The Georges Méliès Project

Seven films by French cinema pioneer
Georges Méliès
with original scores by American composer Phillip Johnston

"The cinema? Three cheers for darkened rooms."
 - Andre Breton

The Georges Méliès Project features composer Phillip Johnston's live musical accompaniment to a program of silent films by the early cinema director Georges Méliès (1861-1938).

Since the world premiere (two sold-out shows at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater in New York City in 1997), this program has been enthusiastically received at venues in Australia, Europe and the United States. The Australian premiere was at the Sydney Opera House in 2010.

Called "the H.G. Wells of the jazz world" by Rolling Stone Press, and "potent and frolicsome, one of modern music's more versatile writers" by Billboard, Phillip Johnston will lead an Australian ensemble featuring some of the Sydney's finest instrumentalists: Daryl Pratt on vibraphone, Matt MacMahon on piano, and Cameron Undy on bass, as well as the leader's soprano saxophone.

Georges Méliès, who, with the Lumière Brothers, was one of the cinema's earliest directors, made more than 500 short films between the years 1896 and 1912, of which only a fraction survive. His films, which grew out of the ether of conjuring, automata and magic theatre of the late 19th century, bring together the fantastic, the alchemical, and the humorous. The films in The Georges Méliès Project are early examples of sophisticated cinema techniques (eg. stop-time, cross fades, optical tricks and fantastic costumes and backdrops), and hence are of decided historical interest, but they also bridge the world of the 19th century conjurer and the special effects magic of today's films. An evening length presentation, The Georges Méliès Project will feature recently restored Méliès films, some of which are hand tinted and many of which have rarely been seen by anyone except the most avid cinephiles, with original music inspired by the director's artistry and designed to be performed live with the moving pictures.

Of Johnston's CD of the music from The Georges Méliès Project, The Merry Frolics of Satan, John Mc Donough wrote in Downbeat Magazine:

"The sly, quirky eccentricity of the Transparent Quartet seems more appropriate to the rhythms of a Martin Scorsese film, though it's Georges Méliès who is the object of concern. The eight pieces have a sense of chamber structure and fugue-like ensemble not unlike the MJQ. Overall, a charming and absorbing piece of work."" 4 Stars.

Phillip Johnston has been an important figure in the field of original scores for silent film for close to 20 years. In addition to The George Méliès Project, he has composed scores for Tod Browning's The Unknown (1927), Teinosuke Kinugasa's Page Of Madness (1926), Buster Keaton's Cops (1922), and F.W. Murnau's Faust (1926). His score for Faust was performed at the 2008 Melbourne Festival and his score for Page of Madness was performed at the 2008 Sydney Film Festival. He came to composing for silent film from a career as a composer for contemporary films. Among his credits are Paul Mazursky's Faithful, Philip Haas' The Music of Chance and Money Man, Dorris Dörrie's Paradise and Geld, and more recently, Stolen Life by Peter Rasmussen & Jackie Turnure (which won a New York Machinima Award for Best Music Score) & Noise by Henry Bean.

His theatre composition credits include Measure For Measure, War Of The Roses, The Comedy Of Errors, The Merchant Of Venice and Macbeth for Bell Shakespeare; Young Goodman Brown with Richard Foreman, Venus with Suzan-Lori Parks, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Ruysch and The Falls with Hilary Bell, and Drawn To Death: A Three Panel Opera with Art Spiegelman. Dance credits include Karole Armitage's The Predators' Ball and Keely Garfield's Minor Repairs Necessary for which he won a 'Bessie' in 1999.

A saxophonist and composer of both jazz and new music, Phillip has been a significant figure in the underground music scene of New York's downtown since the beginning of the 1980s. During the 1980s he led The Microscopic Septet, and in the 1990s he led Big Trouble and The Transparent Quartet. He has toured internationally with the seven-piece Fast 'N' Bulbous: The Captain Beefheart Project, featuring Gary Lucas, for which he arranged and conducted, and with The Microscopic Septet. Phillip's recent recordings include Not So Fast (Strudelmedia) with The Spokes, and Friday The 13th: The Micros Play Monk (Cuneiform), with The Microscopic Septet, and Page of Madness (Asynchronous). He currently performs in Australia with Phillip Johnston and the Coolerators, and SNAP, a saxophone quartet, and in the US and Europe with The Microscopic Septet and The Spokes.

Rather than create a through composed film score, as Johnston did in The Unknown, The Georges Méliès Project is drawn from a set of short films, varying from 1 to 20 minutes in length. The program is approached as a series of studies, each with its own unique relationship between the greater elements of music and film, examining the different structures, concepts and magic of each film in detail. The unusual instrumentation for this quartet is a perfect vehicle for this project because of its musical and timbral flexibility, and atmospheric versatility. The music utilizes tools from the realms of classical, jazz and experimental music.

The program at the moment includes:

Dance of Fire (1899), The Melomaniac (1903), The Mermaid (1904),
The Damnation of Faust (1903),Trip to the Moon (1902), Hydrotherapie Fantastique (The Doctor's Secret) (1909),
The Merry Frolics of Satan (1906), Voyage Across the Impossible (1905).

And, finally, two samples of The Georges Méliès Project courtesy of Vimeo:

Georges Méliès' The Mermaid (1904), with original music by Phillip Johnston from Phillip Johnston on Vimeo.

Georges Méliès' Trip To The Moon (1902), with original music by Phillip Johnston from Phillip Johnston on Vimeo.


For booking in Australia, contact:
Joanne Kee/ places + spaces Inc association
61 414 973 095

For worldwide booking, contact:
Phillip Johnston

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