The Lanternist by Patrick Crawford

 ‘Art and Film have a troubled and incestuous history’ writes Douglas Fogle in his article Cinema is Dead, Long Live the Cinema (Frieze Magazine, Issue 29, 1996). Fogle’s article looks at the relationship between Art and Cinema while reviewing a series of exhibitions that have taken place to mark one hundred years of filmmaking including an exhibition entitled ‘Spellbound’ at the Hayward Gallery. The exhibition attempts to fuse the mediums of installation art and film together by inviting artists and filmmakers alike to try their hand at crossover projects with contributors including Damien Hirst, Douglas Gordon (with his piece “24 hour Psycho”), Terry Gilliam and Steve McQueen. Fogle is less than complimentary about the success of these projects and insinuates that the increasing importance and seductiveness of cinema has meant that the medium already plays a major role in contemporary art and that crossover projects that attempt to glorify this importance suffer as a consequence. There is a strong argument that contemporary film is the essential medium for creative expression in our culture today. Indeed Fogle states quite candidly that a lot of static art has paled in comparison with the dazzling visual edifices created by filmmakers such as Orson Welles. ‘The world has rocked to the rhythm of 24 frames per second for over a century and hasn’t looked back’ he says. However, film still remains a difficult medium to master. Fogle points out that there are apparent gaps between the moving image and static art and that ‘visual artists trip over cinematic land-mines when crossing into film’. Film, Fogle maintains, is still alarmingly evasive despite its alluring qualities.

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Promotional leaflet for ‘Spellbound: art and film’ at the Hayward Gallery (EXEBD 41644)

It is interesting comparing this article (written in 1996) with Christopher Kenneally’s 2013 documentary Side by Side, which looks at the advent of digital film images and the decline of celluloid. The exhibitions the article reviews seek to highlight how far film has come since its invention in the 1890s and the important and dominant role it plays in contemporary art. However, film itself has developed remarkably since its centenary celebrations. The introduction of digital film has begun to supersede its photochemical counterpart. This is due in part to its accessibility. Side by Side seeks to illuminate this transition in optical media by interviewing many of the world’s leading filmmakers and cinematographers and noting their preferred methods. It is clear to many though, even to those filmmakers who prefer traditional methods of film practice, that digital is fast becoming the dominant medium. Accessibility is democracy, the film points out, and democracy is becoming vital to the arts.

Visual art is as unsentimental as the high street in many respects. Nostalgia is saved for the museums, the galleries and the antique auction houses. The supersedure of art forms and the beguiling nature of more accessible optical media is the subject of my short film, The Lanternist. Lanternists, who were sometimes referred to as Savoyards or Galantys, were traditional small-time visual entertainers in the early 19th century. They would travel between villages and towns putting on magic lantern displays in public places or in the houses of the wealthy. However, their trade began to decline towards the end of the century, due in part to the mass-production of magic lanterns and slides which made it possible for families to organise private lantern displays in their own homes.

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Alex Norton as The Lanternist in Bill Douglas’ ‘Comrades’ (EXEBD 60820)

 

Partly inspired by Alex Norton’s brilliant turn as an itinerant lanternist in Bill Douglas’ film ‘Comrades’, my short film portrays the galanty in a less than fortuitous light. However, unlike Bill’s Lanternist, who through the course of ‘Comrades’ takes on many different guises in order to tell the parallel stories of the history of pre-cinema and the struggles of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and who eventually appears as a successful showman in the final reel, the Lanternist in my film is tortured by the redundancy of his trade and desperately wanders the fringes of society searching for an audience. He engages in crazed and ritualistic dances as part of a defunct show that he performs to no one. He cuts a wraith-like figure walking a lonely pilgrimage. Along the way he finds discarded objects that reflect his own futility. I was inspired largely by Bill’s use of the Lanternist as a metaphorical figure in order to give his film a more harrowing visual, cultural and social context. In the final shot of my film I have included a Mutoscope display, that can be found in the Centre. The Mutoscope, like the Magic Lantern before it are all part of the progression in optical entertainment that has led to contemporary cinema as we know it today (my film is shot in digital). We should celebrate this progression, and indeed the progression of all art forms, and while innovation may be ephemeral it is vital to our culture. However, there are many Lanternists left behind along the way.

 

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Magic Lantern Slides: Bluebeard (EXEBD 64515)

 

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Image from inside The Bill Douglas Centre’s Mutoscope (EXE BD 69076)

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Making our film for the Bill Douglas Centre by Olivia Luder

I realised just how brilliant the Bill Douglas Centre was at the end of last year. As a first year English student, I had been full of the conviction that I wanted to work in film and television. I had taken a film studies module, become Screen Editor of Exeposé Online and had generally watched as much Netflix as I possibly could. However I felt that my practical engagement with film was lacking. As much as I’d enthused over my favourite Werner Herzog and forced those around me into loving The West Wing, I hadn’t actually done anything immensely proactive myself.

Both with this concern in mind and a small chunk free time before final exams, I emailed Phil Wickham, curator of the Bill Douglas Centre, to ask about volunteering. To my surprise, he encouraged me to make a short film to promote the Bill Douglas Centre. Wanting practical filming experience and having enjoyed visiting the museum, I was more than happy to take up the task.

After proposing a few ideas, it was decided that the film would feature two new visitors to the Bill Douglas Centre and follow them as they toured the museum.  Once I had corralled flatmates and friends into forming my crew and begged the ever-wonderful Joe and Olya to let their first visit to the BDC be filmed, we were off.

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A tight schedule meant we could only film for a few hours on one day. This presented several limitations: we didn’t have enough time (or battery life!) to film pick-ups or extensive b-roll, and Joe and Olya’s visit was dictated by the shots and interviews we needed to get rather than objects they wanted to see. It was also a lesson in how a series of shots may look organic on-screen but be convoluted and tricky to set-up, though the general rigmarole of filming became something we all quite enjoyed grappling with. The editing period was also limited to a few days but again we enjoyed learning how to make an interesting and lively film from the many shots we filmed.
 
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While various issues did occur, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. My crew, consisting of Leo, Jon, Jess, Emily and Izzy, were enthusiastic from the get-go. As it was a new experience for all of us, it was nice to see where each of our strengths lay and discover how much fun both figuring out shots and filming them could be. With the goodwill and trust of Phil Wickham, we had been given complete freedom with our filming and we all enjoyed exploring the vast range of creative decisions we were able to consider.

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The Bill Douglas Centre proved itself to be an incredible resource and the film only touches on the various exhibits and artefacts. That we were able to couple filming with learning about the history of cinema and see our camera beside a ‘cinématographe’ and its other predecessors made it particularly special. Learning about the Magic Lanterns was just as intriguing as the more recognisable memorabilia upstairs of which Harry Potter and Disney were favourites, Furthermore, both Joe and Olya came away genuinely enthused by the museum’s contents which was an important goal of the film itself.

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While I do hope the film reflects the hard work put in, my main aim is that it does inspire people to visit the Bill Douglas Centre. Having given me such an empowering learning experience, I know first-hand how fantastic it is not only as a museum and research centre but as an educational tool. If you are interested in film or are just looking for a way to enrich your studies, make sure to take advantage of how valuable a resource the BDC is.

I would like to thank Joe, Olya, Leo, Jon, Izzy, Jess and Emily for joining me and bringing their dedication and enthusiasm. Most importantly, I would also like to thank Phil Wickham and the entire Bill Douglas Centre for giving me this opportunity which I know will prove fundamental to any future projects I embark upon.

The film is now on the BDC’s facebook page and on youtube under ‘The Bill Douglas Experience’.