As other film companies and public demand grew, Georges Melies encountered competition from the likes of Charles Pathé and was financially ruined in the process.
The Missing Link Proudly Presents

Méliès and the
Growing Film Industry

Return to Part 1/ Part 2 / Part 3

Georges Melies1903's genre releases for Méliès included Le Monstre (The Monster) that shows a man in ancient Egypt who is overjoyed at the resurrection of his dead wife by the influences of a conjuror. As he reaches to embrace her, she becomes a skeleton in his arms. Also released was another adaptation of Goethe's "Faust " with Faust aux Enfers (The Damnation of Faust), inspired this time by Berlioz's opera and again starring Méliès as Mephistopheles who takes a woman down into the deep recesses of Hell where he opens his cloak to unfold a pair of impressive bat's wings.
Faust et Marguerite the following year featured a synchronised soundtrack of Gounaud's opera that was played alongside the projection of the film.
Other significant genre productions over the next couple of years include 1904's Sorcellerie Culinare (The Cook in Trouble), in which a chef is literally stewing in his own juice with only his tattered garments being recovered from the pot; and La Fée Carabosse, ou le Poignard Fatall (The Witch) of 1906.

Congress International des Editeurs du Film (Melies marked) By 1909, Georges had been elected president of the "Congress International des Editeurs du Film", an assembly of representaives of all the major film-making countries met in Paris during February. A resolution was reached that all films would be rented instead of being sold outright, a decision that would badly effect Méliès income.
Georges had emerged from the first generation of film-makers, proudly independent and mindful of the artistic applications of the medium rather than as a business enterprise. The first decade of the new century had seen a prolifiration of large companies headed by the like of Léon Gaumont (1864-1946) and in particular, Charles Pathé (1863-1957). Méliès received stiff domestic competition from Pathé's company who from inauspicious beginnings as a fairground exhibitor, had by 1909 nurtured his company to control nearly a quarter of the world's film industry. Méliès' financial independence would soon be lost when the public demand for moving pictures required a higher volume of film product every month.
Events were moving too fast for Méliès. His output was becoming more intermittent while his energies were being directed more towards the theatre. In 1911 he only made two films, Le Vitrail Diabolique and Les Hallucinations du Baron de Munchausen that featured an enormous spider-woman, devils and a winged dragon that hovers over the Baron's bed as he dreams. Neither film could relieve Méliès' growing financial difficulties, so he entered into a business arrangement with Pathé who agreed to initiallty finance and distribute Georges films on a profit sharing basis. In a disastrous move, Pathé changed the conditions of the agreement by offering Méliès a loan against the security of his studio in Montreuil. Under this arrangement Méliès made his last six films.
Ferdinand Zecca (left) and Charles PathéOne of the clauses in the contract permitted Pathé to edit Méliès' films. This was carried out by Ferdinand Zecca, Pathé's newly appointed right-hand man. Zecca (1864-1947) joined Pathé in 1901 and had become the company's most prolific director until he was appointed General Manager in 1910. Allegedly Zecca, fearful that Méliès might replace him at Pathé, purposely butchered his films. Either through ill-will, or basic incompetence, it seems that the treatment Méliès was receiving simply indicated that the man and his work were things of the past.

Financial Ruin

1912 was the last year of Georges Méliès cinematic career. He produced four films that year, the first being A la Conqute du Pole (Conquest of the Pole). Méliès portrays Professor Mabouloff, the leader of an expedition to the frozen wastes of the North Pole where the group encounter the 'Giant of the Snows'; a full scale marionette operated by stage hands.
There followed another adaptation of 'Cinderella' that was mostly shot outdoors and was cut before release from 54 minutes to just 33 minutes. His last film, La Voyage de la famille Bourrichon was an adaptation of a music-hall farce by Eugene Labiche, but this also received dramatic cuts at the hand of Ferdinand Zecca.
All these films were unsuccessful, both by design and by public reaction. Méliès' film methods were considered outdated, particularly when D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation and Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria would soon hit the cinema screensGaston Melies worldwide. Méliès' brother Gaston suffered a similar fate after filming a number of actualities when he took his position in the offices and film factory in New York. In 1909 Gaston began making his own short fictional films and in 1910 sent his son Paul, a score of actors, a director and a cameraman to Texas where they made an astonishing number of profitable short Westerns with less than astonishing results. In 1912, Gaston embarked upon a tour of the South Pacific and Asia, but upon his return to New York he discovered that most of the film had been ruined by the tropical conditions. This seems to have necessitated the closure of the New York offices, and Gaston, already ill, returned to France where he died during 1915.

