Please indulge me, there's something I'd like to talk to you about.
Every year, right after the Academy Awards show, the following segment appears on one of the national morning talk shows. A man sits at a chair, watching the Oscar presentations, and he has a drawing pad and a pencil in his hands. He is sketching the gowns worn by the movie stars. He is drawing these gowns because he (along with his company) is going to produce reasonably priced knock-offs of these gowns for people who want a dress "like the stars wear." These knock-off artists are interviewed at great length by the friendly talk show hosts. Curiously, one question is never asked. "Do you think that what you are doing is ethically right?" I'd like to hear the answer to that question.
As I write this column, matters have come to a head concerning Napster, a web site that allows its users to swap recorded music back and forth across the Internet. Napster says that its service increases the sales of CDs by exposing its users to music they may not have encountered before, and by being exposed to this music they may then want to purchase CDs by these artists. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. The record companies (and the artists they represent) say that their intellectual property is being used unfairly. I grant you that it's hard to feel sympathetic toward the record companies, since I think that prices for CDs are kept artificially high, but certainly this type of copying is going to cut into sales. The court ordered Napster shut down, but they pulled off a last minute appeal, and right now they're still operating.
Here are some horror stories more closely related to our field. I was at a convention with a well-known illusion designer. The organizers of this convention wanted to honor the designer by having an illusionist present one of his best-known illusions on the gala Saturday show. They were unable to find anyone who had a legitimate copy of this illusion. Another friend of mine is an accomplished builder of electronic magic props. A customer asked him to build an intriguing effect. It wasn't until my friend visited Las Vegas and attended the Penn and Teller show that he realized the customer wanted him to knock-off Teller's Shadows illusion. My friend declined to build the prop. Another friend of mine, who is one of the best comedy magicians in the world, was working a magic convention. He performed on the close-up show. After the show a man approached him and asked about one of the tricks my friend had performed. My friend replied that the trick was part of his professional act, and he was reluctant to discuss the details of it. The man asked again. My friend replied that since this was a close-up show, and not a lecture, he did not feel that he was required to discuss this effect, and he would not do so. The man asked again. My friend said he was sorry, but he was not going to offer any information on the trick. The other man shrugged and said, "Oh well, I'll figure it out myself," and walked away. Who was the other man? He was a Past-President of a major magician's organization. Another friend of mine began his stand-up show at a magic convention by saying, "I'm going to do a bunch jokes and gags first, in the hopes that you'll leave my act alone." In fact, in this month's review column there are two tricks that are being offered for sale simply because the inventors were concerned their creations were going to be unethically appropriated by others.
At the beginning of most magic videos, right after the FBI warning, there are words to the effect that the video is licensed for private, home viewing only. This means that magic videos are not to be rented out. However, there are a number of magic shops that do just that. What do you think happens to that video when it gets to the renter's house? Many magic clubs have a library for their members, and this is certainly a plus for the membership, because they have access to a lot of material. But is this fair to the creators whose works are in those libraries and who lose sales because the individuals need not purchase the materials they are making use of? A friend of mine took me to task for suggesting there might be a problem here. Was I against the concept of the public library? No, I think public libraries are a great thing. If I could sell a set of my Workers books to every public library in the United States, I would be a happy camper. (And I would have one of the best selling magic books in history.) But that isn't the way it works in the magic world. The market is very small, and the sales lost to Xerox copies of manuscripts and bootleg videotapes are not insignificant.
Now, to quote Dennis Miller, I don't mean to go off on a rant here, but the lack of ethics in the world of magic is beginning to get me down. I'm not depressed because of how lousy the situation is, but because absolutely nothing has changed for the past 300 years. Go back to the old books and magazines and you'll find magicians bitching and moaning over the exact same things we complain about today: exposure of secrets to the general public; magicians stealing other magicians tricks, bits, or entire acts; and magic dealers ripping each other off. As a group we have absolutely no respect for each other or for our craft, and this continues unchanged. Ethics and honor don't stand a chance against avarice, status, fame, or immediate self-gratification.
