Actor Christian Bale lost an astonishing sixty-three pounds to play the lead role in The Machinist. Standing six feet tall and normally weighing one eighty-five, he dropped to a weight of one hundred and twenty-three pounds. If you haven’t seen the film, he turned himself into a living skeleton.
Even more amazingly, for his next role, playing Batman in Batman Begins, he gained one hundred pounds and got into peak physical condition. When he first landed the role he was unable to do a single push up. For the next three months he lifted weights three hours a day.
How was Christian Bale able to achieve such remarkable physical transformations? In a word, dedication. He began each project with a specific conceptualization of what the character should look like then took drastic measures to realize his vision. He was dedicated enough to the outcome of his vision to do whatever was necessary to make it a reality.
Go to any magic forum and you’ll find magicians complaining that they can’t get the muscle pass down.
When you take a look at what some actors, dancers, athletes, and others do in pursuit of their goals, magicians can look like a lot of whiners. I think much of the reason for this can be attributed to the misconception that magic is easy.
If you’re over the age of ten, you probably already know that anything worthwhile isn’t going to be easy. That’s the nature of magic and the nature of life. Yeah, you can get some boxes that make coins disappear and that kind of thing – props that all but scream fake – and go out and conceivably fool people with them. You can do that pretty easily, I would imagine. But to transform the experience of being fooled into one of being entertained is going to take some work. It’s going to take some thought and practice. You can’t just walk into a shop and buy a self working trick and be a magician. You have to become a magician.
How do you become a magician? Dedication. You begin with your conception of what a magician should be and work to make it a reality. There’s no secret formula or arcane bullshit. You want the thing you have to do whatever it takes to make it real.
Many don’t want to do the work. They seem to think that kind of good is good enough. They reason that if they fool someone they were successful. Doesn’t matter if they hemmed and hawed around or cracked corny jokes or had the shakes or whatever else.
Listen: This isn’t about being a professional or amateur. Being a professional doesn’t mean you’re any damn good. It’s about doing your magic professionally even if you never make a cent from it. And you really have to be dedicated to achieve that aim. It’s not always fun doing something over and over until you have it perfect, but nobody ever said it would be. And if they did they were a liar.
Every single time magic is done badly, every single time a magician gives a mediocre performance, another spade full of dirt is added to the grave of magic. Each of us has a responsibility in this – we’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. The things we have to master are really pretty simple when compared to the rigors practitioners in other disciplines go through. We need only exercise our dedication to make our magic the best it can be. See you next time.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Posted by Jim Coles at 6:00 PM
Even though Richard James said that Magic Box would receive a shipment of his trick Linked on the twenty-eighth, the site continues to list it as a pre-order item. I don’t know what delivery services are like in the United Kingdom, but it’s getting harder and harder to believe that he can’t figure out some way of making sure a shipment arrives. I don’t think saying the shipment was lost or delayed in transit is going to carry much weight anymore -- if that turns out to be the case once again.
As someone on the Magic Café thread commented, the correct thing would have been for Mr. James to personally send out the trick to those who had pre-ordered so they wouldn’t have to wait for their order to go through a middle man. Maybe he has a rationale for deciding that people who’ve already waited so long can just wait a little longer, but I can’t begin to guess what it is.
The clock is definitely ticking, and the natives are more than a little restless. And when the natives get too restless they have a nasty habit of dining indiscriminately. I hope for Mr. James’ sake that his latest shipment did in fact arrive on Friday and the orders will be going out soon. Otherwise his dwindling reputation and credibility are going to be served up as the main dish.
Posted by Jim Coles at 12:27 PM
Saturday, September 29, 2007
When I was fourteen and had been interested in magic for a year, my mom bought me the Mark Wilson Course in Magic. At that time the oversize volume came with a close up mat, a couple of decks of Aviator bridge size cards, some gaffed cards that matched the Aviators, special Genii cards to do the tricks described in the book, and four blue sponge cubes. I could be forgetting something, but I remember those things pretty well. The course went for forty bucks – which was not chump change in seventy-seven. I thought I now had at my disposal all the secrets of magic.
Only I couldn’t help but think something was missing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an exceptional book for the beginner and some of the material – like the sponge ball routine – is superlative. But I felt it might’ve been a little too basic in some regards. I already had a year in magic, and the section on cards, for instance, didn’t present any challenges at all. I knew there had to be something more – a higher level I was missing out on. And I was hungry to learn everything I could about magic.
It couldn’t have been more than a couple of weeks later that my older sister had taken me to see a movie – It’s Alive or Burnt Offerings or some such similar seventies horror fare – and afterwards we stopped by the mall. I remember doing the typical kid things – like walking up the down escalators. Funny how when you’re a kid you don’t need much at all to have fun. It’s only later that you spend lots of money – and often as not kill quite a few brain cells – trying to recapture what once was free.
I was in the basement of a department store where they had their selection of books in long rows of wire framed shelves. I was checking out the books to see what they might have that dealt with magic. I’d bought quite a few magic books aimed at the general public, and usually came away sorely disappointed, but I guess I was young enough at that time to be optimistic.
That’s when I saw it. The funky art deco cover seemed to grow invisible fingers which grabbed me and pulled me forward. Find money in the air, it read, with a drawing of a hand grasping a gold coin beside it. Make a red handkerchief turn green. Pour a drink from an empty jar. There was also a picture of a face with rainbow colors extending down from the right eye – an implicit promise of mysterious things, secret knowledge. And above everything the title: The Amateur Magician’s Handbook.
It has to be crap, I thought, remembering other magic books bought at newsstands and in drug stores. I was still optimistic at that age, but I wasn’t a fool. I plucked it from the shelf and leafed through it. There were numerous black and white photographs illustrating things I could only barely comprehend. What the hell is this, I wondered.
It was just about then my sister showed up. I had to go so I had to make a decision. Acting more on impulse than anything else I shelled out the dollar ninety-five. Hard to believe books were ever that cheap – the other night I bought a similar size paperback at Walden Books and it took the best part of a ten.
I took it home, this discovery I was intrigued by but still distrustful of. I remember taking it to my room, opening it up and reading the first line: The purpose of this volume is to help you become a good magician: one who can entertain others as well as himself with the wonders he works. After that I was hooked.
I can’t think of any other magic book that made such an impression – and that posed so many challenges. Henry Hay’s method of teaching was to introduce you to the sleight of hand magic first. His reasoning was simple and sound: If you learn an easy trick you’ll just run out and show people without investing any thought into how to make it entertaining. If you learn a sleight of hand trick, however, you have to put time into mastering whatever mechanics are required and will thus think about how best to present it.
First up was cards, and what a departure from the Mark Wilson course it was. On page twenty-nine I was first introduced to the pass, which fairly drove me crazy for months on end, wondering how this thing could be done invisibly. Then there was the side steal, the fan force, palming, false shuffles, and on and on. But this wasn’t just a collection of isolated sleights; each sleight was explained then used in a corresponding effect. Besides being my initial exposure to advanced sleight of hand, it was also my first meeting with Leipzig, Cardini, Zingone, Muholland, Downs, Vernon and on and on.
The coin section was every bit as fascinating, and sometimes frustrating, as the cards. The thumb palm, the Downs palm, the click pass, the DeManche change. It seemed like every day I could open this little book, which was a mere three hundred and something pages, and find something new and exciting. And although I bought many other books in the following years, none touched me in the same fundamental way. The Amateur Magician’s Handbook was my bible through my teenage years.
I’ve been prattling on and on, but I think I’ve failed to convey both how good the book is and how much it meant to me. I guess non magicians wouldn’t understand how a book of tricks and theory could have such importance, but for me it was a genuine magic book. It was like any question about magic I had, I would first turn to this simple paperback book because nine times out of ten I would find my answer within.
What more can I say? It’s a great book, from the opening essays through the tricks, to the advice on staging a show at the end. There’s a plethora of practical wisdom and effective tricks.
I never felt Henry Hay, born Barrows Mussey, got the recognition he deserved for writing one of the best magic books ever. Maybe that’s just the way it goes. I do know I’ll always be grateful that he produced such a wonderful book that helped and taught me so much. See you next time.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Some newer readers of this blog may not know that this is actually the second version. I started with Word Press but couldn’t get any of the plugins to function properly – that vodka diet might’ve been a contributing factor…but what a way to lose weight!
Anyway, there are a couple of things that I wanted to repost here because I really enjoyed them, and this is one.
My wife is an art teacher, which means that body painting is not just an abstract idea around here…
Forget that. Because she’s an art teacher, and very into the subject, our areas of interest often overlap — I mean it might be even better if she was an art teacher/rodeo clown, but a man can’t have it all, now can he? She showed me a visual observation test the other day that I enjoyed so I’m passing it along. Here’s how it works.
Go to the first link below and watch the video. It takes a minute to load. The idea is to count both how many times the basketballs are bounced and how many times they’re passed. Got it? After you’re done click on the second link to see how you did. No cheating.
Posted by Jim Coles at 9:08 PM
I can’t help but think that the debacle Richard James has created with his trick Linked could’ve been avoided if there’d been no pre-order. He now has a lot of angry people who shelled out their money contingent on receiving the trick at a certain time; after all the delays, it seems that unless the trick lives up to his claims (made by the video and what he’s said) he’s going to have effectively destroyed his credibility. Why not wait until you actually have the trick to sell before selling it?
From a marketing perspective, what’s great about the pre-order is that you can generate a lot of hype without having any actual reviews from consumers. Everybody’s talking about the thing and blowing it out of proportion, and soon you find yourself sucked into the hoopla and order something that nobody really knows anything about.
