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The Living Playing Cards (1904)

Les cartes vivantes (original title)
| Comedy, Short, Fantasy
A bearded magician holds up a large playing card and makes it larger. He tears up a card of a queen, burns the torn bits, and a life-size Queen of Hearts card appears; then, it becomes ... See full summary »

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A bearded magician holds up a large playing card and makes it larger. He tears up a card of a queen, burns the torn bits, and a life-size Queen of Hearts card appears; then, it becomes alive. The magician puts her back into the card. The same thing happens with the King of Clubs: the card becomes alive. The king removes his costume, and there's something very familiar about him. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Comedy | Short | Fantasy

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The Living Playing Cards  »

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1.33 : 1
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Featured in Une séance Méliès (1997) See more »

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Pure magic!
14 June 2008 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

Considering that Georges Méliès was a stage magician before he took an interest in cinema, it's no surprise that he liked to incorporate countless little "magic acts" into his films. As a rule, his narrative-driven films {such as 'A Trip to the Moon (1902)' and 'The Impossible Voyage (1904)'} are by far his most impressive works, not only for their revolutionary storytelling structures, but also for their seemingly-boundless imagination and creativity. Nevertheless, further genius is to be found in Méliès' shorter "gimmick films," which translated the magician's tricks to the cinema screen and proved crucial in the development of visual effects. Too often, early filmmakers like Edison and the Lumière brothers employed this new technology for purely documentary purposes, presenting audiences with brief snippets of everyday life. However, this French "Cinemagician" took a vastly different outlook on the possibilities made feasible by the humble cinematograph: he made the impossible happen before our very eyes.

'The Living Playing Cards (1904),' along with the delightfully-whimsical 'The Four Troublesome Heads (1898),' is one of Méliès' most inventive special-effects showcases. The film starts simply enough, with Méliès – our host, as always – stepping out onto the stage and showing the audience a playing card. It is too small for anybody to decipher, so, with a quick slide of the wrist, the card is suddenly substantially larger. He then manages to transfer the card image onto a large, blank sheet of paper, and then the Queen on the life-sized card is magically transformed into a living, breathing queen who emerges from the paper and walks around the stage. These transformations – some more refined than others – employ the use of quick cuts, multiple dissolves and cross-fades, techniques with which Méliès had been experimenting for many years. The two-minute film is presented in the style of a traditional magic act, presenting contemporary audiences with a format with which they were familiar, but somewhat furtively offering the magician a greater flexibility with his tricks.

The most entertaining part of the film takes place at the very end, when Méliès accidentally transforms the King on the playing card into a real-life King, who bursts threateningly from his sheet of paper. Terrified, Méliès flees the stage in fear. Just as he does this, the King throws off his costume to reveal that he is Méliès himself! The first time I saw this, I was genuinely taken aback by the unexpected reveal, and it took several closer inspections to deduce how the trick was actually performed; from what I was able to tell, the director substituted himself into the King's clothes at the very moment that the costume were cast aside. Such an act demonstrates very effectively the advantages enjoyed by Méliès once he had adopted this revolutionary new technology, and, ever since, magicians have struggled vainly to keep up with the advancements presented by the cinematic medium. If magicians are now a dying breed, they can blame their unemployment on clever little films like this one.


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