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RIGHT IN THE EYE (En plein dans l’œil) Composer-scenographer Jean-François Alcoléa brings to life the cinematographic works of George Méliès, one of the pioneers of cinematography, at Next Stage Arts in Putney, VT on Wednesday, February 16th at 7:00pm.

RIGHT IN THE EYE (En plein dans l’œil) from composer-scenographer Jean-François Alcoléa is a live concert designed as a soundtrack to a montage of silent films by French Legion of Honour recipient George Méliès (1861–1938), considered to be one of the inventors of cinematography and the greatest fictional fantasist of his era. It will be performed at Next Stage Arts in Putney on Wednesday, February 16th at 7:00pm.

If imagination were to become manifest, it would not be surprising if it took on the form of Georges Méliès. Considered by the Lumière brothers as the “creator of cinematic spectacle,” the French illusionist and film director can best be described by any number of superlatives. He was an inventive pioneer, emblematic personality and brilliant entertainer who, in just a few years, revealed the extent of his visionary genius. TCM calls Méliès a “cinemagician.”

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Méliès was the first in the world to make us dream, to send ships into the universe, the seas, to explore the continents. Méliès’ films are abundant and full of invention. Inspired by the universe of Jules Verne, they make us laugh, travel, dream, and question ourselves. His films are the very essence of life. A magician-prestidigitator in his early days, he was an inventor, jack-of-all-trades, and brilliant entertainer.

In the middle of the industrial revolution, Méliès drew his scenes to perfection, created his sets, designed the costumes, directed his actors, acted in his films, and did all the tricks … and then he edited them with a pair of scissors and glue! By creating the first film studio in Europe, the first fiction films, reportage, advertising, the first special effects and tricks, he was the first to breathe life into what is known today as cinema.

RIGHT IN THE EYE introduces audiences to the wonderful world of Méliès, inspired by his multiple universes, combining music and sound compositions, lighting, still images and moving pictures. The performance is the musical brainchild of composer-scenographer Jean-François Alcoléa who has created a magical show where a multi-layered, evocative and intricate score complements and enhances Méliès silent films.

It features a trio of virtuoso musicians performing live as the films are projected — and are almost a show in themselves as they conjure music from an extraordinary array of instruments: basics like piano and its soundboard, percussion and guitar; fantastic oddities like the aquaphone (ocean harp), theremin, melodica, glockenspiel; and mundane objects like stemware, circular saws, whistles and even plastic flying plates and take-out lids. In fact, RIGHT IN THE EYE adds a whole wealth of timbres, sounds and musical colors to a mesmerizing score and panoply of unexpected sound effects that expertly evoke the technical wizardry, hilarity, and stream of invention bequeathed to cinema by Méliès.

Alcoléa said, “In its early days, cinema was silent because there wasn’t yet the technology to synchronize sound and images. Early films were accompanied by musicians who played the tunes that were popular at the time. I want to give the public a look at the beginnings of cinema with this theatrical show integrating Georges Méliès’ films to a scenography. Although distant from his films by more than a century, the universe of Méliès is very close to my musical universe, which is contemporary.”

Although Alcoléa has been creating shows with images for more than 15 years, creating music from an existing work was a new and unique challenge. From studying Méliès’ 400 films, he chose 11 films to be representative of his creativity.

Alcoléa said, “Creating the musical and sound universes for Méliès’ films was a challenge. This show is much more than a stage show: the musicians become actors; the action takes place on stage as well as in the image. The music does not accompany the images, instead it forms a whole with the film. Throughout the creative process, I felt at the service to the films, though creating a new narrative by integrating them into a show. The musicians, set and lighting all connect in a way that makes RIGHT IN THE EYE a complete experience for all audiences.”
RIGHT IN THE EYE premiered in 2013; since there have been more than 500 performances in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Morocco, Romania, United Kingdom, USA, and Canada, at two Avignon Festivals, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Nouvelle République said “Jean-François Alcoléa is one of those all-too-rare musicians who make an enduring impression on us thanks to their talent, of course, but also because of
their charisma, their sweet madness… Those who justify recognizing top creative talents.”

“He would have loved it!” said Méliès great granddaughter.

About Georges Méliès

Charlie Chaplin said Georges Méliès was “the alchemist of light.” Martin Scorsese said, “he invented everything, basically he invented it all.” And he is thought of as the Father of Special Effects. Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo, based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, was a homage to Méliès, telling the largely accurately story of the filmmaker, using the actual films. When Méliès’ film career ended, he became impoverished, working at a toy and candy concession in the Gare Montparnasse railway station.

Méliès was transformed from magician, theatre owner and producer to filmmaker when he was a member of the first audience in the world to see the Lumiere Brothers Cinematographe, in which moving pictures were first demonstrated in 1895.

