Georges Méliès  

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"They can keep their Bressons and their Cocteaus. The cinematic, modern marvelous is popular, and the best and most exciting films are, beginning with Méliès and Fantômas, the films shown in local fleapits, films which seem to have no place in the history of cinema." --Le Surréalisme au cinéma (1953) by Adonis A. Kyrou

A Trip to the Moon (1902) Georges Méliès
A Trip to the Moon (1902) Georges Méliès

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Georges Méliès (1861 – 1938) was a French filmmaker famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in the earliest cinema. He is best-known for his film A Trip to the Moon.



He was very innovative in the use of special effects. He accidentally discovered the stop trick animation, 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 cinematograph, Méliès is sometimes referred to as the "Cinemagician."


He was born in Paris, where his family manufactured shoes. 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. Agents of Thomas Edison bribed a theater owner in London for a copy of A Trip to the Moon. Edison then made hundreds of copies and showed them in New York City. Méliès received no compensation.

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.

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

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


Selected filmography

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

Currently available videorecordings

Due to a variety of factors, roughly 200 of Méliès's 531 films exist. These factors include Méliès's destruction of his original negatives, the French army's confiscation of his prints and the typical deterioration of the majority (an estimated 80 percent) of films made before 1950. New films have occasionally been discovered but the majority that were preserved come from the US Library of Congress, due to Gaston Méliès submitting paper prints of each frame of all new Star Films in order to preserve copyright when he set up the American branch of Star Films in 1902.<ref name=Wakeman2/>

  • George Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (5-DVD, 173-Film Collection)
  • George Méliès Encore: New Discoveries 1896-1911 (26-Film supplement to the above 5-DVD Collection)
  • 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


  • 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:

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Georges Méliès" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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