Adele & Amphitrite

Somehow, I believe I am the last person on the planet to watch singer Adele’s video “Chasing Pavements”, which has some pretty “magical” dance sequences.  Check out 0:52, 1:46, and 3:00:

It occurs to me that the actors in this music video must be performing in exactly the same manner as the performers in two of magic’s illusions over 125 years ago.

The first:

P. 61 of Hopkins

“Amphitrite, come forth!” exclaims the person in charge of the show. All at once, a woman in the costume of an opera nymph rises from the sea without anything being visible to support her in space, in which she turns round and round, gracefully moving her legs and arms, now in one direction, then in another.  When the exhibition is at an end, she straightens out in the position of a swimmer about to make a dive, and plunges behind the curtain representing the ocean.

– Description of “Amphitrite.” (P. 62) in Hopkins, Albert A[llis]. Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions including Trick Photography. New York: Blom. 1967. 556  pp. Cover | Full Title | Google Books

P. 62 of Hopkins

Magic was first published in 1897.  However, patent papers for the effect (“Theatrical apparatus for apparently suspending a person in mid-air”) were filed 9 years earlier in 1888 by Gustav Castan.  (Gustav, along with his brother, owned a “Panopticon” in Berlin where presumably they displayed such a feature. By 1895, they were displaying early moving pictures with the Edison Kinetoscope.)

The second illusion with a recumbent performer is of course the (related) famous Pepper’s Ghost illusion.  In this illusion, the angle of the glass in front of the stage also dictates the angle at which the hidden performer must lay.  Most versions leave the hidden performer somewhere between standing and lying – leaning mostly. However, in Steinmeyer’s excellent history of the trick, he illustrates a 45% glass angle in which the performer, as in Adele’s video, is also prostrate:

P. 48 of Steinmeyer's The Science Behind the Ghost

Steinmeyer, Jim. The Science Behind the Ghost: A brief history of Pepper’s Ghost. Burbank: Hahne. 1999.100 pp. Limited edition of 75 copies. Cover | Full Title

There are plenty of other good Pepper’s Ghost explanations to refer you (Robert-Houdin, Pepper).  However I’d leave you with one unique view, through the eyes of the ghost himself.  Hidden in the back of David Copperfield’s first collection of short magic-related fiction stories, Tales of the Impossible, is the story “Every Mystery Unexplained”, by Lisa Mason.  Narrated by the son of a traveling magician who performs Pepper’s Ghost out of his horse-drawn wagon:

What a ghost my mother was! Pop would throw down a leather glove, whip his sword from its scabbard, challenge the apparition to a duel. The apparition would fling down its own white silk glove, would produce its own weapon. And off they would go, leaping and sparring like musketeers. My mother was so charming and lively and graceful that the ladies would stop weeping, the gentleman would stop tooting in to their handkerchiefs. These hardy souls of our young nation of America, these people who daily faced consumption and childbirth and fever, they would gaze at that lively ghost, and they would smile. I could see joy steal like a thief into their hearts, and it was magic

I am not nearly as charming a ghost as my mother once was, but I can spar, I can feint, and the duel has got this audience going at last.

– Mason, Lisa. “Every Mystery Unexplained” in Copperfield, David, ed. and Berliner, Janet, ed. Tales of the Impossible. New York: Harper Prism. 1995. 385 pp.  Cover | Full Title


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