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"The Voyage of the Bourrichon Family" was pioneer cinema magician Georges Méliès's last film. His final films were made under contract for his former rival Pathé. These were relatively lavish productions by the standards of the filmmaker and the 1910s, despite the staginess typical from Méliès. According to historian John Frazer, however, this last film was never even released.
In the film, the Bourrichon family tries to evade their creditors, but they are chased down by the creditors everywhere they go in comically and acrobatically exaggerated fashion. The humor is very broad and of the knockabout variety, but it can be somewhat entertaining. I liked the bit involving the man falling down the well, and the acrobatics are amusingly absurd.
The print available from the Flicker Alley DVD set, however, is damaged in a way that I've never seen before. Now, like everyone who has seen many old nitrate films in various states, I've seen mottling, bleeding and scratched-up prints before and one's that are contrasty, bleached, deteriorated or where the alignment is screwy, there's flickering, or the image is otherwise partly cut off. In this print, however, it looks like some black thing is constantly waving across a large part of the right side of the frame. This continues for a few minutes and goes away during the sixth scene in what is a 13-tableaux and 15-minutes short film. There's also an icon in the lower right-hand corner of the frame. This really ruins the screening experience for the first part of the film, but past that, it's pleasant viewing.
The art and industry that had now passed him by owed plenty to Méliès. His contributions are numerous and include constructing the first real movie studio, with a glass ceiling aligned by cotton for diffused natural lighting; the earliest constructed movie sets and stage-designed depth; some of the earliest multi-scene story films; introducing genres such as fantasy, science fiction and dream films to cinema; using substitution splicing and superimpositions on both black and white backgrounds for trick effects; using superimpositions to enlarge and shrink images within a scene and to create superimposed close-ups; the use of dissolves and lens focus; early animation of a few frames; breaking down the fourth wall via magic presentation; continuity of character movements laterally across scenes; the use of many theatrical techniques and more.
(Edit: Josh Morrison, from Flicker Alley, has responded to my inquiry concerning the print damage. His helpful response: "What you're seeing on 'The Voyage of the Bourrichon Family' is a defect of the original film element; it is not a defect of our publication. The black shutter effect is evidence of nitrate cellulose deterioration on the original film element. Please bear in mind that the materials on the set were pulled from archival sources all over the world, and in many cases, what you're seeing is the best surviving or the only surviving extant material of these films. Depending on the storage condition, nitrate film has different deterioration packs, and in this case, it is clearly worse than others.)
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