The interest in self-levitations continues unabated. David Blaine's performance of this effect continues to be a hot topic on Internet discussion groups, and many magicians have contacted me to get more information on the various methods available. Two more products have recently crossed the reviewer's desk, so I thought I would take this opportunity to bring you up to date on new developments and to clarify a few points from my earlier discussion. You might want to get up to speed by rereading the first part of my column from the June 1997 issue of MAGIC.
First, let's talk about a couple of the big problems in reviewing these products. For the most part, the secrets involved are simple. I mean really simple. Consequently, I have to be very careful not to tip the method while explaining what's good, bad, or indifferent about the product. In attempting to do this, I sometimes am more obtuse than I should be. I also tend to examine products from the viewpoint of their effectiveness for real life performance in front of an audience of real people. If, in my opinion, a product will not "work" in real life, then it had better have a large "play" factor; that is, it should be an entertaining "toy," so that the purchaser can at least amuse himself at home. If neither of these conditions is met, then my reviews tend to be extremely negative.
The levitations offered for sale fall into two categories: levitations done without any cover whatsoever, and levitations done behind a coat or a cloth. The levitation which is commonly referred to as the "Balducci Levitation" is done without cover. (As I mentioned in June, Ed Balducci did not create this levitation; he contributed it to the Pallbearer's Review. But the name has stuck.) The levitations done behind a drape use mechanical methods to get both shoes (and in the case of the "Fearson Fantastic Flotation" both legs as well) off of the ground. The beauty of the "Balducci Levitation" is that it is completely impromptu; you can do it anytime, anywhere. It is a very strong piece of magic, and, even though it was "tipped" in several sources, it was not well known among magicians, and was highly prized among those who used it (myself included). There's no cover, no set-up, no props, no nothing. You just float. There are angle restrictions, and there are limitations to the number of people who can watch. But I have never considered this to be a trick I would do all the time. I always saved this trick for someone who was already convinced that I could do miracles, and I wanted to push them over the edge.
The levitations which use a coat as a cover are more dramatic, in that your feet go higher off the ground, but you pay the price in terms of conviction. Audiences are not stupid, and they must assume that the coat is hiding something from them. Your clothing will come under suspicion, especially your shoes. Which brings me to the items discussed in June. In the "Pocket Levitator" the device which enables you to get both shoes off the floor is visible on the outside of one of your shoes. It cannot be removed, and it cannot be explained away. What do you do if the spectators ask to see your shoes? Perhaps this doesn't bother you, but it bothers me. I will not perform magic which can be so easily unraveled. Consequently, for me, the "Pocket Levitator" is unusable. "The Pilot" puts the gaffs inside your shoes, so nothing is visible from the outside. This is a superior method, but "The Pilot" is a very expensive prop. The "Fearson Fantastic Flotation" involves even more preparation, and for that reason I consider it to be more useful for the stand-up/comedy club performer.
Okay, so much for clarifying the old news. Here's the two new items. First, Mike Bent offers "Zero Gravity," which has its roots in the "Balducci Levitation." Mike's method improves the angle limitations and allows you to perform the levitation for a larger number of spectators. Both shoes come off the ground. There is no cover. However, you do pay a price in terms of the amount of preparation involved. What you get for your $20 is an eight-page manuscript which explains how to gaff your shoes. The preparation is extensive. However, once gaffed, the shoes should be good for a very long time. In addition to the cost of the manuscript, you will also have the added cost of a pair of shoes (Mike suggests sneakers) and the other necessary materials. Obviously, you will need to be wearing the shoes to do the levitation. This involves somewhat of a lifestyle commitment. (I can't be clearer without tipping the gaff.) I have not made up a pair of these shoes, but Mike sent me a video of the levitation, and it looks very good. Would I ever use this? No. Should you buy this? I don't know. It all depends on how important it is to you to increase the visibility of the routine. This is still a close-up routine, and is most deceptive when the spectators are looking down at your feet. Whether you buy this also depends on how you feel about walking around in a pair of gaffed shoes. And, as with the "Pocket Levitator," if someone asks to see your shoes you (like Lucy Ricardo) may have some 'splaining to do.
If you want to learn the "Balducci Levitation" and you don't have a file of the Pallbearer's Review, you might want to check out The Self-Levitation Video from A-1 MultiMedia. Mike Maxwell gives you a whole bunch of pointers on performing the levitation, including some excellent work from David Roth, who has used this trick for many years. In addition, there is a segment featuring Paul Harris, who offers some fine suggestions, especially concerning positioning yourself for maximum effect. The tape is no great shakes from a production standpoint, but the information is valuable, and should get you on your way to mastering this trick.
Well, now you have a lot more to think about. But before we leave this subject (hopefully never to return again) let me mention two more things. Many years ago, Harry Riser and I were discussing the floating dollar bill effect. He said to me that if I intended to add that effect to my repertoire, then I had better be prepared to float a bill anytime, anywhere, because people who had seen the effect were going to run into me, and they were going to ask to see it again. If I weren't prepared to do it, then their perception of the trick would be diminished. I believe this same advice holds true for self-levitations. If you do it once, you'd better be prepared to do it anytime anyone asks you. Only one method lets you do that - the Balducci.
Finally, should you decide to learn the "Balducci Levitation" please take the time to learn to do it well. The trick is easy to do badly. You going to be using some motor skills that you don't normally use, and if you don't build up some strength and sharpen your balancing abilities then the method will be transparent. As for me, I'm dropping the routine from my repertoire. In ten or fifteen years when everybody has forgotten about it, I'll start doing it again. Have fun.
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