See the moving picture


Disappearing Act

Escamotage d’une dame chez Robert-Houdin (The Vanishing Lady)

Georges Méliès, France, 1896

One of 78 films that Méliès made in 1896, Escamotage d’une dame chez Robert-Houdin (literally, “Legerdemain with a Lady at the Robert-Houdin”) begins when a magician (Méliès) steps onto a stage where there are a chair and a cape hanging over a small table. Introducing a woman with a fan, he invites her to have a seat and then carefully covers her with the cape. Whisking away the cape, he reveals an empty chair, which he quickly fills by conjuring a skeleton out of thin air. Draping the skeleton, he then signals some magic with a flick of his wrist and pulls away the cape, whereby the woman is instantly restored to her place. The transformations are all achieved by means of the “substitution trick”—the use of stop motion to transform one object into another. Note that as a modern variation on an old magician’s theme, the act perpetuates the traditional roles of masculine authority figure and feminine subject. Like many Méliès subjects, Escamotage d’une dame was available, at extra cost, in a hand-colored version.

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