Le Voyage dans la Lune at 115, Part III (Reception and legacy)

Georges Méliès began filming Le Voyage in May 1902, and began selling prints to distributors after finishing in August. The hand-coloured print from Elisabeth Thuillier’s studio ran from September–December by Méliès’s Théâtre Robert-Houdin in Paris.

Jules-Eugène Legris, a co-worker and fellow magician, who appears in the final scene as the parade leader, screened the film after Thursday and Saturday matinées.

Black and white prints sold for 560 francs, and colour prints went for 1,000. Sadly, due to rampant piracy, Méliès never got most of the profits from this runaway blockbuster.

Not only was Méliès a victim of piracy and cheated of most of his rightful profits, he also wasn’t credited onscreen or in advertisements either. The only U.S. exhibitor who credited him during the first six months of the theatrical run was Thomas Lincoln Tally, of L.A.’s Electrical Theatre.

To try to nip this situation in the bud, Méliès opened a U.S. branch of his Star Film Company in New York in 1903, run by his brother Gaston. This studio sold his films directly and registered them with U.S. copyrights.

The catalogue introduced this English-language studio thus: “In opening a factory and office in New York we are prepared and determined energetically to pursue all counterfeiters and pirates. We will not speak twice, we will act!”

Méliès also made trade arrangements with companies including American Mutoscope and Biograph, Gaumont, the Charles Urban Trading Company, the Warwick Trading Company, and Robert W. Paul’s company. Fifteen cents per foot of film became the standard price.

In 1908, new price standardizations from the Motion Picture Patents Company made Méliès’s films outrageously expensive. Coupled with the fact that his films’ fantasy and magical themes fell out of fashion, this set the stage for his financial ruin and fall into obscurity.

Because of the film’s high price, Méliès at first was unsuccessful at selling prints to fairground exhibitors. However, when he gave one exhibitor a free print, it was a wild success from the very first showing. Fairgoers packed into the theatre until midnight, and the exhibitor immediately bought the film.

When Méliès reminded him of his initial reluctance to pony up the money, he offered 200 francs to make up for this insult and inconvenience.

The film ran continuously by L’Olympia in Paris for several months. Due to the abovediscussed piracy, the film also was a runaway success in the U.S. It ran in cities including New York, New Orleans, Kansas City, Washington, D.C., Detroit, L.A., and Cleveland.

Through 1904, it was a featured headline attraction in countries including Canada, Italy, and Germany. Truly, this was one of the most popular films in the early 20th century, across all markets.

Because of Méliès’s later financial woes and tanked reputation, many of the copies of his prints were lost. In 1917, the military occupied his office and melted down many of his films for silver and celluloid. The silver was used for ammo; the celluloid, boot heels.

When the Théâtre Robert-Houdin was razed to the ground in 1923, the prints stored there were sold to a second-hand film vendor by weight. Later that same year, Méliès burnt all remaining negatives in his garden in Montreuil, in a fit of anger.

In 1925, be became a toy and candy vendor by a stand in the Gare Montparnasse railway terminal in Paris, and his impressive body of film work seemed as though it had slipped into the foggy mists of time.

Thankfully, due to early film history devotees, Méliès was rediscovered in the late 1920s, and his reputation and popularity were restored. Two copies of Le Voyage were found, though both were incomplete. In 1997, a complete print was finally reconstructed.

In 1993, a hand-coloured print surfaced, believed to be from a Spanish distributor on account of the flag in the launching scene being coloured like the flag of Spain. From 2002–05, this print was restored against all odds, and in 2010, a complete restoration became publicly available. In 2011, the finishing touches were put on this restoration.

Le Voyage has had a most enormous impact on filmmakers and popular culture over the past 115 years. It made people realize films could be purely for entertainment, and that sci-fi films were not only possible, but could be popular as well.

The iconic image of the Moon with the spaceship in its eye has been referenced countless times in films, artwork, and other creative visual media.

Though Méliès didn’t think this was his greatest work, he acknowledged it was his most popular. This milestone film has more than earned its rightful place in cinematic history.

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Le Voyage dans la Lune at 115, Part II (Behind the scenes)

In loving memory of Dante Alighieri, who departed this world 696 years ago today.

Georges Méliès’s sci-fi classic was inspired by the Jules Verne novels De la Terre à la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon) (1865) and Autour de la Lune (Around the Moon) (1870). Another prominent influence, albeit not personally cited by Méliès, seems to have been H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (French translation published 1902).

