Lantern Work c. 1900

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It is by now a commonplace among film historians that motion pictures developed in relation to the magic lantern and other pre-existing forms. Indeed, cinema’s first decade abounds with examples of early film’s borrowings from the lantern, from the presentation of series of tableaux to repeated action edits to the thematic linking of discrete views. Another commonplace is that early filmmakers, such as G. A. Smith, James Williamson, and Cecil Hepworth, were involved in the design and presentation of lantern lectures before the arrival of motion pictures. Moreover, after the emergence of cinema, lantern work often involved the exhibition of motion pictures as well as lantern slides. But what if lantern work also involved the production of lantern series in tandem with motion pictures? And what if new forms of cross-pollination arose in the process?

            My paper takes an alternative look at the c. 1900 lantern by exploring lantern-film productions: lantern series and motion pictures depicting the same events, shot by the same crew at the same location. Examining a range of stylistic anomalies—departures from established modes of lantern production and representation—I will show how they highlight the mutual reciprocity between the lantern and early film. From a media historical perspective, these productions revise understandings of the lantern-film relation by demonstrating the synchronic symbiosis between the two forms. They also suggest that the lantern was influenced by motion pictures in the years following their emergence, particularly in terms of spatio-temporal developments. In doing so, I argue, they reflect the lantern’s participation in an aesthetics of transition, typically reserved for the then-new media, yet pertinent to the then-old.

Artemis Willis (independent)

Artemis Willis is a media historian, a curator of media arts, and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a former Executive Committee member of Domitor. She has published and lectured extensively on the magic lantern and related forms, organized film tributes and retrospectives, and presented or given lantern performances at various museums, festivals, and conferences in the U.S. and overseas. She recently received her PhD in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Chicago, and her current book project is titled Lanternology.