Spence added a comment to my bit on Méliès that is both long enough and interesting enough to merit promotion to a full fledged entry. Take it away, Spencer!
“Actually, I’m fairly certain the print of “Conquest of the North Pole” is complete. Most of Melies’ films have fairly choppy narratives. When he got started at the turn of the (last) century, this wasn’t a big deal — in fact, in many ways he was ahead of the game. For example, contrast his 1902 magnum opus “A Trip to the Moon” (“La Voyage dans La Lune”) with other films of the same period — on the whole, cinema of the period was only just moving beyond the “actualities” (static shots without edits of street scenes and other real-life views, typically lasting perhaps a minute or two). Not only was La Lune practically an epic at some 20 min., it had an actual narrative and editing — the much-ballyhooed narrative breakthrough film, “The Great Train Robbery,” would not be made for another 2 years. (Indeed, Melies was making narrative films — albeit phantastical ones — two to four years prior, earlier than almost any other filmmaker that I’m aware of.) And not to mention, of course, the special effects that remained cutting edge for at least another 10-20 years.
Alas, Melies the auteur did not evolve much beyond the simple trick film. “Conquest of the North Pole” (1916) is really not very dissimilar from his works of 15 years prior. By this time, of course, cinema had evolved considerably in terms of editing, storytelling, and camera placement. After all, the year prior had scene the release of D.W. Griffith’s monumental (albeit racist) “Birth of a Nation”; even his fantasy film cache was slipping as early versions of “Der Golem” and other phatasticals were being produced by numerous others. Meanwhile, Melies was still relying on his stagey, proscenium-style staging and eschewing cross-cutting.
The result? Melies became increasingly passé, fewer tickets sold, and fewer distributers could give a damn. In 1915, Melies had to sell his own theater. By 1917 or so, he was completely out of the game and effectively vanished like one of his own fantasy creatures. Legend has it that he resurfaced ca. 1938 when someone spotted him selling toys in a Paris market. The story goes that he had no idea that he was remembered at all, and was unaware of the crucial impact he’d had on cinema. Like so many important geniuses, he died penniless.”