October 04, 2009

Le chaudron infernal (1903)

While an enormously influential pioneer on the field of special effects, French director Georges Méliès was oddly not that interested in making color films in his career. The reasons behind this apparent lack of interest were probably related to how costly and laborious was the process of hand-coloring frame by frame, as while his first hand-colored movie was done in 1897 ("L'Hallucination De l'Alchimiste"), he wouldn't attempt to make another one until 1903, when the hand-colored movies done by Edison's Studios became to be as popular as his films. That year, right after the enormous success of his masterpiece, "Le Voyage Dans la Lune" ("A Trip to the Moon"), Méliès directed 3 shorts that he colored himself: "La Guirlande Merveilleuse", "Le Cake-walk infernal" and "Le Chaudron infernal". Of the three, "Le Chaudron infernal" (or "The Infernal Cauldron") is the most well-known, mainly because this film followed Méliès' interest in the horror genre.

"Le Chaudron infernal" (also known as "The Infernal Boiling Pot" by some sources) is a movie about an evil green-skinned Demon (Georges Méliès, of course), who works as an executioner in Hell. Another demon in charge of bringing him the condemned, begins his work by sending a woman to the Executioner, who joyfully ties her and throws her into the big cauldron he has in his room. His assistant brings him another two condemned, this time two male courtiers, who follow the woman to her fate inside the boiling pot. As the bodies enter the cauldron the infernal flames grow bigger and reach an enormous size. After putting the three inside the cauldron, the Demon stirs up the remains and suddenly the smoke that comes from the cauldron begins to form images that resemble the bodies of the condemned. Realizing that this are the souls trying to escape, the Demon will raise the fire from Hell to stop them from escaping.

Among Méliès' many fantasy films, "Le Chaudron infernal" is definitely one of the most impressive of all despite its short runtime, as the addition of color takes the film to a whole new level, making Méliès' many tricks look even more amazing than before. To his usual array of dissolves and camera tricks, Méliès added the effects of drawing over the celluloid (an effect made famous years later by the "Godzilla" films of the 60s), using the hand-coloring technique not only to make the film look nicer, but to make an effect in itself. On a completely different subject, it's interesting to see that in this movie Méliès continues his preference for themes of horror and black magic, as he knows that it's in the horror genre where he'll be able to exploit his special effects to shock and impress his audience.

Being objective, the only problem of "Le Chaudron infernal" is definitely its runtime, as considering that by 1903 Georges Méliès had already done "Le Voyage Dans la Lune", one would think that this film is a bit too short. However, there is a reason for this considerably shorter runtime: it's short because the process of coloring the film was lengthy, and Méliès wasn't able to make longer colored films (and as written above, that's why he only made 7 colored shorts in his career). Despite this problems, "Le Chaudron infernal" is definitely one of the most interesting movies done by the legendary French magician, not only because of its inventive use of color as a special effect, but also because of its place in the history of the horror genre. This movie is definitely pure Cinemagic.


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