Thursday, 29 November 2007

Goodbye Voyages Extraordinaires Month!

To close out this month dedicated to the French masters and spirit of Scientific Romance, it seemed appropriate to post this postcard from Amiens, France, commemorating the memorial to Jules Verne.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Hurrah for the Tower Eiffel!

When looking at the French spirit of Voyages Extraordinaires, La Belle Époque and visions of the future, it really is fitting to take a brief look at the Eiffel Tower... That great icon of 19th century Paris. Hurrah for the Tower!

An original 1884 planning sketch.

Work in progress, 1888.

The Tower is finished for the 1889 Exposition.

Ground-level at the Tower, 1889.

Another look through the base of the Tower, 1889.

The Eiffel Tower was the centre of the 1900 Exposition as well.

Struck by lightning, 1902.

The official website for the Eiffel Tower can be found here. While there, and with a few hundred dollars to spare, you can even enjoy dinner in the Tower at Le Jules Verne restaurant.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Conquest of the Pole (1912)

The world has not been in an uproar like this since Philias Fogg took his abbreviated trip around the globe! The irredoubtable Professor Maboul has created a frenzy with his plan to visit the North Pole in one of Georges Méliès final films.

As a result of the Hollywood movie factory and new dynamics in film making by directors from Hollywood and the German schools, Méliès began winding down production in the early 1910's, just as his art was reach its peak. Méliès took the staged, tableau style where the entire scenes unfold before the viewer in static set pieces - who is sitting back in the objective view of a vaudeville theatre patron -about as far is it could go artistically. This easily shows in the ambitious Conquest of the Pole, one of only three films Méliès produced in 1912.

Like Méliès' last Scientific Romantic outing, The Impossible Voyage, the scale is tremendous. However, unlike that 1904 film, the pace is quickened up. Conquest of the Pole runs for approximately the same duration, but moves along much more rapidly, recalling his greatest film from a decade prior, A Trip to the Moon.

Like both of those previous films, the scene opens with the great professor's proposition to explore some fantastic and far-flung realm, followed by a visit to the factory where the transportation is being manufactured. Instead of fanfare accompanying this voyage to the North Pole, however, there is absolute frenzy. A gang of suffragettes look to bust up the launch of Maboul's craft. Meanwhile, other explorers hope to beat the professor with their own contraptions. Several balloonatics lift off, with the excess baggage of excessively interested parties trying to hitch a ride. Others hope to find a land route (presumably through Russia?) using their concept automobiles.

Time outside of Méliès' fantastic world of fantasy and romance has worked its way into his films. The means of travel have changed considerably: from rocket capsules and steam trains in 1902 to aeroplanes and automobiles in 1912, in the wake of Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers. Maboul's airship is not so unique as the rocket capsule or a space faring steam train... It is, in essence, a glorified cloud buster.

Such a contraption is still a vehicle into wonder, and in one of Méliès' last films, he could not resist revisiting his beloved paper moon cinematography. As a swan song, Maboul and his fellow explorers pay a visit to the signs of the zodiac and the constellations. The lashing tail of Scorpio almost lay them low, but eventually they make it to the pole.

Like all Mélièsian explorers, they too must dash their ship upon the rocks of their destination. This North Pole is an amazing Arctic wasteland with jutting crystalline monoliths, forming one of the greatest of Méliès' setpieces. This sublime Nordic spectacle of towering ice spires is only briefly interrupted by a climactic run-in with a Snow Giant... A full-size marionette that is equally as towering over the human actors, one of whom is eaten by the monstrosities. The Snow Giant forms one of Méliès' most ambitious villains, not to mention effects. While it may not be cinematically elaborate - a a giant figure with arms, eyes and mouth worked by off-camera operators - it is notable for sheer size. It is no camera trick.

Overcoming the Snow Giant with a well-placed shot from a canon left over in the airship's wreckage, the explorers find the rotating pillar of magnetic North and hop aboard for a spin. Toppling the Pole, they are picked up by a late-arriving dirigible and seen off by a menagerie of Arctic wildlife. They arrive back in France to a grand celebration.

With hindsight, one can easily read into the frenzy and celebration a bittersweet farewell for Méliès... The fanfare is not so much for Maboul, but for his actor and creator, who had given cinema so much and was finally forced to bow out of the game. He did, however, end on a high note!

