A Trip to the Moon, Far Away from Aurora

There is nothing I can offer but mostly empty platitudes about the horrible events in Aurora, Colorado just after midnight on Friday. All I can say is that the victims, and families and friends of the victims, are all in my thoughts. With that in mind, after a full day of hearing news updates about the tragedy, I wanted something that could take me as far away as possible. The moon, circa 1902, turned out to be the perfect place.

What I’m referring to is Georges Méliès 14-minute landmark silent film from 1902, A Trip to the Moon. It was offered on the big screen by Cinema St. Louis as part of the Classic French Film Series, along with nine other Méliès short films. Amazingly, this was my introduction to Méliès (unless a few minutes here and there on youtube counts, and it really doesn’t). A Trip to the Moon was presented in a newly restored 35 mm print, in color, along with a soundtrack provided by the French band “Air”.

A stunning restoration

A Trip to the Moon was breathtaking. Seeing it on the big screen was akin to tapping into the source of the purest movie magic. Méliès infused his film with humor, action, adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and even some horror elements. In addition to Méliès inventing the film studio, he had also invented multiple genres, both in A Trip to the Moon and several other short features that preceded it. The inventiveness and creativity is impressive. Equally impressive, the film was painstakingly hand-colored in 1902, frame by frame. Méliès was originally a magician and it shows throughout, as he concocts one magic act after the next to tell his story. There’s no denying that it looks a bit cheesy at times but that’s beside the point, an observation that can only be made through today’s prism. In 1902, he was doing things that nobody else was doing.

The other shorts were equally satisfying. The full list includes Playing Cards; The Vanishing Lady; The Haunted Castle; The Temptation of St. Anthony; The Devil in a Convent; The Pillar of Fire; The One-Man Band; The Man with the Rubber Head; The Melomaniac; The Kingdom of Fairies; The Impossible Voyage; and The Merry Frolics of Satan. One of the more notable clips was in The One-Man Band, where Méliès performs a feat that I had previously assumed had originated with Buster Keaton in The Playhouse (1921). Here is the short:

He also had many other tricks up his sleeve thanks to superimposition, stop motion photography, trap doors, and perspective, to name a few. Of the other shorts, my personal favorites were The Pillar of Fire, The Man With the Rubber Head, The Melomaniac, and The Impossible Voyage. 

Using perspective and superimposition to inflate his own severed head in The Man With the Rubber Head

There’s been a heightened awareness of Méliès ever since Scorsese’s Hugo hit theaters last fall. As great as it is to raise awareness of the man and his magic, it’s all academic until you see it for yourself. To say that Méliès was groundbreaking doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story.

The series of shorts was preceded by Georges Franju’s Le Grand Méliès (1952), a docudrama about the life of Méliès starring both his son and his wife. The shorts- other than A Trip to the Moon– were accompanied by music from St. Louis’ Rats and People Motion Orchestra. It all added up to an incredible viewing experience that affirmed the inherent magic of cinema. A trip to the moon was exactly the diversion I needed.


Filed under French Film, Movies, Silent Movies

17 responses to “A Trip to the Moon, Far Away from Aurora

  1. Sounds like a brilliant trip to the cinema. Heck, there are so many silent films I’d kill to see in a cinema – especially with a live orchestra.

  2. So cool that you got to enjoy this and take your mind off of the massacre. I watched Kids in the Hall videos to alleviate the sadness.

  3. cineroulade

    Thanks for posting this. I think we all need a little escape from the world right now!

  4. Wow that sounds like a brilliant little excursion into history. Thanks for sharing John

  5. I regret on missing the opportunity of watching the trip to the moon live,because it was held during my studies. This will be my bucket list to do!

  6. How was Air’s soundtrack? I love those guys but haven’t had a chance to hear their album paired with A Trip to the Moon.

    • That’s a GREAT question. My initial reaction to finding out that the live accompaniment wouldn’t provide the score was a little disappointing. And that it was provided by a newer band really made me nervous. But those fears were unfounded. It was a very good addition to the film.

  7. It sounds like a great cinema experience. I was somewhat skeptical about this film, you know due to the fact that its a 1902 science fiction film. But after seeing this review I watched it and found to my surprise one of the most imaginative, humorous, silent films I’ve ever seen. Oh an Air’s score fits the mood of this so perfectly. And that clip, its like Being Georges Méliès (bad pun).

    • That’s great! Thanks for sharing, and I’m glad the STL showing could inspire someone else to check it out. The other shorts are awesome, too. The best part? They’re only 1 to 5 minutes long, so you could take 20 minutes and wipe out half of them.

  8. I’ve been meaning to share this wonderful movie with my fiance. When things get too hairy for me I usually turn to Keaton or Chaplin for comfort.

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