The Dancing Midget

La Danseuse microscopique, 1902, 2m43s
Star Film Catalogue No. 394-396

A top-hatted magician shakes out a sheet, from which his assistant emerges. The magician extracts six eggs from his assistant’s mouth, which he places onto a stand. He breaks the eggs into his hat, stirring them with his wand. He shakes a large number of feathers out of the hat over his assistant, and then extracts a large egg. He places it on the table, and it doubles in size, and then explodes, to reveal a tiny ballerina. She dances on the table-top, admired by the men, who perform crude imitations of her flowing movements. Suddenly, she grows to life-size, and the magician helps her off the table. The men place a large wooden crate onto two stands, and the assistant gets in. The magician drapes the sheet around the ballerina, and pulls it away to reveal his assistant - and the ballerina simultaneously emerges from the box. The three bow together, and the magician banishes his assistant before linking arms with the ballerina and walking into the distance.

The Dancing Midget (whose slightly more PC French title translates as ‘The Microscopic Female Dancer’) is another set of variations on familiar Méliès themes, though the central image of a tiny ballerina performing on a table-top is so delightful that it more than compensates for the sense of déjà vu that pervades much of the rest of the film, starting from the recycled set from The Dwarf and the Giant (Nain et géant, 1901).

Once again, we have the scenario of a magician and his assistant - the arrangement here is broadly similar to that in The Prince of Magicians (Excelsior!, 1901). In that film, the magician’s aide was turned into a makeshift soda siphon, while here he’s required to produce half a dozen eggs from his mouth in quick succession. Their contents are mixed in the magician’s top hat (using his wand to stir them), and a well-timed jump-cut leads to the first of the film’s oddly poetic images - this time, of an implausible number of feathers descending from the hat onto the assistant.

The centre-piece of the film involves the ballerina, who is hatched from an egg that grows to giant size - albeit, somewhat disappointingly, via jump-cuts rather than any of Méliès’s more elaborate shrinking and growing effects. But the tiny ballerina herself is wholly believable, especially given the way the men react to her and (badly) try to imitate her movements. After this high point, the film has nowhere else to go, despite Méliès attempting to maintain interest by introducing a new trick in the form of a sheet-and-coffin swapover (as usual, achieved via jump cuts).

There’s some severe damage at the beginning and end, and tramlines, speckling and mild exposure fluctuations throughout, but in general the untinted print on Flicker Alley’s DVD is in very good condition, the picture sufficiently sharp to be able to make out some background details in the superimposed material, which may not have been Méliès’ intention. Neal Kurz’s lyrical piano accompaniment fits the images to perfection.

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