Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 08
Children of Paradise November 15, 1945
The Children of Paradise opens

While Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise opened in New York City in November, 1945, just months after World War II was officially over, the film was forged in the cauldron of the war. Supposedly the film had its origins in 1942, when director Carné and poet and writer Jacques Prévert ran into an old friend, the actor Jean-Louis Barrault, in the south of France. Over drinks, Barrault recounted the anecdote of the great 19th century mime Jean-Baptiste Gaspard Debureau, who killed a man who’d accosted his date. His subsequent trial for murder became a Parisian sensation, not so much because of the crime, but because hundreds of fans wanted to hear the famous mime speak. While the filmmakers let go of the particulars, they grew attached to the period and the people who made up the theater world back then. At the same time, due to Nazi occupation, it was near impossible for the filmmakers to create any work on contemporary subjects. Shooting commenced in August 1943 in France, and continued through the last years of war. Initially shot in Cannes, the film was called back to Paris by the Nazis. The production was subsequently shut down when it was discovered that one of the producers had Jewish ancestry. One actor was arrested on set for being a member of the resistance. Later, another actor had to flee when it was discovered he’d worked as a Nazi collaborator. But the story, set in early 19th century of Paris, has nothing to do with war. The story recounts how four men (Jean-Gaspard Debureau, Frédérick Lemaître, Pierre-Francois Lacenaire, and Count De Montrary) vie for the heart of the same mysterious beauty, Garance. Each of the main characters was based on real historical figures. The mime, Debureau, revolutionized that field of drama during the period. Lemaître was one of the most celebrated actors of his time. And Lacenaire was a poet who became more famous when he was arrested for murder. When the film came out, nearly every critic jumped up to explain how this drama of 19th century theater people was really about the Nazi occupation of France. In any case, the film remains essential to French culture. It has regularly been chosen by the French as the greatest French film of all time.


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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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