Lifts

naturalness

The Double Lift—and more many of the finest practitioners of our craft have expressed a common opinion about the performance of sleights and other techniques in magic. Their thesis, even without much elaboration, has been of tremendous interest to a small, but fortunately growing, number of their brethren. This shared advocacy is for the precept of "naturalness." So entrenched is this injunction, it may be considered heresy to challenge it, but I intend to hold the assertion up to the light. Without denying the fundamental soundness of the advice, in this, as in all cases, one must carefully consider the endorsement and its application. It has been my observation that while some magicians have truly adopted "naturalness" as their watchword, they remain a rare breed. For too many, it is more a mantra than a goal. For most, it is a conveniently selective judgment; they argue for naturalness when it suits their desire to praise a move but abandon it at the slightest provocation when they find a move they like or need that doesn't qualify. I contend that if the injunction is to have value, one must always question—every move, without exception, must be critically judged.

To assess naturalness, we need a workable definition. Most moves may be natural, or may be made to qualify if examined, analyzed and restricted to uses that permit natural execution; but how is one to judge without definable criteria. The core of any effort at analysis, the key question, must be, "What is natural?" This question begs an answer; yet, to my knowledge, no answer has been satisfactorily proposed. The common notion that "natural" is the way a lay person would do it fails as guidance because magicians so frequently do things that lay people never do. No lay person is ever called upon to fairly display the four Aces prior to arranging them in a T-formation. No lay person has ever been called upon to place a coin into his or her hand in preparation for an evanishment. When was the last time you were called upon, outside your magic, to thread a ring onto a length of rope or push a small crochet ball under a cup? I suggest that what we really mean by "natural" is:

In a manner that we believe a lay person would use if ever they had occasion.

To that definition we must add a caveat: That the action be one that does not appear flamboyant. Without that constraint we might accept moves that look more like flourishes than expedient methods of performing their intended action. (Flourishes may have their place but that is a matter for a separate discussion.) I, therefore, propose that "natural" as it relates to magic means:

To perform in a non-flamboyant manner an action that is economical and close to the way in which a lay person might reasonably peform it—assuming that a lay person had occasion to perform such an action.

That definition permits and encourages a more meaningful dialogue than has heretofore been possible, albeit imperfect. This casting might be made more succinct, as, for example, the following effort from my publisher, Stephen Minch:

A natural action is one that offers a clear, overt presentational purpose and does not arouse suspicion of a secret purpose.

I am not inclined, though, to strive for linguistic perfection at this time. I have no doubt that further refinement is possible. The more important contribution I seek from our defining statement is that it allow something of a checklist-approach to analysis.

(1) Is this move flamboyant?

(2) Are there overt extraneous actions associated with the move that would not exist were the secret part of the move absent? In other words, is it economical, or at least efficient?

(3) Is it reasonable to believe that a lay person might perform this action in this way if he or she had occasion to do so?

These checkpoints call for subjective judgments and relative definitions but some examples of techniques that clearly fail each test may help to clarify the criteria. The D'Amico Double Lift, as it appears in Arthur Buckley's Card Control (1946, page 15), may be a fine flourish, but it would fail as a natural move under Rule One. It is unquestionably flamboyant. If one were portraying a flamboyant character as part of a performance, it might be completely acceptable to use such a technique; but it would not be natural, merely consistent with an atypical character. I believe natural implies a sense of normalcy. Without reference to a norm the term becomes almost meaningless.

The Panoramic Shift, as described in the Jerry Andrus book, Andrus Card Control (page 34, 1976), would fail under Rule Two. However well-screened by the hands and by proper attention to angles, the overt actions required to perform the technique—particularly those of the right hand—are inefficient. This inefficiency may be masked in any number of ways but they are not inherent to the move. The move, therefore, is not inherently natural, even if it can be made so.

The Thumb Palm Vanish, as described in Bobo's New Modern Coin Magic (1966, page 25), would fail under Rule Three. It is not reasonable to believe that a non-magician would hold a coin clipped between the first and second fingertips and insert it into a well-formed hand by closing the opposite hand into a fist. Viewers would recognize that this is not a way anyone would transfer an object under normal circumstances. They would, therefore, regard the action as purposefully staged. When such a technique is well executed, it may deceive the eye but never the mind—and deceiving the mind is the fundamental goal of seeking naturalness.

