George Méliès

film 45 of 70

The Magic Lantern

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 19, 2015

This film would reward a (Christian) Metzian analysis as much as Buster Keaton’s so much more (so justifiably!) celebrated Sherlock Jr., and it could accommodate a mess of other connections as well. The exhibitionists are Pulcinella and Pierrot! They set up the lantern theatrically, and then the slides, which are superimposed photographically, move cinematically! What we are seeing are commedia/Shakespearean/French Classical binaries, young swains and grotesque older echoes or caricatures thereof. Well, that at least is what we’re seeing at first. Now come some more, more modern characters, presenting themselves and mugging a bit like in those contemporaneous Edison films that we’ve also discussed at length on this website.

That would be multiple enough, but Méliès is only just getting started. From those first projections we move to some even more marvelous conjurings; the magic lantern starts disgorging actual humans, who come out and perform for our hosts. Or rather for us. And, since these are commedia figures (and not Prospero; commoners, and not kings), they’re as much witnesses as we are. The dancers are autonomous! (And, as always with Méliès, real, graceful dancers.) Shades of Harold’s Purple Crayon. Or Frankenstein. Or Astro Boy. And then the cops show up. The cup is always running over with this guy.