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

The Magic of Cinema: the phrase itself suggests at base the technological innovation that is cinema is in some way miraculous, subject to primitive laws of superstition and belief rather than the supposed neutrality of scientific intervention. It may have started as a Barnum and Bailey way of selling cinema, the natural inheritor of the mantle of mass entertainer with the dying of the music hall tradition (see Ian Breakwell’s 2001 tribute to the theatre of vaudeville Variety for a witty analysis of the cross-overs) but it has stuck. The language of magic and illusion persists in the current discussion of film.

What’s more interesting though is the way the trickery and invention of those early pioneers of the cinema of spectacle have evolved beyond the mainstream. Where by 1927 narrative film could tell its audiences what to think with the arrival of sound, it was left to experimental filmmakers interested in the potential of optical illusion in the film medium to continue experimentation with the form. Artists can engage with and extend the strategies of the earliest filmmakers to explore film narrative beyond contemporary conventions. So, for instance, Guy Sherwin can re-imagine the countdown narrative of Academy Leader into a vibrant new construction in his 1974 film At the Academy and Malcolm Le Grice can literally look beyond the literal as he re-engages with early film and re-imagines the framing of a Lumière brothers film in After Lumière.

Still from Variety by Ian Breakwell, 1968
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