Le Voyage dans la Lune (1904/2009)
Georges Melies’ Sci-Fi Classic with Four Different Original Scores
Composers: Robert Ian Winstin, Hurwitz & Spinosa, James Guymon, Don Myers
Performers: Millenium Symphony members/Robert Ian Winstin
Studio: ERM Media (DVD + CD of the 4 scores) [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 4:3 B&W
Audio: PCM stereo
Length: film: 12 minutes
There are many DVDs out there of Melies’ incredible 1904 film full of special effects – which may or may not be the very first sci-fi film ever – but none of them give the viewer the option of matching the 12:09-long flick (and it really does flick) to a choice of four different original music soundtracks. The project is part of the many CDs of music by living composers which ERM has released. The main force behind this DVD+CD set is composer/conductor/pianist Robert Ian Winstin, whose Taliban Dances and Oedipus Requiem have been recently acclaimed. He is Music Director of the Masterworks of the New Era series of music by living composers.
As we now know, silent films were seldom silent – often accompanied by lavish orchestral scores or at least piano and violin or theater organ. Melies was a one-man show, pioneering the whole film industry in Paris and coming up with this 1904 film based on Jules Verne’s Voyage to the Moon. You can bet there was musical accompaniment to its premiere. Unfortunately, poor Melies was screwed by Thomas Edison when he brought his new film to the U.S. Edison’s spies had secretly obtained an early copy of the film in Europe and showed it thruout the US. prior to Melies’ visit, so Edison made a fortune from the showings and Melies went bankrupt, having spent over $10,000 (1904 $) making his short epic. The costumes and special effects are amazing; my favorite are the chorus girls from the Follies Bergere in matching uniforms, lined up to push the spaceship into the giant cannon and to see it off. This may be the only DVD reissue of the Melies classic where the image is slightly stretched and cropped a bit to fill a 16:9 screen. It did look a bit sharper than previous DVD versions I’ve seen.
There is only one big symphonic score among these four choices. The Millennium Symphony can be anything from a single piano to a full orchestra, and in these cases the players usually number a few. Winstin’s own score uses mainly piano and percussion with various prepared piano sounds. The one by Hurwitz and Spinosa features the two musicians on piano, B-3, accordion, synthesizers, and vocals, plus others on drums, percussion, doublebass and guitar. James Guyman’s score is the orchestral one. This film music veteran even uses a wordless choir with the orchestra, giving the images a more epic stance. Don Myers reported that he felt the accordion was really perfect for the screen images, and I have to agree. He used thematic material in the score that came from an accordion concerto he had written at age 10. It’s very interesting to experience the different feelings produced in the viewer by the four different scores when matched to exactly the same filmic images. Frankly, I don’t know why anyone would want to listen to the music on the separate CD apart from the film, but if you do, it’s here. (I decided to place this review in our DVD section since that’s the main thrust of the release.)
– John Sunier