EXCELSIOR! (Georges Méliès, 1901)

Two minutes of sheer delight, Excelsior!, a.k.a. The Magician and the Human Pump or Excelsior! Prince of Magicians, by French cinemagician Georges Méliès is so much fun by virtue of the rapidity of its tricks, most of which employ stop-action, and the joie de vivre of Méliès, who himself, bewigged, plays the magician, who is just a tad sadistic to his male assistant, who does his best to keep up. In a gorgeous visual gag, Excelsior converts the poor chap into a water-spouting human pump and eventually boots him in the backside to get him off the “stage.” Other things simply disappear or burst into flames: a non-disaster because the magician always has another trick at the ready. Such is his effort that, if this had been a sound film, we might have heard the magician huffing and puffing—as prelude, perhaps, to a fatal heart attack; the silence, though, renders him comically effortless, impossibly effortless, which more or less means that he must keep on going until his two minutes are up. What else is Méliès doing throughout but playing with time—and trying to “beat the clock” in a more upbeat way than we see in dour Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1956).

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