Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema 1896-1913
DVD | Box Set
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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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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.