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Movies, make-up and the masters of illusion

MAGIC BEHIND THE SCREEN. National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford.

February 20 to the end of June. Admission free, but for school group visits telephone 01274-725347

With an appropriate sense of occasion, a major exhibition devoted to the development of British cinema opens in Bradford on February 20, the very week of the centenary of the first public cinema performance in the UK.

The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television is devoting two floors and five galleries to "Magic Behind the Screen", tracing the growth of British cinema in a fairly comprehensive manner, but with particular emphasis on technical and artistic achievements.

Michael Harvey, the museum's curator of cinematography, is certainly upbeat. He wants visitors "to go away with a sense that we do have a film culture in this country, based on a fine technical and artistic heritage. Something that is very British but has contributed to world cinema and is still alive and kicking".

Specially constructed sets are a key feature. A reconstruction of a set from The Red Shoes sums up Harvey's approach. "It combines a number of things: the notion of colour and the expertise of a major cinematographer Jack Cardiff, a master of Technicolour; major directors Powell and Pressburger and a subject, ballet, that has certainly inspired a lot of youngsters in the Forties and Fifties. And an idea of a particular type of special effect. The bit we are illustrating is the 'paper man' sequence from the ballet. It's a fairly long sequence. Moira Shearer dances through a totally imaginary encounter with the paper man. It would be impossible on stage. She dances, at one point, with the paper man who turns into a dancer and then back into a paper man.

"The other reason why we chose The Red Shoes is the music, composed by Brian Easdale. He managed to win an Oscar for it".

The sequence will be shown on monitors which figure prominently in the galleries. The wealth of available clips, including 19th-century newsreel film, is astonishing. One early film, Rescued by Rover, had to be re-shot because the makers were overwhelmed by demand and simply hadn't thought of making copies.

Special effects are brought up to date with a detailed explanation of how the bungee-jumping stunt in Goldeneye, the latest Bond movie, was taken from a storyboard idea through to a finished piece of film. The design of special effects models is dealt with and there are enough Bond weapons and gadgets (securely locked in display cases) to bring a smile to Q's face.

Film make-up is covered in a section devoted to the making of Hammer horror films, with a superbly Gothic crypt and a make-up area stacked with fiendish objects and devices. Visitors will be able to sample the experience in face-painting sessions.

The layout of the exhibition is logical and thoughtfully planned, with a wealth of fascinating detail. There is an opportunity to discover something new or unusual about film everywhere you look.

Educational events supporting the exhibition include five plays specially written for the museum's resident theatre company, Action Replay, ranging from an introduction to Victorian magic lantern shows, to memories of different decades in the history of the movies, to a look at film language and imagery. These are variously suited to key stage 2 history, local history, and media and film studies for key stage 3 upwards. A media studies education pack contains essays covering sections of the exhibition and useful documents, but at Pounds 12.50 is well worth the investment even if a visit is not possible. Action Replay performances are free but must be booked.

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