The restored edition of ‘the original colour version’ of Voyage dans la Lune (Trip to the Moon, Georges Méliès, 1902/Lobster Films, 2011) opened the Cannes Film Festival to great wonder and acclaim in 2011. The one hundred and nine years separating the first screening of this famous science fiction film and its recent revision bridge the beginning and, for some film historians, the end of celluloid film culture. (1) In 1917 Méliès was forced to destroy much of his collection as 400 of his films were melted down to form heels for the boots of soldiers during WWI. (2) The coloured version of Trip to the Moon was discovered in 1993 amongst a collection of 200 silent films donated by an anonymous collector to the Filmoteca de Catalunya in Barcelona. (3) The reconstruction of the coloured version of Trip to the Moon poses questions about the status and evolution of cinema at these pivotal moments. How do newer technologies, particularly those used in digital restoration, impact on the original print? Is colour restored or revived by digital techniques? Is the digital restoration of Trip to the Moon a conservation project, or does it result in the creation of yet another new version of the film? An investigation of the 2011 restoration blurs traditional notions of originality and complicates the relationship between reproduction and conservation. The restoration highlights the evolving complexities inherent in connections between film history and digital cinema, with the 2011 incarnation of Trip to the Moon existing at the intersection of celluloid and digital cultures.

The pioneering films by Méliès have been described by Tom Gunning as creating an aesthetic of astonishment, emblematic of the ‘cinema of attractions’. (4) This classification emphasises the ‘thrill of display’ at the spectacle of early cinema, aspects that are crucial to the presentation of illusion in the trick films developed by the magician Méliès. (5) André Gaudreault notes the degree of self reflexivity in Méliès’s early cinema, suggesting that the aim was to encourage spectators to ‘appreciate the illusion’ by recognising the camera’s presence and the potential audience. (6) Gaudreault writes that “he interpellates both the camera and the spectator into the text as he acknowledges their existence through direct address”. (7) This is a cinema of active display. In the performance of the ‘trick’ effect, Méliès both shows, performs the illusion and conceals the filmic devices that create the illusion. However, whilst the perception of Méliès’ cinema as part of the attractions tradition is clear, it is also important to acknowledge the depth, range and intermediality of his oeuvre.

Matthew Solomon describes Trip to the Moon as an intermedial film, a film created from a matrix of influences, one that continues to inspire new forms of the moving image. (8) The original version was inspired by the 1865 Jules Verne novel De la Terre à la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon). Méliès reveals that:

“The idea of A Trip to the Moon came to me when I was reading a book by Jules Verne called From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon. In the book, the humans could not land on the moon … so I imagined, in such a way that I could put together some arresting and amusing fairytale images, show the outside and inside of the moon, and some monsters who might live on the moon, add one or two artistic effects (women representing the stars, the comets, … snow effects, the bottom of the sea). (9)

Other influences include the HG Welles novel The First Men in the Moon which was published in France in the same year as Trip to the Moon was filmed. And, according to Laurent Mannioni, it is quite possible that news of the exhibit at the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo, called Trip to the Moon (1901) would have influenced Méliès. (10) The turn of the century inspired visions and imaginings of voyages to distant places. Trip to the Moon is a film that imagines a voyage to the moon 67 years prior to the first landing. This was the first film to imagine the earth from the moon and to offer the reverse perspective of the moon from the earth. It is also the first example of science fiction on film. However, the mythology that surrounds Méliès suggests that he is central to a range of ‘firsts’. According to the catalogue that was produced to accompany the release of the 2011 version of Trip to the Moon, Méliès was the first director to design and equip a film studio (his ‘image capture theatre’), to create storyboards for his film productions and to develop editing techniques (particularly appearance/disappearance, substituting, multiplying effects) to facilitate special effects and trick photography with moving images. (11) Whilst Trip to the Moon became the most recognised of all of Méliès’s films, Elizabeth Ezra reveals that “At first, however, he had difficulty persuading fairground exhibitors to buy it because of the high price resulting from the film’s lavish production costs; so he lent the film to exhibitors free of charge for a single showing, confident that its popularity with audiences would convince exhibitors that they would recoup his asking price”. (12) At this stage in the emerging film industry, individual films were sold to exhibitors directly. Ultimately, Méliès is credited as inventing the cinema of ‘show and entertainment’, but the impact of his influence extends across the production, distribution and exhibition sequence. The display of Méliès’s innovation becomes a key consideration in the process and affect of restoration.

