See the moving picture


The Astronomer as Voyeur

L’Éclipse du soleil en pleine lune (The Eclipse: The Courtship of Sun and Moon)

Georges Méliès, Star-Film , France, 1907

The All-Boys Academy of Wishful Thinkers (left)  The conventions of onscreen magic had been well established by 1907, when Méliès made this elaborate parable of medieval academicians who attempt to use magic to control the heavens. Because the conventions of magic traditionally demonstrate the control of male conjurers over female subjects, it’s not surprising that most of the heavenly bodies espied through the astronomers’ phallic telescopes are feminine.

Heavenly Bodies (center)  Méliès’ films thus perpetuate one of the most fundamental motifs of the thaumaturgic tradition: male magician/female subject. Perhaps the most representative illusion that Méliès borrows from this tradition is the trick of conjuring up a woman, whether out of flames (as in L’Enchanteur Alcofrisbas [Alcofrisbas, the Master Magician, 1903]), out of mannequin parts (as in Illusions funambulesques [Extraordinary Illusions, 1903]), or, as in L’Éclipse, out of the magician’s libidinous imagination. It’s also been argued that women who can be conjured and made to disappear so readily are effectively “dematerialized,” whereby it’s easier to manipulate them as figments of the male imagination.

Lecherous Mr. Sun (right)  Méliès’ astronomers are more interested in the eclipse of the sun by the moon as a “courtship” than as a celestial phenomenon. Méliès’ Mr. Sun, who will pass behind the Man in the Moon during the titular eclipse, is a patently lecherous figure, and it’s no surprise that the brief “romantic” interlude between Sun and Moon is slightly on the lewd side. The event is clearly treated as a lesson in voyeurism rather than astronomy.

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