Still other influences suspected by film scholars include Jacques Offenbach’s operetta Le Voyage dans la Lune (produced 1875–76) and the 1901 Pan–American Exposition’s A Trip to the Moon ride in Buffalo. The latter cost fifty cents, and was one of the first space-themed rides. It was also the very first dark ride (think Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean).

Though film actors weren’t credited in 1902 (due in large part to how it was considered low-brow entertainment, inferior to theatre), we know Méliès played Prof. Barbenfouillis. He did everything in his films—acting, directing, writing, editing, producing, designing, special effects, publicity, technical details. As such, he was one of cinema’s very first auteurs.

All told, Méliès starred in at least 300 of his 520 films. He was a cinematic star without knowing it, before such a concept existed.

Other players were Bleuette Bernon as Phoebe (a very early character actor); magician Jules-Eugène Legris as parade leader; Henri Delannoy as rocket captain; salaried employee François Lallement as the Marines’ officer; Théâtre du Châtelet ballerinas as stars and cannon attendants; Folies Bergère acrobats as Selenites; and Théâtre de Cluny actor Victor André and music hall singers Delpierre, Farjaux, Kelm, and Brunnet as the other five astronomers.

Le Voyage was Méliès’s longest film to date, at 17 minutes (by Méliès’s preferred projection speed, 12–14 frames per second). Most DVD prints run closer to 13 minutes. It took three months to film, and had the extravagant budget of 10,000 francs ($1,296.95 in 2017 U.S. currency, if I calculated the inflation and conversion correctly).

Most of the money went towards the Selenites’ costumes and the mechanically-operated scenery. The backdrop of the glass-roofed workshop in which the spaceship is built was painted to resemble Méliès’s real glass-roofed studio.

Méliès’s cameramen were Théophile Michault and Lucien Tanguay, salaried employees of his Star Film Company, who also performed tasks such as setting up scenery and developing film.

His actors were hired on a film-by-film basis and paid one Louis d’or a day, which was much better pay than that offered by competitors. Another perk was taking a free meal with Méliès at noon every day.

In an era well before CGI, Méliès achieved many of his special effects via substitution splice. Filming stopped for something to be removed, changed, or added. The footage was then spliced together. Other methods included transitional dissolves, multiple exposures, pyrotechnics, and stage machinery.

Méliès was a magician prior to becoming a filmmaker, and most marvellously used all the tricks of his former trade to wonderful effect.

Some prints were hand-coloured by Elisabeth Thuillier, who began working with film in 1897. Her studio was an all-female business, and used four basic dyes—magenta, orange, bright yellow, and blue-green. The dyes were often mixed to create other colours, and changed tone depending upon the shade of grey underneath.

Mme. Thuillier hand-coloured all of Méliès’s films from 1897–1912.

Like many of Méliès’s other films, Le Voyage too was meant to be accompanied by a bonimenteur (narrator) explicating the action onscreen. While the general stories in his films can be followed without intertitles, there are crucial details missing without spoken narration.

Méliès advertised the film as a pièce à grand spectacle, a type of stage extravaganza popularised by Jules Verne and Adolphe d’Ennery. Some film historians also classify it as part of the féerie genre (fantasy with mechanical stage effects, awesome visuals, and lavish scenery).

The film also contains strong satirical and anti-imperialism themes, with its bumbling explorers, obvious violations of the laws of physics, the violent treatment of the Selenites, and the parading of a Selenite captive in the concluding victory parade.

Le Voyage dans la Lune at 115, Part I (General overview)

Released 1 September 1902 in France and 4 October in the U.S., Le Voyage dans la Lune is without a doubt the most famous film of the great Georges Méliès, and one of the most important films of cinematic history. That image of the Moon with the spaceship in its eye is iconic.

Méliès stars as Prof. Barbenfouillis, president of the Astronomic Club. One member of the club quite vociferously disagrees with his proposal for a voyage to the Moon, but Barbenfouillis shuts him up by throwing a book and papers at his head.

Ultimately, the mission is unanimously approved, and five other astronomers are chosen to come along—Nostradamus, Alcofrisbas, Omega, Micromegas, and Parafaragaramus. A most splendid spaceship is constructed for them, whose construction they get to witness.

When the big day arrives, the astronomers are seen off with great fanfare. On a signal, the cannon loaded with the spaceship launches our heroes.

After arrival on the Moon, the astronomers are delighted to see Earth rising. They’re also delighted by the craters. Unfortunately, just as they’re about to start exploring, an explosion sends them sprawling. They then stretch out to sleep, feeling very fatigued by their journey.

