Mike and Mac: We've both been on the road a great deal during the last four weeks, and this has made it difficult for us to do our normal back-and-forth discussion of most of the reviewed items. We did, however, hit several conventions, and want to pass along to you some of the cooler things we saw. We'll return to our normal format next month.
Mike: This summer I attended both the World Magic Summit and the IBM Convention in Oakland. Here are some of the things I saw that are worth your consideration.
"In A Gilded Cage," from the Collector's Workshop, is a great effect - and a beautiful prop. A borrowed watch vanishes and appears inside a small brass birdcage, which had been locked inside a walnut chest. I have a great patter line for this routine, the only thing I don't have is 650 bucks.
In the November 1992 issue of MAGIC, Max Maven wrote "In the modern world the art of magic is largely the province of Caucasian males." We know little about those ethnic minorities who participated in the American magic scene because little has been written about them. Jim Magus begins to correct this problem in his book Magical Heroes - The Lives and Legends of Great African American Magicians. This is a fascinating and important book, one that will be of great interest to those who wish to get a more complete picture of the history of American magic. My only criticism is that I wish that the production values of the book were higher. I would imagine that those who collect this type of material would be disappointed in the quality of paper used and the physical layout of the text.
Chuck Fayne is back with another small booklet full of interesting information. His latest tome is entitled The Rat Trap & Other Snappy Effects You Can Do With Your Little Deck. The main topic of interest is a very odd effect in which a card signed by a spectator shrinks. Not only does the card shrink, but apparently the spectator's signature shrinks as well. There is very odd optical illusion at play here, and though I have not had a chance to perform this, I have seen Chuck do it and the impact is very strong. As with all of Chuck's material, the method relies more on audience management and a bold, assured performance style than on difficult sleight of hand. This is reasonably priced and is well worth checking out.
I enjoy combining origami with magic, and so was very intrigued with a new trick by Ken Martin called "Fusion Loops." Knowledge of this trick came to me via the underground some years ago, but I was unaware of the method. Here is the effect: The magician shows two small loops of paper, one black, one white. They are stuck together by a small dot of adhesive. The loops are separated and then are stuck together again. A cigarette lighter is waved under the loops and they are shown to have fused together - that is, the loops are unfolded and shown to be one piece of paper. I like the effect a lot, although you will probably want to give some thought to reworking the switch involved. The trick comes with everything pre-folded so you can try it out immediately, and the folding instructions are included so you can make replacements when the originals wear out.
Meir Yedid has released "Star Gazer," a mental effect by Anthony Lindan. The spectator is given a postcard full of photographs of famous celebrities. The spectator thinks of one of the pictured celebrities, and the magician/mentalist reads his mind. This is a nicely produced prop (that is, the postcard) and the method combines two principles to achieve a very clean-looking effect. My only fear is that the spectators may wish to take another look at the postcard, which they cannot do. Meir says that in his experience this doesn't happen. Two suggestions: 1. This type of trick plays strongest if it appears to be of an impromptu nature, so perhaps it is best used in an informal situation. To this end it is great if you have a friend in Southern California who can mail you the card from Hollywood. 2. A friend who does mentalism professionally suggested using the postcard as one test in a routine of tests. In this way, less attention is drawn to the postcard. In any event, this is a clever trick, very reasonably priced, and well worth checking out.
A-1 Multimedia has released Don England's "Ultra Collectors." The effect is that four tens, which had been previously placed aside, "collect" three chosen cards. This method is great, and it whizzed right by me. Very little sleight of hand is required, because an ingenious (and very nicely printed) gaffed card does all the work. Again, this is another very reasonably priced trick, and one that can be used for laymen or to "smoke" your pals at the magic club.
Finally, from Martin Breese come two Sherlock Holmes pastiches written by Val Andrews: Sherlock Holmes and the Egyptian Hall Adventure and Sherlock Holmes and the Houdini Birthright. These are not magic books per se, but they have the venerable Holmes involved in cases with a magical theme. They are fun reads, and I enjoyed them.
