Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Silent Movies in Chalabre.

    French departments have very clear-cut identities. Here, in the Ariège, our official number--09-- shows up on our license plates, in our postal code and is the name of our weekly free newspaper. In the Aude, our neighbouring department, the magic number is 11 (departments are organized in alphabetical order). Each department has its own edition of La Dépêche, the regional newspaper which is the go-to source for info on local fêtes and so on.    
    This explains why, because we live right on the border of the Ariège and the Aude, we often don't hear about what's happening five, let alone 50, kilometres, from where we live. It was pure dumb luck that we saw posters advertising silent movies in Chalabre, starting at 8:30 p.m.
     Being late didn't bother any of us as we all suspected that, this being France, events wouldn't get underway exactly on time--and that there would probably be speeches. When we arrived, a man on a ladder was straightening the screen and the speeches--or rather speech--hadn't even started. 
      Speech over, and a minor technical glitch solved by a member of the audience, the show got underway.
      The films were all by Georges Méliès, whose grandfather had a connection with Chalabre, the films dated back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. This wasn't exactly the era of computer-generated images so, given the primitive equipment then available, the special effects were outstanding. 
      You can watch several on YouTube. Each frame in the Loie Fuller film I've linked to was coloured by hand. (Historical side-note: Fuller was the dancer whose work inspired numerous art nouveau figurines.)
    This version has background music, which was probably how audiences would have viewed it over a century ago. We watched in silence. Then, at the end of the evening, we all carried our metal chairs to the end of the covered market and went home.

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