Mac: I am currently on the World's Greatest Magicians Live tour. We are traveling to a different city every night by bus. For me to have a hotel room is a rare luxury. As you can imagine, under these conditions, it has been a hassle for Mike and I to get our column coordinated this month. Because of the nature of this tour I haven't seen some of the things he reviews and vice-versa. Therefore, only a few of these items have both of our opinions.
At the moment I'm sitting in front of my hotel window typing on my notebook computer with the skyline of lovely Scranton, Pennsylvania over my shoulder. I'm listening to Al Green sing Christmas carols and wishing I were at home with my wife Jennifer. On a happier note, we've got some great stuff to talk about this month.
Mac: It seems somehow fitting that as I crack open Mike Caveney's brand new Carter the Great biography I'm laying back into my bunk on a World's Greatest Magicians tour bus about to embark on the longest expedition of my magic life. For, as it turns out, that's all Charles Carter ever did. He went on one lengthy journey after another. And each one of those long trips is chronicled in extraordinary detail in this huge tome. When I say huge, I mean huge. This book is so gigantic it put my legs to sleep.
The research that this project must have involved is mind numbing. This is easily the most detailed biography of a magician I've ever read. At the end of the book there is even a timeline that lets you know what city Carter was in on just about every day of his life. Where did all this information come from? Well, in addition to being truly skilled in the nearly lost art of letter writing (some of the Carter correspondence Mike quotes is simply astounding in its hilarity), Carter was apparently a copious record keeper. Sorting through Carter's personal files, show records, and business registers was no doubt a tedious task, but the rewards for all of us readers are vast.
I don't know about you folks, but all I really knew about Carter was that he had a whole bunch of cool posters. My impression was that he was one of those guys who had great publicity material and no show to back it up. Mike presents a whole mess of evidence that this was not the case. There are indications that Charles Carter may, in fact, have been a pretty good magician. But to dwell on whether Carter was a capable performer is to miss the main point of this book. By following in detail the career of a lesser-known magician as he makes his seven tours of the world, we get a fascinating look at the early decades of this century in general, and at show business in particular. And not just American show business either, but show business the world over.
In addition to being crammed with the whole story of Carter's life, this giant book (375 pages, 9" x 11-1/2") is loaded with other outstanding features. There is a 16-page section in the center that contains full color reproductions of all 24 of the surviving Carter color lithographs. The book is beautifully cloth bound and has the title stamped in gold on both the front and the spine. The end papers are printed with a cool photo depicting Carter's show being transported by oxen through some town. There is a heavy-duty, full-color dust jacket. Jim Steinmeyer wrote the introduction. There is an appendix detailing the serpentine route the Carter stuff traveled after Charles' death in 1936, until it ended up in the possession of Mike Caveney and Bill Smith in 1990, and then was finally dispersed to various collectors. There are nearly 200 photos, some of which were taken by Carter himself. This is a limited edition of only 1,000 hand-numbered copies.
Like I said, this book (the sixth book in the Magical Pro-Files series of biographies) is a mighty stunning achievement. I have only one minor negative comment. An advertisement for this book states that, "all of the incredible magic featured throughout Carter's long career is thoroughly explained." This is not quite true. The basic secrets to many of the tricks are told, but if you're expecting detailed illusion plans, you'll be disappointed. But again, that's not what this book is about. Mike Caveney himself tells you what this book is all about in his wonderfully stylized subtitle: "Being a Detailed Account of Charles Joseph Carter and his Extraordinary Life as a Vagabond Illusionist Who for Three Decades Circumnavigated the Globe With Thirty-One Tons of Magical Impedimenta." Pretty cool.
Mike: Back in June of 1995, I hinted that a new book from Simon Aronson would appear before the end of the year. Well, that book has arrived, it is titled Simply Simon, and it is simply wonderful.
I confess that I have a propensity toward Simon's material. I find it appealing for several reasons: the ingenuity, elegance, and deviousness of the methods; the thoroughness, clarity, and intelligence of the explanations; the economy and directness of the handlings; and the serious amount of butt that these tricks kick.