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.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Twentieth Century: The Life Electric (1892)

The third sequel to Albert Robida's The Twentieth Century was The Life Electric. To examine a French-language PDF of the book, provided by Gallica, please click on the cover below:

Friday, 16 November 2007

The Eclipse: Courtship of the Sun and Moon (1907)

In 1907's The Eclipse: Courtship of the Sun and Moon, Georges Méliès once more indulges in his fanciful imagery of space, bringing paper moon photography into the realm of paper moon cinematography in grand style. Méliès' first adventure in the firmament, A Trip to the Moon, was fairly even in its navigating between Scientific Romance and the music of the spheres. Its conceptual sequel, The Impossible Voyage, sails more closely to the Vernian shore. The Eclipse, however, practically dashes itself upon the celestial rocks.

The heavenly body of the film is framed by an earthly comedy in which the ubiquitously magician's-cloaked astronomer/astrologer is attempting to teach a baudy class about the matters of science. The constantly disrupted session is finally broken down completely when an impending eclipse sends them into a tizzy. The senior astronomer/astrologer races to his oversized, ultra-phallic teloscope in the arched tower of this Gothic university and catches a sight that sends him finally over the edge... literally.

A film as ribald as the students in the class, The Eclipse portrays the title subject not as an intricate dance of heavenly bodies, but as a sexually charged advance. The Sun from The Impossible Voyage is back and enjoying the flirtations of lady Lune. Unfortunately, their pleasure is all too brief and as they draw apart, disappointment sets in.

The scene switches to a presentation of the planets, stars and comets as human characters, with the Moon once again suffering an indignity. This time, the Roman armored Mars and old man Jupiter decide to take a seesaw ride on poor Hathor's crescent. This gives way to a rain of stars that transform into a rain of gossamer-clad women.

The play of sexuality in The Eclipse is its most notable feature after, or perhaps even excelling, the paper moon appeal of its celestial spheres. What, exactly, its trying to say is up for discussion. If anything, it seems to poke the most fun at the impotence of men, from the disastifying tryst with the Sun to Jupiter and Mars tugging at Luna to the astronomer/astrologer's hysteria.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

War in the Twentieth Century (1887)

The Friends of Robida Association have provided a wonderful online fascimilie of Albert Robida's 1887 sequel to The Twentieth Century: War in the Twentieth Century. The PDF is in the original French, but even if you can't read it, you can still enjoy the pictures. Click on the cover to begin:

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Ancient Prophecies: Jules Verne

Presented here is a brief clip from a TLC program called Ancient Prophecies. This particular episode features Jules Verne, and this clip describes how accurate many of his predictions were. It is an interesting exercise in how alienated we in modern times are from the processes of rational and critical thought, that we imagine someone must have been somehow supernaturally inspired rather than being exceptionally learned and able to creatively project progress in science and technology forward to logical conclusions. Nevertheless, Verne was astonishingly capable of doing this, and that's what this clip reminds us of!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Blue Beard (1901)

Senses of Cinema: Georges Melies
In the attempt to situate Méliès at the origins of film, as a culmination of 19th century popular theatre, or as a representative of the socio-political, technological and cultural belle époque, it is easy to overlook his self-identification with the longer stretch of French history and culture – his life of Jeanne d'Arc (1900), his use of medieval backdrops, his evocation of the Sun King's court and fondness for ballets, masques and the carnivalesque, his recreations of Rococo motifs, his recourse to the fairy tales of Perrault, his Revolution-mirroring revelling in decapitation. Add to this grounding in national tradition and a yearning impulse, his persona as impresario, his thematic interest in seeing and showing, and his formal preference for complex and self-reflexive mise en scène, and we have a blueprint for the Archers, and all those ardent spirits who were not content with what was out there for all to see, but revealed something deeper, darker and more playful: those psychic and emotional currents no documentary can record.

And to put the exclamation mark on Méliès' sense of consistency with the French cultural tradition, here is his 1901 adaptation of Charles Perrault's horrifying fairy tale, Blue Beard. The spirit of Perrault was just as much Méliès' muse as was the spirit of Verne...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The Impossible Voyage (1904)

Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon was the smash hit of 1902. In fact, it was so popular that it was causing no end of trouble for Méliès, who became one of the first victims of media bootlegging when illegal copies of the film were made and distributed all over the United States. The popularity of the film cried out for a return to Scientific Romances, to which Méliès responded by pulling out all of the stops in The Impossible Voyage (1904).

