It’s all done with mirrors (well, glass actually)

Now here’s an interesting thing. The new pop video for Paul McCartney’s Dance Tonight, just published on YouTube, has been directed by Michel (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) Gondry, and stars Mackenzie Crook and Natalie Portman. And it’s quite a jolly tune with a mandolin. So far so inconsequential, but what is of interest here is that the video employs the Pepper’s Ghost trick, which is of great importance in ‘pre-cinema’ history. Pepper’s Ghost was a clever Victorian stage effect (devised by ‘Professor’ John Henry Pepper) employing glass, mirrors (sometimes) and lighting to make objects – usually ‘ghosts’ – seem to appear on stage. It holds an important place between the Phantasmagoria magic lantern show and the cinema. The trick was achieved by placing a figure off stage, and so lighting it that the light-waves bounced of an angled sheet of glass to create the illusion of the figure appearing in ghostly fashion on a stage. Like so:

Pepper’s Ghost

The McCartney video employs glass in much the same way to produce its ghostly effects. One would suspect that it was all done in post-production rather than ‘in the camera’, but production footage on would seem to suggest that they did indeed use glass (not mirrors). It could have been done a whole lot more easily with post-production trickery, but it was clearly done for the delight of the filmmakers – and the publicity.

Pepper’s Ghost inspired the appearance of ghostly figures in many early cinema trick films, though the process itself was not employed directly in films – with one exception, an obscure process called Kinoplastikon. More on that another day…

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