It’s been a while since I did any magic write-ups, so here, in lieu of full reviews, are some brief comments on some magic related items I’ve encountered recently that I really appreciated.
First off, is Steve Spill’s new book. How is it possible that Steve Spill’s books keep complementing and topping each other? You’d think given how much Steve has tipped already, the well would have run dry. But not at all! His newest book, ASSASSIN, continues in the vein of his previous two books: real world advice for magicians who want to create in the real world. If you ever want to step on stage as a magician, this is the book you need: along with bullet-proof advice, every one of the newly published routines is a killer. Steve shows, both explicitly and by example, how to take a commonplace effect and turn it into a magical, fun-filled experience for your audiences. Highly recommended.
Next is Dan Harlan’s e-book, “Excellent Choice: The Art of Equivocation with Dan Harlan.” Dan Harlan is a master of a technique that’s so often done badly, that some magicians may think that it’s not worth it. And how wrong they would be. If you want to check out the best thread, bar none, in the Big Green Place, do a search on Harlan and equivoque, where Harlan does a mind-blowing online effect totally through his verbal posts. In this 60 page pdf, Harlan gives you four complete scripts, complete with all the branches and dialogue to enable you to cover a multitude of situations. You can use these scripts as stand-alone effects or as pieces of a larger routine. Learn it properly and you have one of the most powerful impromptu tools in magic.
Recently, I’ve been reading copies of The Hermit, a new monthly digital conjuring magazine in pdf form put out by Scott Baird. Each issue is about 50 pages, so the space devoted to each effect can be substantial. It’s very reasonably priced and if you like close-up magic you’re bound to find something in each issue that appeals to you. While most of the effects are from Scott, he has begun to attract other magician/writers: Jay Sankey has a regular column, and in the latest issue, Josh Jay contributes a variation of a Guy Hollingworth plot. Nicely illustrated, too.
And finally, there’s the Vanishing Inc Master Class series. It’s a monthly online lecture series that you subscribe to, and while not cheap, if you’re wondering, it’s totally worth it. The lectures by the likes of Dani DaOrtiz, Jamy Ian Swiss, Woody Aragon are at a level beyond the usual lectures that you may have seen before. This is truly one-on-one lecturing with magicians tipping moves, ideas and routines that they haven’t tipped before, with the opportunity of tuning in to a Zoom video call where you can ask questions of the lecturer. In addition, Vanishing Inc gives free access to some excellent videos, including items from Giobbi and Tamariz. And as if that weren’t enough, you get free shipping on anything ordered from Vanishing Inc. I would say try it out for a month or two, and see if you don’t look forward to it every month as I do.
Two of the best films I’ve seen about teachers were foreign documentaries about the teachers of younger children. The first is a French film called To Be and To Have, released about two decades ago, about a rural teacher who taught in a kind of one room school house. But my new favorite teaching film is a recently released German documentary titled Mr. Bachmann and His Class. The Mr. Bachmann of the title is a 6th grade teacher who teaches new immigrants to Germany, and he is decidedly unorthodox.
Click on the grey triangle or mp3 link above to hear my review as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI-FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.
Have you ever had this experience, as I have had many times? I’m at a friend’s house and inevitably someone asks what’s new, and what have you been working on, and though I may have a project that I’ve been working on, I suddenly become all muckle-mouthed and it just becomes a trail of, “Well, it’s kinda hard to explain…”
To the rescue: a book that I thought I would hate, but turned out to be a really interesting and useful book…
Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to hear the rest of the story as broadcast today on WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica stations across the nation.
Alessandro Delfanti’s new book about Amazon is an excellent primer. Here’s the short version: the situation is worse than you probably thought, Amazon is more dangerous than you thought and they’re certainly more evil than you thought. But other than that…
Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to hear my review of the book as broadcast today on WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica stations across the nation.
It’s the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length feature, The Kid, and that’s as good an excuse as any to celebrate all of his films. But who was Chaplin off-screen? A new Showtime documentary, TheReal Chaplin directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney purports to get to the bottom of the real Charlie Chaplin…does it?
Click the triangle or mp3 link above to hear my review, as broadcast today on Arts Express on WBAI FM NYC, and Pacifica stations across the country.
Party On!! The worldwide staff at Shalblog® Industries is taking a moment off from their usual Culture Conveyor Belt activities in order to select twenty of their favorite original interviews, reviews, stories, and poetry from the past year that you may have missed as we approach our seventh blog anniversary:
American artist Eli Valley created his Diaspora Boy comics because of his anger with the corruption of American Jewish institutions and so-called Jewish “leaders” that he was constantly exposed to. His response was a savage comic strip with a visual style that mixed the 50s Mad’s Harvey Kurtzman and the 60s R. Crumb.
I broadcast a radio commentary about the collected strips that Valley published in book form, and I also read one of his 9-panel cartoons on the air.
Click the triangle or mp3 link above to hear the commentary, as broadcast today on Arts Express on WBAI and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.
