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The Cake-Walk Infernal (1903)

Le cake-walk infernal (original title)
Pluto, having seen the earth, comes back home amazed at the success of that well-known dance, the "cake-walk." He has brought back with him two noted well-known dancers, who start their ... See full summary »

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Pluto, having seen the earth, comes back home amazed at the success of that well-known dance, the "cake-walk." He has brought back with him two noted well-known dancers, who start their favorite dance amidst the flames. A queer and ugly being wishes also to join in the dance, but his limbs break away and dance far from him. All the subjects of His Majesty are seized with the irresistible mania for dancing, and start an unbridled provincial dance. At this sight Satan starts out of the earth a large blaze, which annihilates everything around him, disappearing himself through the flames. This view has beautiful new effects and much improves with colors. For the first time in a cinematograph view one can see some of the will-o'-the-wisp wandering among human beings. The effect is magical. Written by Méliès Catalog

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13 June 1903 (USA)  »

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The Cake-Walk Infernal  »

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Does Méliès need a story to entertain?
5 January 2002 | by (Antwerp, Belgium) – See all my reviews

The first cinemaphotographers were merely interested in shooting scenes exactly as they happened, resulting in documentaries (or cinéma vérité) that are mainly kept for their pioneer function in film history. Interesting in so far as they allow us to see how people looked over a century ago, they are just what their title describes: a train arriving in a station, people leaving a factory, etc. If you don't want to know what is going to happen in "The unloading of a cart", you better not read the title.

Then came Georges Méliès who waved the train that was 'cinéma vérité' goodbye and chose instead for the wacky path of outlandish fiction. Méliès is not just important because he was a pioneer in film fiction. If you watch his work, you'll have to admit it is so good it has no trouble overclassing films that were shot a generation later. Frankly, you need to see German expressionist films like "Das Cabinett des Dr. Caligari" to watch something equally rich in imagination and imagery.

I forgot who it was, but there was a director who said directing was the easiest job in the world. You let other people do the job (actors, directors of photography, sound engineers, set designers, .) and all you basically have to do is say "action!", "cut!" and eventually "it's a wrap". This too makes Méliès special: he was not just a director, his jobs included author, producer, director and set designer. "Voyage dans la lune" (1902), one of his most famous works, has an incredibly beautiful set. Some of it really reminds you of paintings by Bosch. The story may not the most staggering you've ever heard, it's how it's filmed that makes it special and excellent. A professor and crew are shot out of a giant canon and land on the moon. They're overhappy to have made the trip when they encounter the moon people, creatures that a century later still look more terrifying than the stuff you see on shows like "Buffy". Like the vampires in the teen show Méliès's moon creatures disappear into thin air when they're hit. The scientists run for their life, manage to escape and are welcomed back to Earth as the heroes of the century. The image of the giant bullet shot in the moon's eye didn't accidently make it to myriads of posters and t-shirts. No, it's just a very good example of how beautiful Méliès's works were and are.

But does he need a story to entertain the viewer? No. Take "Le cake-walk infernal", a film he shot a year later. There isn't a real story to tell here, Méliès used a very popular dance at the time and used it as the basis for a film. How would the cake-walk be danced if they knew it in Hell? Méliès himself appears as the demon who jumps out of the cake in the second part of the film and that's where the man goes experimental again. Méliès manages to shoot himself in two parts: a dancing torso, dancing legs and a void in between. By today's standards the trickery isn't too convincing, but you'd have to be of bad will to say it's poorly done. Then you have to think of this short movie being made nearly a century ago and it's then you fully realise Méliès was more than a pioneer, he was a genius. A genius who sometimes told a story and sometimes just went for lavish eye-candy.


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