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Trickery and Illusion: The Magic of Cinema
Sarah Wood
Trickery and Illusion: The Magic of Cinema

In the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth, two distinct things were happening in cinema. On the one hand, dancing girls, dragons, rainbows of colour could appear out of nothing, and men could disappear, people could travel to the moon, strange new worlds could appear from nowhere, right in front of your eyes. On the other, a tramp from the crowd, with a funny little moustache, could come forward – a real person – and look right into the camera lens. Here are Chaplin and Méliès, held in time in their inventiveness in the making of cinema.

Film in its infancy, as Truffaut later wrote, had two potentials: on the one hand 'spectacle’, the engagement with fantasy and magic-making, on the other ‘research’, the engagement with the real, the recording of the everyday. Spectacle relied on exploiting the potential for trickery in the new medium and gave the lie to the way cinema has been discussed on and off ever since: as magic.

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