(director/writer:Eric Lange; screenwriter: Serge Bromberg; editor: Eric Lange; music:Léon Rousseau; cast: Leonard Maltin (narrator), Costa-Gavras, Michel Gondry,  Béatrice de Pastre, Heather Linville; Runtime: 58; MPAA Rating: NR; producer; Serge Bromberg: Lobster Films; 2021-France-in French with English subtitles)

It’s a good watch for film historians and film buffs.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Eric Lange (“Sydney, The Other Chaplain”/”The Birth of the Tramp”) is the documentary filmmaker who details how over 200 of the 520 lost films of pioneering French film director Georges Méliès (1861-1938) were restored recently by the efforts orchestrated by a Franco-American collaboration between Lobster Films (which co-produced this documentary), the National Film Center and the Library of Congress. The  intriguing documentary is co-written by Lange and Serge Bromberg.

Georges, the wealthy youngest third son of a Parisian shoe manufacturer, a
fter three years of mandatory military service, was sent to London by his dad to be a clerk for a family friend to become more fluent in English. While in London, he honed the skills needed for his lifelong passion for doing stage magic. After a few years abroad he rejoined his father in Paris, working in the family business until his father’s death in 1888. He then left the shoe business and used his share of the inheritance to buy the Robert-Houdin Theater, where his magic and experience as an illusionist drew crowds to his shows on the Grand Boulevard.  Influenced by inventive people in the art of making films such as Tom Edison and the Lumière brothers, Georges began making outstanding fantasy films by employing his special effects and unique cameras.

Méliès directed over 500 films between 1896 and 1913, ranging in length from one to forty minutes
. His most famous film was made in May 1902, A Trip to the Moon,  which was loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1865 novel. Things went well until international competition in the industrial era put him out of business and he was forced to sell his Montreuil studio, as well as most of the sets and costumes. In 1923 he was nraged he no longer had a place to store his films, he thereby burned all his negatives.

Soon Georges was a forgotten man in the new growing cinema industry, and took up running a toy store in the
Montparnasse train station.

Though in his lifetime he never got those films back he burned, he
received government recognition (The Legion of Honor) for his inventions in early cinema and how he helped the new movie industry grow. Over the years film buffs and cinema people from all over the world recovered negatives still around (they found double negatives stored in basements and in the hands of collectors) and in modern times his many surviving films were stored in the Library of Congress and restored.

Clips of many of his films are shown, as well as a few talking heads (
Costa-Gavras, Michel Gondry, Béatrice de Pastre, Heather Linville, and the American film critic narrator Leonard Maltin) trying to fill us in on the details of his legendary career.

It’s a good watch for film historians and film buffs.

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