Stage to film, film to stage: The elusive art of illusion

The Kansas City Star

At the end of the day, I preferred the fake horse to the real one.

The art of illusion is tricky business, especially when you start comparing movies with the plays they were based on. Take “War Horse,” Steven Spielberg’s epic film that opened Christmas Day.

An image from "War Horse" the play

Spielberg’s handsomely mounted movie is based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel, but also the National Theatre of Great Britain’s magnificent stage version that continues running in London and New York.

You simply can’t imagine such radically different viewing experiences. You could argue that “War Horse” is a graphic example of the aesthetic gulf between stage and screen.

On stage it’s a mind-blowing spectacle utilizing the most sophisticated puppets we’ve ever seen. These horses, created by hand from cane and fabric and operated by actors in full view of the audience, are startlingly lifelike. Their legs bend at the knee, their ears move, they shake their tails and they rear on hind legs. Before you know it, you’re invested emotionally. The horses, thanks to the acting ability of the puppeteers, take on recognizable personalities.  Read the rest here, at

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