The restored version of Trip to the Moon was screened on a hot night in the Piazza Maggiore, officially opening the 2011 ‘Il Cinema Ritrovato’ film festival in Bologna, Italy. (13) The audience recognised the significance of this second public screening of the restoration. With all seats filled and very little standing room left in the Piazza, I stood at the back of the square, watching a film that I had seen in black and white many times, but this time it hit the screen in the beautiful watery, translucent colours characteristic of the effects of hand painting in early film and photography. There was such a thrill in the crowd that although I was standing, I felt like I was jumping. I certainly wasn’t standing still. This resonance was in response to the colours of Trip to the Moon. As early as 1929 Kodak identified the potential for colour to affect the emotions. Whilst Kodak developed Sonochrome tints like Rose Doree to ‘quicken the respiration’ and Peachblow for ‘brief, joyous moments’, (14) twenty years before, Méliès applied translucent aniline dyes to create spectacle and to provoke sensation in nascent cinema. Writing on early cinema, Tom Gunning notes that “colour helped fashion a culture of sensationalism, based in sensual and emotional intensity and dedicated to inciting desire rather than orderly behaviour”. (15) This impression of colour represents the convergence of two pivotal cinematic moments. Evidence of the old and new can be detected across the surface and secreted in the details of the projected image. By maintaining traces of the old within the new medium, the 2011 colour restoration reveals the duality of innovations in celluloid and digital technologies, an acknowledgment of their respective historical moments, but as I will argue, ultimately indicating their inextricable connection.

At its foundation, Trip to the Moon was built on black and white celluloid nitrate film stock. It was filmed on orthochromatic celluloid, a medium that in 1902 was consolidating its ability to register subtle gradations in the spectrum from black to white. This film stock necessitated a careful arrangement of the mise-en-scène in shades from the deepest black to the lightest white. The proscenic space was artificially arranged to reflect the ability of celluloid to register tonal variations and contrast. Méliès notes that in creating the set: “painting is done only in shades of grey, using all the intermediary grey colours between pure black and pure white … Scenery in colour comes out very badly. Blue becomes white, reds and yellows become black, like greens; all the effect is destroyed”. (16) Traces of the aesthetic produced by orthochromatic stock and early cinematographic equipment are evident in the red lips of the man in the moon rendered black, in the effect of natural lighting, in the focus on the forces of movement towards the centre of the frame and in the painted sets. Each of these aesthetic aspects exemplify Méliès’s work to register the range of colours that intersect between black and white on orthochromatic film stock.

Trip to the Moon is built on frames that were originally hand cranked through early cinematographic technology that was developed to accommodate the 16 to 18 frames per second necessary to achieve the flicker fusion threshold to produce the illusion of movement in projection. In early film, the disjuncture between filming and projection speeds often results in an impression of movement that might appear frenetic. These traces of early film technologies remain in the 2011 version, notably in the rapid gestures and movements of the scientists led by Professor Barbenfouillis (Georges Méliès) as they gather to discuss the voyage at the observatory, and later as they explore the subterranean level of the moonscape in a non scientific, accelerated pace. The green Selenites in Trip to the Moon also jump and twirl in fast motion. However, movement in the reconstruction is not limited to the gestures and shifts of characters. The aesthetic wavers between the beautiful soft focus of the coloured celluloid print and the higher definition and perceptual clarity of the digital print. The arched windows of the observatory oscillate between a blue opacity and a grey transparency. Often the outlines of the windows become blurred producing soft outlines, but occasionally the image snaps back into focus revealing a definition more common to the digital medium. The film also contains evidence of damage in the barely discernable vertical patterns that waver at the edges of the frames. This patina brings a hint of movement to an otherwise still setting shot with a fixed camera. Walls pulse slightly, backgrounds quiver almost imperceptibly. It is within this latest incarnation of Trip to the Moon that traces of the history of cinema reveal another level of kinetic movement. These connections between the early and later technologies expose the potential for celluloid and digital to combine to create new, vibrant aesthetics, new forms of early film.

The colours of Trip to the Moon expose traces of history and provide another level of animation. The colours flicker, quiver, transform and frequently escape the outlines of some of the objects that they had originally intended to colour. This irregularity uncovers the effects of time and it marks the process of hand painting on celluloid. The catalogue that accompanies the restoration of Trip to the Moon notes that “[a]ll his known colour films present image instability typical of hand-colouring and brush strokes are clearly visible”. (17) The coat worn by one of the scientists in the observatory tableaux wavers from blue to green and then returns to blue. The colour then bleeds into the scientist’s wig. Inside the factory, the rocket itself transforms from anodised pink to terracotta orange. In one sequence, the watery blue of the outfits worn by the team of young female marines preparing the rocket for launch is rendered in a single horizontal brushstroke. The single stroke of translucent blue connects the women, highlighting their uniformity and choreographed movement. It also reveals traces of the artist and her process of painting miniature frames. Just as the sequence ends and the women wave their hats to signal the imminent departure of the rocket, a barely perceptible pause in the movement within this frame reveals the effect of quite extensive damage to the print. Noticeable in this blurred image are incomplete patches of colour and damage that is revealed in the blue and yellow paint that has shrunk from their outlines. Noticeable also is the dissolution of definition as the translucent blue appears to sit on top of the celluloid, clearly revealing the intervention of time on the colour of this celluloid print. Without any clear traces of the restoration process, this image ruptures the narrative flow and offers a momentary indication of the extent of the damage in this version of Trip to the Moon.

