Georges Méliès: Encore—New Discoveries (1896-1911)

So I finally got my hands on the supplemental volume to Flicker Alley’s five-disc Méliès set, which I reviewed oh so long ago… this disc brings together no fewer than 25* shorts made between 1896 and 1911 that have been rediscovered since that big box first came out; I wish the DVD came with some information as to how these ones actually turned up and were identified. It’s a mixed bag of stuff, obviously, as was Méliès’ whole career, of course; we get news re-enactments, comedy, melodrama, and the expected assortment of trick films. Print quality is obviously variable as well; Under the Sea is only just watchable (being an umptieth-generation dupe that’s so contrasty and poorly defined the image borders on the abstract at times), while others look like they almost might have just been struck. And the films vary themselves; I didn’t like The Christmas Angel at all, which was like sub-par proto-Griffith (comedy and trickery were his fortes much more than serious melodrama seems to have been, if this and a few of the films on the big box are indicative), but Robert Macaire and Bertrand was great, a lovely little chase film. Some, like Off to Bloomingdale Asylum, with its literally black and white minstrels, are best described as bizarre. There is a lot of joy to be had here, and it’s delightful to see some of them in colour as well.

Interestingly, though the disc is otherwise without supplements, the Encore set includes a couple of Segundo de Chomon films as well, Magic Roses and Excursion to the Moon, that were apparently misattributed to Méliès for a long time. There’s still controversy in some quarters as to whether or not de Chomon was merely a Méliès copyist with better resources; certainly that was pretty much what Pathé wanted from him. I don’t know for sure, and these two shorts don’t clarify the issue; funnily enough, although Excursion is obviously a direct remake/knock-off of a certain Méliès film, neither of them actually felt like “Méliès” somehow. After watching a hundred-odd minutes of actual Méliès, these two felt very much like someone else’s work. Magic Roses in particular struck me as closer to the Pathé stencil colour films I’ve seen by Gaston Velle from the same period. Curious that they should’ve been mistaken for Méliès.

* 26, according to the packaging, but someone on IMDB notes that the film identified here as The Hallucinated Alchemist from 1897 is actually a shortened coloured print of The Mysterious Retort from 1906. Which struck me as odd, cos I’d have thought Lobster/FA would’ve noticed before releasing this set, but no, a quick comparison revealed this fellow is right. Still, maybe it’s the sort of thing that’s inevitable when dealing with a filmmaker who made so many films; imagine how hard it’d be to keep track of and distinguish them if they’d all survived…


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