The problem with it is that people are usually disappointed when the thing actually arrives; it’s almost impossible for the product, even if it’s good, to match the expectations which have been raised. You see this over and over. A trick comes out you can pre-order, people are raving over the possibilities, then after it comes out all the talk dies and only a couple of people bother to say anything more about it.
The other problem, from a consumer standpoint, is it’s the perfect way for the unscrupulous to separate you from your money. A great concept is described; everybody gets on board imagining how incredible it must be, then the actual trick is without a practical method.
I don’t think I’ve ever pre-ordered a magic trick or book. The only reasons I can see for doing a pre-order are if a limited number of copies are going to be sold or by pre-ordering you’re going to save money. Even then I wouldn’t recommend it unless you know who you’re dealing with. Could be I’m old school, but I don’t like the idea of buying something that doesn’t actually exist yet. See you next time.
Posted by Jim Coles at 8:33 AM
Thursday, September 27, 2007
You know my father was fond of saying, “If it sounds too good to be true…invest every penny you have, boy! Get in on the ground floor. This could be it!”
I should probably mention that dad wasn’t a very bright man. And had a fondness for recreational pharmaceuticals. That probably had something to do with his investing the family’s dwindling fortunes in the untried sport of hamster racing. That venture didn’t quite pan out, and we ended up living in a big cardboard box with a lot of really quick hamsters. Well played, dad. Well played.
Sorry, I digress. Actually most of us learn early on that if something sounds too good to be true there’s a catch somewhere – like a hamster’s inability to run more than a hundred yards without wheezing uncontrollably. Intensely Magic has a post where he mentions a trick I hadn’t heard of called Linked. He wonders if there might be a problem. I wonder the same thing.
What raises red flags early on is the video performance. There’s an unnecessary pause at what would be a crucial point. The creator says he’s going to post a continuous shot video, but as of yet that hasn’t materialized.
The video itself is fair enough, I suppose. But on the first page of the Magic Cafe thread, in response to someone saying the spectators will want to examine the card removed from the glass, he says:
Once the card is pulled off the glass, you simply place the glass down or give it to them. Ask for the center that was signed, give them the card with the hole in the center. The ripped out signed piece fits and they can examine Both the card, the center and the glass.
Things don’t quite add up. I have a lot of trouble believing that the effect would play as seen on the video. I could be wrong, and if I am I apologize in advance, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this will be one of those cases where the video is supposed to represent how the spectators would see the effect. If that’s how it is, the creator’s comments are disingenuous at best.
What’s worse is the continuous litany of excuses as to why the people who pre ordered have gotten the trick yet. Assurances are made and aren’t met. At the very least it’s an awful way to do business and is sure to negatively impact the creator’s future releases.
It’ll be interesting to see how this thing goes, and I can’t wait to see the first reviews. See you next time.
Posted by Jim Coles at 8:57 AM
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
I’ve had a long time interest in the paranormal and try to keep an open mind about its existence. It’s not always easy. After studying magic for awhile you begin to realize how ridiculously vulnerable human perceptions are. Yesterday I said that when you remove the magician from the exhibition of a trick the magic is magnified. What I neglected to mention is that charlatans realized this long ago. Substitute “magician” with “psychic” and a nothing trick becomes a miracle. The context has been altered by a simple change of roles. People watch a magician and know it’s a trick. They watch a psychic and think it might be real.
While I’m interested in introducing a sense of ambiguity about what I’m doing, I don’t believe in saying outright that it’s real. There’s a definite line separating magician from charlatan; I want to dance on that invisible line but not cross it. I want to entertain and possibly open minds to the possibility of magic, not lie and advocate a specific belief system.
I found the video below after watching one of the famous Russian psychic Nina Kulagina posted at Intensely Magic. I’d gone to YouTube to see what other footage they might have of her, and this is one of the videos that came up. Titled, “Replication of Nina Kulagina Telekinesis Feats,” I figured it was going to be a video of some magician exposing the rather crude methods she’d employed. But I was wrong.
Apparently the person who filmed this would have us believe it’s an actual demonstration of psychokinetic powers. What really amazed me is that the people commenting believe him! Now, I imagine that anyone reading this blog will see that this person’s powers are total bullshit. For anyone with doubts, I’ve been immersed in the study and practice of visual mentalism for a few years now and can state with absolute certainty that it’s one hundred percent fake. It’s not even a very good fake – if this guy were a magician he’d starve because his deceptions fall apart under anything more than casual scrutiny. Because the context has been changed, however, because he’s playing a psychic and not a magician, people overlook the obvious explanations.
I think there’s a lesson there for us all.
Posted by Jim Coles at 8:43 AM
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
When a magician performs, no matter how good he is, no matter how artfully he creates the illusion of the impossible, those watching ultimately will conclude that what they witnessed was just a trick. If you change the context by removing the magician from the picture, by having some inexplicable thing happening to the ordinary man on the street, the magic is magnified, and those who’ve witnessed the inexplicable act are unable to easily dismiss what they’ve seen. They experience wonder in its purest most primal form and entertain the idea that real magic might exist after all.
The above summarizes what the Magic Anarchist site was all about. It was a combination of magic and guerilla street theater, with the magician playing the part of someone to whom the impossible was happening. It was a performance style I started exploring way before T.H.E.M came along, and was inspired by both a desire to inject a feeling of unreality into the magic I was doing and a fascination with poetic terrorism.
I was reminded of this because I mentioned the Magic Anarchist site in the previous post. I miss the site, mostly the free exchange of ideas we had in the forum – I was lucky enough to have some very creative people as members. We were concerned with not only engaging in Magic Anarchy but ways to make our straight magic performances more powerful. Besides a lot of attention to visual mentalism, we focused quite a bit on creating a sense of unreality by subtle means.
A very simple idea that I mentioned there, and still sometimes do, involves nothing more complicated than putting some folded up napkins in the heels of your shoes. Imagine going to a party, either to do walk around or as a guest, and showing up with the napkins in your shoes so you’re an inch or so taller. You mingle; have a drink, do a trick or two. Then you excuse yourself, go to the restroom, remove the napkins and throw them in the trash. You return to the party and what’s great is they’ll notice the difference but won’t be able to quite place what’s changed. They get this low level sense that something’s strange but can’t quite pinpoint what.
Others suggested wearing colored contacts and secretly changing them and having a tattoo that moves from one arm to the other. There were many more that I can’t remember. The main thing is that the change be subtle enough that they can recognize it but can’t detect it.
I like the idea of a magician being a mysterious figure, and small strategies like this help create an aura of mystery.
Anyway, just something I thought I’d throw out there. God, it really makes me miss that site. See you next time.
Posted by Jim Coles at 8:09 AM
I’ve seen some talk recently (you know you’re on the Internet when you’re seeing talk…either that or having some heavy hallucinations) about the soaring prices of magic PDFs. While PDFs once were a cheap alternative to books, they’re rapidly becoming just as costly. As a matter of fact, I was just looking at a PDF priced at fifty dollars – the same price as a quality magic book.
Now, I can see both sides of this. On the one hand books and PDFs are just a means of communicating information; the relative worth of the information isn’t significantly changed by the format in which it’s presented. If it’s something good, something you’ll use, does it really matter how the information is provided?
On the other hand, many people, myself included, hate reading magic instructions off a computer screen and print their PDFs. That means anytime I buy a magic E-book I’m going to be spending extra money on ink and paper to print the thing. Shouldn’t that requirement be reflected in the price? The PDF itself costs nothing in production materials. No paper, no ink, no printers to pay – shouldn’t it therefore be cheaper than a book I can hold in my hands and put on a shelf?
Appropriately pricing magic E-books is a tricky proposition at best. When I put out PK Revolution I felt it was pretty good. I sent it to Banachek and Morgan and they thought it was pretty good. At the time I had The Magic Anarchist site and I thought a smart way to draw traffic would be to under price my E-books. My theory was if you give people a super bargain they’re sure to reciprocate by spreading the word – which would mean more visitors would come to the site and be exposed to the concepts I was trying to impart.
I priced the PDF at 6.50 and it did very well. I sold a lot of copies at Magic Anarchist, a lot at a UK site, and it’s been on the Lybrary bestseller list almost since it arrived there. Still, I think I shot myself in the foot by pricing it so low. Some people were reluctant to buy it because it seemed too cheap; I think it wasn’t taken seriously by some because of its low price. Maybe it’s the old maxim, “You get what you pay for”. Some folks look at something really cheap and just assume its crap. Even though it had almost universally positive reviews, some assumed it was bad because of the price.
Then you have the work factor. Someone writing a PDF invests just as much time and energy as someone writing a paper and ink manuscript. Forget the time put into developing and perfecting the effects themselves – describing how to do the effects in a lucid manner takes a lot of effort. Doesn’t the E-book author deserve to be compensated for his time as much as the book author?
I don’t know, it’s a slippery slope. I guess it all comes down to the quality of information. If it’s good and you can and do use it you’ll probably think it’s worth the cost. But what if it’s bad?
The thing about self-publishing is that it’s reached the point where anyone can do it. Once again, forget about the effects themselves, I’m talking about the quality of the writing. I’ve seen E-books that could’ve been better written by sixth graders – gross grammatical errors and little to no punctuation. And the thing is, unless you’ve bought previous works from the same author, you have little idea going in just what you’re going to get.
