George Melies (1861-1938)

Marie-Georges-Jean Melies (1861-1938), or the “cinemagician” was a French magician and performer who tried to purchase a camera from the Lumiere Brothers (August and Louis who invented the Cinematographe which opened film to larger audiences contra Edison’s Kinetoscope) but was denied. He was 34 years old, and one of 33 people to attend the first screening of the Lumierre Brothers film in 1895. Melies then developed his own version of the product in his own studio and began using films in his stage show. By accident, in the fall of 1896, he was in Paris when he discovered the optical illusion of stop action/jump cut –allowing people and things to disappear on screen. He was filming a bus coming out of a tunnel when the camera stopped and then restarted when a hearse was in its same place. Le Voyage dans la Lune was his most famous film but he directed and produced 500 other films in his lifetime. Unfortunately, due to the changing industry Melies was unable to adapt and died in poverty and largely forgotten. He died in 1938.

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Important films directed by George Melies include: Cendrillion or “Cinderella” (1899) whose scenes were modeled on the drawings of Gustave Dore and was highly influential on later directors like Cecil B. Demille; The Impossible Voyage (1904) which was modeled on A Trip to the Moon; and The Haunted Castle (1896-97). The name of his company was called Star Film (1896) with the motto: “The whole world within reach.” For A Trip To The Moon, Melies rather painstakingly infused the logo for his company on the stars in some of the scenes to prevent theft, however thieves still colored over the logos and sold the film illegally. Melies made films until the outbreak of World War I, but he was unable to compete with the booming American market and in the end he died forgotten and indebted.

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