Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Merry Frolics of Satan (1906)

Georges Méliès once more conflates astronomy with astrology and technological wizardry with the more traditional kind in his 1906 film The Merry Frolics of Satan. Though ordinarily seen in excerpted form, focusing on the celestial carriage ride, it is actually one of Méliès' longer films. In it, a young engineer and his servant pester an alchemist for the means to travel across the planet, and get much more than they bargained for.

Ever the consummate stage magician, Méliès loves misdirections, redirections, and disguises. His alchemists and magicians rarely act only in the single capacity. In A Trip to the Moon, they are alchemist-astronomers... Relatively benign. In The Merry Frolics of Satan, the alchemist turns out to be the Devil himself (played by Méliès of course). The engineer ought to have looked at the fine print when signing his deal for a magical talisman that would enable to him to fulfill his dream of a high-speed global adventure.

Returning home, the engineer (Crackford, according to the script) drops the talismans, which transform into steamer trunks, out of which pop pairs of footmen and more steamer trunks, out of which pop more footmen and steamer trunks. One almost catches the whiff of The Sorcerer's Apprentice in this segment. The footmen proceed to place all of Crackford's furnishing and family in the steamer trunks, then transform them into a diminutive steam train. Off they go through town, to the jeers and lobbed vegetables of disdainful townsfolk. They should have turned around, because they don't get too far before a disaster claims the bridge over which they were travelling and the cars in which Crackford's family were riding. He has no time to be stopped by the tragic loss of his family, however. There is a journey around the world that he must make!

Next they arrive in a quaint Italian town and an inn-keeper... You-Know-Who... offers to put them up for the night. Méliès once more performs one of his "haunted inn" or "haunted room" skits, reminiscent of 1903's The Inn Where No Man Rests. Seeking escape from the ambulatory furniture and demonic acrobats, Crackford and his manservant hijack a horse-drawn carriage, which is in turn hijacked by the Devil. Mephistopheles transforms it into an infernal carriage pulled by a skeleton horse, and then uses an automobile to push it up Mount Vesuvius. An eruption projects them into the Heavens, where Crackford sees sights beyond his wildest imaginings. He is soaring through the celestial spheres, past comets and planets, and such sights undreamed of.

Then a storm ends it all. The carriage is dashed on a thundercloud, and the intrepid explorers are thrown back to Earth. Crackford is relieved to be home, but the deal is not yet done. Satan comes to claim his soul, the film ending with Crackford being turned on a spit in Hell.

The Merry Frolics of Satan was a free adaptation of a stage play by Victor de Cottens and Victor Darlay, form whom Méliès had previously supplied short films as part of their féerie stage revues. He altered the name and some of the sequences to avoid litigation, but it's fair enough, since the entire setting is a rendition of Faust set to the Edwardian Era. In particular, Méliès is sending up the fever for exploration and world travel that captured the minds of the upper classes. His Faustian character is not even looking for arcane knowledge of the supernatural, only a way to make it around the world pretty fast. Méliès' fantastic journeys usually end up in disaster, but in this case, it ends up in full-on damnation.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Our Fairytale Wedding

Since we only plan on getting married once (not counting vow renewals), we'd like to share some more of our wedding photos with you. I know calling it a "fairytale wedding" is fairly stereotypical, but considering that we lacked a pumpkin carriage and did a good part of the planning and organizing on our own, I think we did pretty well.

Our wedding took place on August 29th, 2014, in Banff, Alberta, Canada. For anyone counting, our ceremony venue was Tunnel Mountain Meadow, and photos were taken there, at Cascades of Time Gardens, and the Banff Springs Hotel. Photography was provided by K&E Imaging of Calgary.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Long Distance Wireless Photography (1908)

Long Distance Wireless Photography constitutes another of Georges Méliès' long line of trick films. An inventor welcomes an elderly couple to his workshop to see his innovations on wireless photography, and there isn't too much more to say about it than that. Hilarity ensues!

