Monday, April 16, 2012

The Silent Oscars: 1904

An Impossible Voyage was Georges Méliès's most ambitious film to date, the story of a trip through the Alps to the sun and finally under the ocean, using every imaginable mode of transportation—trains, automobiles, dirigibles, submarines—serving as much as a spoof of the Industrial Revolution as a flight of an armchair traveler's fancy. Indeed, some of the early scenes of the inventor in his workshop could have fit right into Chaplin's Modern Times.

At 24 minutes, it was twice as long as A Trip to the Moon and was one of the longest films to date.

As with all of Méliès's work, the imagery is fantastic—fantastic in the sense of being marked by extravagant fantasy, which is not a criticism. The hosts of Film: Ab Initio ranked it the second best film of the decade, better even than A Trip to the Moon. I can't say I agree—nothing in An Impossible Voyage equals let alone surpasses the image of a rocket hitting the moon in the eye—but it is one of Méliès's best.

Still, in it, you can see the limitations in Méliès's work that would eventually doom his career. He stubbornly eschews the three-dimensional possibilities of cinema, filming from a fixed point that takes in the entire stage at once, as if he were a spectator in the third row of the local vaudeville theater. More problematic is that Méliès never realized that his stories might be more effective if he created characters who were interesting in and of themselves. People would remain the least interesting props in his films to the very end.

That said, in 1904 Méliès was still far and away the most interesting director working and would continue to dominate the scene until D.W. Griffith's arrival at the Biograph Studios in 1908.

winner: Le voyage à travers l'impossible a.k.a. An Impossible Voyage (prod. Georges Méliès)
nominees: Westinghouse Works (prod. American Mutoscope and Biograph)

winner: Georges Méliès (Le voyage à travers l'impossible a.k.a. An Impossible Voyage)

1 comment:

La Petite Gallery said...

This was so interesting. My Uncle Charlie Bowers did some of the First Cartoons. Those flims didn't cost as much as today. I have to say the minds were better then, some of the movies playing up the street are just trash..
I am still trying to find a film with Joseph Cotton and Merle Oberon, It is suppose to be in Maine and Boston. Can't remember the name but loved that movie.