Man with a rubber head

The Man with the rubber head is a French film directed by Georges Méliès , released in 1901 .


In a laboratory, a man in a white coat sets a cut-off head on a table that looks like his own like two drops of water. Connecting it to a rubber hose, itself connected to a bellows, in a few strokes, it inflates and deflate. He calls his assistant to handle the inflatable head; it makes it swell so much that in the end it explodes.

Technical sheet

  • Title: The Man with the Rubber Head
  • Star Film Catalog Number : 382-383
  • Production year: winter 1901-1902
  • Length: 50 meters / 165 feet
  • Format: 35 mm with Edison perforations
  • Duration: 2 minutes 30 seconds
  • Country: France


  • Georges Méliès : the man in a white coat / head

Techniques used

  • In this film, it was thought to detect a tracking shot on the face of Georges Méliès, used to make believe that the head of the scientist swells like a balloon. What is wrong, the camera installed in the studio of Montreuil was permanently fixed to the end of the tray in a kind of closet. This is how the historian Georges Sadoul believed to see the use of an innovative tracking shot . Yet he writes in his monumental History of Cinema that “the camera is always placed at the back of the small studio; it remains motionless as a spectator sitting in his armchair 1 “, but it actually advances page 28 that the faking used in this film is a traveling shot, track in advance when the head swells and tracking back when it deflates. Sadoul was not a filmmaker and his technical interpretations were sometimes flawed. The grinning face of the Moon in The Journey into the Moon , whose shell is supposed to approach, uses the same way the movement of the subject in relation to the camera, not a tracking as it is often stated.

Because in reality, Méliès himself is approaching the camera, the body hidden behind a black cloth pierced with a hole through which he passes his head. To make believe that the head, connected to a pump, blows in fits and starts , “Méliès moves jerkily towards the camera … The hilarious head of Méliès seems to grow like a carnival balloon 2 ” . Same, but a contrario for the deflation.

  • Before the gag of the swelling and the final burst, to allow the scientist to get out of a box a copy of his own head that he installs on a table, Méliès uses simultaneously two rigging : on the one hand the stopping of camera he was fond of, and the overprint on the other hand.

The stop of camera, which makes it possible to modify an element of the scene, or to make it appear, or to disappear, is simple: it suffices to make follow one another two shots filmed shot with blow with the same framing (one says plan on planbecause we do not discern the passage from one plane to another). During the stop, we change a detail; here, the head that is placed on the table, or, at the end of the film, the explosion with the overturning of the furniture and the disappearance of the head. The overprint is obtained by a second pass of the film in the camera. Here, it allows to show the copy of the head of the scientist while it – and his head in place! – already figure in the scene. To do this, Méliès films separately this second head on a black background – introducing the swelling gag as described above – and he can add it by overprinting in the main plane all the more easily as he has planned a black reserve in this shot: the back door that opens at the beginning of the film, and that gives on total darkness. The head, itself on a black background,

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Georges Sadoul , history of world cinema from its origins to today , Paris, Flammarion ,, 719 p. p.  28-29
  2. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , film grammar , Paris, New World ,, 588 p. ( ISBN  978-2-84736-458-3 ) , p.  57

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