Bad Cinema Corner: 'Le Voyage Dans La Lune' (1902) [Part 3]
A Storied Review Based on "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" – #0001
Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902) – George Méliès
Also Known As: I Could Not Attend My Cousin’s Weird Theatre Play About Wizards On The Moon, So I Asked My Mom To Film It And Show It In Every Subsequent Family Meeting Ever To The Chagrin Of Everyone Else
Genre: Jules Verne’s stories would’ve been better with slapstick pratfalls.
RATING: ★ ★ ✰ ✰ ✰
As I stepped into the classroom, I wished I had my knife on hand in order to realistically prove that huge amounts of tension couldn’t be cut with a hot knife. Unfortunately, the last time I tried to graphically show my students an English idiom was nonsense by demonstrating it in front of them didn’t go so well. Though I planned to not harm anyone in the close vicinities, I am a teacher in one of those universities that take student safety unrealistically seriously. Technically, it is my fault that members of staff are now prohibited from bringing bladed weapons to school. But, as my legal team has told me time and time again, I should leave the whole incident in the past, where it belongs. I just wish I could use all the teaching tools available to me at my heart’s content. You accidentally chop off a student’s pinky toe once and all hell breaks loose. Oh well.
We’d all just come back from a well-deserved spring break. I could still hear fake reggae rhythms coming from my student's hearts. They still smelled like cheap ganja, as well. My coming back into their lives that Tuesday afternoon was not taken with smiling strides, quite the opposite. We had known each other long enough to understand ours was a symbiotic relationship of mutual masochism. They would complain about my every decision and I would pretend I cared about them. Lose/lose, all around. Now, despite the lack of a knife, tensions were high enough to give the classroom itself a heart coronary as soon as I trespassed the door. They knew I had an evil scheme up my sleeve, a scheme designed to make them think—that which they are most afraid of. It was my bad. I was smiling. A dead giveaway.
“Come on, we’re just back from the break!” grunted the guy on the back whose voice reminds me of a Tara Strong character. “Are you really gonna torture us today? Can’t we just not today?”
My smile widened after hearing this plea for help. I hadn’t even done a thing yet and they were already suffering. My teeth started to become visible as the flesh from my lips failed to contain the happiness brought upon me. However, I pretended to be calm and collected. I walked through the rows of unfolded origami student stereotypes in complete silence. For appearances sakes, I even avoided eye contact with the bearer of the question, or anyone else, for that matter, as I made my way to my desk.
“Oh, no…” gasped the girl whose eye color is still a mystery to me since they are eternally glued to a smartphone screen. “It’s in black and white, is it?”
A light chuckle was able to escape from my clenched teeth as my crow’s feet deepened with joy. I purposely was giving them my back as I did my best to connect my laptop to the SORNY-branded television hanging on the wall. As much practice as I’ve collected throughout my tenure in this university, the mere act of connecting a computer to a television screen via a complex HDMI to RCA to VCR concoction is always a struggle. A collective grunt showered over me after I limited my answer to just shrugging my shoulders. The tan lines stacked above their dead skin cells removed themselves in fright leaving their host bodies as pale as ghosts to signal their unhappiness. I licked my lips with excitement.
“What’s wrong with black and white movies, huh?” I asked, my back still turned to them, a cartoonishly large smile on my face lighting the darkness in which I was maneuvering to understand the overly-taped cable mess issued by the school’s IT team.
“Uh, they’re boring?” a snarky commenter decided to heckle from within the middle rows. It was more an exercise of the all-too-common “fuck-the-police” attitude that flourishes as soon as someone turns legal than an actual attempt at social interaction or humor. The students around her, however, laughed "hyenacally" at this anti-establishment joke, clapping their hands as if they were seals on drugs in the middle of the arctic circle. Young adults, through and through.
“Sorry, are you describing the movies or every essay you’ve submitted?” was the response I came up with a week later when it was too late to reply to her comment. Stalking my erstwhile student on Facebook just to message the response directly to her inbox would have been illegal, or at least frowned-upon, according to my therapist. On that day, though, I simply mirrored my students and performed an eye roll of my own. I then pretended to dismissively laugh at how clever “anonymous woman who is about to fail a class that is basically watching movies and discussing them” tried to be in front of her peers. My lack of response was taken as a compliment of how painful her blow was to me. Better to let her have that one win before the final grades are passed down to her parents.
