David Blaine: The Next Last Greatest Magician in the World?

Inside Magic Image of Ed Mishell DrawingMagician and endurance maven David Blaine takes to the air this evening in the United States through ABC television to ask Real or Magic?  He is joined in this endeavor by Will Smith, Olivia Wilde, Woody Allen, Stephen Hawking and other celebrities who, we are informed, will react to his tricks.

We like David Blaine and believe he has done much to revitalize our wonderful craft and feel badly that we want him to be different than the way he is.  He is not Doug Henning or David Copperfield or Harry Blackstone Jr. but he is very talented and, in his own way, charismatic and captivating.

Still, we miss Doug Henning performing the Water Torture Tank live on national television.  We miss David Copperfield’s well produced escapes and illusions performed on tape but with the assurance the home audience was seeing the events unfold in real time without camera tricks.  We miss Harry Blackstone Jr. for many, many reasons; not the least of which was his wonderful persona – so serious and light-hearted at the same time and able to convince even the most jaded teenager that he could really perform magic.

But David Blaine is bringing magic to the audience of the times where camera trickery is expected and even celebrated.  Attention spans are short and expectations are high.   Each generation of magic faces a similar challenge.  Jim Steinmeyer’s outstanding book, The Last Greatest Magician in the World tells of Howard Thurston making the transition from vaudeville to the traveling, full-evening show and the ultimate demise of that elaborate show type.  We know of Thurston today because he survived and conquered the new formats and met his audience where they sat.  They were no longer in vaudeville halls watching one of eight shows in a day’s time.  They came to see a full-length show and he had the props and chops to show them what they wanted to see – year after year.

We like David Blaine and wish him the best with his newest take on a classic art.  If there is anyone that can again move magic in a new direction, it is David Blaine.

Sad News: Magician Charles Reynolds Passes

The New York Times reported this weekend and Theater Mania reports this morning that magician, consultant, confidant and innovator Charles Reynolds passed away on November 4th from complications related to his battle with liver cancer.
Mr. Reynolds assisted with the magic in many Broadway shows.  In fact, he received a Drama Desk nomination for his special effects for the 1983 Broadway musical Merlin starring Doug Henning and Chita Rivera.
He assisted on the theater productions of  Big 1996, Into the Woods 1987, Sleight of Hand 1987, Doug Henning & His World of Magic 1984, The Stitch in Time 1981, closed in previews, and Blackstone! 1980.
The Times quotes Mr. Reynolds as describing his work as “providing ‘chaste, charming, weird, wonderful and supernatural illusions’ — and who proved it by coming up with two entirely different ways to make an elephant disappear.”
The Times also notes that Mr. Reynolds was Chief Magic Consultant to Doug Henning for all eight of his one-hour television specials. Mr. Henning proved he had a winning product when the first network show had more than 50,000 viewers.

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Trying and Failing to Stop Time

Inside Magic Image of Woman With Winning HandAs we look at Magic tonight, we are confused.

We are not sure which issues will be with us forever and which will leave us as soon as the next fad comes into town.

Will we care about “knock-offs” in five years?

Will it matter that David Blaine was in a glass box for 44 days?

Will we assume, perhaps ten years from now, that there will never be a better magic show than (fill in your favorite nominee) and that Magic had reached its zenith?

Right now there is much to be concerned about. The most successful magic show in the history of the United States, Siegfried and Roy, may have performed their last show.

The problem with live magic is that it is live.

If you did not see Doug Henning at the Court Theater in New York during his run in The Magic Show, you never will again.

If you never saw Dai Vernon perform his card magic, your chance is over.

If you failed to see Harry Blackstone, Jr. perform the Floating Light Bulb, you will never have another opportunity.

Many of our special events are saved on film or, now, in digital format.  Unfortunately, they have not yet invented the recording device to capture the excitement when the lights dim, the music builds and the curtains part.

If you did not see the young David Copperfield starring in the play The Magic Man, you will never see him like that again.

That is the problem with living in a linear and time-based world.

Even as we write this, there are magicians we know and love who are growing older.  They are pulled towards their individual twilight, moving closer to the point where they can only look back fondly or with regret on their current need to perform six nights a week, 48 weeks a year.


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