Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL

Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL
Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL

10 April 2012

Méliès Redux

Georges Méliès
I had the great good fortune to see the newly restored, full-color print of A Trip to the Moon (1902) tonight, along with Le Voyage Extraordinaire (2011), a documentary that looks at both the film career of Georges Méliès and the recent restoration of his best known film. My earlier post on Hugo talks at some length about Méliès and the remarkable discovery of an existing (though badly deteriorated) color print of A Trip to the Moon found in an archive in Spain. When i wrote that post, i never expected to see the film itself (although i hoped that eventually a DVD might be released), so when i learned that it would be playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago this week, i nearly needed to be sedated. I have seen A Trip to the Moon at least a dozen times and never tire of it. I love the playfulness of it: the chorus line of sexy female Marines in their short shorts and sailor hats, the magic tricks that make the acrobatic Selenites (moon creatures) disappear in a puff of smoke, the iconic image of the rocket poking the man in the moon right in the eye; i even wryly roll my eyes and forgive its undercurrent of colonialist aggression against those poor moon critters. But what i didn't realize until tonight was that i had never actually seen a good, clear print of it projected on the large screen. It was so beautiful and so full of the most minute and charming details that i had never noticed before! There is no narration with this restoration, which instead has a surprisingly effective electronic soundtrack from the French band Air.

The accompanying documentary was also a revelation, containing clips from several of Méliès' other films, a fascinating account of the hand coloring process, and a close look at the tremendous and potentially disastrous job of restoring a canister of volatile, 100 year old celluloid. The documentary also includes interviews with leading directors like Costa-Gavras (Z), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie), Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), who all speak of Méliès' contributions to film with great admiration and affection. The restoration of A Trip to the Moon was clearly a labor of love, and what could be more appropriate? For if there is one thing i feel comfortable in speculating about Georges Méliès, it is that he must have completely and utterly loved making movies. The sheer joy that he displayed in bringing his magic to the brand new medium of film is testament to that, as is, sadly, the symbolic equivalent of self-immolation he performed when his career began to crash down around him, throwing all his films and all his props onto a bonfire. You can only be hurt that badly by a very great love indeed. 

If you are in Chicago, A Trip to the Moon and Le Voyage Extraordinaire are playing Gene Siskel Film Center until Thursday.

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