The Four Troublesome Heads (1898)
Alternate Titles: Un homme de têtes, Four Heads Are Better Than One.
This is one of the best-known early shorts from Georges Méliès. It demonstrates considerable creativity and a sophisticated use of special effects.
Georges Méliès enters the frame and stands between two tables. He removes his own head and puts it on one of the tables, where it starts talking and looking around. Méliès, momentarily headless, has a new head appear on his shoulders, and he crawls underneath the table with the head on it to demonstrate that there is no person there. Méliès repeats the action twice, with a new head appearing on his shoulders each time, until four identical Méliès heads are presented at once – three on the tables, and one on his shoulders where it belongs. Méliès then plays a banjo, and the three additional heads sing along. He appears annoyed by their singing, and smashes two of the heads with the banjo, then pulls his own head off and punts it offscreen. Finally, he reattaches the remaining head and takes a bow.
This movie is technically impressive, considering the number of takes he had to do (at least four) in order to get the multiple-exposures right. Each of his heads is animated and they do seem to interact with one another as well as the full-bodied Méliès. When he takes off his head, he holds a mannequin-head in his hand (nicely painted so it does look like him, but not animated), and the space above his shoulders is blank. It looks to me as if he wore a hood or a sack over his head for these shots, but the multiple-exposure makes it transparent so that you can still see the dark curtain in the background. This is probably the reason he used such a drab backdrop, instead of the usual highly stylized painted sets he usually has, because it would have been much harder to hide the hood as it moved in front of the details. Despite that aesthetic lack, however, this remains a much more creative use of the camera than the typical appearances and disappearances we’ve seen in most of his early experiments. I note again that the Star Films Catalog gives a description of a much more exciting climax than what we seem to have today, though in this case it doesn’t look like anything is missing. I think perhaps they were just talking it up.
Director: Georges Méliès
Starring: Georges Méliès
Run Time: 1 Min
You can watch it for free: here.