Earlier this month, the French electronica/rock band Air released an album of soundtrack music to accompany the restored color (yes, color) release of the legendary 1902 Georges Méliès silent film, Le voyage dans la lune (A Voyage to the Moon).
Spoiler alert, I guess: This is the film that plays a central role in Martin Scorsese’s brilliant 2011 film Hugo. It is great to be able to see the film in its entirety, especially accompanied by Air’s brilliant soundtrack.
An excerpt is available on YouTube:
I purchased the album, which includes the full-length (15-minute) video, on iTunes, but it’s also available as a CD/DVD set from Amazon. I’m considering buying the CD/DVD set anyway, as the music is that good and the download version of the video contains some annoying compression artifacts (horizontal stripes that appear whenever something fast-moving appears, which I have to assume were a result of the process of compressing the video for download, and are not inherent to the version on the DVD).
I watched the full video last night, and found myself more profoundly moved than I would have expected from the film’s light and fantastical story. I’m not sure if it was because the hand-coloring brought the film to life in a way that black-and-white couldn’t, but there were two thoughts I just couldn’t shake as I watched it, which I don’t normally think about when I’m watching very old film footage:
1. Everyone involved with this film is dead.
This is not a profound revelation. But again, I think the color brings the film to life in a unique way. There’s nothing realistic about the color, so it’s not seeing people in color that makes it more vivid. I think it’s the simple fact that it’s in color, and the way it was colorized. That the creators of the film put in the incredible effort of hand-coloring each frame of the film. That they imbued it with their personality. And, beyond all of this, that it conveys a sense of frivolity and wonder that I don’t often associate with the early 1900s.
Grainy, black-and-white film of the era feels dark and dismal. Since that’s how we’re accustomed to seeing it, that time period, for me, exudes grit and grime, the ugliness of early, soot-choked industrial cities. This color, literally, casts these times in a new light, and brings out a joy and humor I would not have seen or felt otherwise.
2. We have learned so much about the universe in the last century.
It is obvious, I think, that Méliès was not attempting to create a realistic depiction of a journey to the moon, or of what people would find there. If Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of him in Hugo is accurate, his goal in filmmaking was to explore realms of fantasy, to bring dreams to life. And that’s just it: in 1902, the idea of traveling to the moon was pure fantasy. But just 67 years later, people actually walked on the moon for the first time. (And, 70 years later, possibly for the last.) The amount of scientific knowledge humanity gained during those intervening years is hard to comprehend, and as someone who was born after those final moon landings of 1972, it’s something that for me has always been and forever will be in the past. But for those who worked with Méliès on Le voyage dans la lune, it was still the distant future, one most if not all of them never even lived to see.
It is an amazing time to be alive. Not only to immerse ourselves in the technologies of now, but because we have unprecedented access to what it looked and felt like to be alive over 100 years ago, via the motion pictures of pioneers like Méliès. The restoration of the color version of Le voyage dans la lune is amazing, and it’s made even more wondrous by its pairing with some of the best music our era has to offer.