Cast & Crew
In this silent film, a group of scientists ride to the moon in a cannon shell.
A Trip to the Moon
Today the 12-minute A Trip to the Moon might seem a bit primitive, but just imagine what it was like when the entire idea of moving images was still a new and even peculiar idea. Despite the intervening years and technical advances, the film's immense charm and wit haven't aged at all and it still appeals to modern audiences. (The rock band Smashing Pumpkins based a video on A Trip to the Moon but not everybody has their film savvy: When the video showed up on Pop-Up Videos much of the information about the original film was incorrect.)
The basic premise of A Trip to the Moon is lifted from Jules Verne's novel From the Earth to the Moon, though Melies actually let his characters land on the moon rather than just circle it. In the film, a scientist decides to visit the moon by having a hollow capsule shot from a giant cannon (which, incidentally, won't work in real life so you can cancel that order with the Acme Cannon Company). Once there the scientist has some comic adventures with the moon's inhabitants and finds a surprising new use for his trusty umbrella.
Melies was a magician and stage producer, not unlike the later Orson Welles. (Oddly enough, early in his career Melies took over the theater of the world-famous magician Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, the source of the stage name Houdini for an American boy who himself later became a minor film star and gave a vaudevillian child named Keaton the nickname Buster.) Like so many others, Melies was stunned by the 1895 showings of the Lumieres' actuality-based films and immediately began making them himself, turning out some 78 films the following year. They were only about a minute long but this was still a create-as-you-go technology. However, Melies' magical and theatrical background showed through in a variety of sensationalist and trick-oriented films, including in 1897 what is probably the first vampire movie. (Ever since, historians have credited the Lumieres for the idea of film documenting reality and Melies for film as changing reality, though the distinction has never been that clear-cut.)
A Trip to the Moon was a large undertaking for its time, costing 10,000 francs and requiring four months to make. Melies used machinery and techniques from theater but also experimented with clay models and costumes of paper-based board. He raided the local music halls for actors, but went to the celebrated Folies-Bergere for skilled acrobats to play the rowdy moon people. One of the actresses, Jeanne d'Alcy, became Melies' second wife in 1926. Melies released the film in France in August 1902 and shortly afterwards pirated copies started appearing in the U.S. (some by Edison) since it wasn't under copyright there. This caused Melies to open an American office soon afterwards.
A Trip to the Moon was just one of 23 films Melies made in 1902. You can get an idea of his range in such titles as The Man with the Rubber Head, The Treasures of Satan, The Eruption of Mount Pelee and The Coronation of Edward VII. This last was an enactment of an event that had yet to occur (with a dishwasher portraying the king!), but Melies was caught off-guard when the actual event was postponed and his film ended up in theaters two months before the real coronation. (Melies also was one of the earliest producers of risque films.)
Despite his pioneering efforts, Melies wasn't able to compete against larger companies and he eventually abandoned films in 1912, returned to the stage and was quickly forgotten. (His brother Gaston, who had moved to the U.S. to run their North America office, had some success making Westerns, even working for a while with John Ford's older brother.) Melies was rediscovered at the end of the twenties, honored with a retrospective and given a rent-free apartment by a film society. He died in 1937 at the age of 76.
Producer/Director/Screenplay: Georges Melies, based on the novel De la Terre a la Lune by Jules Verne
Art Direction: Claudel
Cinematography: Michaut Lucien Tainguy
Costume Design: Georges Melies:
Principal Cast: Bleuette Bernon (Lady in the Moon), Georges Melies (Prof. Barbenfouillis), Victor Andre, Henri Delannoy, Depierre, Jeanne d'Alcy.
by Lang Thompson
A Trip to the Moon
A Trip to the Moon Limited Edition - Georges Melies' A TRIP TO THE MOON in its Original 1902 Colors
First, let's settle some business and take a moment to consider the French pioneer as something other than a film-history staple and an oddity for scholars. It'd be something of a new tack to take in this country, regarding films that, being over a century old, reach right back to the form's infancy, movies' equivalent of cave-painting and hieroglyph-carving. But there's something effervescent and seductive there, a spirit of high innocence and ceaseless invention that transcends the films' role as mere evidence of historical development. For one thing, he was a master image-maker, and several of his iconic creations - most obviously, the man in the moon with the ship-bullet in his eye, from Trip - are undying cultural icons, familiar to the masses who aren't particularly aware of or even interested in the fact the movies were being made during the McKinley administration.