Now, let me confess a few things. When I was a kid, I was hungry for magical knowledge. Just about every dime I made I spent on magic books. But there were some things that were hard to obtain - manuscripts that were very expensive, or magazines that I could not purchase. So I made photocopies of things. Later, when I got older, I realized that this was wrong, so I threw out the copies and purchased the legitimate items. I have also been in positions where I could have been more true to my beliefs. During my early days of lecturing I would often stay at the home of one of the magic club members who would proudly show me his magic room. Invariably, that room would contain lots of bootleg videos and Xeroxes of magic manuscripts. This, of course, placed me in the same situation as a Christian Scientist with appendicitis - exactly what did I believe? Do I speak up, stand by my ethical beliefs, tell my host that what he is doing is wrong, and deal with the awkwardness that this will produce, or do I keep my mouth shut. Sadly, I always kept my mouth shut. (On the most recent lecture tours I've avoided this problem by requesting to stay in hotels.)
The reason I'm going off on the subject of ethics is because the World Alliance of Magicians has put out a book offering legal suggestions on how magicians can protect their secrets. You'll read about that book a little further down the page. I have some thoughts on how to protect yourself, but I didn't think they were appropriate to include in the review, so I'm getting them out of the way first.
Let's start with exposure of magic secrets to the general public. There are three good ways to beat this. The first is to be technically beyond the methods that are being exposed. The methods that get tipped on TV and in magazines are usually the simplest methods possible. If these are the methods you use, you need to study your craft a little bit more. Second, don't do the tricks that are being exposed. If a masked magician can expose the Zig-Zag illusion and ruin the acts of 3000 magicians then maybe too many of us are doing the same tricks. Why do we all do the same tricks? Because we see some other magician getting good results from an effect and we copy him. Third, present your magic in such a way that the secret of the trick is the least important thing to the spectators. If your audience is hooked emotionally, they are less likely to seek answers.
How do you keep other magicians from appropriating your material? This is a tough one. The best answer is this: Stay away from magicians. If you can't stay away from magicians, then don't show them tricks that you want to keep secret. This was a very hard lesson for me to learn, and I learned it through bitter experience. Now if I attend a magic convention, I leave the props at home. That way my ego doesn't put me in a position I'll regret later.
Finally, how do we counteract 300 years of bad karma? Simple, decide finally, once and for all, that you are at least going to give honor and ethics a fair shot. Think before you act. Consider whom you may be hurting and whether you are doing the right thing. Get your head out of the sand. Stop ignoring the problem. If you see something wrong going on, speak up about it. You're going to hurt some feelings; you may cause confrontations. But if you don't do this, nothing changes. You can shout and complain and whine and mope and write angry letters when a masked magician exposes tricks on TV, but the masked magician is simply a symptom of a greater, more pervasive, more deep-rooted malaise. As a group, we have taken the low road for 300 years. How much longer must we go before we decide to change?
The Protection of Magician's Secrets
Edited by Glen Weissenberger. 8.5 x 11, plastic comb bound. 177 pages. $25 postpaid anywhere in the world. From World Alliance of Magicians, P.O. Box 1016, Jonesboro, GA, 30237. Web site: www.magiciansalliance.com
This is a big book full of imposing legalese. Unfortunately, I'm not a lawyer, and I have a tough time with legalese. However, I can give you the gist of what's going on here. The Protection of Magician's Secrets offers suggestions for legal recourses for protecting the secrets of magic tricks. The first part of the book looks at six possibilities: Patent Protection, Trademark/Trade Dress/Unfair Competition, Copyright Protection, Trade Secret, Right of Publicity, and Contracts and Miscellaneous Theories of Protection. Each of these six sections is laid out in the same way. There is an overview of the type of legal protection provided, there is a discussion of the type of application that needs to be filed, and there is a discussion of the pros and cons of using the particular protection in the magic industry, including the costs of such a procedure. The pros/cons discussion is particularly useful.
Following the discussion of these six stratagems, there are five appendices. The first two appendices detail two law cases: Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co. (a human cannonball sued a television network because his act was broadcast in its entirety on a television newscast) and Goldin v. Clarion Photoplays (Horace Goldin sued Clarion to stop them from showing a motion picture that revealed the secret to the "Sawing a Lady in Half' illusion). The third appendix contains sample forms for patents, trademarks, copyrights, and confidentiality agreements.
The final two appendices contain two papers. The first, by Mack Ed Swindle, discusses Intellectual Property and Ethics in the Art of Magic. Swindle writes, "There may be a new model called for in the world of magic. This model could be built on the concept that not only are the secrets of magic and the creations and works of other magicians protected by ethics, they are also protected by contractual obligations." The idea is that magic organizations would change their rules of membership so those who join are contractually obligated to treat the secrets of others with respect. Would this work? As Swindle says, "Serious examination will be needed to ascertain the level of commitment available among the magic community to protect the art form."
