Monday, November 28, 2011
Director D.W. Griffith once said of French filmmaker Georges Méliès, "I owe him everything." Charlie Chaplin described him as "the alchemist of light."
Méliès built the first movie studio in Europe and was the first filmmaker to use production sketches and storyboards. Film historians consider him the "father of special effects" — he created the first double exposure on screen, the split screen and the dissolve. Not to mention that he was one of the first filmmakers to have nudity in his films — he was French, after all.
And thanks to Martin Scorsese's critically acclaimed 3-D family film, "Hugo," contemporary audiences are being lovingly introduced to the silent film pioneer. "Hugo" is a fanciful tale about a young boy, Hugo (Asa Butterworth), who lives in the Paris train station in the early 1930s and discovers that the curmudgeonly old man (Ben Kingsley) operating a toy shop in the station is Georges Méliès. ("Hugo" took in $15.4 million from Wednesday to Sunday, playing on far fewer screens than other wide releases).
When cinema was in its infancy, Méliès made about 500 films filled with wonder, humor and outrageous effects. A trained magician who captivated audiences with his illusions at the Theatre Robert Houdin, he happened to be in the audience on Dec. 28, 1895, when the Lumière brothers premiered their Cinematographie to the public.
Within a year, he was making his own one-minute films. His best known work, 1902's "A Trip to the Moon," which features the iconic image of a rocket landing in the eye of the man in the moon, has recently been restored to its hand-colored glory.