Georges Méliès, First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913)

It took me five months to finish this five-disc extravaganza. (Admittedly two and a half months of that were spent on an unexpected and extended hospital stay, but even so.) This is nothing if not an exhaustive and exhausting trip through the earliest days of cinema in the form of no less than 173 short films (ranging from one to thirty minutes in length) by legendary french cinema pioneer Georges Méliès. This is pretty much all of his extant work, much of which (he made well over 500 films) was destroyed (some of it by Méliès himself) by the 1920s.

As I said, this is exhausting stuff; when you watch some of those very short early works, it’s amazing to consider just how much activity could be squeezed into just one minute. But, as the essay in the booklet notes, Méliès’ place at the birth of an art form was matched by his position at the end of a certain theatrical tradition, and a lot of his magic trick films were made to accompany his stage performances, presenting stunts on film that were impossible to otherwise pull off. This makes the experience of the box set wearing if you watch too much in one go; even the way I did it, i.e. one disc a week (albeit I watched the first disc in April and the second one in May, then went back to it weekly after getting home from hospital), was probably too much at once.

Given this, the casual explorer is probably better off with a sampler like Kino’s Magic of Méliès. Then again, I don’t really consider myself a casual explorer in this field so I’m delighted to know this thing exists, restoring films that haven’t been seen in decades (including the long-lost ending of A Trip to the Moon that went missing for nearly a century). Outstanding stuff on many levels.

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