Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Le Voyage dans la lune (2011 restoration)

Special Presentation: (A Trip to the Moon) (Star-Film, FR 1902) D, P SC, AD: Georges Méliès; DP: Michaut, Lucien Tainguy; cast: Georges Méliès (Prof. Barbefouillis), Jehanne d’Alcy, Bleuette Bernon (Phoebe), Brunnet, Henri Delannoy (il capitano/ captain of the rocket), Depierre, Fariaut, Kelm; 35 mm, 382 m, 13'56" (24 fps), col. (hand-coloured), sd.; from: Lobster Films, Paris. No intertitles. Restoration 2011, by Lobster Films, Fondation Groupama Gan pour le Cinéma, and Fondation Technicolor pour le Patrimoine du Cinéma / Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, with the support of Les Archives Françaises du Film-CNC and Madeleine Malthête-Méliès. With recorded musical score by AIR (Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin). Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, 4 Oct 2011.

David Robinson (GCM Catalogue): "Méliès would no doubt have been surprised by the furore over his film – the cinema’s first science-fiction epic – on the 150th anniversary of his own birth. “This play is certainly not one of my best, but people are still talking about it thirty years later! It left an indelible trace because it was the first of its kind. In short, it is considered my masterpiece – I can only bow and agree.”"

"They are still talking about it a hundred years later."

"From the end of the 1890s, and before the development of stencil processes, Méliès had his films coloured frame by frame in the atelier of Elisabeth Thuillier, rue du Baca. Exhibitors, buying the film copies outright, were obliged to pay two or three times more for coloured copies than for black-and-white. The unprecedented length of Voyage dans la lune would have implied an equally unprecedented price, and though it seemed likely that few coloured prints were sold, certainly none seemed to have survived, until the appearance of this copy, presented in 1993 to the Filmoteca de Catalunya by an anonymous donor."

"The subsequent restoration of these 14 minutes of film, which took from 1999 to 2011, without doubt represents the most marathon work of its kind ever undertaken. Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange, who had just found 30 Méliès films, 17 of them until then believed lost, were alerted to the existence of this print in 1999, by the late director of the Filmoteca, Anton Giménez, who assured them that it was in a state of total decomposition. Nevertheless, they agreed to trade it for a copy of a lost stencil-coloured film by Segundo de Chomón, L’Araignée d’or, which was screened in Pordenone the same year. When the film arrived in Paris, Giménez’s pessimism seemed justified: the reel was solidified into a single block. A series of specialist laboratories insisted that nothing was salvageable. However, the indomitable Bromberg and Lange discovered that the decomposition and adhesion was worst on the edges: within this apparently solid cylinder, the images themselves were mostly still separate and intact."

"With infinite patience and a piece of flexible card, the 13,375 images were separated, one by one. Sometimes they emerged in short strips, sometimes they broke into fragments. Haghefilm laboratories then undertook chemical treatment which gave the film short-term flexibility, though in the long term hastening the ultimate and inevitable decomposition. This however enabled a third of the film to be saved on colour internegative. The remainder, in tiny fragments, was painstakingly photographed, frame by frame, with a new 3 million-pixel digital camera that became available in the course of the work. The entire process of saving the existing images took well over 2 years. In April 2010, using the latest technologies, Lobster, Fondation Groupama Gan, and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage decided to make a final assembly of all the elements, supplementing the missing parts with black-and-white material digitally hand-coloured to match the surviving frames. One more year of work was carried out at Technicolor Creative Services in Hollywood, under the supervision of Tom Burton, bringing the total time spent on the restoration to a decade, and the cost above 400,000 euros."

"It was these sponsors who convinced Lobster “to give the film its original, contemporary soundtrack, and thus make the restoration as exceptional an event as the Georges Méliès work itself”, and so they commissioned a score from the French group AIR, who explain, “our music, in its beginnings, was very pop; it’s become more experimental over time”. The premiere of the restoration was on the opening night of the 2011 Festival de Cannes. The Giornate performance will be given with the recorded accompaniment, which must now be considered integral to the 2011 restoration." – DAVID ROBINSON

AA: I saw this 2011 restoration for the third time, and instead of AIR I would prefer to hear something else on the soundtrack (the Offenbach music in Bologna was perfect), or nothing, but this is a fascinating restoration of the marvellous film. I have written also on Le Voyage dans la Lune with Offenbach, Le Voyage dans la Lune with AIR in Bologna's colour show, and Serge Bromberg and Éric Lange's Jonathan Dennis lecture.

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