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Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema 1896-1913
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This early wizard of modern filmmaking set a tempo for things to come. This collection celebrates 173 rare, original silent films by Georges Meliess, painstakingly gathered by Eric Lange and David Shepard, including his first film Partie de Cartes (1896) right on through to his last Voyage de la Famille Bourrichon (1913) on 5 DVDs. 1896-1913. (B&W/13 hrs/NR/fullscreen)
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This 5-disc DVD set, includes Méliès's first film, Partie de Cartes and his last, Voyage de la Famille Bourrichon, and brackets more than 170 others. Included are the celebrated and famous journey films, among them A Trip to the Moon, The Impossible Voyage, The Kingdom of Fairies, The Merry Frolics of Satan, The Palace of the Arabian Nights, and The Conquest of the Pole. Fifteen films are reproduced from partial or complete hand-colored original prints, thirteen are presented with the original English narrations written by Méliès. The duration of these films ranges from less than half a minute (The Misfortunes of an Explorer, 1900), to more than half an hour (Conquest of the North Pole, 1912). Also included is a filmed tribute, Le Grand Méliès (1953) by Georges Franju in its original English version, and a substantial booklet containing essays by filmmaker Norman McLaren and historian John Frazer.
This unparalleled collection, several years in the making and produced by Eric Lange and David Shepard, calls for a re-evaluation of the early years of cinema by scholars and historians, for it reveals Méliès to have been the most accomplished filmmaker in the world during that time. For example, his 1896 film The Nightmare has seven shots with exact matches on cuts, when Lumiere, Edison and Biograph films of that year were one shot each. By 1902, Méliès was making wondrous films such as Gulliver's Travels Among the Lilliputians, which are enormously entertaining even today.
The films were gathered from archives and collectors all over the world. Pictorial quality of most of the films is remarkably good; in addition, they have been digitally stabilized and cleaned as necessary. New music has been commissioned for all of the original Méliès films by some of the finest practitioners of silent film accompaniment, including Brian Benison, Eric Beheim, Frederick Hodges, Robert Israel, Neal Kurz, Alexander Rannie, Joseph Rinaudo, Rodney Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and Donald Sosin.
The bulk of these have never been on home video before and they are a revelation. In addition to the famous fantasy films (A TRIP TO THE MOON, THE IMPOSSIBLE VOYAGE) and trick films (THE LIVING PLAYING CARDS, THE UNTAMEABLE WHISKERS), there are serious films like those relating the story of the Dreyfus affair, a hand tinted version of the life of Joan Of Arc from 1900, and even a woman taking a bath standing up in AFTER THE BALL (nudity in 1897!). This set reportedly contains all 173 known surviviving films by Melies which were collected from archives all over the world. The films range from around 1 minute to Melies' magnum opus THE CONQUEST OF THE POLE (1912) which lasts for half an hour. I especially enjoy the later films with their Gustave Dore' like backgrounds and 19th century stage mechanics. The quality of the shorts is very good for the most part with the earliest ones being in the roughest shape. The musical accompaniment by various artists is uniformly fine and helps to bring these century old treasures to life.
If there is a problem with the set it's that Melies has a tendency to do many of the same things over and over again which doesn't bother me but will probably annoy many viewers. Just remember that Melies had no idea that we'd be watching his movies over and over again courtesy of DVD but I'm sure he'd be delighted. The set also comes with Georges Franju's 1952 touching tribute LE GRANDE MELIES which features son Andre Melies as his father and his long time collaborater and later wife Jeanne D'Alcy (the woman taking the bath in AFTER THE BALL way back in 1897) still going strong at 87.
Although the set is rather pricey it does come from Flicker Alley so you know that it's a quality presentation complete with lots of extras. If you are truly interested in the history of early cinema or like me you enjoy being fooled by a magician's tricks or enjoy the idea of traveling back in time, then you need to find a way to get this set. You won't be disappointed.
UPDATE 12/7/2011: Martin Scorsese's HUGO showcases films featured in this set and the flashback information in his movie comes from Franju's LE GRAND MELIES. If you enjoyed HUGO, then this is the place to go to see more Melies movies and get background info on him.
Sounds good, but what is revelatory is the visual quality of the films here. While a few exist only in fragments, and some films have, of course, rough quality, the vast bulk of this set is extraordinary. I wouldn't hesitate to say that noone alive right now has ever seen any of these films in better condition. Absolutely beautiful; it's obvious that putting this set together was an arduous labor of love, and a gift for film lovers everywhere. This set is expensive, but don't let that stop you if you like Melies. It's worth every cent, believe me.
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