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31 entries from January 2006

Cyril & FISM

Cyril

One of our fellow Magic Bloggers, Pagliacci (he of the 'GirlMagic' eBook fame) has added a great feature to his blog IAmPagliacci with video of top magic acts. So far, he has clips of the most well known unknown magician around today, Cyril. You may have seen some of Cyril's magic clips on the net before and not known who the performer was. Let me put it simply, if it fooled you, it was Cyril.

Cyril was a member of the TV show team of magicians on 'THEM' (Totally Hidden Extreme Magicians) and is very well known in his home country of Japan. He did an astounding piece at FISM Yokohama and took first place in the Grand Illusion category, and he competed in Den Haag as well. I really hope he's entered FISM this year because, with some of the stuff he's come up with in recent months, he'll take out the Grand Prix for sure! (Though... Lee Eun-Gyeol may be competing again... and I have heard rumours about one or two other surprise entrants as well...)6873_7

If you are heading to FISM and would like to read up on what the last one was like, you can take a look at Sue-Anne's FISM 2003 report here.


Aussie Magic Websites

For some time people have discussed putting a "reference page" together on the web that would include a listing of the websites of all Aussie Magicians who have them. It looks like someone has been working on that already! Take a look here and you'll be surprised at how many there are!

I also got an email from Frank Starsinic, owner of the website 'The Ambitious Card'. He has a link to our 'Magic Fakers' page on his site and he reported that so far he has sent 2650 people from his page to ours. Very impressive stuff Frank! If you're looking for handcrafted props that are definitely not cheap knock-offs, head on over to Frank's site.


Houdin's quote

Ever since I've been in magic I've heard people quoting Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin's famous definition saying "A magician is an actor playing the role of a magician", but only in the last couple of days have I come close to understanding what that really means.

Sue-Anne and I were discussing Criss Angel. What is it that sets him apart from his contemporaries like the two Davids (Copperfield and Blaine)? Sue-Anne pointed out that to her Criss Angel, even when playing his surreal goth character, was still Criss Angel... a nice guy who cares about his family and is passionate about his art. David Blaine plays his mystic character pretty much all the time, while he does stunts, during press interviews, even in the magic press. David Copperfield comes across as a "party guy" interested in going out with supermodels, flirting with his female audience members, and often walking through his live shows with a distinct lack of energy.

Now think back to Houdin's original quote. "A magician is an actor playing the role of a magician". David Blaine plays the role of a magician beautifully. So convincingly in fact, that many people I know think his magic is "real" and are a little creeped out by him. But does he let his audience know he's only an actor playing a role? Does he let us know anything about who the actor really is? He tips a little of his past in interviews and in his book, but is it real or part of his character's history? The line between the actor and the magician is blurred.

Look at Copperfield. We certainly know a lot about him as an actor. We know who he was engaged to, where he was partying last night, we know about his mum and dad and how he never saw snow as a child... once again, do we trust that this is all "real", or is some of it just part of the show? And when he's on stage are we watching the magician? Or does the actor show through a little too often?

Imagine an actor like Eric Bana. We know about him as an actor because he grew up here in Australia, we read about him in the media, we know a little about his family life and we know a lot about his passion for his art. When we see him on film immersed in a character (like Avner in 'Munich') we are watching the character, not the actor. We no longer see Eric Bana, but we still know it is Eric Bana playing the role. We are not really watching Avner.

If Bana was to use Blaine's style, we'd see Avner on screen then, in interviews, Bana would stay in character and answer questions as Avner. We'd think he was insane.

If Bana used Copperfield's style, we see Avner on screen, but we'd see elements of Bana's personality slipping in from time to time. Maybe, some times, he'd even look a little tired, as though he really wasn't trying. Perhaps there'd be a leery double-entendre when an attractive girl walked into shot.

To a large extent, with exceptions which I'll mention in a moment, Criss Angel is treating magic in a way that is extremely close to Robert-Houdin's definition. We see Criss Angel the actor, who introduces us to his family, his crew, his consultants... and credits those who support him while still managing to "star" while sharing the spotlight... just as Bana would credit Spielberg and all of the people who helped make 'Munich'. Angel knows his role. His is an actor, not a one-man show. He allows the audience to get to know him as an actor who plays a magician, and one who works hard to try to create the best presentations possible. Sometimes he plays the role of the magician on the street in casual clothes with a casual attitude. Sometimes he plays the role of the magician on stage with full goth make-up and surreal imagery. But after the show he steps out of character and is happy to discuss his art, just as an actor would.

The difference between Angel and the others is very subtle, but if you watch his early shows 'Supernatural', 'MindFreak' and 'Made in Japan', you can really see a difference in his attitude and that of other magicians. He seems "real". He seems "down to earth". Bottom line: he seems like the type of guy you'd love to have over for dinner. Would you invite Blaine? Or would you worry that he'd sit there motionless freaking people out? Would you invite Copperfield? Or would you worry that he'd try to crack on to every female in the room? Take it further... would you invite Siegfried & Roy, Penn & Teller, even Lance Burton...? Can you see beyond their magic characters and see a "real person" in there? Can you see the actors or only the magicians?

