Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 08
October 25, 1928
Dreyer's Lost Passion

Today in 1928, Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer was in Paris for the premiere of The Passion of Joan of Arc. Written from actual trial transcripts, the film dramatizes the famed French teen’s emotional and spiritual ordeal at the hands of church fathers through a series of close ups, mostly of the film’s star Marie Falconetti. While it was Falconetti’s second and last film performance, it would be remembered, as New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael wrote, as maybe “the finest performance ever recorded on film." Beloved by some, banned by the British for many years, the original film was lost when its master negative was burned in a fire (a fate not unlike that of its heroine). Despite fruitless attempts to reconstruct the original film from outtakes, Dreyer went to his grave, believing his masterpiece was lost forever. And then, miraculously, in 1981 a complete print was found in an Oslo mental institution’s janitor’s closet.


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December 8, 1978
The Deer Hunter released

In 1978, two very different Hollywood films for tackled the previously taboo subject of Vietnam: Hal Ashby's Coming Home (released in February '78) and Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, which debuted on December 8, 1978.

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December 8, 1861
Georges Melies Born

Born in the middle of the 19th century, Georges Méliès helped define film as the most important artform of the 20th century. The son of a shoe manufacturer, Méliès was fascinated more in stagecraft and puppetry than heels and soles. And while he eventually took over his father’s factory, he did so only to make enough money to buy the Theatre Robert Houdin in 1888. Soon he became a master showman, creating elaborate stage fantasies with magic and special effects. His life changed completely on December 28 1895, after he attended the Lumière brothers’ exhibition of their Cinématographe. From then on, he strove to marry the magic of theater with the magic of film. In 1896, a production gone wrong showed him the way. After a camera jammed, Méliès saw things wondrously disappear, then pop back in frame, as if by directed by a master magician. He started developing other special effects—a double exposure, a split screen, and a dissolve––to enhance film’s trickery. In 1902, his A Trip to The Moon became an instant classic, turning Méliès into one of film’s foremost artists. His success however could not be maintained. By 1913 his famous film company was sold off, leaving Méliès nearly penniless. Indeed the boy who turned to the arts to avoid making shoes watched as the celluloid from his films was used to patch soldiers shoes during World War I. Nearly lost to obscurity, Méliès was rediscovered in the 20s and awarded the French Legion of Honour in 1931. Now heralded as one the grandfathers of cinema, only 200 of his over 500 films remain.

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