Saturday, October 06, 2012

Live cinema concert Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoé (4K restoration 2012 La Cinémathèque française)

LES AVENTURES DE ROBINSON CRUSOÉ (The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe) (Georges Méliès, Star-Film, FR 1902). D+P+SC+ED: Georges Méliès; C: Georges Méliès (Robinson Crusoe); orig. l: 280 m; 35 mm, 233 m, ca 12'30" (16 fps); col. (hand-coloured); print source: La Cinémathèque française, Paris. No intertitles.

The film is accompanied by a specially composed score by Maud Nelissen; performed by: Maud Nelissen (piano), Yamila Bavio (flutes), Daphne Balvers (soprano sax), Frido ter Beek (percussion, effects). Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, 6 Oct 2012.

Like other Méliès films of the period, Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoé has no titles, but was originally accompanied by a commentary, of which the original text has survived. This will be delivered, in English translation, by Paul McGann.

Laurent Mannoni: "In 2011, Olivier Auboin-Vermorel, a collector of early cinema apparatus, decided to deposit his collection of nitrate films with the Cinémathèque française. This collection consisted of precious films from the earliest times: works by Étienne-Jules Marey, Nadar fils, Edison, Pathé, titles from Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, and several works by Méliès."

"The most remarkable item in this collection is certainly Méliès’ Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoé, from which until now we have known only a brief fragment in black-and-white and of poor quality."

"The newly-found print lacks a few metres from the first tableau, and again notably when Robinson liberates Friday from the savages (Tableau 10). But this version, entirely coloured by hand, is in sufficiently good condition to enable us to appreciate afresh Méliès’ genius in the matter of mise-en-scène, trick-work, and colour."

"The film has been digitally restored (4K) by the Cinémathèque française and Éclair Laboratories, and subsequently been returned to 35 mm film. The original colours have been rigorously reproduced."

"Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoé (nos. 430-443 in the Méliès catalogue) was filmed at Montreuil en 1902, shortly after Le Voyage dans la Lune. Méliès himself plays the title role. The original length was 280 metres. An explanatory text published in 1905 in the company’s American catalogue (Complete Catalogue of Genuine and Original Star Films), probably written by Méliès himself, provides a commentary (boniment) that can be used to accompany the projection (the film was made without intertitles). The film marks the earliest known use of a card placed in the décor, with the sign “Méliès / [five-point star] / Star Film” – the letters and star in white on a black background – a precaution no doubt undertaken following the then-recent piracies of Le Voyage dans la Lune."

"The Cinémathèque française also conserves 10 original drawings (sketches for décors and costumes) and 12 silver-print production photographs. These documents reveal that a dream sequence in Robinson’s hut was shot in the Montreuil studio: a design for a décor, titled “Robinson’s Hut – Dream”, and six photographs of the stage show this dream scène: Robinson, lying on the ground in his hut, dreams of his family, who appear above him. This dream would probably have come at the end of Tableau 7, but it does not figure either in this copy or in the descriptive text which we have. This suggests that in the end Méliès did not retain in the montage this dream sequence, which is nevertheless, in the purest tradition of magic lantern shows, a scenene expected by the public."

"The other drawings, in colour, represent Robinson who “sees a ship and makes distress signals”; the “construction of a hut”; “Robinson’s observatory”; the construction in the forest of the vessel which will make possible the escape of Robinson and Friday; Robinson’s escape in the canoe; “Southampton docks (Robinson’s Return)”; and finally Friday dancing in the apotheosis scenene. Two additional designs are for a woman’s costume (“Miss Robinson”) and for a décor attributed to the film. For his own costume and for certain décors, Méliès was inspired by the classic illustrations for the novel by Grandville, whose magnificently illustrated Robinson Crusoé appeared in 1840."

"The catalogue of Méliès films published in the United States in 1905 presents Robinson Crusoé thus:"

"“The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe are not an extravaganza or a series of fantastic tableaux, but a cinematographic play which represents the different episodes of the novel very faithfully. An ‘apotheosis’ (Tableau 25) has been added to end this scenene dramatically. Duration of the show, approximately 20 minutes."

"(1) Shipwrecked; (2) The Raft; (3) His Progress up the River; (4) Three Days After; (5) The Last Hope; (6) The Signal of Distress; (7) Robinson Building His Hut; (8) The Cannibals; (9) The War Dance; (10) The Rescue of Friday; (11) Robinson’s Flight, The Fall of the Cliff; (12) The Pursuit; (13) The Attack on the Hut; (14) After the Battle; (15) Constructing the Canoe; (16) The Earthquake (“… A thunderstorm breaks forth and dazzling lightning illuminates the rocks and landscape. This new effect in cinematography is obtained by an entirely new method never before utilized, and is of the most strikingly realistic character, the flashes of lightning being an exact counterpart of those in nature, and lend a wonderful sense of realism to the picture.”); (17) The Chase in the Forest; (18) Sailing around the Island; (19) The Mutiny; (20) The Rescue; (21) The Quay at Southampton; (22) Robinson’s Triumphant Return; (23) Home, Sweet Home; (24) The Increased Family; (25) Apotheosis.”"

