The Magic Lantern – creating images to shock and delight

On Saturday just after my Spiller & Tait Coffee I went along to the Gothic Magic Lantern Show organised by the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum on Campus. The show was given by Mervyn Heard, one of the country’s foremost lanternists.

melvyn heard and his magic lantern blog

 

The lantern itself was a wonderful feat of engineering from a bygone age – with polished wood box, a slot at the front to hold the lantern slide plates and two extending brass tubes protruding from the front. Before electricity, lanterns were lit by candles and later “limelight”, created through a very dangerous process of heating a piece of limestone in burning gas until it became incandescent and gave off a very strong light.  The lantern on Saturday was thankfully lit by electricity! It projected very effectively images from glass slides measuring about 10 cm in height onto a large screen.

 

 

 

Mervyn Heard took us through a range of fascinating slides which at one time would have shocked and enthralled audiences, in a time before the cinema, after which people became used to seeing moving images on screen. Figures in slides appeared to ‘move’ –  and images of landscapes changed from night to day – this effect was created by the lanternist carefully moving one slide behind another.

 

Older slides were intricately hand-painted, but later slides might be photographic images, either black and white or black and white with tinted colours.

 

Storytelling was also a huge part of the lanternist’s  art – through the pictures projected from the lantern and artful storytelling, wonderful and shocking tales would come to life.  Mervyn explained that in fact, the magic lantern could be said to be more akin to theatre than cinema, as the success of the images to move the audience depended on the storytelling and acting skills of the lanternist.

 

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum has a huge collection of lantern slides, some of which are on display in the Museum on the Streatham Campus.  Others can be seen in digital format on the Museum’s website.

Lantern slide depicting a Tiger, courtesy Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

Lantern slide depicting a Tiger, courtesy Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

 Object Stories: The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum’s new YouTube Channel

The University of Exeter’s Bill Douglas Cinema Museum has launched its YouTube Channel with four short films made using the Museum’s collections.

 

Under the umbrella title of “Object Stories”, Academics in Film Studies at The University of Exeter talk about how they use artefacts in The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum for their research.

 

The films were made by student filmmaker Mini Warren and were funded by the University’s Research and Knowledge Transfer department to share the scholarship undertaken at the University with the wider world.

 

The museum is of course a unique resource to Exeter, is free and open to the public, and its holdings demonstrate the importance of moving image culture on society. – See more at: http://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/bdc-museum-on-youtube-object-stories/#sthash.I6IbzBkD.dpuf

 

Below is an example of one of the new YouTube films. It features Dr Joe Kember discussing the museum’s extensive magic lantern collection, particularly the slides and lectures produced by campaigning and religious groups such as the temperance movement. Dr Kember has recently won an award as part of a European consortium to the JPI Heritage scheme with a project called ‘A Million Pictures: Magic Lantern Slide Heritage as Artefacts in the Common European History of Learning.’ He is also co-authoring a book on popular entertainment in the South West in 2017 entitled Picture Going: Visual and Optical Shows 1820-1914.