The Conductor is an excellent documentary film about Marin Alsop, who struggles against enormous odds to become the first female conductor of a major symphony orchestra in the US. It’s a wonderful story told by Director Bernadette Wegenstein, with a compelling theme about the world of high stakes musicianship, along with the high cost of success for a woman in that field.
Click the triangle or mp3 link above to hear my review, as broadcast today on Arts Express on WBAI FM NY and Pacifica stations across the nation.
This April is the 457th Anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth and I have to admit that everything I thought I knew about William Shakespeare’s life may well be wrong. My faith was recently shaken by both the film Last Will and Testament and the book North by Shakespeare. Both works posit that heresy of heresies that William Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon was not the fellow who wrote the 37 plays usually attributed to him.
For the skinny, click on the triangle or mp3 link above and listen to the story as broadcast today on the Arts Express program on WBAI FM radio and Pacifica stations across the country.
Click the triangle or MP3 link above to hear my commentary on both the film In & Of Itself and AMORALMAN, as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI-FM NY and Pacifica affiliates across the country.
Two weeks ago I drove down to the wonderful Garden for Sculpture, an outdoor sculpture museum in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, which features, among many others, the works of Seward Johnson and three-dimensional sculptural reproductions of paintings by Monet and Manet. I bought my timed tickets online, stuffed some COVID masks in my pocket, and jumped into the car. So come along with me on this little adventure, and you can join me virtually as I head down the highway and tour the Garden For Sculpture, on location.
Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to hear our report as broadcast today on WBAI FM NY and Pacifica stations across the nation.
When I hear from Greg Chapman that he’s working on a new book, my ears perk up like a rabbit hearing about a new cabbage patch. His first two books, Details of Deception and The Devil’s Staircase were advanced explorations of gambling style card material with methods that leave the audience in the dust. When I heard what Greg was up to this time, I was filled with joy in a completely different way. What he had in mind was a small book, 52 pages to be exact—a monograph, for the more precise among us—on the faro shuffle. And I’m happy to say that book has now come to fruition, Faro Fundamentals. (Full disclosure: I gladly did some proofreading on this as well as the earlier books.)
It was a brilliant idea. First, because Greg was the man to do it, and second, because it was such an obvious gap in the literature that it was startling that no one had thought about it before. Those starting the journey of learning the faro shuffle have always had to be like mosaic quilters taking patches from here and patches from there, piecing together the knowledge. Some of the sources were easily available and some of the sources were not. You didn’t know where it was going to turn up. The knowledge consisted of three categories: a) the mechanical information necessary to actually accomplish the shuffle, b) the properties of the shuffle that make it useful, and c) how to put those properties to work in magic effects. Although there are some wonderful chapters about the faro in Marlo, Elmsley, and Expert Card Technique, to my knowledge there was no one exclusive resource that covered all three aspects. Greg’s book can help in all three areas.
Let’s start off with just learning how to do the damn thing. I have to admit I am skeptical of those who claim to have learned the shuffle from the few sentences in a certain famous book about close-up card magic. If you did, my hat’s off to you, and you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Let’s face it, for most, there will be cursing and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the beginning without proper instruction. Fortunately, Greg’s book addresses several issues that beginners to the shuffle come up against. If listened to, Greg’s helpful advice can significantly cut down on the wrong approaches that only serve to frustrate. Greg has the knowledge and the chops to describe and to illustrate excellently what an approach to the faro could be. He isn’t dogmatic about how to approach it—he openly admits that if you’ve already got an approach that works for you, fine, then go with it; he isn’t trying to proselytize for one particular method. What he does do, though, is to lay out a path to achieve the faro. I especially enjoyed the line drawings made from photos to emphasize the key placements of the fingers of each hand. I also learned some very surprising properties of straddle faros.
As Jeremy Griffin says spot on in his foreword to the book, when it comes to the faro shuffle, people tend to overestimate its difficulty or underestimate its usefulness. In ancient Greece, at a certain point, students of Euclidean geometry advanced to a theorem known as the “Bridge of Asses.” The student had learned all the proofs of previous theorems, but now it was time to join the big boys: the crossing of that bridge signaled something special. It meant that if you could now prove that theorem you had enough tools under your belt to tackle the larger problems. So it is with the faro. I can’t say that I use the faro everyday, but the learning of the faro is what convinced me that I could actually progress further with card sleights. Once you have the faro under your belt, nothing seems too difficult to accomplish. I mean it’s absurd on the face of it: to perfectly split the cards in half and then to perfectly interlace them while no one suspects that that is what you are doing? And moreover, even if they do understand what you are doing, they don’t understand the implications of such an action? That’s powerful.
And that’s something that Greg has expressed to me as a prime motivation for writing the book: “If only I could get folks to climb this mountain with me, because from up here you can see what’s on the other side. Sometimes you can’t know what’s possible until you actually experience something.” Jeremy Griffin in the introduction puts it perfectly: there is the balance of learning something along with all its difficulty, but also balancing the knowledge of its potential on the other side.
