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‘Never Has One Seen Reality Enveloped in Such a Phantasmagoria’: Watching Spectacular Transformations, 1860–1889

‘Never Has One Seen Reality Enveloped in Such a Phantasmagoria’: Watching Spectacular Transformations, 1860–1889 Comparative Critical Studies 6, 3, pp. 361–372 DOI: 10.3366/E1744185409000846 © BCLA 2009 In cinema’s first decade, féeries such as A Trip to the Moon (Méliès, 1902) and The Kingdom of the Fairies (Méliès, 1903) were among the most popular films in the world.1 With fantastic subject matter, elaborate spectacles, relatively lengthy running times, the use of colour and prominent trick effects, such films offered many different attractions. These films borrowed heavily from the narratives and spectacles of their stage antecedent, the theatrical féerie.2 Roughly translatable as a ‘fairy play’, this type of theatrical show ran alongside melodramas and vaudevilles in the popular stages of nineteenth-century France, particularly in Paris.3 As well as being an extension of this stage tradition, the cinematic féerie also extended a tradition of transformation. This is evident in the terms used to describe them; they were both ‘féeries’ and a type of ‘transformation view’.4 Seen in this light, this important genre of early cinema can be drawn into a wider context of nineteenth-century visual culture in which the depiction of spectacular transformation had developed its own set of associations, specific sites and vernacular. While this discussion focuses on France, the taste for transformation was http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Comparative Critical Studies Edinburgh University Press

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