Often described as a wizard or magician, Georges Méliès was a pioneering filmmaker who worked during the late 19th century and early 20th century, creating special effects and innovative techniques in cinema that transcended boundaries in the medium as well as enormously impacting how films were and are made.
Born in 1861 in Paris, France, Georges Melies was raised by his parents to receive more traditional and classical of an education but Melies would continually have his head in the dream world. Said to draw on his notebooks pictures and portraits of classmates, imaginative creatures, and far away landscapes. This artistic passion followed Melies as he worked in his family's business before moving onto London working for a family friend. In London he discovered the Egyptian Hall, an exhibition hall designed after ancient Egypt used to house collections and treasures from around the world, which was run by famous illusionist John Nevil Maskelyne.
This new friendship between Melies and Maskelyne fostered Melies first love in magic. When he returned to Paris, hoping to paint, working for his family's business once again he began attending more performances of magic as well as learning enough tricks himself to begin performing on stage. After his father's retirement, Melies was given the chance to buy his own theatre with everything a budding magician would need but with older tricks. Over the next nine years Melies would slowly add his own new tricks, 30 overall, which would drive customers to see him. With the theater's growing popularity Melies took on roles as costumer designer, producer, set designer, and even director in addition to creating more tricks. He was now running a full on show as well as starring in it.
By happenstance Melies, in 1895, was witness to the first screening by the Lumiere brothers of a movie. On the spot Melies was amazed and offered to buy a camera from the brother who refused. Melies wouldn't be stopped however and proceeded to buy his own movies and projectors and began showing them as a part of his show. Soon he would build his own camera out of spare parts from his tricks and other machines that he used in his acts. Since development of the film was too expensive Melies bought and developed his own film mainly by teaching himself.
Soon, with the addition of better technology, Melies would found his own film company and begin shooting his films. Melies was unlike the Lumiere brothers however, his focus was on the art of the movies which would fuel his own brand of special effects. This tricks used through both editing and how the films were shot would revolutionize what movies could mean to the viewer. Melies could now make objects or people disappear on film or trick the viewer into thinking a shot was underwater through camera trickery.
Melies passion grew into him purchasing and building his own movie studio in Paris, entirely made out of glass for use of the sunlight during shooting. The new studio provided more elaborate sets, a place for costume storage and creation, and gave even the black and white footage more in-depth color. Melies didn't just make one type of movie either, he would pioneer work in fairy stories, horror, magic, drama, and much more. Melies reveled mostly in what would now be called science fiction, taking the audience to far off worlds unlike their own and sending them on an adventure. Melies' films became more ambitious as the years went on becoming longer and more expensive to make.
Soon though the film industry would grow up around Melies and turn independent producers of films into companies and conglomerates. Despite initially joining Thomas Edison in one such conglomerate Melies grew tired of the pressure to make films and would even take a break from making any movies at all. Once Melies began making films again he would, in 1910, make a deal with Chales Pathe. Pathe would front money for a series of productions with Melies who would direct, but Pathe would edit and distribute the films.
Melies became even more ambitious with his films and they soon turned out not to be financially worthwhile. Eventually the frustration with his failures, and Pathe's decision to begin editing Melies films down, Malies ended his contract with Pathe early. Unfortunately Melies was too broke to pay anything back to Pathe and even though WWI would prevent Pathe from taking Melies' home and studio, he was now hopelessly broke. The combination of a newer film industry, Melies' inability to keep up with changing trends, the death of his brother, and WWI as large looming reasons he decided to stop making films altogether.
During the war Melies and his family left Paris while his theatre was used a war hospital and nearly 400 of his films melted down for war production. Soon Melies would lose his studio to Pathe, his theatre to new construction, and his own film negatives, costumes, and sets to himself, burning them all. Melies disappeared from public life entirely working at selling toys and candy.
It wasn't until the late 1920's until film connoisseurs came calling wanting to interview and celebrate the work of Melies. Soon Melies was revived into public life and celebrated as a great filmmaker with an amazing vision for movies. Melies' films were recovered wherever possible with over 200 found in various states and preserved for future viewings. As Melies grew older he would spend time with the next generation of film makers seeking his advice and council. Even though Melies never made a film after 1913 he was celebrated until the day he died.
|Credited Name||Georges Méliès|
|Birthday||Dec. 8, 1861|
|Death||Jan. 21, 1938|