|Still from A Trip to the Moon by Georges Melies [Source]|
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.