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Inner circle
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Expert Rope Magic Made Easy (Volumes 1-3), from Daryl

Format: DVD
Genre: Rope Magic
Price: 75$ on ($25 per volume)

What you get: Three volumes filled with over 120 methods and tricks, and two strong rope routines
Who this is for: Someone needing detailed explanations for rope magic methods
Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced Beginner
Rating: 3 Stars (good)

Introduction: As I said in my last review, Richard Sanders's Fiber Optics routine was what really opened me up to rope magic. For the most part, I thought the genre was all about trick knots and the cut and restored effect, and while it seemed like suitable fare for the art as a whole, the idea didn't really appeal to me. As a result, while I'd seen Daryl's 3 Volume Expert Rope Magic Made Easy in the catalogs before, I was content to leave it at arm's length. I had his Encyclopedia of Card Sleights and saw it as a valued part of my library, but I couldn't really get what it was about rope magic that warranted three volumes. As fate would have it, Sanders grabbed my attention, Tabary (my second purchase) locked me in, and it was inevitable that I was going to have to come around to buying Daryl's series, given all the other excellent instructional products that he's put out. And so it was with great expectations that I popped these DVDs into my player, and while those expectations weren't dashed entirely by series' end, I can't help but think that Daryl missed an opportunity to create the defining resource of the genre.

The Good: Let it not be said that when Daryl puts a DVD together, he skimps on content. We're talking about over 120 effects and methods spread out over three DVDs, and in this day and age where people are charging exorbitant prices for a single effect, if rope magic is what you're after, you're definitely getting your money's worth here. He begins just as comprehensively as he did when he started the Encyclopedia of Card Sleights by pulling out a card and saying "This... is a playing card." You get a quick breakdown of ropes, how to treat them, and how to create the plucked-off knots, before he finally gets down to business with methods.

For knots, there are legitimate knots, fake knots, dissolving knots, appearing knots, disappearing knots, changing knots, travelling knots, how to upset knots, sliding knots, pop-off knots, plucked-off knots, flourish knots, knots that can be done and undone secretly, and even an any-number-of-knots-called-for effect. Both prepared and impromptu penetration effects are explored for pretty much every respectable body part, including multiple ropes-through-neck effects and a rope-through-spectator's finger that (although dangerous if you don't set up properly) looks great. There are cut-and-restored effects galore, with single and multiple cuts, and restorations that happen either instantly or by vanishing or otherwise removing the knots that were tying the two ropes together. Rope gimmicks are given a quick but informative treatment, both in how they're constructed and how to use them. There are a few ring-and-rope effects for all sizes of ring, although it's a little light on the finger ring genre. Hankerchief effects, escapology ties and even spirit-ties (which allow you to appear to remain bound behind a curtain or some such as ghost fling things about) are available. The Grandmother's Necklace principle is given a nice treatment here, starting with the original gimmicked version before moving onto impromptu handlings, and variations upon the core penetration effects, including how to control which items fall off the ropes and which stay on. There are a couple of linking rope effects, and even a variety of quick stunts that allow you to apparently tie multiple knots in under a second, or how to demonstrate your strength by magically stretching a rope, ripping apart a piece of rope with your bare hands, or even gently dissolving its fibres just by massaging it between your tumb and index finger. The variety of rope-related effects is basically unmatched by any other DVD product I'll be reviewing in this series, and is equalled only in scope (if not exactly in content) by Stewart James's Encyclopedia of Rope Tricks.

In fact, if you're a strong showman, that's probably all you need to know -- you've probably got everything you need right here to make a routine that'll bring the house down. Case in point: if you even watch a single performance of Michael Finney's rope routine, you'd be able to figure out all the handling needed to duplicate it yourself from these DVDs. I say that not because it's a practice I'm recommending (Finney's own explanation covers a lot of bases and touches that are important to his routine, and it's arguably poor form to duplicate someone that closely anyway), but just to point out that pretty much all the magic-related pieces to the puzzle are here, for that outstanding routine and many others.

In addition to this, there are two stand-out routines taught in the series -- the excellent Daryl's Rope Routine, and the Jumping Knot of Pakistan. His 9-effect routine (which owes a great deal to George Sands but also has touches of Slydini, Vernon and others) starts as a one-rope routine in which the ends are plucked off the rope, giving him an endless loop before the ends are restored. Next, the ends of the rope are tied together, and finger scissors are used to cut the rope into two uneven lengths before the rope is again restored. Next, the rope is held in both fists with the ends in one hand, and the ends then travel one at a time from one fist to the other, before that rope is then handed out for examination. Daryl then introduces a second piece of rope which looks normal until he plucks off another, smaller piece. While awaiting the other two pieces of rope to complete the audience examination, he ties a complex pretzel knot on the third that dissolves into nothing, before then having it instantly reappear with a simple gesture and a sneeze. Finally, the three pieces of rope taken back, and after demonstrating that they are all of different length, he brings them together and then stretches them out to be the same length, before displaying each rope's even length one at a time. Finally, he ties the three ropes up, with the knots between the ropes clearly demarking the evenness of each length of rope, before looping it up, muttering the magic words, and unlooping the rope to show that the knots have actually moved, and a short piece is clearly tied to a long piece, which is clearly tied to a medium-length piece. They are untied and everything can be examined. It's not as flashy a routine as Richard Saunders's Fibre Optics, nor is it as long and complex as Tabary's FISM award winning routine, but it's still a great piece of magic and my personal favourite Professor's Nightmare variant in the resources I'm reviewing this month. The handling touches might could even throw off people who think they know the secret, because the ropes are constantly changing in length, much more so than in a standard three rope Professor's Nightmare effect.

