(312) 480-1966

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Chicago Cinema Forum presents


Wednesday, September 17

Doors @ 7pm / Films @ 8pm / $8 Cover

- Sonotheque -
1444 W. Chicago - 312.226.7600

“Long before modern cinema with its special effects and deceitful editing, the first masters of visual entertainment were stage show illusionists. The Victorian magician, in fact pioneered the development of early cinema. The magician has always been a keen patron of new technology, needing to stay one step ahead of their mesmerized audiences. In 1794, a traveling illusionist Etienne Gaspard Robertson, terrified Parisian crowds with a haunting production entitled "Phantasmagoria". Naive to the invention of magic lanterns the audiences were completely amazed by the eerie figures which flickered and disappeared. Theses images of skeletons and ghosts were back projected onto invisible screens, achieved by ironing translucent wax into gauze. By the late eighteenth century magicians around the world began clamoring for projection devices, buying or making their own living pictures to incorporate into magic acts. Many of the world's earliest films were produced by magicians, they employed techniques still used today, such as double exposure, stop motion animation, fast and slow motion and the dissolve.”

–Clint Hurrell, The Egyptian Hall: Notes from the interactive
exhibition about Victorian stage illusions and optical devices

Presently, it seems that cinema is overtaken by thue use of special effects in every concievable permutation. This reliance on CGI (computer-generated imagery) is ubiquitous and apparently unlimited in its scope and influence. Whether one goes to the local Cineplex to see Christopher Nolan’s noirishly stylized retelling of the Batman saga “The Dark Knight”, Steven Spielberg’s latest installment of his serialized-based cash cow “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ or the George Lucas’ production of “Star War: The Clone Years”; one cannot be but overwhelmed by visual effects that not only drive the narrative but are the ultimate raison d’être of the film.

Yet special effects, or rather the use of magic in all it various forms, have been a staple of film from its pre-cinematic years to its infancy in the 1890’s. From illusionists working in venues like the Egyptian Hall (aka the "Home of Mystery) in London’s west end who used the reflective properties of transparent glass to bring alive ghostly apparitions to the roving minstrels who between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries played their trade on the roads of Europe carrying magic lanterns from hamlet to town that both educated and mystified the locals; the use of magic and special effects has tricked and amazed audiences continuously.

To showcase these times of emerging enchantment in cinematic history, Sonotheque in conjunction with Chicago Cinema Forum is hosting “Magic in Cinema” on Wednesday, September 17. The event will highlight the use of mystical and mesmerizing moments of magic in early cinema history and will include a selection of films (1896-1905) by the 1st wizard of cinema, Georges Melies, a recently restored print of Lotte Reinger’s animated film “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” (1926), Edwin S. Porter’s “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend” (1906), R W Paul’s surreal “The ? Motorist” (1906) and other equally mystifying celluloid treats.

Music for Reiniger’s “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” will be composed and performed by guitarist Jeff Parker of Tortoise. The scores for the Melies, Porter and R W Paul films will be composed and played by producer/musician Shannon Harris. They each, individually, will score new compositions and perform live for the first time these works. Both sections are approximately 1 hour with a short break in-between.

Curated by Gabe Klinger

Films Selected by Joe Bryl

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A selection of films by Georges Melies:

“The Vanishing Act” (1896), “A Nightmare” (1896), “The Haunted Castle” (1897), “The magician” (1898), “The Famous Box Trick” (1898), “The Astronomer’s Dream (1898), “The Four Troublesome Heads” (1898), “The One Man Band” (1900), “The Magic Box” (1900), “Fat & Lean Wrestling Match” (1900), “ Going to Bed Under Difficulties” (1900), “Extraordinary Illusions” (1901), “Excelsior! – Prince of Magicians” (1901), “The Man With the Rubber Head” (1901), “The Human Fly” (1902), “An Impossible Balancing Feat” (1902), “The inn Where No Man Rests” (1903), “The Infernal Cauldron” (1903), “The terrible Turkish Executioner” (1904), “The Cook in Trouble” (1904) & “The Black Imp” (1905).


Edwin S. Porter: “ Dream of a Rarebit Fiend” (1906)

R W Paul: “The ? Motorist” (1906)


Lotte Reiniger: “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” (1926)

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Georges Melies:

Considered to be cinema’s first auteur (he staged, performed in, directed and created the scenarios, costumes, props and sets for his films), Georges Melies created over 520 films ranging from actualities (re-enactments/reconstructions of historical moments), trick films, impossible voyages, fairy tales, dance film and comedies. Only approximately 170 survive to this day, although some are slowly being recovered presently.

