Georges Méliès

Born: Paris, France, 8 December 1861.
Died: Paris, France, 1938.

Georges Méliès was the inventor and popularizer of the “trick film” and one of the first all-round entrepreneurs of the cinema, heading his own “empire” from 1896 to 1919. He learnt conjuring and worked as a magician and puppeteer at the Musée Grévin (a wax museum) in Paris before taking over the Théâtre Robert-Houdin in 1888, where he presented spectacles of magic, fantasy and acrobatics. An enthusiastic spectator at Lumière’s first screening, he quickly acquired film and machinery from R.W. Paul and began making films. After some Lumière-inspired documentaries, he moved to the trick film in which the gimmicks of the theatre were supplemented by cinematic ones (jump cuts, double exposures, etc.), leading to an array of spectacular genres, from reconstructed current events to féeries (fantasies). Méliès founded his production company, Star-Film, in 1896, built a studio in Montreuil-sous-bois in 1897 and played all parts in the production process: make-up artist, actor, scriptwriter, director, editor, exhibitor and exporter (he opened a subsidiary in New York in 1902), producing over 500 films which he developed in his own laboratory. Among his best-known titles are Le Voyage dans la lune / A Trip to the Moon (1902) and Voyage à travers l’impossible (1904), a drawing on the science fiction of Jules Verne; he also made a film about a Channel tunnel, Le Tunnel sous la Manche / Tunnelling the English Channel (1907). Méliès’ decline was as swift as his rise. Changes in distribution patterns and the fading novelty of trick films caused him to lose control to Pathé and eventually to stop producing in 1919. Star-Film went bankrupt and Méliès opened a kiosk at the Gare Montparnasse, where he was discovered in the late 1920s. Georges Sadoul organized a gala evening in his honour in 1929. In Méliès’ films, the powers of imagination and humour were given full scope. As Claude Beylie put it, “With Lumière, trains entered stations, with Méliès they got off the rails and flew into the clouds.” Theatrically inspired as they were, his films formed the basis of what early film historians call the “cinema of attractions,” a cinema of spectacle in which the spectator marvels at the possibilities of the medium itself.

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