Thursday, June 09, 2011

Georges Méliès and "Tonight, Tonight" (1996)

It often seems that the most inventive film and video work being done today can be found in music videos. With their brash displays of techniques, often exhibiting a very wide range of influences, music videos can be an exciting conglomeration of stylistic flourishes borrowed and pieced together into a post-modern pastiche.

"Tonight, Tonight" by the Smashing Pumpkins is a good example of pastiche at its most effective. The video (which is already all of 15 years old!) combines visual elements from several films by early French cinema pioneer and magician Georges Méliès. Despite obvious references to Méliès' most famous film, A Trip to the Moon, the video actually appears to have been most strongly influenced by his 1904 film, The Impossible Voyage, with its lead characters traveling across a celestial sky in a large, futuristic aircraft. Two of the passengers jump from the aircraft and fall gracefully to the surface of the moon using their open umbrellas. The umbrellas prove to be useful when they are attacked by the Selenites, the moon's inhabitants who can be vanquished by the blow of an umbrella. After taking off in a rocket, the two land in the sea, where they encounter animated fish that recall the undersea creatures of Méliès' Tunneling the English Channel.

Remarkably, the Victorian fantasy of Méliès blends almost seamlessly with the MTV-era music of the Smashing Pumpkins. The visual motifs (the man in the moon, a fantastic lunar surface, comets and crescent moons) are not only inspired by Méliès' films, but also manage the impressive task of capturing the spirit of his work, conveying a real sense of wonder and discovery that is wholly appropriate to the song. The video's designers do a credible job of matching the tones of the hand-coloring process used on a number of Méliès' films. The music and visuals of the piece are completely of a whole. Though separated by nearly a century, the imagery and stylistic flourishes of Georges Méliès and the music of the Smashing Pumpkins synthesize very effectively.

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