Thursday, 2 September 2010

Reactions to The Illusionist: when history steps in and claims the present


Last week I went with my family to see The Illusionist and it is truly breathtaking. And of course, it's certainly historical. It itself was created, as my dad was quick to often point out, from the unfinished script of Jaques Tati that was written in 1956. He was a French filmaker, director and comedian and the main character of the Illusionist is based on him. This is something I'd loved to know more about, but as I didn't know much at the time, it is not what struck a cord in me.

Directed by Sylvain Chomet (of Belleville Rendezvous - or The Triplets of Belleville if you're not from England like me) the film is typically full of breathtaking animation and artistic swoons. With little dialogue the plot is comparitively simple. Set in the 1950s it follows an old magician performer who travels from Paris to Edinburgh, via a remote Scottish village where he meets a young woman called Alice. She's entranced by the magic he performs, a stark comparision to the world that faces him in the Scottish capital at a time when the old delights are pushed aside for more modern entertainment.

Aside from the beauty of the story and art direction (which should make it worthwhile to watch for any history and art lover), the story captures what it means when one historical or cultural era is replaced by something new. It's hard not to feel for the characters who find they can no longer make a living from the old entertainments (we are also introduced into the lives of a ventriloquist and a trio trapese artists aside from the beginning to be forgotten illusionist). The film seems to comment on how modern societies can brutally push aside past amusements, no longer relishing them, gradually letting them disapear.

There is certainly a melancoly and wistful air to the film, the sense of regret and change is not subtle. To me this seemed somewhat depressing, especially when it is clear that today's society does have one eye on the past, and that things aren't so dismissing as was depicted in the film. If not then many less people would have seen the itself, less would have been entranced with it and attracted to it. The vintage revival is occuring, not just in the blog world but in influencing contemporary and 'new' lifestyle as well. People watch  films, read books, and gorge on the historical features and snapshots into the past. Yes, there is less of place for the old entertainment represented in the film, but there is still a place. It seems to me that people are increasingly embracing alternatives to the modern aspects of our lives. This weekend I also went to the theatre, not to see a play, but in the intimate setting I was one of many captivated by the magicians performing on stage. There was no modern techniques, just the old fashioned magic (or tricks). It was wonderful.

I guess things are always going to move on and away, some things will get left behind, but they will not be forgotten. And they may certainly be enjoyed again.

So look the stills and go and enjoy the film, tell me what you thought and how you reacted to the clear movement of time, as a present man's world increasingly became part of history. And also tell, or think about, if there is something you've done recently where you've felt the touch of the past?

Helen at Clio's Curiosities

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