And so Greg’s teaching of the faro has a not-so-hidden agenda: he wants to teach you the fundamentals because he wants to grab you and take you up the mountain so that you can see what he sees. And what’s up there? Well, of course, some wonderful effects like Paul Gertner’s Unshuffled (which he doesn’t teach here) and the two bonus routines Greg does teach from his two previous books. But also more than tricks; once you know the faro shuffle you have a very effective way of controlling cards to any position while doing a very fair shuffle, and when combined with a memdeck, it’s an especially powerful tool.
There are those who are skeptical of the audience acceptance of the faro shuffle, and feel like that’s why they wouldn’t want to spend time to learn it. But Greg definitely holds another view. He gives persuasive arguments and advice on how to condition the spectator to accept the shuffle’s fairness and naturalness. Yes, another magician will often recognize an in-the-hands faro—but even then, Greg suggests ways that can throw the wise guys off course. Of course, if one can master the table faro, then that objection disappears completely; and while not claiming to be the last word on the table faro, and acknowledging its difficulty, Greg also gives some tips for achieving it. I don’t pretend that I am willing to put in the time, or that reading Greg’s book will make me a master of the table faro, no book can do that, but I know that if ever one day I wanted to start that journey, this would be the first place I would look to begin my instruction.
The two effects that Greg includes from his previous two books are “Searchers Undone” which is an almost self–working (aside from the faro) version of Larry Jennings “Searchers” effect, where two black kings trap two known cards; and a real magician fooler, “One Card Missing”: a card is chosen, the deck shuffled, cut by the spec, and then shuffled, cut again by the spec, spread for an instant and the performer names the card. (Think about those spectator cuts, even if you’re familiar with the faro!) Greg also streamlines a Marlo location: a card is taken by a spec from the center of the deck, replaced, shuffled, one cut, and the card is on top. The strong parts here are that no breaks are held after the card is replaced, and the shuffle happens immediately afterwards. There’s nothing to see.
As I mentioned before, Greg’s hope is to open up a can of worms. He tantalizing gives you a glimpse of what in practice the ability to faro nonchalantly can mean for stack work. The positioning of cards as they are shuffled means that one can work not with just one kind of stack but different stacks throughout a set for different purposes. Imagine various effects depending on the deck being stacked first by color, then by suit, then by four of a kind. The faro becomes a powerful tool to cycle from one stack to another with relatively little effort.
Is there everything here about the faro? No; in this 52-page book there’s not going to be everything, nor is it meant to be encyclopedic, though there is a short bibliography of major works concerning the faro. Greg’s last two books were eagerly snatched up by aficionados, but they were clearly for a limited audience. But I predict that Faro Fundamentals will be one of those relatively rare perennial sellers in the magic literature. Because there can be no question now: if someone asks, “Where should I go to learn about the faro shuffle?” Greg’s book is it.
If you’ve been putting off learning the faro, or you’ve tried but just couldn’t get it, or if you can faro, but want to understand more about what the faro can achieve, I urge you to pick up a copy of Faro Fundamentals. It fills a huge gap in the magical literature and you will be glad to have this as your faro companion.
Eagle-eyed readers of this blog may have noticed that recently I put up a new website link at the top of the blogroll over there on the lower left hand side of the page.
That’s a link to the shiny new Arts Express Newsletters archive. As you may be aware, every month we’ve been putting out a full color newsletter filled with interviews, scripts, essays, photos, and more. It’s a kind of companion to the Arts Express radio program. We offer a continuing subscription to the newsletter for free as an email attachment to those who drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and put the word “subscribe” in the subject line (Try it and see!)
Recently, we were requested to create an archive of past newsletters which we’re glad to do. By clicking on this link or the picture above, you’ll be taken to the archive of past newsletters, where you can access any of the individual issues.
Charlie Chaplin’s birthday occurs on April 16th, but really we can celebrate him anytime we like. Simply the greatest comedian on the big screen ever. Here’s a piece I produced that was broadcast today on WBAI’s Arts Express, WBAI.org, and on Pacifica affiliates across the nation.
Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to listen.
And here we are with a preview of our third free issue of the Arts Express Newsletter, the jam-packed, super-duper April Issue.
As always, think of the Arts Express newsletter as a print extension of the conversation started on our global radio arts magazine, Arts Express, heard on WBAI 99.5 FM in NYC, WBAI.org, and Pacifica affiliates across the country, in Paris, Beijing, and Berlin.
Every month, it’s full color pages of Arts Express goodness, filled with fascinating interviews, reviews, scripts of our radio drama, photo features, gossip, film, theatre, book recommendations and more.
Here’s a preview of what’s in our April issue, which if you subscribe (just send an email to ArtsExpressList@gmail.com andput Subscribe in the subject line) , you will receive for free the first week in April and every month thereafter:
*Prairie Miller’s interview with South African writer and anti-apartheid activist Tim Jenkin, who talks about his film Escape From Pretoria, which details his escape from Pretoria Maximum Security Prison, and his work setting up a communication system for the imprisoned Nelson Mandela.
