Georges Méliès

Georges Méliès (December 8, 1861January 21, 1938), full name Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès, was a French filmmaker famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in the earliest cinema. He was born in Paris, where his family manufactured shoes.

He was very innovative in the use of special effects. He accidentally discovered the stop trick, or substitution, in 1896, and was one of the first filmmakers to use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted colour in his films. Because of his ability to seemingly manipulate and transform reality with the cinematography, Méliès is sometimes referred to as the "Cinemagician."


Before making films, he was a stage magician at the Theatre Robert-Houdin. In 1895, he became interested in film after seeing a demonstration of the Lumière brothers' camera. In 1897, he established a studio on a rooftop property in Montreuil. Actors performed in front of a painted set as inspired by the conventions of magic and musical theater. He directed 531 films between 1896 and 1914, ranging in length from one to forty minutes. In subject matter, these films are often similar to the magic theater shows that Méliès had been doing, containing "tricks" and impossible events, such as objects disappearing or changing size.

His most famous film is A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la Lune) made in 1902, which includes the celebrated scene in which a spaceship hits the eye of the man in the moon. Also famous is The Impossible Voyage (Le voyage à travers l'impossible) from 1904. Both of these films are about strange voyages, somewhat in the style of Jules Verne. These are considered to be some of the most important early science fiction films, although their approach is closer to fantasy.

In addition horror cinema can be traced back to Georges Méliès's Le Manoir du diable (1896).

His 1899 short film Cleopatra was believed to be a lost film until a copy was discovered in 2005 in Paris.

In 1913 Georges Méliès' film company was forced into bankruptcy by the large French and American studios and his company was bought out of receivership by Pathé Frères. After being driven out of business Méliès became a toy salesman at the Montparnasse station. In 1932 the Cinema Society gave Méliès a home in Château d'Orly. Méliès did not grasp the value of his films, and with some 500 films recorded on cellulose, the French Army seized most of this stock to be melted down into boot heels during World War I. Many of the other films were sold to be recycled into new film. As a result many of these films do not exist today. In time, Méliès was rediscovered and honored for his work, eventually taking up stage performance.

Melies began what was later known as the Cinema of Attractions, a style of early film production that worked with only the prescenium space. The director would set up the camera and then perform actions in front of the camera, (This area in front of the camera being known as the prescenium space, containing no depth to the images) The Lumiere Brothers, Edison Kinetoscope Films, Black Maria, all aspects of the Cinema of Attractions.

Georges Méliès has been awarded the Légion d'honneur (Legion of honor).

Méliès died in Paris and he was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.


Georges Méliès directed hundreds of films including the following. For a full filmography see Georges Méliès filmography.


  • Films of George Méliès
  • The Great Train Robbery and Other Primary Works
  • Marvelous Méliès
  • Méliès Le Cinémagicien
  • Mes Mémoires
  • Pioneers of the French Cinema, Volume One
  • Le Grand Méliès (1952) - The life of Georges Méliès is told in this biodrama, directed by Georges Franju. André Méliès plays the part of his own father.

Popular culture

The work of Georges Méliès has been referenced a number of times in film, television and fiction, including:

  • Futurama: In the episode "The Series has Landed" S01E02 the character "Craterface" in Lunar Park gets a beerbottle stuck into his eye by Bender which makes him resemble the face in the moon with the crashed space-capsule stuck in its eye from "Le Voyage Dans La Lune"
  • The music video for The Smashing Pumpkins' song "Tonight, Tonight" was largely shot in the style of Méliès' best-known films, particularly "A Trip to the Moon." As well, the same video features a paddle wheel steamship named "S.S. Méliès."
  • In the HBO miniseries From The Earth to the Moon, Méliès was played by Tchéky Karyo.
  • Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin and video artist Timothy Hutchings are both contemporary culture workers who make motion pictures inspired by Méliès.
  • Queen's 1995 video "Heaven for Everyone" uses clips from Le Voyage dans la Lune
  • The 2007 children's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick details the story of a young girl, Isabelle, and Hugo, the son of a horologist, who discover Georges Méliès' secret in 1931 Paris. This book won the ALA Caldecott Medal in 2008.
  • Threadless T-shirt designs printed a shirt entitled Le Voyage Dans La Lune which depicts a scene from the famous film of the same name.
  • A Star Trek parody video called "Steam Trek: The Moving Picture" on YouTube has gained popularity for duplicating the style and quality of Méliès.
  • In series 2 & 3 of The Mighty Boosh, an incidental character called 'The Moon' appears, complete with a face covered in shaving foam, and bearing a strong resemblance to Méliès' moon in "Le Voyage Dans La Lune".

See also


External links

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