It's become clear by now that Melies is more than just the stop-the-camera special-effects inventor and fin-de-siecle fantasist he's normally defined as having been - or, that those definitions are more resonant cultural ideas than we have usually presumed. Certainly, returning to the artesian source of every manifestation of cinematic mystery and sleight-of-hand has its own aesthetic buzz - the essential elan and spectacle nature of movies can be found in their prenatal form in Melies's short dreams, whether they be mere trickery or elaborate fairy tales, like The Impossible Voyage (1904), a 20-minute epic that uses up more visual imagination and hectic chaos than most features made in the next 40 years.
There are no Melies masterpieces - he worked in the era before such a concept was even hatched. And it's true, as per the classic historical argument, that his films occupy a 2-D theatrical space in comparison with the early Edwin S. Porters and D. W. Griffiths. (The performances in Melies are far more expressive, amusing and, ironically, rich in conviction than any contemporaneous film, however.) But that's like dismissing Bosch because he wasn't Rembrandt. It could be said that as a pioneer Melies expanded the cinematic vocabulary by skipping over the third dimension and extending toward a fourth - a way of seeing that evoked the unseen and the impossible, a use of recorded light that smacked of the metaphysical. He elaborated on a space familiar to everyone then (the theater proscenium) and then, as if by magic, transformed it into the saw-it-with-our-own-eyes unreality of the ghostly and the subconscious. Not for nothing was Freud a youthful contemporary - but Melies never dared to suggest textual insight, making only comedies and always, always striving toward a life-embracingly irreverence, another advantage he had and still has over Porter and Griffith.
But more than that, Melies's movies are beautiful to look at, the first triumphs of filmic design (and the most thoroughly conceived until German Expressionism.) Watching Melies is like seeing a secret, a lost and ancient universe of pretechnological inventions, nursery-rhyme caricature, painted landscapes, cartoon Victorian affluence, trains and ships and cars that are obviously just facades but into which characters climb anyway, moons and stars with human faces, human butterflies, outrageous cross-section views (Wes Anderson's debt remains unpaid), deceptive perspectives, movies within movies, relentless disappearances and reappearances, and so infinitely on. It's an arena of unfettered childlike-ness, a Seine of blissful unreality, as energetic and joyous as a playground, and comparable, as pop art, to the career-work of Maxfield Parrish, Chester Gould, Cole Porter, Bing Crosby, Alfred Hitchcock, Jack Kirby, the Beatles and Hayao Miyazaki. Put that in your Cinema 101 DVD deck and smoke it.
This new Trip all that and more - seething with vivid painterly color on every surface, it's palpable proof of a long-forgotten fact: that after a certain point in Melies's production (sometime around the turn of the century), all of his films were hand-colored, frame by frame, print by print. It was thought that none had survived Melies's famed 1923 bonfire of prints, ignited after his company was taken over by Pathe. But, as the accompanying documentary co-directed by Lobster Films' Serge Bromberg makes clear, one semi-decayed copy did arise, in the '90s, when it was then more or less put on ice until digital technology could catch up with its restorative requirements. The aspect of color is fascinating both in its origins and its contemporary guise: in Melies's day, the task of hand-coloring his films was farmed out to a factory of 300 patient women painters, each creating in effect a unique version of a particular film with each brushstroke. Today, as Bromberg's doc illustrates, the "restoration" is hardly that - the crumbling celluloid itself continues its dissolution somewhere, but only after being digitally captured, computer-synched up with other versions of the famous film, and then recolored with software that applies color only and exactly in the handmade patterns and style of the original colorist. (That is, in simulated digital brushstrokes.) Note that singular "colorist" - no one mentions it, but what we have now is a simulacra of a hand-colored version of A Trip to the Moon, not the hand-colored version of A Trip to the Moon, which of course never existed. It's almost as if Albrecht Durer had each of his prints individually hand-tinted, and only one survived, in a crystalline but not quite authentic form.
We're not griping - thanks to digital technology, living tissue of our collective past lives again, and in a form no one has seen since before the Wright Brothers managed sustained flight. Run, don't walk.
For more information about A Trip to the Moon in Color, visit Flicker Alley.
by Michael Atkinson
A Trip to the Moon Limited Edition - Georges Melies' A TRIP TO THE MOON in its Original 1902 Colors
Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913) - The Definitive 5-Disc Set "Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema" on DVD
Archivists Jeffery Masino and David Shepard's five-disc set Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913) gathers over 170 of the French pioneer's films, many of them only a minute in length. Catalogued and organized for easy viewing, the collection is an invaluable record of the work of an underappreciated genius.
