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star spangled to death

October 13, 2009

[NYTimes] That evening, after some conversation and homemade sorbet, I watched a world of wonders unfold on a screen hanging from the ceiling. As the recorded sounds of city traffic and a distant voice filled the air, sharply etched black-and-white geometric shapes of undecipherable provenance begin to rotate on screen first right, then left and back, creating what looked like shifting whirlpools. Parts of the image pulsed and eased in and out of focus. I thought I was looking at oil on water, flowing lava, lichen, dying embers or a reference to 9/11, which had happened five blocks away. My eyes searched for something familiar. I tried to grasp the story. My eyes started watering, less from emotion than strain.

“I have no idea what I’m watching,” I scribbled into my notebook. I was more right than I knew.

What I watched was beautiful, hypnotic, mysterious and as close to a representation of three-dimensional imagery as I’ve ever seen without wearing funny glasses. It was pure cinema. As it happens, it was so pure that no celluloid had threaded its way through a projector. I hadn’t been watching a film, after all, or digital images, only light and shadow. Using an illusion machine of his own invention that he calls the Nervous Magic Lantern — an apparatus containing a spinning shutter, a light and lenses that he hides behind a black curtain when he isn’t performing what he calls “live cinema” — he had taken the experience of watching moving images back to its origins. We weren’t watching shadows on the cave wall, but we were close. (read)

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