I have to conclude that overall PDFs should be cheaper than actual books, at least at this point in time, if for no other reason than it’s a crap shoot going in if the thing’s even going to be readable. There are exceptions, sure, but for me getting an attractive volume in the mail that I can pick up and read at my leisure is always going to trump studying some pages I’ve assembled in a binder.
That’s not to say that there aren’t superlative electronic offerings, as there certainly are – witness Michael Close. I think the concept of downloading a PDF to your desktop and being able to access the information you want quickly and easily is a definite winner and is still in its infant stage. But for now, I believe, magic authors need to keep prices lower rather than higher on electronic materials.
The comments are now on so feel free to add your two cents.
Posted by Jim Coles at 7:12 AM
Friday, September 21, 2007
If you want to see something truly scary, watch a new magician who’s decided he needs to create a character. Suddenly you have a fourteen year old with a world weary expression talking about his recent excursion to the sacred temple of Kali, or a middle age guy who’s losing his hair and sporting a beer gut wearing lots of gold chains and throwing gang signs. Those might sound like gross exaggerations, but trust me, they’re not. In the hands of a magician a little character can be a frightening thing.
Why does this kind of thing happen, and happen with enough consistency that it’s become something of a cliché in the magic world? Why does the magician who’s discovered he needs to create a performing persona go to such ridiculous extremes?
Misinformation is probably the primary culprit. As has been observed in previous posts, the magic world is so focused on the mechanics of deception that learning valuable performance strategies is a catch as catch can sort of proposition. More, the very word character conjures up thoughts of foreign accents and eccentric affectations (ascot and monocle anyone?) and assuming a whole radical new identity. As we all fantasize about being something we’re not, the idea of a new identity can be very attractive indeed.
As with most things in magic, less is more. When setting out to define a performing persona, we must first take an honest look at just who we are. If you’re sort of pudgy and funny looking should you really be trying to play the debonair and charming gadabout? If you normally say things like “cool” and “freakin’ ballin’” can you hope to successfully portray a stuffy intellectual?
When actors play roles for which they’re not suited, it’s called playing against type. You don’t see Joe Pesci playing the handsome leading man roles Brad Pitt plays because it wouldn’t work. It’s not that Joe Pesci isn’t a good actor, only that he doesn’t have the attributes necessary to give such roles credence. If he were to try and play such a role anyway the result would be ludicrous. The entire fantasy of the movie would collapse.
When a magician plays against type, the result is the same. The fantasy of magic being done, of the impossible happening, cannot be sustained because the magician himself simply isn’t realistic.
To create a successful performing persona, build from what you have. Ricky Jay is intelligent and articulate, with an encyclopedic knowledge of bizarre performers, and the character he portrays is very much a reflection of those attributes. Criss Angel, on the other hand, is in great shape, good looking, and possesses a sort of street mentality that flavors his presentations. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if Ricky Jay tried to do magic like Criss Angel or Criss Angel tried to do magic like Ricky Jay. There are magicians out there right now who are portraying themselves in just such ridiculous ways.
Your performing persona needs to be an ideal version of you. A you who’s charming, funny, pleasant to be around. There will be things about you that are uniquely your own, and those are the things you need to concentrate upon highlighting in a favorable way. Don’t be a clone of someone else. Be the very best you that you can be. See you next time.
Posted by Jim Coles at 2:59 PM
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
If you’ve been checking this blog the last few days you’ve probably noticed there’ve been no new posts. If you haven’t noticed the absence of new posts, you might want to consider the possibility that you’re drinking wayyyy too much.
I’ve had a bug that’s kept me off the computer pretty much – low grade fever, nausea, that kind of deal. I’m feeling somewhat better today, so I imagine regular posting will resume tomorrow or shortly thereafter.
I actually was considering giving up this project. I haven’t been able to draw much traffic thus far, and that’s kind of frustrating. But I decided the things I’m saying are of some value to the right person, so I’ll plod along for now.
Suzanne is on board to provide some additional material, so stay tuned for that. Thanks to those few of you who’ve been reading this blog. Back again soon.
Posted by Jim Coles at 11:05 AM
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I have a close-up magic friend who’s fond of saying that in magic hell there’s only stage magic. While I wouldn’t go that far, I can certainly understand the sentiment. I appreciate that stage effects require skills that sleight of hand workers usually don’t possess, or even understand, but somehow the smaller wonders resonate with me in a way stage magic rarely does. Could be I’m just a strange guy.
This doesn’t mean I don’t like stage magic, just that given the choice I’d usually rather watch a close-up performance. However this video is a definite exception. A truly remarkable and artistic performance, and judging by the number of views I’m not alone in that opinion.
Posted by Jim Coles at 8:19 PM
Online you run across any number of self-described “serious” students of magic. That puts me in mind of the incident I related the other day about my college creative writing class coming down on me for saying I liked Stephen King. What I neglected to mention then was that those coming down the hardest considered themselves “serious” writers. I certainly see parallels.
You see what those “serious” writers of my college years were most serious about wasn’t writing. Effective writing is about clear communication; those communicating with the greatest clarity are those who are most successful. But as I related before those “serious” writers held the collective opinion that the most successful writer in history is a hack. Far from being dedicated to producing clean prose, those serious writers were most serious about themselves.
These were the kind of people who would walk around campus ostentatiously carrying obscure – and essentially unreadable – literary works. Many wore berets and haughty expressions and waxed philosophical about the state of modern writing. They did these things so anyone they encountered would know they were “serious” artists, real writers.
Which brings us back to those “serious” students of magic. Are they most serious about magic? Or themselves? When they dismiss and ridicule anything that’s popular, you really have to wonder. When they dedicate themselves to producing little videos of themselves executing sleights, instead of using what they know to entertain an audience, you can be pretty sure.
I’ve heard some very successful magicians describe themselves as students of magic. But I can’t think of one who describes himself as a “serious” student. When you throw in that bit of pretension the implication is you’re much more informed than the average student. Much better. No matter that you never really perform. No matter that you ignore the most useful tools a magician can possess – like a pleasant personality. You’re serious. You’re better. Magic is all about how well you can do the moves, right?
If you want to be serious about magic, stop taking yourself so seriously. Show them you’re a serious student, don’t tell them. Perform and succeed, that’s the name of the game. Then all the serious students can sit around and trash you. Until next time, take care.
Posted by Jim Coles at 11:07 AM
Friday, September 14, 2007
I really like this video of Cyril Takayama. True, it’s not his most amazing performance, but I think it illustrates that he’s not merely a “cyber magician,” as some would condescendingly categorize him. Instead he’s a magician well versed in his art and quite adept at sleight of hand. It’s a simple, elegant sequence executed with grace and ease – it’s a good lesson in how such things should look.
Hopefully I’ll have time tomorrow to post something more substantial, but for now here’s Cyril working magic with a cigarette. See you next time.
Posted by Jim Coles at 7:27 PM
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Success isn’t accidental. That’s what I used to say to those magicians who would smugly dismiss David Blaine’s phenomenal success as a fluke. The truth is anyone who’s consistently successful is doing something right, something that works, whether we see it or not.
Motivational speakers and success gurus advocate a technique called modeling to improve performance in whatever you’re doing. The concept is simple enough: In any field there will be those who have far surpassed the norm and achieved extraordinary success; modeling is simply the process of determining what actions are accountable for those top performers’ success and duplicating them. It’s actually a very practical approach. Imagine if you went to a lake to fish and saw one man with no fish and another with a full basket. Who would you model your fishing after? Who would you watch to see how it’s done?
What does this mean for the magician? That if he wishes to succeed with his magic he should look at the best in the field and model his behavior accordingly.
I can almost hear people saying, “The best? Are you saying that Blaine and Angel are the best magicians?”
In a strictly pragmatic sense, yes they are, and you can throw Copperfield and a few others in to boot. This actually reminds me of a creative writing class I took in which I made the mistake of saying I liked Stephen King. I spent the rest of the hour with essentially the entire class asking, “You think Stephen King has talent?”
Well, Stephen King is the best selling writer of all time. It seemed to me then, and now, that he obviously has talent or he wouldn’t be able to connect with so many people so consistently. He might not be to your taste, but he is talented and one of the best writers in history.
I guess “the best” is always going to be a somewhat subjective proposition, but who’s the most popular certainly seems like a reliable yardstick upon which to measure. In all honesty I don’t care much for Criss Angel, but I recognize that he is talented and is doing something right, and I’m interested in knowing what that something is.
Now, if you have no ambitions of performing magic for anyone other than family and friends, or a camera, your interpretation of the best is likely to be much different from mine. Similarly, if your desire is to perform only for other magicians, modeling the actions of a Blaine or Angel isn’t likely to get you far – might even get you beat up. If you want to bring your magic to the widest audience possible, however, they are the performers you need to study because they’re most popular among the general public. Again, they’re doing something right whether we can see it or not.
Modeling is not imitation. No matter how well you imitate someone else you’ll forever fall short of the original. This isn’t about copying a performer’s style or their material – it’s about learning what they did in their careers to end up so successful. Were they especially good at getting their name in the papers? Did they take bold risks that paid off? The idea is to find out, as precisely as possible, what specific actions led to their success. And when you find a characteristic that most top performers share, it’s gold. A characteristic shared by multiple magicians at the top of their game is definitely one you should cultivate in yourself.
This is why I’ve always been a big fan of interviews – I get a new magic magazine I’m going straight for the interview. That’s where you can hear first hand from a performer what he or she has done or is doing to achieve success. You can learn much from their success and mistakes if you’re willing to open up and listen.
