The Magician

Le Magicien, 1898, 1m10s
Star Film Catalogue No. 153

A man dressed as a wizard makes a table appear out of nowhere, and then conjures up a wooden box on top of it. He then leaps towards the box, and vanishes. A man dressed as Pierrot immediately bursts out of the box and jumps onto the floor (at which point a chair appears). He tries to make things appear on the now-empty table, but fails. Dejectedly, he sits on the chair, whereupon food and drink appear on the table. Delighted, he tastes the food and, satisfied, sits back down - but the chair, table and food disappear, leaving him on the ground. A man in Elizabethan doublet and hose appears and claps him on the shoulder, turning him into a bearded artist. The Elizabethan man vanishes, and the artist picks up a bust from the floor and puts it onto a pedestal. He chips at its face, whereupon it comes to life and grabs the hammer and chisel. It then grows an attractive female body, which the artist tries in vain to hug - it keeps disappearing and reappearing in various statuesque poses before vanishing for good in a puff of smoke. The Elizabethan man reappears and kicks the artist’s behind… (print ends here)

Very much in the tradition of Georges Méliès’ earlier A Nightmare (Le Cauchemar, 1896) and The Haunted Castle (Le Château hanté, 1897) and, doubtless, many other now-lost films, The Magician is another exercise in the art of the jump-cut, which is once again used to make objects and people appear and disappear in the blink of an eye.

In fact, this time round, Méliès seems so in thrall to his special effects that it’s hard to detect much in the way of continuous narrative. The title is The Magician (i.e. singular), which suggests that the wizard, the man in the Pierrot costume and the Michelangelesque sculptor are intended to be the same person in various states of metamorphosis, but this is not clear from the evidence on screen. It’s even less clear who the deus ex machina in the form of a gentleman in vaguely Elizabethan dress is intended to represent - he makes two appearances that seem largely irrelevant to the rest of the film. Although at over a minute the running time of The Magician is in line with other Méliès films of the period, the abrupt ending of the print under review suggests that some footage is missing.

One immediate point of interest in The Magician, as it’s an effect not present in any previous surviving Méliès film, is the moment when the bust switches from a rather obviously painted prop (the protagonist was presumably meant to keep it facing in the same head-on direction throughout, but a slight shift in perspective betrays its essential flatness) to something that suddenly comes to life. Presumably the woman who plays the now-aggressive bust is mostly clad in black and standing behind the flat representing the stand, but the effect of a disembodied head and upper body anticipates the kind of multiple-exposure trickery that Méliès would soon undertake in such films as The Four Troublesome Heads (Un homme de tête, 1898).

Another point worth noting is the theme of objects coming to life and taking revenge on their human owners, as demonstrated by the scene in which the hapless Pierrot can taste the food but cannot eat it, since it immediately vanishes along with the chair and table. The Czech Surrealist filmmaker Jan Švankmajer, a known devotee of Méliès, concocted a very similar scenario at the mid-point of his film The Flat (Byt, 1968), and his pixilation technique isn’t that far removed from Méliès’ approach, consisting as it does of simply stopping and restarting the camera after making adjustments to the image.

The untinted print on Flicker Alley’s DVD is generally in acceptable condition, bar occasional flashes of physical and chemical damage and evidence of splice marks around some of the jump-cuts (presumably inherent in the original). The relentless, driving music is sourced from Edvard Grieg’s ‘March of the Dwarfs’ (from the Lyric Suite, op.54), given an electronic arrangement here by Joe Rinaudo, whose touch of the barrel-organ creates an appropriately vaudeville atmosphere.


One Response to “The Magician”

  1. Mischa von Perger Says:

    The man in Elizabethan doublet and hose is dressed as Mephistopheles. Compare Méliès’ portrait of Mephisto reproduced on the back of the booklet edited by Flicker Alley together with the DVD box set. The magician and the man dressed as Mephisto are the same person, as are the Pierrot, who longs in vain for the meal, and the sculptor, who longs in vain for the pretty lady into whom the bust has been transformed. So the magician is the dominant figure here from beginning to end.
    Pierrot, in my eyes, does not try to make things appear on the table. It’s mere pantomime. He shows us what he would like to see on the table and to which extent his hunger has grown.
    The scénario of the film leaves no doubt about the identity of the magician and “Mephistopheles.” It states, however, that the latter is transformed into the sculptor, which is clearly not the case. (”158 scénarios de films disparus de Georges Méliès,” ed. Association “Les Amis de Georges Méliès,” Paris, 1986, p. 15).

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Login     Film Journal Home     Support Forums           Journal Rating: 4/5 (5)