The Jumping Knot of Pakistan is another great piece of magic, in which two ropes of the same length are brought out, one white and one red, and a small knot is tied onto the white rope, and after twirling the white and red ropes together, magic words are uttered, the ropes untwirl, and the knot is shown to have jumped from the white rope onto the red, without changing its colour. The white rope is set aside, and then the white knot is then visibly slid down the length of the red rope before being removed, and then magically reattached to the rope again. The knot's jumping quality is shown with a flourish, before the performer then slides the knot again down the length of the rope, before finally being untied, and a white section remains permanently on the red rope. From purely a handling standpoint, it's not quite as fair as I've described it (although it certainly looks that way), but it's a really nice piece of magic nonetheless, and that red rope with a white section near one end is quite puzzling. It does require purchasing the required red rope, but it's a good purchase to make given the mileage Daryl shows you how to get from it.

Daryl's teaching is top notch. Each effect is demonstrated clearly and explained even more clearly, and he's really quite good at going into the nitty-gritty of an explanation, as well as offering variations on a good deal of the moves. His handling, misdirection and general timing also provide an excellent model for a newcomer to rope magic. Plus, in a fun twist, every now and then after demonstrating something from what I can only assume was his plan, he'd deviate from it and add an idea that came from either Mike Maxwell or someone on the crew.

The Not-So-Good: Organizationally, this DVD needed a lot more work put into it. Looking at the contents I'm having a hard time figuring out the rationale for why the routines were split up the way they were... the best I can come up with is that he wanted to have as much variety as possible on each DVD. As such, there are cut and restored effects on each volume, plenty of knot effects on each volume, Grandmother's Necklace Principle effects on each volume, and some ring and rope effects that could have been grouped together were split up between volumes 2 and 3. If his Encyclopedia of Card Sleights had been organized this way, it would have been an outright mess. Perhaps it's unfair to compare two different beasts in that manner, but it does create a bit of a nightmare for if you want to use these DVDs as a reference, which, considering the scope of the content, seemed to be part of the goal. Basically, if you dream up an effect and aren't sure about which cut-and-restored would fit the bill, you might have to go through all three volumes to track down the right one. To make matters worse, the only really good routines are on the last DVD, which makes sense if you want to hold onto the advanced multi-phase performance stuff until after a thorough examination of principles, but it's a bit annoying if you're hoping each DVD can give you something you'll be confident is performance-worthy right away.

And that's another problem -- while there are a lot of methods and simple tricks, fully-fleshed out routines are conspicuous by their absence. Aside from the excellent 9-phase routine and the Jumping Knot of Pakistan, it's really low on what one would consider full routines, and by that I mean routines that are complete from a presentational standpoint. You could argue that this sort of thing isn't Daryl's responsibility with this series, and I'd agree except for those effects that require you to begin dirty with extra preparation of some kind. How does one pull out a rope that's been prepared with a special something that's not meant to come into view right away, without making it look like you're hiding something? What finesses are available to falsely display what the audience believes really is a single, unprepared piece of rope? What ways are there to smuggle in gimmicks? Other magicians on other DVDs have answered those questions well, but this DVD series would have been an ideal place to group these topics together. Instead, except for the two routines at the end of the series, presentational touches are somewhat randomly addressed, and from an entertainment standpoint, those routines that do get some of this treatment are presented in a muted straight-forward manner that works well enough with his quirky personality, but will likely just be play-by-play drab commentary in the hands of a performer with less flair for theatricality. Again, this is probably not going to be a problem for someone already armed withan entertaining character, and it likely won't present an obstacle to the ungimmicked impromptu material in this series, of which there is plenty. But there are also more than a couple of nice effects that are trickier to pull off convincingly, because the amount of setup required means you'll basically have to come onstage with a death grip on your rope just to make sure the pre-show work doesn't flash.