The second paper, by Mari L. Worman is titled "I Could Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: The Protection Of an Ancient Art Form From Extinction in the Information Age." Ms. Worman discusses many of the protection possibilities discussed in the first section of this book, and offers examples of lawsuits filed by some famous magicians. There are also some telling quotes. Jim Steinmeyer says, "There are many culprits, but the biggest problem is the attitude of [non-professional] magicians. Professional shows are, to them, the new magic catalog." (See "How Magicians are Strangling Magic," in the March 1993 issue of MAGIC.) David Copperfield writes, "Today, it is considered normal to steal."
Is The Protection of Magicians' Secrets a worthwhile book? I think so. Anyone who is going to go through the legal system in order to protect a creation is going to need an attorney and some fairly deep pockets. Knowing what your options are is important, and when you sit down with someone whose hourly fee is more than you make in two shows its smart to be as prepared as possible. Studying this book will at the least enable you to ask intelligent questions. I should also mention that the attorney you use should be a specialist in intellectual property law. Even lawyers find this area of law to be murky and confusing.
Exploiting the protection of the legal system is a viable resource, but laws don't change human behavior. There are laws against killing people, but those laws are not going to stop some punk who has no regard for human life from sticking a gun in your gut and blowing you away for the cash in your wallet. I believe that change must come from within, and until we convince those that call themselves magicians that a reversal of attitude is crucial, nothing will ever change.
Chan Canasta - A Remarkable Man
By David Britland. 6 x 9 hardcover. 111 pages. $100. Available from most magic dealers.
To call Chan Canasta enigmatic is an understatement. He was one of the most popular performers in England during the 1950's and 60's, hosting his own television program in England, and appearing many times on American TV. Magicians were ambivalent about his methods and his performing style, but lay audiences were overwhelmed by him. No Chan Canasta imitators ever appeared. At the height of his popularity he dropped out of the public view to take up painting as a profession. He returned to magic five years later, and made a stunning appearance on The Parkinson Show, a popular British talk show. He continued to perform around the world during the 1970's and 80's. He died of a heart attack on April 22, 1999 at the age of 79.
In Chan Canasta - A Remarkable Man, David Britland examines the techniques Canasta used to accomplish his amazing effects. Little is known about Canasta' methods. He published one small card trick "A Miracle Discovery," and was often surprisingly honest when discussing his methods with laymen. Generally speaking, his effects were accomplished using simple principles: a stacked deck, a virtuoso mastery of the classic force, psychological manipulation of the audience, and monumental nerve. Canasta was not afraid of failure, and very often he did fail. But when a risky trick succeeded, the impact on the audience left absolutely nothing to be desired.
In order to reconstruct Canasta's methods, Mr. Britland examined three recorded performances. The first, The Amazing Mr. Canasta, was a short film produced in 1953. The second analyzed performance is the March 23, 1960 episode of the series Chan Canasta is a Remarkable Man. The final performance examined is the aforementioned appearance on The Parkinson Show.
The Amazing Mr. Canasta performance consisted of five card tricks (Canasta preferred to call them "experiments") and a book test. In the first card experiment, two spectators choose the same card from two different decks. This experiment is followed by having a gentleman remove two cards from one of the packs. He places one of these cards in his right jacket pocket and the other card in his left jacket pocket. A woman selects a card from another deck that is spread face-up by Canasta. The card she chooses matches the card in the man's left pocket. The woman repeats the process. The second card she chooses matches the card in the man's right pocket. The third and fourth card effects continue the theme of having one spectator discern another spectator's selection.
The fifth card experiment performed by Canasta is particularly interesting because it involved the audience that was watching the film at the movie theater. Canasta riffled the faces of the cards toward the camera and asked the viewing audience to think of a card as the faces flashed by. An on-screen spectator picked a card out of the deck. It was the card that the majority of the audience had thought of. (And Canasta had a follow-up for those who had thought of a different card.)
Canasta's book test was truly remarkable. A spectator chooses a thick book from among several that rest on a table. Canasta riffles the pages in front of the spectator and asks that the spectator think of any page he sees. Canasta then asks the spectator to think of the number of one of the lines on the page. (For example, if the book had 35 lines on a page, the spectator might think of the number "19.") On a piece of paper Canasta openly writes down what he thinks lies at the 19th line on the thought-of page. The spectator announces the page he is thinking of. The book is opened to that page, and the 19th line is counted to. The words on that line match Canasta's prediction.
The effects presented in the other two performances analyzed by Mr. Britland are variations and refinements of the effects discussed above. Of particular interest is the fact that on The Parkinson Show the book test fails, and yet Canasta is able to bring the experiment to a conclusion that the audience finds completely satisfactory. Canasta's audience management and situational control were magnificent, and these abilities elevated simple methods to the point where they were unfathomable. In addition, Canasta was a master "de-constructionist." The instant an effect was over, he would begin to demolish the spectators' ability to reconstruct the method. Few contemporary magicians make use of this very powerful technique. (Juan Tamariz is one of the current masters of exploiting this type of misinformation.)
David Britland does a fine job deducing and analyzing Canasta's methods. In particular, he emphasizes Canasta's psychological techniques, which are the real secrets. These are techniques that can only be acquired by thousands of performances in front of real people. Canasta also had no fear of failure, and consequently miracles occurred more often than not. I'm sure that one of the reasons that Canasta had no imitators is that few magicians are willing to pay the price to master these types of techniques.
Chan Canasta - A Remarkable Man is a fascinating book about a fascinating character. I doubt that many magicians will even give these tricks a try, and that's a pity, because the routines here are the stuff miracles are made of. Recommended.
(By the way, only a limited number of copies of this book were printed. If you have trouble finding a copy you may want to contact Martin Breese at [email protected].)
Pockets Full of Miracles
By Diamond Jim Tyler. 8.5 x 11 hardcover. 176 pages. $40 postpaid. From Diamond Jim Productions, P.O. Box 165694, Irving, TX 75016-5694
The first things you notice about Pockets Full of Miracles are its very user-friendly front and back covers. Bright colors, attractive layout, pretty pictures - this is the kind of book that your eyes would be drawn to if it were on the shelf of your local Barnes and Nobles. And on the back cover, near the top, just below the word MAGIC (which is highlighted and surrounded by the four playing card suits) is the phrase, "Used by pros, written for beginners." This phrase troubles me, and since this is the only really negative comment I have about this new book by Jim Tyler, I thought I'd get it out of the way first. It is, of course, the god of marketing that speaks the words, "Used by pros, written for beginners," and I think these words do Mr. Tyler a disservice. First, Pockets Full of Miracles is not a book for beginners. There are some simple stunts, gags, and bar bets that a beginner could do immediately after reading them, but the majority of the routines are not really geared toward someone who is new to magic. Mr. Tyler has provided a glossary that defines some magic terms and explains some basic sleights (such as the Bobo Switch, the Charlier Pass, the Classic Palm, the Click Pass, etc.), but these explanations are rather cursory, and they are accompanied by teeny, tiny photographs. (Incidentally, there is an odd entry that categorizes the Will De Seive gaff as a "breather" card. Unless my understanding of the breather technique is wrong, this categorization is incorrect.) The glossary does make reference to books that cover these sleights in greater detail, but my suggestion is that a beginner first spend a few years with Bobo's New Modern Coin Magic, the Giobbi Card College, and the Tarbell Course, before tackling the material in Pockets Full of Miracles.
My other concern with the "Used by pros, written for beginners" phrase is that it casts an unfavorable light on the material in Pocket Full of Miracles. What exactly is being said here? Is Mr. Tyler making his living as a professional magician using repertoire that is so simple that a beginner can easily learn it? Does this mean that learning a few simple tricks immediately puts you in a position to call yourself a professional magician? I'm sure that Mr. Tyler had none of this in mind when he added that phrase to the back of the book, but nevertheless, I do wish that marketing would occasionally take a back seat to common sense.
So much for my quibbles. Let me cheer everyone up by telling you that Pockets Full of Miracles does contain some very commercial, professional caliber routines. Most refreshing is the fact that Mr. Tyler has developed some novel plots that steer clear of the worn out "Collectors/Matrix/Twisting the Aces" variations that clog up many of the recent publications. The first trick in the book, "Gunslinger," is a good example. The magician shows a card that has a stick figure of a cowboy drawn on the back. The card is given a slight bend and is stood upright on the table. The magician moves a few feet away and, forming his thumb and forefinger into a gun shape, fires an imaginary bullet at the card. The card falls over, as if hit by the bullet. When the card is examined, there is now a hole in it. The hole has missed the stick figure, but has gone right through the heart of the Jack that is on the other side. (Incidentally, the "Vortex move" that causes the card to fall over was the topic of hot discussion at the Desert Magic Seminar a few years ago, when several top-notch magicians slapped themselves silly trying to get the thing to work.)
There are quite a few other routines that are off-beat and seem as if they would be great fun to perform: "Baseball Diamond," a mental effect with a surprise kicker; "Frog Hair," an ungaffed method for causing a card to turn over on your hand; "Whatever it Takes," a prediction effect with some funny spectator interaction; and "The Birthday Bill," an effect in which a personalized message appears punched-out in a dollar bill. There are also some variations of non-mainstream effects: "Cat and Mouse," which adds a kicker to an effect recently marketed by Jarle Leirpoll; "Diamond Back," another approach to the currently popular "scare the poop out of your spectator" effect; and "Soaring Straw," and "The Animated Cardbox," both of which have their roots in other well-known thread effects.
Mr. Tyler also takes a brief excursion through some familiar territory with "New Age Spellbound," "Finger Ring and String," and "Pieces of Eight." The latter trick is a longish coin routine that ends with (surprise, surprise) the production of several jumbo coins. I am unsure whether you will find these routines to be more effective than similar routines that may already be in your repertoire.
All in all, I liked Pockets Full of Miracles. I appreciated reading some material that was off the beaten track, and there are a few routines here that I want to try out. None of the tricks require advanced technical ability, although a few will require some concerted practice. If you're looking for some fresh ideas, I'll think you'll find them in this book.
Magic as Interpreted by Reed Michael Lucas
By Reed Michael Lucas. $29.95. Available online at www.NewMagicDVD.com or from your favorite magic dealer.
Question: What do close-up magicians use for birth control? Answer: Their personalities. This is not a joke, it is the underlying message of a completely vile new DVD titled Magic as Interpreted by Reed Michael Lucas. The DVD begins with Mr. Lucas stating that his purpose is to show how magic can be integrated into a bar or nightclub situation, where the magician is faced with loud music, bad lighting, and less-than-sober spectators. His second goal is to show that it is not necessary to have a lot of money or to dance well to impress women at a nightclub. Mr. Lucas fails at these objectives. Let's examine why.
First, define for yourself the qualities that an effective dance-club magic trick must possess. My list goes like this: the trick should be brief, very visual, require a minimum of thought on the part of the spectator, and require a minimum of talking on the part of the magician. With the exception of one trick, "The Appearing Straw," the routines Mr. Lucas offers are long, require a lot of spectator involvement, and are accompanied by non-stop patter. I simply cannot imagine that this material is the strongest possible repertoire for a noisy bar situation.
As far as Mr. Lucas' second goal, well-performed magic tricks may certainly impress women (possibly), but not when accompanied by sleazy patter. The patter for the aforementioned "Appearing Straw" makes reference to a slang term for a sexual technique. Mr. Lucas says to a woman during the selection of a card, "As I dribble the cards, just say stop. I know that's a word that's not in your vocabulary." In fact, if the goal of this tape is to show you how to pick up women using magic, Mr. Lucas proves himself to be a poor role model. Consider these two examples. Mr. Lucas begins a trick by saying to two women, "Here's something my girlfriend showed me." WHAT??!! Trust me, if you're trying to pick someone up, references to your girlfriend or wife minimize your likelihood of success. Example two: Mr. Lucas performs a multi-phased Ambitious Card routine. About two-thirds of the way through the routine the woman who is watching says, "That's great. Do you want to dance?" Mr. Lucas says, "Sure, but let me finish this first." HELLO!! What exactly would this woman have had to suggest in order for you to put the damn cards away?
For a moment, let's ignore the fact that Mr. Lucas fails at his two goals and just isolate the magic tricks. Seven routines are explained. Two require that you have an accomplice secretly working with you. The Ambitious Card routine is okay, but there is very little new involved, except that Mr. Lucas prefers a second deal to a double-lift (a choice of techniques that will immediately put this routine beyond the abilities of most viewers). "Ghost Coin" combines a Spellbound Routine with the Coin Cut effect of Larry Jennings. The combination does nothing to enhance either effect. "Mindreading" is a handling for an effect that Derek Dingle made famous. Mr. Lucas does not stray far from the method in Dingle's Deceptions. Finally, there is a routine that combines three commercially available items. If you want to do this routine, you're going to have to buy the tricks involved.
Fearing that my own judgement of Magic as Interpreted by Reed Michael Lucas was too harsh, I invited some friends over to watch it. None of them were impressed, and in particular, the women who watched it found Mr. Lucas' presentations to be offensive.
Now, I know what you're thinking, "Why does Close always sugar-coat these reviews? What does he really think?" The advertisements state that this is the first commercially available magic DVD (apparently this DVD came out before the recent Michael Ammar DVDs). What a pity that this honor should be bestowed on such a sleazy piece of work. Perhaps there is some underlying, subtle, tongue-in-cheek humor going on here. If so, I'm missing it completely. My biggest fear is that some young impressionable magician is going to buy this and think that Mr. Lucas' example is worth following. If so, the negative impression that most people (especially women) have toward close-up magicians will be reinforced. Let me try to keep that from happening by being as clear as I can be. Under no circumstances should you waste you money on this worthless product. Clear enough?
By Allan Ackerman. Each video $29.95 postpaid in US and Canada. All five videos for $135. From A-1 MagicalMedia, 3337 Sunrise Blvd., #8, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742. Orders: 1-800-876-8437. Fax: 916-852-7785. Web site: www.a1magicalmedia.com.
Las Vegas' Allan Ackerman continues his series of intermediate and advanced card techniques with these five new videos. The format of each of the videos is the same. Allan demonstrates and explains the sleights, and then demonstrates and explains some (the number ranges from four to nine) effects that use the sleights. There is a small bit of overlap as some of the routines use moves that were explained in the first three volumes of the series.
Here are the topics covered: Volume 4 - Flourishes, Double Lifts, and Changes; Volume 5 - Riffle Shuffle Work; Volume 6 - The Faro Shuffle; Volume 7 - False Counts; and Volume 8 - Utility Moves (including ATFUS, Secret Subtraction, the Braue Addition, the D'Amico Spread, Propelled Lapping, Tilt, and the Hofzinser Force). The exact items discussed on each tape are too extensive to list here. I suggest you consult an A-1 MagicalMedia ad, or visit their web site for details.
Over 150 sleights and techniques are discussed on these five volumes. The task of preparing this much material must be a daunting one, and certainly no one could be expected to perform all of these moves to perfection. (This is especially true if you consider that there are moves discussed here that Allan does not use on a regular basis.) There are some sleights here that I think Allan executes expertly; there are others that to my eyes appear less beautiful. I mention this not to be critical of Allan's technical abilities (which are of a very high caliber) but rather to impress upon you the importance of using tapes like these in combination with other text sources. Mastery of sleight-of-hand is not accomplished by watching one video, or by getting just one person's opinion. Mastery comes from studying many sources and then using intelligence and common sense to develop handlings that work for your hands and your style of performing.
In addition, there are a couple of instances where I find Allan's explanation of a sleight to be lacking. Most prominent of these is his explanation of the Faro Shuffle. I really doubt that anyone will be able to learn to do perfect Faros from watching Allan's explanation. I say this for several reasons. First, the grip Allan uses is very idiosyncratic. Second, there are several important factors that must be understood before you can make any headway learning the Faro. Allan does not touch on these at all. (There's also a mistake concerning the number of In Faros it takes to recycle a deck to its original order. Allan states that 26 In Shuffles will do the job. Actually, it takes 52 In Faros to recycle a deck.)
These tapes are not designed to be watched from beginning to end in one sitting. The subject matter is dry, and no attempt was made to make them particularly entertaining. They would be prime candidates for transfer to the DVD medium, where instantaneous access to any sleight would be a welcome benefit. The camera work is generally good, although there are times when having a camera shooting down on the action (or over Alan's shoulder) would have helped.
I think that the Advanced Card Control Series will be a big help to anyone trying to master the techniques of advanced card magic. Allan Ackerman is to be commended for taking on the challenge of such a project. Allan has a great love and enthusiasm for the subject matter and this shows through. Combine these tapes with the standard texts (Giobbi's Card College comes to mind) and you will have a potent learning method. As I said in my review of Allan's early tapes, I wish this resource had been available when I was a kid.
