Georges Méliès

b. Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès

b. December 8, 1861, Paris, France
d. January 21, 1938, Paris, France

Filmography
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Then, if you plan it, he
Changes organity,
With an urbanity,
Full of Satanity,
Vexes humanity
With an inanity
Fatal to vanity –
Driving your foes to the verge of insanity

– W.S. Gilbert, The Sorcerer (1877)

A young woman is sold into marriage to the notorious Barbe-bleue (Blue-beard, 1901). In three tableaux, a rigid social world is set out, where freedom is bartered, fathers rule children, men rule women and aristocrats rule servants, all formalised in an elaborate wedding ceremony. One day, Barbe-bleue goes off on business, entrusting the key of the castle to his wife with one proviso – DO NOT OPEN THIS DOOR. Naturally, this is the door she unlocks, prompted by an imp whose sudden appearance breaks the previous theatricality. She enters a darkened room, switches on a light and sees horrors and marvels that were pushed out of the public space that introduced the film: the corpses of seven women hanging on hooks like meat in a butcher’s window; prancing devils; fairy godmothers and magically expanding objects. These visions provoke nightmare images when the heroine tries to sleep.

Barbe-bleue

Barbe-bleue is not the first film out of the 520 Georges Méliès made that one would immediately offer as the key to his work, but it crystallises many of the features that would lead the Surrealists to hail him as a great poet, in particular his erasure or subversion of boundaries (e.g. between life and death, reality and dream, freedom and confinement, the animate and inanimate, the integrity of the body). The locked room, containing forbidden sights, darkened but illumined, becomes the metaphor for Méliès’ cinema, a manifestation of private desires in a public or communal medium. The flat theatricality of the social world gives way to ‘effects’, visions, dreams, nightmares, desires, fears, perversions – the releasing of the unconscious and the inner life.

In the attempt to construct Méliès as the first auteur, critics match the facts of his biography to the themes and motifs of his work, giving the whole an artistic unity (1). Indeed, with so many of the films featuring Méliès himself, as showman, ringmaster, conjurer, mad scientist, Mephistopheles or Satan, it is tempting to see his oeuvreas one of the great displaced autobiographies in the cinema, the self-portrait-as-mise-en-abyme in the tradition of Velazquez’s Las Meninas. Born in Paris in 1861, the son of a successful shoemaker, Méliès was expected to follow in the family business. Given a classical education, his duties included improving the firm’s machinery, an experience he later acknowledged helped in his theatre and film work, with its reliance on complicated stagecraft. Sent to London in 1884 to improve his English (Méliès père intended to open a branch there), Georges spent his evenings at various theatrical spectacles, in particular those where language was secondary – ballets, pantomimes, magic shows. He was particularly struck by the latter, and became a dedicated amateur, studying the great practitioners (especially Maskelyne and Cooke, whose presentation of magic in the form of comic and dramatic sketches influenced his films) and magic textbooks (many of his conjuring and cinematic tricks would be adapted from Albert Hopkins’ 1890s manual Magic) (2).

When his father retired in 1888, Méliès was able to buy the Robert-Houdin Theatre with his share of the business; here he refined his skills as performer, designer and producer; many of the tricks he developed here would later be incorporated into his films, and he continued to direct the theatre when world-famous as a filmmaker. His fame as a conjurer was such that he was one of the celebrities invited to the famous Lumière screening at the Salon des Indiens on 28 December, 1895. Unable to persuade Antoine Lumière to sell him a cinematograph, he adapted a machine by English inventor R.W. Paul. He began his film career shooting Lumière-style actualities but, after a Damascus-like (and possibly apocryphal) revelation (his camera jammed when filming a street scene; Méliès fixed it and continued filming; when he developed the footage he found, thanks to the jam, men suddenly changed into women, carriages into hearses) (3). So began his development of the basic grammar of ‘effects’ cinema still in use a century later: Elizabeth Ezra lists multiple exposures, dissolves, matte shots, replication effects, transparencies, model shots (4). The complexities of these processes – e.g. filming one character in a certain position, stopping the film and replacing the character with an object before shooting again – necessitated a stable camera, and the continuing, long-shot fixity of Méliès’ work has led many to dismiss it as theatrical, and by implication non-cinematic (5).

