Houdini invents Television !

June 5, 2008 § Leave a comment

From Terror Island (James Cruze, 1920). Houdini plays a treasure hunter who perfects a submarine to salvage treasures from boats sunk by German subs during World War I. Two inventions stand out: one is a side-door to the sub that allows for quickly coming in and out of the sub. The other is dubbed “an electric periscope”, and Houdini demonstrates its use in this sequence:


Sure it’s not radio but it’s already the promise of the most ubiquitous window (actually a window fixed to a window!) to the world ever (this ad from 1932 makes that point most emphatically).

In terms of bringing reality to the spectator it could hardly perform any better: the young lad shown on periscope walking towards the audience to deliver a paper really delivers the paper

– and the point is ?

– That they’re making a redundant point…

(under his breath) and so are you

(pretending not to have heard)…about the new media’s ability to represent reality: it represents reality to the nth level. It shows reality as it unfolds. It shows it as something real, actual, happening. And one has to suppose that the same thinking informs their approach to cinema’s ability to represent reality.

– Though you could also argue that the opposite is true: they need to project their fantasies of representational authenticity on a new medium yet to be invented, since cinema with all its tricks and shortcuts and literary baggage is coming way short.

A pause.

– Yes, I guess you could.



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