The Magician and the Cinema

The Magician and the Cinema

3.3 (10 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

Describes how nineteenth-century magicians used magic lanterns to produce optical illusions, and assesses the magician's influence on the development of modern special effectsshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 138 pages
  • 154.94 x 226.06 x 15.24mm | 430.91g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • numerous plates
  • 0195029186
  • 9780195029185

Review Text

Erik Barnouw (Tube of Plenty et al.) tells an engaging story to introduce this scholarly lark: in high school, Barnouw catalogued magician John Mulholland's books on magic and, meeting him decades later, mentioned "how often, in exploring film history, I had come across names I had first met in his books. Had magicians had a larger role in the evolution of motion pictures than was generally recognized?" A rhetorical question, it quickly seems, as Barnouw conjures up - to the accompaniment of eerie posters and other archival trove - an era when "every new scientific invention had magic possibilities"; the magic lantern made apparitions materialize; and one after another future filmmaker experimented with optical trickery. Then came the Cinematographe (1895), and the scramble "for wealth and glory" - led by magician/impresario/master of special effects Georges Melies. Also in the running were Billy Bitzer, D. W. Griffith's chief cameraman-to-be; Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton, founding partners of American Vitagraph; and the great Houdini himself - who turned his celebrated stage feats into film climaxes. . . which, by camera magic, anyone could now perform. The irony, as Barnouw notes, was that the films displaced the magicians. Looking at the films themselves (thanks to another happy accident - the Paper Print collection at the Library of Congress, Barnouw's present base), he traces the magic/ film intersection through several stages - from the first "actuality bits" (which people "readily accepted as magic"), through filmed magic "beefed up by film trickery," to the trick film: ghosts, vanishings, metamorphoses, "cheerful" mayhem - the realm of severed heads and severed limbs. Plus: devices special to the film, like reversals, slow motion and accelerated motion. A few concluding words ponder - with reference to the "media" - the acceptance of illusions, now, as "something real." A spiffy little addition to early film history, with outsize implications. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

10 ratings
3.3 out of 5 stars
5 10% (1)
4 20% (2)
3 60% (6)
2 10% (1)
1 0% (0)
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