Bad Cinema Corner: 'Le Voyage Dans La Lune' (1902) [Part 4]
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: ★ ★ ✰ ✰ ✰
Surviving in the 21st century is but a matter of finding the most convoluted way to strip people off of their hard-earned cash — a.k.a. capitalism. While selling useless hunks of plastic as the answer for questions no one ever asked is a tried and true formula for “as seen on TV!” businesses worldwide, this requires a hefty sum of money to invest in one swift motion prior to even starting to wonder if they’ll eventually become earnings. However, as the internet has taught us, it is always better to sell non-existent and non-quantifiable goods to people who have no idea what “value” is. Case in point, the “theoretical introduction to the art of film for beginners” courses that populate culture centers around the country and are aimed squarely at schmucks too lazy to ask their friends if they know any good films.
I played the part of one of those “schmucks” back in 2012. Given my track record with the so-called “art” of film, this seemed like a good idea at the time — just as much as “living” seems like a good idea on the day of your birth.
As logic would dictate, these so-called courses are, in many ways, pointless. They are not about analyzing movies in order to gauge what the creators are telling us, they’re not about learning how movies are made so you can start creating some of your own, they’re not even about how to enjoy the damn things. These courses are just an excuse for people who have sunk in admirable amounts of money into their DVD collections to justify their hoarding illness. So, basically, you pay up some random to tell you “Hey, why don’t we watch this film I own? It’s important. Wikipedia says so, and Wikipedia is never wrong!” And then you feel empty inside.
“It will add value to your CV,” they told me.
My CV hasn’t felt this empty since I opened the original Word file it’s saved as.
I had anxiety on our very first day. I had no idea what to expect since we hadn’t been privy to a syllabus or something akin to that prior to showing up on the culture center offering this course. I arrived ten minutes before the accorded time to the erstwhile prison center that now purported to house the collected cultural knowledge of the city. As I noticed my earliness, I made it a point to wander around aimlessly until the clock asked me to be perfectly punctual. I have a tight policy of never being the first student to enter the teacher’s field on vision on day one and I was not about to break it, let alone for something film related.
Once I was on the verge of being late, I opened the door to classroom 401. I entered a brick-walled, windowless classroom, with white paint clumsily sprayed on top of the naked bricks doing its best to mask its jail cell-ness. If one were to scratch the walls in the slightest, as I did inadvertently with a swing of my backpack, the paint would crumble down and reveal the greyness of the original concrete blocks behind it. The smell of dead inmates reeked from the corners; no amount of bleach could ever clean the presence of their rotten ectoplasm. A set of rectangle glass tables had been arranged following the perimeter of the room, culminating with a whiteboard on the utmost end. There were already seven people sitting down when I came in. With a quick glance, I knew I was the only one without grey hairs sprouting out of their head. Their mom and dad bods gave all traits of their personalities away. Despite appearances, the freshly-made drawing of a penis with the caption “the teacher” had already been done on the whiteboard by one of these individuals.
I sat down on the center of the table furthest away from the teacher’s desk. To my right, an overweight balding man with a red football shirt was doing his best to write a note on a tablet using his chubby fingers. To my left, a sweet sexagenarian lady was knitting a lovely item that looked akin to a scarf.
“Son,” the man to my right called me, “you look young. You probably know your way with technology, right?”
“Um,” I gulped. “Perhaps…?”
“Oh, what a relief, you see, I’m trying to connect to the online and I—”
The main door opened with a bang. The smoke of cannabis flooded our senses. Behind it, Hector, a guy in his early twenties sporting a half-shaved oblong cranium and sunglasses, kicked his way into our lives.
“Classroom,” he yelled, “ready to have your film virginity popped by moi?”
My classmates lifted one eyebrow each.
I cringed. It was too late to get a refund.
Hector made his way to the teacher’s desk. He was sweating profusely, but behind the streams of sweat falling onto his face, we could discern a smile – a yellowed-out smile.
“What do you know about movies, my children?” he asked, the youngest person inside that room.
“Well…” a woman that was as tall as she was wide answered. She exuded the most grandmotherly vibe I've ever seen in my life. “I know that movies—”
“WRONG!” Hector yelled, interrupting the sweet old cube of a woman. “That is wrong!” With a flick of his middle finger, he revealed to us that his sunglasses were actually clipped on top of an empty glass frame that was too thick to allow for visibility of its wearer. “Heed my words, children. Everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING you know about movies is wrong!” Then he pointed at me. “Especially you!”
He slithered towards me until my personal space had been violated to oblivion.
“Just because you normie thinks you are younger and more knowledgeable than the other normies doesn’t make you less of a normie.” He was so close I could see every single one of his dilated eye blood vessels. I was able to taste his Doritos-infused breath as well. They had been clearly consumed two nights ago.
“What?” I asked in utmost confusion.
He flicked his sunglass clip on back in front of his eyes.
“Precisely.” Having said that, he slithered back to the front and proceeded to lower the projecting screen before his penile representation.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see the knitting woman offering me a blue pill.
