Discovering a Classic

This post is about art and aesthetics. Magic, music and movies. …or maybe I don’t know what I am really writing about. There is this kernel of an idea that’s been niggling at me for the last few days; so here I am, typing away, trying to stitch together a tapestry of random occurrences over time. Maybe towards the end, we’ll discover together what I was trying pin down all along.

Let me begin where it began for me..

As a good ’90s grunge-child, Smashing Pumpkins was a band I adored. Siamese Dreams was mind-bending, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness took the trip further. One song in particular, “Tonight, Tonight” captured my imagination – mostly because of its fantastical video. I loved everything about it: the idea, the flickering-faded-vintage vibe, surreal settings within a distinctly steampunkish faery tale atmosphere. I often say that while it is nearly impossible for me to respond to what my favourite song is, it is easy to name my favourite music video – Tonight, Tonight.

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The genre of steampunk mixed with fantasy and sci-fi grew on me to a large extent because of Tonight, Tonight. A few steampunk paintings and art projects of mine find root in this adoration. Boxes of gears, watch faces, goggles, stamps and moulds always lie at home, waiting to be made into something to befittingly steampunk-cool. Books are borrowed from the library to dig deep into this genre. It may well be my never ending love story.

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Watching Hugo for the first time about six months back, I saw faded, sepia visuals spookily similar to those of my favorite video. The feel was that of steampunk on speed. Things I had first seen in a 1996 music video now popped-out from a 2011 movie – a movie that was a period drama depicting the 1930s.  And so, even before the film was through, I was researching it and this led me to Georges Méliès and his iconic A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage Dans la Lune).

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Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902) is a classic black & white and color (hand painted) silent film by the french director Georges Méliès. Méliès, and hundreds of his films long lay erased from public memory ravaged by the brutality that is rapidly changing times (and generations.) Fittingly, this temporary memory lapse was cured by time too. Today Méliès is revered, is considered a genius, and this 16-minute film of his is widely regarded as one of the most important works of film history.

Based loosely on two popular novels of the time: Jules Verne’s ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ and H. G. Wells ‘The First Men In The Moon’, Le Voyage Dans la Lune was the first to use science fiction as its theme even as it incorporated special effects that were state-of-the-art at the turn of the 19th century. Considered groundbreaking by many a student of cinema, this surreal work is absurd, dreamy and magical. It is poetry in the guise of science fiction and it reveals Méliès’ innovative work not just in its special effects but also in hand-tinting, backdrops and costumes.

The color version, considered lost for several decades, was found in 1993 in Spain, albeit in a desperate condition. In 2B4Qyd-YIEAEUUF5.jpg-large010, a complete restoration was launched, so that a new set of audience could experience its charms. And so it remains..the moment when the capsule lands in the Moon’s eye has become one of the most iconic and frequently referenced images in the history of cinema.

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In all of this, what struck me most is how profoundly Méliès and his piece of art has inspired (and continues to inspire) the creative mind. I’m sure there are many, many more instances, but here are the ones I came across even while I wasn’t seeking them out actively..

  • There is Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s homage to Méliès.
  • The video Tonight, Tonight which ends with a poignant “S.S. Méliès” written on a steamboat.
  • My paintings, some of which occupy homes other than mine, all unknowingly inspired by Méliès!
  • Then there is the french band AIR (another one of my favourites) that put a contemporary spin on the classic movie by composing an original, modern soundtrack for it. The soundtrack made its debut at the Cannes festival 2011 no less, playing alongside the newly restored, colored print of the movie on show for the first time.
  • Spurred on by their work on this short movie, AIR decided to develop the project into a full album. AIR’s Nicolas Godin explained of their new album, A Trip to the Moon, released in 2012: “It is undoubtedly more organic than most of our past projects. We wanted it to sound ‘handmade,’ knocked together’, a bit like Méliès’ special effects. Everything is played live … like Méliès’ film, our soundtrack is nourished by living art.”
  • tttmAnd then just last week I saw this ad while leafing through the New York Times. It’s an ad for the auction of “The Copy of the First Animated Film Poster”, a poster of A Trip to the Moon and its auction was expected to earn between $225,000-$275,000.

I guess at the centre of this labyrinth… the thing I’ve been trying to pin down… is that great art is one thing, and one thing only

                                            …Great Art is Great Inspiration.

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