Oracle of Delphi (1903)

This short from Georges Méliès depicts a supernatural event in an exotic time and place, but really boils down to a typical trick film using a few well-established gimmicks with a new set design to distinguish it from others.

Oracle of Delphi

The scene is that of a Pylon or temple in Egyptian style, with hieroglyphics visible in the background and two stone sphinxes set to either side of the door. A man in Egyptian-style dress approaches with a large set of keys and opens the temple doors, and two women bearing a litter with a large ornate chest on top follow him and wait while he presents the offering to the temple. He locks the door and departs, but another man has been watching, crouched behind one of the sphinxes, and he now breaks into the temple to steal the chest. He doesn’t get far, however, before he falls to the ground in terror, looking at the temple door as the image of a bearded man fades into existence. This man, evidently the Oracle, points his finger at the thief, who returns the chest. Then the two sphinxes become women and they restrain the thief while his head turns into a donkey’s head. The sphinxes return to their normal state as statues and the Oracle disappears, but the man is still cursed as the movie ends.

Oracle of Delphi1

Méliès seems to have been a bit confused in his mythology here. The Oracle of Delphi was a woman, not a man, and more importantly her shrine was in Greece, not Egypt. Ancient Egypt was very important for Greek mysticism, especially for followers of Pythagoras, so I thought perhaps at first that the conflation was a deliberate speculation that a Greek temple might have appeared Egyptian, but close examination reveals the temple to be just in front of the Great Pyramid, so apparently Delphi has relocated to Giza. Sphinxes do appear in Greek stories like Oedipus (no doubt borrowed from Egypt), so that’s OK. Archaeological nit-picking aside, the movie is a brief example of Méliès using substitution splices and fades to show some typical magic tricks in the context of a narrative. Unlike some of these films, there is a distinct story, not just a man in fancy dress doing a magic show, though the end leaves the lock on the door unrepaired, and the thief with no apparent way to make restitution for his crime. Justice was harsh in ancient times!

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 1 min, 34 secs

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).