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.
It is well-known that there was a strong connection between magic and the first film performances. Magicians were among the most prominent of the early film exhibitors, and film was presented in many cases as the newest form of magical illusion. Film's realism then distanced itself from the exhibition of magic, and to some degree played its part in bringing about the end of a golden age of magical performance.
This paper will explore one aspect of performance magic whose particular relationship with early motion pictures has been insufficiently analysed. The art of shadowgraphy was at its height in the late Victorian era. Casting shadows on a screen in the shapes of living beings was an art that any one could practice, but which caused wonder in the hands of its greatest exponents. It is more than coincidental that two of the leading figures in presenting the first film shows in Britain, David Devant and Felicien Trewey, were renowned shadowgraphists. This paper will explore the relationship between shadowgraphy and film exhibition in the 1890s, with particular reference to the cross-over examples of Devant and Trewey. It will argue for a further interpretation put upon the first film projections when viewed from the shadowgraphy perspective, and will examine the degree to which Victorian film audiences were indeed (as Maxim Gorky stated) in the kingdom of shadows.
3 May 2005