Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Magic Movie Smackdown

My good friend Bill from the blog The Bill Pages posted this smackdown:

“Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Hey! It's Ricky Jay!
What I want to know is why Gord hasn't done a post about either:a) how excited he is about Chris Nolan's upcoming film "The Prestige"orb) how badly Chris Nolan's upcoming film "The Prestige" is going to suck.Aside from Christian Bale, Scarrlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman, the trailer also affords us brief glimpses of Ricky Jay, one of the best card-slingers in the biz, and David Bowie who has the amazing magician-like power of scoring with Iman.What's up Gord? We're waiting...”

Right, not one to back down from a challenge, here is my reply.

The Prestige is a movie, based on a book, about magicians.

Seriously, what else is there to say?  It’s got a good director, a good cast and looks, well, good.  Not having seen the movie I can’t really say anything more than that.
But I can mention other magic movies.

First of all, there is another movie about an illusionist coming up.  It’s called The Illusionist and it stars Edward Norton, Jessica Biel and Paul Giamatti.  Its plot is as follows:

“A magician in turn-of-the-century Vienna who falls in love with a woman well above his social standing. When she becomes engaged to a prince, the magician uses his powers to win her back and undermine the stability of the royal house of Vienna.”

It’s based on Steven Millhauser's short story “Eisenheim the Illusionist” (A prize goes out to anyone who can tell me where the name “Eisenhiem” was attached to another fictional illusionist.)

There have been quite a lot of movies based on magic and magicians, and a few starring magicians.  Houdini, at one point, started his own movie studio in order to make “adventure” movies, all of which flopped.  
Many people don’t know this but Orson Wells was a very dedicated magician.  He even, at one point, had his own illusion show.  Later in his life, whenever he was to appear on a talk show, he would more often than not, perform an illusion before being interviewed.  There is a very famous story told by a magician whose name I can’t recall (I think its Jim Steinmeyer, but I’m not really sure and I’m too lazy to do research) about one time Wells was to guest host the Tonight Show.
Instead of a monolog, Wells decided to do an illusion.  (I think it was the Ashra, where a woman floats then disappears, but again I’m just too lazy.)  He got the illusion, an assistant, and another magician who was familiar with the illusion.
Here’s what he did.  He sat in the front row of the audience and told the other magician to perform the effect.  After he was done Wells would say something like “Now perform it as if you were angry” and watch the performance.  He would then tell the magician to perform it again different way, then again and again.  After a few times of this he said he knew how to do it and that was that.  Wells, up to this point, hadn’t rehearsed the thing once.
That night Wells performed the illusion perfectly, again without rehearsing it himself.
(As an interesting aside, the regular Tonight Show host, Johnny Carson, was also an avid armature magician.)

As a final point (for now) another star who you may not know is an avid armature magician is Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame.  In fact, recently he dedicated himself to putting together a 40 minute magic show and performed it at The Magic Castle.  All indications were that he not only did a damn fine job, but he was extremely professional.

Perhaps some time in the future I’ll mention a few more famous people you may not know are magicians, as well as a bit more about magic movies good and bad.


Blogger Billp said...

Well, yeah... but... c'mon! I've heard you say WAY more than that about movies you've never seen before!

How about the term 'the prestige'? Does it mean what they say? Did anyone actually use it? Did you read the book the movie was based on?

How about Christian Bale and Hugh jackman as magicians? I heard what you said about Criss Angel 'raising the bar' for how good a magician can look. What about Bale and Jackman?

Or, if you must talk about OTHER movies, how about how magic is usually portrayed? Wasn't it you who told me the story about the special consultants brought in for the "magic" scenes in the 1967 Casino Royale?

But yeah, you're right. I haven't seen it yet either and... it looks good.



9:09 AM  

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