The Natives Are Growing Restless

septiembre 30, 2007

Even though Richard James said that Magic Box would receive a shipment of his trick Linked on the twenty-eighth, the site continues to list it as a pre-order item. I don’t know what delivery services are like in the United Kingdom, but it’s getting harder and harder to believe that he can’t figure out some way of making sure a shipment arrives. I don’t think saying the shipment was lost or delayed in transit is going to carry much weight anymore — if that turns out to be the case once again.

As someone on the Magic Café thread commented, the correct thing would have been for Mr. James to personally send out the trick to those who had pre-ordered so they wouldn’t have to wait for their order to go through a middle man. Maybe he has a rationale for deciding that people who’ve already waited so long can just wait a little longer, but I can’t begin to guess what it is.

The clock is definitely ticking, and the natives are more than a little restless. And when the natives get too restless they have a nasty habit of dining indiscriminately. I hope for Mr. James’ sake that his latest shipment did in fact arrive on Friday and the orders will be going out soon. Otherwise his dwindling reputation and credibility are going to be served up as the main dish.


The Amateur Magician’s Handbook

septiembre 30, 2007

When I was fourteen and had been interested in magic for a year, my mom bought me the Mark Wilson Course in Magic. At that time the oversize volume came with a close up mat, a couple of decks of Aviator bridge size cards, some gaffed cards that matched the Aviators, special Genii cards to do the tricks described in the book, and four blue sponge cubes. I could be forgetting something, but I remember those things pretty well. The course went for forty bucks – which was not chump change in seventy-seven. I thought I now had at my disposal all the secrets of magic.

Only…

Only I couldn’t help but think something was missing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an exceptional book for the beginner and some of the material – like the sponge ball routine – is superlative. But I felt it might’ve been a little too basic in some regards. I already had a year in magic, and the section on cards, for instance, didn’t present any challenges at all. I knew there had to be something more – a higher level I was missing out on. And I was hungry to learn everything I could about magic.

It couldn’t have been more than a couple of weeks later that my older sister had taken me to see a movie – It’s Alive or Burnt Offerings or some such similar seventies horror fare – and afterwards we stopped by the mall. I remember doing the typical kid things – like walking up the down escalators. Funny how when you’re a kid you don’t need much at all to have fun. It’s only later that you spend lots of money – and often as not kill quite a few brain cells – trying to recapture what once was free.

I was in the basement of a department store where they had their selection of books in long rows of wire framed shelves. I was checking out the books to see what they might have that dealt with magic. I’d bought quite a few magic books aimed at the general public, and usually came away sorely disappointed, but I guess I was young enough at that time to be optimistic.

That’s when I saw it. The funky art deco cover seemed to grow invisible fingers which grabbed me and pulled me forward. Find money in the air, it read, with a drawing of a hand grasping a gold coin beside it. Make a red handkerchief turn green. Pour a drink from an empty jar. There was also a picture of a face with rainbow colors extending down from the right eye – an implicit promise of mysterious things, secret knowledge. And above everything the title: The Amateur Magician’s Handbook.

It has to be crap, I thought, remembering other magic books bought at newsstands and in drug stores. I was still optimistic at that age, but I wasn’t a fool. I plucked it from the shelf and leafed through it. There were numerous black and white photographs illustrating things I could only barely comprehend. What the hell is this, I wondered.

It was just about then my sister showed up. I had to go so I had to make a decision. Acting more on impulse than anything else I shelled out the dollar ninety-five. Hard to believe books were ever that cheap – the other night I bought a similar size paperback at Walden Books and it took the best part of a ten.

I took it home, this discovery I was intrigued by but still distrustful of. I remember taking it to my room, opening it up and reading the first line: The purpose of this volume is to help you become a good magician: one who can entertain others as well as himself with the wonders he works. After that I was hooked.

I can’t think of any other magic book that made such an impression – and that posed so many challenges. Henry Hay’s method of teaching was to introduce you to the sleight of hand magic first. His reasoning was simple and sound: If you learn an easy trick you’ll just run out and show people without investing any thought into how to make it entertaining. If you learn a sleight of hand trick, however, you have to put time into mastering whatever mechanics are required and will thus think about how best to present it.

First up was cards, and what a departure from the Mark Wilson course it was. On page twenty-nine I was first introduced to the pass, which fairly drove me crazy for months on end, wondering how this thing could be done invisibly. Then there was the side steal, the fan force, palming, false shuffles, and on and on. But this wasn’t just a collection of isolated sleights; each sleight was explained then used in a corresponding effect. Besides being my initial exposure to advanced sleight of hand, it was also my first meeting with Leipzig, Cardini, Zingone, Muholland, Downs, Vernon and on and on.

