We've all done it: overindulged at dinner and suffered a night of “sweet visions and rambling nightmares”, where the Three Graces suddenly become crocodile-monsters who leap out of the mirror to pummel us, and the bedroom transforms into an idyllic grotto, only for exploding dragons to torment us, before we wake up in the most unsuitable places.
Or perhaps this is peculiar to Baron Munchausen, the hero of Georges Méliès' ten-minute film, made in 1911 (although it's uncertain whether it was released before 1943). Otherwise known as Les Hallucinations du baron de Münchausen, or Les Aventures de baron de Munchhausen, it's generally referred to in English as Baron Munchausen's Dream.
Inspired by the real-life eighteenth-century aristocrat of the same name, Münchhausen first appeared in fictional form in 1785, in an English work written by Rudolph Erich Raspe. Raspe kept his name off the covers, perhaps anticipating the real baron's fury at being associated with a character who quickly became a by-word for fabulous flights of far-flung fancy, with many wonderfully-illustrated versions of his adventures making it into print — examples here from 1860; 1867, illustrated by Doré; and 1895.
Méliès' Munchausen keeps the plot simple, but uses his customary range of cutting edge cinematic techniques — dissolves, substitution splices, pyrotechnics — to blaze a trail for subsequent twentieth-century versions. French filmmaker Émile Cohl, the Hungarian Josef von Báky (at the behest of Goebbels), the Czech Karel Zeman, and the American-British Terry Gillam are among those who have imagined the baron's exploits.
February 11, 2021