Before I touch on the highlights of the book (and these will simply be a few personal favorites, since there is not a bad trick in the bunch), let me offer a word of warning. Simon is the Public Broadcasting Service of magic. He does not deal in sound bites. There are about 27 routines explained in 300 pages of text. There are just a handful of photographs. You will not be able to flip through this book and fantasize that you are doing the tricks by looking at the pretty pictures. You have to be able to read. Some of the explanations are fairly involved. I strongly urge you to read the book with a deck of cards in hand.
The book is in six sections. The first is titled "Games Magicians Play," and each of the three routines has a game-oriented theme. All are very strong. "Point Spread" combines the "Half the Excess" concept from Stewart James' "Miraskill" with Simon's "Shuffle-bored" routine to produce an unbelievable demonstration of precognition.
"Moves and Removes" takes the 3-by-3 elimination matrix to a new level. "Child's Play" is a commercial variation of a Robert Neale routine. All these routines are sensational. "Short Order" is the title of the second section that contains a number of effects requiring nothing more than a deck of cards. There are a couple of excellent poker deals, a baffling three card location, new work on the Solomon/Aronson effect "Doublestop," and a very powerful tool, the Aronson Strip-out shuffle.
The next section, "Something Extra," offers effects that utilize a prop or a gaff. If you're a restaurant or bar worker, take a look at "This Side Up," which may well be one of the most commercial routines Simon has ever come up with. There are two routines based on the Birthday Book theme, and a remarkably clean and effective handling of the "Open Prediction." Also in this section is a discussion of an item that you can find in any large shopping mall and which is an extremely commercial prop for magic.
The fourth chapter is titled "Well Stacked," and it offers several novel set-ups and pre-arrangements, the most remarkable of which is "The Trained Deck." This routine is virtually self-working, the spectator shuffles the deck all through the trick, and yet you get three phases of successively more amazing magic. What's truly amazing is that the trick works at all.
Simon, of course, is well known as an expert in the field of the memorized deck. The fifth section of the book contains over 70 pages of new material with this powerful tool. All the routines in this section are killer, but I should draw your attention to "Everybody's Lazy" and the essay on "The Open Index."
The final section is called "The Cross-Index Index." All I will say is that there is some ground breaking material presented here, and the trick titled "Fate" absolutely fried me when. I saw Simon demonstrate it.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I am a fan of Simon's material, but this may well be his best book to date. I admire his ability to explain complex routines in a way that makes them crystal clear. And I love the fact that much of Simon's material demands that the magician's brain be as nimble as his fingers. Selfishly, I wish that I were the only one who had these routines. But instead, I will tell you that this is one of the best books of 1995. Buy this book. Learn these routines. The spectators won't stand a chance.
Mac: I must say that this book knocked me out. Magic is my profession, but reading card magic books is my hobby. I love the thinking and problem solving that goes into the creation of a truly eloquent card trick. If you are one of those kinds of people, you will really appreciate this book. I only wish I'd seen Simon do the "Fate" trick before I read the explanation. If you received money for Christmas, use it to buy this and the Carter book.
Mike: Anyone who has been in magic for any length of time is probably aware of the importance of Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft, which was the earliest book in the English language to detail the methods of the conjurer. But while many would acknowledge that they are aware of the existence and importance of Witchcraft, I would imagine that few contemporary magicians have ever read the conjuring section of this book. I am ashamed to say that I was among that group.
Kaufman and Greenberg has republished this historical text in a format that closely reflects the 1930 John Rodker edition. The book has been restored to its original 11-1/2" x 8" size, which makes the printing much easier to read. In addition, the book is bound in a three-piece red and green cloth with gold foil stamping, which also reflects the 1930 edition. This is a handsome volume and it is a delight that such an important book has again been presented in a way that equals its stature.
So, what's in it? The Discoverie of Witchcraft is 283 pages long, and of that, 22 pages are devoted to conjuring tricks. But as Richard Kaufman states in his foreword, "Do not be deceived ... any magician today could earn his living based entirely on this material." Here's what I found in those 22 pages: the progenitors of the Elmsley count and "Card Warp"; the technique upon which is based the Dad Stevens shuffle; a version of the Roth/Ammar "Shadow Coins"; the forefather of the "Gallo Pitch"; a crude but totally practical version of "D'lite"; and the exact method now used in the famous "Flying" illusion.
