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Early Trick Films

Compilation of early special effects films

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A rolling intertitle explains the use of tricks in early films. We then see the following examples: THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (early example of reversed motion) where a boy knocks over girl's toy castle; UPSIDE DOWN  or  THE HUMAN FLIES (inverted picture, people apparantly walking on ceiling); BRAHMIN AND BUTTERFLY (Georges Melies film featuring a snake charmer who turns a snake into human butterfly who in turn, turns him into snake); THE  MOTORIST (early R W Paul film with use of models - a policeman unsuccessfully chasing car which drives along clouds and up in the sky); THE MAGIC SCREEN (continental trick film with dissolves and stop motion photography); and an excerpt from Italian film of 1912 DANTE'S INFERNO with trick devil and imagery.

Questions & Activities


  • Watch each film segment and discuss how the effects were achieved.
  • Where do you think these films might have been shown?
  • Why are special effects used in films?
  • What do you think is happening in the last film?
  • Do you think an audience today would find these films entertaining? Discuss why / why not.


Recreate how a travelling showman may have presented this film (see the lesson guide and resource on Early Cinema).

Write a voiceover and create music for this film or a segment of the film.

Learn about optical toys and magic lantern shows. How are these similar to the trick films?

Research what stories might make good trick films, or write your own.

Make your own trick films - how many different illusions can you create?

Clip Details

Record Id 007-000-002-495-C
Resource Rights Holder Courtesy of the British Film Institute National Archive
Project Ref 6096
Date 1912c
Genre Fiction
School Subject Literacy, Technologies, Expressive Arts
Subject Matter Early Cinema, Early Film
Who George Melies (producer / director), R.W. Paul (producer / director)
Attributes Black and White, Silent
Clip Length 13:23
Film Length 13:23
References British Film Institute National Archive