Watch 194 Films by Georges Méliès, the Filmmaker Who “Invented Everything” (All in Chronological Order)

Georges Méliès direct­ed, pro­duced, edit­ed, and starred in over 500 films between 1896 and 1913, most of them brim­ming with spe­cial effects the film­mak­er him­self invent­ed. Before Méliès, such things as split screens, dis­solves, and dou­ble expo­sures did not exist. After him, they were crit­i­cal to cinema’s vocab­u­lary, and the image of a rock­et in the Moon’s eye became icon­ic. Méliès shocked, scared, and delight­ed pop­u­lar audi­ences while also earn­ing recog­ni­tion from the avant garde. “The Sur­re­al­ists would hail him as a great poet,” writes Dar­rah O’Donohue at Sens­es of Cin­e­ma, “in par­tic­u­lar his era­sure or sub­ver­sion of bound­aries.” Crit­ics would lat­er call him the first auteur.

Méliès orig­i­nal­ly set out to become a stage illu­sion­ist. He per­formed in — and pur­chased, in 1888 — famous magi­cian Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin’s the­ater, where he became obsessed with film in 1895 at a pri­vate demon­stra­tion of the Lumière broth­ers’ cin­e­mato­graph. When they refused to sell him one, he hunt­ed down anoth­er pro­jec­tor — Robert W. Paul’s ani­mato­graph — and mod­i­fied it to work as a cam­era he called the “cof­fee grinder” and “machine gun.”

Noisy cam­eras were not a seri­ous issue in the age of silent film, but Méliès was per­pet­u­al­ly dis­sat­is­fied with his equip­ment and strove to improve at every turn while learn­ing to make bet­ter cin­e­mat­ic illu­sions, 194 of which you can watch for free in chrono­log­i­cal order in this YouTube playlist. The playlist appears in full at the bot­tom of this post.

In an auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal sketch (ghost­writ­ten in the third per­son for a jour­nal­ist tasked with com­pil­ing a “dic­tio­nary of illus­tri­ous men”), Méliès describes him­self “an engi­neer of great pre­ci­sion” and “inge­nious by nature.” Mod­est, he was not, but the great show­man was not wrong about his crit­i­cal impor­tance to ear­ly film. He describes the dif­fi­cul­ties in detail, pref­ac­ing them with a state­ment about the mechan­i­cal hero­ism of the first film­mak­ers.

Those who today seek to make motion pic­tures will find all the required equip­ment avail­able, com­plete and per­fect­ed: all they need is the nec­es­sary funds. They can­not begin to imag­ine the dif­fi­cul­ties against which the cre­ators of this indus­try had to strug­gle, at a time when no such mate­r­i­al yet exist­ed and when each inno­va­tor kept their work and research a close­ly guard­ed secret. There­fore Méliès, just like Pathé, Gau­mont and oth­ers, was only able to progress by mak­ing numer­ous machines, sub­se­quent­ly aban­doned and replaced by oth­ers which were them­selves in due course replaced. 

Cel­e­brat­ed as the ulti­mate fan­ta­sist in Mar­tin Scorsese’s Hugo, Méliès now pre­sides over one of cinema’s great ironies. As he helped invent cin­e­ma, he also invent­ed the spe­cial effects-laden genre film — the sort of thing Scors­ese has denied the sta­tus of cin­e­mat­ic art. Méliès direct­ed the first hor­ror film, The Haunt­ed Cas­tle (above) and first adap­ta­tion of Cin­derel­la (top). He built the first film stu­dio in Europe while mak­ing and star­ring in hun­dreds of fan­tasies, rang­ing from one minute to 40 min­utes. While com­put­ers do most of the labor in the kinds of genre films we’re used to see­ing now, it’s safe to say, for bet­ter or worse, that with­out Méliès, there would be no Mar­vel Uni­verse.

But with­out Méliès, there would also be no Scors­ese, as he says him­self: “Méliès,” argues the direc­tor of such grit­ty neo-real­ist films as Taxi Dri­ver and Rag­ing Bull, “invent­ed every­thing.” His tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions are only a small part of his influ­ence. “The locked room, con­tain­ing for­bid­den sights, dark­ened but illu­mined,” O’Donohue observes, “becomes the metaphor for Méliès’ cin­e­ma, a man­i­fes­ta­tion of pri­vate desires in a pub­lic or com­mu­nal medi­um. The flat the­atri­cal­i­ty of the social world gives way to ‘effects,’ vision, dreams, night­mares, desires, fears, per­ver­sions — the releas­ing of the uncon­scious and the inner life.” Find films by Méliès in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

A Trip to the Moon (and Five Oth­er Free Films) by Georges Méliès, the Father of Spe­cial Effects

Watch Georges Méliès’ The Drey­fus Affair, the Con­tro­ver­sial Film Cen­sored by the French Gov­ern­ment for 50 Years (1899)

The First Hor­ror Film, George Méliès’ The Haunt­ed Cas­tle (1896)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Marvin Scorsese says:

    “…he also invent­ed the spe­cial effects-laden genre film — the sort of thing Scors­ese has denied the sta­tus of cin­e­mat­ic art”

    Scors­ese sure­ly said noth­ing of the sort. VFX are inte­gral to art. Sim­plis­tic and super­fi­cial com­ic book sto­ries of good vs evil in movies designed for glob­al cul­tures, and glob­al dis­tri­b­u­tion and mer­chan­dise tie-ins are not.

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