7.6/10
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Four Heads Are Better Than One (1898)

Un homme de têtes (original title)
Much to our amazement, an elegant and masterful illusionist detaches his own head effortlessly from his shoulders for a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

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One of the greatest of black art pictures. The conjurer appears before the audience, with his head in its proper place. He then removes his head, and throwing it in the air, it appears on the table opposite another head, and both detached heads sing in unison. The conjurer then removes it a third time. You then see all three of his heads, which are exact duplicates, upon the table at one time, while the conjurer again stands before the audience with his head perfectly intact, singing in unison with the three heads upon the table. He closes the picture by bowing himself from the stage. Written by Edison Catalog

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Short | Comedy

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28 November 2009 (Portugal)  »

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Four Heads Are Better Than One  »

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Wonderful!

In December of 1895, the Lumière brothers began the first series of screenings of their "moving pictures" starting with this the history of cinema as a form of entertainment. Among those first impressed by the magic of motion pictures was a man who differed from the Lumière's idea of using cinema only for scientific purposes, the stage magician Georges Méliès. Story says that the very day he watched a movie for the first time, Méliès bought a Lumière cinematographer to do his own movies as he discovered the potential of movies as an art form. Like all the early pioneers, Méliès started with short documentaries, but quickly he put in practice his idea of using the invention to tell stories. His continuous experimentation took him in 1896 to the discovery of many special effects where he was finally able to "transform reality" in his movies. The amazing "Cinemagician" had arrived and with him, cinema as a narrative art had been born.

1898's "Un Homme De Têtes" (Literally "A man of heads", but better known as "The Four Troublesome Heads") is one of the earliest surviving films done by Méliès, and while not as well known as his posterior work, it already shows the amazing talent that the magician had as a creator of special effects. As many of his earliest movies, "Un Homme De Têtes" is basically a short movie where he shows a magical trick impossible to achieve in real life. In this case, a magician (Méliès himself) appears on stage, and removes his own head with magic, putting it in a table next to him. Suddenly, another head appears over his shoulders and the head on the table begins to sing. The magician repeats the trick until he has three heads on a table besides his own, and now he has four singing heads to perform a song.

Barely with little less of a minute of duration, "Un Homme De Têtes" is a wonderful display of Méliès' talent with special effects, as with a mixture of prosthetics, dissolves and multiple exposures he achieves a very lively representation of his magic. While for today's technologies this little trick is pretty easy to achieve, it is a remarkable achievement for early film-making, as the "gimmick" surprisingly looks very real and still is very effective despite being over 100 years old. The way Méliès conceived the trick is also worthy of praise, as the movie feels very fluid and the necessary cuts for the trick are done very smoothly. As with most "gimmick films", there is no plot other than a magician performing his act as if it was a theater presentation, however, Méliès makes a very charming performance as the magician that adds a lot to the movie's atmosphere of being in a circus.

French director Georges Méliès is definitely better remembered for his early fantasy films like his version of "Cinderella" ("Cendrillon") or his famous "A Trip to the Moon" ("Le Voyage Dans la lune"), movies where not only he showed wonderful special effects, but also a brilliant narrative skill and a vision for set designs. However, it was with films like "Un Homme De Têtes" where everything started, and when one compares Méliès' early work with the early films of other pioneers, one can see who was truly the superior filmmaker at the time. Definitely one of the early masters of cinema, Georges Méliès' work is one of clever tricks, enormous imagination and true magic, as he was probably the first person who knew that cinema was the factory of dreams. After all, he was not called the "Cinemagician" for nothing. 7/10


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