Wednesday 31 March 2021

Segundo de Chomón's Excursion dans la Lune

Copyright law comes and goes in waves. "Information wants to be free" say many as they illegally upload movies to shadowy servers. International trade seeks ever more uniform and pro-corporate regulations, while media companies simultaneously seek ever more restrictive censorship of individuals,  together posing what may be the greatest threats to freedom of speech and information since the rise of Communism. A century ago, the rules were much looser, with their attendant benefits and challenges. Georges Méliès was, sadly, one of the ones who lost the most from those challenges.

Méliès' classic Le Voyage dans la Lune (English: A Trip to the Moon) was the blockbuster smash of 1902, provoking a number of copyright violations. Thomas Edison, unsurprisingly, had his men smuggle copies of the film out of France, distributing them on his own in the United States without a dime going to Méliès. The French maestro's plans for an American debut were foiled, leading as surely to his financial demise as the development of the matured Hollywood filmmaking system.

Not helping was Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomón. Getting into film in 1901, he produced his first trick film - Gulliver en el país de los gigantes - in 1903. Pathé took notice and saw in de Chomón a competent filmmaker who could compete with Méliès. After releasing a series of his own trick films in Méliès' style, he was asked to essentially replicate A Trip to the Moon.  

Like numerous remakes throughout cinema history, Excursion dans la Lune (English: An Excursion to the Moon) is serviceable. All the pieces are in the right place and, in many places, it is even more refined than the original. Knowing where all the pieces go and understanding why they go there are two different things, however. An Excursion to the Moon lacks the fanciful sensibilities of Méliès, the wry blurred line between the astronomer and the astrologer, the joviality of the etheric spheres in a romantic cosmos. Though de Chomón's star rose just as Méliès' declined, posterity has been more kind to the latter than to the former. Méliès has - rightly - been canonized that the true innovator and artiste. It takes de Chomón's own films, original in content, to showcase his own abilities and separate his legacy from that of his competitor. 

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