A catalogue for Star Films, Méliès’s film company, lists the sale price of a black and white print of Trip to the Moon as US$130, but hand painted versions of Méliès’ films were considerably more expensive than black and white prints. (18) The Parisian workshop of painter and colourist, Elisabeth Thuillier and her team of young female painters hand painted all of the prints that Méliès required in colour. Thuillier notes that:

“I coloured all of M. Méliès’ films. The colouring was done entirely by hand. I had 200 people employed in my workshop. I passed my nights selecting and sampling colours. In the daytime, the workers applied the colours according to my instructions. Each specialized worker took responsibility for one particular colour. There were often over twenty (specialized workers) …”. (19)

The process of hand painting was intricate and arduous. Each of the young women working for Mme Thuillier was in charge of painting a single colour across the 13, 375 frames that comprised Trip to the Moon. The blue brushstroke that links the marines reveals traces of one of Mme Thuillier’s team of young painters. Hers is one element of the palette that includes translucent blue, pink, green, orange, red and yellow, a spectrum designed for a specific audience. The aniline dyes were transparent and luminous, allowing for the creation of spectacle and an illusion of depth. Aniline dyes also created artificial scenes that supported the fantasy of the attractions cinema. Méliès notes that, “as important films are often coloured by hand before being shown, it would be impossible to colour real photographed objects, which, if they were bronze, mahogany, red, yellow or green cloth, would become an intense black, and thus without transparency, and it would be impossible to give them the translucid tone necessary for projection”. (20)

Applied colour techniques involved the creation of particular colour ranges for specific territories. Film historian Niccola Mazzanti reveals that it was common practice to create a specific palette and design for a territory, “[a]ltering colour schemes was only one of the many elements shaping an overall strategy of adaptation to foreign markets”, adding that when more than one print of a film distributed in different countries is discovered, the variation in colour schemes can differ dramatically. (21) The 2011 version of the 1902 print was coloured for a Spanish audience. Whilst the red and yellow flag raised at the launch of the rocket specifically mirrors the national colours, the entire palette was designed for Spain. Colour is used to create emotional impact, to direct attention and to inspire a sense of wonder in Trip to the Moon. Explosions on earth are painted red to designate the heat at their core. Anti-naturalistic colours are used to designate the unfamiliarity of the lunarscape. Explosions on the surface of the moon are sometimes blue, but at other times a hybrid of pink and green. Colour also creates wonder through contrast. The buttery yellow of the asteroid is foregrounded against the deep green background of the lunar sky. In the subterranean lunarscape, tree trunks are rendered in a deep pink whilst mushrooms are burnt orange. The illusion of cascading water is painted in a startling blue. The sky turns bright pink when the scientists attempt to escape. The moon creatures – Selenites – are painted green, a stereotypical colour for the imagination of an alien.

In 1999 Trip to the Moon became part of an exchange deal organised by Anton Gimenez, director of the Filmoteca de Catalunya and Serge Bromberg (22) of Lobster Films. Trip to the Moon exchanged for The Golden Spider (1909) by the Catalan filmmaker Segundo de Chomón. De Chomón and Méliès were initially collaborators, but later became antagonistic and competitive inventors. De Chomón’s An Excursion to the Moon (1908) is one of the many films that replicates Trip to the Moon. In early film culture it was common to replicate and revise films that had proven popularity. The restoration of Trip to the Moon was a long and complex process. Serge Bromberg narrates the transfer: “The deal was done, and some time later, we received a case containing the precious relic. Inside there was a 35mm film on which we could distinguish some of the first film images framed by the small perforations characteristic of early films”. (23) But this coloured version of Trip to the Moon was extensively damaged. Cellulose nitrate film is chemically unstable and particularly prone to brittleness attributed to ‘vinegar syndrome’. Duration and exposure deteriorates the filmic material, often resulting in shrinkage and ‘channelling’, a buckling that is produced by the acetic acid released from celluloid over time. Bromberg notes that “Unfortunately our round reel looked more like a ring of wood, such was the extent to which decomposition had transformed the originally supple film into a rigid, compact mess”. (24) The coloured version required extensive restoration. Conservation of this print was at stake in the processes of restoration. Fragments of frames were excised, restored and reassembled one by one. The instability of the celluloid, the distortion of the imagery and the decay of frames necessitated extreme care. The damage was so extensive that traditional restoration methods of wet gate optical printing and copying onto celluloid were not possible. Consequently some of the techniques used in this restoration seem anything but modern. The fused images on the reel were prised apart using a flexible card and, as Bromberg defines it, ‘infinite patience’. (25) Bromberg accounts for the difficulties in this way:

“We had two options. Either we tried to give the film back its original flexibility so that it could be duplicated, or we photographed each image using an animation stand, but at the risk of breaking the film. The first solution required chemical treatment which would render the film pliable for a short period, but which would unfortunately accelerate its decomposition subsequently. The second solution would lead to numerous tears and would be delicate and long”. (26)

Damaged fragments of Trip to the Moon

In an account of the restoration in American Cinematographer, Robert S. Birchard details that, “for the most part, the film was fused only along the perforated edges of the film, and with infinite patience and a small, flexible card, it was possible to peel the film apart from itself”. (27)

Ultimately the restoration process included the photography of individual frames, chemical treatments and the flexible card amongst a range of other approaches. Bromberg says: “The copy was sent to Haghefilm laboratory, where it was place[d] for several weeks under a glass bell, subjected to vapours of a chemical mix developed by the Archives Français du Film”. (28) Beneath the glass bell, enshrouded by chemicals, time and duration impacts on the film once more, but in this instance, the life of the film is both activated as images clarify with exposure to the chemicals and then reduced as the material of the film succumbs to the vapours. Bromberg recalls that “every time a few images were recovered, we’d photograph them before they turned to dust, which is a consequence of using the chemicals. Basically there were only a few days to photograph the stills, which can be considered the ‘scan’ of the original source”. (29) Almost a third of the film was saved onto an inter-negative film. Bromberg says that the other half of the film was “given back to us in formless fragments that the prolonged stay in chemical vapours had made even more brittle”. (30) The surviving images were photographed using a three million pixel digital camera.

Damaged fragments of Trip to the Moon

The digitisation process took place from 2002 to 2005 in various locations and within differing technical environments. Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange used images from the black and white fine grain master positive to replace those that were damaged beyond repair in the coloured version: “Images that were missing, lost or damaged were taken from the black and white version, then colourised”. (31) The black and white version was also used as a guide for the timeline of the original film. “To replace most of the material missing in the colour footage, the team turned to a black and white nitrate print owned by Madeleine Malthete- Méliès, granddaughter of the pioneering filmmaker”. (32) In this restoration project, celluloid was used as scaffolding and support for the development of the digital copy. Temporal disparities presented further issues for the restorers. The original version of Trip to the Moon was hand cranked at approximately 14 frames per second, whilst the restored digital version needed to be standardised to 24 frames per second. The use of celluloid to restore celluloid is logical, with complimentary materials helping to identify frames and sequences in a coherent temporal order. However, the transition from celluloid to digital effectively produced variant data sets. This use of multiple formats presented many issues for conservators like Tom Burton from the Technicolor Foundation For Cinema Heritage. (33) Frames from Trip to the Moon were photographed and scanned in various forms including TIFF, TGA and JPG files, each of varying resolutions. (34) Burton reveals that “What we received from Lobster Films were digital files in various formats and in several resolutions … Some frames were captured on a digital camera, frame by frame, and some were captured on a digital scanner from short sections of the 1902 original that could be copied on Haghefilm’s step printer in Holland”. (35) Frames from the film differed significantly. “Much of the image data represented broken frames and shattered pieces of frames, and there were even several versions of some shots, with the files differing greatly in colour, density, size, sharpness and position”. (36) Burton says that ““de-flicker” processing was applied to help balance the massive frame-to-frame and intra-frame density variations resulting from the physical deterioration of this old photochemical element”. (37) Colour ‘pre-grade’ processes were used to resolve variations and to bring colour and density variables towards conformity. The challenge for Tom Burton was to integrate the disparate frames, shots and sequences into the digital version of this film. The common format selected for the restored, digitised version of Trip to the Moon was DPX files. The Digital Picture Exchange format was selected to represent the density of each colour channel of a scanned negative film in an uncompressed ‘logarithmic’ image. This new file format introduces a range of potential differences from the original. Significantly, the range of colours available is more extensive than what was used in the original. Restoration and cleaning enhances the depth and clarity of detail in the frames and achieves a definition that exceeds the scope of the original.