"Méliès’ presentation emphasizes an important point: his film is not an extravaganza (and neither a comic opera, like the Robinson Crusoé of Cormon, Crémieux, and Offenbach, performed in Paris for the first time in November 1867), nor is it a series of “fantastic tableaux”: it is a “cinematographic play”, that is to say, a film on a grand scale (what would today be called a superproduction), like Jeanne d’Arc, filmed in 1900 (“great historical play”), or Le Voyage dans la Lune, made in 1902 (“grand spectacular play in 30 tableaux”)."

"Robinson Crusoé is different from other films by Méliès: certainly it is full of energy and of the dynamic trick-work which had been seen in Le Voyage dans la Lune, completed a little earlier: superimpositions, disappearances, reappearances, pyrotechnical effects, very successful dissolves, the final apotheosis tableau, etc. But – and this is what the miraculous exhumation of this beautiful nitrate print has revealed – Méliès’ Robinson Crusoé is above all a film which magnificently uses colour as a language as important as tricks and montage."

"It must be remembered that Méliès did not much like the technique of “pochoir” (stencilling): as a former magic lanternist, he preferred brush painting, more shimmering, with aniline colours, as used on lantern slides. It is not insignificant that Robinson Crusoé has been so well treated from the point of view of colour. In the second half of the 19th century, Defoe’s classic figured in the repertory of magic lantern slides. For example, the catalogue of the London lantern maker James Steward offered the story of Robinson Crusoe in 29 magnificent slides, both fixed and animated: this series is conserved in the Cinémathèque française with the original commentary by Edmund Wilkie, one of the great lanternists of London’s Royal Polytechnic."

"The slides are very inventive in their systems of animation and the colours are unusually lively. Had Méliès seen this series of slides in London? One might think so, since some tableaux so resemble his own; while equally the burlesque elements always dear to Méliès are evident in the London slides."

"Meticulously coloured by hand, Méliès’ Robinson Crusoé is revealed as a masterpiece of colour cinema. Look carefully at the costumes of the savages; the red and yellow explosions; the effects of lightning; the Union Jack flag; and above all, a true marvel, the tiny bi-coloured parrot, all achieved on a surface as limited as a 35 mm image. Who coloured Robinson Crusoé? Segundo de Chomón and his wife? Mademoiselle Claire, in 1897 a specialist in “colouring for cinematographe films” in rue de Vaugirard, Paris? Albert Marro Fornelio, boulevard Sébastopol, who in 1903 offered “free of charge, a film of 20 metres as a specimen so that his style of artistic work may be appreciated”? The sisters Rouillon, rue de la Sainte-Chapelle, who again were working in 1904? Madame Verdier, 2 rue Guisarde? Madame Vallouy, rue de la Villette, who specialized in “grandes scènes et féeries”? The celebrated Widow Thuillier, rue de Varennes? No doubt we will never know, but Méliès’ Robinson Crusoé provides a unique occasion to pay homage to those modest workers who, with great diligence and talent, gave colour to the cinématographe."

"Though already captivating thanks to its colours, Robinson Crusoé contains trick-work new to Méliès, and which he would not often repeat subsequently. The accompanying text emphasizes this new “effect”, describing the thunderstorm, with its lightning, as a veritable “highpoint” of the film. The scenene is in fact astonishing. While Robinson struggles in the tempest, we see appear above the hut a succession of (ten) illuminations, revealing different stormy and tempestuous skies (some, certainly, are repeated more than once, but never follow one other immediately). Probably Méliès made successive superimpositions (on the part of the décor left black) of painted cloths representing the different tormented skies; in shooting, he would have periodically illuminated them with the aid of powerful electric arcs, which gives this effect of very convincing and impressive flashes."

"It is clear that Robinson Crusoé, apart from the fact that it must be shown in its coloured version, must be “bonimenté” – shown with commentary – and better still with sound effects. The film is full of apparent sounds – gunfire, thunder, wind, tempest, dogs, cats, birdcall, falling stones, explosions, trumpet fanfares, etc.… Méliès, we know, used sound effects to accompany his own films in the cinema of his Théâtre Robert-Houdin."

"Robinson Crusoé relies to an extent on the same narrative principle as Le Voyage dans la Lune: arrival in a hostile place, adventures with the natives, escape, return home, fanfare and procession, apotheosis… It is a firework display of fantasy, humour, poetry, colour. Decidedly the year 1902 was dazzling for the Master of Montreuil." LAURENT MANNONI

AA: A big treat: a major Georges Méliès movie revived after 110 years. As Laurent Mannoni states above, it is a fascinating parallel movie to Le Voyage dans la Lune. In 12 minutes it is quite a condensation of Daniel Defoe's novel in the colourful Méliès style, with the maestro himself in the leading role. I like the conclusion: Robinson meets his children who have grown up and many grandchildren of whom he has been unaware. Friday accompanies Robinson to England, as do their goat and parrot. My first impression is that movie might be slightly clumsier than some of the best Méliès movies. The colour is essential and there is reason for gratitude for the care taken to its reconstruction in 4K. The source material may have been in bad shape as the image sometimes look bleak. There is a charmingly subtle and playful approach in Maud Nelissen's score.

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