So I guess the real question is, who would you model yourself after? This isn’t about favorites. I’m an admirer of Larry Jennings and Dai Vernon, but I wouldn’t want to model a career as a magician after them, no matter how much I favor their work, as they performed primarily for other magicians. This also isn’t a practice which can be applied only to living performers – the great magicians of yesterday can also prove great models, although you do have to take the differences of their time into consideration when studying their success.
Modeling is definitely something to think about if you’re interested in reaching the largest possible audience. See you next time.
Posted by Jim Coles at 8:11 AM
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
If there’s anything that hinders your ability to perform sleight of hand more than dry skin – with the possible exception of wild squirrels mercilessly biting your ankles…trust me, it can happen – I don’t know what it is. Coins pop out of classic palm, cards slide uselessly through your fingers – any sort of fine digital action is complicated. To deal with the problem you can either apply a bit of saliva to the fingertips before a crucial move – which is unsanitary and a little off-putting for the next person asked to take a card – or you can use some kind of lotion. Finding the right kind of lotion can be as much of a pain as the dry skin.
Over the years I’ve tried just about every hand lotion on the market. None have worked for me, or at least worked for very long. I mean, I used Neutrogena for a long while, but it tends to wear off after fifteen minutes or so – not good if you’re doing a thirty minute program. I’ve seen any number of hand lotions touted on magic forums as the best, but usually you just end up with something that makes your hands too slick and greasy – which is probably worse than too dry. Some magic dealers sell concoctions for outrageous sums guaranteed to be specially formulated for the magician, but these usually turn out to be a waste of money. So what works?
A while back I heard that Larry Jennings favored Chamberlain Golden Touch lotion. Paul Wilson currently uses it, and I don’t know who all else. I ordered some online as I couldn’t find it locally. It was cheap – and I had serious doubts.
Turns out it’s the best stuff I’ve ever used. It’s not slick, not greasy, and gives the hands a subtle tackiness that makes handling cards and coins a dream come true. If you’re looking for a lotion that really works well for the sleight of hand guy, you might want to give it a try.
Posted by Jim Coles at 8:23 AM
Monday, September 10, 2007
Probably my favorite novel concerning magic and magicians is The Prestige by Christopher Priest. While the movie version of the book has its moments, overall it fails to capture the essence of the novel – winner of a World Fantasy award. The obsessive rivalry which propels the main characters is rendered in broad, sometimes clumsy strokes in the movie. Worse, for much of the movie a sympathetic character isn’t present, which isn’t the case in the book.
When the movie first came out it was a natural topic of discussion on the magic forums. What surprised me was how many people saw the film and would post something like this:
It seemed like a good movie, but then it got into all this science fiction stuff and lost me entirely. Just not realistic.
I remember sitting there reading such words thinking, Um, it’s a fantasy. A fantasy story, by nature, is going to contain elements that aren’t realistic.
I think what really bothered me is the definite anti-fantasy vibe I kept picking up on. Stop and consider that for a moment: Magicians, purveyors of magical fantasies, who don’t like fantasy. Ironic, huh?
I mean, maybe I’m making too much of it, but I can’t help but wonder what kind of magic a guy who dislikes fantasy might make. When I do magic, and I think most others are the same, it’s all about pretending. I invite the audience into a pretend world where the natural laws get thrown out the window and anything’s possible. The whole affair becomes a mutual exercise of the imagination – I’m pretending to do the impossible, and the audience is pretending I can. The underlying context is that if I’m able to so easily do the impossible then maybe reality’s broader than the audience might’ve first suspected; maybe they’ll even come away from the experience with a more open view of the universe and a fresh sense of appreciation of just how magical it really is.
Take away the imagination from the equation, take away the fantasy element, and what have you got? I’m going to show you a trick. That’s all it is, a trick. All it means is I have a secret bit of knowledge you aren’t aware of. Put another way, I’m clever and you can’t see what I’m doing. I’m fooling you. Isn’t that fun?
That’s not magic. It’s shit.
Without the compact with an audience in which the imagination is engaged and exercised, you’re left with pointless displays of subterfuge. I know how this works and you don’t. Forget about any kind of meaningful connection; forget about engaging them emotionally. The only engagement will be purely intellectual. Arguably this sort of intellectual engagement can be entertaining, provided the displayer is able to make what he’s displaying interesting. I mean, I don’t know much about holograms, but a good lecture about them with visual demonstrations would probably engage my attention. But it’s not magic. There is no deeper level, no larger meaning. It is what it is.
Could this apparent dearth of imagination be a result of the atheistic philosophy espoused by some in the magic community? I certainly think that’s a reasonable supposition. I simply cannot understand those so intent on demonstrating their superiority of reason that they would leave magic gasping in the dust. Listen, I see no problem with exposing a charlatan who’s bilking the gullible. But when you start insisting there’s no magic, that everything can be explained, that there’s no God – brother, you’ve crossed the line. You’re a magician, ranked slightly more favorably in the entertainment world than a freaking clown. For you to have the hubris to announce there’s no God is ridiculous almost beyond comprehension.
People hunger for mystery. They always have and they always will. Einstein said the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. Magicians should be purveyors of the mysterious, not its rapists. It seems to me we can leave that task, when it needs to be done, to those more qualified and respected. And we certainly should never be such monumental assholes as to smugly dismiss anyone’s religious beliefs.
Take the imagination out of magic and you take the theater out of it. You’re left with a sterile demonstration of ability. You might as well be juggler or a clown. By removing the imagination from magic you’re removing its spirit.
Posted by Jim Coles at 6:49 AM
Sunday, September 9, 2007
I first saw Ricky Jay on television in 1976 on Doug Henning’s second World of Magic Special. With his long flowing hair and full beard, and dressed in a conservative suit, he was a striking contradiction in terms – especially for that time. When he did his now renowned handling of The Exclusive Coterie from Erdnase...
I remember after the special it was all my older sister and I could talk about. This was before I got into magic, so I didn’t really understand what this thing was I’d seen – but I knew I liked it a lot. Three decades later and, while the details are now hazy, I still remember the joy the trick gave me.
Here’s Ricky Jay performing the effect on his 52 Assistants HBO special.
Posted by Jim Coles at 5:24 PM
When I started this blog I made a resolution – no more than two cocktails after dinner. Okay, three if it’s been an especially stressful day…
I’m kidding, of course. I drink as much as I want!
Seriously, I made a vow to post something every day. I didn’t want to have one of those blogs where you could take a trip to the farthest reaches of Siberia in between the owner’s posts. Besides, I’ve been writing about as long as I’ve been doing magic. So coming up with something new to add every day shouldn’t be a problem, right?
The problem, as in so many things, is time. I simply can’t find the time to sit down and write something worthwhile every day – not as long as I want to keep frivolities like sleeping and eating in my life. Oh, I suppose I could come up with something new every single day, but I might end up making a lot of posts like this:
Went to Wal-Mart earlier. Some kid gave me a funny look. Stupid kid.
Not exactly intellectually stimulating, huh? I guess the choice comes down to quality versus quantity. Much as it is with magic, where you can choose to have a whole slew of so-so tricks or a handful of really good ones, I can either post a lot of superficial, mediocre nonsense on a daily basis or thoughtful, and hopefully insightful, things with less frequency. The choice seems pretty clear.
The good news is at this juncture I still have material on my hard drive I haven’t used. But things might be slowing down just a bit. I don’t want to squander my store and have to rely on posts about Wal-Mart.
So for today this is probably it. I have a party this afternoon and time is limited. But stay tuned because there’s much new on the way – interviews, reviews, effects, more essays, and maybe a contest. And maybe I can finagle some more stuff from Suzanne – always a good thing. Take care and I’ll see you next time.
Posted by Jim Coles at 11:19 AM
Saturday, September 8, 2007
I’ve been busy reworking the Unexpected Wonders site, so haven’t had a chance to sit down and write. I think the new design looks much cleaner – this is about the third redesign so far, and should be the last for a good long while. I started off with a hodgepodge of images and text that looked to have been thrown together by a hyper twelve year old who forgot to take his Ritalin, but I think the design now looks more or less professional. I certainly hope so, at any rate.
I still have to finish some pages, though, so don’t have time to write anything new today. Plus I have an engagement later this afternoon that’s making time especially tight. So here’s the second chapter from the project I posted about yesterday. See you again soon.
Having established the importance of the audience in the previous chapter -- never forget they are crucial to your success -- common sense dictates that you should do everything in your power to give them what they want. A good performer defines what his audience wants and focuses on fulfilling those desires. A bad performer ignores his audience and concentrates instead on satisfying his own wants, with any entertainment derived by the performance being little more than an accidental byproduct. Unfortunately, many magicians fall into this latter category.
As magic is so move oriented, it's hardly surprising that very few magicians are aware, in any but a peripheral way, of what constitutes good entertainment. It's completely normal for a magician to invest thousands of hours into the mastery of his moves and little or no time into discovering how to transform those moves into something of interest and value. There are scores of magicians fitting this description in the magic underground, persons who have developed extraordinary technical skill but seem incapable of putting that skill to work in a way that would interest and engage an audience. They are hypnotized by their own prowess, and can't understand why anyone but other magicians aren't also entranced.
To avoid this pitfall, it's important to remember that a good magic performance is not just a display of skill. This is not to say that a good performance can't contain skillful displays, only that they should be enhancements, not the main attraction. A juggler's performance can be one continuous display of his abilities or skills and be good because that is the main focus of his craft. A magician, on the other hand, is in the business of creating the illusion of the impossible. He might describe himself as a sleight of hand artist and let the audience know that the things he's doing are brought about by great skill. However, if skill becomes the primary focus, as opposed to the illusion of the impossible, he is doomed to fail -- it would be somewhat like a talented guitarist putting all the emphasis on his ability to play intricate notes instead of the music itself. They can know that what you're doing requires skill, but it's the impossible aspects of what you do that sell the performance.
