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

With artists’ film, filmmakers are free to explore areas of renewal, to play with ideas of visual transformation, glimmer and glimpse; the illumination and renewal of sight heralds the start of something for an audience jaded with images of the same reality. Through the shaking of the rules of logic, which is what illusion at its best does, sight and receptivity can be renewed.

Take, for instance, Peter Gidal’s 1968 film Key. Gidal exploits the relationship between the way the camera sees and the way the eye sees. As the camera pulls back in a single take from a close up of an image of Bob Dylan we can’t initially understand what we’re seeing, we’re too close. We get an aural clue through the reversal of a Dylan song on the soundtrack but it takes a while for us to begin to guess at what is on the screen. One of the effects of this is to show in slow motion the way we see, the way the information received in the eyes is only eventually understood in the brain. Deceiving this connection is at the basis of cinematic trickery (just as at the heart of conjuring tricks) so what Gidal does is reverse this effect. In the film’s apparent trickery, (the mystery of the initial close up image is confusing to the viewer, provoking curiosity) comes a twist, and the films eventual effect is clarity: a demystifying of the way cinema frames sight. The relationship between the still image, the moving image and sight – the discrepancies in understanding engendered by soundtrack and silence - create a brilliant analysis of our attraction to cinematic illusion.

Still from Key by Peter Gidal, 1968
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