Méliès consistently dances between magic and science, fairyland and industry. Like much Science Fiction to follow, he uses the imagery of science and technology to produce the stuff of the supernatural. Long Distance Wireless Photography could just as easily have taken place in the den of a sorcerer or prestidigitator, but this time he chose the lab of that most miraculous of magicians, the engineer.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Addendum on GamerGate and the Death of Liberalism

In the week since my post on GamerGate, Toxic Marxism and the Death of Online Liberalism, two items came across my telegraph that I felt worthy of note. It's not the shameful report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (and subsequent unprofessional conduct by their reporters) that squandered the praise heaped on them for their sober reporting of the Ottawa Parliamentary shooting, or the shameful (in its own way) fact that it takes arch-conservative media to actually release a fair article about GamerGate. Nor is it the questionable priorities of #shirtstorm. One was a hateful screed written by an anti-GamerGate advocate and another was news of an oil company using liberal, SJW-type rhetoric to sue protesters for protesting. I wanted to make mention of these as telling evidence for the points I was making in my initial essay regarding the violent rhetoric of anti-GamerGate supporters and how leftist rhetoric actually sides with corporate interests to interfere with social progress.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship (1907)

Georges Méliès once again treats the viewer to the fever dreams of scientific pioneers in 1907's Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship. In this number, a wistful, would-be inventor falls asleep amidst his plans, blueprints, and chalk drawings for a dirigible airship when sleep overtakes him. Fairies and sprites cavort as they infiltrate his mind to fill his sleeping moments with images of his airship taken flight. Méliès' heavens are as lovely as always, with visions of stars as lovely maidens pass by the ship. Only an errant comet or firework ends the somnambulistic flight, stirring the inventor from his slumbers and putting him in a frenzy of destruction around his humble flat.

By itself, Inventor Crazybrains is short and cute. In context it becomes a little melancholy. 1907 was nearing the end of Méliès' filmmaking career, and not long thereafter, in a fit of depression, he would destroy many of his own works. Perhaps we see something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in this film, as a man with wonderful visions of fantasy realms despairingly ends his own career?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

On GamerGate, Toxic Marxism, and the Death of Online Liberalism

Besides a sarcastic post two weeks ago, I've been silent on the controversy surrounding GamerGate. This has been for a couple of reasons, but it seems that even neutrality is a being staked out as belonging to one side or the other. At the very least, if silence is complicity, then I cannot be silent in the face of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, or bullying and threats of violence. Nor can I be silent on the troubling aspect of this "either you're with us or you're with the terrorists" sort of logic, and the deeply problematic philosophy that girds it up.

One reason I've been silent so far is that even though I can be fanatically devoted to certain games, I don’t identify as a "gamer." I’m also not much of a "joiner." There are certain technical labels I cannot avoid, like which country I am a citizen of, but I'm not a member of any political party, I identify as neither liberal nor conservative, and I’m neither pro-GamerGate nor anti-GamerGate. I'm just some guy who would like to do right by others who also has a blog on Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances, which sometimes includes video games.

That said, my past experience with the cesspool of Steampunk culture has made me sympathetic to other people who are seeing their hobby… their passion… hijacked and exploited by cynical self-promoters masquerading under the rhetoric of high ideals. That experience and my disaffection with labels has also instilled in me a discomfort with the apparent inability of modern liberalism (or progressivism or leftistism or whatever you'd like to call it) to treat people like actual human beings, at least in its online form. A lot of that, I think, may be laid at the feet of Karl Marx and the influence his ideology continues to wield amongst leftists, even on this 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For people who have kept track of the 20th century, that is extremely problematic, and I fear that it is leading to the demise of anything resembling genuine liberal virtues like peace, justice, charity, reconciliation, multicultural understanding and freedom for the oppressed.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Offenbach's Le Voyage Dans la Lune

Conventional wisdom and the majority of literature has held that Georges Méliès' 1902 cinematic epic A Trip to the Moon was a co-adaptation of Science Fiction's two founding authors, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. From Verne's From the Earth to the Moon and Round the Moon, Méliès inherited the means of getting his explorers to the moon and back again. From Wells, he obtained the idea of descending into the moon's interior to discover a race of Selenite aliens.

Increasing familiarity with the films of Méliès imparts a distinct impression, however. This impression is that the fist auteur of cinema considers himself one link in the great chain of French art and culture. For long-form subjects he consistently turns to French authors like Verne and Perrault, and if not authors, then historical subjects like Joan of Arc. Nested within A Trip to the Moon, or Le Voyage Dans la Lune in its native French, are references to writers like Voltaire and Camille Flammarion. Odd, then, that he should suddenly turn to an English author for inspiration.

Stranger yet when one discovers that his film was not the first work of French popular entertainment to go by the title Le Voyage Dans la Lune!

