A Trip to the Moon (1902)

trip-to-the-moon

Director: Georges Méliès Cast: uncredited

A group of astronomers take a trip to the moon. (Who would have guessed from the title?)

Bit of a weird one this, but bear with me. In the numerous coffee-table books on films that I’ve collected, this is pretty much always the first one on the list of ones to watch. This 1902 short film (12 minutes, and it’s on YouTube) is generally credited as being one of the first popular films. It brought special effects into the mainstream, and despite its length manages a substantial plot and even some anti-imperialist satire.

It definitely helped to watch this film with my 1902 Edwardian-era hat on, in order to appreciate the film in the way that it would have been appreciated at the time. I was actually really surprised at how good the effects were for the time. For example, the aliens that live on the moon suddenly vanish in a flash of smoke, and it doesn’t look clunky by any means. The face on the moon (which admittedly is the stuff of nightmares) is cleverly superimposed- I didn’t even know they could do that as early as then. It’s also interesting to remember that no one had actually been to the moon at that time- so it really was just science fiction for people to travel there from Earth.

This, clearly, is a film you’d watch to study and appreciate the history of film, and not for settling into the sofa with a bowl of popcorn. Definitely recommended for discussing at dinner parties to make you seem sophisticated and erudite.

Hard to rate this one… 3 stars?

City Lights (1931)

City Lights

Director: Charlie Chaplin Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Harry Myers, Allan Garcia

Charlie Chaplin’s famous character “the Tramp” falls in love with a poor flower seller, who happens to be blind. She mistakes the Tramp for a wealthy man, a mistake which the Tramp is happy to go along with. The blind girl falls on hard times and the Tramp promises to help her out by whatever means possible.

If I had to sum up City Lights in the shortest way possible, that word would be “nice”, an adjective which I’ve been taught never to use under any circumstances from an early age. But it really is. The film is innocent, sweet and well-meaning, and while the characters have flaws, they are loveable flaws nonetheless. However, this aspect doesn’t take away from the films realism. The protagonist is after all a tramp, the flower girl lives in poverty and all the while we see the opulence of the other end of society in the wealthy man and his life of indulgence.

The film is silent, but Charlie Chaplin’s expressive eyebrows are all the script that the film needs. I had never properly sat down and watched a full-length silent film before this, but I found I got used to it pretty quickly and it wasn’t as difficult to get into the story as I thought it might be. The final scene for which the film is most noted is beautiful, and the feelings get across without the actors saying a word.

There are funny moments, sad moments, frustrating moments and happy moments all squeezed into the short 1 hour 21 minutes running time. It’s hard to think of someone that wouldn’t like this film as it covers a lot of genres, is suitable for all ages and is easy to watch, although the silent aspect of it may put some people off. Definitely a must-see for those who like classic movies.

5 stars