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George Melies Flip Book Sets off Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing under way to ID George Melies flip book

A South American animation company is spearheading a crowdsourcing effort to ID a flip book that could be a reproduction of one of George Méliès’ early films. However, film preservationists, archivists, and even a  Méliès’ descendant think it’s an almost impossible task.

In fact, producer Serge Bromberg – restorer of the color version of Méliès’ “Trip to the Moon” – said there’s only a one percent chance of accurately identifying the flip book’s origin given its poor image quality, as well as the lack of context clues and traditional Méliès trademarks.

But that is not stopping Kobold Charakter Animation co-founder Bernhard Richter, who stumbled upon the flip book at a used bookstore in Germany when browsing for a piece of cinema history to raffle off at an upcoming computer graphics conference in California.

After researching its provenance, Richter said the book depicts Méliès’ “lost” 1896 short film “The Arrival of a Train at Vincennes Station,” pictured, based on the fact that its publisher Léon Beaulieu’s made folioscopes of movies produced between 1895 and 1898.

Bernhard and Kobold co-founder/his daughter Sara Richter ID’ed the film based on the train depicted in the flip book. “The double-decker was very typical for suburban rail trains around Méliès’ birthplace [in Paris]; he could have easily set up his camera there,” said Sara Richter. “We haven’t found anything 100 percent conclusive tying the book to Méliès, but we have those clues.”

However, to others, the train is a giveaway that the film was shot by the first filmmakers in history, Auguste and Louis Lumière, because of its similarity to the locomotive that appeared in their 1896 film “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6i3uccnZhQ). According to UCLA Film & Television Archive director Jan-Christopher Horak, the Lumière brothers shot train arrivals at numerous stations in France.

“The camera angle, the camera looking down the platform, the train coming in and riding past the camera – that’s identical to the Lumière film,” Horak said.

Horak said he wouldn’t be able to confidently attribute the movie to either the Lumière brothers or Méliès due to the lack of signage, the indistinguishable train platform, and the hazy background in the flip book images.

Further complicating matters is the fact that this could be a Méliès copycat film of the Lumières’ work. Even though Méliès’ great- great-granddaughter Pauline said she’s skeptical about attributing the film to Méliès because he was such a firm proponent of novelty, Dino Everett, archivist at USC’s Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive, said the director could have copied the Lumières’ train arrival films to get his foot in the door during the early years of his career. The French helmer was later aggressively against copycat productions.

Regardless of who shot the film, Kobold Charakter Animation is seeking any and all information about the flip book. The company will send a copy of the book to whoever offers the most significant clues to help with the ID process. Email infoen@koboldcharakteranimation.com.

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