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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is actually a very elaborate fiction film for 1898. Made by
Georges Méliès, it lasts over three minutes, when most films during the
period lasted about a minute or less. Early cinema historian Frank Gray
refers to this film as having consisted of three shots and 60 meters
length. Yet, I can't precisely distinguish or separate shots or scenes
in it, as the entire film takes place from a fixed framing and
long-shot perspective. One could go to either extreme: saying that this
is a single shot-scene film since its perspective is stationary, or you
could say it consists of dozens of shots, including the trick splices
for appearances, disappearances, substitutions and stop-motion
animation, which is to say this film is a series of jump cuts.
"The Astronomer's Dream", however, does contain a three-part structure, I'd say. The bookend parts are of the astronomer safe within his laboratory, with the longer, middle part being the nightmare. There are also at least three slightly different decors used: the outer one with the telescope and the entire laboratory, a tighter, less furnished, yet similar one for closer views of the moon during the dream, and, briefly, a wall. Moreover, as indicated by this film having three entries in the Star catalogue, it was available to exhibitors in three parts, which was common then, as films were generally sold in 20-meter lengths. Regardless, this is a sophisticated narrative and production for its time.
The following year, Méliès would produce his first féerie film (fairy film), "Cinderella", which consists of at least four distinct scenes transitioned by dissolves. "Cinderella", albeit, is in the tableau, theatrical style of stationary shot-scenes, but it does distinguish spatially separate scenes for a more advanced narrative construction. One fiction film in 1898, Robert W. Paul's "Come Along Do!" also contained two spatially separate scenes with action continuing across them. "The Astronomer's Dream", however, was Méliès's then most elaborate and sophisticated dream or trick film, although it does contain a fairy godmother type in the goddess Phoebe, who protects the astronomer from attacks by demons, the moon and the rest of the nightmare. It's purely part of what Tom Gunning has referred to as "the cinema of attractions"; the attraction here being the magic or tricks accomplished mostly through substitution splices (a.k.a. stop substitutions), as well as theatrical props and transitions and a brief chalkboard animation within the scene. Today, these trick films hold up well and remain at least amusing because of Méliès's wacky and imaginative humor; their primitiveness is even part of their charm.
I can't believe that no one else has commented on this yet. This amazing
film was one of the first "story" films, with sets like a play. It is a
wonderment and leaves so much inspiration for the imagination. It is not in
popular circulation, but perhaps it should be. If you can get a chance to
watch this one do at all costs. If you can't find it then just think of the
Tonight Tonight video by the Smashing Pumpkins. It's about the same except
they are separated by about one-hundred years and by a whole barrage of
special effects. All in all they are both wonderful and interesting to look
Astronomer's Dream, The (1898)
*** (out of 4)
aka La Lune a un metre
An astronomer is in his office working when the devil and a woman appear to him and this sets off a strange dream, which includes the moon attacking him. This is another enjoyable film from Meiles as we get to see various magic tricks including the familiar gags of the astronomer going to sit down only to have the chair disappear. What really stands out in this film is the attack by the moon, which is perfectly done and leads to several laughs. I love Melies' design of the moon making it something to fear with its evil eyes and mouth. The special effects are quite nice throughout. This is certainly a good place for newbies to start.
This is another very early (19th century still!!) and simply
MAGNIFICENT example of Georges Melies' magic: a queer 'science fiction'
story (certainly one of the first EVER) about a scientist (played by
Melies himself) who is hooked on his researches about the moon - which
seems to take its revenge: first it comes alive on the drawing board,
and when he looks at it through its telescope, it comes REALLY close to
him, literally only 'a meter away', as the title says; and starts
eating up everything in reach...
Here we have the great pleasure to enjoy more of the magician's cinematographic tricks he knew so perfectly well: people and things vanishing and reappearing, the drawn settings seemingly coming alive... THOSE are the 'little' shorts (with a running time of only about 3 minutes then) which led to today's movies with their special computer effects and almost unbelievable scenes - something that EVERY film fan should see in order to get to know the ORIGINS OF TODAY'S CINEMA!
Maybe the first example of science fiction and fantasy in a narrative
form from the pioneer of early cinema Georges Melies as he plays an
astronomer studying in an observatory when a devil figure appears then
a woman who sends the devil away.
The astronomer draws a globe on a blackboard which starts to move, when he looks through the telescope the moon appears with a large face like the face later used in Thomas the Tank Engine cartoons and it eats the astronomer's telescope.
Then small men come through the mouth of the moon and then it goes back in the sky and then the moon becomes a crescent when another figure in the shape of a lady appears.
This is just part of the content in a short film just over three minutes long that has set design, characters in costumes, special effects and use of editing as well as surreal imagery. The editing is jumpy but again it is Melies that was showing the early promise of cinematic illusion.
[ here, seems as appropriate a place as any to leave this--] Although Griffith is the great father of all cinema, to me, Méliès is the progenitor of probably the single most important lineage within the medium, which includes the films of-- among so many others-- Vertov, Buñuel, German Expressionism, Tarkovsky, Bergman, et al., and in the U.S., films like "Taxi Driver" (1976), "Spring Breakers" (2013), and [ especially] "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), etc., etc. A heritage of dreams and dreamishness, beginning with Méliès' notion of cinema as the representation of dreams. n.b. "A Trip to the Moon" [ originally-- "La lune à un mètre"] is the 1898 short film, not to be confused with "A Trip to the Moon" [ "Le voyage dans la lune"] from 1902.
This ancient Georges Méliès film is one of the most elaborate of its
day. Unlike most films from the time it actually tells a story. It's
primitive and simplistic of course but for the 19th century this is
complex cinema. Nevertheless, it's the execution more than the
narrative that makes it interesting. The story is basically about a
nightmare experienced by an astronomer. In it the moon advances up
close and terrorises him.
For such an old film it's extremely ambitious. Méliès uses his famed visual trickery in many ways here but perhaps the most memorable aspect about this one isn't a special effect, it's the huge moon man. This large giant orb is a precursor to the famous one in A Trip to the Moon a few years later. In this one he is a source of menace but he is quite comic looking nevertheless. A memorable creation for sure and one of the first iconic moments in the early years of cinema.
George Méliès makes my mind melt and my jaw drop again! This short film is actually better than the last! It has the extremely cool illusions of people appearing and disappearing out of thin air (still do not know how that was accomplished), but this one steps it up a notch. There's this really creepy moon that eats the furniture that moves on its own and it looks awesome. The guy who is playing the astronomer did a great job. His performance made me laugh. The biggest improvement though is the addition of music. Just simply adding music helps, but it's even better when the music fits perfectly and adds another level of enjoyment to something, which is the case here. This makes me way more eager to check out more of George Méliès work, and I think I can safely say I won't be disappointed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Of course I'm talking about his uncommonly long short film "Trip to the Moon". The animated moon looks exactly the same here and the astronomer reminds the viewer as well of the ones building the rocket to set foot on the moon. The video quality is rather low early on, even for 1898, but quickly gets better. It's packed with fantasy references, occasionally even almost a horror film and it's surely lots of action happening for its only three minutes running time.The moon swallowing and spitting all kinds of things and children is quite a horror fantasy. I'd have panicked and run out as soon as I could if I'd run into that. Or maybe not with those stunning women the moon transforms into near the end. Certainly an interesting watch, maybe together with "Le voyage dans la lune" from 4 years later and it offers even some approaches it does not in that one like the constant switching of shapes and sizes while the 1902 film was really more of a scientific sci-fi movie.
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