Monday, December 14, 2015

George Méliès Had an Older Brother

The Cambodia International Film Festival may seem like a strange place for a gala opening night screening of a French TV documentary about a forgotten Gallic filmmaker. But once the chronology of Raphaël Millet's Gaston Méliès and His Wandering Star Film Company is explained, it all becomes clear.

In 1911 and 1912, Méliès - the older brother of more well-remembered filmmaker George - shot some of the first Westerns in Santa Paula, California. He then embarked from San Francisco on a ten-month trip to the Asia-Pacific region, with a team of 15 collaborators in tow, visiting New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Java, Singapore and Cambodia. During his time in Cambodia, he made some of the first movies ever shot there. All told, his trip produced a total of 64 fiction and non-fiction works.

Millet's mission to reconstruct the epic voyage of Gaston was similarly piqued by travel. During a vacation in Polynesia in 2000, he read a book about the history of film in the South Pacific. A footnote mentioned that "G. Méliès' had filmed in Tahiti in the 1910s. He thought the book might be referring to George, but further research led to Gaston. From a recent piece in the Khmer Times:

Tediously selecting movie shots recovered from the Méliès’ family in France, Millet had to digitize everything on his own dime at Eclair studio.
In early 2012, a film collector based in Switzerland, David Pfluger, offered the use of his large collection of photographs and other documents about Gaston’s journey that he had gathered over the years. Searching through film archives in Amsterdam, Wellington, Washington, Paris, London, Canberra, Rome and Tokyo, he found two of Méliès’ "Polynesian" movies at the Library of Congress in Washington. In 2013, two prints surfaced. They were fragments of movies shot in the Angkor area – the footage which was later used in the documentary. He only found five surviving movies out of the 64 made by Gaston during his voyage.

Millet's Nocturnes Productions is based in Montreuil, France, where George Méliès concocted A Trip to the Moon and his other films. The filmmaker was previously in Cambodia in 2013, at the MEMORY! International Heritage Film Festival in Pnom Penh, to present footage from his then in-production documentary.

What made that event extra special was the fact that it was 100 years after Gaston had been in Cambodia (February to mid-May, 1913). In between this month's Cambodia International Film Festival screenings December 4th and December 6th-7th, Millet hopped over to Singapore for a showing at the Singapore International Film Festival.

In January, 1913Méliès made what may be that country's first fictional films. But sadly, as hinted above, all of them - His Chinese Friend, The Poisoned Darts, A Chinese Funeral and A Day at Singapore - are lost.

No comments:

Post a Comment