Mac: I too ran across my share of cool stuff at the summer conventions. The most fascinating prop in search of an effect I saw comes from Dr. Sawa, the wildly ingenious Japanese inventor. He has created "Stretcher." The routine that comes with this trick is kind of goofy, but the props are great, and will fill your mind with possible uses. There are two card cases, one red and one blue. One of them has been stretched width-wise so that while it is the same height as a normal card case, it is about twice as wide as it should be. The other case is the correct width, but it has been stretched so that it's way too tall. These cases, beautifully produced and manufactured by Ton Onosaka's Magic Land, are accompanied by two playing cards that correspond dimensionally with the two card cases. Somebody is going to come up with something really cool with these.
The other cool thing from Japan is a Tenyo item called "Zone Infinity." While this is the typical Tenyo plastic magic trick, this is one you might actually carry with you and perform. You use it as your key chain. The key chain holds a quarter, and you use the plastic key chain, the quarter, and a key to accomplish a very baffling key-through-quarter penetration.
Keeping with the theme of penetration, Wellington Enterprises' "See-Thru Guillotine" is the most puzzling slicing-off-somebody's-head kind of trick I've seen. The stocks are completely transparent, and yet the blade passes cleanly though someone's neck, leaving them unharmed, but neatly severs carrots placed above, beside and - get this! - below the spectator's noggin. It costs some dough, but it fooled me over and over. Plus, it is thoughtfully and solidly constructed with a couple of great safety features.
Another costly but great item is "Jump!," John Kennedy's gizmo that makes stuff jump out of a glass. I had seen the ads for this and thought, "Eighty-seven dollars and fifty cents to get a pencil to jump out of a glass?," but it's well made, and very reliable. Once the pencil (or straw, or whatever) jumps from the glass, the spectator can pick it up themselves. At that point, it's too late, there's nothing attached to the jumping item or the glass. I loved it. Another John Kennedy note: It hasn't been perfected yet, but keep your eyes peeled for the release of John's trick "The Tiny Human Being."
Another electronic item I liked was John Cornelius' "Wizard's Cellular Phone." This is a really good-looking fake cellular phone that has a computer chip inside onto which you can record about 12 seconds of your voice. This can be used to reveal a card, or whatever you so desire. Actually, my favorite part of the instructions is John's suggestion on how to use the phone to meet an attractive stranger.
One item which looks vaguely electronic but isn't is Vanni Bossi's "The Best Rising Card Gimmick in the World." You have a card selected and returned, and then the deck is dropped into a clear plastic bag. A crank is attached by suction cup to the front of the bag. As you turn the crank, a card rises from the pack. It is the wrong card. You turn the crank the other way and the card descends back into the pack. Again you reverse your cranking direction and this time the correct card rises from the deck. All this while the deck is enclosed in the plastic bag. This is a funny prop and very low-tech - the kind of thing I really like.
But for me, the best low-tech, funny, marvelous item I saw this summer was Chad Long's "Now Look Here." This is also a card trick, but a very different kind of card trick. A spectator selects a card and returns it to the center of the deck. You announce that the card is now on top of the deck. Turning over the top card reveals instead a message that directs you to look in your pocket to find the chosen card. A card is withdrawn from the pocket. It is turned over to reveal another message instructing you to look again at the first card (which you've dropped face down onto the table). When this tabled card is turned over, its message has changed to read, "Look in My Hand." The card in your hand (which used to say, "Look on the Table") has changed into the spectator's selected card. My description of this may be confusing, but the effect is easy to follow (and very simple to execute) during the actual performance. This is a really good trick - and Chad Long is a really good magician. As a matter of fact, seeing him perform late at night in the hotel lobby at the World Magic Summit was one of the big convention highlights for me.
