Wilmington, NC – Right in the Eye is more than a showcase of the silent films of Georges Méliès, it is more than a showcase of modern music performed live. Rather, it is the perfect synthesis of the two, where Georges Méliès’ films and the live performance of Jean-François Alcoléa‘s music perfectly complement each other and make for a stunning hybrid experience, courtesy of historic Thalian Hall, where Thomas Edison once screened Méliès’ films back when cinema was a young art form.

The first thing that struck me was the careful curation of the films presented. Despite the event being called Right in the Eye, Méliès’ film A Trip to the Moon, arguably his most recognizable work to modern audiences, was absent from the presentation. Instead, 11 other films of varying lengths were selected and carefully grouped together. After a short introductory film that gives some historical background the first four short films (The Wonderful Living Fan, A Nightmare, Panorama from Top of a Moving Train, and Divers at Work on the Wreck of the ‘Maine’) were presented one after another, then the longer short The Kingdom of the Fairies, then the short The Lilliputians and the Giants (Gulliver’s Travels), then three shorts together again (The Four Troublesome Heads, The Dwarf and the Giant, and An Impossible Balancing Feat), and finally the longer short film An Impossible Voyage.

When I say these films are carefully curated, I not only mean that they were selected for the presentation from Méliès’ filmography but they were also very intentionally arranged. The four that were presented together at the beginning all gave the audience a sense of Méliès’ technical wizardry, setting the stage for the later longer pieces Kingdom of the Fairies and An Impossible Voyage. Putting other shorts in between these helped to break up the pacing and effectively kept the flow of the performance. I especially enjoyed arranging together The Four Troublesome Heads, The Dwarf and the Giant, and An Impossible Balancing Feat as that drew attention to their shared format as filmed magic tricks, with Georges Méliès using editing, superimposition, and other film techniques to create illusions that play with the tactile nature of film itself. Curation with this level of intentionality is a skill and one that I wish more people who present short film collections to the public would employ.

All that being said, describing what Jean-François Alcoléa and his merry men have done as simply “presenting” or “screening” is too passive. When I first heard of this production, I assumed it would simply be live music presented with the selected films as they would have been back in the silent film era. After witnessing the event, however, I would better describe the event as an adaptation of Méliès’ films. Not only have Alcoléa and his collaborators composed original music for the shorts, but they also made their performance part of the spectacle.

The score is decidedly modern and composed on an array of fascinating instruments, with only three instrumentalists on stage to perform the music, with the stage lights just bright enough that you can see them without it interfering with the films. The instrumentalists brought a lively energy to the concert as they constantly shifted and swapped a vast array of bizarre instruments. At one point, Alcoléa sat on stage and, armed with only a small array of objects and a machine to loop sounds, created the soundscape of a forest.

But it was never forgotten that these pieces are meant to compliment the shorts, each of the longer shorts is accompanied by a short overture against a black screen to signal to the audience that this short will be a separate experience from the others or the ones that are grouped together. And the shorts that are grouped together have overarching musical themes and motifs but specific variations for each short within their respective block.

After an extensive ovation, we were treated to an encore presentation, the short film The Fat and the Lean Wrestling Match, thus concluding the concert.

Connecting the films of Georges Méliès and the music of Jean-François Alcoléa is a deliberate tactility to the art itself. Both men are illusionists, but they never want you to get so wrapped up in the illusion that you forget to marvel at the construction of it. It’s a magic show, but not one where the magician has made it impossible for you to tell; one where the illusion is so spectacular that you don’t want to notice the man behind the curtain. Both men are having fun with the art forms of cinema and music, and together they create a truly playful and dazzling live experience.