Each year we miss the Sundance Festival and kick ourselves for it. There, wonderful films seeking distributors are offered, promoted and awarded with prizes. For instance, we first heard about La La Land through Variety’s review of the film at the Sundance Festival. We knew that if and when it was picked up by a major studio, it would be a must see.
But, because we didn’t go to the festival, we missed it.
This year we missed the Amazing Johnathan documentary. It is currently untitled but we’re guessing the words “Amazing” and “Johnathan” will be in or very near the final title.
As readers of this award winning magic news site know, we have never actually won an award and we never let the truth get in the way of a good headline or story. Readers will also know that we love the Amazing Johnathan and one of our greatest disappointments – other than our failure to play for the Chicago Cubs or even be a batboy for goodness sakes – was missing the performance of this great entertainer at the Magic Castle in what was billed as his last performance ever, anywhere.
Johnathan has a fatal heart issue and literally any show could be his last.
Nonetheless, he continues to work and provide entertainment for thousands. We saw his show in Las Vegas and laughed so hard we split our shirt collar – we always keep it buttoned to prevent body lice from either entering or escaping, depending on the season or our access to showers.
We won’t give away the secret but the compilation at The Silver List surprised us. And we are not easily surprised. We figured for sure we could correctly identify all persons on the list but we were wrong. We beat ourselves up when we make a mistake so this was crushing for us.
We thought for sure there would be some mention of Inside Magic editor-in-chief and magician person Tim Quinlan but nary a comment. We don’t like to brag but between the ad revenue for Inside Magic and our professional appearances, we’re rolling in the dough – plus we’re making a lot of money. But we spend it on dough to roll in and we like a high-quality dough, not some Pillsbury fake dough that doesn’t give the comfort one expects when one is rolling. We were going to put up a YouTube video of us rolling but a woman beat us and she does a much better rolling that we could ever hope to accomplish.
You can see just one of her many dough rolling episodes here. The video shows her rolling in baked dough but she does real, unbaked dough as well. We cannot compete.
Similarly, we are unable to keep up with the magicians who make millions of dollars every year for performing their magic. We admire them but don’t envy them. Envy is or should be one of the deadly sins and does not leave the person feeling the sense of envy in a good place. It is like when you have a fight with your Uber driver about whether we should worry about fluoride or chem trails and he/she dumps you in a bad neighborhood. That’s a physical bad place to be but as a metaphor it works. Envy leaves you wondering what happened to the last few hours and why you can’t remember why you even worried about the success of others.
Check out the list and see if you agree with the rankings. But do it with an open mind and heart. Embrace the success of others and the willingness of others to work very hard at what we all do.
We do find some pleasure (guilty, no doubt) that Inside Magic arch-nemesis Tony Spain is not listed. He claims millions per year from his itinerant magic travels around the world, but apparently he didn’t make the list.
She points to the recent spate of shows about our craft such as Criss Angel BeLIEve; Syfy’s Wizard Wars, Close Up Kings, and Troy: Street Magic; The CW’s resurrection of Masters of Illusion and importing of Penn & Teller: Fool Us. She likes the craft but apparently not the way it is being translated to television sets. It is tough to disagree with her take.
She points out that Masters of Illusion has been squished from an hour-long show to 30 minutes (including commercials). The net effect is that “Dean Cain has to go through acts so quickly that you barely have time to let the tricks sink in.”
Ms. Frederick bemoans – again with our wholehearted agreement – the move from logistics of putting on a magic show to the effect in isolation.
“What was so fantastic about Criss Angel BeLIEve when Spike unveiled it in October 2013 was that it was almost about everything but the performance. We got to know Angel a lot better and understand what it was like for him to do these challenging tricks every day. We learned about the history involved with many of his demonstrations. We met his team, and were able to listen in on their discussions about how to make magic happen, whether it was building a prop or finding the perfect location. We saw when things didn’t go according to plan and how they dealt with those situations. These are elements of magic that most TV audiences probably haven’t even thought about.”
Audiences are now taken from appreciating the history of a particular effect and the very real logistical challenges of presenting the trick, to merely asking whether an effect is performed with camera tricks or dodgy editing.
Check out her full article and well-considered opinions here.
Magician Ben Young has a fancy website, a long list of appearances and likely does a fair amount of advertising for his services but for our money, nothing beats the kind of press he received from a friend in the recent edition of The Tullahoma News.
Yes, he has been on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us and befriended by some of the top performers in our craft. But for some reason we are more moved by accolades bestowed by a former classmate.
Erin McCullough’s column in the Tennessee news source inspires us to track Mr. Young on our upcoming visit to Las Vegas. That beats a Yelp or Trip Advisor review in our estimation.
Ms. McCullough knew Mr. Young from their time together in school and expresses surprise and delight in learning of her friend’s success since leaving the area.
“Now, I had known Ben was talented, but I had no idea of the depth of his craft until I saw it in person. If you’ve never been able to see a magic show, please do yourself a favor and go seek one out, because they are incredible!”
Apparently they studied Italian together in college and, sure, he would perform a few effects for fellow students but Ms. McCullough never saw him in full stage magician mode. Now, Mr. Young is beginning (or part way into) a tour of Air Force bases and cannot be confused with the talented hobbiest. He is a full-blown magician.
We’ll be in Las Vegas when Hollywood shuts down for the holiday break and will seek out Mr. Young — assuming he isn’t on tour — solely because of the apparently unsolicited but heartfelt endorsement of Ms. McCullough.
We readily admit we are the lowest of the low. We are a hypocrite of the first order. That’s generally true but most painfully evident in our behavior last week.
It started out innocently. We were catching up on our TiVo of Penn & Teller’s Fool Us. We enjoy that show and are happy to hear they have been signed for a second season with the CW here in the US. The show makes us smile and as our little reward back to the producers, writers, directors and stars of the show, we do not fast forward through the advertisements. We are gracious in that way.
Like most viewers of the show, we take delight not only in seeing great magic but the interesting way Penn attempts to describe what he and Teller believe was the secret at work. They use vague code words and make reference to great magicians from history to convey the message that they know the know-how. There is no exposure but for those of us in on the craft, we know whether a magician has been foiled in his or her attempt to fool Penn & Teller.
Joshua Jay is a great magician. We feel like we have watched him grow over the years; likely because we have. He began performing in utero and has ascended the lofty limbs of the magic forest with aplomb. (Sorry for the last sentence. We farm out parts of our articles to off-shore content creator mills and they a great at maximizing word count – that’s how they’re paid – but struggle with metaphors in our language).
Mr. Jay performed an effect that blew us – and Penn & Teller – away. We could describe the effect in great detail but won’t because that is evidence of our hypocrisy. Our father always said, “there’s no sin in beating yourself up, but always know your safe word.” We’re not sure he intended that sage advice for revealing one’s foibles on the internet but it fits and thus we happily appropriate it for our writing herein. (Another off-shore sentence beginning at the word “that”).
Penn & Teller were fooled by the trick. After all, how could anyone have a spectator think of a card and then produce the card as the only printed one in an otherwise blank deck. Penn & Teller offered their solution but Mr. Jay denied what we assumed had to be the secret. Granted, we did not see him perform the sleight but figured there could be no other explanation. We, and Penn & Teller, took him at his word. If he said he did not use the sleight, he did not.
That left us to engage in behavior that we find contemptible and boorish.
We replayed the video of his routine more than two or three times.
We live alone here in West Hollywood while we await our family’s move to California. We have fully paid-up subscriptions to the prominent magic magazines, surf the web for news and tricks, sometimes go for walks along Santa Monica Boulevard and visit The Magic Castle. Those activities can be accomplished in a few hours each and so that leaves us with roughly 14 hours times 7 days a week times 30 or 31 days each month to sit, stand or lie down while eating or sleeping.
We watched the video incessantly for a solid 24 hour period. We used the slow motion button to analyze every move, every nuance of Mr. Jay’s performance. We were frustrated by some of the camera angles and cuts but those were not Mr. Jay’s doing.
