November 23rd, 2011 by Seth Kenvin
Solid prose conveys facts. An image can artfully establish a theme. But video empowers messaging with magic to fascinate an audience.
There’s a touring museum exhibit about Harry Houdini currently in San Francisco. During the first couple decades of the 20th century Houdini rapidly rose to fame leveraging multiple media forms availed by the day’s leading edge technologies such as photography and motion pictures. Here is one of many film documentations of escape by this great artist and athlete.
It’s a strikingly sophisticated clip especially considering its period. Multiple shots and angles are used including camera rigging into structures looking straight down for a cool and distinctive perspective. Sharpness, brightness and contrasts are clear and artful across all of these perspectives with precise framing of key elements including during both horizontal and vertical tracking shots. Key information is smoothly documented such as the rigor of Houdini being bound into a straight jacket and the thousands assembled to witness his escape.
While the video is mystifying, it also exhibits how Houdini’s aim was in fact largely to demystify magic and escape. While he concealed some of his techniques, he conveyed others including in books, another medium leveraged for his prominence. In addition to the spectacle of achieving what seems impossible, it was often the cleverness of how that’s done, or sheer athleticism as in this video, with which Houdini amazed audiences.
Video can be similarly leveraged in these first couple decades of the 21st century. Contemporary audiences realize that tricks are used for amazing effects that advance a story or underscore a fact. But still we allow ourselves to be amazed so that video can make a message resonate like by no other medium.