Friday, 17 January 2020

Fairy Tale Friday Cendrillon (Georges Méliès, 1899)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.
For the next few weeks we are going to look at silent film versions of the classic tale of Cinderella. I will start with the oldest I can find by Georges Méliès.
Image result for georges méliès camera
According to Wikipedia:
Méliès was a French illusionist and film director who led many technical and narrative developments in the earliest days of cinema. Méliès was well-known for the use of special effects, popularizing such techniques as substitution splicesmultiple exposurestime-lapse photographydissolves, and hand-painted colour. He was also one of the first filmmakers to use storyboards. His films include A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), both involving strange, surreal journeys somewhat in the style of Jules Verne, and are considered among the most important early science fiction films, though their approach is closer to fantasy.

He also experimented with “stag films.” His most famous of these risque films was After the Ball. "The film's plot is a one-minute scene of a servant bathing a woman, along with the scenarios before and after as the servant is helping her get undressed (down to a bodystocking which simulates nudity) while revealing a few layers of clothing, bathing her, and finally covering and drying her with a robe. This is the earliest known film to show simulated nudity." (again thanks to Wikipedia for that information.) If you would like to watch it click{HERE}

This film of Cinderella was made in 1899 and features several elements we recognise and a few that are really strange.  It begins with Cinderella begging her stepmother to go to the ball and then being refused. Her fairy godmother appears, and our protagonist brings a crate of live animals who transform into larger papier mache animals and then to footmen for her coach. Similarly a real pumpkin is transformed into a giant fake one and then a carriage. Her fairy godmother gestures sternly at the wall which I presume there hangs a clock, but it is hard to see as this is in black and white and 121 years old. When Cinderella leaves for the ball the godmother disappears down a trap door (much like the effect that was used in the 1939 Wizard of Oz where the witch of the west leaves Munchkinland.) We see Cinders and the prince at the ball dancing away to some waltzy music (as opposed to the jaunty music at the start of the film) when suddenly who should appear but Father Time with an enormous white beard holding a huge clock showing it is midnight. He somersaults into a puff of smoke and disappears. Her fairy godmother shows up and waggles her finger and turns our heroine’s dress back to rags. The Father Time bit was weird but made sense in the context of the showing it is midnight part of the story, but then he reappears at her house with a bunch of dancing girls who all turn to giant clocks and torment her. Then it goes back to be the tale we know—the slipper is tried on and it ends with a wedding with some exuberant dancing by girls outside the church who look suspiciously like they were the ones being clock tormentors.

Watch the film here:

This film and its effects are amazing since it was made in 1899. I have long been a fan of Georges Méliès so this was a delight to find.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned next week for another look into the silent film industry and Cinderella.

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