(O.K., O.K. I made up all that stuff in the last paragraph, but for a second there you were reaching for your pen and your checkbook, weren't you?)
What I did find, however is pretty amazing. There are descriptions of the "Cups and Balls," simple coin passes, the copper/silver gaff, the animation of a coin using a hair (ala Al Baker), an amazing bare-handed vanish of a coin, the Buddha papers, the jog shuffle, a crude version of the glide (and a trick to go with it), the discernment of a mentally selected card (ala Derek Dingle), the "Grandmother's Necklace" trick, various trick boxes (one of which is the precursor of the Boston box), the "Gypsy Thread," the "Magic Coloring Book," various trick knives, and a trick in which you shove a ring through your cheek (memorably demonstrated by Stephen Minch some years ago at an Inn Event). What is also remarkable is Scot's emphasis on patter and audience management. In addition, there are many tricks that rely on the use of stooges, a stratagem that has lately been raised to an art form.
I can only say that if you have not read this book you have missed out on something of great interest. This new edition is both beautiful and affordable. Do yourself a favor and find out where we are by discovering where we have been.
(As an added note I should mention that I did a little research into Scot. I discovered that, due to the popularity of his book, he was hired by the English government to appear at witch burnings. He demonstrated and then explained simple tricks to the assembled throng so that no one would leave between executions.)
Mac: Very funny, Mister Magic.
Mike: Card enthusiasts will have a field day with this latest offering from the author of 1991's monumental book Card Craft. While smaller than Card Craft, this sequel comes in at a whopping 300 pages, and contains more than 80 effects and over 700 illustrations by Joseph K. Schmidt. Knowledge of the material in Card Craft is not required, as all necessary sleights and moves have been completely re-described.
The 12 sections of the book are divided into two parts: "Wiles and Wherefores," which contains four chapters discussing various sleights (such as variations on "Secret Subtraction," card switches, forces, shuffles, palms and card changes); and "Schemes and Themes," which contains eight chapters of various and sundry card effects.
Being cursed with a normal life span, I am only able to touch on a few of the effects that caught my eye. "A Thunderful Ace Trick" is a delightful four-ace production. The handling is well within the abilities of the average card man, and the last ace is produced by misdirection. "Just in Case" revisits the classic effect of apparently removing the spectator's selection from a closed card case. The Hartman handling is simple, elegant and involves a sneaky psychological ploy. "Which and Switch" is a streamlined version of Sadowitz' "The Whisperers." The last three routines in the book, "Hot Thought," "Prize Brain" and "Dynamic Duo" require some advance preparation, but they are extremely strong and could easily be the highlight of a card act.
I have been a fan of Mr. Hartman's creations for many years. He provides fertile fields in which to play and experiment. His routines are well within the abilities of the average card man, which means that it is possible to derive instant gratification when working through the material. Several performers have taken Hartman creations and routined them into very powerful performance pieces. (I would refer you to Darwin Ortiz' "Blind Aces" in Card Shark.) During the coming winter days I'm going to sit in front of the fireplace with this book and a deck of cards. I suggest you do the same.
Eugene Burger's Gourmet Close-up Magic By Eugene Burger
Mike: Biggs restaurant is housed in a remodeled Victorian-style mansion in Chicago, Illinois. The restaurant is elegant and refined, with small, intimate dining areas. Eugene Burger performs at this restaurant, and he fits the decor so perfectly that you would think that he was the "lord of the manor" who had stepped downstairs in order to show his guests a few amazing things.
This tape features Eugene performing in three areas of Biggs: the lounge (walk-around magic), behind the bar, and seated with a table of guests. You will see many of Eugene's signature pieces including "The Haunted Matchbox," "Thought Sender," "Three Card Monte," "Voodoo," "The Haunted Pack" and. Bert Allertons' "Aspirin Box." These routines are not explained on the video, but the methods are (mostly) available if you are interested. Three routines are performed and explained: Matt Schulien's "Signed Card Under the Tablecloth," Eugene's handling for the Mullica Wallet, and a sensational item (which I believe is a recent addition to the Burger repertoire) "Shotglass Surprise." I was so taken by this last item that I'm not even going to tell you what the effect is.
