Monday, 4 August 2008


Anyone who's passing through Paris before the end of August would be well-advised to swing by the Cinémathèque Française, where there's an excellent Georges Méliès exhibition.

The title, Méliès le magicien says what it's all about: linking Méliès' cinema work to his previous incarnation as a magician and performer.

Having bought a theatre from the illusionist Robert-Houdin, Méliès set about creating a series of magic tricks and the exhibition includes various pieces of stage apparatus and costumes. From there is was a short step to the new magic of the cinématographe. Méliès really was a polymath as is shown by some of his exquisite designs (here's the moon-landing from his famous Voyage dans la lune (1902).

Combining the techniques of the black theatre with cinema's superimposition and the tricks of editing enabled Méliès to achieve some fantastically sophisticated special effects, while a model of his studio at Montreuil, gives an idea how he used perspective tricks to achieve some of his grandest effects.

Fantastic in both senses of the word, his films often feature devils (the very beautiful Les 400 farces du diable ~ 400 Tricks of the Devil (1906) or other mythical creatures (La sirène ~ The Mermaid, 1904), while dismemberment is a regular occurrence.

Unsuprisingly, I was intrigued by Le Mélomane (aka The Music Lover, 1902) in which people are decapitated and theirs heads are strung across the five wires of a telegraph line to make a couple of bars of music. As Méliès was based in the US at the time, the melody turns out to be a snippet of God Save America, (or, for Royalists on my side of the pond) God Save the King.

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