Chandu the Magician. Courtesy of Photofest

Magicians on Screen

December 10–January 1, 2012

In the 1890s, stage magicians were the world’s most popular entertainers. And then the cinema was invented. Always eager to incorporate new technologies, magicians quickly embraced the moving image, using it to create astonishing new illusions. Magician/filmmakers like Georges Méliès furthered cinema’s potential to make the impossible appear possible through their innovative use of editing and special effects in the genre they invented, the trick film. Unfortunately, as audiences fell in love with the movies, they abandoned the stage magicians, and the grand old magic halls disappeared or were converted to movie palaces.

Hollywood, however, never lost interest, producing films about magic and magicians for distribution to theaters everywhere. Silents, talkies, melodramas, mysteries, comedies, horror movies, romances, documentaries—magic and magicians appeared, and continue to appear, in all these types of films. Television gave magicians the opportunity to reach even larger audiences; many viewers saw magicians for the first time on variety shows. Ironically, although the invention of the moving image may have ended one chapter in the history of magic, it gave magicians new life on-screen.

Guest curator: JoAnn Hanley