The release of Flicker Alley’s 2008 box set Geoges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema was without question one of the DVD events of that year. Collecting virtually every surviving film by the titular director, the 13-hour, five-disc bonanza allowed us to trace the artistic development and track the cinematic worldview of the screen’s first great artist. Beginning in 1896 with Méliès’s minute-long acutalités and soon-to-be-trademark trick films (for which the one-time stage magician developed a stop-motion editing technique to augment his conjurer’s repertoire) to the longer and more celebrated travel films (of which 1902’s A Trip to the Moon remains the most beloved) and a late run of comedic one-offs, First Wizard revealed a filmmaker at once in thrall to and wary of the possibilities of technological advancement.
Méliès’s movie camera, a recent invention which allowed the filmmaker control over time and space (though given his static tableaux probably more the former than the latter), finds its on-screen counterpart in the range of fantastic vehicles (rocket ships, impossibly fast cars) that allow his intrepid explorers access to wondrous and previously inaccessible lands. But Méliès also saw the destructive potential in these new inventions and it was often the task of the “dream film,” a nightmare flipside to the travel film, to paint the consequences. In the astonishing Tunneling the English Channel, the English and French heads of state collectively dream of the potentially disastrous consequences of building the eponymous thoroughfare. Upon waking, they understandably want nothing to do with it.
Now, two years after the original set, with 26 additional Méliès films (plus two directed by Segundo de Chomon that were previously attributed to Méliès) having been discovered in the interim, Flicker Alley has brought out a one-disc addenda to satisfy the completist. Georges Méliès Encore: New Discoveries is hardly rich enough on its own merits to chart the filmmaker’s signature concerns in the way that was possible in First Wizard, but in its eclectic composition and comprehensive temporal range, it encompasses most of the facets of Méliès’s art, thus offering a far more representative single-disc overview than Kino’s readily available The Magic of Méliès, which covers only five years of the filmmaker’s career and focuses principally on his trick and travel films. And if the new discoveries in question hardly yield any treasures comparable with The Impossible Voyage, An Adventurous Automobile Trip, or the aforementioned Tunneling the English Channel, there are a handful of offerings that at least serve to enhance our understanding of the scope of the filmmaker’s artistry.
Among the obvious highlights are the piteous, 10-minute melodrama The Christmas Angel, in which an impoverished young woman is forced to beg alms to save her sick mother as well as her miserable hovel, the comedic The Doctor’s Secret, where a whole range of fantastic devices are enlisted to perform a seemingly impossible feat of liposuction, and the two-minute surviving fragment of The Spider and the Butterfly, notable principally for an eye-popping display of hand tinting. Perhaps best of all is 1907’s Robert Macaire and Bertrand, a picaresque that combines two of the dominant strands of late Méliès, the comic and the travel film, as the title pair of petty criminals employ a range of vehicles (trains, hot air balloons), not for the sheer pleasure of discovery as they would in a straight travelogue like The Impossible Voyage, but simply to avoid the police. Nonetheless, as they fly through the air, first propelled by the force of an earthquake, later via the balloon, Méliès manages to communicate something of the sublimity of motion, the expression of which forms one of the great pleasures of his later work and one which mirrors the director’s own giddy sense of discovery in his own ability to manipulate space and time.
Flicker Alley’s latest set may be minor Méliès (and, to be fair, it’s being marketed as nothing more than a supplement to the earlier set), but if two years of time can yield even the modest pleasures on display here, think what else may be ripe for discovery, awaiting only the ever probing hand of the archivist.
Given the archival nature of the material, the image varies greatly, ranging from severely damaged by nitrate deterioration to crystal clear and beautifully tinted. Sound, which consists of newly recorded instrumental accompaniment and, for certain films, French and English language narration, is crisp throughout.
All the extras are on the earlier set. This is, after all, just an addendum.
Any Méliès is good Méliès, but there's plenty here to stand on its own merits.