Auteur Series Part 1: 1900’s Georges Méliès
Something Special for Our Readers
For our readers, we have a special monthly presentation this year. Every month we will feature an auteur to represent every decade of film. Apologies if we do not cover the specific film director that you want us to feature. There are soooo many to pick from. Many lists will choose the biggest icon, box office draw, or awards winners. For this list, we are going to focus on those who took the medium of cinema to the next level. Some of them will be well known and others might surprise you. I’m sure many of you know the work of Georges Méliès. However, if you don’t then you’re in for a treat.
The Tide of the Times
We begin in the Early Twentieth Century with French film pioneer Georges Méliès. Upon the inception of celluloid as a technology in the 1880’s, the Lumieres and Edison brought the ingredients to the table. A recipe was brewing that would combine the talents of writer, visual artist, musician, and entrepreneurship. The creativity and ingenuity begin at this point.
What Méliès Brings to the Table
Edison saw his recording device as serving the need for home movies. Everything would be private and for the pure, wholesome family purposes. The Lumiere Brothers were French, so they saw the Art of possibilities. Méliès took the idea of both art and technology to the next step. His video vignettes used propper wardrobe and backstage design to create visionary worlds. Méliès was well recognized at the time for his work as an illusionist. The value of special effects was born.
Let The Story Element Begin
Many of the storytelling devices that existed before 1900 were either adaptations from plays, novels, or historical events. With few feature-length films, the Penny Arcade ruled the eyes of audiences. Méliès created several of these. It was in 1900 when he first gained international celebrity status and his films took on a new life. The stories were engaging and this complemented the visual effects made possible with props and stop-motion techniques.
It is how Méliès combines the unique story element of the fantasy realm with breathtaking backdrops that allows his works to become iconic. Just imagine if he had green screens and post-editing what he could have done. In L’homme à la tête de caoutchouc (The Man with The Rubber Head), Méliès plays the scientist. Acting in their films is a trend we will see in nearly all the auteurs in this series. whose head has swollen to the size of his lab. An almost poignant metaphor for the upcoming success of the new medium in the coming decades. What things science hath create, will eventually undo itself.
The Influence of Méliès Today
While his methods have much been improved upon and his stories advanced in various styles throughout the years, his short Le voyage dans le lune (A Trip to the Moon) stands the proper testament of time. Not only was it appropriated in the 1996 Smashing Pumpkins music video Tonight Tonight. In fact, a new Hollywood feature is currently in production which will offer a Steampunk twist.