Magician David Blaine’s Newest Special Scares Us

Image of David Blaine Shooting HimselfMagician David Blaine’s latest special was indeed special.

We avoid venturing into controversial waters like Trump v. Clinton, Brexit, Paper v. Plastic, or roughing fluid versus spray.  So, it would make sense that we would avoid jumping into the metaphorical above-ground pool of debate surrounding the issues related to Mr. Blaine’s latest special.  There is nothing to be gained by our belly-flop into the tepid, three-foot deep waters of that construct.  And like the real, temporary, plastic and poorly constructed entertainment device that typifies most above-ground pools, the debate will likely lead to heartbreak, a soaked lawn, unsightly bruising and possible e-coli infection.

Nonetheless, we feel obligated to say something.

Inside Magic places the safety of magicians and their audiences above almost all – except for profit from questionable “dating” website advertisements that make up our monthly cash-flow.  We were concerned by Mr. Blaine’s demonstration of the Bullet Catch trick and his regurgitation of frogs.

We were concerned for his own safety, obviously.  Catching a 22 caliber bullet in your mouth is dangerous – even if you are surrounded by technical and medical experts.  But we were even more concerned by the thought of viewers who either couldn’t or didn’t read his disclaimer, attempting to perform the same effect sans preparation, safety teams or sobriety.

Depending on the count and who is counting, a dozen or more well-practiced magicians have died performing the illusion of the Bullet Catch.  We do not know if there is a way of counting how many magician or lay folks have died or been injured attempting to do the real thing.  If it is a number greater than or equal to one, it is too many for us.

We fully agree that Mr. Blaine cannot be held responsible for the actions of the unprepared audience member who tries to duplicate or better his stunt.  But still, why put the idea in the heads of the very small percentage of our global community who have access to a gun, a mouth guard and video camera?

It made for great television and we were on the edge of our seats – our cat has a hairball issue and we refuse to sit back fully in any chair in the mobile home unless there is sufficient light to see that the coast is clear.  Even though we were watching a recorded event being replayed through our TiVo, we were still anxious.

We thought the show was produced with aplomb and slick as all get-out.  Even though there was a great reliance on camera and editing, it still entertained us to the point that the mobile home now smells of burnt microwave popcorn because we could not leave our TV set – and we don’t even have a microwave or popcorn.

Mr. Blaine told Australian reporters that his performance was to counter “America’s dangerous obsession with guns.”  He said he hoped “the risky feat might ‘demotivate’ his countrymen to think twice about turning weapons on each other.”

He wanted to bring the reality of gun violence home.  “I’d like this to be something for people, when they watch it, they really experience how dangerous and how scary it actually is and maybe in some strange way it would demotivate people from firing guns on other people,” Mr. Blaine said, adding with a laugh, “hopefully, they won’t think I’m invincible and just shoot me when I’m not ready.”

As for bringing frogs up from his stomach, we suppose that is not as big a risk for copy-cat performers.  It was an interesting effect and not one yet available on the internet magic stores.  If folks try to duplicate or outdo Mr. Blaine by swallowing amphibians and puking them up into rich people’s champagne flutes, we probably don’t mind. PETA may have concerns for the frogs and the rich people might not want their fine goblets converted into aquariums but those are two constituencies that fail to read Inside Magic that regularly; so we don’t mind offending them.

We wish Mr. Blaine continued success but hope his viewers heed his warnings and intended message – a gun fired into your mouth can kill you.

Lance Burton Recalls First Time on Tonight Show

Inside Magic Image of Lance Burton, Master MagicianMaster Magician Lance Burton gained national prominence with his appearance on the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson in October 1982.  Mr. Carson was a magician of considerable ability who translated his talents into being the king late night television.  But he never forgot his magic roots or lost his enjoyment of our wonderful craft.

We bring this up because we just read that a new set of Tonight Show DVDs are being released by Time-Life.  The collection is called The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series and part of that collection includes Lance Burton’s appearances on the iconic show.

The article promoting the DVDs has a great interview with Lance Burton.  He talks about how he appeared on Tonight just one week after moving to Los Angeles from Kentucky.  He went on to appear on the show 20 times (10 with Johnny Carson and 10 with Jay Leno).

“I grew up in Louisville and was doing magic shows all through school. When I was 20 in 1980, I entered a contest sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Magicians, won their Gold Medal contest and as a result was booked for two weeks in L.A. to do what’s known as The Magic Show in a theater there … And I somehow got picked after the talent coordinator came to our preview show on Oct. 28, 1981.

“The next day I’m standing next to the stage manager at “The Tonight Show,” and  I see a hand coming toward me. Instinctively, I turned to shake it and I found I was shaking  Johnny Carson’s hand. He was very nice and complimentary … They rearranged to put me on first, ahead of Dick Cavett. They both had interest in magic, and they talked about magic, and me and my act. It really was the greatest launching pad ever for a career in show business. Johnny worked as a magician as a young man, then did comedy and show hosting …  I realized that when Johnny saw me the first time, he saw himself in this Midwestern kid doing sleight of hand really well. I think that was the basis of our relationship: He saw himself.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without Johnny intervening personally. I can trace 15,000 Vegas shows back to that first ‘Tonight Show.'”

Check out the full interview here.

Houdini Month at University of Texas

Inside Magic Image of Houdini and DoyleThe 90th anniversary of Houdini’s passing will be commemorated this month at the Harry Ransom Center at the beautiful University of Texas in Austin.