At nearly twice the length of A Trip to the Moon, this conceptual sequel basically restates Trip, but louder. There is just more of it in Impossible Voyage: the Geographical Society has decided to take a trip around the whole world and the whole cosmos, beginning with a lengthier tour of the factory where their travelling contraptions are being built, then a romp through the Alps before they leave Earth, at which point they are swallowed by an anthropomorphic Sun and escape in a submarine car that drops off the Sun's edge and into the ocean, where they sail around until it explodes, throwing them back on shore to a lengthier celebration.

The film is more technically accomplished than Méliès' first effort. There is more and varied use of special effects, (especially minatures) more evolved set design, a wider scope of a film and the prints were even hand-tinted in colour. Overall, it is a very good film in its own right. The problem is just that it is almost a point-by-point retread and expansion of A Trip to the Moon.

Without even any attempt at dramatic content, the length doesn't necessarily serve the film well. The beauty of Méliès' context is that the short length of movies in the very early 20th century compacts the action... It works almost perfectly at the dawn of the 21st century, when people's attention span seems to peak at 10 minutes. The Impossible Voyage doubles the length without adding extra content: the viewer simply sees more travelling, more of the factory, more celebrating, without any drama to carry the characters.

The only thing that is lacking is that interesting sense of coherence between the astrologer and the astronomer. The men and women of the Geographic Society are purely Edwardian and the film veers aesthetically closer to literary Scientific Romances, even if there are carryovers like a flat Sun that the voyagers fall off of. Besides that, and like the flat disk of the Sun, one gets the sense that they've seen all this before. Perhaps that is why Méliès would saddly not return to a pure Scientific Romance until 1912's Conquest of the Pole.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Albert Robida: The Forgotten French Master

As the French master of the Scientific Romance, Jules Verne has never been forgotten. His popularity endured throughout his lifetime, crossed political and geographic boundaries and loomed past his death, for Verne remains the most reprinted French author of all time.

Georges Méliès, the second great French master, did not fare so well. The precision with which he produced his films like A Trip to the Moon could not withstand the development of the Hollywood studio system with its near-assembly line schedules nor the refinement of cinematic art under the Germans and Americans. His last Scientific Romance was The Conquest of the Pole, made along with all his other final films in 1912. After this he fell into an obscurity alleviated only by his being discovered by some ardent admirers in the late 1920's, staffing a toy kiosk. While still too poor to die in any kind of luxury, his last years were spent receiving accolades for his pioneering films.

The third great French master has all-but languished, forgotten by time and overlooked by posterity. In fact, his obscurity is inversely proportional to his accuracy: Albert Robida, illustrator and author, was the most precise of the three, predicting everything from television to biological warfare and their effects on people and society. Though the most successful of prognosticators - perhaps ever - he has gone unrecognized. His work has sat gathering dust on shelves, sold only at auctions for thousands of dollars, save for the very occasional reprint and online transcription.

For a description of Robida's literature, I cannot possibly do better than the following article by Marc Agenot, and so I refer you to it...

Albert Robida's Twentieth Century
Robida's main fictional objective is to dream about man's ability to adapt, and to adapt not in any kind of heroic way, but in petty details as human beings try to rationalize progress, taking pride in its "advantages" and disregarding its absurdities. Robida is a conservative, old- fashioned satirist who seems to have taken literally the Marxian concept of the economic determination of ideological superstructures. That is why I cannot accept Nicholls' judgment about Robida as a simple inventor of gadgets. What the novelist-illustrator tries to imagine are the mass effects of technological change and the type of ideological discourse that would help people learn to "love" them. That is also why what he seems to discover, first of all, is a McLuhanesque civilization, where "electronic" media and ever faster means of transportation have realized the paradigm of a Global Village. Robida's Vingtième siècle is an anti-utopia where everything is electrically powered but where scientific progress is inversely related to what we now term "environmental concerns," which the present French government has in fact consigned to a "Ministry of the Quality of Life."

If Robida seems to be endowed with prophetic vision, that, I am afraid, is because he has no confidence in the "blessings" of progress with regard to their bringing about any "cultural revolution," and also because he was that type of pessimistic reactionary who appears to be convinced that were technology to strip life of all its charms, humankind would fortunately remain what it has always been: stingy, sheep-like, pretentious, and gullible--in sum: happily capable of adapting by deceiving itself that whatever is new is good and worthy.

