Shortly into this new bio of early film pioneer Georges Méliès (made in celebration of a recent restoration of his seminal A TRIP TO THE MOON, sourced from a rare surviving hand-colored print), you start to notice that all the interesting historic footage isn’t from the guest of honor. And, for those with a reasonable background in very early cinema, this comes as no surprise. The great shock of early cinema, from the very first public screening in 1895, is that those little films made & shown by the Brothers Lumière (available on a fine KINO-DVD set) are already real films, real cinema. Méliès claimed to be at that first show. But if he was, what he took home wasn’t so much a cinematic door to open, but a better trap door for his magic act. Not that a better trap door can’t be a part of cinema (it can, it is, it deserves to be), but planting a camera in the middle of Row H to film tricks & trick shots was about as far as Méliès ever got. That’s why we delight in one or two of his films, but find three or four insufferable. And while you can extrapolate a century’s-worth of narrative cinema from the perfect angle the Lumières’ found for THE WATERER WATERED in 1895 (it’s the one where the mischievous boy steps on the water hose), Méliès only gives us diminishing returns. Jean-Luc Godard might have had the Lumières in mind when he called cinema ‘Truth at 24 frames per second.’ What Méliès turned out was an analogue precursor to CGI. And, sacre blue!, a century after he went out of business, the old charlatan seems to have won the war! For the record, the bio-pic is okay, the restoration is well intentioned, but the Techno-Pop music-track from AIR is a mistake. (Note our poster. Not from TRIP, but from a lost Edison pic from 1898.)
DOUBLE-BILL/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Heck, this whole Write-Up is a STotD! But some may wish to have a look at Martin Scorsese’s recreation of LE VOYAGE in his well-received, but rather dreadful, HUGO/’11. This charmless, ten-ton child’s fable about a dead father who leaves his kid a secret message from beyond, overdoses on CGI ‘magic’ while cramming in a pointless sidebar on Georges Méliès that lets Scorsese convert LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE into 3-D when he’s not converting the characters in this Paris-based tale into eccentric Britishers. How this pic, which lost a minimum $100 mill, got taken seriously and let off the hook for commercial malfeasance is a real head-scratcher. Or is it just the growing cult of St. Marty, the current Patron Saint of Cinema?