Melies Encore [Import]
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Breaking ground in motion picture technology, pioneer filmmaker Georges Melies left a legacy of visually striking and innovative films as evidenced in this extraordinary collection of 26 newly discovered shorts. Recently recovered, this "encore" compilation to Wizard of Cinema includes such classics as The Haunted Castle (1897), The Last Cartridges (1897), The Wandering Jew (1904) and many more. 1897-1904/b&w/114 min/G/fullscreen.
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The 3 star rating applies to this set as opposed to the earlier one on Melies and to let people know that the visual quality of these films is not up to the standards of the previous offering. This is not really Flicker Alley's fault considering the source material they had to work with but someone not familiar with silent films or the restoration process is bound to be disappointed with the results.
There are some gems here like THE ALCHEMIST'S HALLUCINATION and ROBERT MACAIRE & BERTRAND and it's nice to see the Segundo de Chomon ripoffs which are rare. The musical accompaniment is varied and appropriate, but if you want to see Melies at his best then go with Flicker Alley's first set which remains definitive or with Kino's THE MAGIC OF MELIES which was my original DVD introduction. This set should be used for supplementary purposes only.
Understandably, this is not the event from two years ago, but it is an essential, released addition in the appreciation of Méliès' unique art. Contemporary viewers with preconceived notions of the term "film" may be thrown off by the aesthetic mindset from a turn of the century experimental filmmaker. Get over it and don't look for narrative in the post-Edwin S. Porter sense of the word. There is much to savor here when transported into Méliès' very different world.
First, there are two films here that were at one time mistakenly attributed to Méliès, but were in fact directed by the Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomon in the Méliès style (he was often compared to Méliès). Chomon, who worked for the smae company as Méliès (Pathe), specialized in color tinting and "The Rose Magician" (1906), with its washy blues, yellows, streams of flowers and painted backdrops, including a giant seashell, exudes a heady, exotic nouveau flavor. "Excursion to the Moon" (1908) is clearly a homage to Méliès' famous "A Trip to the Moon" (1902). Sublime golds, oranges, pinks, greens and blues permeate "Excursion". Chomon beautifully utilizes snowy imagery, sleep, mushrooms, space rockets, explosions and a snow covered face in the moon, which has to be seen to be believed. Taking nothing from Méliès, the two Chomon shorts may be the most significant discoveries in this collection.
As for the actual Méliès pictures, "The Haunted Castle" (1896), which is not related to Poe, begins in a castle set with a bat (on strings, of course) that transforms into the Devil himself (complete with horns and costume which looks like it was bough from L.S. Ayres). Old Nick waves his hand and a giant cauldron appears. He follows this with some black magic business, summoning forth a servant and a maiden, who emerges form the cauldron, then quickly disappears. The servant, then the cauldron, then the Devil himself all disappear. Two talking gentlemen come into the castle. The servant and the devil briefly reappear for a second and the two men begin quarreling. One man flees the castle. The remaining gentleman gets startled by a skeleton which appears from nowhere, transforms back into the bat, then into the Devil. Three ghosts appear to torment the man. These ghosts then transform into the maiden, then into five ghosts who do a ritualistic dance with brooms. Finally the gentleman grabs a giant crucifix from nowhere and chases off the devil. The end. And this gives a good indication of what to expect from a Méliès film.
"An Hallucinated Alchemist" (1897) is surreal and hand tinted. It features a very tired wizard, a giant slinky snake puppet which transforms into a jester, and then into a weird, orange ghost face with the body of a spider in a web, then into a pink ballerina. The wizard's lab starts exploding and a ghost appears as the fatigued, fed up wizard flees.
"On the Roof" (1897) has a beautifully painted Paris rooftop set and involves some slapstick, while "Sea Fighting in Greece" (1897) has an equally beautifully painted set of a boat and a cannon.
"Off to Bloomingdale Asylum" (1901) features a carriage with a skeletal horse and black face painted minstrels occupants who become clowns for a quick second, then turn back into black faced minstrels again, back into clowns, back into minstrels, etc. They dance, kick each other, morph into one fat minstrel and explode!
