George Méliès

film 29 of 70

The Inn Where No Man Rests

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 19, 2015

I’ve said it before, I say it now, and I’ll feel to point it out whenever the opportunity arises. This amazing movie is another reason to dismiss the standard dismissal about Méliès and his work. When his films explore and use the frame so effortlessly, so comprehensively, they are not mere theatrical relics. They are not mere precursors either. They are alive, entertaining, and very rich. This is cinema.

Let’s just appreciate, point by point. The first joke—a good one with the guest, the maid and the footman—is just straight stuff. But then come the variations, and proliferations. Performers are very versatile. There’s some wonderful business with the painting on the left, then some more wonderful business with the bed. The intractability of physical objects in these films prefigures the profound, definitive way that Laurel and Hardy would later explore. They’re allegedly manufactured for your use and convenience, but they get you in the end! As with L&H, the boldness and confidence with which Méliès et al. handle these objects kind of undercuts the dire point that they’re making.

(I am suddenly thinking of Robert Altman’s dire and yet exquisitely fashioned Short Cuts. Pessimistic unto nihilism. But how perceptively, how sensitively that direness is rendered! Inconsistencies like these can be very productive, and not hardly to be criticized.)

At this point the collaborators start using all the available space in the frame. At first we have a degree of stasis, then increasing dynamism. X, Y, and Z axes, in turn, then in concert, or simultaneously. It all flows quite beautifully. And everyone is a superb gymnast, too!

Well, that’s not quite true. Maybe not the ladies. The fact is, here and elsewhere in Méliès, they often have a kind of Edna Purviance presence (cf. Charlie Chaplin’s Essanay and Mutual comedies, and a few of the First Nationals too). She had technical  limitations, but she was so charming, so lovely! Same here, though these ladies almost never accomplish Edna’s individuality.

Speaking of which, this film is actually a lot like Chaplin’s 1916 jaw-dropper, One A.M. It also invites the possibility that all of these phantasms are really the illusions of a drunken mind. (See also the superbly ahead-of-its-time Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, q.v.) In this we see that though Méliès amassed one of the most frank, friendly and external oeuvres in all of cinema, he often hinted quite substantially, quite successfuly at dark subjectivities. The subconscious, even? Wouldn’t put it past him.