Magic in Cinema (I)

Cinema and magic are two concepts which often appear united indissolubly. Talking about the magic of cinema is as topical as it is undoubtedly true, but it’s not quite the same as talking about the magic IN cinema. So, leaving metaphors aside, how has the seventh art treated the phenomenon of illusionism? And not only from a practical point of view, where it has certainly had an influence since its birth − what are special effects, but magic tricks, more or less concealed? −, but also regarding the subject itself: craftsmanship, the figure of magicians, the true mechanisms in a world as fascinating as unknown to most of the public… Today we begin a review of the very beginnings of cinema, which, as we’ll see, are much more interrelated with magic than we might think at first sight…

One of the most famous frames in Cinema’s history: Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902)

 

Georges Méliès is considered one of the fathers of cinema; a true pioneer who took the immediate relay of Lumière brothers, his fellow French inventors of the cinematograph. Méliès used to run a theatre in Paris, the Robert Houdin (further hints?!), where every night he performed tricks of illusionism accompanied by some fantasy scenarios created by himself that left speechless the audience in the show. Everything would change, however, with the arrival of moving images. Méliès did not take too long to see the potential magic could have (it had to have!) in what then was the most influential emerging art of all time. His style was peculiar; he liked to mix surrealist approaches with dreamlike images and comical and frenetic situations: a perfect condiment for his theatrical performances. Therefore, it is not surprising at all that a profile like his became fascinated by the possibilities offered by Lumière’s new invention. Although he began utterly imitating the model of his fellow brothers (outdoor scenes without artifices and with natural elements), he was soon encouraged to experiment with visual effects. Thus, for example, in 1896 he was the first one to get a person in motion to disappear. A procedure that today may seem rather crude to us (stop the recording for a moment and then move the character from the scene), but at that time was a true revolution inside the revolution cinema already represented. Confident of his success, the following year he created his own film laboratory, considered the oldest in the world, as well as the Star-Film company, from where came great advances and innovative techniques that would transfer the magic in situ of the illusionists to the eternal plane of the big screen (overlays, fades, disappearances, scale models, flying characters, objects moving alone…). The rest is history.

Méliès makes a damsel disappear in the big screen…

 

Georges Méliès died poor and practically without any notoriety at all. The recognition for his work would not come until many years later. Nevertheless, nowadays his influence in the seventh art, and, above all, magic as one of its core elements, resonates in each premiere film and every theatre seat.