Bluebeard (1901)

*. The story of Bluebeard is an ancient folktale whose best known modern telling comes from the French author Charles Perrault at the end of the seventeenth century. I think Perrault’s version is the basis for this short film by Georges Méliès, but the film diverges from it in several key respects. I don’t think these make that big a difference though, as what we’re dealing with is a symbolic myth.
*. In the story’s most basic form Bluebeard is a monster, but the young bride is complicit in her near destruction. She doesn’t respect boundaries, and the bloody key even casts this in terms of a sexual transgression. In this film her curiosity is given a physical representation, taking the typical Mélièsian form of a gymnastic imp who creates puffs of smoke as he tumbles about. It’s interesting that he appears to come out of the pages of a giant book even if I don’t know exactly what that might mean.
*. A visual assist like the imp is the sort of thing that helps the viewer follow the story. As is the giant key. The hanging brides, however, are so visually striking that I found on a first viewing that I totally missed the chopping block and axe in the foreground of that shot, which is necesssary because it provides the pool of blood that stains the key.
*. If you don’t know these parts of the story beforehand I think it’s easy to get lost. Even knowing it you may be confused by the appearance of the angel, who somewhat takes over from the bride’s sister but also has the power to raise the dead brides at the end so that they can view the transfixed Bluebeard and be married off to seven lords.
*. I wonder if the notary slipping in the marriage contract scene was intentional. I don’t think it was because it doesn’t seem to be set up at all and there’s no real point to it. I think it was an accident that Méliès liked and decided to leave in.
*. That’s Méliès himself playing Bluebeard, and his real-life wife Jehanne D’Alcy playing his new bride. They must have had fun with that.
*. Well, it’s interesting, especially for the way it reinterprets part of the story and how it finds different ways to make key elements more visual. It also has one show-stopping moment with the reveal of the hanging brides, nicely done with the light coming up only after initially entering the locked room in darkness. That’s one of the great early moments in horror cinema, and we’re talking very early here. Bluebeard being pinned at the end is also a terrific finish. For a quick one-reeler that’s over a hundred years old I’d say that’s pretty good.

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