In 1888 Melies purchased the Theatre Robert-Houdin (not to be confused with American magician and consummate escapologist Harry Houdini, who based his name on the fore-mentioned) where he refined his skills and magical tricks that would be later incorporated into his many films. Melies was literally spellbound upon seeing the famous Lumiere screening at the Salon des Indiens in Paris on December 28, 1895. Unable to persuade Antoine Lumiere into selling him a cinematograph, he adapted a similar machine by English inventor R W Paul and began shooting actualities in 1896. Due to a strange set of rather apocryphal events, his camera jammed while filming a street scene. When developing the footage he found that, thanks to the jam, men suddenly changed into women and carriages into hearses. This auspicious event started for Melies a series of filmic experiments using what we consider some of the basic grammar of cinema effects including multiple exposures, dissolves, matte shots, transparencies and substitution splicing.

Edwin S. Porter:

Pioneering American projectionist/cameraman/director who in 1899 joined the Edison Manufacturing Company and became quickly the most influential filmmaker in the United States. His works range from a children’s satire on then Vice President Theodore Roosevelt titled “Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King” (1901), the trick/fairy tale film “Jack and the Beanstalk” (1902), the complex story-telling re-enactment of “Life of an American Fireman” (1903) and the archetypal American western “The Great Train Robbery” (1903) which involved an assembly of separate shots and a startling close-up. His film “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend” (1906) is based on a comic strip by pioneering animator by Winsor McCay who’s own short animated film “Gertie the Dinosaur” (1914) became a technical template for future animators.

R W Paul:

Celebrated as the leading pioneer of British film, Paul produced what is arguably the first British narrative film “A Soldier’s Courtship” (1896, now lost) and in 1898 became the first person to edit two scenes together. He normally concentrated on actualities which included filming events as varied as the 1896 Derby, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and re-enactments of the Boer War. With the help of former magician Walter Booth he created the elaborate fantasy of “The ? Motorist” (1906) which later became a reference for Russian Symbolist writer Andrei Bely’s own work.

Lotte Reiniger:

Born in Berlin in 1899 at the emergence of cinema, Reiniger was equally fascinated with the art of Chinese silhouette puppetry and the films of Georges Melies. After attending a lecture by German director Paul Wegener in 1915 that focused on the fantastic possibilities of animation, Reiniger enrolled herself into the extremely influential Theater of Max Reinhardt. She then developed her art in both animation and silhouettes (most notably a dream sequence for Part One of Fritz Lang’s epic “Die Nibelungen” (1924).

Acquiring by chance some raw film stock, she was given the opportunity to make a feature film, the result being “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” (1926) considered to be the oldest surviving animated full-length feature film. Based on “The Book of One Thousand and One Knights” the film features beautifully manipulated cutouts made from cardboard. Quite similar effect have been used extensively with shadow puppet performances in Southeast Asia and the use of silhouettes can be traced back to European folklore and the intricate paper cut-outs produced by Hans Christian Andersen.


Jeff Parker:

Known for blurring musical boundaries, as well as his membership in the band Tortoise, the Chicago-based guitarist/composer can be heard on numerous recordings with some of contemporary music's most influential and innovative artists: Fred Anderson, Brian Blade, Joshua Redman, (Smog), Blur, George Lewis, Chicago Underground, Isotope 217, Guillermo Gregorio, Kevin Drumm, and Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble, to name but a few. Parker can be seen performing regularly around Chicago, but also at many of the world's premier music venues and festivals, and he is currently working to establish his own unique relationship between electronic and acoustic compositional properties in music.

“One of the most important, flexible, and vibrant players in astounding talent” -Chicago Reader

Shannon Harris:

A born native of Chicago, Shannon Harris has programmed music for the public for over 24 years starting off as a local DJ and later on becoming a radio personality and producer. He has toured as a DJ across 4 continents worldwide. Since the past 10 years Shannon has focused on extending his expression within the music industry with personal song compositions and productions. He started his label “Urbanicity” in 1999 featuring some of Chicago’s greatest talents. Shannon is coined as the modern day “Quincy Jones” of Chicago working with more than 20 artists on the album entitled "The New World Reveal-A-Solution". His big soulful cinematic productions and elaborate studio projects have set him apart from the typical modern day producer. Co-engineering projects featured on "The New Reveal-A-Solution" and "Audio Urbanology" albums at the Chicago Recording Company he had a chance to witness traditional analog mixing techniques from some of the best in the industry. Shannon’s discography is so diverse in genre’s that he hasn’t been dubbed with a particular sound but does have a stylistic way of making huge productions come to life. His resume includes working on projects with Corey Wilkes, Avery R. Young, Will Kurk, Sean Wallace, Frankie Valentine, Anthony Nicholson, and also being featured on a remix project with producers Larry Heard, Ron Trent, Quentin Harris, IG Culture and John Ciafone. He believes in bringing his vision into reality no matter the expense and/or time spent on a project. “The end result is what matters” states Harris. Look out for his work on Urbanicity and other labels in the near future.

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(312) 480-1966

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