MELOMANE, LE (Georges Méliès, 1903, France, 3m, BW)
MELOMANE, LE (Georges Méliès, 1903, France, 3m, BW)
by Georges Méliès
Topics Gen X, Georges Méliès, Short Film, Silent Film, Fantasy, Music,
Director: Georges Méliès
Stars: Georges Méliès
Release Date: 1902 (France)
Release Date: 15 August 1903 (USA)
Also Known As (AKA)
Le Mélomane France (original title)
A zenebolond Hungary (imdb display title)
The Melomaniac (undefined)
The Music Lover USA
Runtime: 3 min
Sound Mix: Silent
Color: Black and White
A marching band appears, and the band-leader prepares to give them the music for the song he wants them to play. He has prepared a large staff above their heads, and he now creates notes by making duplicates of his own head, placing them on the staff, and completing the notes with sticks and other implements taken from the band members. When he has finished, the players attempt to perform the music that has been written in such an unusual fashion.
A music master leads his band to a field where five telegraph lines are strung on utility poles. Hoisting up a giant treble clef, he turns the set of lines into a giant musical staff. He then uses copies of his own head to spell out the tune for "God Save the King," and his band joins in.
Production and release
Méliès himself plays the lead role of the music master. The superimposition effects in The Mélomaniac, allowing multiple Méliès heads to appear on the staff, were created by a multiple exposure technique requiring the same strip of film to be run through the camera seven times.
The film was released by Méliès's Star Film Company and is numbered 479–480 in its catalogues. The film was registered for American copyright at the Library of Congress on 30 June 1903. The French film scholars Jacques Malthête and Laurent Mannoni believe The Mélomaniac to be Méliès's most famous trick film.
This is one of the easier Melies shorts to find, as well as being one of his better and more creative ones. In it, Melies (initially disguised as a clown bandleader, but he ditches the disguise to reveal himself) writes the melody of "God Save the Queen" on a musical staff over his head; he throws a musical instrument up there to create a treble clef, tosses batons up to separate the measures, and then uses his own head (which he pulls off several times and pops into the staff) to create the notes. It's quite fun, especially if the accompanying music chooses to follow the lead and play the appropriate melody. I do notice the French must have some different notes in their "do-re-mi" scale than we do; the musicians display the notes in cards, and one is called "ut".
Georges Méliès was easily the most imaginative and creative of the early filmmakers, as the surreal short Le mélomane (The Music Lover) demonstrates. The master film magician appears in the role of a music teacher with a wreath of wild hair ringing his bald head as, for some unfathomable reason, he marches his class of pupils into what appears to be the countryside at night. The eccentric teacher halts his class beneath some telegraph wires which resemble a giant musical staff. Inspired by this sight, the teacher decides to treat his class to an impromptu lesson by detaching his head (as you do) and throwing it up into the wires to form that little dot at the bottom of a music note. A new head instantly appears on Méliès’ shoulders, and he throws this one into the wires as well, repeating the trick until there are six disembodied heads nestling in the wires. The resourceful maestro then uses the batons with which his class were keeping time as, well, those stick things from which the little dots hang. He does this until a full line of music is created, and then stages an impromptu music lesson. Once the lesson is complete and Méliès and his class have marched off-screen, the disembodied heads are transformed into birds and fly off the screen.
Although there’s nothing in Le mélomane that we haven’t seen before from Méliès — particularly in Un homme de tetes and L’homme orchestre — the inventive manner in which he renews these tricks gives the film enormous charm, and we can only wonder how Méliès consistently came up with new and entertaining ways to demonstrate the same tricks over and over. Le mélomane boasts some of Méliès’ most accomplished trick shots, particularly in the way he throws his disembodied heads into the telegraph wires and the way in which those heads appear to dart around the screen before flying off at the film’s end.
It’s worth noting that the positioning of his disembodied heads in the wires forms the opening notes to the British National Anthem (My Country, Tis of Thee, to our American cousins), which suggests Méliès might have been pandering to these markets (sheet music was still popular at the turn of the 20th Century, so audiences back then were much more likely to recognise the tune). Of course, the irony is that Le mélomane is a silent musical, although it’s probable that the film would have been accompanied by live music in many theatres. This inventiveness on the part of Méliès makes all the more puzzling his inability to adapt to the changing taste in movies — a flaw which would eventually force him out of the business entirely.
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