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The Magic Circle


Chilmark: A Florethel Film Fantasy

Alexander Black: Cinema Pioneer

Sunday, November 22, 2009
5:00 p.m. Alexander Black: Cinema Pioneer
Alexander Black (U.S., 1919–46)

PFA Preservation Prints
Illustrated Lecture by Kaveh Askari
Judith Rosenberg on Piano


Kaveh Askari is an assistant professor of film studies at Western Washington University. He has written several articles on topics in early cinema, including work on Alexander Black’s role in American film history.

Who invented the cinema? Was it Thomas Edison or the Lumière brothers? Were motion pictures born when Eadweard Muybridge famously photographed Leland Stanford’s horse in Palo Alto in 1877? One important contender for the title of film forefather, often overlooked today, is Alexander Black. At a time when most films lasted only a few moments, Black toured the turn-of-the-century United States with his multi-act “picture plays.” These live screen performances combined the spoken word with projected magic lantern slides, which Black carefully calibrated to suggest movement as he dissolved from one slide to the next. Black’s work with motion picture technologies conveys the passion of a lifelong experimenter. His career spanned from his touring years in the 1890s through his work with the influential Amateur Cinema League thirty years later. Tonight’s program will include selected scenes from Black’s early magic lantern performances and several new preservation prints from his experiments with 16mm film in the 1920s and 1930s. The films in the program range from home movie footage shot on early Kodachrome film stock to homemade story films using a variety of visual tricks.

—Kaveh Askari

Download the brochure “Alexander Black: Cinema Pioneer” (PDF).

Europe I (Alexander Black, 1928, 13:26 mins, B&W). The Magic Circle (Alexander Black, 1923, 6:09 mins, B&W). Chilmark: A Florethel Film Fantasy (Alexander Black, 1927, 9:24 mins, B&W). And So to Edinburgh (Alexander Black, 1935–37, 13:45 mins, Color). Alexander Black: Grandfather of Picture Plays (Adolf Zukor, 1919/1946, 11:38 mins, B&W/Color)

• (Total program time: c. 100 mins, 16mm, PFA Collection. Films in the Alexander Black Collection were preserved by PFA with the cooperation of Carlyle H. Black II and family. Preservation was supported by a National Film Preservation Foundation Lab Partnership Grant with preservation services by Colorlab.)