It's a term you hear a lot, and is it any wonder? The entire experience of movie going is an illusion. The principles of motion pictures utilizes persistence of vision to create the false impression of moving images. In fact, you are seeing twenty-four individual frames every second. Each frame is shown twice, thanks to the dual aperture, so you actually see 48 frames in a second. Your brain retains the first image until the next is shown, and then "connects the dots" for that split second in between. The result is animated shadows cast onto a big silver (more white these days) screen.
In the early days of cinema, the movies themselves were billed as magical. Often touring exhibitors would set up large tents, almost like a religious tent revival, and show their film clips to patrons longing to see some real magic. When a locomotive ran right for the camera, audiences jumped out of their seats and ran for the exits. They did not understand how it worked, and their minds processed the images as a real train.
Right from the start, movies were used to create impossible effects. Science fiction and fantasy were staples of the early filmmaker's repertoire. In fact, many of the pioneers of the motion picture industry were actual stage magicians seeking new ways to present their illusions. French director George Milies was one such magician. Besides being credited as a pioneer in narrative filmmaking, he also owned the Theatre Robert Houdin. Originally, the theatre was built and operated by Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. the father of modern stage magic. Under Melies' ownership, the theatre became the first public movie theater in the world.
Possibly, Melies' greatest contribution to the evolution of film was the 1902 classic silent "Le Voyage Dans La Lune" (A Trip To The Moon.) Using a combination of stage craft, magic illusions, and film effects he told the Jules Verne story in a series of 20 cinematic tableaux. He pulled out all the stops using puppets, pyrotechnics, animation, models, and large stage sets. He even hand tinted the prints, providing color in an otherwise black and white world (and you thought "The Wizard Of Oz" was groundbreaking!) For the audiences of the Turn of the Century, it was pure movie magic.
Other magicians have had their hands in the cinematic cookie jar over the years. Harry Houdini, the legendary magician, escape artist, and spiritualist debunker starred in serial films from 1919 to 1923. "The Master Mystery," "Terror Island," "The Man from Beyond," and others showcased Houdini's death defying skills for all the world to see larger than life.
The great Orson Welles was an accomplished magician. He performed many times on film and television, including the "Tonight Show." His understanding of the psychology of magic translated into his execution of advanced movie techniques, such as forced perspective, deep focus, and special effects.
Then there are the myriad of movies about magicians. "Houdini" starring Tony Curtis, though historically inaccurate in many ways, inspired millions of children around the world to become
magicians themselves, myself included. "Magic" starred a young Anthony Hopkins as a magician/ventriloquist journeying down the road to insanity. And more recently "The Prestige," featuring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as feuding magicians, and "The Illusionist," starring Edward Norton as a brilliant magician and Jessica Biel as his great love, kept apart by a jealous Crown Prince.
Ever since film began, magic and magicians have been the subject and creators of imaginative motion pictures. From the first slight of hand captured on celluloid, to the latest big budget star vehicles, magic and moves have shared the spotlight for more than a century. And now it appears a new chapter in the movie magic annals may be upon us. With the success of the "Now You See Me" movies on the big screen, and the the "Houdini" mini-series on the little screen, we are certain to see more and more Movie Magic.