Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Magic Lantern Society Convention

We're just back from the Convention of the Magic Lantern Society which was held this year in Seattle. We had a great time seeing old friends, and enjoying some first-rate research presentations about magic-lantern history -- its connections with the panoramas, with stage shows, with Jacob Riis, and with Steiglitz. There were some great shows too, including, if I do say so, ours, which was "Christmas in July" at the ACT Theatre downtown. We had an NPR interview the day before the show, and that brought in a lot of people.

The Society will have a new emphasis on research this coming year (I"m chair) and plans to host a conference at the Magic Lantern Castle Museum, to sponsor a $1,000 prize for magic-lantern research, and to publish The Magic Lantern-- the trade publication of the 1880s.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Early Cinema Conference - Domitor

I'm just back from Domitor, the international conference of early cinema scholars. I'm delighted to say that there was much more interest in the magic lantern that when we attended four years ago and gave a show. The kick-off at this year's conference was a magic-lantern/movie/song production by David Francis and colleagues re-creating "Our Empire," a very long-running English show. The Domitor academic presentations also often mentioned the magic lantern, so this early form of screen presentation is clearly being seen as much more a part of early cinema than it was previously.

The other interesting difference between this conference and four years ago had to do with this year's theme of nationalism. Traditionally, modern cinema scholars have been very skeptical of national claims to be "first" in the cinema field, and, by implication, have tended to down-play national differences. Not so at this conference where everything from local production methods, to theater ownership, to patterns of electrical distribution were seen as influencing what was seen on screen.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Loie Fuller's Magic-Lantern Dance

I spent yesterday working with Jody Sperling of Time Lapse Dance creating a video with which Jody can re-create, or at least re-interpret the famous Magic Lantern Dances of Loie Fuller. "La Loie" was one of the great modern dancers at the turn of the century. In one of her most famous presentations she danced in a huge while dress, becoming in effect a moving screen on to which magic-lantern images were projected.

Jody and I developed an interpretation of some of these dances several years ago and presented them in several different venues to enthusiastic audiences. But getting together is complicated, given our different schedules, so we decided to create a video which will substitute for the magic-lantern projection. I've yet to see the final product, but we were both very please with it as it was developing.

For more on our shows, see http://www.magiclanternshows.com/repertoire.htm#dance. To see Jody's full dance program, see http://www.timelapsedance.com/index1.htm

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Story - Frogs-legs Dundee

I imagine it was the same in the days of Victorian touring; life on the road has its moments.

Minneapolis, MN
What a fine gig this has been! The hotel accommodations were real suites--for a change. Two couches, two TV's, two telephones, even two rolls of toilet paper! We performed at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which has a beautiful theater in the center of the museum. Everything was perfectly set up for us -- a new. rock-solid table built amid the audience for the lantern, lighting cables already run out to it, a technician to fuss over the sound. Our "Victorian Halloween" had two performances, both sold out; very enthusiastic audiences. I wish all gigs were like this!

Now we're ready to leave, shepherding the lantern in its giant red shipping crate through the Northeast Air Freight Service. Ahead of me in line is a flamboyant character dressed in hip boots and a serape. He's arguing noisily with the freight clerk about the air rates for shipping frogs legs.

The argument goes on and on. I'm getting nervous about my schedule. Finally they agree on a rate. I fill out my paper work; an assistant clerk takes the lantern away to weigh it. While we wait for him to return, I ask the head clerk what the argument was about.

"Oh that guy!" he says. "That's just Frogs-legs Dundee, playing the angles." Then he explains that Frogs-legs has a business of catching and shipping frogs. Normally he gets a special rate for botanical specimens, because each city establishes special rates for industries that are unique to it; say a special lobster rate for Boston. But Frogs-legs is arguing that because some of the frogs are being shipped live to restaurants, he ought to get an even better rate, the Live Fish rate, which will save him $25.

I'm fascinated. The clerk warms to his story. Frog-legs gets most of his frogs in the Spring, when the ponds start to warm up. The frogs come out of the mud and collect in the open places in the ice. Frog-legs swoops down with a net and the frogs are too cold to jump away.

Frogs-legs has a cousin, "Mosquito Dundee" he's called, who specializes in mosquito larvae. . . . . He's trying to get a special rate too. Everybody does.

"Like, . . . what business are you in?" the clerk asks.

"The magic-lantern business," I say.

That stops him. He thinks hard. "Well," he says, "that is specialized. Maybe too specialized. But I could give you a good rate on those mutton-chop whiskers of yours."

I take a lesson from Frogs-legs and start to haggle.

And the result?

The magic-lantern pays full freight. So does the magic-lantern showman. But his mutton-chops ride free.

Biunial Magic Lantern -- Theater Marketing

Yes, friends, that is a magic lantern that I'm standing beside in the picture, called a "biunial" lantern to be exact, because it has two lenses. A biunial allows you to shift images more smoothly on screen ("dissolving" them), to create superimpositions, and to do various other tricks.

With a small touring theater company like ours, a lot of marketing occurs through the net, and a lot is opportunistic. For instance, as I was trolling the net today, trying to learn more about blogging, I came upon a academic conference that is calling for papers on "magic lantern shows." I responded, saying, "How about an actual show, plus a paper?" I'll let you know what happens. We've done a number of shows for academic audiences. I enjoy the chance to perform, and then pontificate.