In the new century Georges Melies' camera techniques went from strength to strength releasing more fantasy films than before. By 1902 Melies cemented his name in science fiction history with La Voyage dans la Lune.
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Méliès and The New Century

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Méliès' sketch for Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902) At the turn of the new century, thirty-four Star Films were produced. Among these were Le Sorcier, Spiritisme Abracadabrant (Up-to-Date Spiritualism) and L'Illusioniste Double et la Tete Vivante (The Triple Conjuror and the Living Head). His most notorious film of the year was L'Homme Orchestre (The One Man Band) that depicts no less than seven Méliès interacting with each other as musicians, an idea that comedian Buster Keaton emulated in The Playhouse some twenty years later using precisely the same technique of multiple exposure.
We can judge the capabilities of Méliès' camera techniques simply by the loose translations of the film titles: The Man With Wheels in His Head, The Slippery Burglar, The Skipping Cheeses, Eight Girls in a Barrel, The Elastic Batallion, The Chameleon Man and of course Marvellous Egg Producing With Surprising Developments.

For Georges, the first day of the New Year began with a fire at the theatre that had begun in a studio upstairs rented by a photographer named Tourtin. The partially destroyed theatre took nine months to rebuild, but Méliès elaborately re-designed the decor at great financial cost and the Theatre Robert-Houdin re-opened on September 22nd. In the meantime, Méliès' film work didn't falter.
1901 saw twenty-nine films released including the fantasy productions Guguste et Belzebuth (The Clown vs. Satan), La Tour Maudite (The Bewitched Dungeon), La Chrysalide et le Papillon (The Brahmin and the Butterfly) that depicts Méliès in aBarbe-Bleue (1901) striped kaftan and turban issuing a giant catapillar from an egg-shaped cocoon that then metamorphoses into a butterfly woman. There was also Dislocation Mysterieuse (Dislocation Extraordinary) that features more examples of explicit dismemberment. Le Petit Chaperon Rouge was one of the first of many adaptations of the "Little Red Riding Hood" story, and also released was his grandest and longest production of the year Barbe-Bleue (Bluebeard) based on the novel by fellow Frenchman Charles Perault.

At the summit of his career

L'Homme a la Tete de Coaoutchouc (1902)1902 served up two of his most distinguished and delightful pieces, the celebrated L'Homme a la Tete de Coaoutchouc (The Man With the Rubber Head) in which Méliès' head is seen to expand to bursting point after his half-witted assistant energetically pumps a pair of giant bellows. video clip This devious, but simple illusion was executed by constructing a small carriage on a track that was moved slowly towards the static camera, thus enlarging the head. Today film-makers employ a track to move the camera in what is termed a "dolly shot". Georges often used the theme of head displacement in his films, one of the oldest tricks in any magicians bag, and also staged a series of five theatrical acts that included decapitation.
Le Mélomane (1903)In Le Mélomane (The Melomaniac), Méliès portrays a singing teacher who tears off several of his own heads as each is replaced and throws them onto telegraph wires forming the first few notes of "God Save the King". Un Preté pour un Rendu (Tit for Tat, or a Good Joke With My Head) displays a number of Méliès' heads assaulting one another, while Le Bourreau Turc (The Terrible Turkish Executioner) from 1903 graphically shows a Vizier decapitate four prisoners with one blow of his giant scimitar, but behind his back the heads re-attach themselves onto their bodies, seize the Vizier and chop him in half while making their escape.
1902 also saw the release of Le Diable Géant ou le Miracle de la Madonne (The Devil's Statue) again giving Georges the opportunity to don the stockings and horns of Mephistopheles. However, it is the release of Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) produced during May 1902 that endures as his most famous work even though Méliès did not think it to be his best work.

Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902)"The film cost around 10,000 francs, a relatively large sum for the time, due principally to the machinery involved and the costumes of cardboard and cloth used for the Selenites, the inhabitants of the moon. Their shells, heads, feet, everything was made specifically, and in consequence, expensive. I myself made the models done in clay, the plaster moulding and the costumes were made by a maker of special masks, used to working with papier maché... When I made Le Voyage dans la Lune, there were still no 'stars' among the artists, their names were never known or printed on the posters or announcements. The people employed in the film were all acrobats, girls and singers from the music hall, theatre actors not yet having accepted to play roles in films because they considered film as below the theatre. They only came later when they learned that the music hall people earned more money playing in films than they did working the theatre, for some 3000 francs a month... In the cinema they could earn double. Two years after this, my office was every evening filled with theatre people wanting jobs. I remember that in Le Voyage dans la Lune the moon (the lady in the crescent) was Bleinette Bernon, a music hall singer, the stars were ballet girls from the Chatelet, and the men (the prncipals), Victor André from the Théatre de Cluny, Delpierre, Farjaux, Kelm, Brunnet, music hall singers and myself. The Selenites were acrobats from the Folies-Bergere".

Melies sketch of a Selenite (1902)The most memorable image from the film is of the rocket landing in the eye of the moon-face, video clip now an icon frequently used to represent the epitome of the pioneering cinema.
Now with international success, Méliès was blighted by plagerists who conspired to profit from his work. His attempts to protect his films by placing the Star Film trademark and date of copyright in every scene were foiled by pirates like Siegmund Lubin who simply erased the mark from their duped prints. In fact there is still an undated, poorly handcoloured print of Le Voyage dans la Lune in circulation, believed to be a Lubin copy from 1903. Reportedly Lubin unwittingly tried to sell a pirated print of the film to Méliès himself while he was visiting in the area. Nonetheless flattered by all the acclaim the film received, Georges Méliès only saw a fraction of the profits that Le Voyage dans la Lune had generated globally.
Méliès films had previously been distributed in America by the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, but to safeguard his interests Georges opened an office in New York in September of 1902 overseen by his brother Gaston who with his brother Henri had been ruined in the footwear business due to the increasing cost of leather. From here on, Georges would produce two negatives for each film, one would stay in France, while the other would be registered in the United States.

Voyage a Travers l'Impossible (1903)Le Voyage dans la Lune would not be Méliès' last foray into space. The following year saw the release of Voyage a Travers l'Impossible (An Impossible Voyage), employing many of the same structures as Le Voyage dans la Lune. This time a powered locomotive is chewed up and spat out by the grimacing face of the sun. Unharmed the intrepid explorers scout the burning surface of the star.
Life under the ocean depths was also a popular location for fantastic adventures. In Les Royaumes de Fées (the Kingdom of the Fairies) of 1903, Prince Bel Azar attempts to rescue his betrothed Princess Azurine from a witch who has kidnapped her and locked her in a tower in the middle of the ocean. With the help of the 'Fairy of the Waters', the lovers are reunited. The film was based on a stage trick titled 'La Biche aux Bois' by Guignard Freres forst performed in 1845. In 1907, Méliès takes an equally surreal voyage underwater with a lampoon of Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". Deux Cent Mille Lieues Sous, ou le Cauchemar d'un Pecheur (Under the Seas), features Yves, a fisherman who dreams of a submarine trip to the sea-bed where he meets the Queen of the Starfish and a slew of mermaids. He is attacked by several sea monsters, including a giant octopus before he awakes. The marine creatures were made by Méliès directly from the illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville in Jules Verne's original novel. He also shot several scenes through a glass tank with real fish putting in an appearance.
By 1903, Méliès' Star Films had agents in Barcelona, Berlin, London and New York while his film output over the following years increased.

Continued: Méliès and the Growing Film Industry
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Méliès Filmography

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