Houdini and the magic of the movies The origins of cinema, a prize‐winning book reveals, are closely linked to the conjurors and spiritualists of the early 20th century
Magic touch ... escapologist Harry Houdini, Matthew Solomon's book argues, was central to the development of early cinema. Photograph: Hulton Getty
Over the past few months, I have been on a judging panel with Sir Christopher Frayling and Hugh Hudson for a prize which is not as well known as it deserves to be. This is the Kraszna Krausz best moving image book award, given to the year's most outstanding book on cinema, video art and the moving image. The award was created in 1985 by the Hungarian publisher Andor Kraszna‐Krausz, and the foundation also sponsors prizes for best photography book and outstanding contribution to publishing. Our jury settled on what I think is a truly fascinating book: Disappearing Tricks: Silent Film, Houdini and the New Magic of the Twentieth Century, by Matthew Solomon, published by the University of Illinois Press. In it, film historian Solomon re‐examines the cinema's occult roots in the early 20th century as part of the magic theatre of conjurors and illusionists, and also the charlatan spiritualists who would get people to gather in blacked‐out rooms to gasp at weird spectral images floating in the darkness. It was a time when magicians were driving cinema innovation with their cheerful little "trick films" screened as part of a live act: films with novel editing innovations such as multiple exposures, cuts and dissolves, which made people appear to vanish, or suddenly transform into something or someone else.
Page 73 of 201
Published on Jun 22, 2011