THE ART of magic shadows, which just before the dawn of the twentieth century evolved into the modern motion picture, was born three centuries ago, at Rome. There Athanasius Kircher, a German priest, first showed his invention, the magic lantern, to friends, and enemies, at the Collegio Romano, where he was a professor of mathematics.
The world premiere of the first real "magic shadow" performance passed without public notice. In those days there were no press agents or publicists. There were no newspapers. The people did not care what the nobles and scholars were doing in their idle moments; the intellectuals paid little attention to the people.
History has not recorded the day and month in which Kircher presented his projector, the fundamental instrument of all screen shows, then and now. The occasion can be set only approximately --some time in the year 1644 or 1645. The hour of the performance presumably was in the evening, for the light and shadow pictures had to be shown in darkness, just as today films must be exhibited in darkened theatres.
We may be sure that the score or more of invited guests-- Romans and distinguished foreigners--eagerly accepted an opportunity to see what Kircher was up to. Rome had been buzzing with rumors. The energetic little Jesuit priest who earned for himself the title, "Doctor of a Hundred Arts," had even been suspected of necromancy and working in league with the devil. After the showing of the magic lantern and its projected pictures some were certain that he practiced the "black arts."
The audience for the first screen performance was as distinguished as any that has since graced a Hollywood production. Other professors of the Roman College were there to note for themselves on which one of his "hundred arts" Kircher had been