Friday, April 20, 2012

The George Melies Project

THE GEORGE MELIES PROJECT, presents 8 films by George Melies with a music score by Phillip Johnston at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta.

This year Martin Scorsese presented a homage to one of the great pioneers of the cinema art form, the Frenchman, George Melies, in his film HUGO - a 3D construction of some startling visual beauty, if narratively it was ponderous and boring. However, this was not my first introduction to Mr Melies' work. Some of you may remember that in 1956 Michael (Mike) Todd produced Jules Verne's novel AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. In a prologue to that film we were shown another Jules Verne film adaptation made in 1902 : A TRIP TO THE MOON (Le Voyage Dans La Lune). When, then, I saw HUGO and saw A TRIP TO THE MOON featured, I was nostalgically transported to a memory of film making, introduced years ago at the Paris Cinema opposite Hyde Park,at the top of Liverpool Street - it was the theatre where Jim Sharman and Rex Cramphorn set up the ill fated Paris Theatre Company, in the seventies, a three play season that only lasted through two presentations (PANDORA'S CROSS by Dorothy Hewett; VISIONS by Louis Nowra), alas.

George Johnston, who confessed on Sunday, at the performance at Riverside, a love for the silent film era, has composed a score for eight of George Melies films. He did this in 1997, pre-empting the curiosity that some of us may have had provoked by the Scorsese HUGO, by some 16 years! A Jazz Quartet, led by Mr Johnston with his soprano saxophone, and made up further with Darryl Pratt on vibraphone, Matt McMahon on piano and Cameron Undy on double bass, create a soundtrack of witty and gay support. Lovingly supportive of the image and story of the films.

The Melies' film technique and imaginative invention is a delight to watch, enhanced by the composition and playing of this orchestra. The viewing of this program of 8 films, is only about an hour and a quarter and is the right amount of length to sustain a curious layman's fascination in the history of film making. A fixed camera is sat in front of a proscenium shaped stage and the mechanisms of a turn of the century vaudeville theatre - trapdoors, moving slotted scenery, wobbly painted canvas perspectives of imaginative worlds, and physical contraptions, fly ropes, combined with the dance and acrobatic skills of the performers of the time - are contrived to tell a crude but cogent narrative adventure. Amusing, and in its time, probably, hugely awe inspiring in the real sense of awe. THE MERMAID (19O4), THE DAMNATION OF FAUST (1903), THE MERRY FROLICS OF SATAN(1906), and the epic VOYAGE ACROSS THE IMPOSSIBLE (1905) are today, still, awesome. For not only is the fixed camera recording shown but Melies began experimenting with hand colour tinting, fade in and out, super impositions of physical images, one on top of each other, but also incorporations of vivid animation to create totally imaginative transporting worlds - Walt Disney and Tim Burton eat your heart out, or thank your predecessor (?)

My personal favorites were a short sketch on musical composition called THE MELOMANIAC (1903) where the talking head of the conductor is thrown up onto a music chart to represent the notes of a composition on the drawn lines on the music paper chart; and the diet industry satire, HYDROTHERAPIE FANTASTIQUE, which reveals increasingly horrifying and hilarious mechanisms to achieve weight loss - reality television could be even more sensational, if they took a gander at Mr Melies approach to that industry.

Well worth catching.

I understand that there is a an upcoming performance at RANDWICK TOWN HALL on May 12th. In the mean time on the DVD, the prologue to Mike Todd's production AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, showing A TRIP TO THE MOON, has a different but delightful soundtrack to charm you and tempt you to get to Randwick.

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