Méliès at work

Méliès’ films became enormously successful worldwide, especially in the United States, where the likes of Voyage dans la lune/A Voyage to the Moon (1902) were widely pirated. Méliès sent his brother to New York to ensure copyright compliance, and began using two cameras to provide a second negative for the U.S. market. Although he identified himself primarily with his ‘fantastic’ work (magic tricks, impossible voyages, fairy tales), Méliès was adept in many genres, including, in his own words, “historical scenes, dramas, comedies, actualities, reconstitutions, operas and opéras-comiques…publicity films, special films for the theatres…war scenes, mythological scenes” (6), as well as crime melodramas, adaptations of Shakespeare and specialist pornography (7). The extent of his contemporary prestige can be gauged by a commission to “reconstruct” the coronation of Edward VII (cameras weren’t allowed in Westminster Abbey), which, owing to the king’s illness, was filmed long before the ceremony (Le Sacre d’Edouard VII, 1902).

By the mid 1900s, however, Méliès’ painstaking production methods were no longer viable (he controlled every aspect, in front and behind the camera; hiring the actors; shooting, developing and editing the films; overseeing their hand-colouring and negotiating their distribution), and companies such as Pathé and Gaumont became dominant forces world-wide. Exhibitors needed films at a far quicker turnover than Méliès was able to provide, and when it was decided at the Congrès International des Editeurs du Film in 1909 to replace the system of selling films outright to rental, Méliès was unable to deal with the resultant change in logistics. Meanwhile, in the U.S., his brother Gaston, having branched out successfully into making Westerns, began losing money on more ambitious production set-ups and filmmaking expeditions (including trips to the South Pacific). Georges reluctantly made an agreement with Pathé in 1911, but his films were re-edited and he abandoned filmmaking the following year. During the war he entertained the troops and maintained a family variety show, but debts forced him into odd jobs, before his chance rediscovery by young cinephiles when working at a railway kiosk in the late 1920s. Honoured by gala screenings and official honours, he finished his days in a rest home for old film folk, still poor, polishing the Méliès myth with anecdotes and memoirs.

It is crucial to remember, when making claims for Méliès as the first cinematic auteur, that what we might call his special provenance – the trick film, metamorphoses, decapitations and dismemberments, as well as many of the ‘effects’ he adapted – were part of the magic show, magic lantern and theatrical repertory of the time, so one must be wary before attaching thematic significance to them. It would be more correct to say that Méliès engaged with the cultural forms of the day – not just conjuring, but straight plays, magic lanterns (with which many of his stage performances would conclude), operas and operettas, féeries (8), the circus, advertising, newspapers, book illustrations, postcards, photography; as well as developments in technology (especially transport and communications) made spectacle in events such as the 1900 Paris Exhibition – to create an imagery of the collective unconscious (9).

L'Homme à la tête en caoutchouc

Certain themes are identifiable. A recurring feature is the pliability of the body, whether it transforms into something else (Alchimiste Parafaragamus ou La cornue infernale/The Mysterious Retort [1906]), breaks into pieces (Nouvelles luttes extravagantes/The Fat and Lean Wrestling Match [1900]), is manipulated in size (L’Homme à la tête en caoutchouc/The Man with the Rubber Head [1901]) or multiplied (Le Mélomane/The Melomaniac [1903]). The master of ceremonies in these films is usually Méliès, either as ‘himself’ or in disguise, or, often, flitting between one state and the other. This assertion of identity and essence is continually fragmented (Le Cake-walk infernal [1903]) or proliferated (L’Homme orchestre [1900]), and deliberately breaks the scientific synchronisation of time and space the early moving image pioneers strived for. It was as if Méliès intuited, a quarter of a century before Walter Benjamin, that the cinema was a reproducing machine, with profound implications not just for the status of the art object (multiple prints could be made of films, seen all over the world, often recast by exhibitors in forms very different from those intended by ‘authors’ like Méliès), but human identity itself (10). Many of Méliès’ films stage the manufacture of the image, forcing characters to confront their own likeness, usually to playful, but often to traumatic effect (Photographie électrique à distance/Long Distance Wireless Photography [1908]). This emphasis on manufacture, however, can be more benevolent, as a celebration of work, of craft, of the artisan Méliès as director, actor, producer, scenarist, cinematographer, set designer and effects man etc. was (e.g. the workmen building the rocket of Voyage dans la lune in a room made to look like Méliès’ studio) (11).

Méliès’ cinema is not simply an indulgence of joyous escapism and brain-bypassing spectacle – the ‘liberating’ quality of his work destabilises familiar conceptions of gender, class and the body, and is linked to an anti-authoritarianism in Méliès that found its most obvious expression in his work as a caricaturist for his cousin’s journal La Griffe, ridiculing the pomposities and demagogueries of his day, most effectively General Boulanger, the dashing popular hero who threatened a royalist coup d’état on a Republic still shaky after defeat in the war against Prussia (1870–71).

