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Haggard's She: The Pillar of Fire (1899)

La colonne de feu (original title)
A devil conjures up a dancing woman from a mystical flame.

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A devil wearing bat-like wings and brandishing a trident dances around a giant pot, conjuring forth flame from his trident to lit a fire beneath the pot. After the devil works the fire with bellows, an angelic woman emerges from the pot. The devil and the pot vanish as the woman performs a dance, waving about her diaphanous sleeves until she conjures forth another fire, then she rises amongst the smoke into the air. Written by Anonymous

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Méliès Revisits the Serpentine Dance
15 September 2009 | by See all my reviews

This brief shot-scene film by early cinema pioneer Georges Méliès doesn't really have anything to do with Haggard's "She", an association made probably just because they both feature the pillar of fire. To me, however, it does build upon a cinematic tradition, taken from the stage, of serpentine dances and the early film genre of dance films in general. Löie Fuller invented the Serpentine Dance on stage. Her skirt waving was accompanied by color transformations created by the lighting effects reflecting upon the fabric. For film, beginning at the Edison Company, hand-coloring the negatives became the substitute for this lighting effect, as seen in the Annabelle dance films. Thereafter, nearly every studio and filmmaker in the early days had made a serpentine dance, probably including a straightforward one or more by Méliès.

Méliès adds to this staple of early cinema his common device of a devil to be the director's surrogate as on-screen magician. Out of a cauldron, he conjures a woman who begins performing the serpentine dance. Her dance then becomes the fluttering and flaming of the pillar of fire. Fortunately, the print available today is wonderfully hand-colored, adding to the comparably beautiful colored serpentine dances made by the Edison and Lumiére companies, as well as some others. What this one also has is quite a bit of leg shown by the dancer for early cinema standards, as she lifts her dress up. It also has the typical magic effects of Méliès, and he thankfully doesn't overdo it with too many trick effects. This is how you would hope Méliès would've approached the dance, and he did—a sublime synthesis of two early cinematic directions.

(See "Annabelle Serpentine Dance" (1895) and "Danse serpentine" (1897/II) for comparison.)


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