Seven gigantic stars (i.e., the Big Dipper) appear, and, slowly, women’s faces come out of the stars. They seem annoyed by the intrusion of the explorers. The stars are then replaced by a lovely vision of Phoebus on the crescent, Saturn in his globe, and two charming young girls holding up a star.

By order of Phoebus, the exolorers are punished by a downpour of freezing snow, which wakes everyone up. While the snowstorm is still raging, they escape into a giant crater, and find a landscape of enormous mushrooms in a grotto.

Barbenfouillis plants his umbrella in the ground to compare its size against the mushrooms, but the umbrella suddenly takes root and transforms into a mushroom which begins growing to giant proportions.

Selenites, inhabitants of the Moon, emerge from underneath the mushrooms and attack the explorers. Barbenfouillis attacks one with his umbrella, which makes him burst into a thousand pieces. However, the Selenites keep coming, and the explorers are overpowered.

When the explorers are brought, bound, to the king’s palace, Barbenfouillis breaks free of his restraints, dashes for the King, grabs him, and throws him on the ground. The King breaks into a thousand pieces, and the explorers escape.

With the Selenite Army hot on their heels, the explorers run as fast as they can. They manage to disintegrate enough of their pursuers to escape into the spaceship. Only Barbenfouillis is left behind.

Not to be deterred, Barbenfouillis grabs onto the rope attached to the ship. His weight causes it to fall off the Moon, with the remainder of the Selenite Army unable to catch them. The shell falls with sickening rapidity, and lands in the ocean.

Due to the way the ship is constructed, it easily rises back to the surface, and is towed to port by a ship. The explorers are given a heroes’ welcome.

IWSG—Hiatused Books

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

It’s time for the monthly meeting of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I’ve been thinking about my hiatused projects and whether I should return to all of them, and how some of them may need to be changed.

I certainly plan to return to Green Sunrise and Justine Grown Up, the second and third books in my unexpected contemporary historical family saga. I really don’t want to believe that Little Ragdoll was meant to be the only book with these characters. There just wasn’t enough planning that went into the further volumes I decided to write. And I needed more of a break away from these people instead of immediately continuing to write about them.

I definitely want to someday resume my alternative history saga about the Whites winning the Russian Civil War and young Aleksey coming to the throne as Tsar Aleksey II in 1925. But I’m just not sure my original plan would work or feel natural. I like the idea of having it be told from the journals of five young women living in different generations, all of them affected by and knowing, or coming to know, the Tsar, and padded out with newspaper clippings.

But now that I’ve done more thinking, it seems a bit gimmicky and awkward, rather like a certain massively overrated book narrated by the Angel of Death. These five girls would not only need to know Aleksey, but also observe or know about all these historical events and things in his personal life, like his relationship with the commoner he’s finally forced to marry after refusing marriage for a long time (not wanting to risk passing on his hemophilia). It would probably be better in my regular third-person omniscient.

I had a lot of soft sci-fi/futuristic books planned out at the age of twelve, and still have all the copious notes I made for them. But a lot of them aren’t plotted stories so much as just basic ideas, more focused on various futuristic dwellings (flying city, floating city, space colony, deserted Earth, space farm) than a clear story arc.

The one I got furthest into is the one I most want to resume. That one actually has a semblance of a plot and a well-developed future society, both on Earth and in the space colony near Jupiter, in the first decade of the 31st century. I also began one set in Australia in the early 2020s, in a back-to-nature, classic-rock-worshipping, Esperanto-speaking community gone terribly wrong and creepy. That also has a solid story arc, and would probably be considered more speculative fiction or dystopia (REAL dystopia) than sci-fi.

The other one I started begins in Maine in 2050 and quickly moves to a space colony. That has potential as a story about culture clashes with the protagonist’s new best friend’s family, and the colony eventually being knocked off its orbit and floating off into space, no way of getting back to Earth or any other nearby colonies.

And then there’s one that originally was set much further into the future and with a rather different, not really scientifically accurate premise. Now I want it to be set 5 billion years into the future, as the protagonist and her family race against time to escape Earth before the Sun becomes a Red Giant. I’d like to think that humanity will still exist in 5 billion years, even if Planet Earth doesn’t escape the Sun’s evolution.

I also have an idea, similar to the one above, for something set even further into the future, when people live under giant glass domes on a desiccated Earth, lit by artificial light, the former Sun now a small White Dwarf twinkling in the night sky.

Is it worth trying to write something that’s been on hiatus for a long time, or to come up with a plot or story arc where there is none? Do I just have too many book ideas for my own good?