“It’s because you are new,” she said. “He does that to every new student. Here. Take this, you’ll be asleep in no time.”
“I’ve been taking this course for three years straight now,” she deposited the blue pill in front of me. “It’s always the same. Take one of these at the beginning of every class and you’ll be alright.”
“What is it?” I asked while inspecting the possibly illegal substance I was being gifted.
“Sleeping pill. Trust me, you won’t miss a thing. Hector’s speech is as empty as his brains. I should know, he’s my grandson. I’ve been sleeping through every one of his words for the best part of the last twenty years. It’s been heaven.”
“Thanks…” I said.
“First one’s free, honey,” she smiled. “But either you buy your own pack after this or I will have to start charging you for every dose.” She winked. Quite the businesswoman. I lifted the blue pill just as if it was a wine glass. She mirrored me. We clinked them, said our “Cheers!” and put them into our mouths. She swallowed it hole without the need for water. I pretended to enjoy the thing while keeping it hidden inside my cheek. An elderly man looking as frail as a dried stick approached her, a wad of bills on his hand. I spat out the pill when the woman looked away.
“This year’s box, please," he said, sweating, his eyes moving everywhere and nowhere at the same time, the colors of his persona phasing in and out of existence.
“Why, of course, Dirk,” she said, and gave him a massive cardboard box filled to the brim with the same blue pills we had just consumed. I swear that I could see Dirk become teary-eyed, caught up with emotion, smiling upside down with sad happiness.
“And now,” Hector said from his side of the room, “we will take our first step in our cinematic journey onto cinematic knowledge overhaul with the masterpiece known as Le Boish Danced Lay Loon by Josh Melee [sic.].” He took out a pristine Blu Ray copy of the movie from the insides of his hemp satchel and showed it like a prize to us. The shrink-wrap was still clinging to the box. With utmost care, he took the casing out of the faux plastic cover and, with surgeon-like precision, took the disc out of the casing and onto the Blu Ray player. He took so long to perform this simple task that everyone’s sleeping pills kicked into full effect, leaving me and Hector the only woke people in a sea of elderly snores.
“And thus”, Hector said while pressing play on his remote, “I begin culturing you!”
The title screen engulfed all of us.
A Trip To The Moon.
"I think I've heard of this one, before. Is this the one everybody seems to love? Where someone kills the moon or something?" I asked while the opening title screen flickered in unnecessary HD.
"It is, my dear student. You must certainly be referring to the most iconic frame of filmmaking history, therein which where a spaceship lands on the Moon Man's eye. A classic! The pure beauty of semiological nature! This here Movie, with capital M, is the inspiration for countless creations of all kinds all around our flat Earth."
"Is it any good, though?"
Hector paused it.
"Are you doubting the cultural and historical significance of one of the most renowned short films humankind has ever created?"
"Oh…" He stopped in his tracks. "Subjectively or objectively, do you mean?"
"Objectively, I guess?"
Hector flipped open his clipped-on sunglasses to focus his eyesight on the green smoke emanating from his pores in order to think better.
"I mean," I continued, "let's say we forget what you say this film did for cinema, right? Let's say we watch it as what it is, a movie, nothing more, nothing less. If we strip this thing out of all that meaning, is it a good movie?"
"Ah, no, in that case, this is shit, mate."
He flipped the sunglasses back on and resumed the playback.
"Yeah, but, you haven't told us what makes it shit, teach."
"I was hoping you guys could tell me why," I said after turning the classroom's lights back on and facing my students again. "So, I ask you the same question. Why is this film shit? Or, if it's your case, why do you think it isn't?"
Zombie films have it wrong. It is not the undead rising from the grave, muttering "BRAINS!" and devouring every living thing in their path how these creatures look like. It is a handful of entitled university students incapable of processing thoughts of their own. Those are the zombies that will, in due time, consume our planet and everything it houses.
"Really?" I sighed.
"If we can't come up with an answer," the student voiced by Tara Strong said, "does that mean we can leave now?" Everyone rushed to grab their backpacks, ready to resume their lives on the outside.
I shook my head.
"No. Not yet. Come on. Say something. Anything."
"Can we watch Project X next class, teach?"
"Anything but that…"
Susan raised her hand again, doing it so fast she broke the speed of sound without even trying.
"How can we have an opinion, sir," she smugly began, "if everything you show us is so. Damn. Boring!?"
Finally. An opinion.
"Thank you, Susan. Thank you." She looked confused. "For the first time in all the holdback years I've been having the displeasure of having you as a student, you've said the right thing."
If one wants to understand what the experience of watching a mother's recording of her son's first school play feels like, look no further than the twelve-minute opus by George Méliès, Le Voyage Dans La Lune. The experience of sitting inside a community theater witnessing bumbling adults pretending to act amidst a lake of unresponsive people unaware of their cues has never been as magnificently reproduced by visual media than in this case. Whether you watch it with one of the seventy thousand different "soundtracks" YouTube creators have tacked onto it, or in the complete muteness of the original print's silence, the experience is the same. This is the baby of a man that had too much money and too much spare time on his hand, a man who was wealthy enough to buy the laughter off of his friends and family, a man who never heard "no" as an answer.
