Right in the Eye – Live Movie-Concert of Georges Méliès’ Films
French Institute, v168
13:30 (ends 26 August, not 5, 11, 15); 20.00 11 August ONLY
⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)
As someone who largely knows Georges Méliès’ films from having watched, and been entranced by, Martin Scorsese’s homage to him, Hugo, I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to see a selection of Méliès films with a live musical accompaniment at the French Institute, newly moved from the edge of the New Town to a prime site at the junction of the Royal Mile and George IV Bridge.
What I hadn’t expected was a magical hour where films, lighting and music wove a rich tapestry in which lights and music complemented and interpreted the films, creating a unique experience which went way beyond merely ‘watching very old movies’.
I was delighted to hear, at the start of the show, the voices of Georges’ son André and his collaborator Max Bonnet talking about Georges and his unique contribution to the world of cinematography. Méliès began his working life as a magician and illusionist, but at the invitation of the Lumière brothers came to watch the very first projected films – people walking out of the Lumière factory, and the famous train coming into a station which made people scream as they thought it was going to come out of the screen at them. He realised the rich potential of this invention and took it to amazing and completely new heights, and inspired many later film makers, among them Scorsese.
I was completely unprepared for the richness and variety of the films, the length of some of them, and the colour, created by hand-tinting every frame of film. There were funnies – of course, there was the rocket hitting the moon in the eye – and illusions where people appeared and disappeared, were disassembled and magically put together again, or squashed and ‘reinflated’, brief visual jokes and absurd situations, such as the man with four heads. What amazed me were the two ‘long’ films, Le Royaume des Féés, and Voyage à travers l’impossible, which displayed not only technical wizardry but also a seemingly unending stream of invention, of plot and effects, settings, props, and costumes.
Running throughout the show was the complex, multi-layered, evocative and intricate score, written and performed on a fantastic array of instruments by self-styled ‘iconoclastic artist’ Jean-François Alcoléa and his fellow-musicians Hervé and Guillaume, with the electrical and IT wizardry of Hamish. The subtle lighting underlined and reflected the mood of the films, and made it possible in the intervals between films for us to marvel at the extraordinary collection of instruments the three men were playing so skilfully – not just standard keyboard instruments but wine glasses, a piano sound board, pots, pans and spoons, circular saw blades and “slide flutes and electric sheath” among other things. It would be a delight to have the opportunity for a lecture-demonstration of all these and the many others that were played, and to learn how the score – perfectly synchronised with the actions on screen – was created.
At the end of the show we were treated to a brief encore – A Fat and Lean Wrestling Match – which got the whole audience laughing at its absurdities while marvelling at its invention. This is the first visit of Alcoléa and his collaborators to the Fringe: I hope it won’t be the last – but meanwhile don’t miss out on the opportunity to enjoy an hour with some French masters, both living and dead.