Curators have assembled restraints, love letters, scripts, press kits and handwritten descriptions of magic tricks for the very special exhibit.

Eric Colleary, Cline curator of Theater and Performing Arts, said Houdini stood out because of how he identified himself.

“Houdini was different than many others during his time for a number of reasons,” Colleary said. “He considered himself an illusionist, rather than a magician.”

The exhibit will include pieces related to Houdini’s debunking of spiritualism with a special presentation by Austin-based theater company The Hidden Room titled,  Houdini Speaks to the Living. Based on correspondence, essays, diaries and photographs from the Ransom Center, the performance will pit Houdini against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the issue of spiritualism.

And there is even more.  The center will screen The Grim Game and a hold a cooking class based on the great performer’s favorite foods.

Magicians and chefs will learn to make chicken paprikash with fennel potatoes; Hungarian goulash with spatzel; and custard bread pudding with cherry sauce.  We knew we liked Houdini but now we realize we would have loved to eat dinner with him.  In fact, when we were younger, we were part of two person telepathy team known as Goulash and Spatzel.  We were trying to break into the niche market of Hungarian food lovers who enjoyed poorly rehearsed mentalism routines.  Surprisingly, it was not a success, but we ate well; so that was good.

From our perspective, it is heart-warming (in a good way, not like an organ transplant way) that Houdini continues to inspire and intrigue the general public.

“I’m very interested in illusionists’ performances and their ability to captivate and confuse audiences with acts that seem beyond the realm of possibility,” communication studies junior Alyssa Hollander said. “I even subscribed to a magic subreddit because I wanted to learn how to do card tricks.”

“Programs like these are not only fun and engaging, but they also help us to understand different facets of Houdini’s life and career that we may not have realized before,” Colleary said.

Check out the Ransom Center’s website for all of the details.

Criss Angel Tears into UFC Competitor

Paige VanZantMagician and Las Vegas Star Criss Angel tore asunder UFC strawweight fighter Paige VanZant as part of his upcoming October 12th television special.

We are not being metaphorical or figurative.  The images of the physical tearing of this petite powerhouse is startling and not appropriate for those with a faint constitution.  How intense are the images? A UFC website cautions its readers “WARNING: It gets a little graphic, but hey, it’s all fake, right?”  This from a site that must assume its readers are used to a full-color display of gore and body fluid.  We watched the tease video because we felt obliged to protect the sensitive eye(s) our loyal reader – we’re working on rebuilding our audience numbers.  We should not have been eating baked ziti at the time, though.  Perhaps it was the warm, flat red Kool-Aid or the bumpy ride over city streets, but our sensitive stomach did not react well to the imagery; neither did the Uber driver to what she saw in the back seat and the back of the seats of her otherwise spotless and odorless Prius.

Ms. VanZant has apparently done well in the UFC (like “KFC” but with people instead of poultry, we think) and is said to have a devastating kick attack.  Nonetheless, she weighs just 115 pounds and stands just under five foot four inches tall.  We can tell you from the video that she has a very flat stomach, straight spine and some sort of anemia in her abdomen.  She is brave and tough and has proven her ability by fighting competitors in the UFC as well as the perhaps more formidable Dancing with the Stars.

Criss Angel’s Trick’d Up will appear on A&E at 9:00 pm on Wednesday, October 12th.  We are told he will perform 30 illusions and will be joined by celebrity guests (in addition to Ms. VanZant) including: Gary Oldman, Paris Jackson, comedian Andrew Dice Clay, “Blackish” star Miles Brown, Latino pop superstar Belinda, DJ Steve Aoki, and UFC stars Frank Mir, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture.

You can check out the teaser video showing the vivisection of Ms. VanZant here.  It is very graphic and not suited for young people (under 30), older people (35 and up) or folks eating baked ziti in the back of a Prius.

Magicians are Cognitive Artists

Inside Magic Image of Salvador DaliAt the very same institution where Houdini was fatally punched in the gut, McGill University in Montreal, psychologists and neuroscientists are trying to learn more about their respective fields by studying how magicians fool people.

We read about the investigations into psychology and magic in a recent issue of The Atlantic.

Jay Olson is one of the researchers working on what a recent issue of the journal of The Frontiers of Psychology call “neuromagic.” In an article “The Psychology of Magic, the Magic of Psychology,” Mr. Olson reported on a fascinating study where subjects were shown the same trick over and over until they figured it out.  We now have scientific data to support the maxim that a magician should never perform the same effect twice.

Mr. Olson studied the psychology of forcing.  To his credit, Mr. Olson refused to disclose the secret of the forcing technique he used.  He was able to successfully force a card on a subject 98 percent of the time – and 91 percent of the time, the subject felt the choice was entirely free.  The study authors wrote, that magic “can provide new methods to study the feeling of free will.”

Perhaps more importantly, some curious magicians might hope, the study can teach an effective forcing technique that works 98 percent of the time and leaves nine out of ten participants ready to swear the choice was entirely free.

Again, Mr. Olson refused to disclose his secret method.

We urge you to visit the study’s website to learn more about the work done and the areas of investigation.  It really is a fascinating read.  Like painters are masters of perceptual illusions, the study notes, “magicians are the cognitive artists.”

Check out additional articles in the field here.