Magic and Movies

Jun. 18, 2010
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Movies were once magical, especially in the early days before the marvelous became commonplace. In Disappearing Tricks: Silent Film, Houdini, and the New Magic of the Twentieth Century (University of Illinois Press), Matthew Solomon reminds us that movies were sometimes shown as part of magic shows in the 1890s and early 1900s, and images created by trick photography mirrored the conjuring of stage magicians.

A cinema studies professor at City University of New York, Solomon is fascinated by film before it settled into a set of narrative conventions sometime during World War I. The earliest filmmakers had no movies to model their work on and some took their cue from the gaslit marvels of phantasmagorias and stage illusionists. One of the earliest filmmakers of distinction, Georges Melies, came to movies through magic shows. The great Houdini made movies.

Along with intriguing insights into the early development of film (and the visual media that followed), Disappearing Tricks is a reminder that magic and movies involve playing with perceptions and making the appearance of reality seem malleable.

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