Monday, 3 April 2017

Deutches Filmmuseum - The Illusion of Movement

Sometimes I need to be careful when it comes to asking my brother which museum that I would like to visit because he ended up picking the World Cultures museum and I suddenly realised that I wasn't particularly interested in going to a museum on World Cultures. Fortunately it turned that it was closed, so we then went to the next museum on our list - the Film Museum. Well, as it turns out the Film museum was much more interesting. However, at first a part of me was a little hesitant on going in, though I eventually gave in to my curiosity.

I have already written a review on the film museum on various websites - okay, Yelp and Google Maps namely because I really don't like Trip Advisor though I am sort of wondering why I keep on writing reviews on it. The main reason is because the interface, well, sucks, and it still uses pop-ups which are hugely annoying. Also, unlike Yelp, it doesn't have a community. Okay, unless you live in America you generally don't have a huge amount of interaction on Yelp, but the fact that the community comes to the fore front, and that it is much easier to read other people's opinion on things, makes it my preferred site. Okay, there is one good thing about Trip Advisor, and that is that it is good about finding attractions and sights to visit, but for restaurants, pubs, or even bookstores, I'd probably go through Yelp.

Anyway, here is a map of where you can find the museum:

Being a film museum you can probably expect that they have some cinemas, which is actually the case. Mind you, I doubt you would go here to watch the latest Avengers or Star Trek movie, but rather art house and avant garde, as well as historical, films. Remember, this is Germany, the country that produced two of the greatest films in the silent era - Nosferatu and Metropolis (the other being Battleship Potemkin, a Soviet film). Sure, you might argue that Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keating should rank up there as well, but while they have made some pretty spectacular films, they just don't seem be on the same level as Metropolis (though Chaplin certainly can be confronting at times).

Anyway, before I continue, since this is a post about the history of film I'll include an embed of Metropolis, with English subtitles of course.

I won't say anybody about this classic film as I will leave it for another post somethime in the future (when I get around to watching it again that is, though I should also throw Charlie Chaplin and Nosferatu into the mix as well), and will continue on with the post on the history of film. Well, actually the museum has two sections, one on the history of film, and the other on the creation of film, however I'll also leave that for a follow up post.

Before the Camera

Well, people have always had a desire to see things that are beyond the scope of their world or their imagination, which is why we have artists. It is not just being able to see places that are on the other side of the world, but also being able to look into the worlds of myth and imagination - in a way to give forms to these vague ideas that drift through our mind, and to give a real substance to the stories that were told throughout the ages. I guess this is why religious art was so popular, despite the fact that Christians weren't actually supposed to make a graven image of God. However, in a way it probably has something to do with the new covenant, which suggest why the Christians threw away the long held tradition of never creating an image of God, to creating images with reckless abandon.

I would join the trend

However, this is a post about film, and not religious art, so we will move on to the viewing scopes. The thing is that there have been paintings, sculptures, and drawings for centuries, it is just that we were looking for other ways to indulge our pleasures. The thing with paintings is that they are static - sure, one can create illusions with paintings, but some of these illusions were not to come around until much later. Instead entertainers looked for other ways, through the use of mirrors and lights, such as with the kaleidescope, to create this illusion, particularly an illusion of movement.

These viewing scopes would not have a single static image either, but rather images that would change, and in a way tell as story. There was also the Anamorphosis, which would also create the illusion of movement. If you look at the image without the device it would look, well, rather strange. However insert it into the device, and spin it, and suddenly you begin to see movement. It was all about tricking the eye, and deceiving the perception, so that what is static would appear to move - this is the trick of film.

Trust me, it isn't modern art.
There was also the panorama, and while not something that actually movies, it creates the impression of immersion. A great example is actually located at Waterloo, just outside of Brussels, where Napoleon fought, and lost, his final battle. The panorama is a huge building and the painting surrounds you on all side. You enter from below and suddenly feel that you have been transported to another time and place - as with the one at Waterloo, you are taken back to the Napoleon's final battle.

The Deception of Movement

The illusion is created through an effect known as the 'stroboscopic effect'. This is a series of flashes which tricks the brain into see a static object move. With a film camera, these are a series of static images that are fed in front of a light and a rate of 16 to 32 frames a second, and are projected onto a well. When you look at the film it just looks like a series of photographs, however on the screen it looks like it is moving. A similar example is seen where you draw a series of pictures on pieces of paper, and then flick the paper, as shown below. This is referred to as 'flip book animation'.

This effect, also known as 'persistence of vision', was also used with an object known as a Thaumatrop. This is a circular object with pictures both sides, and a string along the diameter. The disc would then be spun, and the two pictures would merge into one. Sure enough, there are plenty of them on the internet for me to show you how it works.