The exception with Criss Angel which I alluded to earlier, and this applies to all magicians, is one moment in his show where he lost the trust of his viewers. To me, this is the reason that his shows didn't rate well in Australia. In the USA viewers may have a different attitude, but here in Australia when a magician says "Some of what I do is real, some is illusion, it's up to you to decide." I believe many Australians feel the magician is lying to them. To continue the Bana analogy, if he was to say either "Was it me playing Avner in 'Munich'... or was it Avner himself? It's up to you to decide." or "I channelled the spirit of Avner and allowed him to take over my body for the role." we'd feel he was talking BS. Australians seem to appreciate straight talk. They don't like people talking down to them. If you are levitating people in the middle of the street in Las Vegas and you say "Maybe it wasn't just a trick, maybe it's real." You are talking down to the audience and treating them like idiots. You are blurring the line between magician and actor.

Now, what Criss Angel really meant was "Some of the things I do are real" (like the fish hook suspension, the 24 hour water torture etc) so his statement was true, but it was too easily misunderstood by the viewers.

It's fascinating to analyse the styles and approaches of different magicians, and indeed performers in all artforms, but what can you learn from this?

Be honest with your audience. If they trust you, the believe you, they'll like you, and they'll be happy to watch you do anything. (Be honest, if people didn't "like" Adam Sandler do you really think they'd watch any of his movies? *g*) People love to be fooled, but they don't like to be lied to.

Your thoughts?


Movie Round-up

With the summer heat really kicking in, and yesterday being the Australia Day public holiday, the best place to be was in the comfort of an air-conditioned cinema. Judging from the lines we encountered I think half the country had the same idea! I wouldn't be surprised if this weekend is one of the biggest box-office takes in quite a while.

Yesterday, at around 40 degrees, we took the evening off and caught two films.

MumKeeping Mum is a delightful British comedy starring Rowan Atkinson and the inimitable Maggie Smith, and Maggie completely steals the show from Rowan's comic vicar character. In the tradition of great British comedies like 'The Lavendar Hill Mob' and the current 'Mrs Henderson Presents' (which is definitely worth seeing) 'Keeping Mum' keeps up a steady flow of laughs seamlessly interwoven with a simple message about relationships. It also knows how to push the envelope of 'good taste' without going too far. Once you see the film, you'll wonder how they managed to get you to sympathise with the people you end up caring about, but you'll end up forgiving them a multitude of sins just for the chance of a happy ending.

Munich_2 From the ridiculous to the sublime, we rushed from 'Keeping Mum' to Steven Spielberg's latest 'Munich'. There's been a lot of talk about this film, some say it's Jewish propoganda, others say it goes too light on the Palestinians. Spielberg is Jewish, so his personal agenda is out on the table but surprisingly not nearly as much on the screen. The message of the film is clear, terrorism breeds terrorism. The film is a call for peace by demonstrating the real devastation of the unending cycle of terrorism. As for the movie itself at 160 minutes it is very long and, in places, it does seem to drag and lose it's way, but this seems appropriate as it is much more of a journey of discovery than an action-packed thriller. To see Eric Bana handle the lead role as competently and convincingly as he did is a revelation. Less than 7 years ago we performed at the Regent Plaza Ballroom with him for a corporate dinner. We did our act and then he came out and did 30 minutes of stand-up comedy. At the time he was still well known for his television show and the applause he got when he was introduced was much louder than what he received when he finished. His stand up comedy was good, but he has truly found his calling in acting. With a director like Spielberg to bring out his full potential, we are finally seeing what Eric Bana is capable of. Definitely a film worth seeing.

Cash_1Today, not quite as hot as yesterday, but unable to resist a preview, I caught the Johnny Cash biography 'Walk The Line'. Another long movie clocking in at 136 mins the performances of Joaquin Phoenix and (dare I say it) Reese Witherspoon were outstanding. Definitely Academy Award winning performances. Not only did they bring their characters to life, but they even performed all of the songs themselves as well. The story is incredible, whether you're a Cash fan or not you will be totally taken by the journey of this man's life. Once again, a great film to catch that's not only inspiring and uplifting, but also true. You can read a little more about what happened after the end of the film here.


Qantas: Part ???? PERTH

Qantas17_8 So our trip to Perth... we were scheduled to fly out on Saturday from Melbourne at 8.30am arriving in Sydney at 9.50am, then taking a 12.25pm flight to Perth.

Surprise, surprise... while we're sitting on board our plane at Melbourne the announcements begin:

8.35am - "So sorry for the delay, we have a slight electrical problem."

8.45am - "Sorry, the problem is more serious than we thought, we'll be waiting here for 15-20 minutes."

9.15am - "Well we're getting close to departure now..."

(I'm starting to think... if the plane has such a serious problem, how did they fly it in to Melbourne in the first place?)