*A joyful portfolio of photographs of the world’s largest flower parade held every year in Zundert, Netherlands, the birthplace of Vincent Van Gogh.
* Red Vienna: An Arts Express Extra: Culture critic Dennis Broe writes about the city of Vienna in the 1920s, when a socialist city government planned and built public housing and public facilities throughout the city, which to this day makes Vienna one of the most livable cities in Europe.
* The poetry of Trinidad and Tobagoan poet Camryn Bruno, also known as “Queen Bee,” from her book Queen Bee Cavity.
*And Announcing the Arts Express Community Call-in. Would you like to join your fellow listeners in a telephone conversation about culture in a time of pandemic? Write us at email@example.com and we’ll give you more details!
*Plus: The Guest List–our recent and upcoming guests; The Back Room–news and gossip about WBAI and the Arts Express crew; and information about exclusive giveaways, and how to win an opportunity to broadcast your own work on the air.
It’s all in the new free Arts Express Newsletter.
If you’re not yet subscribed, you can get your free pdf copy every month to your email address, by sending an email to ArtsExpressList@gmail.com and put Subscribe in the subject line. We’ll do the rest!
And don’t miss our next radio show, Tuesday 3/31 at 4am NYC time, which you can hear on WBAI.org or WBAI 99.5FM NYC., featuring:
Film: Mrs. America – Actress Margo Martindale discusses playing Bella Abzug in this upcoming feminist mini-series
TV: Asian American actress Keiko Agena on Prodigal Son, Gilmore Girls, Better Call Saul
Report From The Front: Europe And The Coronavirus. Arts Express Paris correspondent Professor Dennis Broe’s news and analysis from the European pandemic epicenter. And what all of this may have to do with austerity and automation; Shakespeare, the plague, King Lear and Macbeth; and Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal – where the poor are served up as a source of nutrition and fine dining.
Plus…Pandemic radio drama, Syrian comic pandemic satire in the No Laughing Matter Comedy Corner episode – and Bernie Sanders in performance.
I’ve always been fascinated by rehearsals, both as a spectator and performer. Sometimes, as an actor, I enjoy rehearsals more than performances. The most amazing things can happen in rehearsal that somehow are never re-captured in performance.
A few weeks ago I attended a rehearsal of the Amanda Selwyn Dance Theatre. Here’s my report as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country.
Here’s an update on three magic books I’ve received recently, each of which I can recommend to aficionados.
First, The Top Change by Magic Christian. Christian, a seasoned performer and recognized expert on 19th century card magic history (he wrote the massive two volume work on his Viennese forerunner, J. N. Hofzinser: Non Plus Ultra) has written a monograph on the top change and its variants, illustrated with over 200 sharp black & white photographs, and includes an extensive bibliography from Denis Behr. It begins with a chapter on the history of the sleights, then gets down to basics teaching them.
The section describing the basic top change that Christian prefers is actually fairly brief—four pages of Christian’s general philosophy about the top change, and then about ten pages of photos and text breaking down the move, step by step. Those familiar with the description of the move in Expert Card Technique or Giobbi’s Card College may be surprised by some of Christian’s recommendations. He prefers a subtle, subdued approach: he does not try to cover the move with wide sweeping arm movements, and he prefers not to move both hands.
The top change is one of those sleights which is extremely useful in card magic—Christian calls it “the most useful, the most regal sleight” in all of card magic. I have to admit that while technically it’s a much easier move than palming or doing a classic pass, I feel much more comfortable with the latter sleights than doing a top change. Like many, I am afraid of being caught out because of the boldness of the move. But I can say that with some study of the book and practice, I have been gaining in confidence, and my current efforts, as recorded on video, are not too awful. So thank you, Magic Christian.
Next up is David Regal’s new book, Interpreting Magic. It’s a big book, with the usual kind of Regal attention to close-up card and coin magic. Regal is a guy whose roots are in improv and scripting (no, not mutually exclusive at all!) and his focus is always on presenting an entertaining story and premise for his audience. If you’ve seen any of Regal’s other books, you know he’s got literally scores of such workable effects. But curiously, my favorite part of the book was not the close-up magic, but rather the platform magic section. His imagination really lets loose with the larger effects. He’s got very original, ingenious premises and presentations with props that are more unexpected and amusing than the usual card or coin routines. Also, scattered throughout the book, he has some great interviews and essays. There’s not a whole lot of organization to this huge book, so at 500+ pages it’s a bit of a hodge-podge, but I really like dipping into it at random. Definitely recommended.
