Chimney Sweep (1906)

aka Jack le ramoneur
Article 4055 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-13-2012
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Odd little curiosity

A chimney sweep dreams that he is swept to a fantasy land where he is treated as a king. But his real life is less than royal…

I found myself reading the user comments on this movie on IMDB in preparation for trying to tackle my own discussion of it, and somehow I’m not surprised that the movie got two such different reactions. One praised the movie for its political subtext on the horrible treatment of young boys who worked as chimney sweeps in those days; the other dismissed the movie as a dull and confusing muddle. They both have a point; the subtext is certainly there, but it’s nearly impossible to tell if that’s the point of the short. There’s something baffling about the structure of the movie; the first half takes place in the chimney sweep’s dream world, and though there are a number of fantastic images during this bit, nothing is really happening. The second half starts with the chimney sweep being abused, and then finding a hidden fortune in a chimney, which leads to an oddly comic chase scene that leads nowhere. Any individual moment here might be taken on its own terms, but taken all together it simply doesn’t add up to anything that makes sense, especially since nothing seems to be resolved at the end. Melies made a lot of movies that had neither a plot nor a point, but this one feels like it should have both, but doesn’t. Quite frankly, I’ve never been more puzzled by one of his shorts.

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