Ancient Roman Cinema Projector? I Hae Me Doots Big Time

This has been an aggravating post to get out … first of all, tip o’ the pileus to Richard Campbell for alerting us to this story early this a.m.; a pox on my slow internet connection which prevented me from writing while it was still fresh in my mind. Now I see the story popping up in my Twitter feed and it’s bugging me even more. The story seems to be breaking in Filmaker Magazine, which is a magazine devoted to independent film, in a blogpost with an extremely provocative title: DO ANCIENT ROMAN ARTIFACTS REVEAL THE WORLD’S FIRST MOTION PICTURE PROJECTOR?

After a brief intro to the thing, folks can watch a youtube video which is designed to promote/drum up funds for a project. Here’s the video (and it really should be watched in its entirety … and listen very carefully!):

If you listened carefully, there is a pile of stunning doublespeak about a ‘multimedia installation’ about a ‘speculative archaeological discovery in Zadar’ which ‘may be’ the world’s first cinema projector. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of the phrase ‘speculative archaeology’ before, so alarm bells should be going off. Immediately after telling us that archaeologists are divided about the Antikythera Mechanism (which suggests this guy doesn’t keep up with research) we are told that a coin found ‘nearby’ supports his claim (shades of some Talpiot Tombs, no?). So here’s the coin, supposedly, with one side which says Inventori Lucis (“to the contriver of light” … all pix can be clicked for larger versions):

Screencap from the video

… then they show a shiny new version:

I have never seen this phrase on a coin (not that that means much) but it’s worth mentioning that even Wikipedia mentions its existence not on a coin, but on a phalera (a ‘medal’, for want of a better term) dating stylistically to the Second Century A.D. (there is a reference there to an article by Guarducci, which I am not in a position to track down). The phrase does, of course, refer to Sol Invictus, who was popular among the military set. The other side of this ‘coin’ is similarly Sol-oriented:

Screencap from the Video

… and the shiny new one:

Screencap from the Video

Here we have a reference to Sol Indiges, whose title is pretty controversial as I mentioned years ago before this blogging thing was even thought of. As far as I know, the Sol Indiges thing was largely Republican and so having the ‘Sol Invictus’ on one side and ‘Sol Indiges’ on the other seems kind of strange. I will happily be disabused of this notion, but this medal doesn’t strike me as genuine.

In a similar category are the supposed painted glass panes which — we are led to believe — are Roman in date. Here’s a photo of one of them:

Screencap from the video

I’m sure I’m not the only person who watched this and said, “Hey, that looks just like that Primavera/Flora thing from Stabiae.” In case you’re wondering what I’m referring you, this should give you an ‘oh yeah’ moment:

The dress-off-the-right-shoulder clearly suggests that the ‘glass slide’ was either inspired by or derived from this one. It’s also salutary to point out that the glass slide seems to have a clear border all arond the outside. That’s a giveaway that it was meant either to go in a frame or some sort or that it actually is a Magic Lantern slide from the 1800s (tons of examples on eBay), if it isn’t actually a modern copy. Why would it be modern? Here’s a little quote from the video:

The installation will feature the original archaeological evidence from Zadar, all of which has been fabricated by me …

There’s more info to be had at the Ancient Cinema Project webpage, including more photos that aren’t screencaps. Of particular importance is a quote there which I don’t think is in the video:

Yet another archaeological mystery was recently discovered at a flea market in Zadar: oxidized piece of metal, a cache of hand-painted glass tablets (mostly shattered), a clay lamp, and an unusual coin with the Latin inscriptions “Sol Indiges” and “Inventori Lvcis”. These artifacts form the basis of the installation “Ancient Cinema,” a meta-historical reflection on archaeology and storytelling.

‘Meta-historical’ and ‘speculative archaeology’ with ‘fabricated evidence’. All based on items found at that place where provenance goes to die known as the flea market. Don’t eat that Elmer … there’s nothing ancient Roman here and the double speak being used to raise funds (after a Canada Council Grant ran out??? That’s my tax money!) borders on dishonesty.

[by the way, I am aware of the possibility of Aristotle knowing how the ‘camera obscura’ worked; this has nothing to do with that]

10 thoughts on “Ancient Roman Cinema Projector? I Hae Me Doots Big Time

  1. I don’t think Jesionka’s intent was to perpetrate a hoax. If you read the articles at the project website — — especially the one entitled “Discrete Monuments” — he pretty much explains what the intent of the project is:

    “In his installation, ‘Ancient Cinema,’ Henry Jesionka takes on [Hollis] Frampton’s challenge [to invent a metahistory of film] and makes a plausible case for extending the history of cinema to the ancient world. Jesionka fabricates an ancient Roman “film” projector consistent with the sophisticated technological and artistic skills of Greek and Roman artisans at the turn of the millennium. He also presents archaeological ‘evidence’ (inscribed coins, lamps, glass slides) to support his claim. Although the installation is entirely speculative” — READ “FICTION” — “it tackles the very real project of history and its construction. Jesionka creates a ‘missing link’ in the recorded history of cinema to bridge the (unacceptably large) gap between Paleolithic cave art (32,000 BC) and William Lincoln’s zoopraxiscope (1867), the first modern film projector.”

  2. It really is ‘just laying around so we pick it up”. Post Yugoslavia Croatia is still somewhat of a wild west. The clay fragments are literally everywhere in the vicinity of Nin and Privlaka

  3. Of course, the installation is entirely fiction — I have fabricated all the evidence — not for the purpose of deceiving anyone but to call attention to “what might have been.” The Greeks and Romans, after all, had the technology to create a movie projector; perhaps they did and the evidence was lost to history. In that sense, “Ancient Cinema” uses stories, objects and images to describe a world in which fiction informs fact just as much as fact informs fiction

  4. This is a troublesome phrase: ‘fiction informs fact’ because in our discipline, we do use fiction to inform fact (i.e. we use literature to interpret an archaeological item), but you are using it in quite a different sense and in a sense which might not readily be apparent to the public at large (especially when put in a fundraising context). If you page through this blog, inter alia, you will also see that on an increasing basis, our discipline is constantly being confronted by non-specialists making sensational claims about the ancient world which — if not challenged by folks who know better (e.g. me, Dr Tronchin, and others) — will end up on the ‘internet record’ as ‘fact’. I thank you for your comments (you too, SG), but the optics of this one just aren’t right and it needs to be challenged as presented …

  5. With all due respect, Mr. Jesionka, your entire project–claiming to recreate a nonexistent ancient technology–is disingenuous at best and a complete fraud at worst. I hope those funders who have already donated $2000 know you are making all this up.
    And as for things just lying around on the ground in Croatia, I don’t doubt that at all. But it is bad intellectual, archaeological practice to pick that stuff up and take it out of its original context. This is low-level archaeological looting and punishable by national and international law.

  6. The stuff is just out there….you should take a trip and see fro yourself..It is not looting at all!

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