Back in the mid-1970s, Blackhawk Films managed to acquire the distribution rights for a number of Georges MÃ©liÃ¨s films, mostly from his incredibly prolific 1903-1904 period. In those pre-VHS days, that meant Super 8 and 16mm prints sold mainly to the home and library markets, which was pretty much Blackhawk’s whole business.
After acquiring the commercial rights in 1975, Blackhawk assembled a number of one-reel anthologies that each included two to four MÃ©liÃ¨s films. Several titles were also released individually. These included A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune, 1901) and Conquest of the Pole (Ã€ la ConquÃªte du PÃ´le, 1912). (You can jump to the title list here.)
The tale of those MÃ©liÃ¨s prints is actually a rather interesting one (to those who are interested). Georges’ brother Gaston had run the Star Films branch here in the US, which had been set up circa 1903 largely in an effort to staunch the incredible amount of bootlegging that was robbing MÃ©liÃ¨s of enormous sums. Georges (usually shooting with 2 cameras side-by-side) would ship cut negatives to Gaston in the US, who used these these to manufacture prints — thus circumventing costly import duties levied on individual prints. Gaston also copyrighted many Star Films releases, depositing dozens of 35mm paper prints with the Library of Congress, many of which remain preserved today.
Initially based in New York, Gaston later moved operations out west, where he also began producing his own films, mostly one- and two-reel westerns. (This is somewhat ironic. Many US filmmakers during the period fled to the western states to escape the reach of the genuinely thuggish efforts of the Motion Picture Patents Company [aka the Edison Trust], an international combine of 10 movie producers and manufacturers that sought to control the entire movie industry right down to the cameras. Georges MÃ©liÃ¨s would be one of the MPPC’s members. The MPPC was ultimately ruled an illegal monopoly after a long litigation.)
In 1912, when Star Films went bankrupt, Gaston was in charge of liquidating the company’s US holdings. Supposedly without the knowledge of Georges (although this seems debatable), Gaston sold to Vitagraph all of the prints and negatives in his possession (numerous films by both brothers). Gaston then set sail for Asia, shooting films along the way. Sadly, he died not terribly long after, and most of his last films succumbed to poor storage and other climatic ills. (Although not a remarkable film artist, Gaston MÃ©liÃ¨s is himself worth a rediscovery by cinema historians. The only book I know of to discuss him at any length is The Star Film Ranch: Texas’ First Picture Show by Frank Thompson [Plano, TX: Republic of Texas Press / Wordware Publishing, 1996; ISBN 1-55622-481-8]. It includes a comprehensive filmography, numerous rare photographs, and reprints of contemporaneous Texas newspaper articles. But I digress….)
Ten years later, in 1925, Vitagraph was bought by the new Warner Brothers company.
Flash forward to sometime in the 1930s, when none other than legendary producer Leon Schlesinger (best known for Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoons) became interested in the collection of MÃ©liÃ¨s films stashed away in the Warner Brothers vaults. He managed to convince Warners to sell the negatives of a number of the Georges MÃ©liÃ¨s films to him. Schlesinger held onto these for the rest of his life.
When Schlesinger died in 1949, his widow donated the films to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences but, for whatever reason, refused to permit access to them. Later, in order to preserve the decaying nitrate negatives, the Academy made fine grain duplicates. In 1975, after 26 years, Mrs. Schlesinger turned over full control of the collection to the Academy. Blackhawk Films purchased the commercial rights, while the Academy made prints for its permanent collection and then deposited the original negatives with the Library of Congress.
Thirty of those 65 films Leon Schlesinger prised from the Warner Brothers vaults proved to be titles thought to have been lost forever. This was a significant recovery, because at the time scarcely 100 of the 500 or so films made by Georges MÃ©liÃ¨s were known to have survived. (The search has continued over the years, thanks in large part to Georges’ grand-daughter, who was raised by he and his wife. In 2000, the 200th MÃ©liÃ¨s film to be recovered was screened for the first time in nearly a century at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy.)
