Conquete du Pole (1912)
(Star Films.) 10 minutes. 2112 feet. BW.
Aka: THE CONQUEST OF THE POLE.
Credits: Georges Méliès.
Cast: Fernande Albany, Georges Méliès, The Folies-Bergere.
The title Grandfather
of Horror and the Monster Movie undoubtedly belongs to Georges Méliès. Born in 1861, he
was soon introduced into the magical world of illusion by such luminaries as Robert-Houdin
and later would own Houdin's theatre. His influences also came from "The Egyptian
Hall" in London run by Maskelyne and Cooke who would perform spectacular illusions to
satisfy the public appetite for mystery. In Paris during 1895, Melies was invited to a
public showing of the Lumiere "Cinematographe". Melies offered to buy this
astounding new invention that had so mesmerised him with moving images. When his offer was
refused, Melies resolved to construct his own camera and began experimenting with the
possibilities that film had to offer. In 1896 while filming "The Palace de
l'Opera", the film momentarily jammed in Melies' camera and when the film was
developed an omnibus had appeared in the frame and then suddenly turned into a hearse.
This simple substitution effect would be used in the majority of his work including A
LA CONQUETE DU POLE.
At his studio in Montreuil, Melies further developed trick effects including
double exposure, stop motion photography, dissolves and fades all which have become
staples of the industry. His masterpiece, La
Voyage dans la Lune (1902), and now his most notorious film, is generally regarded
as the first ever science fiction tale told on the cinema screen. Hundreds of short
fantasy films followed, culminating in 1912 with A LA CONQUETE DU POLE (1912), a
forerunner of King Kong that unfortunately
did not build upon the discoveries he had made and looks fairly antiquated in comparison
with the massive strides that had been taken at this time in the film industry as a whole.
Professor Mabouloff, (Georges Méliès),
addresses a meeting of scientists who are debating the best means to reach the North Pole.
While others attempt the journey by a hot-air balloon and by automobile, Maboul and his
fellow explorers are aboard his ingenious airship, traversing through the skies past signs
of the zodiac. They encounter the grinning face
of Saturn that explodes, and the Big Dipper represented by the ladies of the
Folies-Bergere. Making a landing amid the snowy wastes of the Arctic, the intrepid
explorers encounter the Giant of the Snows, a complicated full scale marionette
manipulated by a crew of stagehands. Bullets and rocks seem to have no effect on the beast that eats
Professor Maboul. The crew blast at the creature with a cannon, causing it to regurgitate
the Professor who makes a hasty retreat.
The explorers manage to find the North Pole, but in their excitement while taking a ride
on the magnetic pole they fall into the Giant's ravine. A rescue ship arrives and
discovers that Maboul is the only explorer alive.
Méliès made only three more films before his forced retirement,
but due to a lack of business acumen he had sold most of his films outright and not rented
them, therefore he received no ongoing income from his labours. During the Twenties, the
theatre he owned and his studio were handed over to creditors and his remaining years were
spent at a home for veterans of the film industry.
In 1935 he took part in only two of the many publicity films that he had planned, but his
health was fading rapidly. Soon after making a radio broadcast in 1938 for a programme
titled "The Magician of the Screen" he died.
Today, the makers of modern horror films
are largely unaware of the great debt they owe to Georges
Méliès, the pioneer of all that enchants us on the silver screen.
Dvd available click here