The Movies: capturing starlight

The Movies. 


A system that seems to orbit around the Box Office, the gravitational centre of a galaxy that exploded into existence by nuclear fusion of Money and Fame, puffing out its twinkling stars in a shower of celestial glitter. 

But the movies, if we go back far enough, were born of a universal fact, something which belongs to us all.

Light. 

Film is the art of light –


of capturing the light from distant stars, and letting others see what’s lit by them.

Hubble’s Frenzy of Stars, courtesy of NASA.

The first spark of film flickered in the magic lanterns and optical tricks of the late nineteenth century (the Victorian version of VR), and soon caught flame in the camera contraptions of a pioneering (and aptly named) fraternity of light: Louis and Auguste Lumière.

A magic lantern show. Watch a video about how they worked here; and see visual depictions of them here.
The pioneers of moving pictures, the Lumière brothers.

Light has been caught in its doleful beauty by the Nordic filmmakers, twisted into dark shapes by the German expressionists, blitzed out in dazzling beams within the walls of Hollywood studios.

A stark Scandinavian landscape in Ingmar Bergman’s Jungfrukällan (1960). Read a guide to the director’s style here.
Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920), a seminal work of German expressionist cinema.
The dazzling Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932).


Filmmaking is taking a fact of physics, and making it magic.


I edited this micro-film using clips taken by photographer Daniel Walcher in Barcelona.

The soundtrack is Luke Howard’s gorgeously antique Radio Fields (2016). I do not own the rights to this piece of music.

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