And finally, there’s Thinking Of You, the latest annual offering from Andy of the magic website, The Jerx. The previous book from The Jerx, Magic for Young Lovers, was one of my all-time favorite magic books. The current book is also quite good, though unsurprisingly, not in the same league as its predecessor. MFYL set a high bar to reach and Andy seems to be aware of that. While the earlier book was conceived as a whole philosophy and approach to amateur magic—and largely succeeded—this one is much more modest in its aims. Thinking Of You is mainly concerned with the performance of mentalism in an amateur social context, and as such it’s more of a toolkit—okay, a bag of tricks—rather than some overarching vision, despite some valuable advice on how to approach social mentalism. That said, many of the individual ideas and effects are quite strong and without the comparison to the other book, it’s quite a respectable piece of work. The book is physically similar to the last two Jerx books, though there are no illustrated endpages as the previous books had. However, for those complaining about the high price of subscribing to the site and receiving the book, here’s a hot tip: some of the best ideas and effects in the book are already on the Jerx site for free, if you comb through the site. Either way, Andy has a ton of great advice for those performing in an amateur social context.
And upcoming: the gambling subset of magic fans has been eagerly awaiting Steve Forte’s new double volume opus on gambling sleights i.e. false deals, shuffles, switches, and so on. It’s Forte’s name that’s the draw here, as his status as a card worker is legendary, and his knowledge and invention of gambling sleights is second to none. In any reasoned list of the best living card workers, Forte’s name is probably going to be right at the top. Forte printed up a first run of 1000 copies, and by the time you read this, it probably will be all sold out, despite the fact that it won’t even be published for another few weeks. A special section on Erdnase’s Expert At The Card Table in the book promises to be a paradigm-breaking re-imagining of the old master. It will be interesting to see if Forte’s book, called Gambling Sleight of Hand, lives up to its high expectations.
All of the books are very good. Depending on your taste in magic, at least one of these books will make a worthwhile read for you.
Woo-hoo! It’s the new monthly Arts Express Newsletter, edited by yours truly, and it’s free, free, free!
Think of it as a print extension of the conversation started on our global radio arts magazine, Arts Express, heard on WBAI 99.5 FM in NYC, WBAI.org, and Pacifica affiliates across the country, in Paris, Beijing, and Berlin.
Every month, it’s eight pages of Arts Express goodness, filled with fascinating interviews, top ten film lists, reviews, gossip, film, theatre, book recommendations and more.
Here’s a preview of what’s in our inaugural February issue:
* An extraordinary interview with Bill Wyman, the legendary guitarist for The Rolling Stones.
* Broadcast Film Critics and Women Film Critics Circle reviewer and host Prairie Miller’s Top Ten Films of 2019–and the year’s worst!
* An Arts Express Extra: Jack London’s Preface to The War of the Classes–a supplement to our recent radio performance of London’s powerful essay, “How I Became A Socialist.”
*Plus: The Guest List–our favorite recent guests; The Back Room–news and gossip about WBAI and the Arts Express crew;
*And information about exclusive giveaways and how to win an opportunity to broadcast your own work on the air.
It’s all in the new free Arts Express Newsletter.
To get your free pdf copy every month to your email address, just send an email to ArtsExpressList@gmail.com and put Subscribe in the subject line. We’ll do the rest!
I’m a magazine junkie, but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, magazines are fast becoming a thing of the past. It’s a precarious business. And magic magazines historically have been even more precarious than most other categories of periodicals. It’s not unusual at all for a magic magazine, first announced with the boldest of intentions and good will at the beginning not to make it through even a year. The subsequent cancelling of subscriptions, unreturned money, late and missing issues are the stuff of legend and also often enduring acrimony in the magic world.
And yet new magic periodicals are announced all the time, and folks plunk down their dollars, hoping to get their latest magic fix in measured doses. But to a true magazine junkie, there’s nothing sweeter than pulling down a bound volume of ancient magic magazines from days past and thumbing through it. There’s a saying that if you want to hide the secret of a magic trick, write about it in a book. My corollary to that is if you want to fool the book readers, do something from a magazine. That’s where you’ll find your really obscure effects.
But the pleasure of reading the old magazines is not just to find another magic trick, but to get a sense of the smell and taste of the time, the ads, the news of who was playing in what theater, which dealers were pushing which effects, what the in-group gossip and backbiting was, but most gratifyingly, the imprint of the editor. Because really that is the most important factor in my enjoyment. I love a rag with a voice, an opinion, a personality, a sensibility, even if it’s not one I share with the editor.
Here is a list of five of my favorite classic magic magazines of the past, all of which can be found in bound volumes.
The Sphinx has had a long, long publication history. It ran from 1902-1953, quite a feat in a field where it’s often a wonder when a publication makes it to issue #2. I’ve written a series of posts about this magazine, but even that only scratches the surface in describing its wonderfulness. It is filled to the brim with great stage magic, photographs, and feature articles on famous magicians of the day. The complete print run costs thousands, but the entire number is available on CD for a ridiculously low price.
