In the beginning, there was Georges Melies – literally. The first true artist of the cinema, the ebullient and indefatigable Frenchman created an astonishing canon of films in the nascent days of motion pictures, inventing many of the cinematic tricks that are still in use today.
The extraordinary DVD collection “Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913)” brings together more than 170 titles on five discs, with a total running time of 13 hours. Kudos are in store to Eric Lange and David Shepard, who worked tirelessly to assemble this collection (and often reassemble once-lost films from fragmented prints gathered from different countries).
Melies’ approached cinema from a theatrical experience – his work basically looked like theatrical revues, captured in extended single takes via a stationary camera at some distance from the actors.
But if the camerawork was static, the action on screen was not: showgirls, monsters, wizards, clowns and assorted kooks parading in various acts that defied all known laws of gravity, logic and good taste. Science-fiction was a staple of the Melies films, most notably the landmark 1902 endeavors “A Trip to the Moon” and “The Man with the Rubber Head.”
Admittedly, this is not a collection that can be appreciated (let alone endured) in a single sitting. After a stretch of 170+ films (ranging in length from a minute to a half-hour), a sense of repetition eventually seeps in – particularly during the latter stretch of Melies’ output, where it is obvious he was exhausting his ideas. Nonetheless, aficionados of silent cinema will have a field day by having the most comprehensive collection of Melies’ movies together in a single set.