The difficulty of restoring the colours of this 1902 print is corroborated by Burton who reveals that in the restoration of Trip to the Moon, “we eye-matched individual colour frames and short frame sequences, which we’d reformatted as DPX files, to the dupe neg in a digital editing environment. In this editorial conform we were able to see for the first time exactly what original colour material existed, what condition it was in and which material was missing entirely”. (38) Resolve’s colour correction platform was then used to cohere the range of “wildly diverse colours and densities of the various capture sources into reasonable proximity with one another”. (39) Burton reveals “we used a palette of restoration and visual-effects-specific digital platforms, including Digital Vision, Phoenix/DVO, MTI and After Effects. Our restoration team rebuilt shattered frames into new full-frame re-creations of their original state. The black and white material was then digitally painted to replicate the original colour frames where the original colours had not survived”. (40) It is not only the techniques, but the process that was designed to replicate the original state of Trip to the Moon. At Technicolor, the digital painters used small frames, replicating the original conditions for Mme Thuillier’s team of painters. Electronic brushes, frame ratios and the colour palette were designed to mirror the conditions of applying colour in 1902. “This helped them establish, for the final painting process, the look of the hand-painted colours sometimes overflowing and sometimes not quite filling the image”. (41) What might have been mistakenly dismissed as the effects of damage, is reconceptualised as the beautiful imperfection of hand painting and deliberately restored in the 2011 version.

Film restoration is a complex task. Firstly, the colours evolve, change and perhaps also deteriorate with every projection of light and with prolonged storage. As such, the original intensity of the painted colours cannot be known definitively. Whilst Pathé developed ‘colour codes’, details printed onto the leader of each film, in anticipation of the need for restoration in the future, this was not applied to hand painted or stencilled films produced prior to 1910. Paolo Cherchi Usai delineates the issues for coloured film restoration:

“Our knowledge of colour in silent films is largely derived from a treasured misconception that we are accustomed to accept without question: tinting, toning, colouring by hand or stencil, first and second Technicolor are loosely translated in the duplicates struck by preservation laboratories into systems radically different from the original techniques. Projection equipment has changed, too. Light sources bear no resemblance to those employed in the early 20th century”. (42)

Usai writes that, “From a cultural standpoint, colour film preservation (as much as film preservation in itself) is a necessary, interesting mistake”. (43)

The film historian Niccola Mazzanti reveals the difficulty of restoring early film colours when he writes that “for most of the history of coloured films, and most significantly for the films of the second period that made such an extensive and complex use of colour, we have nearly no testimony about how specific colours came into the world, and by whose decision”. (44) Importantly in terms of the shift from celluloid to digital, Mazzanti notes that “[t]echnologies designed for (mechanical, chemical, or digital) reproduction of colour might feature a stronger or weaker component of indexicality; they might display a more or less effective ‘synchronicity’ of colours in space (the rose is red, and its stem is green) and even more importantly in time (the ever changing hues of a sunset)”. (45) Mazzanti argues that the processes that are used routinely to duplicate original coloured prints struggle to reproduce the original colours faithfully. (46) He writes that “some colours are reproduced more faithfully than others, with the result that the overall chromatic balance (within the frame when hand or stencil colouring is used, or between shots when different colours and processes are applied) is distorted to an extent that has led some authors … to define these processes as ‘simulations’ rather than ‘duplications’”. (47) Perceiving digital restorations of early films like Trip to the Moon as simulations acknowledges the importance of the original print in the development of the digital variant. It also accounts for those perceptible traces of digital and celluloid in the hybrid aesthetic in the 2011 variant.

Across the history of cinema, simulated variants have been created by producers, distributors, directors, censors or restorers from a ‘family’ of film elements (prints, negatives, copies) “a version implies a deliberate choice and concerns a number of elements”. (48) However, a variant applies to a single film element – in this case the recently discovered coloured print, and can be the result of an accident, or a deliberate act. Mazzanti writes that “variants can derive from accidents. For example, parts of a print can decompose, some or all of the colours can fade or decay, inconsistencies or errors can occur in the production process. Secondly, variants can derive from the deliberate act of a collector or an archivist”. (49) The recent simulated variation of Trip to the Moon arises from both the fortuitous rediscovery of this important film, and the intense and difficult process of its reconstruction using hybrid analogue and digital materials and technologies. Opportunity and science coalesce in this restoration of Trip to the Moon. This is particularly true when we recognise the 1902 version as both evolving and devolving materials. With intervention taking the form of restoration rather than conservation, the print declines over time, but is then re-made with digital hues that might not have existed in 1902. The range of colours available, the technologies used in the restoration results in the colours of the 2011 simulation exceeding that of the original. As Mazzanti warns, prints derived from films that use differing colour schemes have the potential to create “chromatic Frankenstein’s monsters”. (50)

