On Georges Méliès and movie magic

I’ve been teaching the intro to mass communication survey course at Fresno City College for three years now, and one of my favorite chapters to teach is the one on film. After a section of introductory material and a section on print media, the movie chapter is the first in our textbook’s section on visual media, and my students always respond to it with gusto. (The kids love the multimedia, I always say!) This past semester, I added the Michel Gondry film “Be Kind Rewind” to the class and we had lively debates about imagination, poverty, and the effects of the film industry’s blockbuster mentality.

The movie chapter introduces several key figures in the early development of movies, and I always delight in showing students YouTube clips from Edwin Porter’s “The Great Train Robbery” and D.W. Griffith’s controversial “The Birth of a Nation.” But my favorite clip to show is from “A Trip to the Moon” by Georges Méliès, one of the first masters of special effects in the movies. When my students try to transport themselves back more than a century while watching these clips, to a time when moving pictures were just invented, I often see their own imaginations start to spark.

Thanks to the good people at Fresno Filmworks, I now know much, much more about Méliès and his famous voyage into space. As part of this past spring’s Fresno Film Festival, I had the chance to see the excellent new documentary “The Extraordinary Voyage” along with a brand new, hand-colored, and restored version of “A Trip to the Moon.” The experience of seeing both on the big screen at the Tower Theatre was truly once in a lifetime.

As part of my monthly freelance work for Filmworks, I gleefully compiled the copy for their festival program. Here’s the description I wrote for “A Trip to the Moon” …

Directed by Georges Méliès, the revered French filmmaker and illusionist who pioneered the use of special effects in the world’s earliest movies, the classic silent film “A Trip to the Moon” remains a cinematic landmark. The story depicts the first outer-space adventure in the history of cinema, as six members of the Astronomers’ Club set off on an expedition to the moon, encounter the Selenites and flee their king, and return home to a triumphant parade. The long-lost, hand-painted color version of the film– unseen for more than 100 years until its glorious new restoration– has inspired audiences worldwide. Featuring a newly imagined modern soundtrack by the French band Air.

And here’s the description I wrote for “The Extraordinary Voyage” …

Cinema’s most unforgettable image is perhaps that of the Man in the Moon being poked in the eye by a rocket ship. The documentary “The Extraordinary Voyage” examines the magical work of Georges Méliès, the creator of that image and one of the celebrated heroes of Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning movie “Hugo.” Now, thanks to one of the most technically sophisticated and expensive restorations in film history, “A Trip to the Moon” can thrill audiences anew. The documentary charts the film’s voyage across an entire century, from the fantastical production in 1902 to the astonishing rediscovery of a color print in 1993, to the premiere of the new restoration at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

I capped my spring study of Monsieur Méliès by renting “Hugo” via Redbox. My wife and I watched it together at home, and we were both quite taken by Scorsese’s charming and whimsical filmmaking throughout. While “Hugo” and the novel it’s adapted from take a few historical liberties with the true backstory of Méliès, the film transported me into the past as wondrously as “A Trip to the Moon” itself. “Hugo” truly filled up my heart with the joy and discovery of the movies, and I can’t wait to share that feeling with future students.

2 thoughts on “On Georges Méliès and movie magic

  1. Once again, I am sad I missed the film festival! I did watch Hugo, though, and loved it. Nice writing for the festival program, Jefferson. I always wondered who wrote those!

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Gosia! I’ve been writing the monthly marketing materials for Filmworks since 2007. It’s always a joy and a challenge to pack in as much focused detail as possible to every movie synopsis.

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