A quick search on any video streaming service using the words "Parody" or "Fan Remake" will gift us with countless results of varying quality wherein some anonymous human being decided to remix their favorite franchises together. Most often than not, they will be letters of pure love to the creators of said original films or books or comic books or undiscovered 30th-century entertainment format — letters those creators will likely never bother reading. But, despite the effort, love and/or money sunk into those productions, 98 percent of them will fall into the oblivion of total obscurity. And, some of those, will fall down into this black hole of nothingness with a small trail of dislikes and hateful comments trailing behind them. "This sucks," "stick to your day job," the classic "fake and gay" and many other negative compliments fueled by disinterested audiences who, unfortunately, have the legal right to internet access despite not understanding the concept of grammar or human decency.
More than that, all of those videos are, objectively, rubbish. But that's only because they had the misfortune of creating them during the 21st century. Bad move on their part. Really bad move. If they had done the exact thing they just did, that which lies now in that part of YouTube full to the brim with home videos even their creators avoid, but in 1902, they could've attained cult status and be remembered forever. Even if they did the minimal effort in the most convoluted way.
George Méliès put on a play 100 years ago and recorded it for entertainment. He was not the first one to do such a thing, nor was this special play of his the best constructed one out there at the time. Hell, it wasn't even the best acted! But it did create the basis for modern Hollywood. George unintentionally created filmmaking's golden rule to attain profit: never do anything original. Just as the blockbuster environment still does to this day, why with re-hashing old ideas or adapting novels, George merely put together his favorite bits off of very popular stories of the day — Jules Verne's oeuvre with the added bonus of knowing what an H. G. Wells is — while adding a continuous stream of pratfalls and overacting "move my arms like a broken fan" for every action. George adapted popular ideas and made cash with it. Copyright laws can go fudge themselves.
People of all ages today are doing the exact same thing he did, but they will never be remembered for their cultural contributions. That's because everyone with access with a camera nowadays can and will do it. The more people do it, the less importance it has. But George's name will forever be etched in history. Because filmmaking is all about being the first; the first to cash in with previously existing ideas, that is.
Just ask Mr. Walt Disney on your way down the Matterhorn. His frozen head will gladly agree. And then you will be subpoenaed for copyright infringement.
"Bottom line is," Hector said in closing, his voice dropping a bit to give his reflection the importance he thought it deserved, "This film, this one film, proves the main issue with filmmaking. It's dated. It's the only art form that is dated. It dies and becomes pointless in a fraction of time. You can look at a painting from the 17th century and it does the same to you that it did to people back then. You can read a novel written by Plato and you can enjoy it just as much as the first readers did. Same with sculptures, music, ballet — you name it. They work as they're intended to. They still move you in the ways they were intended to. You can identify them as oldies, sure, but they serve their purpose equally as well as they did when they were created. Now, try to watch a horror film from the 90s or 80s. Don't even go that far, watch any sci-fi film from the turn of the millennium! They look foreign. You will not feel scared when you're supposed to feel scared. You will not believe there are people on those spaceships. You will not feel what you're supposed to feel. Because everything will look dated. Everything looks fake, the pacing's wrong, the music is cheesy. It just looks fake. You laugh at it because it's fake. Because it is so far removed from your actuality, that you can't connect to it. This movie here was created as circus-style entertainment. Nothing more. A little thing to entertain you for a moment and don't feel like your money was stolen. You were supposed to laugh all the way through. To have your imagination massaged. Here we were, all eight of us. And no one laughed. No one snickered. No one was entertained the way Josh wanted to entertain us. This is barely 100 years old and it's already outdated, useless, irrelevant. That is the fate of a film. To be consumed as soon as possible because, if it's released a week too late, it will already be irrelevant."
Amidst the old people snores, I felt compelled to clap. Twice.
For a second there, Hector had earned my respect.
Ten years from now, during a random house party, Molly's friends will remember that one time they tried to remake Interstellar when they were kids. Molly will laugh at the memory and will describe her efforts as a "stupid, ill-advised idea that does nothing but bore you". She will say it with a smile and say it with all the honesty she can muster. She will mock herself before everyone. "What were we thinking?" she will say, feeling a bit of shame while remembering. "Let's watch it!" someone will propose. And Molly will be too drunk to decline. She'll pull out her laptop and search for the video online. Everyone present will watch the 12-minute video they decided to upload in what seems like a lifetime ago. And they will laugh at everything. The costumes, the dialogue, the story, the mistakes. "We were young and we had no idea what we were doing," Molly will say before covering her blushing cheeks with an unrealistically large grin. "Honestly, what were we thinking?" she'll ask again. By now, she has forgotten what it felt to have a passion for something. She will have outdated her younger self. She will have become a real adult.