Movie Review: Melies The Magician

By Monica Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
Pere Lachaise is the most interesting cemetery in the world, which may be why Cher wants to be buried there. She'll be in good company: Abelard & Heloise are buried there & Maria Callas & Sarah Bernhardt & Isadora Duncan & Yves Montand & Edith Piaf & hundreds of thrill seekers pay a visit to Pere Lachaise & make themselves at home everyday. In fact, the living make themselves TOO much at home. When I first visited, a number of the graves were scrawled with graffiti, especially those of Oscar Wilde, Georges Melies & Jim Morrison. When the graves were later vandalized, they were restored & security was increased, especially Jim Morrison, whose remains required a full-time policeman on my last visit in 1997. But I remembered that the graffiti for all three had been filled with affection & I like to feel that the best part of us is lurking around SOMEwhere: Perhaps the estate of Oscar Wilde SHOULD have been eligible for a Camaro a few years back & Jim Morrison just MIGHT have had a fate like Michael Pare's character in "Eddie And The Cruisers." As for Melies, who died in 1938, he probably wishes people had been that sweet to him while he was still around to enjoy it.

Art Video and Facets Video hope to redress that neglect with the DVD "Melies The Magician" including "The Magic of Melies", a documentary film by Jacques Meny, plus "Melies' Magic Show", 15 short films made by the great Melies himself between 1898 & 1909. In spite of the extreme age of the films, all have been wonderfully restored & reveal Melies' virtuosity at its finest. "Melies The Magician" is clearly a labor of love that every true Melies admirer will want to own, but a few artistic decisions were made that bugged this particular reviewer. First, except for Ken Burns, brave new documentarians are revealing fresh & intriguing ways to tell a story without talking heads. As someone who neither speaks or reads French fluently, I find that unvarying shots of French talking heads (critics & historians mostly) are just as boring as English-speaking heads. Moreover, English voiceovers are used throughout the DVD, not only on the talking heads but also on Melies' original movies, instead of subtitled translations. Melies IS magic, but the voiceovers are not. Worst of all, when Melies' actual voice is heard at one point, in French of course, that, too, is translated with a voiceover instead of subtitles. Even if we can't understand exactly what Melies is saying, the emotional quality of his voice can not be revealed by voiceover as it would be if the filmmakers had just let him talk with subtitled translations.

For someone who was transported to fantasy land the first time she saw "Trip To The Moon" in a film class, the artistic choice of talking OVER Melies seems severely flawed at best & vandalistic at worst. Because of the quality of the restored flickers as well as the fact that we DO actually learn stuff about Melies that we didn't know before, I would recommend the "Melies The Magician" DVD to film buffs, with a caution that causal viewers may have a rough time with it.
More Information:
Melies The Magician
France - 2002