Early Cinema: The Magical World Of Georges Méliès

Screenshot from only surviving hand printed version of George Mélièss 1902 film Le Voyage dans la lune, Star films production
Screenshot from only surviving hand printed version of George Méliès's 1902 film Le Voyage dans la lune, Star films production
Subarna Ganguly

Cinema is more than a medium of entertainment: it is an art form of unparalleled versatility. Where science meets art, where reality meets illusion, fantasy and imagination, cinema comes alive. Born from a scientific invention, it is an all-encompassing art form, where elements of storytelling, painting, literature, theater, dance, and music all harmoniously come together and create ‘magic’.

The greatest pioneers of early cinema were Thomas Edison, Edwin S. Porter, D.W Griffith, W.K.L Dickson, the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès. The current generation of technology savvy cinema goers, saturated by 3D and special effects, may not remember or even know that it was Georges Méliès who started it all, the first wizard of cinema, the maker of the first science fiction and special effects films.

Georges Méliès was born in Paris in 1861. His family had a shoe factory on Boulevard Saint-Martin. Though he had a classical education, his artistic interests overshadowed his intellectual ones. He made cardboard puppets at age 10 and scribbled caricatures and drawings in his school notebooks during class. As a young man studying in London, he was greatly fascinated with stage illusion, visiting the Egyptian hall regularly run by the famous London illusionist, John Nevil Maskelyne. After returning to Paris in 1885, pressured by his father, he joined the family business. Yet, his passion led him often to the Théâtre Robert-Houdin founded by the famous magician Jean Eugène Robert Houdin. He also took magic lessons and was soon performing at the cabinet fantastique of the Museé Grévin. After his father retired in 1888, he sold his share of his family business to his two brothers and bought his beloved Théâtre Robert-Houdin.

The Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris on December 28, 1895 was the historic setting for the first public screening of 10 short films by the Lumière brothers, using their Cinématographe device that could record, develop and project motion pictures. Ranging from 38 to 49 seconds these were the first rudimentary documentaries capturing realistic moving images such as their first film ‘Workers leaving the lumière factory‘. There was one man in the awestruck audience that day who was profoundly inspired and saw a greater potential in this marvelous new invention. Georges Méliès wanted desperately to be a part of this new wonder and approached the brothers after the show, offering to buy one of their Cinématographe devices. Unfazed by the brother’s refusal of his generous offer of 10,000 francs, Méliès went to London and bought an Animatograph film projector from Robert Paul for 1,000 francs and re-engineered it himself turning it into his own film camera. By 1896, he was making his own ground breaking unique short films.
Méliès’ main contribution to cinema was in recognizing the possibilities of the medium for narrative and performance, combining traditional theatrical elements with motion pictures, seeking to present performances of a kind not possible in live theater. He created the basic vocabulary of special effects, manipulating and distorting time and space to create illusions of appearances, disappearances, using jump cuts and other complex special effects such as the first double exposure, the first split screen, the first overlapping dissolve, fade in fade out, stop motion photography and much more. He even added color to many of his films, hand painting each frame. With these techniques and showmanship, he pushed the envelope of film-making from mundane single action shots to an imaginative storytelling vehicle. In 1897 Méliès constructed a glass studio at Montreuil-sous-Bois, in which he was able to elaborate his productions and trick work.

A Trip To The Moon/

His 1902 silent film Le Voyage dans la Lune is his most famous work, and is considered the first science fiction movie and one of the most influential films of cinema history. Inspired by a wide variety of sources, including Jules Verne’s novels From the Earth to the Moon and Around The World In 80 Days, the film follows a group of astronomers who travel to the Moon in a cannon-propelled capsule, to explore the Moon’s surface and are forced to escape from an underground group of lunar inhabitants, and return with a splashdown to Earth with a captive Selenite. The rocket hitting the moon in the eye is an iconic cinematic moment. The original film was lost and later rediscovered and a hand painted version found in 1993 and restored in 2011.

The Man With A Rubber Head /

Méliès made over 500 films, acting, financing, directing, photographing, and designing the stage and costume for each one of them. Often his wife, who was his muse, starred in them. His films were a roaring success internationally, inspiring many to copy his style and sometime pirate his movies. However, the brutal realities of the great war of 1914 made the public lose interest in his fantasy films and Méliès was driven out of business. Bankrupt, he had to abandon film making. He was forced to turn his innovative studio into a variety theater and his beloved theater Houdin was demolished. In 1917, the French army turned the main studio building at his Montreuil property into a hospital for wounded soldiers, confiscated over four hundred of original prints of Méliès Star Films company, melted them down to recover silver and celluloid to make heels for the army’s shoes. Méliès himself in rage and despair had burned many of his negatives, sets and costumes. Penniless, Georges Méliès ran a tiny sweet and toy shop in Gare de Montparnasse for many years to make ends meet.

Cinderella, 1899 /

In the late 1920s his immense contribution to cinema started to be recognized again and he was awarded the legion of honor. Yet he still lived in abject poverty and in 1932 the cinema society put him up in a retirement home for film veterans where he died in 1938 and was buried in Père-Lachaise graveyard in Paris where he lays to this day.

At the heart of the 2007 novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and 2011 Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation Hugo lies Méliès story which has helped to keep the embers of his legacy and memory alive.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.


Keen to explore the world?

Our passionately curated premium small-group trips are an invitation to connect with like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.