Simanaitis Says

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MY ACQUISITION OF BOOKS arises occasionally from reading The New York Times Book Review or the London Review of Books. This time around, it involves the latter, but in a most circuitous way. 

I recently read in the LRB about dragons and I shared this here at SimanaitisSays, along with other dragons I have known. This included Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” the research of which introduced me to Lenny Lipton, who composed the poem that Peter Yarrow transformed into this trio’s 1963 hit.

In researching Lenny Lipton, I learned that in 2021 he published The Cinema in Flux, “an 800-page illustrated book on the history of cinema technology.” 

Talk about an enticing lure.

The Cinema in Flux: The Evolution of Motion Picture Technology from the Magic Lantern to the Digital Age, by Lenny Lipton, Springer, 2021.

And talk about a labor of love. Indeed, Lenny’s 5.7-lb., oversize (8 1/2 x 11), richly illustrated book has 795 numbered pages of fascinating information about motion picture technology. It also has warm and meaningful insights that separate it from a mere textbook on the subject. 

Lenny Lipton, Brooklyn-born 1940, is an American inventor, author, filmmaker, and songwriter. He cites a 1936 Ogden Nash poem “The Tale of Custard the Dragon” as inspiration for his 1959 poem.

Lenny’s Scientific Career. “About the Author” in The Cinema in Flux notes, “He was lead inventor of the technology that enabled the film industry to project feature films in 3-D. Lenny founded StereoGraphics Corporation in 1980.” 

What’s more, “He is the primary inventor of the ZScreen electro-optical modulator, introduced in 1988…. In 1996, Lenny was honored by the Smithsonian Institution for the invention of CrystalEyes, introduced by StereoGraphics in 1989, the first electronic eyewear for stereographic visualization such as molecular modeling, aerial mapping, and medical imaging.” 

The Book’s Dedication: “Edwin Land was an extraordinary man,” Lenny writes, “who did extraordinary things like hiring women at a time when industry usually did not hire them for research positions. One of the women he hired was a chemist, Vivian Walworth. She was a friend and one of the few woman inventors (the co-inventor of Polacolor) included in these pages. It is in her memory that I dedicate this book, not simply to remember a gifted woman but to acknowledge that half of the human race has been denied an opportunity to participate in a great adventure.”

Cinema Scholarship. Lenny observes that, not so long ago, scholars posited cinema beginning “with the inventions of Eastman’s film, Edison’s camera, and the Lumières’ Cinématographe, notions that have contributed to the popular view of the subject.”

The Magic Lantern and Lenny’s Glass Thesis. At its most general, Lenny defines cinema as “the projection of motion.” With this in mind, he expands the prevailing conceit that magic lantern projection was merely a preamble to cinema. Indeed, he feels “magic lantern is not pre-cinema, but cinema itself.”

“By acknowledging that cinema originated in the mid-seventeenth century,” Lenny says, “a richer story emerges. Moreover, in addition to the technological linkages there are creative and aesthetic connections worth exploring between the cinema of real motion and the cinema of apparent motion—between the Glass (magic lantern slides were painted on glass) and the Celluloid Cinema Eras.”

Indeed, Lenny says, “… we are now fully immersed in the third epoch of cinema, the Digital Cinema Era.”

Tomorrow in Part 2, we glean mid-seventeenth-century tidbits from the likes of Christiaan Huygens and Johannes Zahn; one of them associated with real motion projection, the other with the illusion of projected apparent motion.

What fascinating stuff, evolving rather indirectly from my reading about dragons. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

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