Faust and Mephistopheles (1903)
Small aside: This is the 500th post I have written on this blog, according to WordPress. I never expected to make 500 in just over two years! Thanks to all my readers for keeping me going. I plan to celebrate with a Guinness after dinner – that’s about all I can get away with on a work night at my age.
Alternate Title: Faust et Mephistopheles
Alice Guy takes a stab at a common theme among early filmmakers. According to the catalog of Georges Méliès, he had tried a version of “Faust and Marguerite” as early as 1897, and first attempted to depict “The Damnation of Faust” in 1898. He would return themes in movies of the same names in 1903 and 1904. Meanwhile, across the pond, Edwin S. Porter made his first “Faust and Marguerite” in 1900. Of course, the entire Faust legend would be borrowed from heavily in the making of “The Student of Prague” much later in 1913.
Two bearded men in robes stand before a cauldron. One wears white, the other black. They gesture at one another, and the white-robed one puts his hands over the cauldron, summoning a demon. The demon brings him a sword and sets to bringing up the flame, and the wizard swings the sword and makes the demon disappear, replacing him with a charming man in a cape with a horned helmet (I take this to be Mephistopheles, though I’m not certain). This new man uses the sword to turn the white-robed magician into a younger man, dressed sort of like one of the Three Musketeers. This new man takes the sword and makes the devil disappear, then turns the black robed magician into a more well-dressed young man – identifiable as Faust. Then they are transported together to a new room. The musketeer-fellow waves the sword at a sealed door, and Faust looks through to see a beautiful woman singing and spinning (Marguerite, surely). He pulls her into the room, but she disappears, replaced by Mephistopheles. Then the room is filled with ghosts. The Devil comes back briefly, and then Faust sees the woman with horns on her head. He pleads with the musketeer fellow, but nothing happens until he falls on his knees when he should flee, and suddenly the Virgin Mary appears holding a cross. The ghosts and demons are banished, and Faust is reunited with Marguerite.
As compared to the other versions of “Faust” I’ve talked about, this version ambitiously tries to tell the whole story in just two minutes. Prior to this, the versions were kept to vignettes. Really, this version is too hurried to be entirely coherent: I’m still not sure whether Mephistopheles is the Musketeer-fellow or the horned and caped man, and who is the sorcerer in white? However, it does work as a pretty advanced trick film with a narrative storyline, even if the characters are obscure. As with “How Monsieur Takes His Bath,” the camera edits are much cleaner than in the case of early Méliès, and there are no serious jump cuts. Still, one must recall that “A Trip to the Moon” came out the previous year, and “The Great Train Robbery” in the same year; Guy was not at the cutting edge here, so far as telling complex stories is concerned.
Director: Alice Guy
Camera: Unknown (possible Alice Guy)
Run Time: 1 Min 45 secs
You can watch it for free: here.