Prod.: R.W. Paul; 35mm. L.: 22,5 m. D.: 1’ 15” a 16 f/s

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

The trick film remains the most popular genre of early cinema, still able to delight audiences with seemingly impossible transformations and disappearances. Although clearly inspired by the technological advances of the magic theater of the turn of the century (which introduced electric lights and modern machinery to create stage illusions) the trick film explored the unique devices that cinema offered. Double exposure, stop motion refined through editing, and unique camera angles, all transformed visual appearance in order to create visual illusions. In contrast to contemporary special effects these visual illusions were primarily comic and surprising rather than realistic or dramatic. Tricks created astonishment and amusement, as if challenging the viewer to figure out how it was done, rather than creating a believable effect. Thus the trick film frequently chose the fairytale as the proper context for its devices, creating a world of make-believe and magic. Besides transformations, trick films often played on illusions of scale, producing giants or dwarves. Not infrequently cinema itself and its predecessors (magic lantern, still photography) were invoked as means of magical transformation.

France led the field in the production of trick films, with Georges Méliès’ unique ability to create a world in which magic seemed a real possibility. Pathé closely observed and imitated Méliès’ sense of the féerique. However, the trick films in the USA and England, while rarely matching the elegance and wit of Méliès, create a disorienting encounter between impossible events and contemporary environments. The somewhat primitive trick films of Robert William Paul or Biograph nonetheless create a unique surrealism by placing modern technological magic within everyday circumstances as opposed to Méliès’ dream-like sets.

Tom Gunning

Copy From

Preserved in 1971 from nitrate positive in Brook Foundation Collection