Combustible Celluloid
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With: Georges Méliès, Jeanne d'Alcy, Victor André, Bleuette Bernon, Brunnet, Henri Delannoy
Written by: Georges Méliès
Directed by: Georges Méliès
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 185
Date: 03/19/2013

Méliès the Magician (2001)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The One-Man Band

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

We have to go all the way back to the beginning for this one, Méliès the Magician (Facets Video, $29.95). After Thomas Edison and William K.L. Dickson invented the movie camera in the late 1800s, there was nowhere to go but up. The Lumiere brothers began shooting little "documentaries," but it was Georges Méliès who began having fun.

Méliès basically took his magic show and put it on film, using dissolves, cuts and double-exposures to perform little magic tricks. My favorite is the early The Four Troublesome Heads (1898), which has the magician taking off his own head repeatedly (they keep growing back) until he has a quartet of heads. For the finale, they sing us a little song (albiet silently).

Méliès showed a little ambition as a moviemaker as well. In 1901 and 1902 he began to tell complicated stories, using weird props and special effects for Bluebeard and the world-famous A Trip to the Moon. (The image of the rocketship landing in the moon's eye should be as indelible to movie buffs as that of Marilyn's billowing dress.)

DVD Details: This new DVD from Facets contains 15 of these marvelous shorts, but with a drawback. For some reason, they're presented in the context of a recent real-life Méliès retrospective in France where a narrator describes the films to us in French before they roll (and sometimes while they're rolling). You can switch the track over to English, but the French sound bleeds through. Still, you can just turn the sound down and view the shorts as they were originally shown with your own music. Fortunately, the disc also contains a very good new documentary, The Magic of Méliès (1997), on the life and work of the magician/filmmaker.

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