1898: 6 movies

posted 2012 July 7

Venice, Feeding the Pigeons 
in St. Mark's Square
Disputed name, year, and director.
Could be by the Lumière brothers, William K.L. Dickson, or Georges Méliès.

   Despite our desperate need for information on this movie, it's a delicious portrait of a carefree day. Drenched in sunlight, flocked with birds, a man and a woman feed pigeons, and then come towards the camera while smiling at us. It's so gorgeous, it might be a dream.

La tentation de Saint-Antoine
Directed by Georges Méliès; 
Starring Georges Méliès

   Melies offers the first depiction in the movie-medium of the temptation of Saint Anthony, and what a great one it is! Practically all of Melies' themes are present: dancing young women, caves, visions, the harassed victim. This is not the first time in art that a woman has appeared on a cross, that happened in paintings at least twenty years earlier, but it is the first instance in a movie. The horror is inescapable but always flowing rhythmically.
   The title translates from French as "The temptation of Saint Anthony".

Panorama pendant l'ascension de la Tour Eiffel 
Produced and directed by Louis and Auguste Lumière

   We are in the Eiffel Tower, ascending amidst gorgeous silhouetted beams and cables, and through the criss-crosses, in the distance we look down on Paris, growing ever more distant. The only complaint that I can see being made about this one is that it's too short.


Le magicien 
Directed by Georges Méliès.

   This movie continues the lightning-quick form changing of characters which Melies first introduced in Le cauchemar in 1896. But instead of forming his cinematic melody within the story of a man trying to get some sleep like he did in that previous piece, here he builds on the complexity by loosening the story and having even the main character change forms. He begins as a magician, turns into a sad clown, and finally ends up as a Greco-Roman sculptor. The themes, which include magic, madness, longing, and frustration, all shift quickly and keep the audience rapt and breathless. 
   The title translates from French as "The magician".

Visite sous-marine du Maine 
Directed by Georges Méliès.

   Lavish decor had long been produced for a stage-plays and operas, and they had been transposed in front of the camera by Dickson and Heise, but here Melies adds a touch that is purely cinematic: shooting through a fish aquarium to heighten the illusion. Yes, this movie is dated compared to movies that are actually shot underwater, but it's good to know our roots and their is a charm that still comes through this movie. For a bit of drama, Melies shows us workers freeing bodies from a sunken ship, and titles the project after the real incident from earlier in the same year when the USS Maine sunk. 
   The title translates from French as "Maine Submarine Visit".

Un homme de tête
Directed by Georges Méliès.

    This is the first of Melies' many discombobulation-gag movies which he continued making for at least five years. Staged like a magician's trick, the movie uses mulitple exposures and uncannily good masks to achieve its effect. Other key element, however, are his humor and his fascinatingly smooth editing. He plays the titular magician, and gives us four funny performances in one. A pure delight!
   The title translates from French as "A head man".

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