COLLECTION TO BE FEATURED IN THE EXHIBITION
THE PATH TO CINEMA: HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE RICHARD BALZER COLLECTION
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced that it, along with the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, is the recipient of the Richard Balzer Collection, widely considered to be the world’s foremost collection of pre-cinematic optical toys and devices. Comprising more than 9,000 objects—including magic lanterns, magic lantern glass slides, prints, praxinoscopes, figurines, paintings, peepshows, shadow puppets and theaters, and more, dating as far back as China’s Ming Dynasty—the Balzer Collection provides the Academy Museum an unparalleled resource for telling the full story of the development of motion pictures.
“The magic of the movies began with a sense of wonder at seeing still images come to life,” Jessica Niebel, Exhibitions Curator at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures said. “No one was more dedicated than the late Richard Balzer to the marvelous history of pre-cinema. No one did more to preserve these riches and make them available to the public. We are honored to steward the Richard Balzer Collection and present these extraordinary objects to the public.”
Patricia Bellinger said, “Gifting this collection to the Academy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. My husband Dick’s passion for collecting pre-cinematic objects was profound, but it was his passion for teaching, storytelling, and wonderment that brought him and the collection to life. With these objects permanently in the Academy Museum and Margaret Herrick Library collections, Dick’s dedication to sharing pre-cinema’s legacy and historical memory with the public will live on in perpetuity.”
Highlights from the Richard Balzer Collection include:
- Magic Lanterns:
- Phantasmagoria magic lantern: this device, designed by Philip Carpenter in 1821, was used for rear projection instead of frontal projection like other magic lanterns. The tin apparatus was hidden to create magical and frightening appearances onscreen, particularly during phantasmagoria shows. These types of lanterns were often placed on carts that were pulled back or forth to create image zooms, which were particularly effective in scaring audiences. Phantasmagoria shows are considered to be the predecessors of the cinematic horror genre.
- Eiffel Tower magic lantern: a rare single-lens device designed by Louis Aubert is shaped like the Eiffel Tower and is made of hand-painted metal. The piece dates back to 1890.
- Toy magic lanterns: the Museum received an assortment of toy lanterns which depict global locales, inspiring a sense of wonder for travel. These types of pieces were smaller in scale and were typically used by children in domestic settings rather than for public entertainment.
- Engraving of female traveling magic lanternist: considered the most well-known illustration of a woman lanternist from the 18th century, L’Orgue de Barbarie and La Lanterne Magique were designed by Edmé Bouchardon. The two engraved plates were created for use in the 1737 publication Études prises dans le bas peuple ou les cris de Paris. Showpeople traveled from town to town to bring the wonder of magic lanterns to new audiences. In the print, the lanternist carries a box of magic lantern slides on her back and her magic lantern on top. She also carries a stringed instrument called a hurdy gurdy.
- Émile Reynaud invented the praxinoscope, many of which are included in the Balzer Collection. Praxinoscopes use a strip of images around the inner surface of a manually-spun cylinder. These images are then reflected in opposing mirrors to create the illusion of a moving image. Reynaud continuously worked to advance the capacity of the praxinoscope, resulting in the praxinoscope théâtre (also part of the collection), the projecting praxinoscope, and at its most advanced stage, the Théâtre Optique, which was used to project hand-painted filmstrips to paying audiences. Théâtre Optique shows are considered to be the original iteration of animated film screenings.
- Praxinoscope glass slides: these rare slides—which were never made commercially, only by Reynaud—are black and are inserted upside down in the cylinder of the projecting praxinoscope.
- Steam driven praxinoscope: designed by Ernst Plank in 1904, the steam driven praxinoscope exemplifies the attempt to automate the moving image rather than relying on a hand-cranked device.
- Vues d’Optiques: these optical illusions play with the effect of lighting from different angles, depicting daytime scenes when lit from above that transition into nocturnal scenes when lit from behind.
- Peepshows: to engage with a peepshow, audiences would look into a box through a small hole to see an array of illustrated, painted, or photographed images.
Author, documentary photographer, organizational consultant, and passionate explorer of the pre-history of cinema, Richard Balzer collected pre-cinematic materials for over 40 years and eventually amassed more than 9,000 objects from as far afield as Asia and Europe. He is considered the world’s most prominent collector of pre-cinematic objects.
He served as Charmain of The Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada from 1984–1989, was a vital member of the British Magic Lantern Society, and in 1998 published the book Peepshows: A Visual History.