Apollo Investigation

After the Ball: Kubrick and Georges Méliès

Links to the works of the French filmmaker?
 

The Aulis paper on Stanley Kubrick and Apollo led Luis Da Silva to contact us as he had additional relevant and interesting information. He noticed that the release of the 1902 Georges Méliès film A Trip to the Moon links to the July 1961 launch of the Apollo program by a period of 59 years. He also noted that the month of July connects the Apollo program to a still photograph featured in The Shining. At the end of the film, a very slow track ends with a close up of this photo. Da Silva noted that this photo was dated 1921 and that 59 years would lead to the 1980 release of The Shining.

Fig 1

However, research by Alan Cook has revealed that the original photographic image used1 had been doctored to fit with the film’s theme. The title Overlook Hotel July 4th Ball and the year 1921 has been added to the bottom of the photograph. And an unknown guest standing centre front has been partly replaced by that of Kubrick’s main protagonist: Jack Torrance,1 effectively putting the Overlook Hotel’s caretaker-cum-writer-in-residence ‘above the title’ in the parlance of the movie world.2

Now, for those 59 year gaps. President Kennedy’s speech announcing the aim of landing astronauts on the Moon by the end of the 1960s was delivered to Congress on May 25th 1961. The Shining was released in the US on May 23rd 1980, two days before the 59th anniversary of that speech.

NASA held the first working session of the Manned Lunar Landing Coordination Group on July 6th 1961.3 This first session took place two days after Independence Day, and the 59th anniversary of that 1902 release of Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon).

imageMuch inspired by the writings of Jules Verne, the Méliès title actually means The Voyage in the Moon and it was released the year after H.G. Wells published First Men in the Moon.4 If scientists were turning their thoughts to the possibilities of rocketry and space travel to the Moon, it would seem that the writers and artists were thinking in terms of the Moon as a hollow satellite.

The Frenchman Georges Méliès was acknowledged as the master of theatrical magic tricks and illusions. His Star Film Company was equally adept. Méliès films incorporated innovations in special effects, and he combined them with visual puns, metaphors and allegorical references to create truly extraordinary films. Méliès even designed titles that could mean two different things, whether read or spoken out loud. And in this regard, Le Voyage dans la Lune had profound connections with another film featuring the Moon that Méliès had made.

In 1898, three years after Konstantin Tsiolkovsky had published his hugely influential science fiction book Musings on Earth and Heaven and the Effects of Universal Gravity, Méliès released the short film La Lune à Un Mètre. This translates as The Moon at One Metre. But when spoken aloud in French, this title could also be ‘the Moon has One Master’. Méliès would later change the title completely and call it The Astronomer’s Dream.5

Fig 3

The Astronomer’s Dream
, directed by Georges Méliès, 1898

Georges Méliès was very conscious of title translations, as he had the experience of seeing this film retitled yet again by the notorious US film pirate Siegmund Lubin. When he appropriated this film for distribution in the US he called it A Trip to the Moon. In order to deal with such problems Méliès sent his brother Gaston to the US in 1902 to make and distribute Méliès films and to protect their copyrights. That same year he also released Le Voyage dans la Lune – knowing full well it would be translated into English as A Trip to the Moon.

Bearing in mind the issue of three titles for the same work, and the possibility of dual meanings in their translation into English, now we shall see how Stanley Kubrick, also a highly-accomplished master of his craft, references Méliès work (and other early Moon films) within his own work, as well as drawing attention to matters that relate to the more recent knowledge of hazardous lunar conditions.

Fig 4

After the Ball, directed by Georges Méliès, 1897

In 1897, as noted by Luis Da Silva, Méliès had made a one-minute film titled After the Ball in which we see a woman, presenting her back to the camera, being ‘washed’ by her maid. But the ‘water’ is clearly some sort of dark, dry material. A year later in The Astronomer’s Dream, Méliès has the Moon regurgitate the same dark, dry material – we assume we are looking at lunar dust.

In a highly memorable scene in The Shining a beautiful woman steps out of the bath of room 237 – a bathtub with very little water, and without any visible soap, towel or bathmat. She walks towards Jack who puts his arms around her in an embrace. The scene cuts to a close up of Jack kissing the woman, and then the camera makes a very rapid pan to stop on the reflected image of the back of the woman with Jack peering over her shoulder. He has a look of disbelief on his face, which gradually changes to one of horror. Jack can see, reflected in the bathroom mirror, the beautiful woman has changed – she has aged and is decaying and rotting before his (and our) eyes.

Fig 5

Mirror reflection of Jack’s view of the woman

One inference among the many is that lunar dust is full of poisonous and dangerous material leading to a potential early death. In this respect it echoes Kubrick’s earlier bedroom/bathroom scene towards the end of his film 2001: A Space Odyssey where we see the accelerated ageing of the astronaut. In both Kubrick films, one has to go through the bedroom to get to the bathroom, as with the title of The Voyage in the Moon. This subtle link to Geroge Méliès reinforces the notion that The Shining’s room 237 really does encode the 237,000-mile average distance (measured centre to centre) between the Earth and the Moon.