Steve Bedwell Taped! The Steve Bedwell Video Volume 1
Mike: Steve Bedwell is a medical doctor in England. He is also an extremely clever creative and entertaining magician. He is also a genuinely nice guy, which makes him one of my favorite people to be around. He also came to the 1994 IBM Convention in Orlando and walked away with the Gold Cups in the close-up competition. On this tape you can see the award-winning "Walkman" act, and you can learn some diabolical stand-up and close-up routines.
The material taught on this tape comes from two sets of lecture notes, Parked Card and Other Maneuvers and Siamese Signatures and Other Oddities. Because these notes had limited distribution in the states, the material will be unfamiliar to most of you, and all of the routines are worth learning and performing.
The video emphasizes Steve's card material, but there is one rope routine, "At a Loose End," which is a killer. This is a four-phase routine that begins by stretching a six-inch piece of rope into a six-foot length. The rope is cut, restored, the ends are removed (leaving an endless loop of rope), and two different ends placed onto the rope, restoring it to its normal condition. I lusted after this routine when I first saw Steve perform it, and you're lucky he's tipping it on the tape.
The card magic is uniformly excellent, with one routine, "Parked Card," being especially notable. A signed card travels from the deck to the top of the card case twice, while the spectator burns every move. The third time the card ends up folded inside the card case. I guarantee that this will nail you the first time you watch it, and that the method is great. Other card items include a version of Ed MarIo's "Estimation Aces," a version of Vernon's "Travelers," which includes a discussion of a useful drama technique called "Point of Suspension," and several useful sleights, one of which, "The Dribble Toss Control," is easily worth the price of the tape. I have fooled some very knowledgeable cardmen with this control.
Steve's award-winning "Walkman" act is shown in performance only. It is a well-constructed act, with some very clever moments.
I have only one negative comment that can be listed under the heading: "What's wrong with this picture?" In the course of his performance, Steve uses a line that was originated by a professional mentalist who still uses it in his act. Dr. Bedwell should surgically remove this line at the earliest possible opportunity.
All in all, this is a very worthwhile tape, and I highly recommend it.
Expert Sleeving Made Easy Expert Topiting Made Easy
Mac: Carl Cloutier has won an awful lot of magic contests in a short amount of time. In his award-winning act, he makes unrestrained use of both sleeves and not one, but two topits. He has just released two tapes in the A-1 Multimedia Magic Made Easy series. In the topit tape, Carl teaches us how to switch some items and how to vanish some other items. For the switching of items, topiting is combined with a bit of sleeving.
The tape begins with a short attempt to explain Carl's general theory on the basic use of the topit. Actually, that's not entirely true. The tape begins with Mike Maxwell making a goofy attempt at using the topit. This comes off as simply a lame attempt at humor. Then, following Carl's introduction, he gets right into a jumbo coin routine. While there are a couple of good things in this quick paced vanish and reproduction sequence, to me, it lacks any real impact.
The explanation of the moves involved is next, and this is one of my three chief grievances with this tape. After the talk through of the explanation, we are treated to a slow-motion run-through of the entire sequence. Nine separate times we are treated to a slow-motion run-through of the entire sequence! If we want to see a certain sequence again, we all have rewind buttons on our machines. To repeat it over and over on the tape is very annoying, and very wasteful of both time and tape.
Here's my second big gripe: The next items performed and taught are a switch of a real egg for a fake egg, a switch of one ball for another ball, a switch of one deck of cards for another deck of cards, and a switch of one pack of cigarettes for another pack of cigarettes. If these four things sound as if they are similar, they're not. In fact, they are absolutely identical. The moves and the timing are precisely the same for each. Instead of showing us, for example, the ball switch, and just telling us that you can also use this same switch to switch an egg, or a deck of cards, or a pack of cigarettes, we have to watch the performance and explanation of each of these four essentially equivalent items. Not only that, but following each of the four items, we are presented with each of those items again in slow motion. Nine times! That's 40 times we are presented with basically the same information! I found myself actually shouting at the television I found it so frustrating.
