Comprehensive Melies Box Set Released

Cover of Flicker Alley's 'Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema' box set.Flicker Alley has just released Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913), a monumental five DVD box set that gathers 173 of the puckish master’s 500-plus films, from his very first to his very last — dang near every one known to survive today. In all, more than 13 hours of beautiful pioneering cinema.

Needless to say, I consider this a must-have for all cinephiles, and especially for sci-fi and fantasy fans; every bit as important as the massive Edison box set released a couple years ago. I recommend ordering directly from Flicker Alley (scroll down for the commerce buttons) — shipping is included in the price, there’s no sales tax, and the money will go directly to the folks responsible with no cut plucked by a middleman. (And anyway, Amazon isn’t offering its customary discount.)

By the way: we at The Sprocket Society are presenting an upcoming screening of Melies’ greatest epics with film prints accompanied by unconventional musical selections, and even the original live narration for one of the films. Georges Melies: Impossible Voyager shows on Thurs. May 15 at 8 PM at the Northwest Film Forum. (The screening is not affiliated with Flicker Alley, and the timing is purely coincidental, albeit fortuitous — I’d heard this set was in the works but had no idea when it would be released.)

Producing the set are Eric Lange of Lobster Films in France and David Shepard of Film Preservation Associates (FPA). You could not have asked for better stewards of such a project: FPA owns the old Blackhawk Films catalog, which released many Melies films to the pre-VHS home film market on Super 8 and 16mm. It’s pretty much thanks to Blackhawk that you and I have been able to see any of this stuff for the last 30 or 40 years. And Lobster is justly lauded for their preservation work in general, and is more’s to the point is responsible for the recovery in recent years not only of hitherto lost Melies films, but treasures such as elongated and long-lost hand-colored prints of well-known classics like A Trip to the Moon and Conquest of the Pole.

The collection was compiled from archives in eight countries (among them the Academy Archives, the British Film Institute, and various private collections) and includes many spectacular new restorations, some reportedly newly pieced together from fragmentary prints for this project. The set includes examples not only of Méliès’ countless trick films and fantasy spectaculars, but also his actualities, recreations of historic events (foreshadowing future newsreels), and even some of his erotic films (or at least erotic for the time). Also included, since it’s pretty much required of such a thing, is Georges Franju’s loving 1953 tribute, Le Grand Méliès, starring André Méliès as his father. A booklet is also included, with writings by the great animator Norman McLaren and scholar John Frazer, author of the excellent (and best) Melies study, Artificially Arranged Scenes (1979) — which is sadly long out of print and, worse, rare as hen’s teeth.

An especially wonderful aspect of this set is the fact that thirteen of the films are presented with English renditions of Melies’ original narrations, which he usually performed personally. (This is particularly welcome for some films which otherwise make little or no sense, such as The Good Sheperdess And The Evil Princess from 1908.) These narrative texts have been the Grail for Melies fans and scholars — their inclusion here is a major contribution to cinema history in itself.

Here in Seattle, Scarecrow Video already has a copy for rent (though you’ll have to wait until I return it in a few days). Today, I’m a kid in a candy store and my dream has come true. “Thanks, Santa!! Now about that lottery thing I keep mentioning…”

Some Early Reviews

The Brothers Unconnected: Sun City Girls Tribute/Memorial Tour in May and June, 2008

Sun City Girls promo photo from the '80s. (Credit: Soda)

Beginning in May 2008 the surviving members of Sun City Girls, Alan and Richard Bishop, are embarking on a tour of the US and Canada called “The Brothers Unconnected: A tribute to the Sun City Girls and Charles Gocher.”

The tour begins in Seattle on Sunday, May 18 at The Triple Door. (Tickets are available online.)

As followers of the legendary band know, drummer Charles Gocher died of cancer in February 2007. A private memorial was held shortly after. With this tour, Alan and Rick make good on their solemn vow to publicly honor Charlie, his memory, and his immense talent.

Most dates will feature an opening 40 minute film of Charles Gocher’s video works, which are equal parts demented, brilliant, hilarious, and inventive. This will be followed by two acoustic sets of Alan and Rick playing selected songs from the impossibly voluminous catalog of Sun City Girls material created during their 27 year history together.

Listed below are the dates announced as I write this, and more will be announced as they are confirmed. For the very latest information please consult the official Sun City Girls web site.

Whatever you do don’t miss it, and while you’re there have a shot of cheap scotch for Charlie.

5.18.08 – Seattle, WA – Triple Door
5.19.08 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir
5.21.08 – San Francsico, CA – Slim’s
5.23.08 – Phoenix, AZ – Modified
5.25.08 – Los Angeles , CA – Echoplex
5.27.08 – Sacramento, CA – TBA
6.14.08 – Chicago, IL – Lakeshore Theater
6.15.08 – Louisville, KY – TBA
6.18.08 – Montreal, QC – La Sala Rosa
6.19.08 – Cambridge, MA – The Brattle Theater
6.20.08 – Portland, ME – SPACE
6.21.08 – Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda’s
6.22.08 – New York , NY – Knitting Factory
6.24.08 – Pittsburgh, PA – Andy Warhol Gallery
6.25.08 – Washington, D.C. – Black Cat
6.26.08 – Asheville, NC – Grey Eagle
6.27.08 – Atlanta, GA – TBA

More Dates coming: Austin, Tucson, San Diego and more.

Al “Fingers” Capone

Mugshot of Al CaponeOf all the wonders and horrors of the Al Capone legend, I’ll bet you didn’t know that he once played banjo in a band with Machine Gun Kelly.

In late 1934, convict Capone was transferred from the federal prison in Atlanta to Alcatraz, the toughest prison in the country. As recounted by Gus Russo in his fine book, The Outfit (Bloomsbury, 2001):

After a year of begging, Capone persuaded the warden to allow him twenty minutes a day to form a band with other prisoners. Al had his family send him top of the line banjos, mandolins, and music charts and he succeeded in teaching himself some rudimentary songs. On drums was “Machine Gun” Kelly, while sax chores were handled by kidnapper Harmon Whaley. The ensemble was disbanded after a violent row erupted during a rehearsal.

According to legend, the sound of a ghostly banjo can still sometimes be heard wafting from Capone’s old cell.  If you want, you can visit Alcatraz today and perhaps shake a shank to some spectral hot jazz.