Movie History! Georges Méliès

Georges Méliès was one of the most influential directors in the history of film, but who was Georges Méliès?

George Méliès was born on the eighth of December 1861 in Paris. In 1884 he decided to go to London, to improve his English a bit. In England, he ended up at the Egyptian Theater, which was run by two magicians. Those two magicians gave Méliès the inspiration to become one himself and in 1886 he had his first performance as a magician.


Georges also claimed that he himself was an attendant at the first paid screening of a film ever, which wasn’t historically proven, but it is in fact plausible, because August Lumière, one of the brothers Lumière, who were the ones screening the film, was the upper neighbor of Georges. Around that time Georges his interest in film began to grow and in 1896 he started to create his own films. In the beginning of his film career he used an illegal invention based on Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscoop. Georges his first film was called Le cauchemar which translates to The Nightmare. This film wasn’t long at all; it only stretched a timespan of around one minute. He also starred himself in the short, he is the man lying in the bed.

As you can see in the short film, there are quite a lot of cuts. This was very characteristic of Méliès. In his later films, you can notice that he has become better at it and that they have become less noticeable. Something else you also might have noticed while watching the film is that the setting is quite fantasy-like and that it more or less tells a story. Georges Méliès was the first director ever to create a movie that had a made up story. You could call him the inventor of “narrative films”. Before that, films that were made were about real life and were the “grandparents” of what we nowadays call documentaries. I’ve also said that the film was quite fantasy-like, which is also a red line throughout all of Georges Méliès’s work. All of his films contain magical elements in some shape or form. Another thing that I might want to say is that Georges did everything that you see in the film himself: he directed, starred, wrote and also made up the tricks that you see on screen.

What Georges Méliès also did was weaving together his knowledge of film and his knowledge of magic. This he did by again, editing. His films contain people appearing and disappearing in smoke, flying creatures that were manned by people in black costumes… The list goes on and on: Georges was a creative minded person. Georges was the pioneer of special effects and he also often showed that reality can be distorted. A good example of these previously named things is Georges Méliès short film called The Haunted Castle. In that film I find the special effects to be handled very well, and I also think that this is one of Georges Méliès his best films. Here is a link, so you can watch it yourself:

In 1902 Georges brought out his most popular film to date, called La voyage dans la lune, which translates to: A voyage to the moon. That film was based on the book From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne. The film has been used in video clips by Queen and The Smashing Pumpkins as well. At the end of the film there’s an animated part, which makes this film one of the first (partially) animated films, but La voyage dans la lune isn’t only one of the first (partially) animated films, it’s also one of the first science-fiction films. What’s also notable from this film is that bits of it are colored. This is because Georges Méliès hand colored these bits himself. Here’s a link to that video:

Georges his career didn’t go on for long. Around 1912 the interest of the public started to fade away and not a lot of people went to see his films, his films just didn’t amaze them anymore; they were used to it. So making films wasn’t an option anymore for Georges and he went back to pursue his career as a magician in 1915. In 1923 the man went bankrupt and destroyed a lot of his negatives out of frustration. Then he disappeared, only to reappear in the late twenties. In 1929 there was a gala night, organized for him by the surrealists, who saw him as a pioneer. This party took place in a cinema called Studio 28.

A decennium later Georges died in 1938 as a poor man, leaving behind over 500 films, in which he and his wife starred. Georges his legacy didn’t stop there. He was the inspiration for a lot of actors that had yet to come, like Charlie Chaplin for example. He was also honored in the 2011 film Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese.

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