Part One: Introduction
You might be wondering why this area has been created on Dragonskull other than the fact that the films you can watch here contain illusions of an unusual plot or nature.
The fact is that during the pioneering first ten years in the history of making films and showing them to the paying public, two illusionists, W. R. Booth and Georges Méliès, created illusions on film of a bizarre nature which they could not produce live. In doing so, they invented and discovered trick photography and techniques, all of which are still used today in film and television (such as the double exposure, the dissolving of one scene into another etc., stop frame effects, the split screen effect where a person can interact with themselves).
Their contributions which resulted in a giant leap forward in cine photography are well known and respected by historians of early film making but few magicians are aware of what they did for film photography and the cinema let alone hold them in such high esteem.
Standards were set for film making and the cinema today during the first ten years of invention and the most notable names who can be acclaimed as being the first for inventing some aspect of them are Thomas Edison & W.K.L. Dickson (U.S.A.), the Lumiére Brothers & Georges Méliès (France), R.W. Paul, Birt Acres, W.R. Booth & Friése Green (Britain). We should be proud that two of those names were magicians & Illusionists.
Within the brotherhood of magic, many of us talk about and give credit to who invented a particular trick, move or illusion as a legacy from the past. Some of us may even give credit to some magicians of yesteryear who invented other things (such as Jasper Maskelyne's important war efforts during WW2). It was felt only right that Dragonskull provides an area in which to give credit to W.R. Booth & Georges Méliès for their pioneering work in producing what we see today in films, cinema and television without a thought by many on it's heritage from over 100 years ago.
[Note:1. Cinema is just an abbreviation for Cinematograph. Although the word 'cinematograph' (pronounced as 'sineematograph') is the widely used term these days, originally it was spelt Kinematograph and pronounced as 'kineematograph'. The latter was kept in the name of the British employees Trade Union, N.A.T.K.E - The National Association of Theatre and Kinematograph Employees. Note:2. The jerkiness of the early films was due to the film having to be wound through the camera by a handle, known as hand cranking. Note:3. All the special effects or trick photography in the early years could only be done as the film was being taken, known as 'editing in camera', therefore a great deal of scripting, planning and rehearsing was needed before the film was taken. Note:4. The flickering you see on early films is partly due to the film being hand cranked but also because the surviving early film stock had badly degraded. Note:5. Until 1912, the film stock used was a cellulose nitrate base, a derivative of guncotton/flash wool, and was highly flammable. This was not a good material to pas in front of a hot projector lamp and many accidents did occur. Even opening film cans today containing nitrate film for the first time in a hundred years is an extremely dangerous task as it could explode in flames.]
Enjoy the following film clips direct from Youtube and if you want to see more examples, you can find some on YouTube and also on the DVD from the British Film Institute (details supplied further on). Further historical information can be found by visiting the links given in the credits. FINAL NOTE, these clips can only be seen whilst they remain on Youtube.
Part Two: Courtesy of the BFI under the terms of the Creative Archive License
The Haunted Curiosity
A film with a Bizarre Magic plot made in 1901, in England by:
R. W. Paul, Producer and
Paul began work on improving the camera and he also developed a projector, the Theatrograph, giving the first public demonstration on 20th February 1896 at Finsbury Technical College. The demonstration proved successful and he was soon hired by enterprising businessmen to hold regular showings at venues around London - including the Egyptian Hall (the principle hall within being used by Maskelyn & Cook for their illusion and magic shows) from 19 March 1896. It was during this time that he met Walter R. Booth.
Sales of Paul’s cameras and projectors soared [his mark 2 improved model of the Theatrograph sold for £80 and this machine formed the prototype for the modern film projector]. Paul was kept incredibly busy spending evenings traveling from music hall to music hall rewinding the films during each journey before showing them at the next venue. Between March 1886 and March 1897, Paul managed to make a profit of over £12,000 from an initial investment of £1000. In 1898 Paul began construction on Britain’s first film studios in Muswell Hill, North London and during that summer produced over eighty short dramatic films.
[Note: In 1890, £1.00 would have the same spending worth of today's £59.89 | £80 = £4,791.00 | £1000.00 = £59,890.00 & £12,000 = £718,680.00 ]
In 1910 Paul shut down his production company and destroyed all his film negatives and left the film industry forever.
