4/11/2016 – Rotterdam, Netherlands
Listening now: Julie London – Fly me to the moon
I hope you’re doing great! Thanks for showing up today, for the first day of this “One film a day” challenge (if you wanna know all the ins and outs of it, I wrote a post about it yesterday that you can find here), in which I will analyse Méliès’ Le voyage dans la lune (spoiler alert – if you didn’t watch it yet, the link to the film is in the title below, just so that you know). I’m really excited to share this experience with you and see where this leads us. If you have any comment/suggestion/correction, please don’t hesitate to let me hear about it, so that we can have further exchanges about the film (or anything else, really) and I can also possibly get to improve my writing skills. As a quick side note, tomorrow’s film is The Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter, 1903). Until then, take care! Much love ♡
Le voyage dans la lune is the story of a group of scientifics going to the Moon. Once there, they are imprisoned by subterranean creatures but manage to escape and go back to Earth after discovering that touching them with an umbrella would make them disappear in smoke.
It might be complicated for a contemporary audience to grasp the essence of this film, appreciating it to its proper value – nothing less than a masterpiece – because it seems so far from the 21st-century cinema. I remember watching it for the first time and being truly bored and clueless, wondering why would people possibly make such a fuss about this movie. Some details can indeed be genuinely disturbing, not to say shocking for nowadays viewers: the way it portrays women, for example (no single one of them has a leading role, and even more upsetting, those present in the film are only mere objects meant to serve either the important scientifics or the powerful kings of the lunar beasts) or how the scientifics put themselves in a constant battle against the extra-terrestrial creatures living on the Moon, positioning themselves as actual conquerors (not to remind us of the attitudes of our colonialist ancestors, of course). One might also be disappointed with the simplicity of the special effects used by Méliès.
But what makes this film so important for the French cinema – and the seventh art in general, really – is exactly that: it left a huge legacy around which contemporary cinema built itself, making all the techniques used by Méliès so self-evident that they became obsolete. It is not astonishing, therefore, that Martin Scorcese himself dedicated an exquisite movie to the life of George Méliès in 2011, called Hugo Cabret (I linked the trailer in the title, although it doesn’t make great honour to the film to be fair).
The genius of this movie lies not only in its subject – Méliès was indeed a pioneer of cinema, this film being widely considered as the first science-fiction ever made – but also in its brilliant use of innovative techniques. His mise-en-scène, composed of a carefully painted background, allowed him to explore the still-unfamiliar and inaccessible extra-terrestrial world in the subtlety of his own universe. This is often done with a lot of poetry and elegance, like in the scene during which we can observe the stars and planets featuring anthropomorphic traits passing by as the scientifics sleep. This short sequence -probably my favourite of the whole film- appeared to me even milder after watching Hugo.
The entire universe of Méliès is marked by this tenderness. Even his depiction of the battle against the creatures inhabiting the moon has a very innocent tone, looking alike a children game of cowboys chasing Indians. This is further enhanced by his use of special effects, such as superimpositions and dissolves, realised through a careful use of editing. The numerous occasions during which the extra-terrestrials disappear in smoke are great examples of those sophisticated stop-motion effects.
In some versions of his films (the one linked above is one of them), Méliès also used tinting and toning, carefully painting each and every frame of his movies to give them colours (and life!). This had two goals: making it more attractive than a mere black and white film, and providing information about the narration, such as the time of the day, therefore contributing to the viewer’s understanding of the film (this was especially important during the silent era, as there were no dialogue to indicate such things yet)
All in all, the dreamy-like atmosphere of Le Voyage dans la lune set the basis of the science-fiction cinema for all the following generations of filmmakers to come. And although some minor issues such as the double representations of the same event from two different perspectives (of the landing of the vessel on the moon, for example), confusing the audience about the chronology of the narrative would have to be adjusted and corrected in the following years by the Classical Hollywood Cinema’s continuity system of editing, the heritage that Méliès would leave behind him is undeniably astronomic and magic.. Just like this film.