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Mahmoud Khalil Rashed


Mahmoud Khalil Rashed

Mustafa Kamel Rashed
in Mustafa, or The Little Magician

Born in Ras el Tin in Alexandria, Mahmoud Khalil Rashed showed early promise. He was an outstanding pupil at school in Damanhour, and published two issues of Rashed Magazine using primitive tools. While he was at Ras el Tin High School, his cultural and intellectual activities increased, resulting in his first novel Saneya or The Girl from Alexandria (Fatat el Iskandariya) in 1912, a pop fiction in the manner of Sherlock Holmes, with a scene on the Titanic. In 1913 he published his series of novels Reality and Fiction (el Haqiqa wa el Khayâl), wrote a play Salma and Salama (Salma we Salama) and opened a bookshop.
While he was at school he was interested in other things besides art and culture. Watching the Wright Brothers land in Alexandria Sporting Club fuelled his fascination with modern science, which was to manifest itself in his film Mustafa, or the Little Magician (Mustafa aw el Saher el saghîr) in 1932. He was also deeply involved in moral issues and believed that his mission was to help people, which could be done through the cinema.

Rashed graduated from school in 1914 with flying colours, ranking sixth in the national list. He was taught maths by Noqrashi Pasha, who was to become Egypt’s prime minister. He may have had an influence on Rashed, who worked as a maths and physics teacher after graduating from the Faculty of Education in 1917. During his 14 years as teacher at Abbassia High School in Alexandria, he published scientific books and invented several machines. In 1924, he established The Institute of Science and Modern Inventions to further provide people with knowledge.

Rashed was the deputy director of the Society for Temperance (Gam‘yet man‘ el moskerat), and, not satisfied that all his contributions to science and the society were helping people sufficiently, Rashed sought a more direct method of communication. He thus established the Department of Cinema and produced his film Mustafa, or the Little Magician (Mustafa aw el Saher el saghîr) in 1932 to discourage people from drink. He was the actor, writer, director and director of photography, his son Mustafa Kamel Rashed played the main part, and Alvise Orfanelli and Mohamed Bayoumi shot parts of the film. As the east of Alexandria was as yet sparsely inhabited and was consequently called Ramleh (sand), it was possible to shoot the India scenes in Victoria and the rest of the outdoor scenes in Sidi Bishr. The interior scenes were shot in Rashed’s villa in Moharrem Bey. Rashed’s fascination with science was put to good use in his film, for it was the first in the history of Egyptian cinema to use cinematic special effects.

Rashed also wrote two other scripts that were published but not released: Saluting the Flag (Taheyet el ‘alam) and The Song of Dawn (Onshoudet el Fagr). He continued to have an active role in social and charity organizations like el Orwa el Wothka, the Young Muslims Association and el Magles el Kashfi el A‘la, and true to his belief in the power of direct communication with people, he established a private radio channel in Helwan which broadcast scientific lectures and comic programmes that he wrote himself.

With a Ph D in psychoanalysis, a diploma in economy and a BA in education and science, Rashed completed only one film, but his contribution did not end here. He was a prolific writer and published a number of books on the cinema that were useful to both amateurs and professionals: Cinematics (Cinemâ’iyat), The Art of Acting (Fan el tamthîl) and Chemistry in Filming and Cinema (el Kemya’ fi-l- taswîr we el Cinema); other publications in science, medicine, electricity, arts, linguistics, literature, sociology and other diverse fields; and an autobiography The Story of Myself and my Inventions (Qisaty wa qisat mokhtara‘aty).

His The Dawn of Cinema (Fagr el Cinema), whose date of publication is uncertain but is placed at 1923 by Samir Farid, is considered by critics the first Egyptian book on cinema. Very much a product of the time when cinema was still a young art (which explains the naivety of the book), and of the strong moral code of its author, the book contains a wealth of definitions and instructions related to all aspects of cinema, from the need for censorship (see the section on censorship) to how educative cinema could be, or detrimental to the morals of a nation, to directions on how to act and to write a script. For instance, an actor is informed on how to walk in the dark: as incidents that take place at night are filmed by day, and then the film is dyed, the actor has to be careful about verisimilitude. If he is playing the part of a thief, he should feel the walls with his hands and occasionally stumble against a chair or desk, but that he should go out faster than when he came in. As Mahmoud Khalil Rashed is most famous for being the first to use special effects, a few of his “secrets” are translated from his text:

“When somebody is thrown from a cliff top, the two wrestling figures are filmed, then the camera is stopped. A statue is put in the place of one of the men, and filming is resumed as the statue is thrown from the top. The camera is then stopped, the statue is removed, and the man lies in its place at the bottom. His face may be smeared with a liquid to imitate blood, and he is filmed in this state.”

“Moving furniture: the furniture is filmed, then its position is only slightly changed, and is filmed again. This is to be repeated many times, so that when the picture is shown, the audience will see furniture moving from its place on its own.”

“A man jumping from the river to a high aqueduct: a man is filmed jumping from the aqueduct to the river, while the film moves in the opposite direction in the camera. When the film is played, it will seem as if the man is jumping from the river to the aqueduct.”

“The amazing transformation: a young man would be courting a young woman. He approaches to kiss her, but before their lips touch, she turns in a second into an old hag. This transformation is effected by stopping the camera, replacing the actress with another, and resuming the filming.”

