Le mélomane (1903)
Director: Georges Méliès
Cast: Georges Méliès
Synopsis: The leader of a marching band demonstrates an unusual way of writing music.
Georges Méliès was easily the most imaginative and creative of the early filmmakers, as the surreal short Le mélomane (The Music Lover) demonstrates. The master film magician appears in the role of a music teacher with a wreath of wild hair ringing his bald head as, for some unfathomable reason, he marches his class of pupils into what appears to be the countryside at night. The eccentric teacher halts his class beneath some telegraph wires which resemble a giant musical staff. Inspired by this sight, the teacher decides to treat his class to an impromptu lesson by detaching his head (as you do) and throwing it up into the wires to form that little dot at the bottom of a music note. A new head instantly appears on Méliès’ shoulders, and he throws this one into the wires as well, repeating the trick until there are six disembodied heads nestling in the wires. The resourceful maestro then uses the batons with which his class were keeping time as, well, those stick things from which the little dots hang. He does this until a full line of music is created, and then stages an impromptu music lesson. Once the lesson is complete and Méliès and his class have marched off-screen, the disembodied heads are transformed into birds and fly off the screen.
Although there’s nothing in Le mélomane that we haven’t seen before from Méliès — particularly in Un homme de tetes and L’homme orchestre — the inventive manner in which he renews these tricks gives the film enormous charm, and we can only wonder how Méliès consistently came up with new and entertaining ways to demonstrate the same tricks over and over. Le mélomane boasts some of Méliès’ most accomplished trick shots, particularly in the way he throws his disembodied heads into the telegraph wires and the way in which those heads appear to dart around the screen before flying off at the film’s end.
It’s worth noting that the positioning of his disembodied heads in the wires forms the opening notes to the British National Anthem (My Country, Tis of Thee, to our American cousins), which suggests Méliès might have been pandering to these markets (sheet music was still popular at the turn of the 20th Century, so audiences back then were much more likely to recognise the tune). Of course, the irony is that Le mélomane is a silent musical, although it’s probable that the film would have been accompanied by live music in many theatres. This inventiveness on the part of Méliès makes all the more puzzling his inability to adapt to the changing taste in movies — a flaw which would eventually force him out of the business entirely.
(Reviewed 16th September 2014)