Film History part I
written by J.A.Bohr
continued from Page One
The sixth scene shows us travelling to the moon. As the moon approaches, a comical face appears on the surface. The end of this scene shows the ship flying into the eye of the moon. This is one of the most widely recognised images from this film. Because Melies did not move his camera during shooting, the "zoom in" of the moon is achieved by bringing the moon into the camera.
In the seventh scene we arrive on the moon as the explorers walk around the front of the set. As the men lie down to rest we see the Earth rise, land scenery drop, a comet pass, and then seven stars appear overhead (with female faces which seem annoyed at the men). They fade into a girl on a crescent moon with Saturn (with a male face) on the right and two girls holding a star on the left. As if judging the "trespassers", snow (or ash) falls onto the explorers. They rise, looking for shelter, and descend into a crater. Melies uses superimposition throughout this scene (although the effect feels flat to the viewer).
We find ourselves underground in a cavern full of large mushrooms. One of the explorers opens an umbrella which turns into a mushroom. From the right side of the screen, a native of the moon approaches the explorers. They are afraid of this native and strike at him. He "explodes" in a puff of white smoke (through the use of another jump cut in editing). Another native suffers the same fate. The angered natives surround the explorers in mass, and lead them to their king.
In the ninth scene we find ourselves in the throne room of the moon natives. The President leaps out of his captures' arms, and strikes out at the king, reducing him to smoke. The natives give chase to the explorers, as we move through scene ten, the surface of the moon. The eleventh scene shows the explorers reaching their ship, boarding (all but the President), and falling off the edge of the moon back to Earth (pulled by the President). As the ship falls downward through the clouds, we see a native clinging to the back of the ship as the President holds onto the front.
The last three scenes we see the ship fall into the ocean (superimposed over a scene of real water), sinking to the bottom, and floating back to the surface where it is picked up by a boat (which looks artificial, like the space ship). Some of the literature on this film states the explorers were treated like heroes back on Earth, although my print doesn't show this very strongly (it is possible this copy is missing scenes).
Many consider Melies a genius of early cinema, calling him "the Father of Trick and Fantasy Film."5 This film is an excellent example of many of the techniques he attempted to master. Trip to the Moon contains no intertitles, which even though we are left rather uncertain as to why man could not try to communicate with the natives of the moon, the narrative does come across as international in interpretation.
Due to Melies playful nature in production, it is hard to believe he intended us to view man as violent as this film shows. But from the first scene where the society physically oppresses the opposition, to the scenes on the moon where the natives are viciously killed, a theme of "where man leads, violence follows" does not seem unjustified.
Regardless of the "subliminal themes" one may see in the narrative, it is the Formal Elements of Melies work which excited the audiences and influenced rival film companies. Pathe Freres, a French film company founded by Charles Pathe which began its business imitating the work of the Lumiere Brothers, hired "Spanish-born Segundo de Chomon (1871-1929), another great trick film wizard,...to compete with Melies."6
Le scarabee d'or (1907)
Le scarabee d'or or The Golden Beetle is an excellent example of the type of "colored" film work that Pathe is known for. "Pathe was a rapidly growing company committed to gaining a technical mastery of all phases of production that peaked towards 1908 - the industrialization of the stencil coloring technique..."7 The Golden Beetle is a 2:40 minute, one set film. Shot with a fixed camera centred at audience distance, this work is reminiscent of Melies in style. But unlike the Melies, the mood feels darker, more mythological and less comedic.
continued on Page Three