Cinematograph Magic.

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Part One: Introduction

 You might be wondering why this area has been created on Dragonskull other than the fact that the films you can watch here contain illusions of an unusual plot or nature. 

The fact is that during the pioneering first ten years in the history of making films and showing them to the paying public, two illusionists, W. R. Booth and Georges Melies, created illusions on film of a bizarre nature which they could not produce live. In doing so, they invented and discovered trick photography and techniques, all of which are still used today in film and television (such as the double exposure, the dissolving of one scene into another etc., stop frame effects, and the split screen effect where a person can interact with themselves).

Their contributions which resulted in a giant leap forward in cine photography are well known and respected by historians of early film making but few magicians are aware of what they did for film photography and the cinema let alone hold them in such high esteem.

Standards were set for film making and the cinema today during the first ten years of invention and the most notable names who can be acclaimed as being the first for inventing some aspect of them are Thomas Edison & W.K.L. Dickson (U.S.A.), the Lumiere Brothers & Georges Melies (France), R.W. Paul, Birt Acres, W.R. Booth & Friese Green (Britain). We should be proud that two of those names were magicians & Illusionists.

Within the brotherhood of magic, many of us talk about and give credit to who invented a particular trick, move or illusion as a legacy from the past. Some of us may even give credit to some magicians of yesteryear who invented other things (such as Jasper Maskelyne's important war efforts during WW2). It was felt only right that Dragonskull provides an area in which to give credit to W.R. Booth & Georges Melies for their pioneering work in producing what we see today in films, cinema and television without a thought by many on it's heritage from over 100 years ago.

[Note:1. Cinema is just an abbreviation for Cinematograph. Although the word 'cinematograph' (pronounced as 'sineematograph') is the widely used term these days, originally it was spelt Kinematograph  and pronounced as 'kineematograph'. The latter was kept in the name of the British employees Trade Union, N.A.T.K.E  - The National Association of Theatre and Kinematograph Employees. Note:2. The jerkiness of the early films was due to the film having to be wound through the camera by a handle, known as hand cranking. Note:3. All the special effects or trick photography in the early years could only be done as the film was being taken, known as 'editing in camera', therefore a great deal of scripting, planning and rehearsing was needed before the film was taken. Note:4. The flickering you see on early films is partly due to the film being hand cranked but also because the surviving early film stock had badly degraded.  Note:5. Until 1912, the film stock used was a cellulose nitrate base, a derivative of guncotton/flash wool, and was highly flammable. This was not a good material to pas in front of a hot projector lamp and many accidents did occur. Even opening film cans today containing nitrate film  for the first time in a hundred years is an extremely dangerous task as it could explode in flames.]

Enjoy the following film clips direct from YouTube and if you want to see more examples, you can find some on YouTube and also on the DVD from the British Film Institute (details supplied further on). Further historical information can be found by visiting the links given in the credits. FINAL NOTE, these clips can only be seen whilst they remain on Youtube.

Part Two: Courtesy of the BFI under the terms of the Creative Archive License

The Haunted Curiosity Shop
© The British Film Institute

Still from The Haunted Curiosity Shop,© The British Film Institute.

A film with a Bizarre Magic plot made in 1901, in England by:

R. W. Paul, Producer and Inventor.
W. R. Booth, Director and Illusionist.


Robert W. Paul was the leading pioneer of British film, and made the successful transfer from inventor to entrepreneur to remain a major figure in the industry for its first ten years. Famously, he stumbled into film in 1894 and soon wanted to go into film production. Early in 1895, he employed photographer, Birt Acres to assist him in making a suitable working camera. In March of that year the partnership of Paul and Acres had produced a working camera which Acres used to make the first film in Britain - 'Incident at Clovelly Cottage'. The partnership only lasted a short time before they parted company and went their own ways.