And if that were not enough, the bathroom of room 237 has no toilet paper available, but it does have a bidet. Americans have never taken to the bidet at all,6 but they are a feature of French bathrooms, and this is yet another subtle (but important) connection to the Frenchman’s film After the Ball.

Fig 6

A horrified Jack and the woman with enlarged inset of the bidet

Kubrick’s use of a woman in this scene also resonates with another early Moon film, the 1929 Fritz Lang production Frau im Monde, and again the title translation is relevant: in the UK this was called Woman in the Moon – in the US it was The Rocket to the Moon. Interestingly, like 2001, Lang’s film had rocket scientists as technical advisors during its production. And like 2001, Lang’s film was hugely influential. Although in the case of Frau im Monde, the influence most sought after was that of Hitler. To that end, Wernher von Braun and his colleagues (including Hermann Oberth and Walter Dornberger) had extracts from Lang’s film intercut with images of their own rocket tests.

They presented this hybrid edit to Hitler as an entirely factual documentary. A delighted and credulous Hitler gave them all the funding they needed to continue their experimental rocket research. At this happy outcome Dornberger then remarked that fiction would have to become fact or they would all be in trouble.7 These are the rocket scientists who would later work for NASA.

We note that in referencing the filmmakers of the silent cinema era, Kubrick not only reinforces the message of image over sound. He is also contrasting doctored still photographs with silent black and white movies. Which brings to mind that grainy dream-like footage from the Apollo 11 Moon walk. We can learn even more by studying the details of Méliès filmmaking. Back in the day all the sets, costumes and actors' makeup were coloured in different tones of gray – because colours would often photograph in unexpected ways on black-and-white film.

Fig 7

Georges Méliès (far left) in his original Star Film studio in Montreuil, France

Today, we are questioning the authenticity of those images from Apollo and discussing the actual colour of the lunar soil.8 And if Méliès' short film titled After the Ball has any bearing for Apollo – reading the words to the eponymous 1891 song9 will surely bring to mind not only that excruciating post-Apollo 11 press conference, but also many other aspects of the Kubrick Oeuvre. And speaking of awareness, in The Astronomer’s Dream, we see many of the costumes and allusions which Kubrick references in his last film Eyes wide Shut. Based on a short story Traumnovelle, this title was translated from the German into English as Dream Story.10

In drawing our attention to this Méliès-Kubrick link Luis Da Silva concluded that,

“Stanley Kubrick is comparing himself as a filmmaker to Georges Méliès. His knowledge of the Apollo program a parallel to The Trip to the Moon. At the same time, he is also comparing the Apollo program to that of a horror movie (The Shining) – Horrific for human society.”

Aulis Online, May 2019

We are most grateful to Geneva resident Luis da Silva for his original observations that prompted this additional research.

See Also Stanley Kubrick and Apollo – Links to the films of Stanley Kubrick?
And
Kubrick Appendixes – Analysis of the Dark Side of the Moon by Jarrah White

 

Footnotes

  1. The images were found in a book entitled The Complete Airbrush and Photo-Retouching Manual, originally published in 1985. The book also identifies the retouching artist responsible for this work, Joan Honour Smith. The original photographs of Jack Nicholson are located in the Stanley Kubrick Archive in London, and inspection of them reveals that only Nicholson’s head, collar, and bow tie were used; the rest of the figure is the anonymous man in the original 1923 photograph. Article by Alan Cook.
  2. The two or three top-billed actors in a movie will usually be announced prior to the title of the movie; this is referred to as ‘above-title billing’. It used to be common practice to give top billing based on a person's level of fame, regardless of the significance of their role in the film. Kubrick received prominent title billing from Dr. Strangelove (1964) onwards, and from A Clockwork Orange (1971) he generally received main billing, with the actors only listed in the billing block. The list of names that adorn the bottom portion of the ‘one sheet’, as the film’s official poster is known. [So it’s also interesting that] the advertising materials for Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut featured the billing Cruise/Kidman/Kubrick.)
  3. NASA History pages.
  4. And the year before Tsiolkovsky’s 1903 publication of the non-fiction Investigation of Space with Reactive Devices [rockets], (Spaceflight and Rocketry: A Chronology, David Baker, Facts on File Inc., 1996).
  5. The Astronomer's Dream on IMDb.
  6. The Atlantic
  7. Bennett & Percy, Dark Moon: Apollo and the Whistle-Blowers, Aulis Publishers, 1999 pt.1 Chapter 5.
  8. What Colour is the Moon? Investigating the true colour of the lunar soil
  9. The first “platinum” song hit in American music history, Charles K. Harris’s After the Ball was a melodramatic evocation of lost love, selling two million pieces of sheet music in 1892 alone.
  10. Banned and burnt by the NAZI party when they came to power in 1933.

We consider that this analysis falls under the ‘fair use’ laws of the USA and the United Kingdom, and any copyrighted material is included on a not-for-profit basis for research, discussion and educational purposes only.

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