Friday, 30 April 2010

Walter Booth, Magician and Filmmaker.

In any of the popular histories of magic there is usually a slight detour into the era of silent films. The French filmmaker Georges Méliès is usually the example cited. A British equivalent to Méliès was Walter Booth. Lamentably, despite his creative contribution to film making he is possibly one of the most unappreciated and overlooked filmmakers of early British cinema.

Booth was born in 1869. He was a porcelain painter and an amateur magician. At some point, he joined Maskelyne and co. at The Egyptian Hall. Some time after that Booth joined the filmmaker R. W. Paul. I don’t know how that came about. It may have been because J. N. Maskelyne and R. W. Paul were friends and therefore Booth would have had the opportunity to meet Paul.

Booth brought a good deal of inspiration to R. W. Paul’s films. Trick photography and themes of magic and magic related topics became subjects of their silent films. Paul and Booth seemed to have shared Maskelyne’s scepticism towards Spiritualism and so there are a couple of humorous films on that, one of which includes an expose of the kinds of tricks that might be used at a fake séance.

Booth moved to several other film companies after leaving Paul’s firm. I do not know of any one DVD that brings together all of Booth’s existing films; however, the British Film Institute released the collected films of R. W. Paul (depending on the outlet where you buy a copy, prices can vary from £6 to £20). For some reason, after Paul left the film industry he burned all his negatives; this collection by the BFI is pieced together from many different sources and many of the short films consist only of fragments. Nevertheless, it is about two hours and twenty minutes long, which consists of sixty-two short films, and the commentary by Professor Ian Christie does discuss Booth during appropriate films which were written and directed by Booth. Booth made about thirty-five films and fifteen are on this DVD. They are not all magic related but his knowledge of stage work, theatre acts of his day and of the trick photography of Méliès is apparent in these films.

In 1915, Booth went into advertising and little is known of his career from that point. We do know the date of his death, 1938.

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