George Melies: A Magician in the Editing Evolution of Film

        George Melies was a professional magician who lived in France and owned a theater company where he performed magic tricks. He was a famous illusionist of his time. He was an ambitious man who had many talents such as acting, illustrating, being a photographer, a stage designer, and a mechanic. He had a camera designed for him, and began showing his own productions in his theater. He was the cinema's first influential narrative artist. He recognized the endless possibilities for the manipulation of real time and space in the editing process of exposed film. George went on to make hundreds of narrative films in the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

        One of the most interesting things he discovered, in my opinion, was that he made his films consist of scenes played out from beginning to end rather than in terms of shots (Cook 4). The only editing, then, that he did with his films was between scenes rather than within scenes. He adds a lot of stage illusion to make the shots flow better and not look so static. He was the cinema's first narrative artist who used still photography in his films. He created different types of photography like the "fade-in," the "fade-out," the "lap," "dissolve," and "stop-motion photography." Surprisingly, after all that George had accomplished, he was eventually forced out of business by his competitors, who had taken what he brought to the film industry to the next level. The most important movies he made were ones that involved bizarre and awesome themes, and backgrounds that he made and painted himself. That is an amazing accomplishment in itself. The most successful film George made was Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902). Another one of his biggest accomplishments was increasing the normal length of fiction films.

        A very interesting fact about Melies's films was that he never moved his camera once in any of his over five hundred movies. He did not alternate the viewpoint either within scenes or between them by changing the angles of the camera (Cook 16). The early movies of the 1900s had a different purpose than movies do today. Their function was to present and to show rather than narrate or represent. The early cinema was thought of as a series of displays showing excitement and pleasure through many views, events, and objects. This could be done as fictional or documentary style, and in story form or not. Directors had the choice of how they wanted to portray their films, which is a lot more freedom than we have today in the film industry. In many ways these limitations have hurt really creative film makers.

        George Melies showed huge potential in the editing process of exposed film (Cook 18), and he directed the film makers of the time to create cinemas in a narrative manner rather than a documentary medium. His films reflect his imagination and how ahead of his time he was. His contributions to cinematic form is still used and remembered today.

        D. W. Griffith gave Melies much credit to his own success by saying at the end of his career that he, "Owes him everything." D. W. Griffith directed The Birth of a Nation (1915), the first movie we watched in class. As you can see from what George Melies brought to the cinema, Griffith used many of his techniques in his film. As I watched the film, I was confused with many different scenes because they are presented so differently from the way scenes are shown in today's movies. I now understand, after reading about George Melies and his editing techniques, that films were just presented in a different manner during that time period that made sense to the people who watched them. It makes me have a much better appreciation of film makers of that time and their creativity. At first when I watched the movie, I was uninterested and confused with the entire movie. Now that I have learned background information about how films were actually made, I would like to watch them again and look for things that were described in the book. My opinion of early movies has changed greatly.

Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 4th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004.

Lauren Daniel

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