French pioneering filmmaker. Born 1861, died 1938.
Méliès was among the first to make narrative films, and he is especially famed for his many special effects films, all of which are incomparably innovative and imaginative.
Méliès was originally a stage magician, and acquired the famous Robert-Houdin magic theater in Paris, in 1888. He was present at the first showing of the Lumière brothers' first film, December 28, 1895, and immediately realised the potential of the new medium. Initially planning to use it in his magic act, he bought a British-made film camera, and proceeded to produce an enormous oeuvre. By 1897, he'd found it necessary to buy a special building to make film in - the first European film studio.
Méliès' breakthrough came with a series of 11 one-minute-long shorts about the Dreyfus Affair, L'Affaire Dreyfus (1899). The theme of the series was strongly political and it garnered international attention.
However, Méliès' chief claim to fame rests in his remarkable, stage-magic-influenced, grasp of trick photography and special effects. In a swathe of special effects bonanzas, a gallery of capering devils, choleric sorcerers, mad scientists and scantily-clad young women participated in baroque little stories. With creative editing, Méliès could make people or objects appear or disappear on the screen - impressive feats at the time. Among the most famous is L'Homme-Orchestre ("The one-man band", 1900), in which he acts the part of a conductor of a six-man orchestra - with all the musicians played, likewise, by himself. Similarly, Le Voyage dans la Lune ("Voyage to the Moon", 1902) is a fantastic tale of space travel, inspired by Jules Verne.
Méliès' style unfortunately fell out of fashion after 1910. Burdened by debt, he had to sell his studio in 1923, and his entire stock of films was obliterated - tragically lost to posterity. For some years thereafter, he eked out a living as a seller of toys from a small stand in the Gare Montparnasse railway station in Paris. He did, however, live to experience recognition as a pioneer of the film industry, in his waning years.