Laterna Magica

Wow! Today I had an amazing experience!
Up to now I wrote several times about the Austrian Filmmuseum which has a wonderful collection and screens amazing film copies and really rare treasures of cinematic history. But today I was totally blown away by a Laterna Magica or magic lantern show as the English speaking people call them. But due to the language mix on this blog I just could call it what I want, I guess… I like Laterna Magica more, because it sounds like a magic spell…

And really, it was like that. The show was called ‘The Magic Carpet’. Normally they say, the beginning of cinema took place in 1895 with the screening of an arriving train and workers leaving a factory by the brothers Lumière. But especially in the 19th century the Laterna Magica has been the most popular way to do imagenery travelling. And today we were taken on such a journey by Joss Marsh and Sir David Francis.

Magic Lantern

(This picture is borrowed from Wikimedia.)

They use a double lantern like that one above which allows dissolving and overlapping pictures. For those of you who don’t know how a magic lantern works: it’s like an ancestor of modern slide projectors. But the slides for the lantern screening were painted or etched on glass or glass slides manipulated by photographical or mechanical help. The slides had really rich colours (all but the black and white photos of course). There had been slides with movable extensions or layers, so you would get some kind of a flip book impression. The show had different contents, fantastic stuff like the Tales of Arabian Nights or how people imagine Afrika could be; educational things like some “Rail and Salvation” stuff or just documenting. But their purpose was clear: to bring the spectator in a world far away from it’s own. Joss’ and David’s focus laid on the Victorian age and the British colonization. The show were accompanied by piano music and a terrific reading of old textes which had originally be read to the shows almost 200 years ago combined with modern comments and notes. Joss is an amazing actor and has a wonderful humour. I had to laugh all the time. She was just brilliant. It was delightful and impressing how much you could get out of such an old technique.

And this is why cinema is such a wonderful invention: well done it’s just art. And I’m not talking about paying 10 Euros for a seat in a way to loud action screening and paying another five for popcorn… Don’t misunderstand me, there are also great and artistic action films out there. But the experience I had tonight is far, far away from that. It took me into a different world, in a different time and made things possible which seems to be impossible. It was real magic. And this is what I want to have back into the theatres.

This is why I like film so much. It can make things possible which aren’t possible now. It’s literally a vision. Like Jules Verne stories. I would never forget the video phone in Back To Future 2. I was so impressed when I was a child and today skype is so… normal. But it’s not only science fiction I’m interested in, it’s developement in general. Getting touched in some way.

10. January 2009 by Jessica
Categories: Stuff | Tags: , | 2 comments

Comments (2)

  1. Thanks for sharing the link, but unfortunately it seems to be down… Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my post if you do!


  2. Hi Mark,
    thanks for the hint! I did some research and didn’t find any other helpful online source of Joss Marsh. That’s why I deleted the link completely. I’m sorry!

    As far as I remember, it was a kind of profile website since she worked at that university. If you want to know some more details about the show or laterna magicae, send me an e-mail. I’ll do my best to help!