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PART I    PHANTASMAGORIA INTRODUCTION  -  THE MOISSE FANTASCOPE DISCOVERY
VIRTUAL REALITY TECHNIQUES DURING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND THE EARLY 19TH CENTURY

IMPORTANT NEWS
The Moisse Fantascope and slides found a new permanent home and resides in the Qatar International Media Museum / IMM - QMA Qatar.


Qatar's International Media Museum
*'plans scrapped'*

IMPORTANT NEWS
The Moisse Fantascope and slides found a new permanent home and resides in the International Media Museum / IMM - QMA Qatar.

The museum is scheduled to open in a few years.

Although one would expect paper and cardboard accessories in this context, none where found. Most likely they where burned in the same fire where several years ago a friend, Rik Soenen, found a partially destroyed daguerreotype, shown in the left image.

This photograph nolonger had a visible image because it was thrown away and scorched in a rubbish fire during the first cleaning-up operation after the castle’s change of ownership.
After a hopeless effort to clean the daguerreotype using the Thio-Ureum* method, the black layer disappeared and revealed an extremely faint image of a woman wearing a bonnet.
Presumably this is the same woman as seen on one of the painted portraits found in the castle.

Ironically, the daguerreotype revealed only a “ghostly” image due to its tragic ill-treatment, and therefore fits in quite well to our topic of discussion! The fate of more fragile material, for example, cardboard white shadows and cardboard projection-decors (backgrounds) needs no further explanation given such "hell-like" conditions.
(*) This daguerreotype restoration method is abandoned today.

Download a bibliography for the Moisse Fantascope in PDF format
 

The Fantascope is currently on display at the  Cinémathèque Française in the permanent exhibition 'Passion Cinema'.

The
Fantascope & accessories was on display in  Lanterne Magique et Film Peint a temporally exhibition organized by the Cinémathèque Française and Museo Nazionale Del Cinema.

As luck would have it, twenty-three wonderful hand-painted slides survived. Among them, ten depict beautiful Phantasmagoria subjects such as a Skull, a Skeleton, a Devil, and the Bleeding Nun. These are typical “gothic horror” subjects of the time. The theme of the nun, for example, was inspired by a character from one of the most famous novels in this genre, The Monk by Lewis Matthew (1796).

Furthermore, great historic figures of the time were transformed into fantasmagoria subjects via these handpainted slides, for example two portraits of Bonaparte. Such historically important figures illustrate another theme in the fantasmagoria. Other examples are portraits of Marat, Robbespierre, Louis XVI, Danton, etc., which where projected onto "smoke curtains” with the help of a hidden lantern.
The technique of smoke projection will be dealt with further in this website.

A further 4 hand-painted slides were inspired by Greek Mythology, religion and gods (other important inspirational sources for the fantasmagoria). for example, Hero & Leandre, Hébé, l’Education d’Achille, l’Enlevement de Dejanire.

Perhaps the most spectacular projection accessorie is an animated marionette depicting a skeleton opening his tomb. The latter will be explained further in detail.

The Bleeding Nun


 

The described techniques in the subsequent Phantasmagoria chapters are fascinating early (18th. & 19th.Century) examples of audio-visual and olfactoric performance in which all our senses are manipulated in order to create a personel and unexpected ghostly encounter far removed from the events of daily life. To enhance these experiences, many sound effects where created during these shows: thunder, heavy rain, stormy weather, the weird sound of a glass organ, funeral bells, and so on. Different odours where produced to give the scene an unpleasant life-like, or even death-like, atmosphere. Understandably, I would never call these techniques "simply" forerunners of today’s virtual reality techniques; because they where already full-grown and spectacular! The next 4 pages explain personal experiences with these techniques.
(an illustrated, contemporaneous, description on phantasmagoria accessories can be read on my Hauch's Physiske Cabinet url's, I & II)
Click here to see and read about military use of the Phantasmagoria during the tumultuous days of the French Revolution.

Find a book on Phantasmagoria Projection techniques


Visit also Paul Burns' 'The History of the Discovery of Cinemathography' for information on the Moise Fantascope.


For the time and in their context, the impact of these effects was far more radical (their very purpose was to create fear and panic) than that engendered by today’s media. It was not uncommon for People to start screaming, lose consciousness and flee in panic from the scene! The left image shows reactions of people during one of Robertson's demonstrations.

Altough, Etienne-Gaspard Robert (son) is perhaps the most famous Phantasmagore, he certainly is not the inventor or originator of the technique as often, wrongly stated in liturature. Rather, he was an inginious charlatan.
Unfortunately, due to the unfamiliarity of these effects today, knowledge of their potential is limited to a very few.

 

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