Flicker Alley has just released Georges MÃ©liÃ¨s: 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 MÃ©liÃ¨s’ 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 MÃ©liÃ¨s, starring AndrÃ© MÃ©liÃ¨s 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