John’s Jahrzeit and Can We Guess Your Character’s Age? Blogfest

First things first. Today, 8 December, is John Lennon’s 31st Jahrzeit. For a long time I used to write about it in my journals, but embarrassingly, I haven’t journaled for the last few years. However, I have begun to journal again on and off in the top-spiral notebook I bought when I was switching my writing hand from right to left and needed something to practice my handwriting in before publicly outing myself as a lefty. (Long story short, I was in the closet about the true extent of my sinistrality till this year. I kinda always knew, but I was very confused and discouraged since I grew up writing right-handed, and many people still feel handedness is determined solely by the hand you write with, no matter you do just about everything else with your other hand.)

Anyway, John has been my official favorite Beatle since I was 17. I started strongly preferring him when I was 14, but I felt I weren’t allowed to switch favorites. I’d initially favored Paul solely because of looks, but let’s be honest, that’s a rather silly reason to pick a fave rave. So I lied to myself for a few years that I had two favorites, but as Jerry Springer often says in his Final Thought, “When you claim to love both, you truly love neither.” I now have all of his studio solo albums, though George is my favorite solo Beatle. (I’m probably the only person who’ll give you three answers or say “It depends what you mean” when asked who my favorite Beatle is!)

I feel so privileged to have been allowed to share the planet with John for even a little while. That scumbag murdered him 10 days before my first birthday, so I have no memory of being alive at the same time he was, but I still feel glad we were on the same planet for that small span of time. I even wrote the parole board a letter in the fall of 2000 when I found out that dirtbag was getting its first parole hearing. I was so upset I was shaking when I saw the disgusting news on the Beatle Brunch website on the old ’93 Mac in my first dorm room at UMass, the second floor of Chadbourne, the Native American-themed floor. Thankfully, it seems this thing will be denied parole like clockwork every two years. Let’s be honest, there’d probably instantly be a revenge killing if it were ever sprung from prison.

In honor of John’s life, here are some of his solo songs. May you rest in peace in your eternal home, and may your memory be for a blessing. The world is a better place because you were in it for 40 years and two months.

So many people look so perfect on the outside, but their insides are rotten.

This song never fails to give me chills.

The last song he recorded.

***

I’m also taking part in the Can We Guess Your Character’s Age? Blogfest, wherein participants post the first 250 words of a completed book or WIP and invite other participants to guess the character’s age. It’s based on voice, and tests if others think the purported age matches the character’s voice and behavior. We’re not allowed to post the title or genre, and any references to age or school grade should be taken out.

I decided to use something I’ve never posted an excerpt of before, since I’ve already shared so much from the books with my three main sets of characters. It’ll be a nice change of pace to finally use an excerpt from a standalone. This is a near-total rewrite of the original opening, which I wrote back in the fall of ’92. I worked on the manuscript on and off between 1992 and I think 1995 (at most, 1996 was the latest date I worked on it), but now I think I’m ready to get back to work on finishing it and fixing it up (but only after I finish Justine Grown Up, of course).

The protagonist’s name was originally Casey, but being the big name nerd I am, I decided I wanted something a little more memorable and standout. It’s 261 words, so I wouldn’t have to stop in the middle of a paragraph.

***

Arcadia MacGregor wasn’t expecting her entire life to be turned upside-down as she teleported into her house after school.

Arcadia’s mother Maura had a very serious look on her face, and Arcadia’s five-greats-grandmother Stephanie was shaking her head dismissively.  They both fixed Arcadia with a look as she walked past them.

Maura broke the ice. “Arcadia, I just phoned a psychic, and she said there’s going to be a war and that we must flee the continent!”

“She says this so-called psychic looked like a teenager,” Stephanie said. “I can’t believe she’s buying some teen fraud’s bogus predictions and planning to immediately leave.  But I’m staying.  I grew up in this home.”

“Leaving?” Arcadia asked. “But everyone we know is in St. Paul.  How could you decide to leave the continent based on what some dumb phone psychic told you?”

“I already know where we’ll go,” Maura blazed on. “Ron recently wrote me a letter in which he proposed marriage, and I accepted.  So we’re going to his space colony near Jupiter.  As soon as he gets back from his latest astronaut mission, we’ll be married.  And you know that’s also where my foster daughters Sara and Meredith live.  We’ll move into their house and give them a real family.”

“Mother!” Arcadia gasped. “I’m only telling you this for your own good, and one day you’ll thank me.  Don’t marry Ron!  I’ll be a laughingstock if my parents get married!  The 3000 Census last year said only one percent of Americans are Nuclears!  And I don’t want little sisters!”