Paul began work on improving the camera and he also developed a projector, the Theatrograph, giving the first public demonstration on 20th February 1896 at Finsbury Technical College. The demonstration proved successful and he was soon hired by enterprising businessmen to hold regular showings at venues around London - including the Egyptian Hall (the principle hall within being used by Maskelyn & Cook for their illusion and magic shows) from 19 March 1896. It was during this time that he met Walter R. Booth.

Sales of the R. W. Paul cameras and projectors soared, his mark 2 improved model of the Theatrograph sold for 80 pounds and this machine formed the prototype for the modern film projector. Paul was kept incredibly busy spending evenings traveling from music hall to music hall rewinding the films during each journey before showing them at the next venue. Between March 1886 and March 1897, Paul managed to make a profit of over 12,000 pounds from an initial investment of 1000 pounds. In 1898 Paul began construction on the first film studios in Britain at Muswell Hill, North London and during that summer produced over eighty short dramatic films.

[Note:  In 1890,  1000.00 pounds would have the same spending worth of today's 59,890.00 pounds and 12,000 pounds would be 718,680.00 pounds]

In 1910 Paul shut down his production company and destroyed all his film negatives and left the film industry forever. Some of his short films have survived and are held at The British Film Institute, who occasionally place them on YouTube.

Walter R. Booth, born in Worcester on 12 July 1869, was a porcelain painter and an amateur magician, who joined the magic company at the Egyptian Hall in London in the 1890s. Booth became a producer of trick films for Robert Paul in 1899. In 1906, Booth moved to the Charles Urban Trading Company. He established his own studio in his garden at Isleworth, London, with Harold Bastick as his cameraman. Notable among the films produced there were the first British animated film, The Hand of the Artist (1906), The Sorcerer's Scissors (1907) and When the Devil Drives (1907). His invasion fantasies, such as The Airship Destroyer (1909) and The Aerial Submarine (1910), are entertaining prototype science fiction fables in the Jules Verne mould. Most notable though might be Scrooge (1901) which was the first film made of a Charles Dickens story. [put Scrooge 1901 into YouTube to see what remains of the film]

Film Synopsis

This film WAS made and released in 1901 (released 1902 in the States) and NOT 1907 as some website resources state (a typo mistake on one site stating that the film was made in 1907 has led to many wrongly accepting this as the correct date. You should ignore the date given on the following film clip).

The Haunted Curiosity Shop is a showcase of the elaborate and ambitious special effects and techniques developed by director and illusionist W.R. Booth and producer and inventor R.W. Paul. The story features a curiosity shop owner discovering that the various pieces of bric-a-brac on his shelves have a life of their own as he is beset by all manner of apparitions: floating heads, disembodied women, Egyptian mummies and an animated skeleton. The effects where, respectively, a woman's two halves rejoin themselves and a man in armour is systematically dismembered, are particularly impressive. © The British Film Institute

If you can't play the film, it may no longer exist on YouTube.

This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation R.W. Paul: The Collected Films 1895-1908, with music by Stephen Horne and optional commentary by Ian Christie. It is also included on the BFI DVD of Jacques Rivettes Celine and Julie Go Boating. Visit the BFI BFI Filmstore to browse the collection.

"Courtesy of the British Film Institute (BFI) under the terms of the Creative Archive Licence at". Creative Archive License details and terms at

Part 3: Georges Melies

Georges Jean Melies (pronouned mal-yaes) was born in Paris in 1861 and from a very early age he showed a particular interest in the arts which led, as a boy, to a place at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris where Melies showed particular interest in stage design and puppetry. His father owned a footwear factory and in 1884 it was at his request that Melies continued his studies in England so as to learn the language in readiness to possibly joining his fathers business. Whilst he was in London he became very keen on magic and stage illusions through his regular visits to The Egyptian Hall to watch Maskelyne & Cooke. On his return to Paris he worked at his father’s factory and also developed stage illusions which he performed at Theatre Robert Houdin.

When his father retired, Melies ran the family factory as manager and this position enabled him to raise enough money to buy the Theatre Robert Houdin when it went up for sale in 1888. With ownership of the theater, Melies worked full time as a theatrical showman whose performances revolved around magic and illusionist techniques which he studied while in London as well as working on his own tricks.

