A movie by French director Georges Mélies thought to be long-lost has been unearthed in Prague by the Czech National Film Archive.
Mélies, a magician turned filmmaker who pioneered the use of special effects in movies, is best remembered for his 1902 short Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) and 1904’s The Voyage Across the Impossible. Many of the techniques he developed are still being used by filmmakers today.
But only about half of his films survive have survived over the years; the other half are lost to time or wasting away undiscovered in someone’s attic.
Because of both intentional destruction (studios at the time saw little need for preserving most films after they premiered, and needed the storage space) and the highly flammable nature of nitrate film, most films from the silent period of filmmaking are now considered lost.
Yesterday, however, the Czech National Film Archive announced that they have found one of Mélies’ films thought to have been long gone.
The film is a 1904 short called Match de Prestidigitation; IMDb lists the title as A Wager Between Two Magicians, or, Jealous of Myself in English.
The short was donated to the National Film Archives in Prague as one of three Mélies films stitched together, and labelled as the known The Imperceptible Transmutations. But when archivists viewed frames from the movie, they realized it was from another film – something that had “never before been documented”, according to NFA digital restorer Jeanne Pommeau.
Using existing scripts for comparison and identifying signs and other written information about the production company carefully weaved into the picture (an early practice to combat piracy), the archive was ultimately able to identify the films as the “missing” 1904 short.
The other two Mélies films joined to the missing short were 1905’s La Chaussette and 1909’s Amoureux de Madame, which were not considered lost.
Why the three films were glued together is unknown, but the NFA will present the trio as they have been preserved.