The proof of a bad motive is often the corrupt results, said the inventor of the modern day Capri Pants. Once again, lessons from the world of fashion instructs the world of professional magic. (Other examples include the cape, pockets and the classic pop-up tie).
Precisely one day after beginning our analysis of the Jay Tape, we came to the conclusion that Mr. Jay did not perform the accused sleight. We also concluded he must have accomplished the miracle by some other method. We have no idea how he performed the effect. We love that feeling.
Yes, we are embarrassed to say we used our access to modern technology to discern the secret but we failed. It was a wonderful lesson learned. The feeling of being truly amazed was the reason we got into magic. The attempt to figure out the trick only diminished that sense of wonder. Congratulations to Mr. Jay for fooling Penn & Teller and us so completely. It was fantastic.
Breaking news from Variety: Penn & Teller have signed to return to Broadway this July.
The show titled “Penn & Teller” will bring the best from their Vegas show and some of their classic stuff from their years of work and will run six weeks at the beautiful Marquis Theater.
Variety points to the recent success of The Illusionists – Witness the Impossible as evidence that a magic show will work well for the tourists that invade Broadway during the summer.
Penn Jillette issued a statement, saying, “When I was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, I felt I should have been in NYC, and when I moved there I was home. We loved being on Broadway. We love doing our show in Vegas, but even after all this time in Vegas . . . well, coming back to Broadway feels like we’re coming home. Our hearts never left. Do they make Elmo costumes in my size?”
The duo are returning to Broadway having appeared there in 1987 and 1991.
The show runs from July 7th through August 16th. Check back for updates as we learn more.
Mr. Maher is reputed to be a star on HBO and takes pride in attacking people and groups. Religions are fair game and so are conservatives and liberals. It works for him so why stop with ideology and spirituality.
Whenever I talk to him, we’ll be talking about President Barack Obama, or weed, or Woody Harrelson, and then he will slip in a side joke that pokes fun at illusionists. Maher mocks magicians mercilessly.
“When we started back in the old days, before the iWatch, practically before answering machines, in New York, no matter how good you were, you could never do better in the small clubs than the magician guy or a guy with puppets,” Maher said.
Maher goes on to insult Cirque du Soleil, drop names of famous comedians with whom he recently worked and stroke The Palms as a wonderful place to work.
He likes Penn & Teller, though. They are not typical magicians so they escape his wrath.
We have already given too much space to him but we thought you should know.
According to Variety, the CW has ordered another season of “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” and “Masters of Illusion” for 2015.
That is great news for magic fans and portends great things for the future of our great art.
Fool Us originally aired ITV in the UK in 2011. The production team edited those episodes and repackaged the shows for the CW’s US broadcast this year.
The series received consistently great ratings and – if you asked us – it was a no-brainer for the network to order a new season.
That’s good news but even better news is that they will need to shoot new shows to meet the CW’s order. Penn Jillette promised if renewed, they would film in the US and with US magicians. We have no doubt he will keep his promise.
“Masters of Illusion” had some fantastic acts in this year’s episodes. We do not know if they will need to tape additional acts to meet the renewal order but will report as soon as we hear.
The Mirror Online (UK), looking to build excitement for the launch of the fourth series of Dynamo: Mission Impossible, is asking readers to vote for their favorite TV magician.
You should head over to the site and make your choice from:
Penn & Teller
There is no space for a write-in vote but they do have clips from the nominees – including our inspiration, Tommy Cooper. (Unfortunately, the sound goes out near the end of the clip but it is still a joy to watch).
Click here to link to the poling site. We don’t know if it will allow you to vote more than once but perhaps that is a concern for us Chicago natives. The rest of the world likely never considers stuffing the ballot box.
The show seems to be catching on with American audiences and we have our fingers crossed that the CW network will develop a second season, set in the United States. Penn has been discussing the possibility on his weekly podcast, Penn’s Sunday School, but has been very sketchy about whether the CW will pick up the series for a new round.
We hope the ratings boost proves to the folks at the CW to develop the show here with American magicians. We will keep you up-to-date on any developments.
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