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The Human Pyramid (1899)

La pyramide de Triboulet (original title)
| Short
Men are magically created and transformed in order to create a human pyramid.

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Men are magically created and transformed in order to create a human pyramid.

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19th-century sex-changes.
5 November 2007 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

I saw this film in October 2007 at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy. The festival screened a brand-new acetate print, specially struck from an original nitrate print which has miraculously survived since 1899, and which is now archived at Filmoteca de Catalunya in Barcelona.

This film's title -- 'The Pyramid of Triboulet' -- is a mystery to me. Triboulet was of course a character in a Victor Hugo story which became the inspiration for the opera 'Rigoletto'. The word 'triboulet' is also a generic term for a court jester dressed entirely in red. In this movie -- one of Georges Melies's 'trick' films -- we indeed have a (human) pyramid, but no triboulet that I noticed.

Melies himself appears costumed as a wizard. He opens a steamer trunk, and produces from it a whole series of male athletes, one at a time. When the trunk is finally empty, the athletes form a human pyramid. After they break the pyramid, Melies transforms them into elegantly-dressed ladies!

As usual for Melies, the magic tricks are achieved with a jump cut. Although these tricks undoubtedly astounded cinema audiences in 1899, 21st-century audiences are now far too jaded to marvel at a camera trick which has been done more skilfully in 'Bewitched' and 'Lost in Space'. Having worked with circus performers and acrobats, I was more impressed here by the human pyramid, which involves no camera trickery: it's a genuine gymnastic feat, performed honestly and expertly.

Melies shows some cleverness in transforming these male athletes into female fashion plates ... but again, this is just one more jump cut. More than 60 years after this film was made, Monty Python's Flying Circus used the same gimmick to turn a group of Mr Gumbies into women and then back again. More for that human pyramid than for any other reason, I'll rate this minor Melies entry 5 out of 10.


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