The Mysterious Portrait

by popegrutch

Alternate Title: Le Portrait mystérieux

This short trick film from Georges Méliès displays his fascination with twinning and also is I believe the first of several of his films in which paintings come to life.

mysterious-portraitMéliès enters a stage with a large empty picture frame in the center, set against a backdrop crowded with posters. He walks through the frame to demonstrate that it is a three-dimensional object, with nothing inside of it. Then he walks offstage and rolls up the backdrop, revealing another one with what looks like the courtyard of a castle on it. He places a canvas inside the frame and a stool on the front of it. He gestures and suddenly a second image of him appears inside the frame, sitting on the stool. The two Méliès interact with each other and imitate one another. Then the Méliès outside the frame gestures again and the one inside becomes blurry and disappears. The remaining one walks behind the frame again, then comes out to take a bow.

Although this movie builds on the multiple exposure effect used for “The Four Troublesome Heads,” the really exciting innovation for me was the fade used to make the portrait-Méliès disappear. I believe it is the first example of a fade in cinema, or one of the first at any rate. I was completely baffled as to why he changes the backdrop until I realized that the first backdrop shows posters for other acts at the Robert-Houdin Theatre. That first part of the movie was intended as a kind of advertising to the audience about other things to come and see. Méliès would use this promotional idea again in the movie “The Hilarious Posters” (1905), in which the ads themselves come to life.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here.