Any serious film buff knows who Georges Méliès was.
Most aren't aware that Georges' brother Gaston also made films - more than 200 in total.
Very few know that Gaston made films in the Ventura County town of Santa Paula.
|Poster for "Wanted - A Wife"; staged in front of the Santa Paula train depot (which looks much the same way now as it did then). Published in Motion Picture World. Picture courtesy of Mitch Stone.|
Gaston arrived in New York in 1903, setting up an American subsidiary of Georges' Star Film Company. But by 1908, Gaston was trying his hand at making his own films.
French audiences of the time were very interested in the American West (I'm not sure if this had anything to do with the sheer number of French expats and their descendants in California). Gaston was the first filmmaker on record to shoot on location in Texas, mostly filming Westerns. But after a year or so, he followed other filmmakers' migration to California.
Gaston moved Star Film Company's American studio to 7th and Main Streets in Santa Paula in 1911, also residing on the site. (Currently at 7th and Main: the Santa Paula Theatre Center.) Again, he mostly produced Western films. Of the 50 or so short films Gaston produced in Santa Paula, only two are known to survive.
In 1913, Gaston decamped to Tahiti to make the first of many silent short films shot in exotic locations. Besides Tahiti, he produced films in New Zealand, Australia, Java, Singapore, Cambodia, and Japan.
Unfortunately, much of the film was damaged before it could be processed in the United States. Of the 238 films produced by Gaston, only about 60 came from his filmmaking expedition to the South Pacific and Far East.
After the location-shooting expedition ruined his health and nearly bankrupted him, Gaston returned to Santa Paula for long enough to sell his studio/residence. He then returned to France. Supposedly, Georges (who was ruined financially by Gaston's travels) never spoke to him again.
Just two years later, the Santa Paula Chronicle reported on Gaston's death from typhoid fever in Corsica.
In 2015, French documentarian Raphael Millet directed Gaston Méliès and His Wandering Star Film Company. The documentary focuses primarily on Gaston's filmmaking excursion to the South Pacific and Far East. (Does anyone have a copy I could borrow? My usual sources for obscure film don't have it.)
Gaston Méliès is nearly forgotten today. Perhaps it's time for a well-publicized screening of Millet's documentary?