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Haggard's She: The Pillar of Fire (1899)

La colonne de feu (original title)
Not Rated | | Short, Adventure, Fantasy
A devil conjures up a dancing woman from a mystical flame.

Director:

Georges Méliès (uncredited)
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Stars: Georges Méliès
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Cast

Credited cast:
Jehanne d'Alcy Jehanne d'Alcy ... Ayesha (as Jeanne d'Alcy)
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Storyline

A devil wearing bat-like wings and brandishing a trident dances around a giant pot, conjuring forth flame from his trident to lit a fire beneath the pot. After the devil works the fire with bellows, an angelic woman emerges from the pot. The devil and the pot vanish as the woman performs a dance, waving about her diaphanous sleeves until she conjures forth another fire, then she rises amongst the smoke into the air. Written by Anonymous

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Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

France

Also Known As:

Haggard's She: The Pillar of Fire See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Star-Film See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Silent

Color:

Color (hand-colored)| Black and White

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Star Films #188 See more »

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User Reviews

A Combination of Two Genres
10 September 2018 | by Tornado_SamSee all my reviews

If you have seen as many early films as I have, you will be familiar with the various different genres that were common and often imitated around the time this film was made. There were blacksmiths-at-work films, choppy-sea films, card-playing films, women-washing-clothing films, gardeners-getting-sprayed-by-hoses films, street-scene films, workers-leaving-the-factory films, etc. This one-minute special effects snippet by the prolific filmmaker Georges Méliès combines two of these genres: the popular trick film shorts for which he was so well known, and the serpentine dance shorts which Edison had started in the early 1890's and which were often colorized through the hand-painted colorization process. Workers (in this case working for colorist Elisabeth Thuillier) would be hired to ruin their eyesight hand-painting the frames of the filmstrip in this very tedious and admittedly dull way. It often took lots of work and was later beat by the stencil-coloring process which was initiated using positive and negative copies of a film. Here, it's still 1899 and stencil-color hadn't yet come into the field of early film (it wouldn't either for another couple years). So with that in mind the end result of this little feature is actually very good, considering that most of these hand-colored shorts often looked very sloppy and out-of-line. Here, and while there are only a few colors, it doesn't do this and is visually astounding as a result.

There are only a few minor tricks in this short fantasy movie, which are enhanced only by the coloring process. For the most part, however, the film relies entirely on the serpentine dance which is emphasized by the narrative. In this case, the narrative is once again concerning the devil (one of Méliès's favorite characters and here probably played by himself) who here creates a woman from a fire (*Jehanne d'Alcy, so some people think) and has her perform the famous serpentine dance for the rest of the film. The set design, which could possibly be one of his very finest, resembles a sort of religious temple complete with some truly magnificent statues of mythological creatures. Again, the colors are used to show the woman's dress change colors as she dances, creating an interesting effect.

Considering actuality subjects were still a thing even with Méliès by the time this short came out, it's obvious he was combining the genres to cash in on two popularities. Previously, the great director had even outright adapted the Edison version in his "A Serpentine Dance" of 1896 (now lost), but was no doubt past that stuff by 1899. It's also said that this vignette was based upon a scene from H. Rider Haggard's "She: A History of Adventure" novel, (hence the "Haggard's 'She' " bit in the American release title) but since I haven't read the book, I can't say for sure. (Méliès would also do a variation of this later in "The Mystical Flame" of 1903, which is believed by some to have been inspired by Haggard's novel as well). It still stands to reason, however, that this little short is a different addition to the director's catalogue. The aforementioned inclusion of the narrative was not, however, something that he would continue to do throughout his career--this fact alone is one of the main reasons why he finally met with financial failure.

(*Considering Jehanne d'Alcy, sometimes incorrectly spelled as Jeanne d'Alcy, was a popular actress at Méliès's studios I could understand this identification, but I doubt she knew how to dance the serpentine at all despite being a stage actress before turning to film. Additionally, the woman in here doesn't even look like her so I would guess that Méliès hired a professional dancer to star in it instead).


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