Méliès’ Alchemy – The Birth of Narrative Cinema


The accidental discovery of the ‘stop trick’ technique be Méliès while shooting a street traffic in Paris, became a game changer. The indigenous camera of Georges was very crude that the gate mechanism of it would often jam without warning. While filming a moving omnibus in the traffic his camera jammed for a while and then continued shooting. While developing the film in the lab to his surprise Méliès noticed the omnibus in a frame had suddenly changed into a hearse. Actually the camera mechanism jammed during the shoot and while it resumed filming it there was only a moving hearse instead of the omnibus. He noticed that a thread connects the two frames and this showed him the possibility of telling a story through the moving images.

Like the French the Brits also had a brief but glorious history in film making during the beginning years of the 20th century. As mentioned in the previous article on the film history, it was the Brits who first began to edit their movies. This together brought about the narrative cinema into existence.

Of all the films Méliès had made he is remembered even now for his ‘Trip to the Moon’ (1902). It was a film ahead of its time. Unprecedented scientific imagination married fantasy gives us this film. The film that running for about 11 minutes was shot in 30 shots. It uses impressive narrative technique, create tension in the plot, elevates it steadily, pushes the characters to confront dangers and ends with triumphant redemption.


The film opens with a group of scientists, gathered for a discussion. The progress of the discussion reveals to the audience their boldest plan ever. They decide to reach the moon. He was prophetic in fact for such a thought, for at that moment, not even in literature such an imagination had existed. At that time, Jules Verne was the author who immediately comes to our mind as who incorporated scientific imagination in his writing.

The visuals of the space ship that resembles very much a rocket’s front are stunning, just because of the fact it was the outcome of an original imagination, for there were no references to it at that time. Having no scientific knowledge or background Méliès had managed to come up with an aero-dynamical design that is closer to the original rockets. That is astounding. His imagination about the life in moon transforms the film from its scientific realm to delve in to fantasy. In many frames of the films Méliès doesn’t forget to showcase his first love magical trick shots. Also in few frames the dissolve technique is aesthetically used that adds to the artistic excellence of the film.

This movie tasted a tremendous success in US and many pirated versions of the film were made at that time. Just to have a check on piracy and proper screening of his films, he sent his brother to US. The star film company thus set foot in American soil. Not only did Méliès introduce some of the finest cinematic techniques but also he was one of the first filmmakers to try colours in film. He hand-painted his films though were expensive and painstaking by then.


The glorious era of this ultimate showman began to fade slowly and he stopped film-making by 1913. If we begin to reason out his decline it would take us to the Edison’s monopoly in the film industry.

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