In all these performing situations Eugene is unique, charming, entertaining and really amazing. (I guarantee that you are going to get fried more than once.) The editing is done to give you a feel of being involved in the live performance. In this regard, I know that some of you will cry, "Foul!" when you watch the Schulien trick, because the camera cuts away as the dirty work is done. But, as Eugene says in the explanation segment, if you were watching this trick live you would not be looking at Eugene at this critical moment. Here is a prime example of television being unable to capture an effect properly. To simply frame the action by keeping a static wide shot would trivialize the very powerful misdirection that occurs as the card is loaded. So Eugene opts for the cutaway and I think this is valid.
In addition to the explanation of the above three tricks (which also includes David Parr's very clever ploy for use with the Mullica wallet), there are interview segments in which Eugene discusses his philosophy of restaurant magic, including such topics as approaching the customers (Eugene has a system which makes me green with envy), handling repeat customers, dealing with tips, and closing the show.
This is a wonderful video; a great performer and teacher, doing his thing in a perfect setting. You'll learn a lot and you'll have a great time in the process.
Mike: This review is going to be short and sweet. By now you are aware that video is not my learning medium of choice. I should also tell you that I am not a big fan of tricks with rubber bands. So I will now tell you that these tapes are absolutely great.
Why are you still reading? Just go out and buy them.
You're still here? O.K., then I'll tell you a little bit more.
Dan Harlan is the Guru of rubber bands. He is also an excellent performer and teacher. On these tapes he has assembled a ton of material with rubber bands. He has also organized the material into thematic routines. For example, on the first video there are two long routines involving nine and ten tricks, respectively. The first routine is based on the very popular "Crazy Man's Handcuffs," and the second is a wild and crazy routine which begins with a discussion of the Garden of Eden and ends up with a rubber band version of the razor blade trick. Organizing the material in this way is a terrific idea and I applaud Dan for it. With Dan's routines as a springboard you should easily be able to create one of your own.
On these tapes you will find the creations of some of magic's most ingenious inventors: Martin Gardner, Ray Cosby, Gary Beutler, Joe Rindfleisch, Jeff McBride, Chris Kenner, Greg Wilson and Michael Ammar to mention a few. This is an encyclopedic assemblage of material, and you are sure to find something new to play with.
Let me make one other point. This is a case where video far surpasses print as a learning medium. If you have ever tried to learn a rubber band trick from a book, you are aware that most of the time the illustrations end up looking like an abstract drawing of the L.A. freeway system, and nine times out of ten you have to turn the page with both hands wrapped in elastic. No problem here. The production values are excellent, the camera work captures the necessary details, and the Super-practice review locks it all in. If you have any desire to learn rubber band tricks, these videos are the way to go. Buy them.
Why are you still here?
Magic, Mastery, and You: The Michael Ammar Lecture '95 By Michael Ammar
Mike: This video was shot live at a lecture Michael presented for an enthusiastic crowd of 500 people at the I.B.M. Convention in Oakland, California. This lecture contains some of Michael's strongest and most popular material, including "Shadow Coins," "The Bottle Production," "The 41 Cent Miracle," "Matched Cards" (which is an updated version of a trick I remember as "The Yeast Card"), and the "Bill to Nut" (which is Michael's handling of a wonderful U. F. Grant trick). Interspersed throughout the lecture are important theoretical points, including the concept of false memories and creating context.
Michael is an excellent lecturer, and his explanations are clear and concise. You will find that this lecture is not only informative; it is also funny and entertaining.
There are some small camera glitches that mar a couple of the performances. (In particular, "Shadow Coins" suffers from a very bad camera angle. If you are not familiar with this trick, be aware that in real life it looks sensational.) However, when you shoot a one-take, live performance, these things are going to happen.
Three of the routines from the lecture are featured in the Easy to Master Money Miracles series. If you already own those videos, you may want to consult the ads for a complete listing of the lecture effects to see if the others interest you. If you are not familiar with Michael Ammar or the effects he has popularized, then this tape is the perfect introduction, and is an excellent value.
This is a compendium tape of tricks from performers who have done videos for Mike Maxwell's A-1 MultiMedia company. None of this material has been released before.
Eight performers are featured. (Note: The ad that appeared in the December issue of MAGIC was not correct. Paul Harris' "Buck Naked #2 & #3" are not included on the tape, and Larry Becker has been added to the line up.)
