On two floors and covering an area of approximately 800 square metres, the exhibition tackles the film medium, its physical principles and aesthetic modes of operation. Evocative original artifacts, self-explanatory working models, interactive stations and big-screen projections with many film excerpts open up a variety of individual access points to the film medium.
The permanent exhibition’s first floor, Filmic Vision, deals with the question of how cinematic perception works and which traditions have nourished it. The visitor enters a world of fascinating optical illusions and surprising effects of light and movement – all created by equipment and apparatuses of the 16th to 19th centuries. Using the thematic areas of Curiosity, Movement, Exposure, Projection, Moving Pictures and Cinema, the exhibition does not merely tell the chronological story of the invention of cinema, but focuses on particular principles and phenomena as the prerequisites for the cinema’s coming into being.
The apparatuses displayed here, such as peep-shows, kaleidoscopes, anamorphoses and panoramas, produce optical illusions and play with the desire to see and with false perception. The exhibition presents not only the valuable original historical apparatuses, but also invites one to experience their use first-hand, via a variety of working models. A look into a peep-show reveals the secret by which transparent images transform and how skilled manipulation of lighting can turn a daylight scene into a nocturnal one.
Without movement there is no cinema. Everybody knows the flipbook phenomenon: what one holds are individual pictures that do not move. Only when the pages are flipped rapidly in succession does life come to the images; one seems to perceive movement. How does this effect arise? Scientists and artists were already systematically investigating this question at the onset of the 19th century. They discovered the stroboscopic effect, meaning that a rate of 10 to 16 images per second is sufficient to deceive the human eye and create the impression of continuous movement. This phenomenon, which is also the basis of cinematic perception, is made literally tangible in the exhibition: visitors may activate Faraday’s wheels, Zoetropes and Praxinoscopes and enchant themselves with the illusion they are creating.
How does one capture an image – and how does one make it permanent? The camera obscura, which makes it possible to capture an image of reality in a dark box, was already known in the 16th century. But the image was ephemeral; the picture inside the camera obscura changed as the world outside did. In order to make the image permanent, it had to be copied by hand. The invention of photography finally made it possible to fix this image permanently.
An early forerunner of the cinema that is no longer well known today is the magic lantern show. The magic lantern was the projection medium of the 18th and 19th centuries. It basically functioned like a modern slide projectors and could create an illusion of movement when images were shifted or superimposed upon each other. The lantern slides had scientific and educational uses, but were overwhelmingly exploited for entertainment purposes and accompanied by music, song and recitations. At a working model, visitors may operate the magic lantern themselves and directly experience its enormous power to fascinate.
Towards the end of the 19th century scholars, inventors and artists were only a step away from the creation of cinema. All over the world, figures such as Ottomar Anschütz, E.J. Marey, the Lumière brothers and the Skladanowsky brothers were working on the challenge of both recording and reproducing movement. An original Lumière Cinématographe is placed next to a working model, the use of which enables the visitor to appreciate the technical refinements of this first functional motion picture projector.
The first part of the permanent exhibition ends where the history of film art begins: with the documents of the early years of cinema.
Two short programmes demonstrate the variety and inventiveness of early film from 1895 to 1906. Well-known classics by the Lumière brothers and the poetic film enchantments of the film magician Georges Méliès alternate with rarities from the archives that are not often screened in public: boxing kangaroos and gravity-defying Japanese acrobats are included, along with a Lumière film of Frankfurt’s Rossmarkt – the first footage ever taken in Frankfurt am Main.
The second floor of the permanent exhibitionfocuses on the effect that film produces, not the technical details of its creation. At a time of rapid developments in digital film technique, a technically-oriented approach would very soon be outdated. Therefore, the exhibition illuminates basic elements of filmic narrative. It shows how camera angles and lighting direct one’s understanding of the story being told, how film architecture and special effects make fictional locations appear plausible, how music and sound effects affect the perception of the images, how gesture and facial expression arouse the viewer’s identification, how the editing draws one into the filmic narrative.
A large-scale film installation greets the visitor entering the exhibition hall. Four screens set off from one another show corresponding images demonstrating the affective power of the film medium. More than 100 film excerpts are included in the 40-minute programme that deals with the exhibition’s central themes: image, sound, editing and acting. Traversing the length and breadth of film history, from silent film classics to current blockbusters, representative clips are placed in juxtaposition and confrontation with one another.
The ability to show film clips on large screens in HD quality with the most modern projection techniques plays a significant role in the concept of the permanent exhibition.
Only a few years ago, a comparable quality of projection could only have been attained with 35mm projectors, which would, however, have required the services of a projectionist, rendering it incompatible with permanent museum deployment.
Digital projection technique now allows the showing of film clips on a large screen to be integrated as an important display item in the permanent exhibition.
The excerpts shown here have been specially digitised for the presentation in high resolution from 35mm film prints.
Whether we are attracted to or repelled by the characters in a film narrative, whether we wish them success or death, depends in large measure on the actors‘ portrayals. It is they who bring the characters to life through the use of facial expression, gesture and body language.
The Alien from Ridley Scott’s eponymous 1979 film, by contrast, obtains its scary effect from an unusual costume design. A stuntman slipped into the latex casing in order to breathe life into the monster.
The role of sound in a film, and the way in which it can support or work against the effect of the image, is often underestimated. In order to demonstrate the affective power of film sound, this section of the exhibition places an emphasis on interactive stations. Visitors may vary the volume of sound effects, dialogue and music and see for themselves how the effect of the film clips is correspondingly altered. At a second station film clips may be provided with contrasting background music – the effect on the atmosphere of the clips and what they communicate is astonishing.
Camerawork, location and set, special effects, colour design and lighting are significant elements in image composition and thus of filmic narrative. A green screen passage makes it possible to explore fictional worlds: cameras film the visitors and combine the images in real time with various backgrounds. The green and blue screen techniques that have become standard for special effects in film and television can thus be playfully understood.
The time and space of a filmic narrative are structured through montage. In editing, sections from the shot and recorded picture and sound material are selected in order to assemble them into a story through an elaborate artistic process. The work carried out in the editing room is similar to that of a composer; it is through the choice of camera angles and the lengths of shots that the film’s rhythm is determined. Visitors can experiment with the way in which montage works, by using interactive monitors to change the order of shots within a scene.