The simulation of colour is the result of the evolution of the moving image within digital culture. New media technologies allow for histories built on simulations, multiplication and the dissemination of variants.Usai defines “the integrity dilemma” in relation to cinema, writing that “the lack of an ‘aura’ of uniqueness in the traditional photographic film gives no incentive to treat the copy in question as an artefact”. (51) For Usai, “[t]he transition from analog photographic motion images has both exacerbated and contradicted the perception of a lack of uniqueness in cinema – an art and culture of reproduction”. (52) In contrast, Solomon highlights the “obsession for completeness” in contemporary film culture that was identified by Usai, but he notes that because film culture relies on prints and variations, this concept would have been alien to early filmmakers. (53) Solomon points to the impossibility of complete films, noting that “the very notion of a definitive version of any early film is rather anachronistic given that films were sold as “semi-finished products” over which their producers had largely relinquished subsequent control”. (54) This is compounded in the early culture of exhibition where the practice allowed exhibitors to cut, edit and revise the film for their own projection purposes, intervening in the material of the film itself. Solomon adds that early films were “projected at different speeds, combined with various types of performance, and sometimes even coloured and reedited by exhibitors”. (55) This lack of protocol meant that different version of Trip to the Moon were claimed and exhibited by filmmakers other than Méliès. The Complete Catalogue for “Star” Films notes that a New York paper advertised Trip to the Moon by four or five different filmmakers, “each pretending to be its creator”. (56) The Catalogue begins with the pronouncement: “[i]n opening a factory and office in New York we are prepared and determined energetically to pursue all counterfeiters and pirates. We will not speak twice, we will act”. (57) It is clear in the visible branding of Star Films even within the mise-en-scène of Méliès’ films themselves, in the documentation and credits of his films, in the establishment of offices in London, Barcelona and New York, in the creation of catalogues as well as in establishing a clear profile of the auteur, that copyright was a challenge that presented itself to Méliès for the duration of his career.

The most well known and circulated black and white version of A Trip to the Moon is not the definitive or complete form of this canonical film. Solomon argues that the Museum of Modern Art Film Library’s version has been struck from an incomplete print of the original film. (58) The 2011 version included an extra three seconds discovered in a 1929 nitrate dupe negative. However, the MMA’s version was missing more than three seconds from the end of the film. The most popular iteration of A Trip to the Moon closes with the rocket descending to earth, landing underwater and then being towed into shore by a boat. These ‘final shots’ appear to provide resolution for the narrative by returning the astronomers to earth safely. The ending of the more complete variant of the film shows the rocket, now branded with the ‘Star-Films’ logo paraded through the streets, accompanied by the astronomers returning to a celebration, receiving oversized ‘moon’ medals and unveiling a sculpture dedicated to Professor Barbenfouillis. Importantly, the sequence displays the Selenite who was last seen clinging to the rocket ship as it left the moon. The Selenite is captured, chained and hit with a stick as it is paraded in front of the crowd on a leash. This ending is one that highlights and cements the colonialist theme. (59) Segundo de Chomón’s variant, Excursion dans la lune (Excursion to the Moon, 1908) offers an alternative resolution. Solomon cites this ending as one that concludes not with an ironic celebration of lunar conquest, but with the formation of a couple. He writes, “[o]ne of the astronomers runs off with a dancing moon-maiden and brings her back to earth in the damaged capsule. Instead of being displayed and beaten like the captured moon-dweller in A Trip to the Moon, she is welcomed to earth with open arms and quickly betrothed to the astronaut with whom she returns”. (60) The wild, battered alien of Trip to the Moon is replaced as an exotic love interest in de Chomón’s film. These numerous variants (coloured, black and white, edited, lost, found, remade, duplicated, transformed and inspired) provoke a reconsideration of the insistence on the chronological evolution of films across history in favour of film history as present in contemporary releases, offering an alternative imagination of the end of cinema.

Laura Mulvey’s recent work proposes an understanding of new and old cinema based on an interweaving and intermingling of past and present. (61) She posits that new technologies open up new forms of temporality. Mulvey argues that the transfer of celluloid into a digital format allows for complex temporalities receiving greater visibility. (62) In the cinema, time asserts an indexical presence, the single moment sits alongside the insistence of temporal duration. We can see the freeze frame of that single moment where the celluloid is most apparent in Trip to the Moon as that single moment in a procession of shots and sequences. Mulvey writes, “the ‘then-ness’ that appears within the old celluloid image brings the history that belongs to it palpably into the present, translated onto an easily accessible form”. (63) The dynamic interrelationship between past and present is rarely depicted more clearly in film that has been restored and transferred to the digital format. The momentary pause that exposes the traces of orthochromatic film, the colours that escape their outlines display how, in Mulvey’s words: “different kinds of temporality and relations between times become more clearly apparent as the indexicality of celluloid is translated onto and manipulated through new media. (64) In response to the anxiety about the end of cinema, a more accurate and nuanced understanding of film history becomes possible as, “[t]he perception of change shifts away from an imaginary pattern derived primarily from the register of time, a foreclosing of the past, a hastening towards the end of an era, into an imaginary pattern derived from space, of threshold, of holding past and future suspended in an uncertain present”. (65) The indebted, inextricably linked relationship between past film history, and digital imagery is evident in the visibility of processes of restoration as well as in the traces of celluloid deliberately retained in variants.