Voyage dans la lune

This attitude carries over into his film work, most obviously in a then-monumental series of films on L’Affaire Dreyfus (1899), the scandal of a Jewish officer wrongly imprisoned for treason that split France ideologically for decades; the series was effectively banned for fear of inciting public disorder. But it is a feature of Méliès’ ‘fantastic’ work also. Voyage dans la lune, with its Europeans exploring an ‘empty’ land actually peopled by the native Selenites, may be a satire on the contemporary imperialist expansionism that would eventually lead to World War One (12). La Colle universelle/Good Glue Sticks (1907)shows what happens when the licensed jester goes too far in mocking the public and forces of order – he is lynched. Le Locataire diabolique/The Diabolic Tenant (1909), with its anti-hero plucking a home and family from his trunk,is an ironic look at the ‘construction’ of the model bourgeois household (the knowledge that Méliès’ mistress, Jehanne d’Alcy, starred in many of the films, including some of the more risqué, adds a frisson of ‘deviance’ to them). Le Tripot clandestin/The Scheming Gambler’s Paradise (1905) plays on the facade behind respectability, with a clothing shop doubling as a gambling den; when it is raided, a thrown light switch causes the police to attack each other; they finish on the same moral level as the ‘criminals’ they busted when they begin gambling themselves. One of Les Affiches en goguette/The Hilarious Posters (1906) has ‘mortes aux flics’ (‘death to the police’) scrawled on it – when the police try to restrain these billboards that come to unruly life, they end up hanging from a gate. Not even smashing the set, the source of the narrative’s social mischief, can restore order, as the ‘posters’ dance around the hapless gendarmes. Films such as Voyage à travers l’Impossible/The Impossible Voyage (1904) and Le Raid Paris-Monte Carlo en deux heures/An Adventurous Automobile Trip (1905) satirise the ruling classes and their disruption of peasants and workers (13). Méliès’ reconstruction of King Edward’s coronation cheekily starred a waiter as the monarch of the world’s largest empire.

In the realm of sexuality, many of Méliès’ films mock male priapism and impotence (which, often in the form of huge telescopes, is linked to viewing), while the subversive L’Éclipse du soleil en pleine lune (1907) stages the eclipse of sun and moon as a homosexual encounter both pleasurable and disillusioning. The heroine of Barbe-bleue begins to see the world created by her father and husband differently after her movie-show like experience in the forbidden room, initiating change in the film’s social order (14). Such ‘liberating’ motifs must be qualified, however; if Méliès made creative use of contemporary cultural forms in addressing his audience, he also shared some of their prejudices, notably racism (not just the Orientalism of works like Le Thaumaturge chinois [1904], but stories where blackness is stereotyped as lascivious and seen as an affliction, such as Salon de coiffure/ In the Barber Shop [1908]) and misogyny (blatantly in A la conquête du Pôle [1912], where a Suffragette is first mocked then brutally ‘impaled’ (15), but insidiously in countless films where women are [often lightly dressed] objects for male magician figures to manipulate at will) (16).

It is tempting to see Méliès as not just the father of film fantasy but, in the light of directions taken by the medium, the father of film full stop. The famous still from Voyage dans la lune of the moon blinded by a rocket is often used on the covers of histories and DVDs of the medium (e.g. Kino’s The Movies Begin – A Treasury of Early Cinema, 1894–1913). By this reckoning, Fischer and Ezra’s characterisation of Méliès as child-bearer is justified – the first filmmaker to insist on fantasy as the true subject of the cinema; the originator of many of the tricks still in use not only for fantastic cinema, but to create the illusions of film ‘realism’ also (17); pioneer of docudramas and the advertising film; developer of the first proper film studio and artificial lighting (rather than relying on volatile natural light) (18); innovator, contrary to those who dismiss his work as static or theatrical, of editing and deep-space staging (19); inspiration, in his artisanal and total control over his work, his privileging of spectacle and symbol over narrative (20), and his expressive manipulation of the film stock itself, to generations of the avant-garde, from Luis Buñuel and Jan Svankmajer to Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage (21); as a precursor to the musical, with his emphasis on ‘rhythm’ and ‘careful choreography’ (22), and outstanding dance set-pieces such as Le Cake-walk infernal. In recent decades, he has also become central in new critical formulations of the ‘early film’ period, most notably Tom Gunning’s “Cinema of Attractions” (23).