The distinction goes to composer Jacques Offenbach, who supplied the music to an operetta by the same name in 1875. Verne was already a great appreciator of Offenbach's work, apraising him as the last great composer throughout Paris in the Twentieth Century. Evidently, at least to some extent, that appreciation was reciprocated. Under inspiration of an 1874 theatrical version of Around the World in Eighty Days written by Verne himself, Offenbach's Théâtre de la Gaîté looked to the father of Scientific Romances for a musical spectacle.

Offenbach's actual involvement was limited to the music. The libretto was written by Albert Vanloo, Eugène Leterrier and Arnold Mortier under inspiration of Verne but without his direct involvement. Directoral duties for the lavish production of 24 sets, over 600 costumes and a camel fell to Albert Vizentini. The product was a smash success of which Verne took note. A public letter insisted that "the loans to the authors from 'From the Earth to the Moon' as the point of departure and from 'Centre of the Earth' as the dénouement seem to me incontestable."

The operetta's first act introduces us to King Vlan, struggling under the pressure of trying to settle down his son, Prince Caprice. Caprice has no interest in the doldrums of married life or the intrigues of the court, so he brokers an impossible deal. Perhaps he will take on his adult responsibilities if he is first permitted to take a trip to the moon! Responsibility for this impossible task falls upon the scholar Microscope, who devises the solution. Their chariot to the lunar orb will be a projectile shot from a giant canon.

Act two begins with the Selenites gazing up at the sky and noticing an object hurtling towards them from the earth. This is baffling because the earth is supposed to be uninhabited! Nevertheless, our "Terriens" crash upon the mob. After responding flippantly to questions about their origins, the humans are taken captive by King Cosmos and his majordomo Cactus. They are saved from imprisonment only by the procipitous arrival of Queen Popotte and Princess Fantasia. As it is Fantasia's birthday, the king grants her wish to let the captives go.

Liberated, the human troupe of Vlan, Caprice and Microscope are conducted around the palace, with its glorious rooms of shimmering glass and decadent pearl. The young prince is smitten with Fantasia's alien beauty, but vexed by the fact that she does not know love. On the moon, that timeless inspiration to poets and lovers, love itself is considered a disorder. Caprice becomes the first in a long line of stellar explorers and starship captains who must teach the extraterrestrial woman about this strange thing that humans call love. His means is a wry inversion of the Bible's second Creation story: he feeds her an apple from earth, and the love-feeling blossoms within her.

Act three descends into a Shakespearian farce as Fantasia is sold into slavery thanks to the madness of this incurable disease of love. In the midst of Caprice's heroic adventure to retrieve her, an apple-based elixer makes the rounds of the palace, turning Cosmos' affections to his wife but her's towards Microscope. Eventually the humans and Fantasia are captured by the Selenites as winter sets in. This act ends with a showstopping, trendsetting number called the Snow Ballet. A stage filling with dancers and artificial snowflakes inspired countless imitators, the most famous of which is The Nutcracker. Act four's grand climax sees our heroes sentenced to five years inside an extinct volcano. Of course, the volcano is not as extinct as all that, finishing up the operetta with a very big bang.

It becomes apparent that it was Offenbach, moreso than Wells and perhaps even moreso than Verne specifically, who set the wheels inside the head of Georges Méliès turning. The latter's Le Voyage Dans la Lune borrows from Offenbach the great lunar canon, the population of Selenites, a snow dance and an excursion into the moon's interior. Via Verne, Méliès reigned in the fairy tale-like fantasy of Offenbach, restoring some of the scientific ardour. Not all, however. Méliès still specializes in that hazy, indistinct, primal ambiguity between the astronomer and the astrologer. From Wells, Méliès places more of the action within the moon and renders the Selenites in a more insectile fashion. Yet Méliès' lunar underworld recalls the opulent palaces of Offenbach far more.

It may be argued, then, that it is quite reasonable to look to Offenbach as the primary inspiration for France's first great movie-maker, and through him Verne, with Wells contributing only the smallest fractions. One might even be so bold as to suggest that Wells might himself have been inspired by Offenbach, whose Le Voyage Dans la Lune toured the world. We know from a throwaway line in First Men in the Moon that he was at least aware of Verne. At the very least, we have a new candidate for music themed to Scientific Romances, composed by the hand of a Victorian master.

A performance of Voyages dans la Lune by the Grand Theatre of Geneva.