Technically, George Sands's contributions to the genre are represented in the form of Daryl's rope routine, which borrows heavily from it. That said, I find it a little bit difficult to come to terms with the fact that a routine that has been so influential on so many great rope magicians gets such a small entry in an otherwise massive collection of tricks. I suppose I can't complain, considering at least it's here, but so much good stuff has been built off the use of that SP gimmick that it's a shame more didn't make it in. I guess this is where other DVDs are meant to fill the gaps. Another omission that I was sad to see missing was a lack of Sefalaljia content, which would have been a nice inclusion if only to get a glimpse of what Annemann and Stewart were all so hot and bothered about (I've yet to have the pleasure of seeing this performed -- again, more proof than you need that I'm probably too ignorant to be writing these reviews). Finger ring effects and the Professor's Nightmare, while getting pretty good treatment, didn't reach the encyclopedic level that some of the other topics on the DVDs did. Daryl's Rope Routine represents my favourite PN version so far, but aspects of some of the others would have been welcome additions to the Series.

Other thoughts: Every now and then the book-versus-DVD argument comes up, and each time we have to hear large generalizations about how books are better because they require you to fill the gaps in and really make the magic yours, or about how DVDs are better because you can really see how a method should look from an audience viewpoint, etc. I've always found these arguments annoying, not only because there are excellent exceptions to the rule for both cases, but because sometimes certain media don't lend themselves well to teaching certain aspects of magic. It's really hard to learn timing from a book, for instance, and it's really hard to pack lots of effects into a DVD. Plus, there's rope magic. Say what you want about books, but a poorly-done diagram for a rope trick can make you homocidal. Daryl's teaching here is just so clear that it's hard to imagine any book doing a better job, and at the same time, it's a rebuttal to the argument that DVDs spoon-feed you too many presentational ideas, because there are so few to work with. Normally, I'd be willing to disregard a lack of such routines as being outside the scope of this work, except that in leaving out the routines, you sometimes leave out also some of those extra bits of business unique to rope magic (particularly gimmicked rope magic) that can act as convincers. It's sort of like doing a coin magic DVD but leaving out the Ramsay's Subtlety -- you can do it, but you're handicapping the magicians who are looking to you as a learning resource.

On the other hand, an intrepid magician should be able to piece together enough out of these DVDs to come up with some good magic. Daryl's ring-and-rope routine as taught on Fooler Doolers Volume 3 is made up entirely from the moves listed on this DVD (although they are scattered about), as is the Rainbow Ropes variant, his Chinese Laundryman, and a Do-As-I-Do instant knot routine -- I point that out not so much to sell the Fooler Doolers series but to show that not only is there enough here for someone to build show-worthy pieces, but that Daryl himself believes in the quality of the material. Plus, if you've got no intention of starting dirty (or if you're already blessed with the know-how to pull it off) then my criticism about the lack of fully-fleshed out routines will be even less important, since there's not really as much need for display subtleties when you're working clean. Plus, my criticism might be unfair from the standpoint of limited DVD space -- more fully-developed routines might have meant less overall content. Still, if the series hadn't been constructed so as to force a magician to look elsewhere for strong presentational models, it would have been rated higher.

Conclusion: This is a really weird DVD series, both to watch and to review. It has all the hallmarks of a Daryl product with its in-depth exploration of principles, methods, and variations, with general handling demonstration and instruction that's very strong, as well as some gaps of subject matter and some serious organizational flaws. The two routines included on Volume 3 really are quite good, and those combined with the wealth of other material do make this a worthy purchase if you're a rope magic nut. I'd argue that all of the short-comings (with the possible exception of no Sefalaljia material) can be met by rounding out your library with the other DVD titles I'm reviewing in this series, but at the same time, I can't help but feel that this good series represents a missed opportunity to be truly great.
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Inner circle
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Thanks for taking the trouble to do this. I don't disagree with much if anything. The only additional thing that annoys me is the quality of sound on the DVD. They have used a really aggressive automatic level control that sometimes knocks back the level to almost nothing as soon as Daryl raises his voice at all. Really lazy.
Jolyon Jenkins
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Profile of Futureal
Worth mentioning that Daryl recorded the material on these videos probably ten years ago? They were converted to DVD recently, they're not a new release.
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Inner circle
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Profile of erlandish

Yeah, that's worth mentioning. Basically, I'm doing a series of rope magic reviews (click here) and this was one of the ones requested from the Knots and Loops forum further up the index page.
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Andy the cardician
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Thanks for the great write-up. A joy to read . . .

Cards never lie
Mark R. Williams
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Profile of Mark R. Williams

Thanks for the write up.

You have some well thought our reviews on your site.

It all helps us to better judge the "Treasure from the Trash".

"One more step on the pathway of Knowledge, that is if we don't break our leg crossing the street"
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Profile of crdshark86
Great dvds!
Ask me about Dan Harlan's Jam Sessions!
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Profile of Michael238
Great material
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Profile of jcrabtree2007
Fantastic DVDs. Daryl rope routine and jumping knot routines are fantastic!
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Profile of countrymaven
Good review. At the same time, we should consider when these were made. They were transferred from VHS. I look forward to seeing your other reviews. WE should also realize that no rope magic videos can have everything on them. But I would say these videos and Daryl's ever present enthusiasm and clear teaching skills make these a necessity for those wanting to really "learn the ropes." There are some things you just can't learn well from a text. So there are many treasures contained in these videos.
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