Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Films of Georges Melies: Part III

Divers at Work on the Wreck of the “Maine”
Here is an interesting example of Melies using special effects to create a kind of “documentary” short. We see divers pulling bodies out of the sunken ship (actually using dummies to stand in for the bodies), while Melies has used double-exposure to print images of the fish over top of the original image. This creates an unsettling effect, in that the grim and gruesome subject matter is played out on a painted backdrop, with clear special effects in use to help create the overall effect, reminding the viewer that what they are seeing is only a re-creation of the actual event. It becomes difficult, however, to separate that knowledge from the gruesomeness of the subject matter.

Panorama From Top of a Moving Train
One of the few cases of a “moving camera” in Melies’ work, the camera is here mounted on a moving train and takes a straight-ahead view of the journey. An interesting effect is achieved by having the train pass under low bridges, which creates an interesting spatial effect.

The Magician
A great example of a Melies trick film, we see here a magician with a magic box. As he leaps into the box, disappearing, he is transformed into a small clown, which then transforms into a taller one after jumping down from the table. There are also playful hints of sexuality as a statue is transformed into various women. Despite a static camera, the image is never a dull one, as frenetic action and constant cutting within the frame provide a continuous sense of movement.

The Famous Box Trick
A trick film with some moments of gruesome humor (a boy is split into “two” separate boys with an axe), Melies performs the lead role, focusing the audiences’ attention on his different movements, which provide a remarkable sense of visual rhythm. Working with the box as his center prop, he presents an interesting transformation between the human form and objects, such as transforming one of the boys into a piece of paper, which he then tears up.

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