As astonishing as Robida's work as a writer is, for many his main appeal is in his art as an illustrator. His twentieth century is a lushly bohemian world in which the fin de siècle never came to an end. The fluid, organic lines and naturalistic themes of Art Nouveau inspired his decidedly piscine airships. Meanwhile, corseted women, suited men and uniformed officers entered through Hector Guimard-style portcullis to dine atop a million Eiffel Towers.

This image, out of the Library of Congress archives, sets the tone most perfectly and is, I think, in itself a true masterwork of Parisian Retro-Futurist imagination...

Friday, 2 November 2007

Jules Verne at Home (1894)

Zvi Har'El maintains a wonderful website devoted to all things Jules Verne, including a fascinating selection of interviews. The introduction to the following is well worth making note of, both for the sadness of Verne's under appreciated place in French literature at the time, and for interviewer R.H. Sherard's picturesque description of the Voyages Extraordinaires at the end...

Jules Verne at Home
“The great regret of my life is that I have never taken any place in French literature.”

As the old man said this his head drooped, and a ring of sadness sounded in the cheerful and hearty voice.

“Je ne compte pas dans la littérature française,” he repeated. Who was it who spoke thus, with drooping head, and with a ring of sadness in his cheerful voice? Some writer of cheap but popular feuilletons for the halfpenny press, some man of letters who has never made a scruple of stating that he looks upon his pen as a money-getting implement, and who has always preferred to glory and honor a large account at the cash office of the Society of French Men of Letters? No; strange, monstrous, as it will appear, it was none other than Jules Verne. Yes, Jules Verne, the Jules Verne, your Jules Verne and mine, who has delighted us all the world over for so many years, and who will delight the world for generations and generations to come.

It was in the cool withdrawing-room of the Société Industrielle at Amiens that the master said these words, and I shall never forget the tone of sadness in which he said them. It was like the confession of a wasted life, the sigh of an old man of what can never be recalled. It was to me a poignant sorrow to hear him speak thus, and all that I could do was to say, with no unfeigned enthusiasm, that he was to me and millions like me, a great master, the subject of our unqualified admiration and respect, the novelist who delights many of us more than all the novelists that have ever taken pen in hand. But he only shook his gray head and said: “I do not count in French literature.”

Sixty-six, and but for his limp still hale and hearty, with much in his face that reminds one of Victor Hugo; like a fine old sea captain, ruddy of face and full of life. One eyelid slightly droops, but the gaze is firm and clear, and from his whole person emanates an aroma of goodness and kindness of heart which have ever been characteristic of the man whom Hector Malot, writing many years ago, said: “He is the best of fellows;” of the man whom the frigid and reserved Alexandre Dumas loves like a brother, and who has not and never has had, in spite of his brilliant success, a single real enemy. His health troubles him, unfortunately. Of late his eyes have weakened, so that at times he is unable to guide his pen, and there are days when gastralgia martyrizes him. But he is as valiant as ever.

“I have written sixty-six volumes,” he said, “and if God grants me life, I shall finish eighty.”

Jules Verne lives on the Boulevard Longueville, at Amiens, in the corner of the Rue Charles Dubois, in a fine, spacious house, which he rents. It is a house of three stories, with three rows of five windows on the Boulevard Longueville and three windows at the corner, and three more on the Rue Charles Dubois. The carriage and other entrance are in this street. The windows on the Boulevard Longueville command a magnificent view of the picturesque, if misty, town of Amiens, with its old cathedral and other mediæval buildings. Right in front of the house, on the other side of the boulevard, is a railway cutting, which, just opposite Verne’s study window, disappears into a pleasure ground, where there is a large music kiosk, in which during the fine weather the regimental band plays. This combination is to my thinking a very emblem of the work of the great writer: the rushing tram, with the roar and the rattle of the ultra-modernism, and the romance of the music. And is it not by a combination of science and industrialism with all that is most romantic in life that Verne’s novels possess an originality which can be found in the works of no other living writer, not even amongst those who count most in French literature?

Thursday, 1 November 2007

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

There is perhaps no better way to start a new online journal about Voyages Extraordinaires and the French contribution to the subject than with the most archetypal film of the genre, produced by its second greatest master: Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon (1902). Indeed, the iconic image of the Man in the Moon being hit in his eye by a steel and rivet rocket capsule is as symbolic of the genre as it is historic in cinema.

