George Méliès

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Introduction to the films of George Méliès

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 31, 2015

Georges Méliès is one of film’s very most important artists and entrepreneurs. He was there, practically from the very beginning. He established, refined and perfected many many of the things that we take for granted in the narrative film, and in the industries that grew up around it.

Because so much time has passed, and things have changed so much, it has been easy to misunderstand or underestimate the contributions of this great pioneer. To add to the problem a very small part of his impressively prolific input has been available for viewing, and for study. His influence is generally acknowledged, but it isn’t always and for some time hasn’t often been properly enumerated, fleshed out. It certainly hasn’t been celebrated. As a result old assumptions and facile characterizations have often prevailed, and a great filmmaker has gotten short critical shrift.

That’s the historical record. Just as much, and even more, audiences have been ill-served by this state of affairs. This is because for all of his signal innovations, Méliès was at core an ingratiating and generous entertainer who basically sought to give, succeeded in giving joy to his patrons. His longevity and productivity were such that, in that particular objective, he has only been approached by Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and probably Chuck Jones in benevolent effect. (We had probably better add Walt Disney, hadn’t we? And lets say the Beatles too.) Still, Brian Selznick and Martin Scorcese notwithstanding, hardly anyone knows that anymore.

Hardly anyone, that is, except for the people who have had the good fortune to get a hold of, and the wherewithal to actually watch, two incalculably important dvd anthologies, from Flicker Alley and Blackhawk Films. The first and largest of these compilations is the impetus and excuse for this particular large cluster of appreciations. It’s not a bad start, but there are tons more where these came from. Look around a bit. Much more importantly, find the films!

The first collection:

The next: