We were fortunate enough to be in The Magic Castle the night Mike Caveney presented a lecture on his new book One Hundred Years of Sawing: The Astonishing History of Magic’s Most Iconic Illusion.
Mr. Caveney is the magic world’s scribe and if society was somehow destroyed; thousands of years from now, archeologists would learn all they could know about this epoch from his books. He knows magic history and, more importantly, loves magic history more than any magician we know. Future societies will be forced to conclude that magic and its history was our world’s focus.
Sawing is a work of love and a gift to those who love magic.
There were a total of 1,200 editions of the book published. 100 of which are Deluxe Editions. We have number 390 of the Regular Edition and will proudly keep it on our special magic bookcase; next to the Taschen book, Magic: 1400s – 1950s. He co-authored that mammoth book with Ricky Jay and Jim Steinmeyer. Both books are heavy. Not just in content or tone, but by actual weight (together they weigh 16.6 lbs). We have braced our bookcase and the supporting beams in the wall accordingly.
Sawing brings readers through a wonderful trip through history from the effect’s origins before 1921, its golden era in 1921, the patent litigation over the effect, and its history through our modern day. It is filled with incredible stories of the magicians who invented, innovated and stole the illusion. Mr. Caveney treats readers with incredible images at each juncture. In many cases, these are photos we have never seen.
Put all that together and you can imagine our joy in paging slowly through the book. It is a very slow read. Not because it is long but because it is full and detailed. As far as we can tell, there is not a significant event in the history of this illusion that is not addressed. Of course, we realize that our knowledge of the trick is now completely informed by Mr. Caveney’s recitation of its history.
In deciding to write a review of the book, we worried that it would either be too short – “we loved it!” – or too long – “on page 129, Mr. Caveney begins to address the development of ….” That worry persists and is perhaps proven to be valid by the length and depth of this review.
Words do not do justice to the words and images Mr. Caveney presents in this book nor the history he has neatly set before readers.
If you love magic, love history, love the stories of odd but enchanting individuals of magic history, this book is a must read. Or more correctly, this book is a must have so you can spend hours with it and enjoy all that it provides.
We are so thankful for authors and historians like Mr. Caveney.
Yesterday, we attended the 7th Annual Magic Apple Day of Lectures at the beautiful Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City, California. This is our second year and came away – as we did last year – magically enriched and tired but a good kind of tired.
Mike Caveney took the first spot and presented his lecture on how he develops new effects. He took the 50 magicians in attendance through the development of his Gypsy Thread using toilet paper. We do not know if this is the proper name for the effect but you get the point. Like the Gypsy Thread, the magician separates a length of toilet paper into convenient squares, hands them to members of the audience to prove they are both truly separate and ordinary. They are gathered and then in a straightforward manner, Mr. Caveney restores the length to their former glorious ribbon of two-ply unity.
He took us from the moment inspiration hit – more than 30 years ago and not in a restroom – through the five versions he developed to perform this wonderful piece of theater. It was a great chance to view the working of a magic genius.
Mr. Caveney showed his incredible impromptu linking coat hangers effect and explained the thinking behind his presentation and its development from years or demonstrating it for magicians at conventions around the world. We loved the simplicity of the solution.
We could watch Mr. Caveney all day. But it was time for lunch – part of the Day of Lectures package – and a fine lunch it was. We dined on fresh turkey sandwiches, fresh fruit and a fresh Diet Coke overlooking the sun-drenched pool just outside the lecture hall. We remembered to remove the decorative toothpick before eating the sandwich this year – demonstrating that pain can be an excellent teacher.
Next up was a magician we had never seen perform. That does not make him bad – we haven’t seen many magicians but sometimes, especially after we have eaten and relaxed poolside in a glamorous Los Angeles area, we want comfort. We want to see familiar things. In that way, we are very much like Winnie the Pooh. Different isn’t always bad but when we are dopey from good food and the sun, it can be annoying.
Paul Vigil caught us off guard. His presentation is so direct and so unique that we got suckered into believing him. We do that too often for our own taste. It turns out he lacks any real magical power, cannot predict the future, read minds or rob innocent victims of their ability to exercise free will. It turned out, we learned, he was performing tricks. Using subterfuges and, perhaps ordinary fuges, he was making his miracles look like real magic.
We have not been this fooled since we saw Derek Hughes perform at the Peller Theater at The Magic Castle. Our mind was reeling as we wrote feverishly on the convenient note pad using the free Sportsman’s Lodge pen. We felt our forehead to see if we had a real fever and then we felt the foreheads of those around us – not to compare our body temperature but just to affirm their personhood through prayerful touching (or something like that).
As we looked up from our slobbering, stooped-over position halfway through Mr. Vigil’s lecture, whom did we notice was sitting right in front of us?
Yes, Mr. Hughes.
It was like a David Lynch version of our life. We began to think the mayonnaise we used on our turkey sandwich (graciously provided by the Magic Apple) had turned and was now causing us to lose touch with reality. However, it turned out the mayonnaise was fine, reality remained intact and we were just on the verge of learning effects we had never before considered. Change, usually bad, was actually becoming good – which was a change in itself.
Mr. Vigil’s Sympathetic Cards was outstanding and even though he explained it with patience and professionalism, we did not believe him.
He told us things that could not be true. How could someone mix up the order of a deck of cards and have them spontaneously return to a preset order? We were relieved to see that even Mr. Hughes appeared to disbelieve the claims.
We tried the effect during a later break and it turns out Mr. Vigil was not lying. Even though it looks impossible, the effect can be done using his method. Amazing. Absolutely Amazing. The impact on our little cranium was as dramatic as when we first learned Paul Curry’s Out of this World, The Hofzinser’s Cull or that (spoiler alert!) Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus are the same person.
We will bring a lobster bib the next time we watch Mr. Vigil perform or lecture. Because we were chewing blueberry gum, our slobber ruined one of our favorite dress shirts and there is likely no chance we will again happen upon the exclusive men’s store/fireworks stand from whom we purchased it, some Slim Jims and a pack of Black Cat M-80s.
Last up was Helder Guimaraes‘ lecture. It was not a lecture about tricks per se but more about the theory of magic and presentation. Along the way, Mr. Guimaraes demonstrated a couple of killer effects but only to explain his approach to our art. He has incredible skills and is an accomplished performer – including a FISM win – and yet a very approachable and effective teacher.
Unlike virtually every lecture we have attended ever since we started magic in the late 1920s, there were very few things offered for sale. No over-priced lecture notes, gimmicked cards, one-trick DVDs, CD-ROMs of PDFs of magazine articles or gaffed coins. Only Mr. Caveney had anything to sell after his lecture and that was hardly a collection of typical lecture fare. He had his outstanding Wonders book set and other volumes featuring some of the best magic writing available today.
It was disorienting to not have the last 20 minutes of each lecture consist of a recap of what can be bought and at what discount. Perhaps that was why we walked away feeling magically enriched and wonderfully tired.
Standing ovations are not often seen in either venue but were appropriate in each instance.
The Palace show was a treat and of great historical significance. Mr. Caveney and Ms. Lenert performed with their usual charming style: Mr. Caveney working the audience as emcee and Ms. Lenert performing her perfect pantomime routine. We have seen these performers on several occasions over the years and can honestly say this was their best. Ms. Lenert is a master of her craft and brings so much authenticity to her portrayal of a lonely cleaning woman who yearns for love and attention. Mr. Caveney is the perfect counter for the romanticized magic of Ms. Lenert with his easy rapport with the audience and astounding magic.
A woman seated in front of us commented, “They seem like they would be a good couple.”
But the matchmaker audience member was blown away by John Gaughan’s presentation of Astarte or Maid of the Moon. We know that it had precisely that effect on her because she nearly screamed to her friend (over the standing ovation), “Oh my God! That totally blew me away!”
Indeed, she had good reason to “be blown away.” Mr. Gaughan enlisted the assistance of Inside Magic Favorite Mystina to perform the most baffling levitation or flying effect we have ever witnessed.
After a short historical introduction of the Astarte‘s origins, Mr. Gaughan presented the illusion flawlessly with Mystina. She serenaded the moon and flew to a perch on its crescent shape. From there, she pirouetted about the very brightly lit stage, turned 360 degrees both vertically and horizontally.
She glided through a solid steel hoop first while Mr. Gaughan held it, and then, incredibly, while she held it. It was lovely.
It was truly magic.
“How was it done?” The talkative audience member asked after again attesting that she had been “blown away.”
No one offered a solution. That made us very happy.
Mr. Valentine is a master of many skills. He is an actor who plays the part of a magician who is an actor who is really a very funny person with exceptional sleight of hands skills.
A woman seated next to us in the close-up gallery described him (before the show began) as the “best looking magician ever.” That is either damming with faint praise or an earnest compliment if one includes Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in the category against which she is comparing Mr. Valentine.
Mr. Valentine’s routine is anything but routine. He is irreverent and rapid-fire with high energy and higher trick-per-minute ratio than any performer we have witnessed. (We do not know how trick-per-minute is translated into the metric system).
His mastery of cards is outdone only by his mastery of the audience. He is a gutsy performer who uses the Classic Force with the confidence of someone using a one-way forcing deck.
He is funny, charming and completely in control even though at times it seemed impossible that any of what we were seeing was planned.
We intended to provide a description of every effect he performed in the set but that would have taken several days of writing and a new thesaurus – there was too much and it was all too good.
Our favorite effect, though, had to be his barehanded production of a fairy.
We were reluctant to write anything about the shows because we intend to return to see both tonight and this weekend. As it was, the lines for both were lengthy and not everyone made it into the show rooms. We fear our praise of the acts will only exacerbate (not a dirty word, we checked) the problem. Fortunately, we have a very low readership and we are rarely considered an authoritative source for show recommendations.