The 2011 restoration of Trip to the Moon is not the definitive version, rather it is one of numerous variants that have appeared since 1902 and will continue to circulate into the future. This film is part of a constellation of old and new, celluloid and digital, unique originality and simulated variant. Importantly though, the technologies used in the restoration process result in images that exceed the celluloid print, certainly in comparison to the state of the film when it was discovered. On digital restoration, Usai writes that

“the tools available to film preservation professionals in the digital domain have enabled them to achieve what would have seemed impossible with traditional photographic chemical methods: colour, contrast and image stability can be greatly improved (more faithfully to the original, or, problematically, even beyond) with techniques previous unimaginable in the ‘analog’ laboratory”. (66)

The 2011 version of Trip to the Moon exists in the state that is ‘more’ or ‘beyond faithful’ to the original, but this is not only evident in the simulated variant. Concurrent with the restoration was the re-popularisation of Georges Méliès through Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011). In this context sequences from the short film are excised, digitised and projected in three dimensions. Reduced and with the addition of depth and definition, Trip to the Moon becomes a special effect, provoking wonder for the characters within the diegesis and in the theatre. In this variation the film is spectacular and astonishing. Mulvey’s work addresses this celluloid/digital connection, one that we can see in the quotation of Trip to the Moon in Hugo. Mulvey writes: “[a]s the flow of cinema is displaced by the process of delay, spectatorship is affected, re-configured and transformed so that old films can be seen with new eyes and digital technology, rather than killing the cinema, brings it new life and new dimensions”. (67) Instead of an end to cinema, Gaudreault and Marion perceives cinema as ‘born twice’. Here the material base is extended by digital technologies and, as they write: “[a]ll of a sudden the ‘medium’ of moving pictures is able, synchronically, to designate an entire historical, transmedial, or transtechnological constellation”. (68)

