1896 – Escamotage d’une dame chez Robert-Houdin / The Conjuring of a Woman at the House of Robert Houdin

Directed by: Georges Méliès

Also known as The Vanishing Woman, this is the first known film by Méliès to use the substitution splice (previously seen in The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots). Unlike the majority of filmmakers at the time who documented everyday events, Méliès was fascinated by the magical and fantastical possibilities the medium allowed. It is perhaps not a coincidence that he and Jehanne d’Alcy present an act developed by magician Buatier de Kolta, but in some respects improve upon it by using special effects instead of a trapdoor. He also puts a fresh and surprising spin on the act by having the trick go awry as he conjures a skeleton instead of his assistant. This unexpected turn of events possibly frightened audiences of the day but Méliès reassures everyone that he has an idea of how to fix it and everything is resolved in the end. The whole thing is a classic example of showmanship.

By adapting an old magic trick and improving upon it with techniques unique to the medium, Méliès demonstrated film’s capability to realize the impossible, something he would explore further in future projects. Fictions would become almost lifelike.

Bibliography

popegrutch (2015). ‘The Vanishing Lady (1896)’, Century Film Project, 2 October. Available at: https://centuryfilmproject.org/2015/10/02/the-vanishing-lady-1896/ [Accessed: 23 December 2021].

IMDb contributors (n.d.).‘The Conjuring of a Woman at the House of Robert Houdin (1896)’, IMDb. Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0000075/ [Accessed: 23 December 2021].

Wikipedia contributors (2021). ‘The Vanishing Lady’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 8 February. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Vanishing_Lady [Accessed: 23 December 2021].

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