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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Trip to the Moon

In addition to English and Reading, I teach a class that is basically a dumping ground for kids who don't take a music elective. The teachers of this class set our own curriculum, based on what we know and hopefully the students can tolerate. This quarter is on space, and this week we did lessons on space travel. My turn was to talk about the beginnings of flight and how up until the rocket was invented, the notion of going to the moon was just a fantasy.

One of the most famous moon trip fantasies is Georges Melies' 1902 film A Trip to the Moon. It was certainly inspired by science-fiction books by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, but Melies, an incredibly creative man, took fifteen minutes to make a phantasmagorical film that is part Lewis Carroll part surrealism, before there was such a thing.

The film begins with a bunch of scientists, wearing pointy hats and robes, having a meeting. One of them shows his idea for traveling to the moon--basically, they go in a bullet-shaped ship fired out of the barrel of an extremely long gun. They undertake this mission with the casual elan of punting down the seine, wearing their tailcoats and top hats.

The most famous image of the film is when the ship approaches the moon, the "Man in the Moon" appears, his face on the moon, and gets struck in the eye. It's absurd and creepy at the same time. The scientists get out (no spacesuits, mind you, and no change in gravity). They go to sleep and in the night sky they see the Earth rise, the Big Dipper (with a face in each star), and Saturn poking his head out of his planet. It snows, and they awake, going down into a cavern where there giant mushrooms. The men have brought umbrellas, and one of them opens his and it turns into a mushrooms.

Good thing they brought those umbrellas, because they are beset by moon men, who are extremely limber, but easily defeated--just one whack with an umbrella and the explode in a cloud of dust. It's a wonder how they mated.

Our scientists escape by shoving the ship off a ledge. Apparently the Earth's gravity is so strong they merely fall to Earth, with one of the moon men hanging on the edge. They splash down, have a huge celebration, and make the poor moon man dance.

I don't know what scientists knew about the moon then, but it's clear that Melies doesn't care. He has created a world of his own imagination, physics be damned. It's funny, and I think intentionally so (one scientist keeps falling, and I assume this is intentional, so I'm not sure about the head scientist's hat falling off in the beginning). The film was also hand-painted, an incredible innovation for 1902 (Melies did this more than once) and can be considered the first science-fiction film ever made.

What's also great about it is that it's only fifteen minutes long, which meant I could watch it again just before writing this. There are many different versions of it--it was thought lost, and discovered in the 1930s (some of this story is covered in Martin Scorsese's Hugo) and they are different lengths, so there many available on YouTube, such as this one, with a soundtrack by Air. The color version was only discovered in 1993!

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