Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Films of Georges Melies: Part IV

Adventures of William Tell
A fascinating use of stop-motion, in this film a clown puts together a human figure, which comes to life to torment the clown, who plans to perform a “William Tell” routine. The figure beats the clown, whose form disappears underneath his costume, then-after the figure has left-reappears, gathers himself, and exits the scene. It is a rough film, filled with roughhouse and knockabout physical business, and playing with audience expectation about how the routine will play out.

The Astronomer’s Dream
Anticipating the kind of lunar fantasy he would explore in A Trip to the Moon, Melies here presents an astronomer who falls asleep while observing the moon through a telescope. It comes dangerously close to his observatory window, even devouring him at one point. There are other various transformations that take place, including the window being replaced by a stone wall. This is one of the most elaborate manipulations of space and spatial continuity that Melies has demonstrated to this point. By changing the position of the moon, he suggests a far greater depth to the screen than is actually there.

Four Troublesome Heads
A delightful comedy piece, Melies here plays a musician-singer who removes his head three times, placing them on the table, and singing along together. The remarkable aspect of this film is the timing that Melies achieves with four separate film elements playing together, and really creating an illusion that the action is all taking place at the same time within the frame.

Temptation of St. Anthony
This film could be read as religious satire or criticism, as it presents a very strong emphasis on the women figures who “tempt” St. Anthony, and at one point, the Christ figure on the cross transforms into a woman. There is an element of almost vaudeville-like humor in the scenes in which the women tease St. Anthony, dancing around him, and disappearing and reappearing around him in comic fashion. Finally, St. Anthony himself is presented as an almost comic figure, with exaggerated makeup and movements, all of which lead the viewer to suspect that Melies was presenting a critique or possibly a satire on the religious elements he depicts here.

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