The next item is the Faraday wheel, a wheel that when spun at a certain speed appears to either be stationary, or even to be spinning in the opposite direction. The wheel is known as a Faraday wheel because British Chemist Michael Faraday was the one who was experimenting with the idea, and also exploring these illusions on the brain. However, while Faraday was looking at this in the name of science, entertainers saw another way of being able to entertain people through the illusion of motion.

Further development turned this into a drum, where mirrors would be used to create these illusions, but the illusion was actually a lot more crisp, and cleaner, than the ones that were used on Faraday's device. However, there were other developments in the works, developments that would take the illusion of movement, and take the ability to create visual stories, one step further.

Age of the Camera

Well, the camera changed everything. Up until then images and people could only be recorded through painstakingly slow and precise artistic measures such as sculpture, painting, and sketching. However, through advances in the art of chemistry we were now able to take instantaneous pictures (which is why the nature of art began to change). However, this change didn't come about instantaneously as early cameras were pretty bulky and the exposure time painstakingly slow. In fact you needed a degree in Chemistry be to able to use one. As such taking photos of people, or even experimenting with film, was pretty much impossible. As for me, I remember doing an experiment with photography when I was back in high school and all I can say is that I failed abysmally.

However come 1850 and suddenly the camera is able to enter mainstream use, which is why we are able to see images of the American Civil War, probably one of the first wars in which the camera was utilised. However, there were other aspects to the camera, such as the fact that we see the world through stereo-vision - we have two eyes - and as such cameras were created to reflect the stereo-nature of our perception, and also to create depth (usually through the use of mirrors). This was for objects where the user would look into a scope to see the illusion of a moving image behind it. Colour was also achieved through the use of primary colours, and also projecting through through the image through the use of mirrors.

Projecting the Image

Much of what we see these days we simply take foregranted the complexity that goes into creating them. For instance the concept of projection, which is the use of light to make a small image much, much greater. I still remember when I was younger that the projection of static images was achieved through the use of overhead projectors, and that the projection of a moving image still required a film projector - film, and the projector itself, was never cheap. These days we take that foregranted, particularly since the price of video projectors has dropped remarkably - when I was in university one would set you back something like $8000.00. However you can buy them quite cheaply from your local electronics retailer.

Mind you, the concept of projection has been around since we realised that if we stood in front of the sun our shadow would be cast upon the walls. However in the mid 1600s a monk, Athanasius Kircher, worked out that through the use of mirrors, and positioning the light, you could then project an image, which is much larger than the original image, on the wall. Seems simple enough, but the thing with the shadow is that the light has to hit us in a specific way for a proper image to appear on the wall, otherwise it appears all skewed (and you will also note that multiple shadows also appear to either side).

This discovery led to the creation of the 'magic lantern', a device that used Kircher's ideas, to project a transparent image onto the wall. Mind you, nobody actually knows who invented the lantern, however the device became popular with both entertainers and charlatans. The projection of an image on the wall was both used to entertain people, and to also instill the fear of god into an ignorant audience. Further, the illusion of movement could also be created by moving two images against each other, thus making it appear that waves would move, or fire would burn. Quite quickly did this device become the staple of the traveling showman and story teller.

Birth of the Cinema

Come the end of the 19th century and we had the electric light and the railway, and modern society was beginning to emerge. It was around this time that people were now looking to see how they could record moving images. They had the camera, and they had ways of projecting images onto a well, but it was now time to combine these inventions, and this was eventually done not by an American, but by Emile Raynard, a Frenchman. However, it was the inventor of inventors, Thomas Edison, that put the idea into a box known as the Kinetiscope, though the problem with this was only one person could view the show at the time. However, once again, back in France, we have the brothers August and Louis Lumiere who were the inventors of the modern film projector (though I should make a comment on how ironic it is for somebody with the last Lumiere to invent the film projector - for those who don't know, Lumiere is French for light).

I should also mention Ottomar Anschutz, a German, who through the study of movement, in particular storks in flight, worked out that by cycling through a series of images, each of them slightly different, you could create the illusion of movement. Mind you, it wasn't as if this was actually a new idea, namely because flip books had been around for quite a while before that. However, the idea is that if a certain number of frames are projected through the projector over a period of time, then the illusion of movement is created, and this rate I believe (at least from my video production course I did once) was 32 frames a second.

And thanks of all the hard work of these pioneers we now have an establishment known as Hollywood, and the actor has risen from being a poor traveler who was a member of a theatre troop (though if you happened to be the member of a troop that was sponsored by the king then you were living a reasonably comfortable life) to the celebrity icons that we have today. Mind you, the reason for this is because cinema, and on top of that television, has created a much greater exposure for the actor than they ever would have had if they were just performing for the king - in essence the actor has gone from being the entertainers to the nobility to nobility in and of themselves.
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Deutches Filmmuseum - The Illusion of Movement by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

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