The VCR machine finally understood that I was pressing the on button on its façade for the better part of the last five minutes. It whirred and huffed like an old man in the middle of the desert, signaling its booting process had concluded. That was my cue to finally turn around and face the handful of university students who had been forced to choose “Film & TV Analysis” as an extracurricular under my care. It was two in the afternoon and nary a single one showed any sign of enjoying the idea of being a cog in the education system machine. Truth be told, neither was I.
“Well, as much as I know you love black and white movies, children, I thought we could do something a little bit different today,” I told them.
“Are we finally watching Project X, sir?” uttered a kid in the front row, his eyes glittering with real excitement that got squashed and darkened as soon as I replied:
Another shower of grunts came flying my way. Instead of engaging in the tired conversation of why it was important for them to watch pre-2000 films for general culture’s sake, I simply turned the TV on. The mirroring of my laptop screen on the not-yet-actually-flat-screen above me left my students confused. It showed a single YouTube video buffering. It was titled “Our Trip To The Moon”. It had been uploaded in 2015 and boasted around 57 total views. The likes/dislikes ratio was stacked 1 to 15.
“What’s that, teach?” asked someone who, up until that question, I could’ve sworn was not a member of my classroom.
“This is,” I said as I pressed play, “a short film.”
The title screen apparated on the full screen accompanied by a low-bitrate version of the Interstellar theme song. It was beautifully handcrafted with watercolors over black construction paper, showcasing a childishly drawn smiling moon amidst an ocean of planets and stars. Suddenly, a cut out of a spaceship entered the frame helped by the lollipop stick that allowed it to travel through space. It had the shape of a frisbee. Six anatomically incorrect passengers were riding on top of it. The title of the piece showed up next. It was made off of cutout letters from different magazines pasted erratically on the opposite side of the construction paper. Below them, the name Molly Graham and a copyright symbol. Then, the image of a nine-year-old girl with a Sharpied-on fake mustache and beard cut out of nowhere. It was an out of focus extreme close up of her face. As the camera walked away from her pores, it revealed the fact she was presiding before a group of kids her age, all of them with beards as fake as hers. Behind her, a whiteboard full of nonsensical mathematical equations was visible. In the center of it all, the moon.
“We need the farmer!” she says at the top of her lungs, her voice pretending to be masculine. “He’s the only one who knows how to find the testertact!”
My students chuckled.
“But he would have to go into the black hole!” one of the other bearded children on the video responded. “And he could die!”
“That is a risk we will have to take,” Molly concluded.
This was clearly an amateur production made by children. As Molly ordered the other cast members to drive towards the farm and search for the NASA farmer, as the character seems to be called. I noticed at least three odd jump cuts during the entire opening dialogue, probably put in place to hide the fact that no one was able to deliver their lines correctly. Just before the team of highly trained soldiers left the premises, I could see the camera falling down, soundtracked by the crew members laughing for a split second. Then, a pixelated and blown-up picture of a wheat farm became the backdrop of the serious conversation the government employees had with their fists against the NASA farmer’s head. It was brutally amateur.
Their fancy camera work and interesting shots notwithstanding, it was clear that the crew of "Our Trip To The Moon" was not trying to hide their ages. Well, not consciously, at least. It’s hard to think they actually believed the Sharpied-on beards would make them look like grown-ups. If that was their aim, to fool viewers into believing they were but a bunch of actors mired with dwarfism, they forgot the key characteristic that separates children from adults: kids create things, adults destroy them.
As soon as my students saw what they were up against, an amateur movie created by children, their egos began to inflate inside their craniums and burst out in the form of increasingly louder mocking laughter. They could not believe I was wasting their important lives with such trash. They were important members of society, they’d told themselves using their inner voices, they had important things to do at any given point in their lives. Watching a three-year-old YouTube video not even 100 people had watched was not significant enough to take away precious time they could be investing in improving the world, funding charities or, better yet, stealing money from their parents in order to funnel their recently acquired alcohol addiction.
“Wait, are those kids? Kids are dumb!”
“This is worse than a black and white movie, teach!”
“Look how stupid this thing is! It’s so fake!”
“It’s century 21, why are you not using computer graphics?!”
“Dude, my Snapchat videos are way better than this shit!”
“That’s Interstellar. Sir! They are ripping off Interstellar! Does no one notice they are ripping off Interstellar?”
