I don’t know why Georges Franju’s short documentaries are so hard to see. Even if nobody wants to package them together as a set, they’re the best DVD extras anybody could wish for.
LE SANG DES BÊTES, of course, has served exactly this function, running as support to LES YEUX SANS VISAGE on the Criterion disc. And a fine, blood-soaked pair they are.
But why has it taken me this long to track down LE GRAND MÉLIÈS, albeit with an English dubbed V.O.? This one could not only fit with a Franju feature nicely, it could also be packaged with Georges Méliès films. The possibilities are quite literally several.
Franju begins at the end, getting the sad bits out of the way, as he puts it, before introducing us to Mme. Méliès, played by the real Mme. Méliès, and Georges Méliès, played by Melies Jnr. The casting is cute and works, and was facilitated by Franju’s role as co-founder of the Cinemateque Francaise. Mme. Méliès had been a friend to the institution, supplying a nude portrait of herself to the museum, although with the stipulation that it should only be displayed from the shoulders up.
At this point, aged 90, she looks exactly like a Ronald Searle drawing of an old lady.
Then comes the best bit — although later sequences illustrating Méliès’ techniques and tracing his entry into film are also admirable.
We meet Méliès, retired from film-making, at the toy shop be ran in a Paris railway station. Two children come to buy geegaws, but haven’t l’argentto pay for them. Kindly M. Méliès gives one boy a trumpet anyway, but when the little bugger keeps tooting it in an annoying fashion, the old wizard distracts him and his companion with a display of legerdemaine.
A wallet of coins is produced. The children are impressed. The coins are vanished and then reproduced. Wonderful. Then M. Méliès transforms his head into a bouquet of flowers. For real.
“Uh, okay… Back away, slowly.”
Franju cuts to them running, backwards and in slow motion, up the steps from the Metro to the safe, rational outside world.
Purists may argue whether this can really be called documentary, but it’s a lovely sequence, dovetailing from a kind of dramatic reconstruction into sheer fantasy. The flower-headed Méliès is a figure from Dali rather than from Méliès’ own work, connecting with the bird-headed avenger in JUDEX, himself influenced by Max Ernst rather than supposed inspiration Louis Feuillaide. The fleeing kids in reverse is an echo of LOVE ME TONIGHT, where a fox hunt is seen softly galloping backwards. And the setting is returned to at the end of the film, where we see the toy shop transformed into a florist’s (as it was in reality), where Mme. Méliès goes to buy flowers for her husband’s grave.
Now that’s magic!
Jeanne d'Alcy: Ella misma
François Lallement: Narrador (voz)
André Méliès: Georges Méliès
Marie-Georges Méliès: Ella misma / también voz: narradora
Productor: Fred Orain
Música original: Georges Van Parys
Duración: 31 min.