Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Picture Gallery :: Phantasmagoria

Our recent sand-animation exhibit has made me all nostalgic. When I was young, animation was so very much more primitive than it is today – scarcely a step above Old Man Kircher chastising the peasants with his magic-lantern demons. Back then, the theory was only just being worked out… Roget’s ‘Persistence of Vision’ was a hot seller for him, the Thaumatrope was the must-have designer toy and the Zoetrope scarcely imagined. At that stage the most sophisticated deployment of media technology I had ever seen was the that charming conman Etienne Gaspard Robert’s magic lantern show 'Fantasmagoria' >>

It was dead scary, I’ll give him that. State of the time specialFX, what with the portraits of recently dead heroes of the French Revolution, the ghosts and the ghouls, and not forgetting the the Grim Reaper variously projected onto mirrors, glass, smoke and wax-soaked gauze. All within the gloomy ambience of an abandoned Capuchin crypt. Women shrieked and men squealed and keeled over as spectral forms flittered above their heads and the dead appeared to rise before them -- I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed myself quite so much since.

As an aside, I laugh now when I recall the furor that it caused when he toured it to the UK… every publication in the land trumpeted their disapproval and killjoys forecast the certain destruction of society as we knew it. Its supernatural themes were blamed for inflaming the young people, causing anti-social behavior. Robert’s show was so popular amongst young Brits that they were nicking money from their own parents and staying out to all hours.

Of course Robertson, who was a TOTAL showpony, just played it for all it was worth. In public he positively reveled in his self-imposed mission to ‘scare the rubes to death.’
"I am only satisfied if my spectators, shivering and shuddering, raise their hands or cover their eyes out of fear of ghosts and devils dashing towards them; if even the most indiscreet among them run into the arms of a skeleton."
Robertson's Phantasmagoria >>

Early Visual Media is a treasure trove of useful information including how to make a white shadow >> and magic lantern slides from other phantasmagorists. >>