From Genevieve Yue’s “That Old Time Religion” at Reverse Shot:
In 1799, Étienne-Gaspard Robertson premiered the phantasmagoria, a moving magic lantern projection hidden behind a screen, to a crowded audience gathered at a Parisian convent. Though he tried to present himself as a scientist exposing the tricks of the trade (of both magicians and the Church) to foster superstitious belief, the wildly spectacular nature of his performance, with its ghoulishly materializing and receding figures, only confirmed his status as supernatural conjurer. Robertson’s entertainment was like all horror stories that begin in skepticism: thrill and fright trump our sense of knowing better. Time and again we see teenagers challenging each other to spend a night in a haunted house, sociologists investigating urban legends, or film students setting out into the forest to prove there isn’t anything out there. In these narratives of dare and debunking, science always loses, its certainty shaken in the presence of the unknown.