Campaign to Restore Pioneer Filmmaker George Melies's Grave Reaches Funding Goal
The burial place of the legendary filmmaker, who was recently re-introduced to moviegoers by Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film ‘Hugo,’ has increasingly fallen into disrepair. A creeping green stain has overtaken the crumbling stonework, a number of iron posts and chains have been stolen by vandals, and some of the tombstone lettering is indistinct.
Still, the final resting place of Méliès has become a place of pilgrimage for many cinephiles, who come from around the world to leave tributes. “Each time I visit it’s like a little new adventure,” says his great-great-granddaughter Pauline Duclaud-Lacoste. “My heart beats fast because I don’t know what kind of things I will see on his grave. When I arrive I see letters, drawings, movie tickets, movie programs, business cards, tube tickets with little notes on them. The notes are in Japanese, German, Spanish, Greek, Chinese.”
Méliès once had a theater and a studio in Paris, but they no longer exist, so his grave is where his admirers come to pay their respects. Restoring his grave will serve as a contemporary veneration for the filmmaker, who experienced mixed fortunes during his lifetime and whose work, historically, has been difficult to see.
Despite his vast importance to film history, most of Méliès’s films are lost, and his career ended unhappily. In 1912, financial trouble forced him to stop making films and return to the stage. During the first world war, many of his film prints were melted down to make the heels of soldiers’ boots. In 1924, Méliès tragically set fire to his collection of negatives because he didn’t have room to store them in his family home. The following year he left his film career behind to run a toy shop kiosk in the Gare Montparnasse, where he worked until 1932.
When Méliès died in 1938, he was buried in Père Lachaise, in the city where he was born and lived. A bust of the filmmaker by Italian artist Renato Carvillani was installed in 1954, adding his distinctive bearded face, which appeared in so many of his movies, to his grave. But it has been untouched and left to the mercy of the elements ever since.
The release of ‘Hugo’ and the full-color restoration of one of his most famous films, 1902’s A Trip to the Moon, which premiered at Cannes in 2011, led to a brief flurry of interest in all things Méliès. “It was a bit crazy after Hugo,” says Duclaud-Lacoste. “Because Scorsese made a movie about Méliès, suddenly Méliès became cool and someone important that people must talk about.”
The grave restoration project is just the first stage in Duclaud-Lacoste’s plan to reinvigorate her great-great-grandfather’s legacy. “This project is the starting point of much more we, as his family, want to do. I want him to be known by a much larger audience,” says Duclaud-Lacoste. “I’m the fourth generation to talk about him. People have done many, many things, my family before me, and they’ve done a wonderful job, but I have other ideas.”
“I can see him in a lot of different works and articles and books, and he’s still really present, really alive. My work for the next 40 years is to preserve Georges Méliès’s legacy, but also to link it with nowadays.”