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Matinee: 'The Magic Box' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

15 February 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the twentieth in our series of Saturday matinees today: The Magic Box.

Not the whole movie this time, but just a four and a half minute clip from the 1951 feature in which William Friese-Greene (played by Robert Donat) shows off his invention of the moving picture to a policeman played by Laurence Olivier who suspects him of a larger crime.

The movie -- whose cast included Richard Attenborough and cameos by Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Cecil Parker, Michael Redgrave and more -- is as technical as a CSI show today, explaining the concepts behind the invention to the most unlikely candidates. Such is his enthusiasm.

Freise-Greene, who died in 1921, was an English portrait photographer who opened studios in Bath and Bristol before expanding to London and Brighton.

He became fascinated with the magic lanterns of John Arthur Roebuck Rudge, which could display a few slides in succession so quickly they produced the illusion of movement. The GIF of their day, you might say.

Freise-Greene's contribution was to find a more amenable medium than slides, finally coming up with celluloid, as he explains to the bobby in this clip.

The twentieth century was the era of magic boxes of all types, beginning perhaps with compact cameras and concluding with personal computers. Is the smartphone the last magic box as we transition to wearable devices that can monitor our bodies and our environment?

Who knows? It takes the persistance of vision Freise-Greene displayed to see what crystal balls don't reveal about our magic boxes.

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