Georges Méliès (1861–1938), a French magician-turned-filmmaker, pioneered the concept of telling stories on screen. In doing so, he either invented
pretty much all of the Special Effects
ever used in film up until the dawn of CGI
- and even these are essentially more advanced versions of the stop motion, multiple exposure, and matte painting techniques he pioneered. (For instance, modern green-screen techniques are modeled after his technique of filming actors or objects in front of a black background, then using a second exposure to record the background. In one film, he played all seven members of a band
using this method!) His most famous work is A Trip to the Moon
, but he made about 500 other short films in his 1896–1913 career.
The Martin Scorsese
is a Sidelong Glance Biopic
of Méliès, starring Ben Kingsley
as the filmmaker himself.
Georges Méliès's works display examples of:
- Acting for Two: Méliès himself in one of his adaptations of Faust. Who else can say they appeared as Jesus Christ and Satan in the same film?note
- Artistic License: Gobs and gobs of examples, all suggesting that Méliès's universe consistently runs on Rule of Cool rather than on any known scientific laws:
- Artistic License - Astronomy: The Interplanetary Voyages in The Merry Frolics of Satan, The Impossible Voyage, The Conquest of the Pole, and A Trip to the Moon (not to mention the Dream Ballets The Astronomer's Dream and The Eclipse) reveal that planets and stars usually have faces, that Greco-Roman gods and goddesses hang around or live in the constellations and planets named for them, that the Sun and Moon have romantic flings during eclipses, and so on.
- Artistic License - Geography: The Oracle of Delphi, about the famous oracle from ancient Greece, is set in ancient...Egypt. Also, see the "Everything's Better with Penguins" entry below.
- Artistic License - Physics: According to The Impossible Voyage, you can drive a train up a mountain in the Alps so fast that the train will shoot into space and end up on the surface of the sun...and it just gets more improbable from there. Lampshaded in that the movie is called The Impossible Voyage.
- Bold Explorer: Teams of them are featured in The Impossible Voyage, The Conquest of the Pole, and of course A Trip to the Moon.
- Cool Airship, Cool Car, Cool Train: See The Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship, The Adventurous Automobile Trip, and The Impossible Voyage, respectively.
- Creator Cameo: Played straight in many films. Taken Up to Eleven in many others, in which Méliès plays the main (or even the only) character. Hey, there's a lot to be said for directing yourself.
- The Dead Can Dance: Dancing often features in Melies's Hell; see also the Fire and Brimstone Hell and A Hell of a Time entries. Heck (no pun intended)—the short film The Infernal Cake Walk (1903), with assorted demons cheerfully tripping the light satanic with the titular dance, is completely devoted to this trope.
- Early Films: Given his importance in the field and the memorable nature of his films, Méliès may well be this trope's Patron Saint.
- Everything's Better with Penguins: A rejoicing crowd of cutout penguins wave to our heroes in The Conquest of the Pole. What these penguins are doing at the North Pole is less than clear...
- Executive Meddling: Mercifully averted for most of Méliès's career, since he was his own producer. Played sadly straight at the end of his career, when he entered into a deal with the Pathé Frères studios and had to watch his last six films get messily re-edited by another director.
- Fanservice: Méliès's films often used the dancers from the Folies Bergère in his films for decorative effect.
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: Méliès clearly loved playing Satan, and a fiery grotto with gleeful (often dancing) demons occurs time and again in his works. See The Merry Frolics of Satan, or any of his several adaptations of Faust, or pretty much any Méliès film with the word "Infernal" in the title.
- A Hell of a Time: In general, life is good if you're a demon in a Méliès film.
- Interplanetary Voyage: See Artistic License - Astronomy.
- Kaiju: The Snow Giant in The Conquest of the Pole is the first known film example.
- Lady of Adventure: There are quite a few at the Institute of Incoherent Geography in The Impossible Voyage.
- Losing Your Head: Méliès takes off his head a surprising number of times. An identical one almost always reappears on his shoulders immediately, however, allowing him to pull off all sorts of multi-head stunts: just take a look at The Four Troublesome Heads and The Melomaniac.
- Mechanical Horse: Bizarrely cool mechanical horses pull carriages in The Merry Frolics of Satan and Off to Bloomingdale Asylum.
- Polar Bears and Penguins: See the "Everything's Better with Penguins" entry above.
- The Professor: The Engineer Crazyloff in The Impossible Voyage and The Conquest of the Pole. (Also Professor Barbenfouillis in A Trip to the Moon, but that has its own page of tropes.)
- Production Posse: Méliès's artisans, mechanics, and cameramen (and, briefly, camerawoman: his daughter Georgette) had regular salaries at his studio, thus becoming very probably the first Production Posse in the history of film. Actors and other participants were hired on a film-by-film basis, but some definitely qualify for membership in the posse, notably:
- The actresses Bleuette Bernon and Jeanne d'Alcy.
- The actors André Deed and Manuel.
- The acrobats of the Folies Bergère, for the many times when pandemonium and other hijinks break loose.
- The ballet girls of the Théâtre du Châtelet, for dance breaks and Fanservice.
- The artist Elisabeth Thuillier, who designed color schemes for some of the films and supervised the process of painting them onto the positive prints frame-by-frame.
- Rule of Cool: See Artistic License above.
- Spiritual Successor:
- Multiple academic articles have been written about how Méliès's films are the spiritual successors of the féerie, a spectacular theatrical genre popular in 19th-century Paris.
- And hardly any film theorist has been able to talk about the work of the mid-20th-century filmmaker Karel Zeman without either implying, or flat-out stating, that Zeman is the spiritual successor of Méliès.
- Stop Trick: The first unique-to-the-camera special effect Méliès discovered, and almost certainly the one he called into play the most.
- Vanity Plate: In 1897 Méliès registered a trademark for his film studio, featuring a simple star logo and the words "Star Film" (yes, in English). In an attempt to protect his films from being illegally copied, he often put the trademark somewhere on the film set in an important scene in the film, so that it would be considerably harder for film pirates to hide where they had stolen it from.
- What Could Have Been: Shortly before his death, Méliès was planning to collaborate with the preeminent French poet and filmmaker Jacques Prévert on a fantasy film, and with the Dada artist Hans Richter on a film about Baron Munchausen. And then, alas, Author Existence Failure occurred.
- Your Head A Splode: The Man with the Rubber Head provides a classically oddball example—Méliès makes a living clone of his own head by means that remain unexplained and blows it up to ginormous dimensions, only to see it literally blow up. And this was made in 1901!