By Bob Kohler. $310 in United States, $350 International (price includes shipping and insurance). From Bob Kohler Productions, 2657 Windmill Parkway, Box 313, Henderson, NV 89104. Phone: 702-263-8234. Email: [email protected]
As I mentioned a few months ago, I look skeptically on any product with the word "ultimate" in its title. Bob Kohler's "Ultimate 3 Fly" may not be the last word on this very popular coin effect, but it is hard to imagine a cleaner or more magical looking method.
I watched "3 Fly" get hammered into existence during my stint at Illusions, the magic-themed restaurant in Carmel, Indiana. Building on Jonathan Townsend's "Fingertip Coins Across," Chris Kenner and Homer Liwag honed "Three Fly" through thousands of performances in front of real people in real world conditions. Kenner's routine became an instant hit, and was published in several different formats. (In fact, I still smile when I think of Michael Weber's comment in MAGIC when he asked if buying the same routine over and over constituted practice.) The routine invites variation, and most recently we have seen handlings by Daryl and R. Paul Wilson.
Kenner's virtuoso performance of "3 Fly" at Illusions, magic conventions, and later during his travels with David Copperfield generated enormous enthusiasm for this trick. One of the most important aspects of "3 Fly" is that it is performed with the hands held at chest height. This means the effect will play for a large group of people, a rarity in coin magic, where the magic usually happens on the table. Another feature of Kenner's handling (and the factor that probably stimulated magicians to purchase the same trick several times) was the vanish of the last coin. A problem with any Coins Across routine that uses an extra coin and the one-ahead principle is how do you get rid of the last coin? As Kenner performed it, the coin was given a little toss and vanished completely. Both magicians and laymen were flabbergasted. Kenner (to my knowledge) never tipped his work on the last coin. Consequently, "3 Fly" and all the variant handlings that followed conclude with a bluff vanish of the last coin and the performer is left "dirty" at the end of the trick.
Which brings us to Bob Kohler's "Ultimate 3 Fly." This routine has been one of Bob's pet secrets for several years. He has featured it in his trade show work, and in his private party performances. Why would a performer release a routine that is one of the mainstays of his professional repertoire? In Bob's case it is a matter of self-defense. Over the years many magicians have seen Bob perform this routine, and at least two magicians have decided to appropriate the routine as their own, and have made plans to market it. In order to establish proper credit and to retain some control over his creation, Bob decided to release "Ultimate 3 Fly" as an exclusive, limited edition product.
Why is this routine special? First, Bob has incorporated a unique and under-exploited gaffed coin that allows the routine to be performed very slowly. At almost every point along the way, the spectators can clearly see that only three coins are being used. Because the action is so slow and fair looking, the spectators don't feel that they being bamboozled by speed or blindsided by bulldozer misdirection. Second, the gaffed coin allows for an unbelievable vanish of the last coin. The spectators see the coin go into the left hand, the hand is opened, the coin is gone and it appears with the other two coins at the tips of the right fingers. Best of all, the spectators clearly see only three coins at the end of the routine. There is nothing to hide.
At $310, "Ultimate 3 Fly" is not a cheap routine. You get three Morgan silver dollars, the precision made gaff, and a videotape that explains all the necessary handling. Be aware that even though there is a gaff involved, this is by no means a self-working routine. Some concerted practice will be required before the routine looks as good as it does in the hands of its creator.
Why is this such an expensive routine? Bob Kohler writes, "The explosion of information about magic methods in books, on video, on Fox TV, and all over the Internet has created a need the magic community must address. How do we keep what we do a secret? The answer is to go back to the days of Richard Himber and Ken Brooke - limited edition routines that keep the secrets from hobbyists and the lay public. Routines not for the curious."
"Ultimate 3 Fly" is priced for exclusivity. I believe that only 200 sets are available. Registered purchasers are granted all performance rights except national television performance rights. The gaffed coin is beautifully made, and when used with normal care will last you for thousands of performances. The explanatory video is a little rough around the edges, but gives you all the information you need to add this trick to your close-up repertoire.
So, do you need this trick? If you are a hobbyist, I would say no. Unless you are a wealthy hobbyist, in which case would you like to adopt me? Professional close-up and trade show magicians will probably want to give this trick their serious consideration. I have read postings on bulletin boards by people who already have a "3 Fly" routine in their repertoires and see no reason to switch to another routine. My guess is that none of these people have seen Bob perform "Ultimate 3 Fly." If you watched Bob do this routine for a group of laymen and saw the reaction it gets, you'd be ready to slap your money down immediately.