This article has been peer reviewed

Endnotes

  1. See Rodowick, David Norman. The Virtual Life of Film, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2007, Usai, Paolo Cherchi. ‘The Conservation of Moving Images’, Studies in Conservation, 2010, issue 55, pp.250-257, Hanson, Matt. The End of Celluloid: Film Futures in the Digital Age, Rotovision, UK: Studio Tonne, 2004.
  2. Ezra, Elizabeth. Georges Méliès: The Birth of the Auteur, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000, p.19.
  3. Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.12. Groupama Gan is a European insurance company with a film foundation committed to the restoration of films and to the support of new films in production.
  4. Gunning, Tom. ‘The Cinema of Attractions: Early Cinema, Its Spectator and the Avant Garde’, Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative, (Thomas Elsaesser with Adam Barker eds.), London: BFI, 1990, pp.56-62.
  5. Ezra, Elizabeth. Georges Méliès: The Birth of the Auteur, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000, p.3.
  6. Gaudreault, André. ‘Theatricality, Narrativity, and Trickality: Reevaluating the Cinema of Georges Melies’, Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination, (Matthew Solomon ed.), Albany, State University of New York Press, 2001, 34.
  7. ibid.
  8. Solomon, Matthew. ‘Introduction’, Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination, (Matthew Solomon ed.), Albany, State University of New York Press, 2011, p.18.
  9. Méliès, Georges. quoted in Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.166.
  10. Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.167.
  11. Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.77.
  12. Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.120.
  13. But festival highlights, particularly the short film format, don’t always translate into accessible and available film. Upon my return from Europe and with further research in mind, I tried to find a copy of the film on dvd. Serge Bromberg at Lobster Films responded to my email to tell me that their version of Trip to the Moon wouldn’t be released until the end of 2011. Towards the end of the year I searched all film distribution sites and finally found that the dvd was being released, but as an additional extra, not even an object of equal value, to the Air CD soundtrack.
  14. Yumibe, Joshua. Moving Colour: Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism, London: Rutgers University Press, p.23.
  15. Gunning, Tom. ‘Colourful Metaphors: The Attraction of Color in Early Silent Cinema’, Il Colore nel Cinema Muto, a cura di Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore, Leonardo Quaresima, Udine: Università Degli Studi di Udine, p.25.
  16. Méliès quoted in Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.168.
  17. Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.169.
  18. Geo Méliès “Star” Films, Paris-NY. The Complete Catalogue, n.d. Birchard lists the price as US$126.75. Birchard, Robert S. ‘Restoring Méliès’ Marvel’, American Cinematographer, October, 2011, p.70.
  19. Thuillier quoted in Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.168.
  20. Méliès quoted in Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.168.
  21. Mazzanti, Nicola. ‘Colours, audiences, and (dis)continuity in the ‘cinema of the second period’, Film History, 2009, vol.21, p.70.
  22. Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011. Serge Bromberg’s account of the discovery and the restoration process that was proposed/developed by his company Lobster films in partnership with Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage perceives this restoration project as an investment in film culture.
  23. Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.183.
  24. ibid.
  25. ibid.
  26. ibid.
  27. Birchard, Robert S. ‘Restoring Méliès’ Marvel’, American Cinematographer, October, 2011, p.68.
  28. Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.183.
  29. Bromberg quoted in Birchard, Robert S. ‘Restoring Méliès’ Marvel’, American Cinematographer, October, 2011, p.70.
  30. Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.183.
  31. ibid.
  32. Burton quoted in Birchard, Robert S. ‘Restoring Méliès’ Marvel’, American Cinematographer, October, 2011, p.72.
  33. The Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage is a non-profit, worldwide organisation. Their mission is to preserve, to promote and highlight and to train and sensitize people working in film heritage.
  34. Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.184.
  35. Burton quoted in Birchard, Robert S. ‘Restoring Méliès’ Marvel’, American Cinematographer, October, 2011, p.71.
  36. ibid.
  37. Groupama Gan, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, La Couleur Retrouvee du Voyage Dans La Lune/A Trip to the Moon: Back in Colour, 2011, p.184.
  38. Burton quoted in Birchard, Robert S. ‘Restoring Méliès’ Marvel’, American Cinematographer, October, 2011, p.72.
  39. ibid.
  40. ibid.
  41. Birchard, Robert S. ‘Restoring Méliès’ Marvel’, American Cinematographer, October, 2011, p.72.
  42. Usai, Paolo Cherchi. Silent Cinema: An Introduction, London: Palgrave, 2000, p.39.
  43. Usai, Paolo Cherchi. Silent Cinema: An Introduction, London: Palgrave, 2000, p.40.
  44. Mazzanti, Nicola. ‘Colours, audiences, and (dis)continuity in the ‘cinema of the second period’, Film History, 2009, vol.21, p.70.
  45. Mazzanti, Nicola. ‘Colours, audiences, and (dis)continuity in the ‘cinema of the second period’, Film History, 2009, vol.21, p.74.
  46. Mazzanti, Nicola. ‘Colours, audiences, and (dis)continuity in the ‘cinema of the second period’, Film History, 2009, vol.21, p.77.
  47. ibid.
  48. ibid.
  49. ibid.
  50. ibid.
  51. Usai, Paolo Cherchi. Silent Cinema: An Introduction, London: Palgrave, 2000, p.51.
  52. ibid.
  53. Solomon, Matthew. ‘Introduction’, Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination, (Matthew Solomon ed.), Albany, State University of New York Press, 2011, p.9.
  54. Solomon, Matthew. ‘Introduction’, Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination, (Matthew Solomon ed.), Albany, State University of New York Press, 2011, p.8.
  55. ibid.
  56. Geo Méliès “Star” Films, Paris-NY. The Complete Catalogue, n.d, preface.
  57. ibid.
  58. Solomon, Matthew. ‘Introduction’, Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination, (Matthew Solomon ed.), Albany, State University of New York Press, 2011, p.8.
  59. It is also an ending that is reflected in films like King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, 1933).
  60. Solomon, Matthew. ‘Introduction’, Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination, (Matthew Solomon ed.), Albany, State University of New York Press, 2011, p.13.
  61. Mulvey, Laura. ‘Passing Time: Reflections on the Old and the New’, Critical Cinema: Beyond the Theory of Practice, edited by Clive Myer, London: Wallflower, 2011, pp.71-81.
  62. Mulvey, Laura. ‘Passing Time: Reflections on the Old and the New’, Critical Cinema: Beyond the Theory of Practice, edited by Clive Myer, London: Wallflower, 2011, p.76, 77.
  63. Mulvey, Laura. ‘Passing Time: Reflections on the Old and the New’, Critical Cinema: Beyond the Theory of Practice, edited by Clive Myer, London: Wallflower, 2011, p.76.
  64. Mulvey, Laura. ‘Passing Time: Reflections on the Old and the New’, Critical Cinema: Beyond the Theory of Practice, edited by Clive Myer, London: Wallflower, 2011, p.77.
  65. Mulvey, Laura. ‘Passing Time: Reflections on the Old and the New’, Critical Cinema: Beyond the Theory of Practice, edited by Clive Myer, London: Wallflower, 2011, p.79.
  66. Usai, Paolo Cherchi. ‘The Conservation of Moving Images’, Studies in Conservation, 2010, issue 55, p.152.
  67. Mulvey, Laura. ‘Passing Time: Reflections on the Old and the New’, Critical Cinema: Beyond the Theory of Practice, edited by Clive Myer, London: Wallflower, 2011, p.80.
  68. Gaudreault, André and Marion, Philippe. ‘The Neo-Institutionalisation of Cinema as a New Medium’, Visual Delights: Exhibition and Reception, (edited by Vanessa Toulmin and Simon Popple), Eastleigh, John Libbey Publishing, p.92.