Méliès to Hopper: Parisian Cinema

November 24, 2008 by Derrick Faw · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Arts, Cinephile 

Yesterday Samantha and I visited La Cinémathèque Française to see the Dennis Hopper exhibition and to my surprise we were also able to visit the exhibition on Georges Méliès and the Musée du Cinéma. The Cinémathèque is located at 51, Rue de Bercy in the 12th Arrondissement. Paris surely has a rich culture based in cinema. It is an ideal place for cinemaphiles. Any given day you can go see classic films in various places in the city. I was first impressed a few years ago when we ducked off the Champs-Élysées into an underground cinema to watch James Stewart in Anthony Mann’s The Man from Laramie. I could of never imagined such a wealth of movies to go watch back in North Carolina. Since then we’ve seen many great films in Paris. One of the most noted treats was last year when the Cinémathèque showed Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York. They even show such rarities as Bob Dylan’s Renaldo And Clara. In Paris we also have the opportunity to attend master classes from noted Directors. For example, I had an excellent time hearing Michael Cimino discuss Heaven’s Gate before the movie aired. Though I throughly enjoyed watching Thunderbolt and Lightfoot on the big screen far more. For a listing of English speaking movies in the Paris area you can check out the AngloInfo website for the Ile de France region at http://paris.angloinfo.com/information/movies.asp

The Museum of Cinema at the  Cinémathèque was very interesting. There you have an opportunity to see the instruments that were first used in cinematography. There are many different types of costumes and props from the early years. I was dissappointed a bit that there was very little from later years on display. However one fascinating piece was the actual skull Alfred Hitchcock used for Norman Bate’s mother in Psycho. I found the real treat of the Cinémathèque on the 5th floor. It was the exhibition on George Méliès, the Magician of Cinema or the Cinemagician. Though most noted for La Voyage dans la lune or in English A Trip to Mars or A Trip to the Moon, Méliès can be credited for over a hundred other films.

Georges Méliès

He was a true genius and pioneer in the craft of making films. With his incredible sense of humor and curiosity, the imagination of audiences could explore regions never before envisioned. Being a true student of the technology of the time, he set a standard for special effects which holds up, even in today’s world of computer generated effects. He invented techniques such as the “stop trick” and was one of the first to use such features as dissolves, time lapse photography, multiple exposures, and color. On display was a model of his studio which was located in the suburbs of Paris. This fascinating building was constructed almost entirely of glass, with panels that could be opened on the roof to let in valuable sunlight. The building also included such things as trap floors to assist in the trick shots he preformed. Though his films may not hold up as great stories or have inspiring scripts in the terms of film language, they are no doubt some of the most important treasures for anyone interested in cinema and cinematography. I find myself great inspiration in his experiments of what can be done with a camera. As we begin to make our own films, I will try to keep in mind this kind of ingenuity and invention.

Finally we found ourselves at the Dennis Hopper Exhibition called Dennis Hopper & le Nouvel Hollywood. On display were many photographs, paintings, film clips, and various other curiosities, both from his own works to his private collection. Of all Hopper’s talents in the field of the arts I think I appreciate most how he composes himself verbally. At the beginning of the exhibition was a video of him reflecting on many of the important events that have shaped America politically and through the cinema in his lifetime. Included in the show were works by Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel, Roy Lichenstein, and Jean-Michel Basquiat among others.

Dennis Hopper, John Ford, & John Huston

He established himself firmly in the old regime of Hollywood, working for great directors such as Nicholas Ray and George Stevens. Hopper is one of the founders and remains a benchmark of American counter culture. He stands in an unique position as being a witness and participant in the birth and death of the New Hollywood. From working with such figures as Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood to James Dean, to photographing Andy Warhol at the Factory and Martin Luther King in 1965. He even remains relevant today among his more modern acquaintances such as Quentin Tarantino and Sean Penn. In addition to a multitude of acting roles in film and television, he has written and directed several films. Most notably of course is Easy Rider, which will go down in history as one of the films that changed the course of popular culture. The exhibition, without much elaboration was simply great and I recommend it to anyone in the Paris area. It is on display until January 19th, 2009.

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