George Melies’s imagination was limitless. Not confined by budget or practicality. His mind soared as far as he would allow and if he had been alive today I think his films would have been extraordinary and unlike anything else.
Combining film and magic Melies saw the power of film which was still in it’s early days and in itself had the power to astonish alone. Combining the two was by pure accident when he was filming a street scene and his camera jammed until he got it working again. Upon later viewing of the film he noticed objects onscreen disappeared magically when they moved out of view when his camera jammed. Thus a new type of magic was born. It may seem obvious to us today but back then it was something truly unique.
It’s sad to think where he ended up. Selling Toys in a shop in Paris and having even burned some of the negatives of his own films. But his misfortune was not completely of his own doing but that of the era he lived in. Film was a young form of art, there was still problems with copyright and his greatest works were distributed by others such as Thomas Edison making him richer while leaving Meilies without a penny to show for his masterpiece.
An image almost everyone is familiar with is the picture of the face of the moon with a Rocket in the Eye. This was Melies ‘A Trip to the Moon’ (La Voyage Dans La Lune) and is one of his most ambitious works. The story is pretty basic. A group of astronomers decide to go to the moon and the film depicts the building of the rocket, their adventures on the moon in which they are attacked by Aliens and eventual homecoming. Fortunately I was able to watch both the black and white and hand coloured versions of ‘A Trip to the Moon’. The Black and White version I watched at the George Meilies exhibition in Hong Kong which also had on display concept art and storyboards of the movie. The art is absolutely epic in scope and vision. From the designs of the aliens to the drawings depicting the iron casting of the Bullet spaceship. The coloured version I saw rather fittingly at the Hong Kong Space Museum.The coloured print was lost until it was found in 2003 in a barn in France. The coloured version is obviously clearer and more detail can be seen but I still like the original black and white version which match the concept art and storyboards. It just seems to match the image which he probably had in his mind when visualizing it.
It’s a high concept science fiction movie in my opinion and the first of our time that took place 50 years before humanity even reached space. It inspired countless other movies about voyages into space and intrigued generations by having them look up into the sky and look at the face of the moon in wonder.