I'm sure that someone can raise an argument for each of the three examples cited. This would not alter the legitimacy of the points they illustrate. I don't suggest that any of these techniques cannot be made natural, only that they are not inherently so. Again, an example may serve clarity. A widely debated example of the notion of "making" a move natural can be found in the Curry Turnover and its progeny. These techniques are not inherently natural, under Rule Three: A person would not handle the turnover of a card in the manner required. It would, at best, be questionable under normal conditions. There are, however, circumstances under which one might reasonably perform the requisite overt action. For example, when standing, without a readily available place to put the deck, and facing the need to turn over two cards at the same time, one might turn over one of the cards with the hand that holds the deck. Some performers have constructed sequences to provide these circumstances. It follows that if one is willing to choreograph an application so the motivating circumstances prevail, one may make a move natural for that given situation. Such a move, however, could not perform yeoman service as a card switch. Hopefully, all this is now clear. Thus, with this as a preface, let us explore a popular move of our time and learn what we may.

THE DOUBLE LIFT

It seems appropriate to continue the discussion with this technique because I know of no other that has generated so much inquiry on the subject of naturalness. Nevertheless, as one continues to see a host of abominable actions performed under the guise of "natural" double lifts, it would seem there remains room for still further examination.

To lay the groundwork, three approaches to lifts have come to vogue at this time. The "Pre-set" approach has long been the rage, perhaps because it is the easiest and, therefore, is most often the first learned. The "Hit," as popularized by Jacob Daley, lives to this day and has its adherents. The Push-Off, born from many fertile minds and popularized by Dai Vernon and friends, has many strong proponents. Dai Vernon, in support of his argument for the Push-Off, conducted experiments by handing random lay people a deck of cards and asking them to show him the top card. Based on Vernon's report, almost universally, they pushed off the top card. Then, applying a variety of grips and actions, they turned it over to show it. In theory, this argues that Vernon was correct under Rule Three. The problem with drawing this, or any other conclusion from these trials lies not in the result but in its method. Stated in scientific terms, the protocol is flawed. A lay person, when asked to reveal the identity of the top card of a deck, regardless of the words used, will take the most comfortable, expedient means of turning over the top card because all he wishes to do is show it. A magician, on the other hand, is often attempting to do something more, to aid the illusion being created. The magician demonstrates the top card. He is attempting to both show it and demonstrate that the card came from the top of the deck and that it is a single card. If you were to inform a lay person that his task was to reveal:

(1) the identity of the top card while demonstrating that it came off the top of the deck,

(2) that it is a single card and

(3) that it will be placed back onto the deck within moments, you would, my experiments have shown, get a wide variety of responses. Some push the card off first but many carefully lift the card straight off the deck without pushing it off. Still others push the card off with the hand not holding the deck. They seem to believe this action proves that it is the top card being pushed off. Regardless of how the card is removed, they then take it in any of a variety of grips to show it. Because of this wide diversity in methods, when magicians select all manner of handlings, they are accepted without question by lay people. As a result, the dynamic surrounding the judgment of naturalness is very different from what has generally been thought. It follows that many, though not all, of the Double Lifts that have been created over the years may be judged reasonable under Rule Three, in that a lay person might use them. Most of the Double Lifts that have been abandoned, or should be, fail Rule Two, as they are inefficient. Inefficiency fosters suspicion because, beyond a threshold, it breeds a sense that what is being done is illogical. There is a need for this "efficiency threshold" to be better understood, but by applying the concept in broad terms we arrive at the same conclusion about the naturalness of most techniques. This is important because, in many instances, we break our fingers learning techniques that do little, if anything, to enhance performance or deceptiveness. Vernon was correct: The Push-Off is desirable, but it is desirable because it is efficient, not because it is universal.

With this preamble, I present one of my strongly preferred treatments of the Double Lift. It is easy and looks like a Push-Off. It incorporates an idea that Tenkai, Vernon, Mario and Hamman may all have had years ago, but it takes into consideration all the goals of a Double Lift we've discussed. My Lift clearly proves that it is the top card that has been taken and that it is a single card. The lift is efficient and it is quite reasonable to assume that a lay person might handle cards in the same way, given our stated goals. I, therefore, proudly present, for the first time, the Two-Step Double Lift—one of many natural Double Lifts.

WJ TWO-STEP DOUBLE LIFT

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