“A man walking through a wall: to get this scene, the wall is filmed, then the man is filmed on his own, as he is walking away from the camera, with a dark curtain in front of him. The two films are placed one on top of the other, and they are printed on the positive film.”

“A man falling from a great height: the First Aid Society in Alexandria wanted to alert people to the noble services it was doing mankind, in order to encourage them to be charitable. So it showed a film of a builder falling from a great height, and the arrival of the First Aid men to carry him to hospital. Needless to say, it is highly unlikely that a photographer and his camera would happen to be, by chance, on site as the accident happened. Here is the explanation. The builder, standing on a wall two metres high, would throw himself on a sand dune and so not get injured. His picture would be taken as he lay fallen, without the ground appearing in the photograph, so that the viewer would not see the height he fell from. The builder would then stand once more in the same place and throw himself again. His photo would be taken as he lay on the sand dune, without showing the top of the wall he had fallen from. In this way, the viewer would see the place the builder had fallen from and where he fell, but not see the distance between the two, which would not exceed two metres.”

On Sound Movies

1. It is difficult to manage the showing machine and the sound machine in synchronization, so that the words uttered coincide with the lip-movements of the actors.
2. The sound is not natural, and is more like the sound produced by a phonograph.
3. The spoken narratives are only popular with those who understand the language.

On Ethical Considerations

Beware that the narrative include any form of abasement of country, slander of religion, or disparagement of a political principle.

On Choosing a Title

The title of the movie should be short and attractive. It is the first thing to catch the eye, and it informs of the subject-matter of the narrative.

Often the acceptance or rejection of the movie is related to its title.

An attractive titillating title is a main factor influencing the success of the movie, as it is in all other matters. Books are chosen according to their titles, so are novels, plays and cinematography. They attract the audience through various means, most important of which is the title.

The title should also be brief so as to hint at the purpose of the movie without explicating its subject-matter in details.

The title may also be a proverb or a saying. It is preferable, however, not to use the name of one protagonists as a title unless the character be known historical figure. It is also imperative to avoid vulgar titles. If it proves difficult to choose a suitable title, this process should be postponed till after finishing filming the movie.

The Characters

It is better for the author to keep the number of main characters to a minimum, since the excess in characters distracts the audience and blurs the narrative.

From Dawn of the Cinema (Fagr el Cinema). Alexandria: the Printing Press of Doctor Rashed, 1923.

Prince Omar Toussoun was a generous benefactor with a strong moral character. He was founder of the First Aid Society in Alexandria, president of the Society for Temperance, and patron of Mustafa, or the Little Magician.

Newspaper clippings

(Cited in Dawn of the Cinema (Fagr el Cinema). Alexandria: the Printing Press of Doctor Rashed, 1923.)

1. Mr. Rashed is a major scholar in electrical and cinematic work. (Al-Ahram)

2. He has made great contributions to science. (El Nil)

3. His writings are precious holdings in any collection. (El Ta’ef el Mossawara)

4. He is a walking encyclopedia, who has worked on almost every form of art both scientifically and practically. (El Mosbah)

5. A venerable scientist and writer who needs no introduction. (El Siyasa)

6. He is a passionate scientific and literary scholar. (El Mossawer)

7. The simplifying illustrative nature of his work makes the normal reader benefit from it. (El Helal)

8. The Herald of a New Age in the World of Authorship. (Al-Ahram)

9. A scholar rich in knowledge and well-read. (Al-Ahram)

10. Through dedication and hard work, he has attained the standard of working scientists and genius inventors in Europe and the USA. (El Reda)

11. He has innovated new means of numeration and writing styles. (El Balagh)

12. Mr. Mahmoud Khalil Rashed is a distinguished personality. His writings and inventions have won the admiration of the greatest scientists in Europe and the USA. He has become worthy of the title “Edison of Egypt”. (El Gehad)

13. He presents his speeches in utmost eloquence and with a style that shows his excellence in both elocution and oration. (El Radio)

14. When introducing this book it suffices to say that it is a publication by Mr. Mahmoud Khalil Rashed, who has secured a participation in producing and diversifying fields of study and research.


1926: Rab‘a the Egyptian (Rab‘a el Masriya)
1926: The Institute of Modern Inventions (Ma‘hed al mokhtara‘t el hadîtha)
1926: Cinematic Art (Fan el Cinema)
1929: The Metro Station in Alexandria (Mahatet el metro bel Iskandariya)
1929: The Lights of the Shore of Alexandria (Anwar Shate’ el Iskanadariya)
1929: The Arab Institute of Inventions (el Ma‘had el ‘Arabi lel ekhtera‘at)
1929: The Cinema Club in Alexandria (Nadî el cinema bel Iskandariya)
1929: The Bride of Egypt (‘Arous Misr)
1929: Salma's Impressions (Enteba‘at Salma)
1932: Mustafa, or the Little Magician (Mustafa aw el Saher el Saghîr) (writer, director, director of photography and actor)

1932: Mustafa, or the Little Magician
(Mustafa aw el Saher el Saghîr)

(The first nine films are documented only in Samir Farid's Safahât Maghoulah min Târîkh el Cinema el Misreyah quoting from an unpublished article by Mofid Fahim)