Magic and Cinema

“Entertainment of wonders and the conflux of apparent miracles: Magic, cinema and illusion in turn of the century performance”, Metro, Nos 113/114, 1997, pp. 48-54.


Entertainment of Wonders and the Conflux of Apparent Miracles:
Magic and amazement in 20th century media

In August 1896, the flamboyant American illusionist and magician Carl Hertz arrived in Melbourne with an assortment of boxes containing his “latest sensational illusions and apparent miracles”. Featured prominently in his “Entertainment of Wonders” was a newly purchased cinematographe, which projected some of the first moving pictures seen in Australia. Though we remember these historic screenings, we tend to forget that at its birth, cinema was merely one of many macabre illusionistic wonders in popular entertainment. This paper re-considers the influence of forgotten attractions such as decapitation, phantasmagoria, enterology, fireproof women, vanishing ladies and talking heads on the development of early cinema, and asks to what extent such bizarre amazement continues to operate in contemporary electronic media.