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The Spiritualist Photographer (1903)

Le portrait spirituel (original title)
A magician transforms a woman into a portrait of herself, then restores her to life.

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A sign proclaims a demonstration of a new kind of "spiritualistic" photography. A man then enters, constructs a platform, and places a large picture frame on the platform. He then brings in a young girl, who stands in front of the frame, and he proceeds to demonstrate what his device can do. Written by Snow Leopard

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Short | Fantasy

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15 August 1903 (USA)  »

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The Spiritualist Photographer  »

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1.33 : 1
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Great Novelty
8 April 2010 | by See all my reviews

Georges Méliès introduces his "great novelty" for this film, "The Spiritualist Photographer", with two cards explaining the effect. One card is in the producer's native French and the other is in English, which is an indication of his films' cross-Atlantic appeal and distribution at the time. The novelty in this film is a "dissolving effect obtained without black background". According to John Frazer ("Artifically Arranged Scenes"), to accomplish the lapse dissolve transformation on white background, Méliès's cameraman had to open the lens wide to make the image disappear, instead of closing the lens in the case of using a black background. The camera was also masked to separate the transformation exposure from the exposure of the image outside the portrait. Barry Salt ("Film Style & Technology: History & Analysis") says these white-background superimpositions were done with a printer. Frazer called this "the last new trick devised by Méliès". Indeed, most of the cinema magician's tricks throughout his oeuvre were substitution-splices and superimpositions, which he had learned and used in films as early as 1896 and 1897. Most of the other tricks, such as the one here, were variations of those two main techniques. Méliès repeated this particular trick in "The Living Playing Cards" (Les cartes vivantes)(1904) and other films.

Besides the technical and historical interest, "The Spiritualist Photographer" is a rather average trick film from Méliès. Some of his other trick films, including: "The Four Troublesome Heads", "The Astronomer's Dream" (both 1898), "The Mysterious Portrait" (1899), "The One-Man Band" (1900), "The Man with the Rubber Head" and "The Magic Lantern", in addition to the narrative féeries (fairy films), are superior for their unique or amusing presentations of the novel effects. Reportedly, the act in this film of a person turned into a portrait and then brought back to life was adapted from magician David Devant's illusion "The Artist's Dream" (Frazer).


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