Prepare to be Astounded: 'The Prestige' @ DPL's Steampunk Film Series

The Professor and Olivia onstage
Borden does a trick Nikola Tesla A field of lights A phantasmagoria performance

With The Prestige (2006) -- the second installment of DPL's Steampunk Film Series -- Christopher Nolan paints a vibrant portrait of magic and science in the Victorian era that brims with historical detail while remaining thoroughly modern in its tone and themes. It's a complex and visually striking film that begs to be viewed on the big screen.

Adapted from Christopher Priest's 1995 novel of the same name, The Prestige features the kind of multi-layered, time-shifting narrative that has become a Nolan signature. At its heart is the epic rivalry between two stage magicians, Borden (Christian Bale) and Angier (Hugh Jackman), that subtly echoes the real life power struggle between scientific wizards Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. In the figure of Tesla -- played by an otherworldly David Bowie -- the fragile boundaries between science and magic collapse. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the development of electricity coincided with a strong popular interest in the occult and the supernatural.

Cinematic images, which owe their existence to the development of advanced electrical and optical technologies, are another site of overlap between the magical and scientific realms. Pioneered by the Lumière Brothers and Georges Méliès in France and Thomas Edison in America, moving pictures were the culmination of a long tradition of Victorian visual entertainment. Pre-cinematic devices like the magic lantern were frequently employed during live magic shows and séances; performers projected still images onto sheets or smoke to create fantastic and ghostly effects.

Once cinema had developed as a stand alone medium, magic and magicians were popular subjects.

Thomas Edison, "The Magician" (1900)

In fact, Méliès who had worked as a stage magician before the development of film, viewed the medium first and foremost as a means of creating impossible magical transformations.

Georges Méliès, "The Up-to-Date Conjuror (L'Impressionniste Fin de Siecle)" (1899)

With The Prestige, Christopher Nolan reasserts the affinity between the filmmaker and the magician, highlighting film's power to misdirect and to mystify.

"There's quite a strong relationship between what magicians do and what filmmakers do. The filmmaker is very similar to a magician in the way we release information what we tell the audience and when and how we draw the audience in through certain points of view. We use our own techniques, blind alleys and red herrings, to fool the audience and, hopefully, to create a satisfying payoff. With The Prestige, there was an opportunity to really play with these concepts right before the audience's eyes." -- Emanuel Levy, "Interviews: Prestige with Christopher Nolan," 24/7 Cinema

Join us for a magical evening!

Tuesday, June 11, 6:30-9 p.m.
Central Library, Level B2 Conference Center
Free admission
All proceeds from concession sales will be donated to Comic Book Classroom.

Comments

Love the film clips - what fun! I especially like seeing Georges Méliès after getting a little glimpse of him through the film Hugo (based on the book the Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick). I can see how film and electricity looked magical at that time - I still think it's pretty magical now!

Thanks, Shelly! I really enjoyed Hugo; It was amazing to see clips from Méliès's films projected onto the big screen in 3D. I think The Prestige excells at capturing the excitement about magic, art, and science that are so much a part of Victorian (and Steampunk) culture. We had a great crowd for the screening last night and it seemed like everyone in attendance had a wonderful time!

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