Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Motion pictures are an illusion. They aren't really made of moving images at all, just a series of stills projected at 24 frames per second. The motion is a trick created with the help of shutters, lenses, a little sprocket device known as the Maltese cross -- and the human brain, through a phenomenon known as persistence of vision.
Jean-Luc Godard famously claimed that cinema is the truth 24 times per second; Brian De Palma countered that it's really 24 lies per second; and Pablo Picasso offered the cosmic perspective that art is a lie that tells the truth. All of these things -- tricks of the eye, mechanical illusions, artistic skills, suspension of disbelief, philosophical principles, metaphysical questions -- are at the mysterious, romantic heart of "The Illusionist," written and directed by Neil Burger, and based on the story "Eisenheim the Illusionist" by Steven Millhauser.
Like "F for Fake," the delightful meditation on art and deception by Orson Welles, "The Illusionist" places the very film you're watching at the center of the illusion. There's an irony inherent in making a movie about magic, since the photographic medium is discontinuous and subject to post-production manipulations beyond those that can be created before a live audience. But it also focuses your attention elsewhere, on the illusory properties of movies and storytelling, and how much we love to be dazzled by illusions in art, politics, religion, and other realms.
This coolly entertaining turn-of-the-century fable, told mostly in flashback by Vienna's Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), concerns the political and philosophical duel between Eisenheim the Illusionist (Edward Norton) and Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). Poised between them is the enchanting Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel), furtive childhood soul mate of Eisenheim and possible future princess of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.