Magic and movies are popular art forms based on make-believe. Magicians were once the world's most popular entertainers-but once cinema supplanted them, magicians quickly embraced the moving image, using it to create astonishing new illusions. From December 10, 2011, through January 1, 2012, Museum of the Moving Image presents Magicians on Screen, an enchanting series of screenings, illustrated talks, and workshops that explore the intertwined history of magic and the movies. Although the invention of the moving image may have ended one chapter in the history of magic, it gave magicians new life on screen. Martin Scorsese's new film, Hugo, with magician-turned-filmmaker Georges Méliès as one of the key characters, is the latest example of a movie that is both about magic and full of its own distinct magic.
The series has been guest curated by JoAnn Hanley, the Museum's founding director of programs. "This is a wonderfully entertaining and illuminating series that sheds light on the enduring relationship between magic and movies," said the Museum's Chief Curator, David Schwartz.
Magicians on Screen includes seven feature films, ranging from silent movies with live music to contemporary Hollywood and Hong Kong movies, many accompanied by cartoons; rare television programs; presentations by film scholar Matthew Solomon and magician Ben Robinson; and a live magic show by Robinson. Among the film highlights are Haldane of the Secret Service, a silent feature directed and produced by, and starring, Harry Houdini (presented in a new 35mm preservation print from the George Eastman House), accompanied by live music by Donald Sosin; a rare screening of episodes from The Orson Welles Magic Show, a television series in which the towering film auteur performed magic (the footage was restored by the Munich Filmmuseum); The Mad Magician (1954), featuring Vincent Price; Herschell Gordon Lewis's 1970 cult hit The Wizard of Gore; and Christopher Nolan's The Prestige.
Just in time for the holiday season, this series includes a number of programs that will appeal to family audiences. These include a live magic show presented by internationally acclaimed master magician Ben Robinson on December 10. Many screenings will also be appropriate for families: Ernie Kovacs' Festival of Magic, the first televised magic special; The Magic Land of Allakazam, the first network television series created by magician Mark Wilson; and A-Haunting We Will Go, the classic 1942 comedy starring Laurel and Hardy, presented with a Disney short Magician Mickey. During the winter holidays, the Museum will also present a holiday week workshop "Magic and the Movies," in which children will first watch early magic shorts and learn about the special effects techniques used in the films, before creating their own magic-show movie. All details for programs are included in the schedule below.
SCHEDULE FOR 'MAGICIANS ON SCREEN,' DECEMBER 10, 2011–JANUARY 1, 2012
All screenings and events take place at Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35 Avenue, Astoria, NY). Tickets are free with museum admission unless otherwise noted.
Disappearing Tricks: Early Film and Magic: A presentation by Matthew Solomon
Saturday, December 10, 3:00 p.m.
Film historian Matthew Solomon shows how early cinema was shaped by magicians, who were ubiquitous figures in popular entertainment and became some of the first film exhibitors, performers, and makers. Solomon will show short films by Georges Méliès, Segundo de Chomón, and others, and scenes from the silent films of Harry Houdini. The program will include some beautifully restored archival prints of hand-colored films.
Live Magic Show by Ben Robinson
Saturday, December 10, 4:30 p.m.
Ben Robinson is an internationally acclaimed master magician noted for his ability to entertain adults and children simultaneously. His engagement at Hollywood's famous Magic Castle was reviewed as "comedy magic at its finest." This delightful and amazing half-hour program is presented free of charge with Museum admission. Recommended for ages 8+
Haldane of the Secret Service
With live music by Donald Sosin
Preceded by The Talking Tea Kettle
Saturday, December 10, 5:30 p.m.
Dir. Harry Houdini. 1923, 88 mins. New 35mm preservation print provided by George Eastman House, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. With Houdini, Gladys Leslie. Internationally famed escape artist Harry Houdini directed, produced, and starred in this silent feature. After his detective father is murdered, Haldane dedicates himself to tracking down the villains. Trapped in ropes, chains and strongboxes, our hero wriggles out of his predicaments with the skill of-Houdini.
Preceded by The Talking Tea Kettle. Dir. Terese Svoboda. 2011, 7 mins. Video artist Terese Svoboda explores Harry Houdini's and magician David P. Abbott's battles against fraudulent mediums in the early years of the twentieth century.
Magic Boy and The Orson Welles Magic Show
Sunday, December 11, 7:00 p.m.
The Orson Welles Magic Show. Dir. Orson Welles. 1979–1985, 30 mins. The director and actor Orson Welles, who was also an accomplished magician, worked to develop a television series in which he performed magic. This fascinating and fragmentary work is a compilation of material from the project, combining some of Welles's best magic tricks and elements of autobiography and history. The footage was restored by the Munich Filmmuseum.
Magic Boy. Dir. Adam Wong. 2007, 88 mins. With Anjo Leung, Tsui Tin Yau. Magic comes to the streets of Hong Kong in this youth romance about a love triangle between two amateur magicians and a salesgirl. Young star Anjo Leung, a real-life apprentice of Hong Kong magic guru Harry Wong, handles the film's many illusions with showmanship and panache.
Magic and the Silent Clowns: A Presentation by Ben Robinson
Saturday, December 17, 3:00 p.m.
There is a strong link between some of cinema's great comedians and magic. Performers such as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Harpo Marx started out in the world of vaudeville; many of their finest gags grew directly out of their love of magic. Magician and author Ben Robinson will show scenes from such movies as Grandma's Boy, Sherlock Jr., The Circus, and Duck Soup to examine this important connection between magic, comedy, and cinema.