Méliès working in a toy kiosk

Just as influential, however, is Méliès’ reputation as the first romantic ‘failure’ of the cinema, the genius thwarted by the rise of production-line commercialism, the father, like King Lear, cast out by his descendents, unable to adapt to the new industrial set-up and rapid developments in cinematic style. This is a view Méliès himself fostered in his memoirs, and the poignant image of the broken director scraping a living in his wife’s toy kiosk, having destroyed many of his prints (which is why less than a third of his work survives today), only to be rediscovered in old age, looks forward to Buster Keaton, Erich von Stroheim, Josef von Sternberg and Orson Welles (like the latter, Méliès ended his screen career advertising alcohol).

There used to be two charges levelled at Méliès that attempted to limit his achievement as pioneer and artist. The most persistant accusation was that Méliès was stillborn as a creative figure, thematically and stylistically – “his last films…[show] no real advance on films made twelve years before” (24). This is a bit like attacking Yasujiro Ozu and Carl Th. Dreyer for making Sanma no aji/An Autumn Afternoon (1962) and Gertrud (1964) in the New Wave 1960s, and misses the point that Méliès was in his 30s when he began making his characteristic films, having matured an artistic sensibility – in terms of performance, presentation, pacing etc. – in the magic theatre (an analogy might be made with Douglas Sirk, whose first German melodramas display the same fluid density as his last Universal classics, having honed his visual art as a stage director). Méliès’ tortoise-like cinematic progress is usually compared to the dynamism of D.W. Griffith, whose use of close-ups, cross-cutting and fast-paced narratives made the Frenchman’s tableaux look old hat. It is up to the viewer to decide which of these giants seems more ‘modern’ or challenging today: Méliès may have turned to centuries of theatrical tradition when he began making movies, but it was his cinema Ian Christie claimed presented ‘an unguided tour of twentieth-century nightmares” (25).

Another ‘problem’ was that, by embracing studio-controlled artifice, Méliès turned his back on the ‘scientific’, ‘documentary’ and ‘truthful’ potentialities of the medium, in favour of escapist fantasy, usually stated in the famous ‘Lumière vs. Méliès’ equation. This equation overlooks the ‘showman’-like impulses of innovators like Eadweard Muybridge (who was born, less glamorously, Edward Muggeridge, and who travelled on much-publicised lecture tours), the narrative construction of the Lumières’ actualities, (26) the possibility that for early audiences the phenomenon of moving pictures itself was akin to magic, the fact that nearly a fifth of Méliès’ entire output can be classed as ‘documentary’, the pains he went to in L’Affaire Dreyfus to reproduce contemporary newspaper reports and illustrations and, as Ezra shows, his use of cinematic illusions to make fantastic films more realistic, not less. It also neglects the prehistory of cinema – such as the magic lantern, the praxinoscope or the zoetrope – whose demonstrators turned to the same fantastic sources; to be completely accurate, the first moving pictures were not the staged documentaries of Edison, Sklandanowsky or the Lumières, but the animations (“Pantomimes Lumineuses”) of Emile Reynaud, director of Pauvre Pierrot (1892) (27). So, Méliès’ art is as much a part of cinema’s development as the scientists’. ‘Too much artifice’ is not an argument that’s heard very often today, but it’s one that’s afflicted other fabulists such as Josef von Sternberg, Michael Powell and Guy Maddin, who were (and are) often reviled by earnest social realists and ‘engaged’ critics and, more seriously, often found (and find) it difficult to make films.

In fact, Michael Powell might well be Méliès’ most important gift to the cinema. In the attempt to situate Méliès at the origins of film, as a culmination of 19th century popular theatre, or as a representative of the socio-political, technological and cultural belle époque, it is easy to overlook his self-identification with the longer stretch of French history and culture – his life of Jeanne d’Arc (1900), his use of medieval backdrops, his evocation of the Sun King’s court and fondness for ballets, masques and the carnivalesque, his recreations of Rococo motifs, his recourse to the fairy tales of Perrault, his Revolution-mirroring revelling in decapitation. Add to this grounding in national tradition and a yearning impulse, his persona as impresario, his thematic interest in seeing and showing, and his formal preference for complex and self-reflexive mise en scène, and we have a blueprint for the Archers, and all those ardent spirits who were not content with what was out there for all to see, but revealed something deeper, darker and more playful: those psychic and emotional currents no documentary can record.

Méliès (left) in his studio

Filmography

This filmography is adapted from Elizabeth Ezra, 2000, pp. 152–159, which lists the 170 Méliès films known to survive. The IMDb listing appears more complete, but has errors in spelling and dates. The most reliable filmography is generally considered to be John Frazer’s, 1979.