“Yeah. A frisbee. On space. That is VERY realistic.”
“You. Cannot. Breathe. In. Space!”
“I know that character, that’s the one that is friends with Bugs Bunny, no? The alien one? Merlin?”
“OMG, so fake! Look! When they kill the aliens! It looks fake AF!”
“Why? Just why? Nothing makes sense!”
“Told you they are ripping off Interstellar! That’s the library scene!”
“Are you sure? I mean it is a library, but it looks nothing like the movie.”
“This is embarrassing, teach.”
“Is this still going? How long is this?”
“Can we go now? Please! The game starts in one hour and I still have to go to my house to take a shower!”
“Are you punishing us for something?”
“Why is the Looney Tunes character still there?”
“Are they… is the girl kissing the alien? But I thought the girl WAS the alien!”
“Still a better love story than Twilight!”
“They are falling down? In space? How can you fall down in space?!”
“OK, now they’re copying Avengers…”
“What do you mean it’s only been ten minutes? Are you sure?”
“Didn’t they kill the aliens?”
“And now she’s pregnant?”
“Maybe I’m stupid, but I don’t get this, teach. I just don’t get this.”
“The baby is just the other kid but without makeup!”
“I just can’t even right now…”
“When is this going to end?! You said it was a short film!”
Molly’s in-film daughter, the one she fathered with the alien, eventually dies of old age after she sees her parents for the last time. Her white wig and markered-on wrinkles are supposed to make us believe she is older than the people who conceived her. Something about black holes and the difference of time passage inside them. Finally, a “The End” title card appeared.
My students sighed. They started expelling their relief in big bouts of air towards the ceiling. I got into YouTube’s search bar in order to type the title of the next video we were going to watch as part of the class. Not a second had gone by since I gave them my back when the sound of backpacks being quickly opened, stuffed full, and lifted up could be heard all around. I lifted my index finger and, pathetically, wagged it from right to left in order to say no without uttering a single word. I shook my head at the same time to convey the message clearer.
“We’re not done here, yet,” I said through my ever-present shit-eating grin. “We have one more video to watch.”
“Another one?!” was the collective yell I received from their end. “Noooo!”
“Oh, yes.” I pressed enter on my keyboard in order to have the website fetch the result I was looking for. In the meantime, I asked my students a question. “So, what did you think?”
A single hand broke the sound barrier in order to be raised high enough to be seen by me. The hand was trembling, the unsaid opinions of its bearer affecting the fingers posture into squiggly zigzag lines.
Susan stood up in a jiffy. Her eyes glared at me. Her smile was almost as smug as mine. I would recognize that expression anywhere in the world. She was readying herself to say something that would publicly shame the teacher’s knowledge and, hopefully, shatter his view of the world, exposing it as the wrong one. I smiled back. I saw myself in her. The role she was playing was the same one I chose to play during my uni years. Boy, was I an asshole back then.
“That was,” she started, as calmly as her lips, stressed out from all the effort the needed to exert in order contain the full scope of her smile, let her, “utter garbage.”
“Simply put, they made a pig’s ear out of the whole thing. That is an amateur production that no one should have to see. I don’t know why they thought anyone would like to see this on YouTube or any other place. Thanks to this… this shit!” she proudly laughed before continuing. “I believe they have not only ruined Marvin the Martian, but they destroyed what Interstellar stands for. They should be hanged for their crimes, for ruining a good film!” An explosion of laughter followed.
“Is that so?”
“Besides, it looks fake and cheap AF!” Susan then proceeded to sit down, her arms crossed over her chest. On her face: the word “winner” lighting up with every blink she made.
“Very well put, Susan,” I said, knocking the pride off of her system and replacing it with confusion. “This is a very cheap and very amateur production.”
“Is… Is it?” she said. “Then why have us see it then?”
“To prove a point.”
“That cinema, as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, is more about how good it looks, how realistic everything looks to us, more than anything. It’s not about what it makes you feel or if the story is good, it’s all about how nice the visuals look. Film can be a lot of things: art, catharsis, a mirror of society, a complain; anything. But we won’t let it be any of those things. We just want it to look cool. Then, and only then, will we pay attention.”
I clicked on the first result of the search query.
“And, on that note…” I continued.
The title screen of "A Trip To The Moon" filled up the entire screen.