(1861 - 1938)
Three Key Films: A Trip to the Moon (1902), The Impossible Voyage (1904), The Eclipse: A Courtship of the Sun and Moon (1907) Underrated: Tunnelling the English Channel (1907) Unforgettable: The explorers’ spaceship is lodged in the eye of the flustered moon in A Trip to the Moon. The Legend: The question about George Melies is not whether or not he is appropriately appreciated but whether or not he is acknowledged at all. Sure, any cinephile knows the key images from A Trip To The Moon, Melies’ most famous and widely-seen film, but few have attempted to dive deeper into his vast filmography, where they will no doubt encounter a versatile artist with more innovations under his belt than one could attribute to practically any other filmmaker.
Along with his long-forgotten contemporary Alice Guy-Blaché, Melies was among the first directors to bring fiction to the screen. With his fixed shots and elaborate studio sets, he fused the artifice of theatrical fantasy with primitive special effects, self-reflexively demonstrating the pseudo-magical capabilities of editing and, more or less, inventing animation.The filmed magic of Melies is so dated that it’s hard to imagine their effect on contemporary audiences, but the seriousness with which he relates his fairy tales lends his films an overwhelming biographical essence.
Throughout his 600-plus films, the man behind the work and his astonishing devotion to the magical potential of the medium is clearly visible in his theatrical Cinema of Attractions. And if today, we read Melies as a madcap magician of an epoch past who somehow found the essential in the artificial, he’s still one of the great visionaries of the cinema. Austin Dale