Blackhawk’s Super 8 and 16mm Melies anthologies and individual films circulated widely. Most film libraries had at least one if not more Blackhawk Melies titles, pizza parlors that ran Super 8 film loops (a ’70s lost tradition) always had a couple, and home collectors all over the world bought them up.
Which, at last, brings me to the point of this post. It seems that nowhere online is there a complete list of the MÃ©liÃ¨s titles included in the Blackhawk anthologies. So…here it is. Some of these I own, but most I’ve culled from various stray library listings online as well as the Em Gee Film Library catalog. To aid anyone who comes a-Googling in the future, I’ve mostly eschewed the accents in the Blackhawk titles.
If you know of any that I’ve missed or mangled, post a comment and let me know. (And thanks to Bruce Calvert for having done just that.)
La Comedie et Magique de MÃ©liÃ¨s (aka The Comedy and Magic of Melies)
The Witch’s Revenge (Le Sorcier, 1903) and The Inn Where No Man Rests (L’Auberge du Bon Repos, 1903)
Extaordinary Illusions of 1904
The Mischievous Whiskers (aka Untamable Whiskers; Le Roi du maquillage, 1904) and Tchin-Chao, The Chinese Conjurer (Le Thaumaturge chinois, 1904)
La Fantasie de MÃ©liÃ¨s (aka The Fantasies of Melies)
Extraordinary Illusions (Illusions funambulesques, 1903), The Enchanted Well (aka The Magic Well; Le Puits fantastique, 1903), and The Apparition (Le Revenant, 1903)
The Imaginative George Melies
Bob Kick, the Mischievous Kid (Bob Kick, l’enfant terrible, 1903), The Oracle of Delhi (L’Oracle de Delphes, 1903), The Drawing Lesson (aka The Living Statue; La Statue animÃ©e, 1903)
The Magic of Melies
Jupiter’s Thunderbolts (Le Tonnerre de Jupiter, 1903), The Mermaid (La SirÃ¨ne, 1904) and The Magic Lantern (La Lanterne magique, 1903)
Melies at the Opera and Elsewhere
Faust and Marguerite (Damnation du docteur Faust, 1904), A Moonlight Serenade (aka The Miser Punished; Au clair de la Lune ou Pierrot Malheureux, 1904), The Apparition (Le Revenant, 1903)
Ten Ladies in an Umbrella (La Parapluie fantastique, 1903), Tit for Tat (aka a Good Joke With My Head; Un PretÃ© pour un Rendu, 1903), The Wizard Alcofrisbas (aka Alcofrisbas, The Master Magician; L’Enchanteur Alcofrisbas, 1903).
Melies’ Tales of Terror
The Melomaniac (Le MÃ©lomane, 1903), The Monster (Le Monstre, 1903), The Terrible Turkish Executioner (Le Bourreau Turc, 1904)
Mysterious Marvels of Melies
The Mad Musician (aka The Melomaniac; Le MÃ©lomane, 1903), The Terrible Turkish Executioner (Le Bourreau Turc, 1904), The Magic Well (aka The Enchanted Well; Le Puits fantastique, 1903), and The Wizard Alcofrisbas (aka Alcofrisbas, The Master Magician; L’Enchanteur Alcofrisbas, 1903).
The Mystical Magic of Melies
Jack and Jim (Jack et Jim, 1903), Jack Jaggs and Dum Dum (Tom Tight et Dum Dum, 1903), and The Mystical Flame (La Flamme merveilleuse, 1903)
The Supernatural of Melies
The Infernal Caldron (Le Chaudron infernal, 1903) and The Damnation of Faust (Faust aux enfers, 1903)
The Surrealism of Melies
The Ballet Master’s Dream (Le RÃªve du maÃ®tre de ballet, 1903) and The Fairy Kingdom (aka The Kingdom of the Fairies; Le Royaume des fÃ©es, 1903). The latter is probably a truncated version.
Transformations by Melies
The Clockmaker’s Dream (Le RÃªve de l’horloger, 1904), The Cook in Trouble (Sorcellerie culinaire, 1904), A Spiritualist Photographer (Le Portrait spirite, 1903)