Walter R. Booth, born in Worcester on 12 July 1869, was a porcelain painter and an amateur magician, who joined the magic company at the Egyptian Hall in London in the 1890s. Booth became a producer of trick films for Robert Paul in 1899. In 1906, Booth moved to the Charles Urban Trading Company. He established his own studio in his garden at Isleworth, London, with Harold Bastick as his cameraman. Notable among the films produced there were the first British animated film, The Hand of the Artist (1906), The Sorcerer's Scissors (1907) and When the Devil Drives (1907). His invasion fantasies, such as The Airship Destroyer (1909) and The Aerial Submarine (1910), are entertaining proto-science fiction fables in the Jules Verne mould. Most notable though might be Scrooge (1901) which was the first film made of a Charles Dickens story. [put Scrooge 1901 into YouTube to see what remains of the film]
This film WAS made and released in 1901 (released 1902 in the States) and NOT 1907 as some website resources state (a typo mistake on one site stating that the film was made in 1907 has led to many wrongly accepting this as the correct date. You should ignore the date given on the following film clip).
The Haunted Curiosity Shop is a showcase of the elaborate
and ambitious special effects techniques developed by director-illusionist
W.R. Booth and producer-inventor R.W. Paul. The story features a curiosity
shop owner discovering that the various pieces of bric-a-brac on his
shelves have a life of their own as he is beset by all manner of
apparitions: floating heads, disembodied women, Egyptian mummies and an
animated skeleton. The effects where, respectively, a woman's two halves
rejoin themselves and a man in armour is systematically dismembered, are
If you can't play the film, there will be a temporary error on Youtube so try again later.
film is included in the BFI DVD compilation R.W.
Paul: The Collected Films 1895-1908, with music by Stephen Horne
and optional commentary by Ian Christie. It is also included on the
BFI DVD of Jacques
Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating. Visit the BFI BFI
Filmstore to browse the collection.
of the British Film Institute (BFI) under the terms of the Creative
Archive Licence at http://www.bfi.org.uk/creative".
Creative Archive License details and terms at http://www.bbc.co.uk/creativearchive/licence/full_licence.shtml
Part 3: Georges Méliès
When his father retired, Méliès ran the family factory as manager and this position enabled him to raise enough money to buy the Theatre Robert Houdin when it went up for sale in 1888. With ownership of the theater, Méliès worked full time as a theatrical showman whose performances revolved around magic and illusionist techniques which he studied while in London as well as working on his own tricks.
On December 28 1895, Lumière brothers unveiled their Cinématographe to the public and Méliès was in that audience. He was astounded and after the show he approached the Lumière brothers with a view to buying one of their machines but they turned him down. Determined to get into moving pictures, he visited R. W. Paul in England and after seeing his camera and projector, he built his own. He presented his first film screening on April 4th 1896 at the Theatre Robert Houdin and success resulted in him making more and more films, often of himself (as he had the reputation of being a leading magician/illusionist in France at that time).
Through an accidental jamming of his camera whilst making a film, he discovered the first simple camera special effect whereby objects could be made to suddenly appear, disappear or be transformed into other objects. He delved deeper into what special effects could be achieved with film and was the first to pioneer the double exposure (1898), the first split screen with performers acting opposite themselves (1898) and in 1899 he pioneered the first dissolve. As you will soon see for yourself, he used these special effects in an amazing way but most importantly, he scripted his films to employ these effects in a logical manner and not just for the sake of it.
In 1912, Méliès abandoned film production owing to a shrinking market and stiff competition/rivalry from big French and American studios. In 1913, the film production company Méliès' had set up was forced into bankruptcy by these companies. In 1915 he was forced to turn his studio into a Variety Theatre and resumed his pre-film career as a Showman.
During his hey day, he had produced over 500 films on cellulose but few exist today as the French Army seized most of his stock and melted it down into boot heels during World War 1. In 1923 he was declared bankrupt and his beloved Theatre Robert Houdin was demolished. Méliès almost passed into obscurity, having to earn a living as a toy salesman at the Montparnasse station.
In the late 1920's, his substantial contribution to cinema was finally recognized by the French and he was presented with the Legion of Honour and in 1932 the Cinema Society gave Méliès a rent free home in Château d'Orly. After his rediscovery, Méliès once more took to stage performances. Georges Méliès died in 1938 after making over five hundred films in total - financing, directing, photographing and starring in nearly every one.
You can view a number of films by Georges Méliès (many of which are of a bizarra-ish fantasy nature) on Youtube but the ones below have been selected because of their quality, that they feature Méliès and they show the high level he attained in using the special effects he pioneered.
An Up To Date Conjuror
Man With The Rubber Head 1901 [a restored version]
of Magicians 1901 [a restored version]
There is a large collection of these films at www.youtube.com . Well worth a visit there.
Although the illusions and tricks shown in these films were achieved by what we now call camera trickery, they and the themes of the films can certainly be classed as Bizarre Magic which audiences of those bye gone days could not get enough of. Modern day films contain lots of wondrous effects generated by computers (CGI for example) but computers are also used to recreate the same special effects as those described on this page and examples of this can be seen in the film 'The Illusionist'.
Credits / Attributes for
this derivative work comprising of parts 1,2,3:-