Video: Le Monstre (The Monster, 1903)

Silent movie magician George Melies uses an Egyptian setting for this short subject in which a skeleton, covered with a sheet, comes to life and dances, then transforms into a living woman and back into a skeleton. Typical of Melies, the presentation is stagy (befitting a former stage magician), and the profusion of special effects gags (mostly jump-cuts to replace the skeleton beneath the sheet with live actors) serve to amuse rather than to horrify.
Unfortunately, the picture quality is not great, but you can see well enough to appreciate Melies whimsical humor.

The Man with the Rubber Head: Video

This is one of many amusing silent short subjects from George Melies, the early cinema magician who pioneered the use of special effects to create imaginative and whimsical fantasy on screen. Typical of Melies, there is little story; THE MAN WITH THE RUBBER HEAD is more of an extended sight gag, in which the special effects serve to render the impossible in a manner that is far from believable – and a good thing too; otherwise, the climactic exploding head would be grotesquely horrific!

Le Diable Noir (a.k.a., The Black Imp, 1905): Video

This 1905 effort from George Melies may not be as famous as A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902), but LA DIABLE NOIR (or THE BLACK IMP) is a perfect distillation of the the silent movie magicians craft and art. The movie tells the simple story of a customer in a hotel room bedeviled by the titular character. (I actually prefer the term “imp” because of the impish pranks that ensue). An amazing series of gags are squeezed into the short running time – I refuse to call them “effects” because the actions really are a series of slapstick sight-gags that build in the manner of a great silent comedy. Filmed from a single camera angle, THE BLACK IMP at first seems dated in its technique, but ultimately the unblinking and unmoving camera becomes a plus rather than a negative, watching as the action unfolds in real time, without a (visible) cut to telegraph to the viewer (however subliminally) that some kind of set-up has been prepared to realize the next magical illusion.
In short, this is four minutes of whimsical fun that should bemuse anyone with a Sense of Wonder.

A Trip to the Moon (1902): Video

George Melies’s 1902 A TRIP TO THE MOON is a pioneering work in the history of horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema. Although Melies directing technique is dated (proscenium arch compositions, with no intercutting of different angles within scenes), his whimsical sense of magic and fantasy continue to amuse decades later. Story elements are borrowed from Jules Verne (the cannon to shoot a space capsule to the moon) and H.G. Wells (the crustacean-like lunar beings), mixed together with Melies’ own imaginative and humorous sensibility, creating a unique confectionary.
This particular video rendition may not contain the most appropriate soundtrack, but it avoids the temptation of many other versions, which add even more inappropriate music, not to mention narration!

The Magic of George Melies: Roundtable Podcast 2:46.2

man with the rubber head
George Melies blows up his own head in THE MAN WITH THE RUBBER HEAD

Following up on the previous CFQ Spotlight Podcast devoted to Martin Scorcese’s HUGO, the Cinefantastique crew of Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski – joined by special guest Andrea Lipinski – blast off into the fabulous fantasy world of George Melies. The special effects pioneer and cinema magician of the early silent era was the first to realize the potential of movies imbued with a Sense of Wonder, using the camera not to capture reality but to create dreams writ large on the silver screen.
Also on the table for discussion during this Round Table: upcoming 3-D theatrical films and recent home video releases.

Check out the links below to see some of the Melies movies discussed in the podcast.