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Velle, Gaston

Entry updated 19 April 2022. Tagged: Film, People.

(1868-1953) French filmmaker. A director of over 80 short films, Velle was an important pioneer in the use of special effects, mainly working for Pathé Frères and the Società Italiana Cines.

The majority of Velle's films are Fantastika, though only a few can be said to be sf, and even these are borderline. Most are Fantasy, many being Féerie or "fairy plays": Velle produced some of the first filmed versions of this popular nineteenth-century theatrical genre, which had been influenced by the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French fairytale tradition [for Fairytale, Madame d'Aulnoy and Charles Perrault see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Roman, Greek and Egyptian Mythology were also used. Many films were hand-stencilled for colour.

Typical is Ruche Merveilleuse (1905; vt Wonderful Beehive), where young ladies in striped bathing suits, with wings and antenna, balletically dance before a grass hut, out of which comes the queen: she is attacked by a spider, but is defended by her bees. L'Antre Infernal (1905; vt The Infernal Cave), has a prancing Satan cavorting with a brace of winged women clad in fleshings, before returning them, and then himself, to the flames. La Peine du Talion (1906; vt The Judgement of the Butterflies; vt Tit-for-Tat; vt The Talion Punishment) has a lepidopterist out catching butterflies for his collection, accompanied by two young female assistants in short pants. The lepidopterist is captured by two large grasshoppers who have transformed into young women; they escort him to a grotto, accompanied by several maidens in brightly coloured butterfly costumes. His collecting gear proves he is guilty of the mistreatment of insects, so he is laid upon his back on a mounting post and a giant pin is nailed through his stomach: we look down on him as he writhes in agony (see Horror). However, this is an exercise in enforced empathy, as he is then released – in pain but unharmed. Breaking his butterfly net over his knee he forswears collecting. Rêve à la Lune (1907) has a drunkard dreaming of visiting the Moon.

Velle's films with sf elements are Voyage Autour d'une Étoile (1906; vt A Voyage Around a Star), where an astronomer (see Astronomy) looks through a telescope, his window becoming a screen showing the telescope's view; he sees a bewitching young princess draped upon a Star, beckoning to him. Infatuated, he explains his dilemma to his assistant: how to reach the star? The assistant points out that soap bubbles ascend; using a bucket of soapy water and bellows, the astronomer is encased in a soap bubble and floats to the star (see Space Flight); the princess takes him into her palace where young maidens dance for him. Unfortunately the King appears, berates his daughter and throws the astronomer off the star: he falls back to Earth ... to be impaled on a weather vane. Les Invisibles (1906; vt Invisible Thief) concerns an eighteenth-century alchemist who concocts an Invisibility potion, which is stolen by thieves who use it to avoid paying shop and restaurant bills. In Petit Jules Verne (1907) a child falls asleep whilst reading Jules Verne, whose picture now appears on the bedroom wall as the boy dreams of flying in a Balloon; struck by lightning, he dives into the sea, meets some attractive young women and then fights a squid – only to wake up having demolished his pillow. L'Oracle des Demoiselles (1910; vt Lucy Consults the Oracle) has a young woman undecided on how to respond to a marriage proposal; an old peddler gives her a book that will provide the answer to any question she has about her future – thus a type of Precognition. This film appears to be lost. [SP]

Gaston Velle

born Rome: 24 December 1868

died Paris: 8 January 1953

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