Georges Jean Méliès was born in Paris in 1861
and from a very early age he showed a particular interest
in the arts which led, as a boy, to a place at the Ecole des
Beaux Arts in Paris where Méliès showed particular
interest in stage design and puppetry.
In 1884, Méliès continued his
studies abroad, in London at the request of his parents -
they insisted he learn English after which they intended him
to work at his fatherís footwear business. While in London,
he developed a keen interest in stage conjury after witnessing
the work of Maskelyne and Cooke.
On his return to Paris he worked at his fatherís
factory and took over as manager when his father retired.
His position meant that he was able to raise enough money
to buy the famous Theatre Robert Houdin when it was put up
for sale in 1888.
From that point on Méliès worked
full time as a theatrical showman whose performances revolved
around magic and illusionist techniques which he studied while
in London as well as working on his own tricks.
When the Lumière brothers unveiled their Cinématographe
to the public on December 28 1895 Méliès was
a member of the audience. What he witnessed clearly had a
profound effect upon him. After the show he approached the
Lumière Brothers with a view to buying their machine - they
turned him down.
Determined to investigate moving pictures, Méliès
sought out Robert Paul in London and viewed his camera - projector
building his own, soon afterwards. He was able to present
his first film screening on April 4th 1896.
Méliès began by screening other
peoples films - mainly those made for the Kinetoscope but
within months he was making and showing his own work, his
first films being one reel, one shot views lasting about a
Mélièsí principle contribution
to cinema was the combination of traditional theatrical elements
to motion pictures - he sought to present spectacles of a
kind not possible in live theatre.
In the Autumn of 1896, an event occurred which
has since passed into film folklore and changed the way Méliès
looked at filmmaking. Whilst filming a simple street scene,
Méliès camera jammed and it took him a few seconds
to rectify the problem. Thinking no more about the incident,
Méliès processed the film and was struck by
the effect such a incident had on the scene - objects suddenly
appeared, disappeared or were transformed into other objects.
Méliès discovered from this incident
that cinema had the capacity for manipulating and distorting
time and space. He expanded upon his initial ideas and devised
some complex special effects.
He pioneered the first double exposure (La caverne
Maudite, 1898), the first split screen with performers acting
opposite themselves (Un Homme de tete, 1898), and the first
dissolve (Cendrillon, 1899).
Méliès tackled a wide range of
subjects as well as the fantasy films usually associated with
him, including advertising films and serious dramas. He was
also one of the first filmmakers to present nudity on screen
with ďApres le BalĒ.
Faced with a shrinking market once the novelty
of his films began to wear off, Méliès abandoned
film production in 1912. In 1915 he was forced to turn his
innovative studio into a Variety Theatre and resumed his pre-film
career as a Showman.
In 1923 he was declared bankrupt and his beloved
Theatre Robert Houdin was demolished. Méliès
almost disappeared into obscurity until the late 1920ís when
his substantial contribution to cinema was recognised by the
French and he was presented with the Legion of Honour and
given a rent free apartment where he spent the remaining years
of his life.
Georges Méliès died in 1938 after
making over five hundred films in total - financing, directing,
photographing and starring in nearly every one.