The Jinx was the newsletter started by Ted Annemann, which ran from 1934 to Annemann’s suicide in 1942. The magazine’s name was a play on its predecessor, The Sphinx. Annemann was a clever inventor of tricks who preferred subtlety over sleights: unlike The Sphinx which focused more on stage and apparatus magic, The Jinx was oriented more to close-up and parlor magic. The Jinx specialized in particular in mental magic, and the bible of mental magic, Annemann’s book Practical Mental Effects, was drawn from effects first printed in The Jinx. Annemann’s honest editorials in every issue managed to offend many, but his observations were often quite sharp.
The Phoenix, which ran from 1942 to 1954, was writer Bruce Elliott’s tribute to Ted Annemann’s The Jinx. In format it was much the same: a newsletter every two weeks or so with some featured tricks and then a column of observations by the editor. Elliott had more outside interests than Annemann, which gave it a bit of a more varied texture than The Jinx. There were lots of contributions from the great names of the day, including Paul Curry, Dai Vernon, Ed Marlo. Like Annemann’s periodical, Elliott’s taste ran to the kind of thing you could show to the boys after the poker game without too much practice. The first Phoenix volume was the first I ever bought from Tannen’s as a youngster, and it holds a special place in my affection. Elliott gave it up in 1954 after 300 issues, and it was succeeded by The New Phoenix for 100 issues with different editors. The magic content of the periodical remained high, but without Bruce Elliott’s savvy Back Room columns, I didn’t find it as enjoyable a read.
Hugard’s Magic Monthly had a run from 1943-1964, basically contemporaneous with the two Phoenix publications, but it had a very different flavor about it. The individual issues had a higher page count, and in its stride it had a number of regular columns and features by contributors in each issue. There were regular book reviews, listings of the latest stage shows, excerpts from books, and historical features. Although it was printed on newsprint like The Jinx and The Phoenix, and illustrated mainly by line drawings, it had a larger sense of worldliness than those two publications. Because Jean Hugard and Milbourne Christopher, the two main editors and often pseudonymous contributors, had extensive experience in stage magic and the world of show business, their magazine combined the more professional, international feel of The Sphinx with the magic clubbiness of the other two periodicals.
Apocalypse was a monthly magazine put out by Harry Lorayne from 1978 to 1997. Richard Kaufman, the current editor of Genii magazine, started it with Lorayne when he was a young man, but by its second year, Lorayne was the sole editor. The magazine featured close-up magic effects from the top magicians of the time, with many contributions from Lorayne himself in the field of card and coin magic. Lorayne was a tireless self-promoter and writer, and managed to get great material from his contributors. Lorayne also always provided yearly trick and author indices with each volume, a welcome addition, especially in a day and age before digital searches were possible. Harry famously would include his “Afterthoughts” to many effects including his own, which were short paragraphs of variations and additions to a given effect, sometimes useful, sometimes not. While there’s no doubt that Harry had (and still has in his 90s) a distinctive voice and take on magic, for many, including myself, his narcissism and pettiness make it hard to enjoy the more newsy items he reported on. Still, the magic contained within (check out all the great contributions by David Regal over the years) make this a nominee for desert island reading.
Some of my other past favorite periodicals were Karl Fulves’s publications: Chronicles, Pallbearer’s Review, and Epilogue, though they don’t have the voice or editorial content that the others mentioned above have. Another favorite of mine, too, is Steve Hobb’s more recent periodical Labyrinth. It, also, has little editorial content but contains lots of very clever card magic and sleights.
And, finally, if you don’t find something appealing here, you might take a look at this list of magic periodicals:
Magicpedia estimates there have been over a thousand different magic periodical publications since 1895. So magic magazine junkies take heart—you have plenty of choices to keep you busy for a very long time.
“My name is Edward Joseph Snowden, I used to work for the government but now I work for the public. It took me nearly three decades to recognize that there was a distinction, and when I did it got me into a bit of trouble at the office.”
That’s the opening to Edward Snowden’s thrilling new memoir. You can listen here to my commentary on the book, as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC, by clicking on the triangle above.
Corn. After a long war against the Volscians, the hungry Roman peasants demand the release of the captured stores of corn. The victorious general Caius Marcius, later crowned Coriolanus, finds the revolting peasants revolting; he mocks their demands even as they agree to crown him Emperor. All they ask of him in return is that he say a word or two in support of the common people. But the narcissistic Coriolanus refuses to repeat niceties as any usual politician would; finally, all the various political factions find him so intractable and so obstinate that he is exiled. In bitter resentment, Coriolanus offers to lead the opposing Volscian army to victory against Rome, only to fall in crushing defeat.
It’s with some trepidation that I attend a Shakespeare play that I’m not already familiar with, but in Dan Sullivan’s recent excellent Public Theater production of Coriolanus at the Delacorte, the story line was always crystal clear, and each scene unfolded understandably even to these virgin ears.
It’s a play that has an obvious double in Julius Caesar: the Roman setting, the questioning of the godliness of the Emperor, the fickleness of the public, the perfidy and two-faced nature of professional politicians, the arrogance of the powerful, and the persuasive power of words. In terms of language, there are passages in Coriolanus that are the equal to anything in the Shakespeare canon, and characters that are as rich and complex as any that Shakespeare has written. And yet the play is not frequently performed in modern times. The Public Theater’s last production of Coriolanus was forty years ago. What is it about Coriolanus that makes it so … unpopular?