Une Nuit terrible (A Terrible Night) (1896)

Escamotage d’une dame au théâtre Robert Houdin (The Vanishing Lady) (1896)

Combat naval en Grèce (Naval Combat in Greece) (1897)

Entre Calais et Douvres (Between Calais and Dover) (1897)

L’Auberge ensorcelée (The Bewitched Inn) (1897)

Après le bal (After the Ball, the Bath) (1897)

Le Manoir du Diable (The Haunted Castle) (1897)

Visite sous-marine du Maine (Divers at Work in the Wreck of the Maine) (1898)

Panorama pris d’un train en marche (Panorama from the Top of a Moving Train) (1898)

Illusions fantasmagoriques (The Famous Box Trick) (1898)

Aventures de Guillaume Tell (The Adventures of William Tell) (1898)

La Lune à un mètre (The Astronomer’s Dream) (1898)

Un Homme de têtes (The Four Troublesome Heads) (1898)

La Tentation de Saint-Antoine (The Temptation of St. Anthony) (1898)

Salle à manger fantastique (A Dinner under Difficulties) (1899)

L’Ours et la sentinelle (1899)

L’Impressionniste fin de siècle (An Up-to-Date Conjuror) (1899)

Le Diable au convent (The Devil in a Convent) (1899)

Le Portrait mystérieux (A Mysterious Portrait) (1899)

L’Affaire Dreyfus (The Dreyfus Court-Martial)consisting of La Dictée du bordereau (Arrest of Dreyfus); L’Ile du Diable (Dreyfus at Devil’s Island – Within the Palisade); Mise aux fers de Dreyfus (Dreyfus Put in Irons – Inside a Cell at Devil’s Island); Suicide de colonel Henry (Suicide of Colonel Henry); Débarquement à Quiberon (Landing of Dreyfus from Devil’s Island); Entretien de Dreyfus et de sa femme à Rennes (Dreyfus in Prison of Rennes); Attentat contre Maître Labori (The Attempt against Maître Labori); Bagarre entre journalistes (The Fight of Journalists at the Lycée); Le Conseil du guerre en séance à Rennes (The Court-Martial at Rennes) (1899)

Cendrillon (Cinderella) (1899)

Le Chevalier mystère (The Mysterious Knight) (1899)

Les Miracles de Brahmine (The Miracles of Brahmin) (1900)

La Vengeace du gâte-sauce (The Cook’s Revenge) (1903)

L’Homme orchestre (The One-Man Band) (1900)

Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) (1900)

Le Livre magique (The Magic Book) (1900)

Rêve de Noël (The Christmas Dream) (1900)

Nouvelles luttes extravagantes (The Fat and the Lean Wrestling Match) (1900)

La Déshabillage impossible (Going to Bed Under Difficulties) (1900)

Le Savant et le chimpanze (The Doctor and the Monkey) (1900)

La Chrysalide et le papillon (The Brahmin and the Butterfly) (1901)

Dislocations mystérieuses (Extraordinary Illusions) (1901)

Barbe-bleue (Blue-beard) (1901)

L’Homme à la tête en caoutchouc (The Man with the Rubber Head) (1901)

Le Sacre d’Edouard VII (The Coronation of King Edward VII) (1902)

L’Oeuf du sorcier (Prolific Magical Egg) (1902)

Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902)

Les Trésors de satan (The Treasures of Satan) (1902)

L’Homme mouche (The Human Fly) (1902)

La Femme volante (Marvellous Suspension and Evolution) (1902)

L’Équilibre impossible (An Impossible Balancing Feat) (1902)

Chirurgie fin de siécle (Up-to-Date Surgery) (1902) also known as Une Indigestion

Le Voyage de Gulliver à Lilliput et chez les géants (Gulliver’s Travels Among the Lilliputians and the Giants) (1902)

La Guirlande merveilleuse (The Marvellous Wreath) (1902)

Un Malheur n’arrive jamais seul (Misfortune Never Comes Alone) (1903)

Le Cake-walk infernal (The Infernal Cake-Walk) (1903)

La Boîte à malice (The Mysterious Box) (1903)

Le Puits fantastique (The Enchanted Well) (1903)

L’Auberge du bon repos (The Inn Where No Man Rests) (1903)

La Statue animée (The Drawing Lesson) (1903)

La Flamme merveilleuse (The Mystical Flame) (1903)

Le Sorcier (The Witch’s Revenge) (1903)

L’Oracle de Delphes (The Oracle of Delphi) (1903)

Le Portrait spirite (The Spiritualist Photographer) (1903)

