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The Living Playing Cards (1904)

Les cartes vivantes (original title)
| Comedy, Short, Fantasy
A bearded magician holds up a large playing card and makes it larger. He tears up a card of a queen, burns the torn bits, and a life-size Queen of Hearts card appears; then, it becomes ... See full summary »

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A bearded magician holds up a large playing card and makes it larger. He tears up a card of a queen, burns the torn bits, and a life-size Queen of Hearts card appears; then, it becomes alive. The magician puts her back into the card. The same thing happens with the King of Clubs: the card becomes alive. The king removes his costume, and there's something very familiar about him. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Comedy | Short | Fantasy

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A powerful display of special effects
6 September 2007 | by (Mexico) – See all my reviews

Few persons have meant as much to the history of cinema as Georges Méliès, the now legendary French stage magician that revolutionized film-making with his enormous narrative creativity and his many discoveries and inventions in the field of special effects. As a member of the first audience that experienced the Lumières' first screening, Méliès discovered cinema and immediately realized the enormous potential it had as a narrative art. During the following 15 years, Méliès would become one of the most important producers of movies, and he went from making amusing "gimmick movies" (films about Méliès making an impossible magic trick) to creating some of the most amazing stories of those years, using his skills to enter the genres of horror, fantasy and science fiction. By the year of 1902, Méliès was focusing more on his major projects than on "gimmick movies", but he still made several ones to test some new tricks. 1904's "Les Cartes Vivantes" was one of those shorts.

As usual in his "gimmick films", "Les Cartes Vivantes" (literally, "The Living Playing Cards") is about a Magician (Méliès) performing an amazing magic trick. This time, the trick involves a simple deck of playing cards, and a large cardboard that resembles a blank card. The trick begins with the Magician making one card grow bigger, to the size of a book. Then, by simply throwing the card towards the cardboard, it becomes an enormous version of the card the Magician threw. As if that wasn't enough, the Magician transforms the giant card (a 9 of Spades) into the card of the Queen of Hearts. With that card on the cardboard, the Magician proceeds to to make the image come alive by transforming the drawing into a real life Queen of Hearts who walks out of the card. To finish the trick, he returns the Queen to the card and decides to transform the card into the King of Clubs; but the trick may be really on him.

As written above, for Méliès this kind of short films were more than a way of having a fresh and original catalog of movies in his theater, they were a chance to test new or improved tricks and special effects he could later use in his major projects. "The Living Playing Cards" is a prime example of this, as it is composed of many of the tricks that Méliès had used in many previous occasions (dissolves, multiple exposures and several editing tricks), but the way they look in this movie is considerably better than when Méliès used them for the first time. When one watches the movies Méliès did before 1901, the effects look marvelous but primitive; "The Living Playing Cards" is the direct evolution of his talents, and it's easy to notice that his work of editing has improved considerably since his early years. His use of props and set design to build up an atmosphere has also improved, and he captures perfectly what his real performances as a magician would had been.

Honestly, there's nothing really remarkable in "Les Cartes Vivantes" besides its amazing display of special effects, but like every Méliès film, it has a special magic that makes difficult not to enjoy them. Méliès had an enormous charm as a performer, and despite the shortcomings of the technology of his time, he really knew how to use cinema's potential to entertain his audience the best he could. While in the end, "The Living Playing Cards" may not be anything more than a "gimmick trick", one has to remember that in 1904, the legendary Méliès was preparing his most ambitious project to date: that often forgotten masterpiece named "Le Voyage à Travers l'impossible", better known in English as "The Voyage Through the Impossible". 8/10


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