For a film to stand the test of time, it has to be special. It has to stir emotions, mesmerize and bring joy to whoever watches it. Seventeen silent films made between 1898 and 1908, and ranging in length from just over a minute to a quarter of an hour, were screened at Cine-Concert George Méliès, and each one of them has kept its magic. Part of the National Museum of Singapore Cinematheque World Cinema Series, the VOILAH! French Festival Singapore 2011 and in conjunction with Dreams & Reality: Masterpieces of Painting, Drawing and Photography from Musée d’Orsay, Paris, the Cine-Concert has been touring the world in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Méliès’ birth.
Born into a Parisian family who made footwear, Georges Méliès was expected to take over the family business when he developed a love for the arts. It was theater and magic at first, and when he picked up a Lumière Brothers’ cinematograph in 1895, the world would change forever. Cinema didn’t exist then. Moving pictures of the time were limited to seemingly insignificant everyday occurrences like a man sneezing or a train arriving at a station. Méliès was a pioneer in every sense of the word, crafting stories and discovering filmmaking techniques as he went along.
In films like The Conjuror (1899), The Brahmin and the Butterfly (1901) and The Living Playing Cards (1905), we see Méliès earn his title of Cinemagician, performing illusions with the help of camera tricks. In The Black Imp (1905) and The Man with the Rubber Head (1902) we see this trickery form the basis of what we call special effects today. In Blue Beard (1901), A Trip to the Moon (1902) and the marvelously hand-colored Kingdom of the Fairies (1903) we see the birth of the narrative film. It was a time when cinema and theatre were one; a time when films were works of art.
In keeping with the way they were originally screened, the films were accompanied with music and narration in French.Since Méliès had a hand in every aspect of the production process as a writer, director, set designer and star, it’s fitting that the words and melodies were provided by his descendents, great-great grandson (and renowned pianist) Lawrence Lehérissey and great granddaughter Marie-Hélène Lehérissey. Local personality and Francophile Hossan Leong provided English narration, adding a Singaporean flavor to proceedings.
It was a night to remember for film lovers, one which showed that Méliès’ films still have the power to captivate after a century. There’s no doubt that they will continue to do so for many more to come.
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