Méliès, Georges

   Cinematographer, director, and film pioneer. Georges Méliès's first exposure to the cinema coincided exactly with the world's first exposure. On 28 December 1895, Méliès, a magician and the director of the Théâtre Robert Houdin in Paris, was one of thirty-four guests invited to witness Auguste and Louis Lumière's unveiling of their new moving pictures. For Méliès the honor was extended as a courtesy, since Antoine Lumière, the father of the two filmmakers, had a photography studio just above Méliès's theater. The experience of seeing pictures "brought to life" on the screen was, for Méliès, a life-altering moment. Always interested in illusions and in the ability to make an audience see things that were not there, Méliès was attracted to the power of illusion offered by the cinema, and he immediately determined to make films of his own.
   Méliès thus became one of the pioneers of the new medium called the cinema. Méliès had an interest in the potential of photography to create such moving pictures prior to the Lumière screening. He had studied photographs of motion, such as Edweard Muybridge's "Animal Locomotion" photographs. He had also independently experimented with slide projection and magic lanterns in his magic act. Immediately upon seeing what the Lumière brothers had accomplished, Méliès set about trying to obtain his own version of their film camera (the cinématographe). He first attempted to buy one from the Lumières, who refused. Méliès then managed to purchase a film projector that was a copy of Thomas Edison's projector, the kinetoscope. He made modifications and improvements to the technology and, in 1896, produced his own camera-projector combination, which he called the kinetographe and in the same year, made his first film.
   The French film critic Georges Sadoul credited Méliès with being the first narrative film director. That credit more properly belongs to Alice Guy, who produced a narrative film some months before Méliès. Nonetheless, Méliès was the second, and the first male narrative film director.
   In 1897, Méliès built the first full-scale film studio at his family's estate in Montreuil and founded his production company, Star-Film, with the help of his daughter, Georgette. Over the course of his life-time, Méliès made well over 150 films at Star, most starring himself and the actress Jehanne d'Alcy, who was his mistress and later his second wife. He also produced many films starring Bleuette Bernon. He pioneered several of the effects that have become the building blocks of contemporary cinema. Among these are the use of multiple exposure, splicing, the dissolve, the matte shot, tracking, and montage. He also was one of the first filmmakers to experiment with staging of shots and scenes as well as with ways of linking shots together to create a narrative.
   Méliès's work was enormously popular during the early part of his career. More significantly, with respect to the standing of his work during his own lifetime, Méliès was one of the only early filmmakers who was invited to produce films to be shown in tandem with theater and stage productions, an indication that his films were considered as much art as entertainment. Still, despite all of these contributions to cinema, early critics and film scholars often regarded Méliès a peripheral figure whose filmmaking was overly simplistic, and the impact of his work has often been dismissed.
   The somewhat peripheral position Méliès has in film history is probably due, in part, to the way in which he made films. He was a very independent figure among the film pioneers, and he did not move stylistically or thematically in the same direction as others like Charles Pathé or Léon Gaumont. Most other early filmmakers began by making "real life" and historical event films and then gradually moved into producing narrative films, including comedies and melodramas. Méliès primarily produced single-scene films and was not as interested in moving in the direction of full-length narrative films. His interest derived from film's capacity to show the viewer things that do not exist, and for that reason he is primarily remembered for his "trick" films, or trues, which were centered around magic tricks or the use of special effects. These include The Conjuring of a Woman at the House of Robert Houdin, Magician (1896), Illusions fantasmagoriques (1898), Le Repas fantastique (1900), L'Homme à la tête en caoutchouc (1901), Illusions funambulesques (1903), and Les Cartes vivantes (1904). He is equally well known for his fantasy or fairy tale films, or féeries, most notably Cendrillon (1899), Le Petit chaperon rouge (1901), Au royaume des fées (1903), and La Fée libellule (1908).
   Méliès became a victim of the progressive commercialization of cinema. He was a filmmaker who assumed total creative control over each of his films himself, rather than enlisting others to make films for his company (as with Pathé and Gaumont). This meant that he was not able to produce as many films in a year as the more commercialized operations and also that his films were more expensive to distribute, thus limiting the number of venues where they were shown. By 1911, this refusal to commercialize forced Méliès to sell his films to Charles Pathé in order to find the financing to work. He made his last films in 1912, although since Pathé had control over the final product, many of these were cut down from Méliès's original versions. He was gradually forced to sell off his studio, and even the Théatre Robert Houdin was bulldozed to make way for a road construction project.
   Nearly penniless, Méliès supported himself by doing theatrical revues. His income was supplemented from the sales of a toy store owned by his second wife (and former mistress) Charlotte Stéphanie Faës (Jehanne D'Alecy). The two lived in relative obscurity until 1926, until film journal editor Léon Druhot stumbled upon Méliès and attempted to draw attention to his plight. He was embraced by the avant-garde movement, most particularly the surrealists, who saw parallels to their own work in his, and he finished his life quietly making publicity films and admired by a small but faithful entourage.
   Some twenty years after his death, his role as a pioneer in film history was finally recognized, and his contribution to the technical development of film, particularly special effects, was acknowledged. Recently, film scholars have become newly interested in Méliès and his work. Since many of Méliès's films still survive (as a result of his early foray into the American film market), there has been ample opportunity to study his filmmaking. Such scholars see a certain "modernity" in his filmmaking, a style and vision that was generations ahead of his peers.
   Although Méliès is still best remembered for his trick films and his féeries, his work comprised a significant range. He is regarded as one of the fathers of the modern horror film, and some his films, including, Le Manoir du diable, (1896) La Damnation de Faust (1898), Barbe-bleue (1901), and L'Homme mouche are considered early classics of the genre. He is also the undisputed founder of the science-fic-tion genre, and films such as La Lune à un mètre (1898), Le Voyage dans la lune (1902), Le Voyage à travers l'impossible (1904), and 20000 lieues sous les mers (1907) are also considered early classics.
   He could, when the spirit moved him, be much more serious. His catalog includes biopics such as Jeanne d'Arc (1899), and literary adaptations such as Faust et Marguerite (1897) and Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoe (1902). His 1899 film L'Affaire Dreyfus was an overtly political film on the Dreyfus Affair, produced at a time when the political ramifications for questioning the government's position on Dreyfus was still quite dangerous, and indeed, Méliès did suffer for a time from negative fallout from the film. All in all, Méliès was a brilliant visionary of the early cinema, and like many such visionaries, it is likely that his true impact may never be fully recognized.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Méliès, Georges — (1861 1938)    Cinematographer, director, and film pioneer. Georges Méliès s first exposure to the cinema coincided exactly with the world s first exposure. On 28 December 1895, Méliès, a magician and the director of the Théâtre Robert Houdin in… …   Guide to cinema