Therefore, as a magician your audience expects from you, first and foremost, an experience of the impossible -- a magical experience. They could care less if your pass is the best in the world or if you can deal perfect centers -- unless you're doing a gambling type act where exhibitions of skill would be the primary focus, but that would not constitute a magic act. They may be impressed with flourishy displays, they may realize that what you're doing is born of hard earned skill, but what they are most interested in is that their signed card somehow defied physical laws and ended up in your pocket. They are most interested in the magic.
The common trait all audiences share is the desire to be entertained. As a magician, they expect you to entertain them with magic. All other elements of the performance are secondary or should act as enhancements. Remember, the primary objective of the magician is to entertain with magic.
Let's take a moment to look at entertainment in broader terms as so many in the magic world seem to have no concept at all of what entertains. Entertainment might best be described as something that engages an audience's interest and provides pleasure and amusement. In the case of the magician, that something is the apparent experience of the impossible. The real secret of magic is not how to do the trick, but how to make the trick interesting -- how to make it pleasurable and amusing to experience.
The good news for all performers is that people want to be entertained. This is witnessed by the phenomenal amounts of money spent on the pursuit of entertainment and the sundry forms it takes. Entertainment is a form of escape that we all need, a chance to momentarily leave all else behind and simply enjoy ourselves. If presented with a choice between boredom and entertainment, anyone sane will opt for the latter.
However, because there are so many different forms of entertainment, many more in our technological age than ever before in history, the magician has to make what he's offering preferable to the many other diversions available. We'll examine techniques to make you and your magic more attractive in coming chapters, but for now we'll just say that to entertain with magic you must make what you're offering more valuable than any other competing entertainment at that time.
Just as important as what the audience wants is what it doesn't want. Things the audience doesn't want can be described as the antithesis of entertainment and when eliminated from your performances can dramatically improve your abilities as a magician.
Audiences do not want to be demeaned. This should be painfully obvious, yet we've probably all had the experience of watching a magician single out a hapless spectator and proceed to embarrass that spectator, sometimes mercilessly. Arguably this kind of thing can generate laughs and be entertaining if played correctly. But how entertaining is it for the person being made a fool of? My guess is that this person would harbor a dislike for magicians from that day forward. That's not good for the art of magic, and especially not good for the next magician he might see -- this is how some hecklers are born. Even when bits of this nature do entertain, there is invariably an undercurrent of unease about the proceedings. We resent the performer and begin to sympathize with the person being ridiculed, even as we laugh at his plight. It's all too easy to see ourselves in the other guy's shoes.
Again, correctly presented, bits of this type sometimes do entertain...but it's a very fine line to walk, and on the whole not worth the risk. There are much safer and more effective ways of generating laughter than at the humiliation of another.
This is why sucker effects should be eliminated from your repertoire or, if kept, restructured to diffuse the sting or direct it back upon yourself. Being played as a sucker is neither entertaining or desirable to the recipient. Such effects are too reminiscent of practical jokes to be truly amusing to anyone but the instigator.
Similarly, eliminate any lines which might be construed as insults. This is really a matter of common sense, and the golden rule of doing unto others as you'd have them do unto you holds especially true here. Strangely enough, many magicians are either lacking any common sense or are operating under the delusion that insults constitute strong humor because they sprinkle their patter with one cutting remark after another and expect the recipients to somehow enjoy this. Again, use common sense. You can use lines which might be otherwise insulting if your delivery makes it clear that you're joking, and if you are willing to direct such jabs back at yourself. Witness the way in which Bill Malone calls a spectator "sucker' in his Sam The Bellhop routine and how he has structured his delivery to make it clear that he is joking. He immediately corrects himself by calling the spectator "sir" (in effect apologizing for the slip) and holding up his hands in a please-don't-hit-me gesture (subtly demeaning himself). If he merely called the spectator a sucker and moved on without letting the audience know he wasn't serious and without directing the insult back upon himself, he would be regarded as rude and arrogant. The main point to remember is that there's a world of difference between an insult and a joke and if there's any doubt, leave it out.
Never be rude to the audience. Don't order them about, tell them to be quiet, etc. Again, there are exceptions here. If the audience is well aware that you're joking some mock rudeness will be tolerated. However, it should be kept to a minimum, and make sure they know you're joking.
Finally, don't make the audience work. The audience does not want to invest undo effort into the proceedings. They're willing to help out by signing a card or holding out a hand. They're not willing to remember three different cards and that each is exactly three cards down in three packets, etc. If you do make them work they will resent it unless the payoff is huge, but even then they're liable to remember more about all they had to do than what the outcome was. Audiences want to watch you work. They expect you to entertain them. Therefore, everything you do should require minimal effort on their part; everything must be clear and easily understandable. We'll take a look at what kind of material best fits that bill in the next chapter.
Posted by Jim Coles at 8:19 AM
Friday, September 7, 2007
Yesterday I was going through some old files, searching for any more material Suzanne might have sent me, when I found the remains of a project begun several years ago. Written in conjunction with another magician, the project was to be a work on the essentials of doing magic successfully. What I found interesting was how much of what I was writing then mirrors what I've been saying on this blog -- some of the things I said just yesterday could've come whole cloth from the piece. Anyway, as I have nothing else to post today, here's the first chapter of that work titled "The Greatest Teacher."
Magicians tend to idolize teachers of the art. The main reason this is so can be attributed to the fact that the vast majority of magicians are obsessed with how tricks are done rather than how to do them -- that is, how to best perform them. As most of the material taught deals with how tricks are done, anyone who is able to clearly communicate the workings of a trick, the methods, is held in the highest esteem, is lauded as a great teacher. It is not unusual for prolific creators and purveyors of methods to obtain iconic stature; they become veritable demi-gods in the magic universe, their names employed with near religious reverence by legions of hyper loyal acolytes.
One of magic's dirty little secrets is that some of its most vaunted creators and teachers were, at best, mediocre performers. True, they developed approaches and techniques of considerable value -- along with a great number of monstrosities, if truth be told -- but if they'd been required to earn their sustenance by performing for real world audiences, as opposed to other magicians, most would have surely starved. Many possessed only a rudimentary sense of showmanship...and some none at all.
We point this out not to diminish the accomplishments of these individuals, but to work from a base of truth. The simple fact is that of the legendary teachers in magic, past and present, only a handful were competent performers and only a very few ever touched upon the knowledge that will make you a better magician. This is easily evidenced by the fact that names that any magician would recognize, and whose words are quoted as gospel, are completely unknown to the public at large. Conversely, performers with names that laymen would recognize are often cited in the magic world as bad magicians! Think about that for a moment: Those who succeed in fulfilling the primary objective of the magician, to entertain with magic, are quite often looked down upon. True, most didn't produce books aimed at other magicians, so aren't praised as great teachers. Why? Maybe because they were too busy actually performing magic for the real world instead of a lot of other magicians who hoped only to discover a clever new move.
The real problem with this state of affairs is that the new magician, wishing to learn more about his art, is directed to the teachings of these masters and is quickly consumed with the methodologies that constitute the greater part of their work. Any advice that they uncover on how to do magic is often erroneous or untested. They are led to believe that those they most admire, those public performers who probably sparked their initial interest in the art, are not good magicians -- never mind their success! Soon they are totally consumed with the methods of magic and are eagerly directing others in the same direction. Thus the cycle repeats itself ad nauseam with only a very few ever breaking free to discover the important truths.
Magic is a performing art. Yet some of its best known "experts" could not perform. At least ninety percent of all the available information pertaining to the art of magic deals with the techniques of deception -- and that's a conservative estimate. Ironically, even though magic is a performing art, the performance of magic, in the magic world, is often viewed as of incidental or no importance at all.
If we work from the position that the greatest part of that taught about magic is concerned solely with the technical, and that magic's greatest teachers often were poor performers, where do we turn to learn how to perform?
When it comes to learning how to do magic, as opposed to how it works, there is no greater teacher than an audience.
Your audiences can teach you more about how to do magic than any book you'll ever read, video you'll ever watch, or lecture you'll ever attend. If you'll listen to what they're saying. Most magicians can't or won't.
Ever had the experience of watching a bad magician perform? Ever ask yourself why that bad magician didn't seem aware that no one was laughing at his jokes -- some might've even been groaning -- or why at the conclusion of his performance the best he elicited was a polite smattering of applause? Was he even aware that the audience existed at all?
Probably not. Many magicians seem so involved in either the mechanics of what they're trying to do or are so unsure of themselves or are so convinced that what they're doing is good, that they completely ignore the responses the audience gives them. Upon the completion of a performance, if they somehow noticed that the audience was less than enthralled, they will console themselves with the lie that they just had a bad audience.
That is the biggest lie you can ever tell yourself, and if you take nothing else from this work please read the next two lines carefully and apply them to your magic: There are no bad audiences, only bad performers. The audience is always right.
That's not to say that there aren't audiences that are more difficult to work for than others. A group of drunken men at a bachelor party would be a much tougher crowd to entertain with magic than a group at a church social. However, it is from those really tough audiences that one can learn the most, because their positive reactions will be genuine -- they're a lot less likely to give you good reactions just to be polite. Max Malini, one of the greatest close up entertainers ever, honed his showmanship by busking in saloons as a young magician. Imagine how difficult it would be to walk into a tavern and perform magic powerful enough to engender the crowd to cough up money when you passed the hat. Tough audiences can teach you priceless lessons about what works and what doesn't.
