Friday, November 22, 2013

Georges Méliès - The Master Of Special Effects

by Rita Novaes

In the cinema history, there are few men who are so important and so unfairly forgotten as Georges Méliès. Excepting the shooting and projecting equipment, it would be no exaggeration to say that Méliès invented absolutely everything on cinema: the filming studios, the cinematographic genres, the screenplays, the mechanical and chemical techniques, the special effects. He was the pioneer in everything he did - and he did it with such an imagination and mastery that great filmmakers like Chaplin or Griffith recognized his influence and inspiration.

Méliès deserves a leading role in history, beside the great creators and visionaries of all times who took humanity farther. He had an unquiet and dreaming spirit and a huge versatility. In his life, he developed a series of activities and professions on a rich and different way as designer, caricaturist, decorator, illusionist, conjurer, actor, dramatist, producer, and toys' salesperson. He never resigned against difficulties and ups-and-downs he suffered - and they were quite a few. He knew how to change and adapt himself. He was brilliant.

If he had followed the familiar tradition, Méliès would had been a successful luxury shoemaker in Paris. But the world of spectacle and magic attracted him and, with the money he received from the family enterprising, he became an actor and conjurer and bought the famous theatre of Robert-Houdin, the great French magician. Shortly afterwards, in 1985, he watched the first public presentation of the Lumière Brother's Cinematograph. This fact changed the path of his life.

He founded a cinematographic company, Star-Films, and set up recording studios equipped with several features, like (natural and artificial) lightning, removable sceneries, dressing-rooms and installations to the actors, technical crew, and so on. Here he developed everything that would become his image signature and future cinema language, combining theatrical arts, technology and special effects. Some of the modern editing processes were born in these studios, like cutting, stop-motion, images overlap, transitions by dissolution (fade-in, fade-out), graphic manipulation of image, use of optical illusion and so much more.

From his prolific activity, the result was more than 500 movies, one-reel-short-movies in the beginning and more sophisticated medium-length movies subsequently. Lots of them are lost, some simply missing, some sold to be transformed in (authentic) high heel shoes. It's said that Méliès himself destroyed lots of them in a fit of rage, in a difficult period of his life.

The movie which brought fame to him was an exceptionally long by that time, with 14 minutes: A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la Lune), in 1902, based on the novel of another visionary, Jules Verne. The fantastic image of the spacecraft achieving one eye of the moon would become one of the 20th century visual icons. All his movies had a huge quantity of magic, fantasy and dazzling - something that Méliès had learned with his first profession, as illusionist and conjurer - and the complex special effects, what he used so well, were the mean he use to dazzle us. The fantasy and the magic, Méliès work essences, are nothing but the essence of cinema.

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