We all know the Lumière brothers invented cinematography in 1895; however no one in the history of cinema could deny the contribute given by Georges Méliès and the world watched with eyes wide open as he created the entertainment. While the Lumière brothers never believed in cinema’s future, he instantly saw its potential and tried to buy it from them without succeding. Méliès didn’t give up, in fact he founded the world’s first movie enterprise: the Star Film; then in October 1896 he built the first studio situated in Montreuil-sous-Bois, 10 months after the Lumières. His studio had everything he needed: scenic design, big glass windows, projectors and metals structures. Born in Paris in a wealthy family, he was obsessed with drawings, scenic tricks and Robert Houdin’s mechanical puppets (the so-called robots in present days), all of them influenced his movies. He was also passionate about theatre, but thanks to him cinema evolved into a new form of entertainment: he even discovered the “substitution stop trick” (a film special effect) in 1896 as well as dissolves, time-lapse photography, multiple exposures and hand-painted colour. In 1900, he experimented the phonograph’s synchronization. Later on, people such as Edison, Lubin and Carl Laemmle tried to copy his work, granting him a “huge publicity” as he stated. From 1895 to 1914 he directed more than 4000 films including the most famous one “Le voyage dans la lune” (A trip to the moon, 1902).
The work, a silent movie lasting 12 minutes, deals with a group of astronomers proposing a trip to the moon. They build a space capsule in the shape of a bullet and a huge cannon to shoot it into space; they actually send it to the moon where the man in the moon watches the capsule as it hits him in the eye. Feeling safe, the astronomers get out of the capsule and watch the Earth, then exhausted they decide to sleep when all of a sudden a comet appears having human faces in each star. Phoebe, goddess of the moon, causes a snowflake that awakens the astronomers forcing them to seek shelter in a cavern where they find a giant mushrooms. When one astronomer opens his umbrella he instantly turns into a giant mushroom. At this point, a Selenite appears but it’s easily killed by an astronomer; however more Selenites appear capturing them and taking them to the palace of their king. Afterwards, an astronomer lifts the Selenite King off his throne and throws him to the ground, causing him to explode. The astronomers run back to the capsule chased by the Selenites, they all fall through space and land in an ocean on the Earth where they are rescued by a ship. The final sequence (missing from some prints of the film) depicts a celebratory parade in honor of the travelers’ return, including a display of the captive Selenite and the unveiling of a commemorative statue bearing the motto “Labor omnia vincit”.
He introduced fantasy and science fiction films for the very first time and while most of them are lost, a considerable part of them is still alive and preserved in New York, Los Angeles, Rome. By the end of World War I, Méliès was a forgotten man: his last years were characterized by a job in Montparnasse station where he lived in misery until he was moved to the Leopold-Bellan hospital, the place where he died in 1938 at 77 years of age. His work was kept alive and continued by Griffith, an Irish filmmaker who, from 1908, worked really hard to combine his passion for movies and politics by creating 250 movies. Georges Méliès still lives in our memories, especially in Martin Scorsese’s, the American director who in 2011 delivered Hugo, a movie celebrating movies as well as Georges Méliès himself. According to Scorsese, Méliès “invented everything, basically, he invented it all. And when you see these colored images moving, the way he composed these frames and what he did with the action, it’s like looking at illuminated manuscripts moving.” Méliès inspired Scorsese and Scorsese inspired us in a way, he tried to convey the idea that cinema’s history should be remembered as well as the man who dared to dream and gave us the great spectacle that is cinema.
“My friends, I address you all tonight as you truly are; wizards, mermaids, travelers, adventurers, magicians… Come and dream with me.” (Hugo, 2011)
Written by Ludovica Buda