Perhaps because, as Dan Sullivan’s production suggests, the play is a remarkably uneasy and bleakly nihilistic tale. It’s an indictment of society’s glorification and morbid fascination with all things military, including the worship of military heroes, and the fetishization of them as a separate breed. There’s no easy patriotism, no stirring celebration of valor as in Henry V. Here, war is horrible, brutal, thoughtless, and accomplishes nothing; worse, each class in society is more self-serving and deluded than the other. It’s a play with not one hero. No one remains unscathed, the audience can applaud no one.
Which is not to say that the acting ability of some in this production is not heroic. The excellent actor Jonathan Cake’s approach to the role is to treat Coriolanus as an elite, highly trained specialist in the art of war who believes that the rest of society is incapable of understanding him. “You can’t handle the truth!” is always burning inside him, a hair’s breadth away from the surface. Cake reproduces the speech patterns we’ve come to associate with an Oliver North or a Navy SEAL. He could have come from a television ad that extols, “The Few, The Proud, The Marines.” It’s the persona of the man who thinks that in his ability to kill—and therefore to lead—he knows something that the rest of society is afraid to admit to itself: that nothing, nothing at all matters, not corn, not the trappings of power, not royalty, not politics. One thing and one thing only matters: the power of might, the power of the sword, the power of murder and death. It is only from that ability to kill that all other power flows. And it is that knowledge, that absolute certainty, that leads to the contempt of Coriolanus for everyone else.
Coriolanus was written around 1608, in the latter part of Shakespeare’s career. Shakespeare, like Coriolanus, had always been suspicious of the fickle rabble, and as Shakespeare settled more and more into his bourgeois life, it made sense that he would become even more intolerant of them. It’s not surprising that an Elizabethan playwright would have a love-hate relationship with the common folk—he’s got to put bottoms into seats, or stiffs into the standing pit; if he fails to do that, then he’ll have as Hamlet says, a play that was “never acted, or if it was, not above once, for the play I remember pleased not the million…” And the peasants aroused to rebellion in Coriolanus were not just some far-off problem for the Romans; rather, A.L. Rowse reports that contemporaneous with Shakespeare’s later years there had been a peasant uprising in the English Midlands fueled by —wait for it—the price of corn.
And so Coriolanus is exiled. In about five years after Coriolanus‘s opening, Shakespeare, too, will himself become an exile, although in his case, self-imposed, leaving London for the big house, New Place, back in Stratford–Upon–Avon, some 100 miles from his theatre. He was a man of the theater who had gotten his hands dirty in London as playwright, actor, director, producer, financier—a man who had had his hand in all phases of the theater. The old legends had it that he had begun as a stable boy for the theaters; literally someone knee-deep in theater shit since his teen years. But now he must have been beginning to think of retirement. He’s come off a string of hits. He’s tired? Maybe. But I get the feeling of something else. What if this: what if for some reason he is in effect exiled from his own theater company? Maybe he thinks he’s entitled to more money or more shares in the theatre corporation that he and the others founded. Maybe he goes off in a huff because the rest of his company can’t get along with his dictatorial ways anymore. Maybe there are “artistic differences.” Maybe he feels disrespected the way Coriolanus feels disrespected. After all I’ve done for you. In this view, Shakespeare becomes what Coriolanus becomes—a talented bitter man who has done great service and who, betrayed by a fickle public, goes into exile.
This is all speculation of course. But that aspect of Coriolanus’s personality more than anything else stands front and center in this play: the disrespected man of action. What Coriolanus can’t see is that war is a monster that eventually swallows up everyone and everything. The business of making oneself a servant of war, a wager of war, is no guarantee that it won’t destroy everything for all time. Like theater, war is all encompassing.
In the end, in Sullivan’s production, the victorious soldiers of Volscia are as unpredictable as the Roman rabble: with Coriolanus’s dead body in front of them, they unexpectedly disobey their own general, Aufidius. They refuse to take up the body of Coriolanus as a respected fallen enemy general, as Aufidius commands them. Instead, the ragged soldiers seem to realize that Aufidius has more in common with his enemy, Coriolanus, than with themselves. They are sick to death of other people taking their power and using it in the name of war and aggrandizement. No, they will not listen to their general, and if Aufidius looks uneasy at the end of Dan Sullivan’s production, it’s because he knows that he may soon be the next to go.
In many of Shakespeare’s plays you see the old order restored, and the rightful heirs coming back to the throne, or the forces of good becoming the new line of royalty. But in Coriolanus there are no forces of good, and we see no glimmer of redemption. And maybe that’s why Shakespeare had to sell his story as a Roman one, safely distanced from his Jacobean reality: the leaders are no good, the public is no good, your patriotism is no good, your hero generals are no good, it’s all a pile of wreckage and ashes. Better to go back to Stratford, make out your will, and figure out who’s going to get that second-best bed.
