Cinema and Media Studies Georges Méliès
Stéphane Tralongo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0311


Georges Méliès (b. 1861–d. 1938) was a magician and a French cinema pioneer with an extensive, inventive, and protean body of work. His films have been celebrated for both their technical innovations and their imaginary worlds, having at times a fantastic air and at others the appearance of fairy plays. The son of a manufacturer who made his fortune in the production of luxury footwear, in the 1880s Méliès went against his father’s wishes by learning the art of magic. With his share of the family business, he acquired and from 1888 to 1914 ran a famous Parisian theatre specializing in magic, the Théâtre Robert-Houdin. Méliès worked mostly behind the scenes, where his administrative activities went hand in hand with the creation of a repertoire of illusions. Keeping a foot in the magic field as president of the Chambre syndicale de la prestidigitation from 1904 to 1934, he became interested in the cinematograph early on, and added films to his theatre’s programming in April 1896. From 1896 to 1912 he worked intensively in the manufacture of films, employing an artisanal mode of production: he took on the roles of author, draftsman, painter, actor, and director, and he financed his own work. Distancing himself from the Lumière model, Méliès preferred to produce “artificially arranged scenes” in the studio he built in 1897, and later in a second studio built in 1907. Although his output of around 520 films was extremely varied, he specialized in “fantastic pictures” based on both stage tricks and the reiteration of these tricks thanks to the technical possibilities of cinema. In 1902, his film A Trip to the Moon was seen around the world, but largely at Méliès’ expense because of the massive pirating of the film in the United States. As chair of two international congresses of film producers in Paris in 1908 and 1909, Méliès helped organize the film industry, but new production, distribution, and exhibition methods forced him to suspend the manufacture of films in 1909. He made a final six films for the Pathé company in the years 1911 and 1912. During the First World War, he acted in dramatic and lyric plays in his second studio, which was converted into the Théâtre des Variétés artistiques from 1917 to 1923. When he was rediscovered in the mid-1920s, numerous filmmakers paid him tribute (René Clair, Abel Gance, Hans Richter, etc.), and he himself contributed to valorizing his work.

Introductory Works

Every new bibliographical research project into Méliès is confronted with at least two methodological problems. On the one hand, the reader is presented with an abundant amount of secondary literature, not only spread out across several decades of film historiography but also geographically dispersed across several language areas. On the other hand, Méliès’ name frequently appears in the titles of books or within texts, not because his work is analyzed in them, precisely, but because his name functions as a temporal marker (that of cinema’s “origins”) or is used in metonymic fashion to describe all of early cinema if not cinema per se. The goal of this bibliography is not to give an exhaustive account of references which, in whole or in part, take up Méliès’ work, but rather to offer a selection of studies which are authoritative in their field, organized according to their major research orientation. To begin, several introductory volumes provide an overview of Méliès’ work. Among these volumes, it is advisable to consult first of all several pioneering historical studies published in France: Bessy and Lo Duca 1945, Sadoul 1961, and Deslandes 1963. Following these foundational studies, specialist work such as Cherchi Usai 1983, Robinson 1993, and Abel 1994 added to the knowledge of Méliès in languages other than French. Finally, one may consult works of popularization which synthesize the results of the historical research of the past several decades, as in Dupuy 2011.

  • Abel, Richard. The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896–1914. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Although this book does not address Méliès exclusively, several chapters examine his films and situate them in the stylistic evolution of early French cinema.

  • Bessy, Maurice, and Lo Duca. Georges Méliès, mage. Paris: Prisma, 1945.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This copiously illustrated monograph is a pioneering work that also contains a text often viewed as Méliès’ “memoirs.” Actually, Méliès wrote this text not as his memoirs but as an article for a dictionary.

  • Cherchi Usai, Paolo. Georges Méliès. Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1983.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Published as part of a series of monographs on filmmakers, this book by Paolo Cherchi Usai is a learned trip through Méliès’ films and their themes and motifs. A new edition was published by Il Castoro in 2009.

  • Deslandes, Jacques. Le boulevard du cinéma à l’époque de Georges Méliès. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1963.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this modestly sized book similar to a simple guide, Deslandes in fact adopts at this early date a rigorous research method and goes against the tide of the assumptions of his day. The book includes as an appendix a rare text on Méliès printed in the Théâtre Robert-Houdin’s programs.

  • Dupuy, Julien. Georges Méliès: À la conquête du cinématographe. Paris: StudioCanal, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Illustrated, written in clear language, and accompanied by three DVDs, this volume is a general overview of Méliès’ work from his beginnings in magic to tributes to him by contemporary artists.

  • Robinson, David. Georges Méliès: Father of Film Fantasy. London: Museum of the Moving Image, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Organized around an abundant number of illustrations, David Robinson’s book is a concise and accessible introduction to the life and work of Méliès.

  • Sadoul, Georges. Georges Méliès. Paris: Seghers, 1961.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Despite mistakes and shortcuts due to the unavailability of sources, Sadoul’s monograph remains an essential introduction to Méliès’ work. The author draws on an abundant quantity of documents and oral accounts. The book also includes a selection of texts, chosen in collaboration with Pierre Lherminier.

back to top

Your subscription doesn't include the subject of this book.