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Closing Event: ‘A 19th Century Magic Lantern Spectacular’

Posted by admin on March 2nd, 2011 with 0 Comments

“I saw a magic lantern show presented by David Francis and Joss Marsh in 2006. All of us in the sold-out theater were rapt: it’s astounding what just light, glass, and pigment can evoke“. – The Bioscope. Jan, 2008

We are now growing immensely excited about the gala event of this year’s festival, an authentic recreation of a Victorian-era magic lantern show, presented byDavid Francis and Joss Marsh. Taking place at the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray, Sunday March 13th at 8.15pm.

“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 in the 19th century the Laterna Magica was the most popular way to do imaginary travelling. And today we were taken on such a journey by Joss Marsh and Sir David Francis.For those of you who don’t know how a magic lantern works: it’s like an ancestor of modern slide projectors. The slides for the lantern screening were painted or etched on glass or glass slides manipulated by photographical or mechanical help. They [Joss and David] use a double lantern which allows dissolving and overlapping pictures. The experience I had tonight is far, far away from what we’re used to. It took me into a different world, a different time and made things possible which seemed impossible. It was real magic. And this is what I want to have back in the movie theatres.” Jessica Koppe, 2009

We are very fortunate to have enticed such esteemed experts in the field as David Francis, from the Library of Congress, and Joss Marsh, Professor of Victorian Studies to the Killruddery Film Festival. Joss and David truly bring their performances to life creating a fully immersive experience of a pre-cinematic phenomenonen that continued in its popularity right up to the 1920s. There was a peculiar alchemy of science and magic that existed during the period in which the magic lantern reached the height of its pervasiveness. We see it clearly in the early cinema and optical tricks of the great illusionist George Melies or his British equivalent RW Paul. It is something that Joss and David, using original and lanterns and slides, have now managed to tap into and authentically recreate. For the period of their performance we will all be swept back through time to a period when the cinema, and the moving image, made anything seem possible, when the walls of perception were visibly shifting.

The Magic Lantern

The Magic Lantern was a cinematic precursor that was once at the forefront of entertainment and pop culture. This was a technology of a pre-electrical age, where illustrated glass slides were pulled across a beam of light—by way of skillful manipulation of levers, pulleys and ratchets—creating a spectacle of magically dancing images and optical illusion. In its heyday, the Magic Lantern was big entertainment, enrapturing audiences at a time when the moving image had not yet become commonplace. Combining animated visuals, colurful spoken narratives and musical accompaniment, magic lantern performances drew in large crowds to town halls and theatres. Like cinema, the lantern also had the capacity to thrill and shock. Projections of ghosts, demons and skeletons shown in the so-called ‘phantasmagoria’ shows could terrify Victorian audiences, as unexplained spectres approached from all sides.

The performance by Joss and David will focus in particular on the life and work of George R. Sims, little known now, Sims was a genuine multi-media celebrity of late Victorian and Edwardian London.

The Magic Lantern, the Metropolis, and the Extraordinary Ballads of George R. Sims.

More even than Charles Dickens, his “Dickensian” descendant, George R. Sims, was the quintessential multi-media celebrity of Victorian and Edwardian London: the hit playwright whose Lights o’ London ran for forty years; the pioneer of film production who founded his own studio and milked the screen potential of his dramatic properties; the writer of fanciful and topical pantomimes (one of which launched a character called “Cinema Man” into the world of Sleeping Beauty); the crusading journalist whose reports on “Horrible London” changed the lives of tens of thousands of children and helped lay the foundations of the Welfare State; the columnist whose weekly chats in The Referee hooked a generation of “Refereaders” (some of whom rang him up, if they missed a bulletin, to have him read it to them on the new-fangled
telephone); the bon vivant whose love affairs and spectacular gambling were the talk of the town—famous for being George R. Sims.

But Sims was also the author of a remarkable series of heart-rending, hard-hitting, and
intermittently scandalous ballads—all written around 2 am, well fortified with brandy, with inhibitions at a dead-of-night-time low. Illuminated by the best artists of the magic lantern world, they became, and remain, extraordinary presentments of cinematic art.

David Francis and Joss Marsh, with Stephen Horne at the piano, and Gina Marsh and Pierre Agius assisting at the lantern, will present six Sims ballads, in lantern form, using original lantern slides and a mahogany-and-brass bi-unial lantern of c. 1890–The Magic Wand, The Level Crossing, Land of Gold, In the Harbour, The Muslin Frock, and the classic Victorian recitation Billy’s Rose–plus a chunk of comic autobiography (screened through the eyes of “Mary Jane,” the all-knowing maid). It is a show that will also tour Sims’s world, and the world of the magic lantern itself, the single most important visual entertainment and means of enlightenment of the 250 years before cinema.

If time permits, the program will conclude with a recitation, with music, of Sims’s most famous ballad, In the Workhouse, Christmas Day, and a screening of the 1914 G.B. Samuelson film, Christmas Day in the Workhouse. Whether time permits or not, and while (by the performers’ request) the theater doors will be locked, to prohibit egress, it will also include a mandatory audience singalong.

David Francis and Joss Marsh

Tickets for the event are €16 and can be purchased here through the Mermaid Arts Centre.

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