Georges Méliès; or the Father of Cinematic Wonder

When I think of the history of film there are a handful of names which come to mind, and one of them is Georges Méliès. Some of you may know him from Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film “Hugo”. Part of the reason I loved that film so much was because I was already very familiar with the works of Méliès. He made such films as “Voyage to the Moon” and “The Four Troublesome Heads” and “The One Man Band”. Why is he so important? He was one of the first filmmakers to begin to see the possibilities that cinema could provide. Before Méliès almost all films were just actuality films (slice of life documentary films). Méliès was an entertainer and a magician and brought that sense of wonder to his films by using special effects. Now, his films still seem like filmed stage productions, but there is also a great sense of wonder watching them because he is able to make things happen which people could only dream of. Here are two examples.

The first one is called “The Four Troublesome Heads” from 1898.

This film cannot help but make you smile. He had no films to base these special effects off of, so he essentially created them himself. Just imagine what audiences probably thought of it back 1898 when they saw a man take his head off multiple times! Of course, by today’s standards, this is easier than ever to replicate, but back then it was new and exciting and paved the way for all other special effects to follow.

Take a look at “The One Man Band” from 1900.

This another fun little film of his to watch. He brought magic to the screen at the turn of the century where it is still employed today. You can see, however, that these films really did feel like just filmed theatre, but it was a start. Remember: there was no such thing as a green or blue screen, or computer editing systems. All these effects had to be done by hand with the film stock and camera; filming scenes multiple times with parts of the film blocked out. It was meticulous but the final product was worth it.

People came to forget Georges Méliès, however. He became a toy salesman for years as he lived in obscurity. He was rediscovered in the late 1920s and he began to get the recognition he deserved. I am glad that he lived to see the turnaround in public recognition of his works. Without him cinema would not be what it is today. The events in “Hugo” never happened, but it was true that he was a toy salesman and had fallen on hard times. I always love revisiting his films because of that fantastical world he creates. There are so many of his films which you can watch online and enjoy, and I highly recommend doing so.

No article on Georges Méliès, however brief the article may be, is complete without talking about “Voyage to the Moon” from 1902. The film also goes by the title “A Trip to the Moon”. This is one of the most important films ever made in the history of cinema. Along with “The Great Train Robbery” from 1903, this film is considered one of the first narrative films of considerable length. It is about 13 minutes long, and includes many special effects. However, unlike the other films which I have included on this post this one does not look entirely like staged theatre. Méliès built sets and explored what cinema could do. This is also the film which includes the iconic “face of the moon” shot. Unlike those others films this one actually has a simple plot which carries the film just as much as the special effects. Perhaps I will write another article in the future dedicated completely to this masterpiece, but for now just take a gander for yourselves and you will know why it was ahead of its time.

Advertisements

In Cold Blood (1967) – Scene Analysis

A filmmaker can employ many techniques, whilst making a film, which can have a profound effect on the audience. A film that I enjoy quite a bit, although it definitely has its shortcomings, is the 1967 crime film called “In Cold Blood”. The film itself is based on a book by Truman Capote, which in turn was based on true events. I won’t go into the specifics of the film in case you haven’t seen it, but I am going to analyze a powerful scene from the film.

You’ll see in this scene a few things which stand out. The first is the lighting. The character in this scene is Perry. He has been arrested and is awaiting the gallows during this scene as he remembers his troubled past. Notice how his face is in half shadow. This signifies an inner conflict with the character. He doesn’t want to admit that he has come from a bad place, but he knows it to be true. He doesn’t want to give in to the truth, hence a conflict within himself. The shades of grey around him are very somber and denote a melancholic atmosphere, which makes sense since he is on death row.

Another important aspect of this shot is the window to the right. There are two important aspects revolving around the window. Although, I am sure there is probably some more meaning if we dig a little deeper. In any case, the first aspect that I notice are the bars which cross up and down the window. It creates a prison like effect. This visual component not only reminds us that he is physically inside a jail, but that on some deeper, spiritual level he is also in a jail. Rather, he is trapped within himself and within his past, and all that he has done. He feels, in this moment and in the past, that he simply cannot escape from himself.

The second aspect is probably one of the most powerful aspects of the film. Notice the reflection of the rain on his face when he is talking. It makes it look like he is crying. There are moments when the reflection passes perfectly under the eye to create the illusion of giant tears. This is very important when we consider the context of the scene. He can’t bring himself to cry, but his exterior world enables us to see how he feels on the inside.

One final note: notice the camera angle and shot length. Most of this scene is just one shot fixated on Perry. I think that the director did this because he wanted us to be fully invested in every word that Perry was saying. By minimizing the edits it focuses us into the moment which we are watching. The camera angle is also peculiar. It is slightly angled up, which usually denotes that the character is powerful. In this moment you could make the argument that Perry is not powerful since he is about to die and is being punished. But consider this: maybe he is in a position of power in regards to himself. He is at least acknowledging his past and starting to come to terms with the present. Doesn’t this give him a little power on the matter?

Filmmakers have the power to show the audience the inside of a character’s mind without having to add unnecessary dialogue or voice-overs. There are so many techniques which can be used to do this. I think that this scene shows us some very interesting, and powerful ways to do so.

 

Time

Time passes us by so quickly that quite often we don’t even realize it. I was thinking about what my next article on here should be about, and I am not sure why I decided it should be about time, but I think time is a very important factor in the filmmaking process; it is a very important aspect in life as well. You think that you have all the time in the world to do things, but you blink your eyes and you’re five years older, and you wonder where the time went to. I do not live in the past, but I regularly find myself being nostalgic for times gone by; memories have the ability to transport me back in time. It is crazy to think of all the films I made a few years ago, and all the fun I had while making them. This is one of the reasons why making films are so much fun: they create memories. It is true; when you make a film you will have experiences you never thought imaginable. It is more than that, however, it is creating a vision within your head become a reality.

Last year, while making one of my short films, the day came for the “big” scene. This was to be the main scene of my film, which also had to be done in one long, continuous take, for artistic reasons. We had choreographed the whole thing out during a rehearsal beforehand, and the actors knew their lines. It was a lot of work. We were filming in a stadium style classroom at a University, and we thought we had all the time in the world to get it done. We filmed, if I can remember correctly, around four takes, but I still didn’t have the exact take I wanted, but we were running out of time. We were running out of time not because it was late, but because the room had apparently been checked out to a large event and we were effectively kicked out of my filming location!

We rushed one final take which was a disaster because, well…we were rushing the hell out of it. This whole confusion came about because of a slight oversight on our part about the checkout list for the room, and now it seemed all the hard work we had done was for naught. Luckily, one of the first takes was good enough to use, and we didn’t go back to re-shoot anything. The take I used still had an element or two about that I still don’t like, but overall it works well. There was a slight audio mix up, but I was able to fix that easily in post. There are just some visual components about it that don’t necessarily sit well with me, but I also understand I’ll be the only one noticing them.

Overall, it worked out fine. I got a useable take, and we finished the film on schedule. I am still proud of this film. However, I return to my point of time. It can run out without us realizing it. When making a film, make sure you have the time to do so, otherwise you may end up in a situation like we were. Not only in your filmmaking and artistic endeavors, but in life too. If you can be writing something, drawing something, filming something, recording something, doing anything productive at all, but choose not to because “there is always tomorrow”, reconsider that decision; time is precious, and the older we get, the shorter it becomes.

I know that, for me, I will continue to make films because of how fun it is, because of the times I get to share with like-minded people, and because of the awesome memories that come with it.