Film-TV Inspiration :: Decoding The Past – Secrets of the Playing Card

This History Channel documentary which focusses on the origins of playing cards as we know them today was rather fascinating. Its visual expository style worked really well, and the use of a voice-over narrative, mysterious music, graphics, sound-effects, relevant cutaways, and face to camera interviews with experts; really made for a good informative/ unveiling type of documentary style. I particularly thought the effect of having the cards seem as though they were floating around in a black space, before various zooms on particular cards was rather clever and a good way to interchange between points. This kind of effect could be really visually stunning with the use of tarot cards as opposed to playing cards. Graphics and animation something that we as a group should definitely consider.

At the 24 minute mark the documentary moves into talking about a different deck of cards, which directly relates to our theme! The mystical deck of the tarot cards!! – note I really thought the fast manic pace of the cuts between cards and the eerie/mystic styled music worked perfectly for the tarot theme. The angle exploring the egyptian origins and the myth of gypsies as the first to bring the cards to europe, an interesting way to bring in both the history and the stereotypical gypsy association.

After doing some research into the origins of tarot, which no one is a hundred percent certain of despite the many, many theories; it was interesting to hear a new story delivered by both the ‘voice-of-god’ style narrator which indicated historians believed the tarot deck was created as an addition to the standard playing card deck for the duke of Milan, the richest man in Italy at the time. The extra suit called triumphe or triumphs, was that they beat the ordinary cards. The suit consisted of a set of 21 cards each with a symbolic picture on them, were added to the standard deck of 56 playing cards, a further playing card known as The Fool then brought the standard tarot deck to the total to 78. Thus they were made to originally play games with not for the occult. But the striking symbolism of the design of the tarot separated these cards, which had no definitive explanation, separated the cards from any other. Then there is all the templar symbolism, and the legends of the knights and the Holy Grail! Some even believing their secrets were preserved on the tarot for future generations, being able to keep them hidden yet broadcast them at the same time.

The documentary brought up many questions too, one being if the tarot deck was made for fun and games why were sinister images such as the skeleton of death, the devil, the hanged man and the burning tower included?  The fortune telling aspect of the cards, as I had discovered in prior research went back to a french man named Ettelia who was the first and most professional of the fortune tellers, assigning several meanings to each card. Each card having various meanings once reversed or in different positions. The immense symbolism within each card playing a key role in these meanings, capturing the attention of many occultists who came up with various theories. The cards have even played a role in the art of voodoo, priestesses claiming the cards can give directions.

Overall, this documentary was enlightening on just how immense and mysterious the tarot deck actually is; and that the history could be a potential and very fascinating angle to head in, in regards to our documentary. The immense symbolism of the cards has truly grabbed my attention and I am rather fascinated by the enigma of it all. The mood of this particular documentary, however, is a lot more intense in style than what we are aiming for. At this moment int time we want to keep it more whimsical, bright, light-hearted and mystical.


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