George Melies

 

Melies was among those who attended the first public showing of the Cinematographe in December 1895. He was then the owner, manager and star attraction of the Theatre Robert-Houdin. The core of his theatrical show was illusion. The very name of that predecessor to the cinema, the “magic lantern”, suggests how the path from magic show to cinema was a natural, spontaneous one for Melies to take. Indeed, long before he had heard of the Cinematographe, the custom was for Melies to end a conjuring show with coloured magic-lantern views.

 

Melies’ first encounter with the moving image had occurred many years previously at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878. The young Melies, still a teenager, used to attend the exhibition regularly, where his father’s shoemakers’ firm possessed a stall. Wandering through the displays one day, he came upon Emile Reynauds’ Praxinoscope. A band of coloured images (une bande dessinee) was attached to the inner rim of a broad cylinder. At the cylinder’s centre was a mirror drum. When the cylinder was revolved, the images reflected in the drum merged to create a moving image.

The first Melies film, which was shot in the garden of his family home at Montreuil in June 1896, showed Melies and his friends playing a game of cards. It was a repeat of a subject that the Lumieres themselves had already filmed, the kind of snapshot of daily life that the Lumieres were now sending around the world.

 

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