If you're doing something and the audience is not responding favorably, there's a problem with what you're doing. It's that simple. Again, the audience is always right. Therefore, the first step is becoming aware that the audience exists. Remember, the whole point of doing magic is to entertain -- not yourself, but an audience! Far from being some abstract part of the equation, they are the most integral part! Without them you're not an entertainer and you can't truly be a magician. Doesn't it make sense to treat them with the importance they deserve?
Next, you must focus on what the audience's reactions are saying. In order to do that you'll have to know what you're doing so well that you can concentrate on the audience and not your props, the secret move, that great gag, etc. We'll cover this in more detail later, but for now suffice it to say you must know your material so well that you don't have to think about what you're doing while you're doing it.
Finally, you must apply the lessons the audience is teaching you. It does little good to focus on the audience's message if you're not going to use it to make your magic better. This is where many magicians run into trouble. They are so in love with a certain trick or move that they continue to use it even when the audience is telling them that it's not good. The fact is, it doesn't matter what you like. If you can't find a way to make them like it then it should be eliminated. They will tell you the truth if you will listen.
In conclusion, the greatest teacher a performer can ever have is his audience. If you will use that knowledge to your advantage, you'll be light years ahead of most magicians. Listen to what they're saying and apply it. They are the best teacher because they are never wrong.
Posted by Jim Coles at 6:25 AM
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Here's another post from Suzanne. This one concerns itself with the business side of the game, and she makes some great points as usual.
Working With Agents
Buy/Sells vs. Straight Commission.
Twenty years ago it was common practice for agents to work on commission. They‘d sell an act for as much as they could and then the act would pay the agent a previously agreed upon commission, usually 15 to 20 percent. This was fair because how much the agent was paid was in direct proportion to what the act was being paid and everyone knew how much everyone else was making in the deal. Somewhere down the line though, agents changed the balance of power. Now most agents, at least here in Minneapolis, do Buy/Sells.
How Buy/Sells work: Agents sell a show for as much as they can. Then they find an entertainer who will do the show for way less than the sell price. When this happens the agent ends up cutting corners; he won’t be able to get a great entertainer and still leave a big enough profit margin so he has to lower his standards. This in turn, lowers the quality of entertainment because the more talented entertainers can't/won't work for what the agents are willing to pay. Only the hungry entertainers end up being available and they will work for way below what they’re worth.
Buy/Sell contracts: Agents used to have one contract signed by the agent, the client and the entertainer. Everything was above board. Clients knew the break down of what the entertainer was getting and what the agent's fee was. A Buy/Sell contract is usually not signed by all three parties. There are usually two different contracts, one for the client/agent agreement and one for the entertainer/agent agreement. The client doesn't know how much they’re actually paying for the entertainer and the entertainer doesn't know how much total is being paid for the show. The agent’s fee is lost in there somewhere and no one really knows how much he’s making from the deal except him.
Let’s say you’re a magician just getting into magic and you charge $75 an hour for walk around magic. That’s what you get when you book yourself and that feels like a fair price for what you know how to do. You don’t feel like you’re cheating the client and you also feel like you’re getting enough so you want to do the work. You get a call from an agent and he wants you to work for 3 hours. Wow! That’s the biggest gig you’ve ever had and you’re going to make $225. That’s cool! You take the gig!! You sign a contract between you and the agent and do the gig. Then you find out that the client paid $500 to the agent. We don’t need to go into how you found out for this exercise, let’s just say you do and leave it at that. Do you think, "Well that’s fair that the agent made more than I did because I still made $225 and that’s the biggest gig I ever had. Anyway I wouldn’t have even been able to do that gig if I didn’t get it through the agent." Or do you say, "Hey, wait a sec… "?
Looking at the above scenario, let’s see what really happened. Either the client got ripped off because he had an entertainer who was really worth half of what he paid for or the entertainer got ripped off because he doesn’t know how much he’s worth and he needs to start charging more when he books himself, or a combination of the two.
Personally I don't think Buy/Sells are a good idea because it means the agent is working only for the agent. Part of the problem is agents don't have to really care that much about whether the price is fair to the client or the entertainer because the actual price is hidden. The way it is now makes a bad name for entertainment because they are buying poorer quality entertainers and selling them at a much higher price than they are worth. People who hire through agents don’t know that this is how it works so they don’t even think to find out how much the entertainer is being paid. I have a hard time believing that the client would not care if they found out they were paying $500 for a magician who is only worth $225. I’m sure they know that a fee is tacked on top of the magician’s fee for the agent, but I bet they have no idea how much that fee is.
Sadly the Buy/Sell mentality is running rampant in our society. The entertainment industry has been raping entertainers for decades. Just see this article. This is about the music industry but it's a good example of how skewed the balance of power is. Everyone is out to make the biggest dollar they can, and they don’t care whether it’s right or wrong.
What do I think would be a good solution? I can only speak for novelty entertainment like magicians, comedians, jugglers, etc. I think this entire problem would be eliminated if entertainers would stop acting so hungry and didn’t sign contracts unless they knew the whole score. The contracts need to be between three parties, the entertainer, the buyer (client) and the agent. All dollar amounts need to be in the contract. This way the entertainer is working with full knowledge of who is getting what. If the entertainer wants to do a gig where the agent is getting $275 and the entertainer is getting $225 then that’s OK because it’s above board. If the client wants to pay an agent fee that is more than 50% of the total sell price then that’s OK because it’s above board. I’m certainly not opposed to agents making what they deserve. What I want is for everything to be out in the open so no one is being taken advantage of. The only way we as entertainers can stop this trend is to not let agents scare us. They should be working for us. We can get gigs without agents, but agents can’t get gigs without entertainers.
Posted by Jim Coles at 9:23 AM
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
There’s a now famous anecdote about Larry Jennings performing for a guest at the Magic Castle. He was doing a trick that required a pass, and was very much enamored with his handling of the move. At the point where the pass was employed, however, the lady he was performing for looked away. Larry reset the cards and admonished her for looking away, and then directed her to watch his hands closely because she wouldn’t see a thing.
Now, I don’t want to come off as if I’m trying to diminish the accomplishments of Larry Jennings – he’s actually one of my all time favorite magicians and his card creations are unparalleled. I was reminded of the story because Suzanne alluded to it briefly in her post from yesterday. It’s a helpful story as it demonstrates a common failing among magicians who do sleight of hand: Move love.
I guess it’s not unusual for a sleight of hand artist to become captivated by the moves he employs, considering the amount of time he invests in perfecting them. It would almost seem a cruel bit of irony that something for which the magician has worked so hard is something never meant to be seen. What we must all keep in mind, however, is that those moves, clever and hard won though they may be, are always but a means to an end. Our primary focus needs to be on the wonders they’re used to create.
I think if you change the context you can see just how absurd move love really is. Imagine a carpenter who loves his tools more than he cares for what he’s building. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be in a house he constructed. More, you’d probably think a guy who wouldn’t let his hammer and saw out of sight because he cared for them so much was insane. The long and short of it is they are tools. They might be especially good tools, but they’re tools all the same.
Sleights are tools, nothing less and nothing more. They might be tools which you have to give great quantities of time to possess, but they’re still tools. We use them to build. Otherwise they have little use at all.
If this seems like mere common sense, it is. And yet all over the Internet there are videos of magicians demonstrating moves. Did you see it? No? Invisible, huh? Wow, you realty nailed that! Magicians see moves being exposed and are up in arms on the magic forums. This is the end of magic! Those damn kids are ruining my art. Oh dear God I can’t believe he exposed that. What can we do? Can we sue him?
In other words, magicians are obsessed with secrets – which in the case of the sleight of hand worker means moves. They horde their secrets and guard them zealously and sometimes attach near mythic significance to them. They covet the other guy’s secrets and sometimes steal them. To what end? Often to no end at all. The secrets aren’t put to any use. They’ve stolen the show and become a thing unto themselves.
It’s been said that more books have been written about magic than any other performing art. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’d wager it is. Of all those thousands of books, how many touch on entertaining an audience with magic in any but the most peripheral way? I’d estimate that 95% -- and that’s a conservative estimate – are devoted to secrets, they’re books of tricks. The small handful of books that concern themselves with performing often become classics – not because they necessarily offer exceptional advice, but because there’s so little competition! Those who’ve come to realize that the secrets alone aren’t getting them anywhere hunger for guidance, but such guidance is in woefully short supply.
New magicians come along and see the sometimes fanatical attention given to secrets and think that’s what magic’s all about. The cycle continues. Too few break free.
I’m sure I’ve said all this before in one way or another, but it bears repeating. Be on your guard. Keep the moves in their proper place. Give your love to doing magic and not the means whereby it’s accomplished. See you next time.
Posted by Jim Coles at 9:56 AM
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Over a year ago I told my friend Suzanne I was interested in doing a blog and asked if she’d be willing to contribute. She immediately sent me a couple of things she’d written because that’s the kind of person she is. I ended up having some health issues which effectively kept me off the Internet lo these many months. Once those issues were resolved and I finally got this long envisioned project up and running, the first thing I did was ask Suzanne if I could still use the pieces she’d sent.
At which point she told me to go to hell.
I’m just kidding. Actually she said go ahead, so here’s the first thing she sent me way back when, a brief observational piece on the magic club scene.
