Friday, November 23, 2012

Hugo Cabret and Georges Méliès

Still from A Trip to the Moon by Georges Melies [Source]
Last March, N. read Brian Selznick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007).  I didn't know much about it beyond this: it is about a boy who lives in a train station in early 20th-century Paris and the narrative is partly told through detailed, realistic pencil drawings.  I thought both of these features would appeal to N. and he said he liked the book a lot (in July he read Selznick's newest book, Wonderstruck, which he liked even more). 

N. didn't talk much about Hugo Cabret after reading it, but recently he asked several times if we could find the film "A Trip to the Moon" by Georges Méliès.  He wanted to watch it.  I had no idea what he was talking about, and it only gradually emerged that he'd learned about Méliès through Selznick's novel, in which the pioneering French filmmaker is an important character.  I found this incredible box set of 173 (!) of Méliès's films at the library, and we've been gradually working our way through them, a couple 2- or 3-minute films at a time.  We've already watch "A Vanishing Lady" and "A Trip to the Moon" multiple times.  It is astonishing to watch films made in the 1890s and early 1900s!  

As I've now learned (thanks to the material accompanying the DVDs), Méliès was a practicing magician and he was one of the first to grasp the non-realist potential of cinema while others were using the new medium for documentary realism.  For example, in "A Vanishing Lady," Méliès makes a woman disappear, replaces her with a skeleton, and makes her reappear, all through stop-action filming.  Since N. has only watched 3 full-length movies in his life, including one silent film (Buster Keaton's "The General"), he is not much more sophisticated a viewer than those who first saw Méliès's films at the turn of the century and he is absolutely charmed by them.  They don't seem quaint to him, but amazing.  When N. first watched "A Vanishing Lady," for example he had no idea how the illusion was achieved!  He laughs uproariously at films' physical comedy, marvels at their illusions, and hums the accompanying music all day.  

So we've had a lot of fun learning about the early history of cinema.  I finally read The Invention of Hugo Cabret last week after we'd begun watching Méliès's films, and while I think the writing itself is quite pedestrian, I am grateful to Selznick for sparking N.'s interest in Méliès and leaving clear trails throughout the text and in the Afterword for further exploration.  In an earlier post explaining why we severely restrict N.'s screen time, I describe our view of our parental role as "curators" offering quality visual experiences.  While our restrictions may have made N. more receptive to Méliès's films than more media-saturated kids might be, it's also true that our exploration of Méliès and other early filmmakers was driven by N. and was not "curated" by his parents at all.  I had never heard of Georges Méliès before last week!  The list of things I've learned about through my son's interests is ever-growing.


Momand Kiddo said...

I hadn't heard of Georges Méliès until grad school and I love his film work, but I certainly haven't see 173 films!

Fanny Harville said...

We haven't seen all 173 (yet!) either... Also I think there is a second boxed set of DVDs if 173 films is not enough!

Erin said...

I absolutely love that N. is so charmed by these films in large part because of how you have limited his screen time. That is one of the most inspiring "proofs" (so to speak) of less screen time being a good thing!

Fanny Harville said...

Thanks for commenting, Erin! Of course we have no way of knowing; maybe N. would love these films regardless of what he'd watched before. But I do suspect that less is more.

Momand Kiddo said...

P.S. Thanks for linking up to TCB. Also, I have yet to read either of Selznick's novels, though I marvel at his illustrations. I hope to find time one of these days.

Fanny Harville said...

M&K, they are very fast reads. N. really liked them both.