From the outset, one could be forgiven for thinking that A Trip to the Moon takes place in the late 1500's rather than the late 1800's. As in numerous Méliès films, the academics of the piece are dressed up in cloaks more worthy of the alchemist's lab rather than the scientist's. (As they in fact are in a later Méliès film) There is a coherence in Trip between the mythologically heavy sphere of the astrologer and the modern mechanical world of the astronomer, through which fantasy intermingles with science.

In this sense, Méliès is more of the pure romantic than is Verne. Verne stated that it was his intention to infuse books like From the Earth to the Moon - upon which A Trip to the Moon is partly based - with beauty and wonder and all that is romantic in life. He also stated his intention, however, to be as scientifically accurate as possible given knowledge at the time. Méliès dispenses altogether with being scientific... There isn't an ounce of it in Trip, save for symbolic representations in the machinery of Victorian progress and industrialism. Like the world of the astrologer, Méliès' heavenly bodies are literally bodies in the heavens: personified figures, whether the Man in the Moon or the gossamer-clad women standing in as stars and comets.

For the pride of France, including a military salute and a chorus of flagbearing Rubenesque beauties to see them off, the voyagers are shot to the Moon from a giant canon. Upon landing, they enter the part of the film based very loosely on H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon. In addition to uniting the fantastic and the scientific, Trip stands triumphant by drawing together the two great authors of Scientific Romance by adapting in one short film two of their greatest works.

Of course, being a Georges Méliès film, Wells is dealt a harsher blow than even Verne. Verne and Méliès both share a sense of satirical humour, and the reader can't get one chapter into From the Earth to the Moon without laughing at the ridiculousness of the Baltimore Gun Club: a group of American Civil War veterans and gun enthusiasts with varying and increasing numbers of missing limbs. Unfortunately for him, but to the great delight of viewers, the straight delivery of Wells is reincarnated in A Trip to the Moon as Vaudeville-tumbling slapstick.

Discovering the power of gravity in more than one way, the voyagers escape the lunar Selenites by literally pounding them into dust and throw any last, lingering remnant of realism completely out the window by pushing their capsule off the edge of the Moon. Once more, fantasy and science collide as the Mediaeval, pre-Columbian concept of the flat world is brought out as a suprising Deus ex Machina. How do you get a group of explorers shot from a gun back to the Earth? By recalling the magical, alchemical world of the astronomer/astrologer and having them jump off the edge of the Moon to fall through the aetherial vapours into a safe splashdown in the ocean.

Welcome to Voyages Extraordinaires!

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the brand new Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age weblog. For those of you familiar with our previous incarnation as a website, I hope you'll enjoy this new incarnation and the new opportunities for content that it affords us, without those pesky bandwidth limitations (on your end) and declining storage space (on mine). For those of you who are not so familiar, allow me to describe what it is you'll find behind this paper moon.

Actually, let us first say what you will not see here: you will not see endlessly reiterated costume photoshoots, DIY project tips or manifestos on how important and revolutionary the latest post-Goth fashion trend is. There are plenty of other blogs, fora and magazines for that sort of thing, if it is your pleasure. What you will see here, we hope, are things that inspire you, spark your dreams and your imagination, and which will help you look at the breadth of history and the depth of space with that precious sense of awe and wonder.

What we are about are Scientific Romances... It is more than an outdated term for Science Fiction, for "Science Fiction" is a far too prosaic term for fiction about science. What we seek out is the Romance of Science, the poetic probing of the mysteries of Space, Time, Nature and possibly even Divinity (for, as they used to say, theology is the Queen of the Sciences). Simply put, despite its flaws and ours, we're awestruck and dumbstruck in love with the majesty of Creation.

Scientific Romances - whether from the pen of a gifted writer, the camera of a gifted filmmaker, the hand of a gifted builder or the mouth of a gifted orator - are ultimately a hymn to the beauty of the world. It begins with tales of adventure and ends with a night out under the moon with a telescope or a hike out in the nearest national park. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, prophet of wonder,
It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn't.

Over the course of this weblog, we'll be enraptured by both griffins and rhinoceroses.