Le Mélomane (The Melomaniac) (1903)

Le Monstre (The Monster) (1903)

Le Royaume des fées (The Kingdom of the Fairies) (1903)

Le Chaudron infernal (The Infernal Cauldron) (1903)

Le Revenant (The Apparition) (1903)

Le Tonnerre de Jupiter (Jupiter’s Thunderbolts) (1903)

La Parapluie fantastique (Ten Ladies in One Umbrella) (1903)

Tom Tight et Dum Dum (Jack Jaggs and Dum Dum) (1903)

Bob Kick, l’enfant terrible (Bob Kick, the Mischievous Kid) (1903)

Illusions funambulesques (Extraordinary Illusions) (1903)

L’Enchanteur Alcofrisbas (Alcofrisbas, The Master Magician) (1903)

Jack et Jim (Jack and Jim) (1903)

La Lanterne magique (The Magic Lantern) (1903)

Le Rêve du maître de ballet (The Ballet Master’s Dream) (1903)

Faust aux enfers (The Damnation of Faust) (1903)

Le Bourreau turc (The Terrible Turkish Executioner) (1904)

Au clair de la lune ou Pierrot Malheureux (A Moonlight Serenade) (1904) also known as The Miser Punished

Un Prêté pour un rendu (Tit for Tat) (1904) also known as Une bonne farce avec ma tête

Un Peu de feu S.V.P. (Every Man His Own Cigar Lighter) (1904)

Le Coffre enchanté (The Bewitched Trunk) (1904)

Les Apparitions fugitives (Fugitive Apparitions) (1904)

Le Roi du maquillage (Untamable Whiskers) (1904)

Le Rêve de l’horloger (The Clock Maker’s Dream) (1904)

Les Transmutations imperceptibles (Imperceptible Transmutations) (1904)

Un Miracle sous l’inquisition (A Miracle Under the Inquisition) (1904)

Benvenuto Cellini ou Curieuse évasion (Benvenuto Cellini, or a Curious Evasion) (1904)

Damnation du docteur Faust (Faust and Marguerite) (1904)

Le Thaumaturge chinois (Tchin-Chao, The Chinese Conjurer) (1904)

Le Merveilleux éventail vivant (The Wonderful Living Fan) (1904)

Sorcellerie culinaire (The Cook in Trouble) (1904)

La Planche du diable (The Devilish Plank) (1904)

La Sirène (The Mermaid) (1904)

Le Voyage à travers l’impossible (The Impossible Voyage) (1904)

Le Juif errant (The Wandering Jew) (1904)

La Cascade de feu (The Firefall) (1904)

Détresse et charité (The Christmas Angel) (1904) also known as L’Ange de Noël

Les Cartes vivantes (The Living Playing Cards) (1904)

Le Diable noir (The Black Imp) (1905)

Le Phénix ou le Coffret de cristal (The Crystal Casket) (1905)

Le Menuet lilliputien (The Lilliputian Minuet) (1905)

Le Banquet de Mesmer (A Mesmerian Experiment) (1905)

Le Palais des mille et une nuits (The Palace of Arabian Nights) (1905)

La Chaise à porteurs enchantée (The Enchanted Sedan Chair) (1905)

Le Raid Paris-Monte Carlo en deux heures (The Adventurous Automobile Trip) (1905)

L’Île de Calypso (The Mysterious Island) (1905)

Un Feu d’artifice improvisé (Unexpected Fireworks) (1905)

La Légende de Rip Van Winckle (Rip’s Dream) (1905)

Le Tripot clandestin (The Scheming Gambler’s Paradise) (1905)

Le Dirigeable fantastique ou le Cauchemar d’un inventeur (The Inventor Crazybrains and His Wonderful Airship) (1905)

Une Chute de cinq étages (A Mix-up in the Gallery) (1905)

Jack le ramoneur (The Chimney Sweep) (1905)

Le Maestro Do-Mi-Sol-So (Professor Do-Mi-Sol-Do) (1905)

La Cardeuse de matelas (The Tramp and the Mattress Makers) (1906)

Les Affiches en goguette (The Hilarious Posters) (1906)

Les Incendiaires (A Desperate Crime) (1906) also known as Histoire d’un crime

L’Anarchie chez guignol (Punch and Judy) (1906)

L’ Hôtel des voyageurs de commerce (A Roadside Inn) (1906)

Les Bulles de savon animées (Soap Bubbles) (1906)

Les Quat’ cents Farces du diable (The Merry Frolics of Satan) (1906)