The coin section was every bit as fascinating, and sometimes frustrating, as the cards. The thumb palm, the Downs palm, the click pass, the DeManche change. It seemed like every day I could open this little book, which was a mere three hundred and something pages, and find something new and exciting. And although I bought many other books in the following years, none touched me in the same fundamental way. The Amateur Magician’s Handbook was my bible through my teenage years.

I’ve been prattling on and on, but I think I’ve failed to convey both how good the book is and how much it meant to me. I guess non magicians wouldn’t understand how a book of tricks and theory could have such importance, but for me it was a genuine magic book. It was like any question about magic I had, I would first turn to this simple paperback book because nine times out of ten I would find my answer within.

What more can I say? It’s a great book, from the opening essays through the tricks, to the advice on staging a show at the end. There’s a plethora of practical wisdom and effective tricks.

I never felt Henry Hay, born Barrows Mussey, got the recognition he deserved for writing one of the best magic books ever. Maybe that’s just the way it goes. I do know I’ll always be grateful that he produced such a wonderful book that helped and taught me so much. See you next time.


Something Cool

septiembre 29, 2007

Some newer readers of this blog may not know that this is actually the second version. I started with Word Press but couldn’t get any of the plugins to function properly – that vodka diet might’ve been a contributing factor…but what a way to lose weight!

Anyway, there are a couple of things that I wanted to repost here because I really enjoyed them, and this is one.

My wife is an art teacher, which means that body painting is not just an abstract idea around here…

Forget that. Because she’s an art teacher, and very into the subject, our areas of interest often overlap — I mean it might be even better if she was an art teacher/rodeo clown, but a man can’t have it all, now can he? She showed me a visual observation test the other day that I enjoyed so I’m passing it along. Here’s how it works.

Go to the first link below and watch the video. It takes a minute to load. The idea is to count both how many times the basketballs are bounced and how many times they’re passed. Got it? After you’re done click on the second link to see how you did. No cheating.

Test Link

Score link


Pre-Order?

septiembre 28, 2007

I can’t help but think that the debacle Richard James has created with his trick Linked could’ve been avoided if there’d been no pre-order. He now has a lot of angry people who shelled out their money contingent on receiving the trick at a certain time; after all the delays, it seems that unless the trick lives up to his claims (made by the video and what he’s said) he’s going to have effectively destroyed his credibility. Why not wait until you actually have the trick to sell before selling it?

From a marketing perspective, what’s great about the pre-order is that you can generate a lot of hype without having any actual reviews from consumers. Everybody’s talking about the thing and blowing it out of proportion, and soon you find yourself sucked into the hoopla and order something that nobody really knows anything about.

The problem with it is that people are usually disappointed when the thing actually arrives; it’s almost impossible for the product, even if it’s good, to match the expectations which have been raised. You see this over and over. A trick comes out you can pre-order, people are raving over the possibilities, then after it comes out all the talk dies and only a couple of people bother to say anything more about it.

The other problem, from a consumer standpoint, is it’s the perfect way for the unscrupulous to separate you from your money. A great concept is described; everybody gets on board imagining how incredible it must be, then the actual trick is without a practical method.

I don’t think I’ve ever pre-ordered a magic trick or book. The only reasons I can see for doing a pre-order are if a limited number of copies are going to be sold or by pre-ordering you’re going to save money. Even then I wouldn’t recommend it unless you know who you’re dealing with. Could be I’m old school, but I don’t like the idea of buying something that doesn’t actually exist yet. See you next time.


Too Good To Be True?

septiembre 27, 2007

You know my father was fond of saying, “If it sounds too good to be true…invest every penny you have, boy! Get in on the ground floor. This could be it!”

I should probably mention that dad wasn’t a very bright man. And had a fondness for recreational pharmaceuticals. That probably had something to do with his investing the family’s dwindling fortunes in the untried sport of hamster racing. That venture didn’t quite pan out, and we ended up living in a big cardboard box with a lot of really quick hamsters. Well played, dad. Well played.

Sorry, I digress. Actually most of us learn early on that if something sounds too good to be true there’s a catch somewhere – like a hamster’s inability to run more than a hundred yards without wheezing uncontrollably. Intensely Magic has a post where he mentions a trick I hadn’t heard of called Linked. He wonders if there might be a problem. I wonder the same thing.

What raises red flags early on is the video performance. There’s an unnecessary pause at what would be a crucial point. The creator says he’s going to post a continuous shot video, but as of yet that hasn’t materialized.