The greatest example of the spirit of Scientific Romance is also its founder: Jules Verne. It was the French master who embodied the new and marvellous age of Steam by crafting books about the wonders of the world as well as the benefits and dangers of technology against rousing stories of exploration and daring-do, whether under the sea in an electric submarine, in the skies in a new model airship, or plumbing the centre of the earth with rope and sweat. Of his own work, Verne said,
My object has been to depict the earth, and not the earth alone, but the universe, for I have sometimes taken my readers away from earth, in the novel. And I have tried at the same time to realize a very high ideal of beauty of style. It is said that there can’t be any style in a novel of adventure, but it isn’t true...

In the introduction to his review of Scientific Romance films of the 1950's and 60's, Sci-Fi journalist Rod Bennett expanded on this and its critical difference from Science Fiction:
On the day I started writing this article, a warm fire crackled in the hearth, snow fell outside the window, and a cup of English tea steamed at my elbow. A setting like that — a cozy, human spot with friends and family near by — really puts me in the mood for just one thing: Science Fiction. You heard right. Science Fiction. Of course, I don't mean just any Science Fiction. I don't mean the sort of thing where characters named "Zargon" from places called "Hydra-Gamma III" listen to bald-headed creepozoids in silver BVDs rant about "pure logic." No, the kind of science fiction I'm thinking of is different. Warmer. Richer. More human. On this kind of science fiction adventure, you don't want skin-tight leotards and chrome bikinis. You want big wool sweaters, hiking books, English tweed and pith helmets, with ankle-length skirts and parasols for the ladies. Yes, this is a special brand of science fiction — my favorite kind. Ever since I was a kid, I've always loved the sort of movie where a proper Victorian professor journeys from the smoke-filled adventurer's clubs of London to some impossible lost world in his own gilded or wrought-iron invention. The kind of story that somehow seems to bypass some of the dead-ends of certain other science fiction; seems to allow us to ponder the kind of mysteries science fiction explores so well without asking us to leave our roots in the past behind. I loved it then, and I still love it today.

The name "Scientific Romance" itself denotes the combination of things... Science and Romance. Stories of adventure with a flair of style. Exotic exploration in civilized comfort. Moving into the future without leaving the past behind.

These sort of Extraordinary Voyages work their best in the same broad era of Jules Verne. Shall we call it the Victorian Era or the Vernian Era? At any rate, we take these armchair adventures through the lens of the nostalgic myth of the past, fully cognizant of its negative aspects but unapologetic in our love for its beauty and style. At times it might go back as far as the invention of the printing press in the 1430's and at others it might come as close as the 1930's Golden Age of Travel. Usually, though, we'll be rooted in that Romantic, high Victorian-Edwardian world of the Crystal Palace and the Belle Époque. As noted by aesthetic philosopher Walter Benjamin, "The grey film of dust covering things has become their best part."

These adventures will take us around the world for a much longer duration than 80 days. We'll sit in explorers clubs, wilderness lodges and grand railway hotels. We'll scale mountains, from the Rockies of North America to the Montes of the Moon. Our journeys will take us up the Nile and down the Mississippi, in the footsteps of Sir Richard Burton and Lewis and Clarke. The Art Deco wonderland of Hollywood awaits, as do the geisha and temples of Meiji and Taisho era Japan. We'll board the steam trains of the Orient Express and the Galaxy Express. We may even enjoy some Mai Tai's under the watchful eyes of Hawaiian Tiki gods before descending into the flaming mouths of Pele's volcanoes. From the Matterhorn to Maple White Land to the Mountains of Madness, the world and all points beyond is our oyster.

Quite the Voyages Extraordinaires! We'll also take this journey through the British lens by looking at Imperialist Adventure films and literature. We'll see how people of this time envisioned their future through Victorian-Edwardian Retro-Futurism. We'll even explore the dark side of the Romance of Space, Time, Nature and Divinity through Sublime, Gothic horror. A little Pulp Fiction might get thrown in there, and we'll definitely share our love of silent and early cinema through the 10's, 20's and 30's. There will be movie reviews, essays, quite a lot of embedded video, and perhaps a few home videos. And most of all, we hope you'll enjoy the trip!

Without further ado, it seems like the best place to begin is at the beginning, with that French maestro Jules Verne and his contemporaries Georges Méliès and Albert Robida in the imaginative Art Moderne Paris of a perpetual fin de siècle. Welcome, once more, to Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age.