Archive for Georges Melies

The Art of Melies

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , on September 16, 2014 by dcairns

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Three costume sketches by Georges Melies from the book French Elegance in the Cinema, which looks at the influence of French fashion and costume designers in film.

It’s a bit of a grab-bag — a lengthy gallery at the back uses slightly random images from the Cinematheque Francaise’s vast collection of costume sketches, many of which don’t have any obvious French connection, but all of which are interesting. The text pays particular attention to Jean-Louis and to designers like Schiaparelli and Givenchy who had a major influence on movie design.

I like costume sketches and production design sketches. Movies throw out all these items, from scripts to publicity stills, which are art forms in themselves while contributing to the greater whole.

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I’m dissatisfied with this scan, though. Scanners don’t seem to be able to handle the way books fold in the middle. You’d think that since the book predated the scanner, it’d be the scanner that’d have to adapt. I want a very thin sheet that I can just slot int between the leaves of the book, or else a kind of dry liquid I can spread on the illustration and then peel off, capturing a digital image in the mercury-like fluid. I’m sure Melies would agree.

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Something tells me this gay imp was meant to be played by old Georges himself.
French Elegance in the Cinema

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Black Lies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2014 by dcairns

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Here’s a press release about a new novel by Josh Frank, Black Francis (of the Pixies) and with illustrations by Stephen Appleby.

Excitingly, the novel features Bernard Natan as a character. Since I have co-directed, with Paul Duane, a film, NATAN, which seeks to draw attention to this forgotten giant of French cinema, I’d normally be extremely happy about anything shining a light on Natan’s neglected career.

Unfortunately, the novel appears to recycle Vichy-era untruths about Natan’s rumoured involvement in pornography, specifically crediting him with production of LA BONNE AUBERGE (THE GOOD INN), “France’s first pornographic film.” The film, also known as SCENE PORNOGRAPHIQUE and A L’ECU D’OR, is thought to have been made in 1908, and so it’s the earliest surviving porn film from Europe, but given the low rate of survival of this kind of material (ordinary films have often been preserved; porn films have been actively destroyed) it’s highly unlikely to have been the first. Natan was in Paris at this time, and he was convicted of some kind of involvement in stag films a couple of years later — but absolutely nothing in the way of evidence connects him to this film.

A few years after his porn conviction, the French police dumped a load of seized film cans in the Seine — as they did so, they were arrested by other policemen for pollution. This farcical incident, much reported in the press, probably marks the destruction of Natan’s illicit film work, whatever it may have been.

I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t say how accurately the press release reflects its content. The screening of Melies’ TRIP TO THE MOON with UN CHIEN ANDALOU suggests a slightly loose approach to history, though — those two shorts, produced twenty-seven years apart, have nothing artistically in common — it would be like tying TAXI DRIVER together with FINDING NEMO.

Of course, it’s a historical novel, not a work of historical research. But I think there IS a responsibility to be accurate where there’s a danger of misleading the reader. We know that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a vampire hunter, but most people do not know who Bernard Natan was, and are prepared to believe anything about him if it sounds remotely plausible. And when you’re dealing with a man whose reputation was deliberately destroyed by anti-Semites, as part of a campaign that ended with his deportation to Auschwitz and death, repeating those lies strikes me as… not a nice thing to do. Especially when he still has living relatives.

So I really hope the book isn’t as distorted a view of history as it appears to be. If it is, I hope we can grab some of the limelight to tell prospective readers just what kind of fiction it is. How much is fact, how much is speculation and how much of it is recycled antisemitic propaganda? If you’re in London on the 7th, please go along to this event and ask awkward questions.

On a happier note, Thomas Doherty, author of the magisterial Hollywood and Hitler 1933-1939, who introduced a screening of NATAN at Brandeis, has written an overview of the facts which is probably the clearest and most complete I’ve seen. So the truth, as someone once said, is out there. Here.

Fay Wray Story

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2013 by dcairns

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The last film to date by Pierre Etaix, and a very late (as in posthumous) work by Georges Melies, featuring the late Fay Wray, over at The Daily Notebook in this week’s edition of The Forgotten. And you can not only read about the film, but see it.

Meanwhile, at Limerwrecks, here’s one I prepared earlier. Subject: SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.

Etaix’s more significant work of the sixties and seventies is about to appear on disc from the Criterion Collection, and can be pre-ordered here ~

Blu-ray: Pierre Etaix (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

DVD: Pierre Etaix (Criterion Collection)