

dogimo said...

What a funny coincidence! I was just watching The Airship Destroyer (1909) by Walter Booth!

Well, it feels like a coincidence.

Monica said...

Great post. Never knew the rocket moon guy was an illusionist. Fascinating.

Ugh, boot heels! What a loss.

☆sapphire said...

Really fantastic! I love to see ancient films! Thank you for sharing!

Giulia said...

These are a great find. Very much enjoyed...thanks for the cinema lesson, Pup.

Young at Heart said...

utterly fascinating......and I still haven't managed to see Hugo yet!!