There is nothing I can offer but mostly empty platitudes about the horrible events in Aurora, Colorado just after midnight on Friday. All I can say is that the victims, and families and friends of the victims, are all in my thoughts. With that in mind, after a full day of hearing news updates about the tragedy, I wanted something that could take me as far away as possible. The moon, circa 1902, turned out to be the perfect place.
What I’m referring to is Georges Méliès 14-minute landmark silent film from 1902, A Trip to the Moon. It was offered on the big screen by Cinema St. Louis as part of the Classic French Film Series, along with nine other Méliès short films. Amazingly, this was my introduction to Méliès (unless a few minutes here and there on youtube counts, and it really doesn’t). A Trip to the Moon was presented in a newly restored 35 mm print, in color, along with a soundtrack provided by the French band “Air”.
A Trip to the Moon was breathtaking. Seeing it on the big screen was akin to tapping into the source of the purest movie magic. Méliès infused his film with humor, action, adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and even some horror elements. In addition to Méliès inventing the film studio, he had also invented multiple genres, both in A Trip to the Moon and several other short features that preceded it. The inventiveness and creativity is impressive. Equally impressive, the film was painstakingly hand-colored in 1902, frame by frame. Méliès was originally a magician and it shows throughout, as he concocts one magic act after the next to tell his story. There’s no denying that it looks a bit cheesy at times but that’s beside the point, an observation that can only be made through today’s prism. In 1902, he was doing things that nobody else was doing.
The other shorts were equally satisfying. The full list includes Playing Cards; The Vanishing Lady; The Haunted Castle; The Temptation of St. Anthony; The Devil in a Convent; The Pillar of Fire; The One-Man Band; The Man with the Rubber Head; The Melomaniac; The Kingdom of Fairies; The Impossible Voyage; and The Merry Frolics of Satan. One of the more notable clips was in The One-Man Band, where Méliès performs a feat that I had previously assumed had originated with Buster Keaton in The Playhouse (1921). Here is the short:
He also had many other tricks up his sleeve thanks to superimposition, stop motion photography, trap doors, and perspective, to name a few. Of the other shorts, my personal favorites were The Pillar of Fire, The Man With the Rubber Head, The Melomaniac, and The Impossible Voyage.
There’s been a heightened awareness of Méliès ever since Scorsese’s Hugo hit theaters last fall. As great as it is to raise awareness of the man and his magic, it’s all academic until you see it for yourself. To say that Méliès was groundbreaking doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story.
The series of shorts was preceded by Georges Franju’s Le Grand Méliès (1952), a docudrama about the life of Méliès starring both his son and his wife. The shorts- other than A Trip to the Moon– were accompanied by music from St. Louis’ Rats and People Motion Orchestra. It all added up to an incredible viewing experience that affirmed the inherent magic of cinema. A trip to the moon was exactly the diversion I needed.