Etienne-Gaspard Robertson, Life of a Phantasmagorist

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Etienne-Gaspard Robertson (1763-1837) was the first filmmaker. A filmmaker who knew, however, neither film, nor cinema, since he was born a century too early! Nevertheless, in 1798, he succeeded in making images move: forwards, backwards and even multiplying. Thanks to a revolutionary apparatus, the “Fantascope”, mounted on rails and placed behind the screen, Robertson created truly striking effects.

In the days following the Terror, Robertson offered audiences resurrection à la carte. The portraits of the beloved deceased appeared in the curls of smoke which gave them a semblance of expression. To these intimate portraits, he added celebrities who perished under the guillotine. One day, rumour had it that the physicist could make King Louis XVI himself reappear and resuscitate him…
What a danger for the young republic!…
Robertson was not only a man of images. Quite like the photographer Nadar, he was also fascinated by “aerostation” [hot-air ballooning]. He made some fifty balloon ascents throughout Europe which enthused his contemporaries. For his first ascent, he even pulverised the altitude record by reaching 7,300 metres.

A book by Françoise Levie
Collection Contrechamp – Le Préambule (Montreal)
1990
Distribution: Memento Production