The Blow Book, Performance Magic, and Early Animation: Mediating the Living Dead
This article explores the history of early animation and modern magic in light of discourses on the cinema’s capacities for bringing inanimate objects (including the still photograph) to life. The cinema’s early encounter with a metamorphic magic book known as a blow book, which is constructed like a flip book without sequential imagery, will be considered in order to specify the terms of one form of animation and its structures of illusion and belief. The principles of modern magic will also be addressed to explain the significance of a number of trick films that featured the blow book directly as a means of demonstrating the animating ‘powers’ of the cinema. This analysis will challenge the use of animation as an umbrella concept within cinema and media studies, and provide a basis for beginning to think through the return of new media studies to 19th-century magic as a model for understanding digital illusions.