Méliès, Georges (1861–1938) By de Fren, Allison
Georges Méliès (born Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès) was a French showman, illusionist, and filmmaker best known for his early silent fantasy and science fiction films, such as Trip to the Moon (1902) and Impossible Voyage (1904). While most early films were actualities, he took an innovative, non-realist approach to the medium, employing its unique capacities for altering space and time to produce allegorical and dream imagery. He is sometimes called the first cinemagician due to his pioneering work in special effects, including the stop-trick film, double exposure, split screen, dissolve, and superimposition.
Méliès launched his entertainment career as a magician in the arcades of late 19th-century Paris. In 1888 he purchased the Théâtre Robert-Houdin, the most famous magic theater at the time, which came complete with stage props, illusions, automata (whose parts he used to build his first film camera), and performers, including Jeanne d’Alcy, who became his muse, long-time mistress, and second wife. The performance skills that he developed in the theater were later incorporated into filmmaking, an occupation that he began pursuing passionately after attending the première screening of the Lumière brothers’ Cinématographe at the Grand Café in 1895. A year later, he helped to found the Star Film Company and built what is considered the first film studio of the silent period, whose main stage area featured a steel frame surrounded by glass walls to capture the sunlight.