The other thing that really bothered me about this tape was that even when the tricks were shot from what should be the ideal viewpoint, straight on, there were still glaring flashes of items as they were being tossed into Carl's coat. This shouldn't be.
There were some good things about this tape. While English is not Carl's first language, it doesn't seem to hamper his style to speak it. In fact, I found him to be rather charming. Also the trick "Snap It Aces" uses a really deceptive switch of one packet of cards for another. In fact, this was the only item on the tape where it didn't look like Carl was simply tossing stuff into his coat.
The sleeving tape begins with Carl giving valuable advice on the type of material and construction to look for in buying and using a jacket for sleeving.
There is a bill in cigarette, a vanishing and reappearing finger ring, a few card tricks, some basic coin effects, a sequence with small balls, and a transformation sequence featuring a sugar cube and a single die.
There are a few weird glitches in this tape. Carl explains a coin vanish that he doesn't perform, and in the explanation of the ball sequence, he seems to have lost a couple of the props between the time he performs the trick and the time he executes the explanation. This leads to the awkward situation of Carl asking us, during the explanation of a ball switch, to "suppose" that a ball is resting on his palm and that a red hanky is yellow. The whole thing becomes very clumsy.
The effects presented are at least more varied than those on the Topit rape and, although that same slow motion overkill and flashing of the moves are also present here, I think this tape is overall better. This isn't meant to imply that I liked this tape. I cannot recommend either of them.
Mike: Let me preface my remarks by saying that I have a certain prejudice against the use of the sleeves or the topit. I feel the same way about them as I do about lapping - the techniques are powerful and can be deceptive, but magicians fall in love with them and overuse them. If I were going to utilize these techniques, I think I would only use them to "clean up." In other words, the spectators believe that the effect is over, and then I use my sleeves or a topit to get rid of something. Done in this way, the gestures, which must be used to toss the item in the sleeve or the topit, are not associated with the actual effect. When the effect and the necessary gestures coincide, I think that these actions become "tells," and an astute spectator will begin to notice that every time the magician's hand disappears inside his coat something "magical" happens.
You are correct in your comments on the switches utilizing the sleeve and the topit. This portion of the tape is padded mercilessly. I did like the card switch, and I was very impressed with the routine where four coins vanish and appear in four different pockets. The readers should also know that the actual construction of the topit Carl uses is not discussed on the tape.
Anyone who purchases these tapes should ask this question as they watch, "Am I being deceived by the techniques demonstrated, or am I being impressed by the adroitness of the execution?" This is not a trivial question. Perhaps the answer to it explains the response that a performer gets from an audience of magicians.
Mac: That's right. I think these tapes - and if the truth were told, Carl Cloutier's act itself - are like pornography to most magicians. They want to do what they're seeing, but they know they're never going to. They just enjoy sitting at home in front of their television sets watching someone else do it.
Mac: Another thing I saw at the World Magic Summit was the little "Car Buggy" that is being advertised and sold by Tannen's. In the ad it states that this is the same prop that was used by Juan Tamariz on "The World's Greatest Magic" television special last
November. Beware! This is not the same prop used by Juan. ]
Mike: After writing all these short convention item reviews, it occurs to me that it is very easy to write a short positive review of an item. If I write, "This is great! Buy one today!," then you, as a reader, don't need to know much more. The creator of the product is happy, the dealers are happy, and you're happy. I wish I could do the same for products that aren't very good. I'd like us to do a semi-regular segment called "Total Crap," which would include items I believe are not worth your money. I would like to do this without having to go to great lengths to explain why. If you'll accept my opinion when I say, "This is great," will you accept it if I say, "This is lousy?" I'd like to know your thoughts.
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Magick is the art and practice of moving natural energies to effect needed or wanted change. Magick is natural, there is absolutely nothing supernatural about it. What is taught here are various techniques of magick for beginners. Magick is natural and simple and the techniques to develop abilities should be simple and natural as well. What is taught on this site is not only the basics of magick, but the basics of many things.