Directed by: Georges Méliès
This is Méliès’ most ambitious film up until then. Based on the 1697 fairy tale by Charles Perrault, the film consisted of six elaborate sets, a large cast of extras and his usual special effects via the substitution splice and multiple exposure, in addition to using a dissolve to transition between scenes (one of the earliest uses of the technique). It was shot in his “glass house” studio in Montreuil, Seine-Saint-Denis, France.
The visual style is heavily influenced by Gustav Doré’s illustrations of the fairy tale. What sets the adaptation apart from others is the upbeat, optimistic tone throughout. Other than rags to indicate a lower status, the film never establishes Cinderella’s woes or abuse by her stepfamily. The most dramatic thing to happen to her is transforming back to her rags during the ball – and even then the partygoers quickly return to their revelry and the scene ends on a whimsical note. The ending is altered slightly to be more jubilant as well: after trying on the slipper, she once more summons her fairy godmother who conjures up a fancy dress before disappearing. It is possible that Méliès was influenced by a pantomime performed at the Théâtre de la Galerie-Vivienne in 1896.
The film is broken down into six scenes:
1. The kitchen, where Cinderella is left behind and her fairy godmother appears to ready her for the ball.
2. The ballroom, where Cinderella dances with the prince until the clock strikes midnight, a gnome appears to torment her and her fairy godmother returns to undo her spell.
3. The living room, where Cinderella has a nightmare about clocks, from which her sisters wake her as the prince enters with the slipper.
4. The exterior of a church, where the happy couple and royalty enter and a crowd of girls proceed to dance.
5. A stylized shot of the dancers, Cinderella and the prince, and the fairy godmother watching over all of them.
6. Another stylized shot of a crowd and Cinderella and the prince in a carriage pulled by swans, the reins in the fairy godmother’s hands.
(It’s worth noting that there is no dissolve between scenes four and five but the set itself moves to reveal a new one.)
The color at the beginning of the film was thanks to the workers at Vitagraph (who had the rights for U.S. distribution) who hand-tinted it frame by frame. The process caused severe eye strain for the workers and the practice was discontinued.
Méliès would adapt the fairy tale again in 1912 as Cendrillon ou la Pantoufle merveilleuse / Cinderella or The Glass Slipper.
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IMDb contributors (n.d. a). ‘Cinderella (1899)’, IMDb. Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0000230/ [Accessed: 9 January 2022].
IMDb contributors (n.d. b). Cinderella or The Glass Slipper (1912). [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0132026/ [Accessed: 9 January 2022].
popegrutch (2016). ‘Cinderella (1899)’, Century Film Project, 15 December. Available at: https://centuryfilmproject.org/2016/12/15/cinderella-1899/ [Accessed: 9 January 2022].
WikiArt (2018). Cinderella. [online] Available at: https://www.wikiart.org/en/gustave-dore/cinderella-1 [Accessed: 9 January 2022].
Zipes, J. (2011). The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films. New York: Routledge, p.39-41