Thursday, 22 November 2007

The Mysterious Retort (1906)

1906's The Mysterious Retort is one of Georges Méliès fairly typical trick photography films. In it, the alchemist Parafaragamus falls asleep in his laboratory chair while a snake slithers out of his infernal furnace. The snake transforms into a jester who teleports himself into an oversized beaker. He then transforms into a spider and a woman before pouring himself out of the beaker. Finally he scares off the alchemist's assistants and declares victory.

Alchemy itself is pretty interesting, in the romantic sense of a far-flung occultic proto-science tethered between the scientific method and ancient superstition. It speaks to those mysterious, mist-enshrouded ages past when physics and metaphysics walked hand-in-hand, on one hand integrating science and theology while on the other being sideshow quackery. The bubbling potions of Parafaragamus' cloister recall the test tubes of the scientist's laboratory and the cauldrons of the witch's lair.

This particular film is even more interesting relative to other films by Méliès. Where the implications of the astronomers' flamboyant robes were more subtle, here we see them in all their seriousness: Parafaragamus is very obviously an alchemist and that is the very much the same robe worn in A Trip to the Moon and The Eclipse: Courtship of the Sun and Moon.

1 comment:

Xenorama said...

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