“Méliès was a veteran showman,” said The New York Times, “who saw in the new technology a bigger and better way of continuing to bamboozle the public that flocked to his [live] magic shows. Many of his early films are simply cinematic variations on classic stage illusions: sudden appearances and disappearances, made possible by his discovery that you could stop the camera, introduce some new props and actors, and then start it up again. To audiences of the time, these transformations seemed miraculous.”

He created an entire philosophy the use of film: it was not just for recording events or capturing reality through still photos, but as a medium that could transport an audience to an entirely different world. Among his most famous films, A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904) were among the earliest science fiction films, depicting fantastical journeys.

“By June of 1896, filming largely in the garden of his home,” continued The New York Times. “Méliès embarked on a series of … short films [that] grew from two or three minutes to half an hour or more, and drew on his vast imaginative powers and the tricks he had learned as a successful stage magician to create an outpouring of special-effects extravaganzas. Often hand-colored and designed to be shown with live narrative accompaniment, his films soon toured the world, playing a central role in the establishment of the new medium.”

Born in 1861, Méliès was constantly sketching as a child, called to task by teachers for completely covering notebooks and textbooks with his drawings. By age ten he was building puppet and toy theatres, and then practicing magic inspired by performances of the magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin at the Théâtre Robert-Houdin, which Méliès purchased in 1888 with his share of the family fortune of making footwear for the rich and his wife’s dowry. After seeing the Lumiere Brothers’ demonstration, he introduced his films as part of his programming.

Méliès, himself said, “I was the one who successively came up with all the so-called ‘mysterious’ cinematographic techniques. The cinematographers of artificially arranged scenes have all more or less followed the path I laid down.” One day, the camera jammed filming scenes of street life near the Place de l’Opera in Paris. Screening the subsequent rushes, Méliès saw a bus turn into a hearse, and people appearing and disappearing — the improbable start of his special effects. And although Thomas A. Edison was already experimenting with it, Méliès made it his trademark.

Among Méliès other achievements: building the first movie studio in Europe; the first to use storyboards and production sketches – now staple tools for constructing animated and other films; and as a prolific inventor of special effects including multiple exposures, dissolves,
time-lapse photography, and hand painted color. As a showman, he pioneered marketing techniques, including projecting images above the entrance of his theatre, and ahead of his time in 1903 he opened a sales office in North America, shooting his films twice so that the other negative could be sent to the United States. He made perhaps the first horror film Le Manoir du Diable (also called The House of the Devil) and filmed a Cinderella with a cast of 35, described in his studio’s film catalogue as “une grande féerie extraordinaire” in 1898, more than a half century before Walt Disney.

By the time his film making career ended as a result of reversals of fortunes during World War I, Méliès had created 531 films, with some of the most memorable images in the history of the cinema. His phenomenally successful A Trip to the Moon (1902) was named one of the 100 Greatest Films by the Village Voice and entered the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1935. The famous still from A Trip to the Moon appeared in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. the music video Heaven for Everyone by Queen (1995) and is the basis of the Smashing Pumpkins video “Tonight, Tonight” (1996). Tom Hanks dedicated an episode of his series From the Earth to the Moon to the film, juxtaposing Méliès’ visions with Apollo 17, the last manned moon landing.

When Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney was released in 2013, the Chicago Tribune said, “It is truly something to see … an hour and half of breathtaking, oxygen depleted cinema, as accomplished and crazy in its illusions as George Méliès A Trip to the Moon was 111 years ago.” Most recently the Boston Herald reviewing The French Dispatch, raved that “Wes Anderson is both a director and a magician in the tradition of the pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès, aka the First Wizard of Cinema.”

Voxmedia said, “If you’ve ever watched a science fiction movie, or one that uses special effects, then you owe a debt of gratitude to Georges Méliès, one of the few people who truly deserve to be called a ‘visionary.’”

Jean-François Alcoléa is a complete musician — piano, chamber music, composition, jazz, rock, and vocal music, as well as music for theater, dance, and short films. Since 2000, Alcoléa has created and presented his own productions with the collaboration of skilled artists and technicians. As a pianist, a composer, an improviser and a stage designer, Alcoléa’s shows reflect his plural universes, combining music, sound effects, lighting, still images and moving pictures, street arts, dance, texts, and visual creations.

Having a great interest in history, ethnology, and sociology, Alcoléa has created a body of
site-specific work, linking a specific location to in-situ research, bygone memories, assembling collections of tributes by local inhabitants with audio and iconographic testimonies; and from these elements creating experiences as unique original shows that reflect a poetic evocation of both the subject and the site.

Among the 1,300 performances he has produced around the globe are the 2004 Allons enfants…, a show featuring the former Manufacture Royale d’Armes in France and spotlighting site enhancements and memories of the arms plant d’Armes and shows for the International Zaragoza Exhibition in Spain at European Heritage Days.

Alcoléa also uses his decade of experience as a music teacher in creating educational programming. His team has developed interactive online workshops during the pandemic which were created in February 2021 for Canadian performances. He’s now working on an image platform project, coming in late 2022.