I can give "Ultimate 3 Fly" no higher endorsement than to say that I absolutely hate coin tricks, but this is one that I am immediately adding to my repertoire. It's that good.
In Over Your Head
By Steve Bedwell. $15 plus $1 p&h. From Steve Bedwell, 497 Sun Lake Circle, #303, Lake Mary, FL 32746. Email: [email protected].
This stand-up routine from doctor/magician Steve Bedwell is one of the best new things I've seen in a long time. Steve has taken the theory of the Slydini "Paper Balls Over the Head," and applied it to a multi-phased Cut-and-Restored Rope routine. A woman from the audience joins the magician on stage. The magician brings out a five-foot length of rope, which the woman examines. The magician then proceeds to cut and restore the rope four times. Each time, every person in audience except the woman on stage sees the method for the restoration. Because the woman on stage never catches on, the trick just gets funnier and funnier. Steve has structured this routine beautifully, even solving the problem of the woman looking over her shoulder, seeing pieces of rope, and busting you. The final restoration has a visual quality that absolutely stuns the woman assistant. "In Over Your Head" is brilliant, and is priced at a fraction of its true value.
So, you ask, why would anyone put a routine of this caliber on the market? The answer is simple and depressing. Steve made the big mistake (in my opinion) of performing this routine while working a week at a very famous magic venue. It was made very clear to him by several of his colleagues that while he might be returning home to Florida, his routine would certainly be remaining out west, appropriated by magicians who do not have the integrity to leave someone else's material alone. In self-defense, Steve decided to publish the routine, so he would at least get credit for his own creation.
Steve has also been thinking a lot about one of card magic's most venerable devices - the thick card. Steve has turned this concept every way but loose, and has published his findings in a little booklet called Thick Schtick! I had a chance to watch Steve put a thick card through its paces in a late night session at Buffalo, and his ideas are terrific and will fool you if you are not hip to the work. Best of all, Steve's ideas can simplify effects that normally require some serious sleight-of-hand, for example the controlling of multiple selections. If you're a card guy you'll definitely want to check this out. The booklet costs $21 postpaid, and you can get it from Steve at the address above.
A few months ago, in my review of Punishment, a videotape by Australian magician PatTrick, I asked for information concerning the origin of the "Card Under Spectator's Watch" effect. This effect is the creation of Norman Beck of Dallas, Texas. Norman's routine was published in Gordon Bean's column in the May 1995 issue of Genii magazine (the issue with Penn and Teller on the cover). Norman's routine is terrific and is well worth the trouble to track down.
Also, a few months ago, while visiting Steineberg Germany, I wrote a Marketplace column using Pit Hartling's laptop computer. Because of my imprecise language I gave many people the impression that Pit lives in Steineberg. This is incorrect. Pit Hartling lives in Frankfort. His laptop lives in Steineberg.
It's Not Magic, But.
I've always felt that anyone who calls himself a magician should also have mastery of some other arcane skill - like being able to juggle, spin a lariat, do expert origami, shoot pool well, or be a world-class Texas Hold 'em player. Just so if you were in some weird situation, you could step up, McGiver-like, and take control. For example, you're sitting with friends in a bar on Burbon Street, and one of the members of the Original Dixieland bands keels over with a heart attack, and you nonchalantly stroll up on stage, pick up his trombone, and belt out a few choruses of "The Saints" while the paramedics cart the poor guy off to the ER.
If you really want to be the guy who knows stuff nobody knows, pick up a copy of The Worst-case Scenario Survival Handbook (Chronicle Books, ISBN 0-8118-2555-8). Included in this gem of a book is such information as How to Escape from Quicksand, How to Hot-wire a Car, How to Wrestle Free from an Alligator, How to Jump from a Building into a Dumpster, How to Deliver a Baby in a Taxicab, How to Make Fire Without Matches, and How to Survive if Your Parachute Fails to Open. I'm not saying that you're ever going to actually need to put this information to use, but how cool would it be to saunter out of the ocean having just fended off a shark attack and see your friends stunned reactions. "Where did you learn to do that?" they'd ask. "Oh, just something I picked up," you'd reply, and you'd secretly thank me.
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