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.


The Major and Minor Arcana – [Film-Tv Research]

The standard 78 card deck used today can be split into two sections, these being the Major and Minor Arcana.

The 22 cards of the Major Arcana are often considered the most important cards of the deck and usually represent significant issues in the life of the Querent (person having their tarot read). They bring up the key principles core to human life and consist of archetypes- recognised and highly symbolic figures across mythology and religions.

The 56 Minor Arcana cards are considered to be the ancestors of contemporary playing cards, and just as so they are divided into four suits with ten pip cards and four court cards. (Wands corresponds to clubs, cups to hearts, swords to spades and coins to diamonds>)

The suit of  cups is generally associated with emotions corresponding to the astrological element of water. The suit of swords which corresponds to the element of air is generally associated with intellectual activity . The suit of wands is associated with career and corresponds with the element of fire. And lastly the suit of coins/ pentacles corresponding with the earth element is associate with financial and material aspects.

Potential Participants [Film-Tv Preparation]

Finding Tarot Card readers who are willing to take part in this documentary may be a much harder task than I originally thought! Whilst finding people who on appearance and in story seem fitting, its not as easy to secure them for an interview as many do not like to talk to the media or find them ‘gimmicky’ ….

After sending off a number of emails and visiting a couple of places, we so far have gathered at least a few potential leads which will hopefully turn into secured participants for our film.

One of the more likely leads thus far is named Elizabeth, who has a great deal of experience and incorporates her psychic, medium skills with palmistry, numerology, astrology and dream analysis into  her Tarot readings. One of the great things about Elizabeth is that she is also an entertainer and guest speaker / MC, who enjoys getting in the zone and dressing up according to theatrical themes. I feel as though this added experience will allow her to be an articulate participant who will be comfortable both in front of the camera and in talking about her craft.

The second lead is a tarot place called Riverwolf, and whilst unlike with Elizabeth I don’t know much information about the reader themselves, the place in itself and the vision is rather fascinating. The philosophy of the place rather soothing and enlightening, all about the journey through life, connections and realms.  The website outlines a number of different spread which would be interesting to explore. It also has listed a number of intellectual articles, proving the reader at Riverwolf has a definite point of view. The only complication with this lead being that due to being on a convention in the UK we wouldn’t be able to speak to them till around the end of the month.