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Georges Méliès missing film re-discovered by NFA

Prague, October 11, 2016 –The National Film Archive (NFA) is one of the several archives in the World, which is proud of safeguarding gems from the early years of film production. One of the very significant and increasingly fascinating ones is the collection of Georges Mélies, craftman of cinematografic spectacle. The NFA has recently re-discovered one of his genuine works.

The early years of cinematography are closely connected to Georges Méliès (1861–1938), an inventive artist and creator of the film screening, who was able to conduct his films as a musician and utilize new possibilities of film technology at the same time. His exceptional work was later considered one of the early contributions to the science-fiction and fantasy genre.

Recently, the NFA received a gift – a film reel with three films glued together on the original nitrate material. The box was labeled “Les Transmutations imperceptibles” (Invisible Transformations), which is the title of Méliès’s 1904 motion picture. Therefore, we thought the gift contained this particular work of art. “When I searched the film-strip, I immediately knew that it was not this film, but that I was looking at a previously undiscovered footage. The motion picture contained images and scenes that had been never documented before,” NFA restorer Jeanne Pommeau said.

Until recently, the NFA had a collection of 21 films by this director. Subsequently, the film-strip was subject to a detailed analysis aimed at determining the identity of all three films. The identification was made easier by the data in some of the film frames that contained logos of individual companies. In the first fifteen years since the invention of cinematography, plagiarism and making pirate film copies were quite common. Movie companies fought against it by inserting their logos to the edges of film-strips, into the intertitles or directly to the scenes among the props. “This makes the identification work of modern film archivists much easier: to determine the respective movie company often means the first step in discovering further information about the particular motion picture,” Jeanne Pommeau added. Further leads were found in the preserved film scripts. “After the detailed analysis, we are completely certain that the first film on this strip is the Méliès’s long lost motion picture Match de prestidigitation. It is a rare discovery, made by the archivists once in many years,” Michal Bregant, the general manager of the NFA, said.

The second film was identified as a product of Pathé Company and its particular style helped to date it to the approximately same period of time as the first motion picture. Both the opening German title reading “Die Socke” and the plot match the film “La Chaussette”, made by Pathé Company in 1905.

The third film was created later by Gaumont Company (there is a logo on the edge of the film-strip). It has no opening titles, but there is an intertitle with the serial number of the motion picture, dating it to the years 1909 and 1910. The Gaumont Company scripts from this time are preserved in the French National Library in Paris. By analyzing them, we recognized the 1909 film “Amoureux de Madame”, most probably also previously unknown.

Why are the three films-strips connected remains a mystery, but it is possible that sometime around 1910, they were presented in this order in fairground cinemas or glued together later by their owner. “This is why we are going to present these films together, exactly as they were preserved.” Bregant added.