The following document is an abstract of a paper accepted for presentation at the Visual Delights III — Magic and Illusion conference at the University of Sheffield, July 15-17th 2005.
"The Magical Magic of the Magic Image" or, as we might have also said, "The Magical Magic of the Magic Montage", so important, in Méliès' work, are the operations of gluing, matching, and assembling. Indeed Méliès magic, in an outstanding and primordial way, is achieved through fragmentation, cutting, and breaks in continuity. And yet, until quite recently, Méliès was seen as a "cinématographiste" who contributed very little, if anything at all, to the development of film editing. The extent of Méliès' manipulation of the film strip, of its chopping up and fragmentation, was clearly demonstrated at the conference on his work held in 1981 at Cersiy-la-Salle (France). From this conference was born the idea, which of course remained to be "documented", that a "rudimentary" form of editing might very well have existed in the work of the first camera operators, beyond Méliès alone. This is one of the most important chapters in what has traditionally been "forgotten" in traditional histories of the cinema.
Today, this practice has in large part been documented, thanks to the research carried out over the past fifteen years by the author of these lines and the members of the team he has put together. So well documented that we can now report the statistics, which speak for themselves: nearly 20% of the Lumière views shot in 1899 contain, despite everything we've been led to expect, traces of photogrammic discontinuity; and nearly 60% of Edison views from the same year mdash; this figure is "astronomical" mdash; contain some sort of fragmentation of the film strip. These figures are astounding, if we consider how editing has always been seen as a relatively late phenomenon, dating from after the turn of the century. The figures are astounding also for bodies of work, like those of Edison and Lumière, which were for the most part made up of views shot out-of-doors with subjects seemingly chosen on the fly.
What about Méliès, in whose work very few views correspond to the model of photogrammic continuity, principally because he was the apostle of so-called composed views, shot in the studio (from 1897) in a "controlled atmosphere"? This is what we will discover here, by following the path taken by Méliès, whose journey took him from the Place de l'Opéra, where his camera, by seizing up, supposedly led him to discover the famous stop-camera trick shot, to the early years of the twentieth century, when the paradigm of what I have suggested we call "cinématographie-attraction" ruled. We will thus see how early film editing forms a part of the "magic show" cultural series and how the movement from one image to another was seen at the time as a form of vanishing act (in the vein "now you see it, now you don't") because in that series, and this is a factor of discontinuity, one image (or rather a part of its content) drives out another. This, then, is the opposite of the representational editing found in the narration paradigm, which, and here is the factor of continuity, is based on the succession and suture of shots.
3 May 2005