In the meantime, Georges problems increased. His first wife Eugénie had died, and while he was concentrating on his theatre work, the outbreak of World War I depleted Parisian audiences to the theatres including Theatre Robert-Houdin, subsequently they all closed. With both of his sources of income gone, Méliès converted one of the buildings at Montreuil into a little theatre called "Variétés Artistique". The repertory company was primarily a family affair and included his daughter Georgette, her husband, their son André and his wife. This small enterprise managed to see itself through 'The Great War' until 1923, when with mounting debts, Pathé had managed to obtain an order for the compulsory sale of all of Méliès' Montreuil property. Ruined, Méliès was forced to vacate the family estate while the tools and products of his life's work was dispersed to junk dealers, or destroyed. The property was sold off in lots, although the studio survived in a progressive state of ruin until 1945.
At the same time, the Theatre Robert-Houdin was demolished to make way for a new road. Obliged to remove the vast accumulation of material from the theatre, including several huge crates containing the negatives of his films from his seventeen year career. It is reported that in a moment of exasperation and anger at his misfortunes that he ordered the destruction of this precious material.

During the intervening years, Méliès was reduced to performing monologues and conjuring tricks at seaside casinos, and during the winter he toured the French provinces. At the age of 64, Georges re-married during the December of 1925. His wife, and former mistress Charlotte Stephanie Faes had performed under Méliès' tutelage on both stage and screen as Jehanne d'Alcy. Charlotte owned a little toy store situated on the Gare Montparnasse and this became the couple's sole source of income. They would tend the small kiosk together for the next seven years.


Melies at the Gare MontparnasseIn 1926, Leon Druhot, the editor of the film magazine "Ciné-Journal" discovered the whereabouts of Georges Méliès by chance at the little kiosk and began to publicise the plight of one of the world's earliest film pioneers.
In 1929, avant-garde cinema proprieter Jean-Paul Mauclair discovered a cache of Méliès' old films. Once they were restored from their poor condition and copied, arrangements were made to screen them to a new generation of film audiences and on December 6th. 1929 a selection of the films were shown alongside Cecil B. DeMille's 1915 production The Cheat. Reportedly audiences were delighted, and Georges noted this event as one of the most rewarding of his life:
"The professionals were dumbfounded that it had been possible thirty years earlier to make films with such rudimentary equipment, so perfect, so complicated, remarkable in technique and whose hand-colour was ravishing".
Méliès had begun to see his work lauded, and more importantly, he was given a three-room apartment at the Chateau d'Orly that had been converted as a retirement home for veterans of the film industry. Later they were joined by their eight year old grandaughter Madeleine when her mother Georgette had died in 1930; a source of lasting grief for Georges.

Méliès' final years were tranquil ones. In the mid-30's he took part as an actor in two publicity films for a tobacco company, but the roles were mute. Other plans were made to continue work in various capacities, but by this time Méliès' health had deteriorated.
After making a radio broadcast in 1937, Georges was hospitalized where, on the 21st. of January 1938, the master illusionist took his last bow and was buried at the family vault in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery, Paris.

His wife Jehanne d'Alcy survived him by eighteen years. Before her death, she and Georges' son André (1901-1985) appeared in a delightful docu-drama titled Le Grand Méliès (1952) directed by Georges Franju. André, who bore a striking resemblance to his father, portrays "Le Pere du Film Fantastique".

It was only in his later years that Georges Méliès was finally  recognised for the pivotal role he played in the creation of narrative film. His legacy now seems stronger than ever with renewed appreciation for his films by all cinema enthusiasts.
D.W. Griffith, rightly applauded for his own contribution to the cinema, was once asked of what importance Méliès' work was to him.
He simply replied "I owe him everything".

Return to Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

Méliès Filmography

Melies The MagicianGeorges Melies First Wizard of the Cinema DVD's and Videos available
Georges Melies: First Wizard of the Cinema (Boxset) click here
Melies-The Magician DVD click here
Landmarks of Early Film Vol.2-The Magic of Melies DVD click here
Ballerinas in Hell: A Georges Melies Album click here