Beginning his film career in 1896, Méliès embarked on a journey to bring a world he knew intimately -- magic -- to film. He discovered early on that there were tricks films could provide that could not be duplicated on stage. Méliès became the first filmmaker to realize the advantage that stopping the camera or blocking off portions of the film could afford -- tricks that Buster Keaton, among others, would later use to their fullest potential.
A great example of Méliès’ pioneering work in the realm of special effects can be seen in 1902’s "The Man with the Rubber Head." In the film, Méliès inflates his 'rubber' head --bearing his own features -- using forced perspective and clever editing. Clocking in at only two-and-a-half minutes, the film is short in length but nothing short of impressive.
Méliès was also a pioneer in the realm of colored film. Although Technicolor would not be introduced for another 20 years, several of Méliès’ films featured brightly colored scenes created by workers painstakingly painting clothing, flames and backgrounds, one film cell at a time. A beautiful example of this effect is preserved in “The Merry Frolics of Satan” from 1906.
In recognition of his 150th birthday, Méliès’ great-granddaughter Marie-Hélène Lehérissey-Méliès and great-great-grandson Lawrence Lehérissey-Méliès have been touring with “The Man with the Rubber Head,” “The Witch” and 14 other films spanning Méliès’ career, and presenting them to audiences around the world with live narration and piano accompaniment. For the Chicago engagement, actress Barbara Robertson provided the narration in English. The narration and musical accompaniment approximate the experience that filmgoers would have experienced in the early days of film, and this particular experience was made even more special by the excited crowd, full theater and The Music Box’s starlit ceiling.
Didn’t get a chance to see the films at The Music Box? Approximate the experience with this playlist, featuring all of the films shown at the cine-concert, from the iconic “A Trip to the Moon” to the first ever product placement in a film in “Bluebeard.”
You can also read my past post on Méliès here.