Cinema history now looks back to Georges Méliès, creator of 1902's A Trip to the Moon and other early motion pictures previously featured here, as the medium's first master of the fantastical. Visual effects, imagined worlds, and the seemingly impossible made seemingly real remain reliable draws for modern-day filmgoers, but so does something far simpler to produce: skin. But Méliès knew that, and he even demonstrated the extent of his knowledge in 1897's After the Ball, viewable in all of its 19th-century titillation, and for its entire 1:06 length, here. While not the very first "adult" film — that historical honor goes to Eugène Pirou’s Bedtime for the Bride in France, and Esmé Collings’ A Victorian Lady in Her Boudoir in Britain — it must count as the earliest one by such a distinguished filmmaker. And it's the only one of the three mentioned here you can watch online.
Michael Brooke's Georges Méliès blog describes the action, shall we say, as follows: “A woman enters her boudoir, and her maid helps her to undress, peeling off her outer garments until she is clad in a shift and stockings. She sits down, and the maid helps remove the latter. Almost naked aside from skimpy underwear, the woman gets into a tub and the maid pours the contents of a large jug over her, drying her off with a towel afterwards. They leave the room together." While modern-day adult filmmakers can and do continue to dine out on such premises, After the Ball's rendition of the circumstances now looks tame enough to play freely on Youtube. Brooke adds that this film, along with Collings’ and probably Pirou’s, was "marketed as being suitable for private screenings to broad-minded bachelors." Méliès' contribution to this innovation must have made for a few worthwhile fin de siècle bachelor parties.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.