Before we get to that, let me tell you that Suzanne is a magician well worth listening to. Mentored by Al Schneider, he of Matrix fame, she’s been working as a professional magician almost from the time she first became interested in magic, and appears regularly at the Magic Castle.
And yet you hear very little about her. There was a piece about her in Genii a few years ago, but the amount of notice she garners doesn’t seem to match the caliber of talent she possesses. Why? Could it be because she’s a female magician? Could it be that in many regards magic is still rooted firmly in the nineteenth century?
I don’t wish to detract from what she has to say, however, so for now I’ll limit myself to telling you she’s someone I listen to unhesitatingly and so should you. Here’s Suzanne on magic clubs. Enjoy.
Take a look at this scenario. I wonder if you see anything wrong?
A young woman is interested in magic and doesn’t have much experience so she joins a magic club. Oh, is she ever welcomed in. A girl, who does magic, isn’t she cute. The guys are so nice and they want to help her so much. They all want to give her advice and sit next to her at the meetings. She learns, she practices; she’s actually pretty good.
She thinks, why do magic if you’re not out there doing if for regular people? That’s what the guys in the club are always talking about all the time anyway. She starts calling around and gets a couple gigs at family restaurants doing table magic on the weekends! Wow!! It’s a dream come true. But wait… the guys… they aren’t as chummy anymore. Weren’t they happy for her? Wasn’t she’s out there doing what they said they wanted to do? Oh well… It’s probably her imagination.
She works at the family restaurants and really learns her stuff. She finally gets a job at another restaurant, a really good one this time. Not just a family place where you’re working with mostly kids. This place is where people go on dates, where businessmen take their clients from out of town, where all the beautiful people in the town go for dinner. Wow… this is the big time of restaurant magic!! This is cool! The guys at the club are going to be so happy for her!
Well, they don’t seem that happy… in fact… hey some of them seem sort of jealous. Wait a sec… why didn’t she see this before? They support the other guys when they get gigs, they go see the other guys when they’re working at a restaurant… but come to think of it they never once came to see her! Hmmm how could she have missed it? Maybe she was so excited that she was doing what they said we as magicians were supposed to do, which is performing magic for the public, that she didn’t even notice that they weren’t rallying behind her saying go-go-go. Some were encouraging, she has to not forget them… but for the most part the club itself wasn’t behind her, or at least they didn’t show it.
They would act funny when she came to the meetings; they wouldn’t talk with her like they did before. They treated her differently somehow. Then she remembered how they talked about one of the magic masters who happened to live in her area.
He didn’t always come to the meetings, only once a great while. When she was first going to the meetings, before she started working she would hear them say, “Oh the king himself may grace us with his presence tonight.” She thought they were just joking around.When the master got there they were nice to him… but there was sort of this weirdness in the air. She didn’t know what it was until they started treating her in a similar way. It didn’t feel good to her. She figured out it was envy. Oh, they didn’t think she was a master, far from it, that’s not what I’m saying. But they did envy her and that came through loud and clear.
Later she heard through the grapevine that some of the guys were saying things about her. Like she didn’t deserve to have the gigs she had, that she didn’t know how to do moves, she didn’t even know that many tricks. Then she heard the one thing that hurt more than anything else. She heard they were saying she slept with the management to get the gig at the really nice restaurant. That hurt her to her core. Why would she go to club meetings and hang out with people who would say things like that. Not everyone said it; in fact only a few did. But did the other guys come to her defense? Not that she could see. Did she feel supported? No. So the club lost her. She still did fine without them, and they did fine without her. But what they, she and the club, could have learned if she had not left? We’ll never know will we?
This is just one scenario of the magic club culture. There are so many more. I’ve heard many stories of young magicians not feeling welcome for whatever reason, or they are abused in one way or another. Don’t even get me started on some of the stuff that goes on in SYM because I’m a mom and that shit ain’t right! For some reason, outsiders and the young are prey in the magic community.
Is that how we want our magic clubs to work? Is this type of behavior good for magic? I know some of you will say, “Well that’s life. There are jerks everywhere and you need to have a tough skin.” I hear that too often! “Boys will be boys so let them beat each other up on the playground. Jerks will be jerks; you just have to not let it bother you.”
I don’t know, a magic club doesn’t seem like an environment where you would want to let playground rules rule the playground. This is supposed to be a safe place to work on a common interest. This is where we’re supposed to support each other and all move toward a common goal.
The advancement of the great art of magic, isn’t that what we hear? But what is it a lot of times? I’ve seen it be a dick waving ego fest! You walk in and everyone is showing everyone else how good they are. No one is watching anyone else, they are waiting as patiently as they can (which in most cases isn’t very) for you to finish your stupid little trick so they can show you their great move they just perfected.
You know the guy! You’ve seen him! The guy who will show all the other guys the “great moves he perfected” and not one guy will tell the Movemaster that he’s flashing up a storm. Not one! So Movemaster shows me his great move and I tell him he’s flashing (cuz I don’t play that “oh you’re so clever to come up with that move” game. If you flashed I’m gonna tell ya and if I flash PLEASE tell me cuz that’s the only way I’m gonna know!) and he walks away like I’m some evil person who just killed his puppy. Don’t these guys know what we get together for? Do they just want strokes and for people to ooh and aah over them?
Why are we not honest with each other? Why do we let other magicians beat up on young members? Why don’t we treat each other with respect? Why do we take it personally when someone tells us we flashed? I don’t get the magic community. How are we supposed to be able to entertain and be in front of other people and help them have fun when we can’t even treat our own kind with respect?
I’m so upset now I think I’ll go sit in a dark room and practice my pass. Oh hey did I show you my pass? It’s this new one that’s really invisible and I just perfected it!! You can’t see me do it even if you know when I’m doing it. Don’t look away or you’ll miss it. The lay audience misses it every time. If they only knew how great I am.
Posted by Jim Coles at 8:55 AM
Monday, September 3, 2007
Over the years there’s been a lot of debate among magicians, especially online, over books versus videos. Indeed there’s been so much debate over the subject you sometimes find yourself wondering if magicians just like to argue. I personally don’t see why it has to be an either or proposition, as each format offers particular advantages. Books engage the imagination. You’re forced to imagine how an effect should look. This can be a good thing as it compels you to put the requisite work into something to make it match that imaginary interpretation, essentially making it your own. Videos, on the other hand, show you how tough sleights should be executed; often seeing something done can make all the difference, as translating timing and smoothness via the written word is not always easy to do. More, you’re afforded the opportunity to see how an effect plays before an audience. It seems to me that limiting yourself to one or the other on the basis of principle is kind of nuts.
I guess if I had to choose one over the other I’d take books, mainly because I enjoy reading, and when I started in magic there were no videos. Over the years I’ve read a great number of magic books. Some, not surprisingly, were a waste of time and money. Most have fallen somewhere in the middle ground, offering a viable effect or two or an idea to play with. A few, a very few, I consider to be master works on the subject of magic.
If I had to recommend a single book to the serious close-up magician, I’d unhesitatingly suggest the original Stars of Magic. Originally written and released as a series of individual manuscripts, the collected work features effects by some of the most gifted close-up artists of the day, the forties and fifties -- artists whose contributions to the art have given them legendary status. People like Dai Vernon, John Scarne, Tony Slydini, Ross Bertram, Francis Carlyle. These are the people responsible for creating modern close-up magic, and I can think of none better to learn from.
It’s not just the contributors that make this such a superlative book, however. If the contributors were anonymous any serious magic student looking at the work dispassionately would still have to conclude it contains a wealth of strong practical material. I don’t know if any magic book is completely sans filler, but Stars of Magic comes pretty damn close.
The Vernon material dominates the book, just as Vernon the man dominated close-up magic in the twentieth century. Indeed, the Vernon material alone is easily worth more than the price of the book. Effects include the original Spellbound and the original Triumph. Here we have two effects which have spawned volumes of variations, yet I’m not sure if any of them come close to matching the originals’ quiet and certain power. You also get Vernon’s Cutting The Aces, if you’re looking for a flashy commercial wonder, Kangaroo Coins, Vernon’s Ambitious Card, Impromptu Cups And Balls, Mental Card Miracle – are you starting to get the idea? There’s a true abundance of quality effects you can use.
Additionally Mr. Vernon has two sections at the end of the book, one devoted to Malini and one to Leipzig. In these he offers some recollections of these two giants and also tips some of their pet effects. Of particular interest is Leipzig’s Opener, a very effective revelation with cards that’s not all that difficult to do.
Vernon is not alone in offering great effects, however. Francis Carlyle serves up one of the best effects in the volume, in my humble opinion, with his Homing Card – a brilliant card to pocket that, like much of the Vernon material, is often imitated but rarely equaled. If you do walk around, this is an effect that should be in your repertoire as it’s user friendly and kills. Vernon’s friend and confidant, S. Leo Horowitz, gives us Chink a Chink. The incomparable Slydini tips several wonders including his broken and restored Cigarette Miracle. Slydini also offers a section on lapping – a must read if you ever work sitting at a table.
I’m sure there are wonderful things I’m forgetting – it’s just that kind of book. Its small size belies the immensity of material it offers. If you’re serious about close-up and haven’t yet acquired this treasure, do yourself a favor and get it as soon as possible. This is the one book I would heartily recommend without qualification. See you next time.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
When I was first starting out as a conjurer, much was made of the spirit of magic. It was something the people I learned from talked about and did their best to instill in me. The spirit of magic was an attitude of friendly helpfulness. If a magician from out of town was doing a show and had neglected to bring along a certain prop, that prop was provided by someone in the magic community. If someone was struggling to make sense of a sleight or trick, someone with more experience was glad to provide instruction. I guess the underlying philosophy was there are so few magicians we ought to stick together and help each other out. Magic was considered a true brotherhood, and the spirit of magic was like our code of conduct.
