The possibility of a Victorian cinema extends beyond the first decade of cinema's innovation at the end of Victoria's reign if we include the flourishing of optical devices know as “philosophical toys” in the nineteenth century. This essay focuses on the device known as the thaumatrope, invented by John Ayrton Paris in the 1820s. The “wonder-turner” used rapid revolutions of a disk imprinted with matching partial images (such as a bird on one side and a cage on the other) to create a perceptual image that fused both sides into a single appearance. I call such optical toys “technological images” because they manipulate human perception through a mechanical device. Although the thaumatrope fuses an image rather than animating one, its novelty as an optical device inaugurates an era of ever more complex technological images.
- 1The phrase appears, for instance, in the very useful and reliable reference work Who's Who of Victorian Cinema edited by Stephen Herbert and Luke McKernan.
- 2For a detailed account of the development of the cinema during this period, focused especially on Britain, see Barnes, Beginnings. For an account of the industrial and commercial infrastructure of production, distribution, and exhibition see Brown and Anthony.
- 3See the thorough account of these films in Barnes, Beginnings, volumes 2 and 5.
- 4On the Boer War films, see Barnes volume 4 and the contemporary account of filming in South Africa by William K. L. Dickson, The Biograph in Battle.
- 5The term “media archaeology” has been introduced for the investigation of the foundations of our media culture. This essay certainly forms part of this project. For a thorough and thoughtful discussion of this term, its history, and its range of methods see the recent anthology Media Archaeology, edited by Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka, especially Huhtamo and Parikka's excellent introduction (1–21).
- 6I will not attempt to reference the extensive work on Victorian visuality, but I do want to indicate my debt to Martin Meisel's classic work Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England, as well as the more recent work of Rachel Teukolsky, The Literate Eye: Victorian Art Writing and Modern Aesthetics.
- 7The book is available in several reprint editions, as well as online from Google Books.
- 8This reference to Cartesians does not appear in the book's first edition. As John Barnes points out, the thaumatrope description was greatly revised in the third edition.
- 9Some parts of this section occur in a slightly different version in my discussion of the thaumatrope in my essay, “The Play between Still and Moving Images: Nineteenth-Century ‘Philosophical Toys’ and their Discourse.”
- 10Doane's essay has been published in German translation, but I have used a manuscript of the English version kindly provided by the author. Doane is speaking of the flipbook and therefore of a “moving image” but her keen observation applies to the thaumatrope images as well.
- Anemic Cinema. Dir. Marcel Duchamp. 1924. Film.
- Babbage, Charles. Passages from the Life of a Philosopher. London: Longmans, 1864.
- Barnes, John. Beginnings of the Cinema in England, 1894–1901. 5 vols. Exeter: U of Exeter P, 1996–98.
- Barnes, John. Dr. Paris's Thaumatrope or Wonder-Turner. London: Projection Box, 1995.
- Brewster, David. The Kaleidoscope, its History, Theory and Construction with its Application to the Fine and Useful Arts. London: John Murray, 1858.
- Brewster, David. Patent AD 1817 no. 4136 (Kaleidoscope).
- Brewster, David. Letters on Natural Magic Addressed to Sir Walter Scott. London: J. Murray, 1832.
- Brown, Richard, and Barry Anthony. A Victorian Film Enterprise: A History of the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company 1897–1915. Trowbridge: Flick, 1999.
- Buxton, Harry. Memoir of the Life and Labours of the Late Charles Babbage Esq., F. R. S. Cambridge: MIT, 1988.
- Castle, Terry. The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.
- Ceram, C. W. Archaeology of the Cinema. New York: Harcourt, 1965.
- Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: MIT, 1990.
- Dickson, William K. L. The Biograph in Battle: Its Story in the South Africa War. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1995.
- Doane, Mary Ann. “Movement and Scale: From Flipbook to the Cinema.” 2006. TS.
- Dulac, Nicholas, and André Gaudreault. “Circularity and Repetition at the Heart of the Attraction: Optical Toys and the Emergence of a New Cultural Series.” The Cinemaof Attractions Reloaded. Ed. Wanda Strauven. Amsterdam: U of Amsterdam P, 2006. 227–44.
- Frizot, Michel. La chronophotographie, avant le cinématographe: temps, photographie et mouvement autour de E.-J. Marey. Beaune: Association des Amis de Marey, 1984.
- Gregory, R. L. Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing. London: World University Library, 1997.
- Gunning, Tom. “The Play between Still and Moving Images: Nineteenth-Century ‘Philosophical Toys’ and their Discourse.” Between Stillness and Motion: Film, Photography,Algorithms. Ed. Eivind Rossaak. Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 2011. 31–34.
- Herbert, Stephen, and Luke McKernan, eds. Who's Who of Victorian Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1996.
- Huhtamo, Erkki, and Jussi Parikka, eds. Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications and Implications. Berkeley: U of California P, 2011.
- Mannoni, Laurent. The Great Art of Light and Shadow: Archaeology of the Cinema. Exeter: U of Exeter P, 2000.
- Meisel, Martin. Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983.
- Neer, Richard. The Emergence of the Classical Style in Greek Sculpture. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010.
- October. Dir. Sergei Eisenstein. Sovkino, 1927. Film.
- Paris, John Ayrton. Philosophy in Sport Made Science in Earnest. An attempt to illustrate the first principles of natural philosophy by the aid of popular toys and sports. London: John Murray, 1849.
- Robinson, David, and Laurent Mannoni. Light and Movement: The Incunabula of Motion Pictures. Gemona: Giornate del Cinema Muto, 1995.
- Rossell, Deac. Living Pictures: The Origins of the Movies. Albany: SUNY, 1998.
- Stafford, Barbara. Artful Science: Enlightenment, Entertainment and the Eclipse of Visual Education. Cambridge: MIT, 1994.
- Strauven, Wanda. “The Observer's Dilemma: To Touch or not to Touch.” Huhtamo and Parikka 148–63.
- Strike. Dir. Sergei Eisenstein. Goskino, 1924. Film.
- Teukolsky, Rachel. The Literate Eye: Victorian Art Writing and Modernist Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009.