The video itself is fair enough, I suppose. But on the first page of the Magic Cafe thread, in response to someone saying the spectators will want to examine the card removed from the glass, he says:

Once the card is pulled off the glass, you simply place the glass down or give it to them. Ask for the center that was signed, give them the card with the hole in the center. The ripped out signed piece fits and they can examine Both the card, the center and the glass.

Things don’t quite add up. I have a lot of trouble believing that the effect would play as seen on the video. I could be wrong, and if I am I apologize in advance, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this will be one of those cases where the video is supposed to represent how the spectators would see the effect. If that’s how it is, the creator’s comments are disingenuous at best.

What’s worse is the continuous litany of excuses as to why the people who pre ordered have gotten the trick yet. Assurances are made and aren’t met. At the very least it’s an awful way to do business and is sure to negatively impact the creator’s future releases.

It’ll be interesting to see how this thing goes, and I can’t wait to see the first reviews. See you next time.


Crossing The Line

septiembre 26, 2007

I’ve had a long time interest in the paranormal and try to keep an open mind about its existence. It’s not always easy. After studying magic for awhile you begin to realize how ridiculously vulnerable human perceptions are. Yesterday I said that when you remove the magician from the exhibition of a trick the magic is magnified. What I neglected to mention is that charlatans realized this long ago. Substitute “magician” with “psychic” and a nothing trick becomes a miracle. The context has been altered by a simple change of roles. People watch a magician and know it’s a trick. They watch a psychic and think it might be real.

While I’m interested in introducing a sense of ambiguity about what I’m doing, I don’t believe in saying outright that it’s real. There’s a definite line separating magician from charlatan; I want to dance on that invisible line but not cross it. I want to entertain and possibly open minds to the possibility of magic, not lie and advocate a specific belief system.

I found the video below after watching one of the famous Russian psychic Nina Kulagina posted at Intensely Magic. I’d gone to YouTube to see what other footage they might have of her, and this is one of the videos that came up. Titled, “Replication of Nina Kulagina Telekinesis Feats,” I figured it was going to be a video of some magician exposing the rather crude methods she’d employed. But I was wrong.

Apparently the person who filmed this would have us believe it’s an actual demonstration of psychokinetic powers. What really amazed me is that the people commenting believe him! Now, I imagine that anyone reading this blog will see that this person’s powers are total bullshit. For anyone with doubts, I’ve been immersed in the study and practice of visual mentalism for a few years now and can state with absolute certainty that it’s one hundred percent fake. It’s not even a very good fake – if this guy were a magician he’d starve because his deceptions fall apart under anything more than casual scrutiny. Because the context has been changed, however, because he’s playing a psychic and not a magician, people overlook the obvious explanations.

I think there’s a lesson there for us all.


Creating A Sense Of Unreality

septiembre 25, 2007

When a magician performs, no matter how good he is, no matter how artfully he creates the illusion of the impossible, those watching ultimately will conclude that what they witnessed was just a trick. If you change the context by removing the magician from the picture, by having some inexplicable thing happening to the ordinary man on the street, the magic is magnified, and those who’ve witnessed the inexplicable act are unable to easily dismiss what they’ve seen. They experience wonder in its purest most primal form and entertain the idea that real magic might exist after all.

The above summarizes what the Magic Anarchist site was all about. It was a combination of magic and guerilla street theater, with the magician playing the part of someone to whom the impossible was happening. It was a performance style I started exploring way before T.H.E.M came along, and was inspired by both a desire to inject a feeling of unreality into the magic I was doing and a fascination with poetic terrorism.

I was reminded of this because I mentioned the Magic Anarchist site in the previous post. I miss the site, mostly the free exchange of ideas we had in the forum – I was lucky enough to have some very creative people as members. We were concerned with not only engaging in Magic Anarchy but ways to make our straight magic performances more powerful. Besides a lot of attention to visual mentalism, we focused quite a bit on creating a sense of unreality by subtle means.

A very simple idea that I mentioned there, and still sometimes do, involves nothing more complicated than putting some folded up napkins in the heels of your shoes. Imagine going to a party, either to do walk around or as a guest, and showing up with the napkins in your shoes so you’re an inch or so taller. You mingle; have a drink, do a trick or two. Then you excuse yourself, go to the restroom, remove the napkins and throw them in the trash. You return to the party and what’s great is they’ll notice the difference but won’t be able to quite place what’s changed. They get this low level sense that something’s strange but can’t quite pinpoint what.

Others suggested wearing colored contacts and secretly changing them and having a tattoo that moves from one arm to the other. There were many more that I can’t remember. The main thing is that the change be subtle enough that they can recognize it but can’t detect it.

I like the idea of a magician being a mysterious figure, and small strategies like this help create an aura of mystery.

Anyway, just something I thought I’d throw out there. God, it really makes me miss that site. See you next time.