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

The explosive impression cinema first left on its early audiences was due in part to the fact that they were seeing moving images for the very first time. The audience ducked en masse when the train left the Lumière’s station and were amazed when they saw people like themselves leave by the factory gates. They laughed in complicity at Chaplin’s brilliant instinct to look for the first time directly into the lens. For the first time in the return of their gaze, the audience saw themselves represented on screen. Here in its basic form lies the magic of cinema: the revivification of sight.

Of course, once you’ve seen something on screen the impact lessens. You need to see the same things framed differently to be able to see it properly again. As the filmmaker Maya Deren wrote in an essay as early as 1946, only 3 years after she completed her first and ground-breaking film, Meshes of the Afternoon, “the appreciation of a work based on experiential, or inner realities consists not in laborious analysis based on the logic of a realty which a ‘prepared’ spectator brings to the work. It consists, rather, in an abandonment of all previously conceived realities. It depends upon an attitude of innocent receptivity which permits the perception and the experience of the new reality.”

Still from Auditorium by Ian Breakwell, 1994
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