January 5, 2000

Circle of Strife

(A single person stands on a bare stage except for a single pair of shoes near the rear of the stage. At the beginning of the play, the person stands near the rear of the stage right near the shoes. The person holds the shoes until taking the first step)

Georges Melies was a French film director. He was one of the premier innovators of the cinema in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But he began his life working for his father making shoes.

(drops the shoes, takes one giant step 60 degrees to the right, leaving the shoes at the rear of the stage; 5 more such steps will be taken in the course of the play, going in a hexagon-shaped path during the play before arriving back at the beginning, marked by the shoes)

Georges would become a magician. He bought a theater--the Theatre Robert-Houdin--where he produced magic shows. In 1895, Georges was one of 33 people invited for the first public showing of the Lumiere Cinematograph, one of the first moving pictures.

(takes one giant step 60 degrees to the right)

Georges was inspired. He made his own camera--the Kinetograph--and began making his own films. He put magic tricks in his films; one film, The Vanishing Lady, shows a woman sitting down, covered by a giant cloth, then when the cloth is removed, the woman has turned into a skeleton.

(takes one giant step 60 degrees to the right)

More films followed. In 1896, Georges made a film called The Devil's Castle, the first vampire movie ever made. In 1902, Georges made one of the most famous achievements in early cinema--a 14-minute film called A Trip to the Moon, in which six people ride a cannon shell to the moon. The images from A Trip to the Moon eventually inspired a music video made by the Smashing Pumpkins, Tonight, Tonight.

(takes one giant step 60 degrees to the right)

But the film industry was changing, becoming bigger, more technical, and more capitalistic. Georges could not keep up, and in 1923 went bankrupt. He would still work in the film industry as a consultant to film historians and sometime movie star, but he never again made another film.

(takes one giant step 60 degrees to the right, arriving back at the shoes)

In a 16-year career, Georges made some 500 films totalling about 26 hours of screentime. Only about 90 of these films survive today, some only one frame long. That's mainly because the French Army, in 1917, seized some of Melies' property where some 400 of his films were kept. Those films were melted down, where they were made into a chemical for making (picks up the shoes) the heels of shoes.



  1. Hammon, Paul. Marvellous Melies. London: Gordon Fraser, 1974.

  2. Karney, Robyn, ed. Chronicle of the Cinema. New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing Inc., 1995.

  3. Vernoff, Edward, and Rima Shore. The International Dictionary of 20th Century Biography. New York: New American Library Books. 1987.