  • Méliès, Georges — (Marie Georges Jean Méliès / December 8, 1861, Paris, France January 21, 1938, Paris)    The son of a wealthy footwear manufacturer, he enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and completed his studies of art in London, where he also became …   Encyclopedia of French film directors

  • Méliès, Georges — (1861 1938)    film producer, director    Georges Méliès, a pioneer filmmaker whose work had a profound effect on early cinema, was born in Paris. An illusionist by profession (he directed the Théâtre Robert Houdin) and set designer, he made of… …   France. A reference guide from Renaissance to the Present

  • Méliès, Georges — born Dec. 8, 1861, Paris, France died Jan. 21, 1938, Paris French filmmaker. He was a professional magician and manager director of the Théâtre Robert Houdin in Paris when he saw the first movies made by Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1895. In his… …   Universalium

  • Méliès, Georges — ► (1861 1938) Realizador cinematográfico francés. Tuvo una formación teatral y aportó innovaciones expresivas y técnicas en las que se intuyen soluciones cinematográficas: trucaje, puesta en escena, etc. Películas: Partida de naipes (1896) y… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Méliès,Georges — Mé·liès (māl yĕsʹ), Georges. 1861 1938. French film director who was the first to film fictional narratives and created the earliest special effects. His works include A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Conquest of the Pole (1912). * * * …   Universalium

  • Méliès — Méliès, Georges …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Georges Méliès — Born Marie Georges Jean Méliès December 8, 1861(1861 12 08) Paris, France Died Januar …   Wikipedia

  • Georges Melies — Georges Méliès (* 8. Dezember 1861 in Paris; † 21. Januar 1938 ebenda) war ein französischer Illusionist, Theaterbesitzer und Filmregisseur. Er zählt zu den Pionieren der Filmgeschichte und gilt als Erfinder des „narrativen Films“ und der Stop… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Melies — Georges Méliès (* 8. Dezember 1861 in Paris; † 21. Januar 1938 ebenda) war ein französischer Illusionist, Theaterbesitzer und Filmregisseur. Er zählt zu den Pionieren der Filmgeschichte und gilt als Erfinder des „narrativen Films“ und der Stop… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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