Some very talented and creative performers are represented here. The ads will give you full roster; I'll just mention a few things I liked.
Paul Harris offers two more routines from his Art of Astonishment series. Both are very weird. Daryl does a routine with a ring, a rope and a wand. Although it is not mentioned, I think this kind of routine goes back to Jim Ryan. Gary Kurtz offers a knuckle-busting version of "Everywhere and Nowhere" and a card control that looks marvelous in his hands. There is strong card material from John Cornelius, Larry Jennings, Allan Ackerman and Darwin Orriz. (I think that Darwin's routine bears a resemblance to the second phase of Ron Ferris' "Royal Aces" from Expert Card Mysteries. Ackerman's ace assembly is really great and smoked me completely.) And Larry Becker offers a clever method for discerning the identity of a card sealed in two opaque envelopes.
I didn't mean to, but I guess I just mentioned everybody.
I liked this tape. There is usable material explained, and if you are not familiar with these performers, this tape is an excellent introduction.
Mike: Jarle Leirpoll is one of Norway's leading stand-up and close-up magicians. He is also a professional television cameraman and video editor. In this book he discusses methods for using the pockets to switch, ditch and steal objects in effective and deceptive ways. There is a bonus section titled "Good Enough for TV" in which Mr. Leirpoll discusses ways to structure your magic so that it will play effectively on television. I'll give you an overview of both sections.
I am a proponent of using the pockets to ditch, switch and steal, although this does not seem to be a popular subject among magicians. I think there are two reasons for this. First, in order to use the pockets effectively, you must condition the audience to accept certain mannerisms without suspicion. This requires skills in the areas of audience management, situational motivation, structural routining and acting. Secondly, you cannot amuse yourself by standing in front of a mirror and sticking things in your pockets.
In the first half of his book, Mr. Leirpoll discusses the various ways in which the pockets can be used deceptively. To this end, this is more a collection of established techniques rather than a lot of new approaches. However, having all this material assembled in one place is very valuable. And there were several techniques for stealing objects from your pockets that were new to me.
Mr. Leirpoll includes several routines that use the pockets in one way or another. These are uniformly excellent, but I would especially draw your attention to the "No Gimmick Bill Change" and "The Almost Ultimate Newspaper Trick."
The second half of the book is titled "Good Enough for TV." In the introduction to this section Mr. Leirpoll writes, "I knew that even though my magic always got a good reaction in live performances, it would not work well on TV. I gave this a little thought and realized that if I designed my routines for TV, they would also be better in my other performances." To aid the reader in evaluating and adapting his routines to this medium there are sections discussing Drama, Choreographic Misdirection (this is a really excellent section), Confidence, Video Evaluation, and Magic on TV. Mr. Leirpoll's experience as a cameraman/editor brings fresh and interesting insights to each of these sections. There is information here of value to all performers.
I would like to make one point, however, and that is that just because a routine is not suitable for performance on television does not mean that it is not effective for a real-life performing environment. Close-up magic (and to a somewhat lesser degree stand-up magic) suffers on television because medium eliminates the personal interaction (in this case between the performer and the home viewer) that is so crucial for success. For example, Eugene Burger's performance of Matt Schulien's "Card Under the Tablecloth" (see the review above) is one of the great routines in magic, but it is not effective on television. And of anyone in magic, Mr. Burger is certainly aware of what is required to produce a dramatically powerful performance piece. So it is very possible that you could follow Mr. Leirpoll's excellent suggestions and still find that you have a routine that was not suitable for television. Realize that this may well be due to the limitations of the medium.
To sum up: This is an excellent book from a thinking magician, whose name should be better known to magicians outside his country. I very much recommend it.
Mac: I have not received this book for review yet, but I have, in fact, read it. I had dinner at Gene Anderson's house a couple of weeks ago on a night off in Michigan, and he showed it to me. I'm afraid I was rather rude after dinner because I was so absorbed by this book. I really thought there were some great things in here, and I was surprised to see your review come scrolling down my screen. I hope I have a copy waiting for me at home.
Mike: If it isn't there, Mr. Leirpoll does accept VISA and Mastercard, which should make it easier for those of you outside of Norway to order this book.
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