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From Wednesday.

This is a very brief overview indeed-- less than a hundred pages for a couple of thousand years. Therefore it honestly falls into the category of 'useful mostly for its bibliography'. But it isn't badly done. McKinven cites stage directions that indicate the use of stage flying in ancient Greece, theorizes briefly about why the Romans didn't seem to have it, and then gives a very good rundown of medieval mystery play special effects in various countries, heavy on translations of primary sources-- this was enjoyable. He then wanders through the Italian Renaissance-- one reason the Duomo in Florence looks as it does is that Brunelleschi also designed machines for flight effects and thought that the space would be spectacular for it.

Some of the cathedral stuff sounds truly impressive, I have to say-- you get things like a hovering heaven with seven rotating spheres covered in singing angels, from which the angel Gabriel flies the entire length of the nave to land in front of Mary. They ought to consider reviving some of this, on the grounds that it looked really cool.

At any rate, McKinven goes on to talk about the migration of flight effects into the secular theatre vernacular and its eventual usage in things like harlequinade (there's a harlequin version of Faust mentioned here from the late eighteenth century that sounds epic) and later British pantomime. In the twentieth century he mostly talks about Peter Pan, which pretty much created a set of specialist technicians around itself, who then diversified into new technologies. As the book was written in 1993 and many of the then-current machines are/were still trade secrets, he doesn't go much into detail about them. For earlier tech, though, he has many diagrams including plates from Diderot's Encyclopedia and a vast quantity of patents.

Enjoyable, entertaining, reasonably well-organized. It's just, if you want details, there simply isn't room. The bibliography is, however, extensive, so there's that.


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March 2017

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