Méliès himself appears in "The Prolific, Magical Egg" (1901) and, to no surprise, performs some magic acts with an egg. The egg becomes a face, then a woman's head, then three female heads and then back to the egg. Méliès becomes a skeleton.
"The Eruption of Mt. Pele" (1902) has an erupting volcano and a city scape that look like they might have been painted by El Greco. The cardboard sets of an island and a fort highlight "Robinson Caruso" (1902). A fragment of the overly familiar story is sort of there. "Every Man Has His Own Cigar" (1904) is about two seconds longs and shows an amusing looking bearded old man lighting a cigar.
Despite what we would understandably view as a blatantly anti-Semitic tone, "The Wandering Jew" (1904) is aesthetically, a stand-out and has narration added by Méliès later. The expressionistic cardboard shore of the Dead Sea is vividly juxtaposed against the stereotypical, cursed Jew, forced to wander throughout eternity for having refused water to the suffering Christ. The ghostly image of Christ, followed by nuns as he carries his cross on the way to Calvary, fills the painted sky, tormenting the forever wandering Jew. The forest set is even more vivid. Satan appears in the forest and beats the Jew with his own staff when the wanderer stops for a rest. An angle appears and points the way onward, ever onward. The last expressionist set of a hillside is filled with lightning as the Wanderer presses forward in his never ending journey.
"The Christmas Angel" (1904) also features narration added later and feels like a filmed, reverential Hallmark card. "A Mesmerian Experiment" (1904) is another hand-painted experiment, in washy colors, and features a bevy of dancing girls who look like they might be auditioning for the Ziegfeld follies (even though that was not to come for another three years).
"The Mysterious Island" (1905) has superbly painted sets of jagged rocks, narration, and resembles something slightly akin to the story of Ulysses and Calypso.
"The Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship" (1905) is tinted and is as charming as the title suggests. A Jules Verne-like flying airship soars the skies with floating mermaids before out of control fireworks put an end to the crazy inventor's dreams.
"Robert Macaire and Bertrand" (1906) is a very French chase melodrama that follows the misadventures of two charmed thieves. The film has a great train set and an earthquake in the village square. Collapsing buildings propel our heroes into an extremely surreal flight in the air over Paris rooftops. With an escape in a hot air balloon, one might wonder, what more could 1906 audiences want?
"The Spider and the Butterfly" (1908) exudes more nouveau flavor with costumes, props, sets, tints and 1908 effects, which include a woman turning into an erotic spider while swaying in a giant web. "The Diabolical Church Window" (1911) is memorable with its monochromatic yellow tints and a plethora of strange window patterns.
The original First Wizard collection of Méliès (buy) is an absolute must. This collection is an equally essential encore. Bravo.
* my review was originally published at 366 weird movies
Melies was a magician who owned his own theatre in Paris. He attended the first public film show featuring ducumentary "realities" made by the Lumier Company. They excited Melies because he realised that with this new invention, the cinema, he could record his own magic acts and even do things on film that could not be done on stage. Melies established the first actual movie studio. He made over five hundred short films from Lumier-like "views" to elaborate fantasies. Examples of all these types of shorts are included on this disc.
This collection,Georges Melies Encore, is produced from the best available materials and then made even better with appropriate new music. Some of the shorts were hand colored or stencil colored and some even include the original narrations that were intended to be spoken aloud during the original showings of these films. Also included here are some shorts by Melies' competitors and imitators, Pathe'.
One of the Pathe' shorts is a rarity among rarities: Excursion to the Moon. In the days before copyright enforcement, Pathe remade Melies' most popular film; A Trip to the Moon, almost scene for scene.
Unfortunately the Melies original is not included here but is available on the Mega compilaton of Melies' shorts put out by this great video company; Flicker Alley. That collection, Georges Melies First Wizard of Cinema, is expensive but worth every cent. Go buy it too so Flicker Alley will keep presenting more treasure troves of early film like those of Melies.
Now I hope they put together a collection of Pathe' and other studios shorts, especially the fantasies and "trick Films"
This disk make us feel that Melies's dream is not over still more.