RESURRECTED -- Material from Todd Karr's The Miracle Factory continues to inch its way into my bookshelf space, each new incursion a quantum leap in physical mass and literary significance. These are heavy books in both scale and content, books that look and read as magic books should. The latest, Essential Robert-Houdin, is an anthology of the works by the father of modern magic, Robert-Houdin. Within this handsomely edited 664-page work lies a fascinating snapshot of magical history. Memoirs of Robert-Houdin is the longest work and first published (1859), part fiction and part fact, the most complete English translation ever published. Card-Sharping Exposed (1861), published 42 years before Erdnase, reveals the details of Three-Card Monte, card codes, how to nullify cuts, second deals, palming, glimpses, coolers (especially via special clothing), false shuffles, strippers (all kinds), juiced decks, punched cards, "out of square" cards, marked cards, and prearrangements, along with uses of the techniques in various games and gambling demos. Did Vernon ever read this? The Priory (1867) is a brief section on Houdin's home, followed in 1868 by The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic. This is a large treatise that must have thrilled magicians of the day (Robert-Houdin is also arguably the father of the modern magic book), with sections on coins (Miser's Dream, Flying Coins, Coin into Candle, Expansion of Texture, Coin in Dinner Roll), cards (Pass, Classic Force, Electric Deck, Cards Across, Cards to Pocket, Everywhere and Nowhere, Color Changes, Card to Wallet, Conus Aces, etc.), eating corks to "facilitate digestion," producing and vanishing items via a trick table, Chinese Rings, Cups and Balls, and a bowl of goldfish production, among others. The last item used a body load and a tanned sheepskin to hold the water in, and the author admits to being "desperately nervous until it was well over." Add the posthumous section Secrets of Stage Conjuring (1877), which contains such items as the Vanishing Handkerchief, the Light and Heavy Chest, the Indian Basket Trick, the Davenports' methods, and the most complete description I have encountered on Pepper's Ghost. Throughout the volume, Todd Karr employed judicious editing, and, while I trust his judgment, I might have enjoyed in this Stage section reading about "Dobler's complicated method for lighting a hundred candles." As mentioned, the book can be regarded as a fascinating look at magical history, but can no doubt also be a source of inspiration from which magicians can discover some rare effect and elevate it, as Ricky Jay did with a bit of Erdnase, into a modern gem. Me, I'm already doing the Enjambage Cut. Foreword by Jim Steinmeyer, introductory essays by Todd Karr. $100 from The Miracle Factory or your favorite dealer.
BLOOD -- One of the rotten things about U.S. television is that we don't get to see the best of British television until it shows up later on Masterpiece Theater or Mystery. One program that I've always longed to see was Simon Drake's Secret Cabaret, an unlikely candidate for PBS. Fortunately, and possibly illegally, a few snippets of the show have turned up recently on YouTube. If you like, you can watch Simon rip a girl's heart out or saw one in half or discuss violence on television. Not for the squeamish.
LIES -- Brent Braun's decks, lies, and videotape came as a delightful surprise among the drek that attempts to pass as instructional dvds these days. The effect that is getting all the attention is Brent's startling Ball Thru Glass, but you will also find equally visual card material on this dvd. Nicely packaged and shot, with bonus info in an attached brochure. Worth your time and money. $30 from decksliesandvideotape.com or your favorite dealer.
Happy Halloween. I've tried to keep the headlines below spooky as we look at the latest book from Todd Karr, the latest appearing deck of cards from David Regal, a ghost in your cell phone from Andrew Mayne, a video of great visual stuff from Brent Braun, three fun magician movies, web clips of Simon Drake, and a catalog of great dvds and other stuff from Louis Falanga. Meanwhile, if you are new to this site, don't miss last month's visit to the Magic Castle: just click September.
THRILLER -- Through what strange alignment of the stars do we thank for a year in which Scarlett Johannsen and Hugh Jackman appeared in two magician-oriented movies, along with an excellent third such movie starring Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, and Paul Giamatti? Of the three, I liked The Prestige the least (despite a clever plot), in that neither antagonist is likable. Woody Allen's Scoop was a lightweight romp, and I enjoyed seeing Scarlett as an easily beddable dork, but it was Edward Norton's Eisenheim in The Illusionist whose magic saves the day and wins the girl, and for this I liked it best. (I was chastized on a forum for saying this, as the sentence contains a spoiler, but if you haven't seen the movie by now, it probably doesn't matter to you.)
GHOSTS -- Andrew Mayne can always be relied upon to come up with something truly weird. His Ghost Vision enables you to cause a ghostly vision to move across the field of view of almost anyone's camera phone. The "vision" can be the shadow of a person, a skull, a playing card value, a word, virtually any simple image. His latest dvd will teach you how to create a a spooky situation that looks like the "real" thing. I was less thrilled with the "bonus" Haunted Key effect, but that's irrelevant: the Ghost Vision effect is the real deal. If you want to convince your girlfriend that she shouldn't spend the night in her apartment alone ... $14.95 from your favorite dealer.
SCREAMS -- Some dvds, far too many, open with a guy babbling about how great his material or system or invention or master class is, after about 30 seconds of which I am screaming at the television, "Get to the f#*&ing point!" and then, after another 30 seconds, I eject the disc forever. Perhaps these guys will eventually get to something of value, but I will never know, at least not until the book comes out. To experience the opposite of this, check in with Louis Falanga, who got dvds right years ago. Louis's dvds open with top performers doing their material for live, enthusiastic audiences, and then they move on to succinct explanations. L&L Publishing just released a new 72-page full-color catalog for 2007, well worth your study and wishful thinking.
MATERIALIZATIONS -- With David Regal's Sudden Deck II, the sequel is superior to the original, offering a startling new feature in which a flat white cardboard "card case template" instantly prints itself, with no cover at all, after which you fold the thing into a card case and produce a full deck of cards from it. It sounds impossible but is quite easy, and the printing feature is way cool. (If you wish, you can have fun sitting home alone just watching this in the mirror.) You receive materials with which to produce either a red or blue Bicycle case. $29.95 from davidregal.com or your favorite dealer.
Do not use an apostrophe to form plurals. Ever.
For Essential Robert-Houdin, Ghost Vision, decks, lies, and videotape, and Sudden Deck II, dealers should contact Murphy's Magic Supplies on the web at www.murphysmagicsupplies.com or by phone at (916) 853-9292.
Sarah and Simon (Vixen and Spike to old Gazette readers) were married on April 1, 2006. You may access their wedding photos at wedding photos.
Steve Bryant is an obscure magician and writer who generates this site from an iMac in Bloomington, Indiana. He frequently journeys to and performs magic in Little Egypt, the local name for extreme southern Illinois, where the towns bear such names as Cairo, Thebes, and Karnak.
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