On December 28 1895, Lumiere brothers unveiled their Cinematographe to the public and Melies was in that audience. He was astounded and after the show he approached the Lumiere brothers with a view to buying one of their machines but they turned him down. Determined to get into moving pictures, he visited R. W. Paul in England and after seeing his camera and projector, he built his own. He presented his first film screening on April 4th 1896 at the Theatre Robert Houdin and success resulted in him making more and more films, often of himself (as he had the reputation of being a leading magician/illusionist in France at that time).

Through an accidental jamming of his camera whilst making a film, he discovered the first simple camera special effect whereby objects could be made to suddenly appear, disappear or be transformed into other objects. He delved deeper into what special effects could be achieved with film and was the first to pioneer the double exposure (1898), the first split screen with performers acting opposite themselves (1898) and in 1899 he pioneered the first dissolve. As you will soon see for yourself, he used these special effects in an amazing way but most importantly, he scripted his films to employ these effects in a logical manner and not just for the sake of it.

In 1912, Melies abandoned film production owing to a shrinking market and stiff competition and rivalry from big French and American studios. In 1913, the film production company Melies had set up was forced into bankruptcy by these companies. In 1915 he was forced to turn his  studio into a Variety Theatre and resumed his pre-film career as a Showman. 

During his hey day, he had produced over 500 films on cellulose but few exist today as the French Army seized most of his stock and melted it down into boot heels during World War 1. In 1923 he was declared bankrupt and his beloved Theatre Robert Houdin was demolished. Melies almost passed into obscurity, having to earn a living as a toy salesman at the Montparnasse station. [Watch the film, HUGO, for a nice portrayal of this part of his life]

In the late 1920's, his substantial contribution to cinema was finally recognized by the French and he was presented with the Legion of Honour and in 1932 the Cinema Society gave Melies a rent free home in Château d'Orly. After his rediscovery, Melies once more took to stage performances. Georges Melies died in 1938 after making over five hundred films in total - financing, directing, photographing and starring in nearly every one. 

You can view a number of films by Georges Melies (many of which are of a bizarra-ish fantasy nature) on Youtube but the ones below have been selected because of their quality, that they feature Melies and they show the high level he attained in using the special effects he pioneered.

Evocation Spirite 1899
Courtesy of YouTube

You can only play this film whist it remains available on YouTube

An Up To Date Conjuror 1899
Courtesy of YouTube

You can only play this film whist it remains available on YouTube

The Man With The Rubber Head 1901 [a restored version]
unfortunately distorted as it is has been formatted for wide screen.
Courtesy of YouTube

You can only play this film whist it remains available on YouTube

 Excelsior! Prince of Magicians 1901 [a restored version]
Courtesy of YouTube

You can only play this film whist it remains available on YouTube

1905 - Living Playing Cards
Courtesy of YouTube

You can only play this film whist it remains available on YouTube.

There is a large collection of these films at . Well worth a visit there and just 
enter Georges Melies in the search bar.


Although the illusions and tricks shown in these films were achieved by what we now call camera trickery, they and the themes of the films can certainly be classed as Bizarre Magic which audiences of those bye gone days could not get enough of. Modern day films contain lots of wondrous effects generated by computers (CGI for example) but computers are also used to recreate the same special effects as those described on this page and examples of this can be seen in the film 'The Illusionist'.


Credits / Attributes for this derivative work comprising of parts 1,2,3:-
Compilation of research and source material, Karl Bartoni. 
1897 Oscar Chronicle , British Film Institute (BFI) ,
Early Cinema
BFI Screenonline
IMDbPro ,
Magic In Cinema
Sam Dodge , Old Money to New

Other interesting links: (picture of Theatrograph )
(picture of R.W. Paul & Camera )
(picture of Acres camera ) (Pictures of various machines ) (for various very early films, especially by Georges
Melies) (for a concise history of everything about the Cinema. (everything you need to know about the early film stock to the modern day)

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