9.20am - "Just an announcement for our passengers who have connecting flights with Air Canada and international flights to Hawaii. When you get to Sydney, go straight to counter 2 and we'll make alternate arrangements for your travel."

9.23am - "All fixed, just have to wait for our engineers to fill out the paperwork and we'll be on our way. Should just take 5 mins. We apologise for the delay but your safety is our number one priority!"

9.33am - "We are now ready to push off from the gate."

(It was only when we actually got in to the sky that I started to think we might actually get to Sydney in time to catch our connecting flight to Perth.)

The Sydney to Perth leg was fine, except for the announcement that the sound on their award-winning entertainment system wasn't working in the back of the plane. They stopped the show in order to reboot the whole system. This was to take 15 mins but ended up taking 45 mins.

COMING BACK FROM PERTH.

Booked on the 4.55pm from Perth arriving in to Melbourne at 11.20pm.

At 3pm we got a call from Qantas informing us that our plane was already running late. It was now scheduled to depart Perth at 6.30pm.

At the airport we asked the Qantas Club what the reason was for the delay. Was it another mechanical problem? No, they explained it was a medical emergency. The plane had to head back to Melbourne shortly after departure to drop a sick person back. Fair enough. A lot of people must have asked that same question because they ended up announcing it over the PA system in the lounge.

The next announcement came at 5.45pm to let us know that the plane was running later still... it would be boarding at 6.30pm now.

In  the end we boarded at 6.40pm and the captain announced "Sorry for the delay, I don't know what you've been told but we had some servicability issues. The technical people had to read between the lines." So it WAS yet another mechanical problem with the aircraft but Qantas was happy to lie to us.

The reason this is a real issue is that Qantas have laid back a lot of their maintenance staff in order to make higher profits for their shareholders. The servicing of the planes now seems to take place on the tarmac when their fully loaded with passengers.

More evidence: The person in front of me had a faulty headrest on their chair which kept falling down. They called the attendant who held it in place and asked them to lean back on it. He explained that would keep it in position until the people in Melbourne could take a look at it. Needless to say the monitors on the entertainment system where way out of wack, some almost black and white, others fuzzy, others bright orange... and the sound quality was sub-par at best. Then, when we finally arrived in Melbourne at 1.20am Monday morning (the Captain said "Sorry for the delay, enjoy your weekend." hmmm a very weak end) it looked like they'd left the airport lights on just for us...not so.

There was a Townsville flight due in at 11pm which was arriving in a little after us at 1.30am. I wonder if they had a "medical emergency" too?

Qantas really have to lift their game before one of their planes falls out of the sky.


Happy Birthday!

First, the good news about our trip to Perth. We were actually a birthday present from a wife to her husband. She flew us over, put us up in a nice hotel, and even had seating and a stage (complete with lights and sound system) put up in the backyard. It was a great experience. The house was absolutely gorgeous (well, he is one of Perth's top builders!) and the guests absolutely loved all of the close up magic as Jeannie and I strolled among them performing during cocktails.

Then everyone headed outside to the backyard theatre (I know it was 40 degrees in Melbourne Saturday night but it was much cooler in Perth... and very windy too!) where they huddled together and braved the elements. The response was fantastic. We even added a trick or two in to the show and made a special feature out of the birthday boy who was truly the star of the night.

All in all it was a great night and well worth the effort it took to get there.

The effort... oh, let me explain that in the next post...


Back from a long weekend

Well we are finally back from a loooong weekend in Perth (though a very enjoyable one, more about this in the next few post!) and I see the comments section has been buzzing. It's great to see people actively discussing the posts and sharing their opinions. Nice to see Kamal & Dean, The Magic Store boys, spending the weekend with us too.

The DVD issue is a particularly "hairy" topic and I know there are a lot of other issues here yet to be brought up so, as it moves further down the list of posts don't forget about it, keep thinking and talking.

As far as the 'Black Deck' by Magic Makers Inc goes, everyone seems to realise that it is a blatant attempt at cashing in on the success of Ellusionists negative decks. Dean may be right in saying that 1: It is a "different enough" design from what Ellusionist have done and 2: It will sell well. But in such a small community as ours, does that make it right? Magic Makers Inc did exactly the same with their Colouring Book. The design was "different enough" from the popular Fun Inc book, but also close enough to cash in on it's success. I have spoken to Ellusionist about this deck and they said they weren't a bit surprised that it came out given Magic Makers Inc reputation. However they were quick to point out that their cards are "top-quality stock and finish" whereas the new 'Black Deck' is "regular-quality stock and finish" so they are confident that buyers will drift towards the better quality cards when choosing a 'negative image deck'.

Also, for Australian readers who like to get out and see shows... FREE, we'd like to let you know about a new website at www.on-the-house.org where they'll give you free tickets to shows that need an audience when they are just starting out. The only condition is that they want you to spread word of mouth about the show after you've seen it. Check it out, it's a genuine service with no hidden catches and the price is definitely right!