Recently, I’ve been enjoying reading a few magic biographies. All three books are highly recommended, and any one of them would make a nice gift for that magic aficionado in your life.
1) “If there was any doubt that Guy Jarrett was nuts, it ended in 1936.” That’s how magic inventor and writer Jim Steinmeyer in Jarrett introduces the cantankerous illusionist, author of the eponymous Jarrett, Magic and Stagecraft, Technical. It’s not hard to see why Jim Steinmeyer was drawn to write about Jarrett. Jarrett was not just a magician but, like Steinmeyer, a stage illusion inventor of extraordinary ingenuity. Couple that with Jarrett’s eccentric life, acerbic wit, and amusing public persona and you have the kind of subject that an author loves to write about.
Jarrett enjoyed publicly trashing the magic royalty of the day. Houdini, Goldin, Thurston, —none of them were off limits. With the introduction and annotations by Steinmeyer, it soon becomes apparent that Jarrett’s curse and glory was his perfectionism. To Jarrett’s mind, the shaving of a few inches off the side of a production cabinet or table was the difference between beauty and illusion on the one hand, and utter crap on the other. Practicality and budget were excuses to him, and as far as Jarrett was concerned most of the illusionists of the day like Thurston were satisfied to settle on crap.
As befits a man who spoke his mind so openly and contemptuously, Jarrett didn’t retain a wide circle of friends. With his characteristic self-sufficiency, Jarrett published his book himself, setting all the type himself on a foundry typesetting press, pretty much as Gutenberg had done centuries before.
But the eccentric Jarrett (my favorite photo in the book is Jarrett at 74 years old standing upside down in the top of a tree) according to Steinmeyer was the real deal when it came to designing illusions. Jarrett’s efficient descriptions and drawings of such illusions as “The 21 Person Cabinet” and the disappearance of Bela Lugosi in the original Broadway production of Dracula make for entertaining reading and broadened my appreciation of illusion design.
2) Dai Vernon: A Biography, by David Ben, is the authorized biography of the man who revolutionized the study and performance of close-up magic. and it draws upon many previously unseen original sources. It has some wonderful photos, including the famous one, repeated many years later, of Vernon, cigarette in hand, staring down at the Ace of Clubs. Ben’s prose is pretty pedestrian, but it gives a fully rounded picture of the man and his times. What one really gets from this portrait of Vernon is just how tenaciously Vernon strove to carve out his own artistic path. As an art student at the Art Students’ League an artist he met told him that continuing in art school would ruin him for creativity and originality. Vernon took that to heart and never allowed himself to swerve from a life that would allow him the freedom to explore and play to his heart’s content. Many times he could have traded on his skill and connections to become famous with the general public, but at each turn he almost compulsively avoided or sabotaged those opportunities in favor of living a Bohemian lifestyle, free from the hard spotlight of fame and stultifying routine. He was a brilliant ne’er-do-well who was terrified of being tied down to any responsibility but his art.
Another wonderful revelation in the book is the portrait of his wife, Jeannie. She was a Coney Island magician’s assistant, full of practical knowledge and no mean slouch either when it came to art. She was a very creative person in her own right, an accomplished costumer and mask maker (there’s a wonderful photo of her beautifully lifelike mask of Cardini) and she was essential in costuming Vernon’s Harlequin turn. She understood her own predicament in being the creative spouse of another more talented and obsessive creative person. Once she had left Vernon she wrote her own account of what it was like to live with him in her manuscript, I Married Mr. Magic, or Laughter is the Only Shield.
This volume, the first of two, only covers the years 1894-1941, when Vernon had the construction accident which was to break his arms and change his life. Unfortunately, there is no word on Ben’s website as to when Volume II is expected (it’s been over a decade now), so we’ll have to be patient. But surely, that too promises to be fascinating, as it will cover the Magic Castle years to Vernon’s death. This is a compelling portrait of genius at work and play.
3) Milo and Roger: A Magical Life is the title of Arthur Brandon’s autobiographical account of his childhood, and his longtime partnership with Roger Coker as the comedy magic team Milo and Roger. If there is a sweeter and funnier account of one’s magical journey, I don’t know of it. Brandon devotes a lot of the book to his Norman Rockwell upbringing in small town Ohio, and he vividly brings to life the characters, the grifters, and the tradespeople who inhabited his childhood world. His parents—his mother in particular—were lovable eccentrics who were accepting and encouraging of their moony son’s infatuation with all things magical. Brandon goes on to small time fame by following his instinct and love for magic, meeting along the way his lifelong partner Roger who complements everything Arthur does. They travel the world together, much of the time only a few dollars short of broke, but somehow they always make it out to their next adventure, spurred on by their love for show business and magic. At turns nostalgic, laugh-out-loud funny, sweet, sour, and sad, this is one of the most entertaining show business autobiographies I’ve read. I can well understand why this is a favorite of many.