The Crossroads of the Aether
The color restored version of "Le Voyage Dans la Lune" by Georges Méliès (1902) is making the rounds after its triumphant showing at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Here in Pittsburgh it was showing at the Regent Square Theater and I was not going to miss the opportunity to see it on the big screen.
Only a few people from the Steel City Steam Society decided to join me. I might have blamed it on the 90 degree temperatures but the Facebook page had not many committed in advance to going. I know that streampunk attracts different people for different reasons, apparently a chance to see one of the earliest science fiction films ever made is not one of them.
I'd seen it online previously but nothing compares to seeing it on a big screen.For example, at the end when the projectile is being towed back to port after splashing down in the ocean, I hadn't noticed how obviously the crewman in the capsule was a hand puppet. And when the columbiad is being loaded, I saw the key hanging on the hook at the far right hand edge of the screen, a case of the stage itself being seen. I would like to see the black and white version on the big screen. The color version, while magnificently restored, is still not in as good a shape as black and white prints available. Actually, I would like to see a lot more Méliès on the big screen.
A hadn't liked the soundtrack but seeing it again lead me to conclude that I didn't like it this time either. There were points where it synced up and worked with what was going on in the scene but there were other times, such as half way through the meeting of the astronomers, where it seemed to veer off into something else. Animal sounds? Really? It was as if someone wrote a 16 minute piece of music based on what he was told about the film and then just played it over the film instead of writing the music with the film playing in front of them. Timing is important.
After the film itself came the documentary about Méliès, his films, A Trip to the Moon and its restoration. I had known most of the story but it was astonishing to actually see the abysmal condition the color copy of the film was in and compare it to the final restored version. I recall an article saying that the restoration was like taking hamburger and turning back into a cow. I also hadn't know that the philosophy of film restoration is all about saving the content of the film. Given that film stock degrades and there is ultimately nothing that can be done about it, "restoration" is interested in recovering the images on the frame. In the end, it doesn't matter that the film itself is a bile of broken, brittle celluloid, the movie is saved if the images are saved.
Oh, and yet again, Edison was a dick.