Méliès is said to have been the first producer-director to construct a special studio for the making of films. As with the other film pioneers, his early work includes unadorned 'reality samples that simply celebrate the cinema's ability to capture moments in time. His first film Card Party is just a shot of some gentlemen playing cards, and runs all of sixty-seven seconds. Being an accomplished musician and music hall performer, Méliès, immediately began using his films as an extension of his stage act. Rather than record reality, he interpreted it in the form of magic tricks, jokes and exhibitions of special effects, turning the screen into a fantasyland with visuals that couldn't be replicated on any stage.
Méliès' films proved that film audiences would accept stylized renderings of reality. The scenery backdrops, theatrical costumes and painted makeup fascinated storefront patrons of 1897, and his outlandish imagination of his visuals would soon give him the reputation of a maker of marvels -- the skeletal devil's coach in The Merry Frolics of Satan, the space cannon in A Trip to the Moon that fires its capsule into the Man in the Moon's eye. Some of his large-scale stage props required scores of puppeteer-operators. Méliès uses perspective tricks to make people into puppets or giants. The Man With the Rubber Head (1901) relies on one surefire gag: a man with an air bellows 'inflates' the hero's head, which grows to five times its size.
Many of these special effects are pulled off with uncommon dexterity. A man tosses disembodied heads in a row on a table, and even now it's not immediately apparent how the trick is done. Through the magic of stop-motion, a Rajah's harem girl multiplies into seven, unfolding like a scroll. Méliès sometimes presents these miracles as simple tricks, but often they are part of a story about dreams, ghosts or the adventures of fantastic creatures. His male characters (often Méliès himself) prance about in tuxedos or period costumes, while his women appear as princesses and dazzling winged fairies. Many of the films in this set appear in original hand-tinted color, that makes the bat-wings of magical pixies all the more enchanting.
The collection spreads the many films across five discs, with easily navigated menus. Inside the folding disc holder is a booklet printed on quality paper with a full index. Each entry includes the film's title in French and English, the year, the running time and whether the film is in B&W or color. It also includes the composer of the music score, by a noted group of composers: Eric Beheim, Brian Benison, Frederick Hodges, Robert Israel, Neal Kurz, Alexander Rannie, Rodney Sauer, Donald Sosin, Joseph Rinaudo and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
The quality of the presentation varies a bit, as the films have been drawn from archival sources from around the world. The selection isn't just a collection of the holdings of one company; the package text says that the set contains nearly all of Méliès' surviving films. A number of the films have commentary tracks as well. The 'big' titles are all here. In addition to the ones mentioned above, the set contains The Conquest of the Pole (tinted, 31 min.), Tunneling the English Channel (15 min.), The Impossible Voyage (color, 21 min.), Gulliver's Travels among the Lilliputians and the Giants (5 min.) and Baron Munchausen's Dream (11 min.). Also included are all nine episodes of Méliès' 1899 film about the Dreyfus affair -- eight one-minute episodes followed by a marathon 2-minute final chapter.
As a special extra, the set begins with a tribute film from the legendary Georges Franju, 1953's Le grand Méliès. The B&W film is an affectionate meditation on the passing of cinema's first legendary showman, starring Méliès' son André as his own father. André Méliès is shown trying to buy a camera and then making his own, designing his studio and putting on a fairground exhibition of A Trip to the Moon to prove to exhibitors that it is worth his higher asking price. The half-hour film has the same slowed, gentle pace as Franju's later Judex, and uses similar titles. It begins with scenes of Méliès elderly widow in an empty room. We learn that most of the filmmaker's best work was immediately pirated all over the world, even by Edison! Méliès didn't return to show business after WW1 and instead opened a small toy and magic shop. The most endearing scene shows him entertaining two little kids with magic tricks. At one point he puts a handful of flowers to his face, and his head transforms into a full bouquet, like something out of a painting by Magritte. The surreal sight points straight to the Cocteau-influenced visuals in later Franju films: the bird-headed magician in Judex and the masked madwoman in Eyes Without a Face.
Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913) is a great entertainment and an invaluable research resource. Méliès' sense of fun and magic is very modern, and makes us feel as if the dawn of cinema happened just the day before yesterday.
This title is currently unavailable.
by Glenn Erickson