About the Author
Jack Hunter is the acclaimed author and editor of over 20 books on the history of cult cinema, freakshows, and other cultural diversions. His innovative book on Japanese cult cinema EROS IN HELL became a bible for the new generation of US DVD producers who are still steadily releasing the films detailed in its pages. Other books include: MOONCHILD, FREAK BABYLON, and SEARCH & DESTROY. He lives in Tokyo in a constant state of cultural research.
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THREE Even before the great Barnum show of 1901, Paris in the 1890s had been gripped by a passion for extravagant theatre; the Grand Guignol, which opened in 1897, live beasts and, indeed, circus freaks were the vogue. At the Theatre de la Gaité or the Varieté of the time, for instance, the crowds could marvel at the naked dancing girl Bob Walter gyrating behind a mass of snarling beasts, see the deadly Spider-Woman, Mlle Fougère, or witness the most famous Siamese twins in all the world, Rosa-Josepha Blazek. Paris even had its very own "Giants' Restaurant", where visiting goliaths were exhibited while prostitutes plied their trade. At the same time, another burgeoning branch of the spectacular was about to reach fruition. Throughout the century, various experimenters had been investigating the phenomenon of the persistence of vision, developing ways to give the illusion of moving images either in the name of science, or in order to even further enhance their shows: Dr. John Ayrton Paris' Thaumatrope (1826), Joseph Plateau's Phenakistiscope and Simon Stampfer's Stroboscope (1833), William George Horner's Zoetrope (1834), Henry R. Heyl's Phasmatrope (1870), Emile Reynaud's Praxinoscope (1877) and his subsequent Pantomimes Lumineuses, Eadward Muybridge's Zoopraxiscope (1881), and finally Robert W. Paul's Theatrograph, Thomas Edison's Vitascope and Kinetoscope, Emil Skladanowsky's Bioscop, and the Lumière Brothers' Cinématographe (1895); all had their place in the development of moving pictures. It was this progression of invention which eventually gave birth to the cinematic arts in the mid-1890s. And naturally enough, the first experiments in film would often, in true sideshow fashion, centre around shocking images of the human body - executions, train wrecks, and of course clandestine pornography. It was during these formative years, at the height of the carnival craze, that a certain Georges Méliès, not content with producing mere documentary footage, was busily developing his pioneering "cinema of magic and illusion". Méliès was himself originally a magician in the music-halls and fairgrounds. In 1887, aged 26, he purchased the legendary Theatre Robert-Houdin, where he had served his sorcerer's apprenticeship. For 8 years he ran the theatre, presenting breath-taking spectacles of sensational tricker - and then he discovered the camera...