Éruption volcanique à la Martinique (1902)
Director: Georges Méliès
Synopsis: This picture depicts the eruption of the volcano by which over 30,000 souls were hurled into eternity.
In May 1902, Mount Pelee on the Caribbean island of Martinique erupted after a couple of weeks of increased activity which the island’s authorities had dismissed as insignificant and no cause for alarm. Close to 30,000 lives were lost as a result, and a further 2000 rescuers died in a secondary eruption a week later. In August, a further eruption claimed 800 lives. By then, Georges Méliès had already made this rather misguided recreation of the original eruption, one must presume in order to cash in on the public interest aroused by news reports.
Even if Éruption volcanique à la Martinique wasn’t in hugely questionable taste, it would have to stand as amongst the weaker of the usually reliable Méliès’ films. A static camera gazes upon a model of the island, at the bottom of which nestles a town fronted by a stretch of water. At the top of the screen, the volcano unconvincingly spews smoke and fire for the duration of the film — which is little more than a minute, before coloured sand, presumably supposed to be ash, rains down upon the village.
Éruption volcanique à la Martinique should never really have been made at all, but as it was it should have at least attempted to convey some of the sense of tragedy which hangs over any natural disaster. Instead Méliès chose to stage the volcanic eruption as a spectacle to entertain his audience, and did so in a rather lacklustre fashion. Éruption volcanique à la Martinique shows Méliès in an unexpectedly poor light, both as a filmmaker and a person…
(Reviewed 15th September 2014)