L’Alchimiste Parafaragamus ou La cornue infernale (The Mysterious Retort) (1906)

La Fée Carabosse ou le Poignard fatal (The Witch) (1906)

Robert Macaire et Bertrand (1906)

La Douche d’eau bouillante (Rogues’ Tricks) (1907)

Deux Cents Milles sous les mers (Under the Seas) (1907)

Le Mariage de Victorine (How Bridget’s Lover Escaped) (1907)

Le Tunnel sous la manche, ou Le cauchemar franco-anglais (Tunneling the English Channel) (1907)

Éclipse du soleil en pleine lune (The Eclipse, or the Courtship of the Sun and Moon) (1907)

Pauvre John ou les Aventures d’un buveur de whisky (Sightseeing Through Whiskey) (1907)

La Colle universelle (Good Glue Sticks) (1907)

Satan en prison (Satan in Prison) (1907)

Ali Barboyou et Ali Bouf à l’huile (Delirium in a Studio) (1907)

Le Tambourin fantastique (The Knight of the Black Art) (1907)

Il y a un dieu pour les ivrognes (The Good Luck of a ‘Souse’) (1907)

Le Génie du feu (The Genii of Fire) (1908)

Why that Actor was Late (1908)

Le Rêve d’un fumeur d’opium (The Dream of an Opium Fiend) (1908)

La Photographie électrique à distance (Long Distance Wireless Photography) (1908)

Salon de coiffure (In the Barber Shop) (1908)

Le Nouveau Seigneur du village (The New Lord of the Village) (1908)

L’ Avare (The Miser) (1908)

Le Conseil de pipelet ou Un tour à la foire (Up-to-Date Clothes Cleaning) (1908)

Lully ou le Violon brisé (The Broken Violin) (1908)

The Woes of Roller Skaters (1908)

Love and Molasses (His First Job) (1908)

The Mischances of a Photographer (1908)

Le Fakir de Singapoure (The Indian Sorcerer) (1908)

A Tricky Painter’s Fate (1908)

French Cops Learning English (1908)

Anaïc ou le Balafré (Anaic, or The One with the Gash) (1908)

Pour l’étoile S.V.P. (Spare Change for the Star, Please) (1908)

Conte de la grand-mère et Rêve de l’enfant ou Au Pays des jouets (Grandmother’s Story) (1908)

Hallucinations pharmaceutiques ou le Truc de potard (Pharmaceutical Hallucinations) (1908)

La Bonne Bergère et la Mauvaise Princesse (The Good Shepherdess and the Evil Princess) (1908)

Hydrothérapie fantastique (The Doctor’s Secret) (1909)

Le Locataire diabolique (The Diabolic Tenant) (1909)

Les Illusions fantaisistes (Whimsical Illusions) (1910)

Les Hallucinations du baron de Münchausen (Baron Munchausen’s Dream) (1911)

A la Conquête du pôle (The Conquest of the Pole) (1912)

Cendrillon ou la Pantoufle merveilleuse (Cinderella or the Glass Slipper) (1912)

Le Chevalier des neiges (The Knight of the Snows) (1912)

Films about Méliès

Le Grand Méliès (Georges Franju, 1952)

Georges Méliès: Cinema Magician (Patrick Montgomery & Luciano Martinengo, 1978)

La Magie Méliès (Jacques Meny, 1997)

Select Bibliography

Roy Armes, French Cinema, London, Secker and Warburg, 1985.

Mary Lea Bandy (ed.), Rediscovering French Film, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1983.

Stan Brakhage, The Brakhage Lectures: Georges Méliès, David Wark Griffith, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Sergei Eisenstein, Chicago, The Goodlion, 1972.

Ian Christie, The Last Machine: Early Cinema and the Birth of the Modern World, London, British Film Institute, 1995.

Thomas Elsaesser with Adam Barker (eds.), Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative, London, BFI Publishing, 1990.

Elizabeth Ezra, Georges Méliès: The Birth of the Auteur, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2000.

John L. Fell (ed.), Film Before Griffith, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983.

John Frazer, Artificially Arranged Scenes, Boston, G.K. Hall and Co., 1979.

Paul Hammond, Marvellous Méliès, London, Gordon Fraser, 1974.

Ann Lloyd (ed.), Movies of the Silent Years, London, Orbis, 1984.

David Robinson, Georges Méliès: Father of Film Fantasy, London, Museum of the Moving Image, 1993.

Richard Roud (ed.), Cinema: A Critical Dictionary – Volume Two: Kinugasa to Zanussi, London, Secker and Warburg, 1980.

