- Méliès’s Voyage RestorationOr, The Risk of Being Stuck in the Digital Reconstruction
Extending the now frequent use of the digital at every step of the film heritage conservation and exhibition processes, DVD releases and online viewing give restored films a new visibility.1 This increase in accessibility raises questions about the very form of access, in particular, how digital circulation of archival films can paradoxically lead to their isolated viewing.
This article aims to study three remediations of Méliès’s Voyage dans la Lune: a restoration made in 2011 and its subsequent actualizations as extracts in Martin Scorsese’s feature film Hugo (2011) and a viewable entry in the catalog of the cinephile online service Fandor. The film’s rich history and the debate started by the digital restoration made by Serge Bromberg (Lobster Films), Tom Burton (Technicolor), and their teams make of Méliès’s 1902 artwork an interesting object. I would like to show how the restoration and its paratexts invite the spectator to a particular point of view on the film. In the case of an online viewing and without contextual information, the restoration can block the spectator’s gaze, failing to point toward Méliès’s Voyage as a historical object.
After a brief presentation of the film’s circulation, I consider the restoration process and some of the contradictory opinions made on the final work. Serge Bromberg’s comment about the use of digital restoration tools to give a more direct access to the past will then serve as an entry point to assess the risk in producing a movie detached from its historical context. The three remediations explored in this article either remedy or increase the movie’s isolation, reducing the spectator’s chance to further explore the past.
VOYAGE’S MULTIPLE VARIANTS
Soon after the first screenings of Méliès’s Trip to the Moon, in 1902, at the Théâtre Robert-Houdin in Paris, copies were sold to entrepreneurs from all around the globe. Unauthorized duplication and screenings assured the film a rapid circulation, notably in the United States.2
Following Méliès’s financial difficulties and the destruction of a large part of his original film materials in 1923, the rediscovery of his works, starting with the 1929 now famous “Méliès Gala,” had to build on the remaining distributed prints. In 1937, when the Museum of Modern Art Film Library sent a copy of the film to the Cinémathèque Française, “the film had followed a circuitous path of duplication, from London to New York to Paris, through the hands of several collectors and institutions, in order to belatedly return to its creator.”3 The film’s early success and its continuous screening through patrimonial institutions, for instance, the Museum of Modern Art Film Library, contributed to its celebration as one of the “canons of world cinema.”4 Nevertheless, cinephiles and film historians had to wait until 1997 to watch a complete version of the film as reconstructed by the Cinémathèque Méliès. Now that we can grasp the entire structure of the film, we can understand how, for much of its history, missing scenes (especially at the end) changed the overall experience of the film.5 The path Voyage followed, with multiple variations coexisting during the beginning of the twentieth century and afterward, follows a logic shared by many other films made during the period.
A CONTROVERSIAL RESTORATION
Three cooperating institutions, the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, and Lobster Films, premiered the latest restoration in 2011. It is [End Page 139] mainly based on two copies of Voyage. The first one is a recovered hand-painted copy of the film that was part of an anonymous donation made in 1993 to the Filmoteca de Catalunya in Barcelona. The print was in an advanced state of decomposition. A second monochrome copy, property of Madeleine Malthête-Méliès (the filmmaker’s granddaughter), was then used to fill the gaps and to serve as a reproduction template. Digital tools and processes play an important role in...