Many years later, when I first got online, I had a hell of a shock. It seemed the spirit of magic was an anachronism in the cyber world. Instead of extending kindness, many seemed to extend nothing more than vitriol.
Starting out, there were people who were very kind to me, who gave of their time because they loved magic and wished to help me avoid the pitfalls they’d already encountered. They allowed me to ask questions and state opinions – hell, they encouraged me to ask questions and state opinions. When they felt I was wrong, they patiently explained why. They brought reason to their arguments. I wasn’t expected to take their word on something simply because they’d been at it longer than I had.
Online the attitude is shut the hell up and do what I tell you and don’t you dare ask a question or offer a dissenting opinion. There’s no regard for the beginner, no desire to help and guide. Magic beginners online are condescendingly called “newbies” and commonly dismissed as if they’re the lowest form of shit on the planet. It’s a wonder that anyone who starts out in magic online sticks with it. I can’t imagine I would.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that everyone online treats beginners like garbage; there are a lot of good people out there who do their best to help those starting out, who foster the true spirit of magic. I would say, however, that the majority see nothing wrong with being scathingly dismissive to beginners or anyone else they feel is inferior to them. It’s as if the very worst elements of the magic clubs – those colorless losers with fractured self esteem who use magic as nothing more than an ego boost – reign supreme in the online magic world.
It’s easy enough to spot such people, both in the real world and online. While lording it over those viewed as inferior, they waste no time kissing the asses of those they know to be their betters. In the real world such people are viewed as an annoyance and usually aren’t taken seriously at all – if for no reason other than their version of magic sucks, as they possess no understanding of magic beyond what it can do to enhance their image as someone special. Online, it can be much more difficult to tell what’s what. I mean, if you visit a magic forum and someone has ten thousand posts, you’re likely to conclude they must know what they’re talking about or they wouldn’t be so prolific. And if you’re just starting out and have no experience upon which to gauge what they’re posting, it’s easy enough to assume what they’re saying is right.
So the bullies dominate. They back each other up, form little cliques, and soon they’re running the show. The kid who saw Blaine or Angel on TV and was impressed and wants to learn what magic’s all about reasons these people must know. He innocently asks a question or states an opinion and the wolves fall on him. Then the kid either says screw this or models his behavior on theirs as there seems to be little alternative.
I recall reading a thread where a kid – I think he said he was fourteen – stated that Criss Angel sucks. I don’t think he meant what he was saying, but was only parroting what the other posters were driving at. But being a self professed beginner he was immediately taken to task for having the gall to express an opinion, and no matter that it mirrored the consensus. He was told he had no right to say Criss Angel sucks as Criss is a professional who’s worked hard, while he was just a little nobody wannabe. The kid tried to fight back – pointing out rightly that just because he was a novice didn’t mean he couldn’t formulate a correct opinion – but it was hopeless. These “adults” tore into the kid like hyenas into a fresh kill. One “adult” even said, “I bet you don’t even know who Vernon was, do you?” I guess he forgot to include na na na-nana.
If I sound angry it’s because I am. I don’t like bullies, and I especially don’t like adults who are so pathetic as to bully kids. I further don’t like those who would corrupt the spirit of my art because they didn’t get enough hugs and are trying to compensate for what miserable losers they are by demonstrating they’re real life magicians.
I few years ago I was hired to run a magic site that catered mainly to beginners. I did my best to make sure everyone was treated equally and with common respect, but I don’t know how successful my efforts were. Even among those just starting out, there are divisions, with those who have just a little more knowledge and experience looking down on those without. I don’t know, maybe it’s the nature of the beast.
I guess the best I can do is keep believing that the spirit of magic isn’t dead. If you feel the same, please try to treat beginners with the respect you’d wished to be treated with. Exercise a little patience, take a deep breath, and do your best to help, not harm. See you next time.
Posted by Jim Coles at 8:30 AM
Saturday, September 1, 2007
I am one of the many who hold the works and wisdom of Dai Vernon in highest regard. Indeed any practitioner of close-up owes a huge debt to Vernon, for it was mainly through his efforts that the art acquired its modern form. While performers like Malini used intimate sleight of hand wonders as a means to draw audiences into their larger shows, Vernon recognized the value of intimate magic as a thing unto itself. More, it was his efforts to achieve naturalness in sleight of hand – a philosophy espoused by Dr. James Elliot whom Vernon held in highest regard – that truly transformed magic. He did away with or streamlined that which was cumbersome; he identified and refined the most direct path between points A and B. He was an artist, expertly stripping away the extraneous and creating wonders which continue to inspire and astound today. On The Spirit of Magic documentary, Max Maven says that Vernon essentially created the template upon which modern magic is built, and that’s a particularly apt observation.
If you study the life of Vernon at all – and if you haven’t yet read book one of David Ben’s Vernon biography you’re missing out on one of the most entertaining and enlightening biographies of a magician ever written – you soon come to realize that in many respects Vernon was a contradiction in terms. Here was one of the most brilliant magic thinkers and sleight of hand artists the world has ever known, and yet he seemed to care very little for performing. For Vernon it was all about the next thing – the next move, dodge, subtlety. He would meticulously deconstruct a move or trick, identify and correct its flaws, master it…and then move on to something else. Once mastery had been achieved, the thing no longer held his interest and he was ready for something new to sink his teeth into.
Vernon was no mere move junkie, however. Anything but. His ability to identify and correct the weaknesses of a piece weren’t limited to mechanical considerations alone. He seemed to have an almost instinctual ability to identify the best presentational approach as well. Further, he was attractive, charming, and at his ease among groups of people. So how does one reconcile his abundance of attributes with his disregard for performing?
I’ve had correspondence with a couple of people I respect who say Vernon couldn’t have made it as a working magician, that he lacked the discipline a professional must have to perform the same act over and over. I don’t agree that he couldn’t have done it. When Vernon chose to work he plied his trade in the most exclusive venues around at the time, and always garnered glowing praise from the critics. So he clearly had the ability to make it as a professional. In the Ben book there are letters written by Vernon’s friend Faucett Ross where he exhibits a nonplussed attitude in regards to Vernon not working as a magician, saying in effect that he could put all the other guys working out of business if he so chose. So what was it?
I think first you have to consider that when he did work as a magician, Vernon’s approach was very unorthodox. The traditional approach of the working professional is to develop a core act and do that same act, with minor variations, over and over again. You know exactly what you’re going to do, what you’re going to say, when to hurry, when to pause, etc. etc. Everything’s been mapped out to render maximum reaction, constantly building to a hopefully stunning and fulfilling climax.
Vernon, on the other hand, improvised. Now I don’t mean there was no set order of what tricks he would do and what he would say – I mean, with a deck of cards in hand, he improvised the tricks themselves as he went along. It was like playing Jazz. He knew so many moves and subtleties that he was able to literally make it up as he went along.
There’s no way in hell one magician in a hundred could perform in such a fashion and make anything but a mess, and yet Vernon was most comfortable performing in this way. It’s just another testament to what a brilliant magical artist he was. But I think it also explains his disdain for performing, at least to a degree. The fact is he did get bored when he had to do the same tricks over and over. When he was doing his legendary Harlequin act he kept trying to add new effects and change existing ones – something the people who’d engaged him to do the act didn’t much care for. Even when he was working New York’s top night spots and afforded the freedom to improvise, he invariably got bored with the grind of coming in night after night and performing. But was it just a lack of discipline?
Here was a man who practiced sometimes for seemingly days at a time. Every night, all night, relentless in his pursuit of perfection, he would work to master a move or trick. Such behavior doesn’t denote a lack of discipline. I think it’s much closer to the mark to say his fascination overrode practical considerations. For most magicians practice and mastery are but a means to an end – culminating in the ability to wow others with our magic. In Vernon’s case the fascination with and work to master something was the end. He didn’t care about using what he had to make a buck. Others stole his ideas, published and profited from them, and Vernon never seemed to really get upset. Maybe it was because he knew there was always going to be something else to capture his interest, that anything he worked on was transitory and eventually something else would claim his all consuming fascination.
I have no doubt that he could’ve made it as a working magician; he just chose not to. And in a very real sense we’re all fortunate that he followed the path he did because it was his willingness to immerse himself in his art, to give himself up to it, that has given us, his magic descendants, so much we might never have known.
Now, there are those who look at Vernon’s life and say he was selfish. It’s true that he didn’t chase money or the spotlight; it’s true that his wife and sons endured many hardships due to his utter disregard for practical considerations, like paying the bills and providing a place to stay. But I don’t believe this was due to his simply being a self-centered person. Again I think his fascination with magic overrode all other considerations. Vernon was one of the most gifted silhouette cutters of the twentieth century, and yet he never seemed to view his extraordinary talent with scissors as anything other than a means to survive, as a way to keep going in pursuit of another elusive move.
Saying he was selfish or irresponsible is too easy and doesn’t adequately portray the man. I guess those who want to dismiss him in such terms, and there are many, derive some secret satisfaction from being able to make a chink in the armor of a legend by casting such aspersions. I think it’s much more a case of a man giving himself up so completely to his art that there was little left over for anything else. An artist who does that, and they’re few and far between, isn’t merely a weak or selfish person, but an extraordinary one. And magic will forever benefit from his contributions.
Posted by Jim Coles at 9:22 AM