David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film, London, Deutsch, 1994.

Robert T. Tombs, “The Right to be a Patriot: Reactions to the Dreyfus affair at home and abroad”, Times Literary Supplement, 1 May, 1998.

Kate E. Tunstall, “Magic and Loss”, Times Literary Supplement, 13 September, 2002.

Web Resources

Cinémathèque Méliès: Les Amis de Georges Méliès
In French. The ‘official’ Méliès site, maintained by his descendents, with a detailed biography, a complete filmography in construction, and information about screenings at the Cinémathèque Méliès.

Méliès: Inspirations & Illusions
An excellent illustrated overview of the filmmaker’s career, with filmography (though most titles in English) and synopses of key works.

Le Voyage dans la lune
Tim Dirks’ analysis of Le Voyage dans la lune.

Anima
Though not dedicated to Méliès, this beautiful site chronicles the pre-cinematic pioneers and inventions that inspired him.

Georges Méliès
Part of the filmsdefrance site, features biography, synopses and brief analyses of key films.

Georges Méliès, le père des trucages cinématographiques
In French. Includes texts by Méliès and technical information on his ‘tricks’.

Film Directors – Articles on the Internet
Several online articles can be found here.

Click here to search for Georges Méliès DVDs, videos and books at

Endnotes

  1. The best introductions to Méliès’ biography are David Robinson, Georges Méliès: Father of Film Fantasy, London, Museum of the Moving Image, 1993, and Jacques Meny’s film La Magie Méliès (1997).
  2. David Robinson, “Georges Méliès” in Richard Roud (ed.), Cinema: A Critical Dictionary – Volume Two: Kinugasa to Zanussi, London, Secker and Warburg, 1980, p. 678.
  3. Katherine Singer Kovács, “Georges Méliès and the Féerie” in John L. Fell (ed.), Film Before Griffith, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983, p. 254. Barry Salt has shown how the Edison film The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895) pre-dated Méliès ‘discovery’ by a year (Salt, “Seeing is Believing: Special Effects in the Early Years” in Ann Lloyd [ed.], Movies of the Silent Years, London, Orbis, 1984).
  4. Elizabeth Ezra, Georges Méliès: The Birth of the Auteur, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2000, pp. 24–34.
  5. “In all of [his films] the camera occupies the position of a spectator in the orchestra of a theatre…His use of stop-action, superimpositions, and illusionary photography merely offered new ways of effectuating old familiar tricks”, Kovács in Fell, pp. 250, 255.
  6. Quoted in Robinson, 1993, p. 34.
  7. Ezra, p. 15.
  8. For the influence on Méliès of the French féerie see Kovács in Fell, 1983.
  9. See Ian Christie, The Last Machine: Early Cinema and the Birth of the Modern World, London, British Film Institute, 1995, p. 36.
  10. See Tom Gunning.
  11. Ezra, p. 122.
  12. Ezra, p. 120.
  13. Ezra, pp.126–133.
  14. Ezra, on the other hand sees in Barbe-bleue “a portmanteau of sadistic voyeurism”, and suggests Méliès’ fairy-tale films “reinforced social hierarchies”, pp. 101, 99.
  15. Ezra, p. 108.
  16. See Lucy Fischer, “The Lady Vanishes: Women, Magic and the Movies” in Fell, 1983; and Ezra, pp. 89–116, 142–145.
  17. Georges Sadoul quoted in Ezra, p. 77.
  18. Robinson, 1993, p. 24.
  19. See Tom Gunning, “’Primitive’ Cinema: A Frame –up? Or The Trick’s on Us” and Ben Brewster, “Deep Staging in French Films 1900–1914”, both in Elsaesser.
  20. Although Ezra tries to recuperate Méliès as a narrative artist, pp. 34–49.
  21. For more on this aspect of Méliès, see Stan Brakhage, The Brakhage Lectures: Georges Méliès, David Wark Griffith, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Sergei Eisenstein,Chicago, The Goodlion, 1972, an extraordinary act of criticism-as-psychic-biography, and Gunning in Fell, 1983.
  22. Méliès quoted in Georges Méliès: Cinema Magician (1978).
  23. Tom Gunning, “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde” in Elsaesser, 1990.
  24. David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film, London, Deutsch, 1994, p. 504.
  25. Christie, p. 36.
  26. Marshall Deutelbaum, “Structural Patterning in the Lumière Films”, Wide Angle, vol. 3, no. 1, 1979.
  27. David Robinson, “The Living Image” in Lloyd, 1984, and “Reynaud’s Theatre Optique”, accessed July 2004.