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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Food for thought » » What is Lame, Out of Date Magic? Does it exist? (30 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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danaruns
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There is a difference between great skill and appeal to the public at large. There are performers whom I greatly admire for their incredible skill. Whatever they happen to do is great magic IMHO, in the sense that it is performed at such a high level that few can match it. And of course we admire that. At the same time, while we as magicians can appreciate the greatness of the performance, the material they do can pass a lay audience by in terms of what the culture expects at a particular point in time.

But when we start talking about particular performers, we are drifting away from the subject of this thread. The thread subject is concerned with the magic performed rather than the magician performing it.

One thing I think is true in magic in particular is the old saw "familiarity breeds contempt." Why don't we repeat tricks for the same audience? Part of it is because we fear they will discover the method. But another part of it is because the second (or hundredth) time they see it they are no longer astonished, surprised or filled with wonder by it. And after enough repetitions, it gets so tired that it becomes cliché. Audiences still thrill to see a rabbit produced from a hat. But is that because it is amazing magic? No, it's because the bunny is cute and adorable. When a bunny is produced from a hat, you hear the entire audience go "Awwww!" not "What the f---???" No one's head explodes over a bunny out of a hat. The rabbit out of the hat is tired and clichéd, no longer astonishing, and is therefore "lame," "out of date" and bad magic.

And yet....

It can still be good magic, even if it no longer astonishes and makes people Smile . If the performance is fresh enough. If the frame is new. If it is come at from a different angle. Then it can be transformed into good magic again. Imagine Penn & Teller pulling a rabbit from a hat. Wait a minute, they did that on the Tonight Show.(https://youtu.be/yzjCbvPyo6c) and it still sucked. Note the utter lack of audience reaction. The trick just has nothing that appeals to a modern audience. However...when on another performance Teller then "accidentally" dropped the bunny into a woodchipper and blood and fur sprayed everywhere, the audience went wild. Why? It was suddenly culturally relevant because it was anti-cliché, mocking the cliché, and there was even a brief moment of horror until the audience realized that the bunny didn't really die. Now, is that technically excellent magic? Nope. Not even close. But it became culturally relevant again, because by throwing a bunny in a woodchipper it became edgy rather than clichéd. To be clear: NOT good magic the way magicians look at it, but the ROUTINING became culturally relevant and therefore entertaining. And I think we are all agreeing, here, that ROUTINING is what makes the difference between something "lame" and "out of date" (as the thread title invokes) and appealing to a modern audience.

Okay, too much rambling. Sorry for the length.
"Dana Douglas is the greatest magician alive. Plus, I'm drunk." -- Foster Brooks
Aus
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In my opinion, there seem to be two competing ethe in magic. Darwin Ortiz in strong magic calls one of them the "Fitzkee fallacy" where magic has no inherent entertainment value. In Showmanship for Magicians Dariel Fitzkee's prescription for making magic entertaining is to introduce music, dance, comedy, and sex appeal into magic performance. In this view, magic is seen as a bitter pill that needs sugar coating in order to get the audience to swallow it.

In saying that Darwin states that he doesn't exclude this thinking as a valued way of performing entertaining magic but rather he does not subscribe to it being a single ethos that encompasses magic as a whole.

Reading Darwin's book it is made quite clear that Darwin does believe magic IS inherently entertaining.

Teller speaks about the inherent wonder of the linking rings in these exact terms.






Now some magicians, unlike Darwin Ortiz don't have a foot in each camp like he does, there are people like Dick Oslund who proselytize the gospels of Dariel Fitzkee as if they were the ten commandments of magic and to be fair there are others that advocate an opposite approach with the same vigor.

I've never been a proponent of one size fits all mentality, if we did then we would all be going down the Dariel Fitzkee ethos of magic being a science (Trick Brain) and not an art which has been cause for a great deal of controversy over the years. If we intend to evolve magic as an art we need to change along with it.

Now the minimalist ethos can manifest itself in some interesting ways so let's explore them.

David Blaine was criticized a great deal for his lack of showmanship for Dariel Fitkzee's definition of the word but others dissecting his success made other observations.

Reiterating what has been said in the worker's section of the Café on the topic of David Blaine these observations were made.

Magicians are so eager to be funny & clever & project their personality that they end up stepping on their own effects with carnival barker patter.

Blaine's early affectless deadpan demeanor both set the tone and let the actual magic breath—giving spectators time to really process what they've seen as something truly impossible, which takes a little time! Lots of magicians are halfway into another effect before the spectator has a chance to get there. And that's especially essential for TV magic, which I think may have been Blaine's key insight: When you can do the most spectacularly visual effects you could imagine with CGI or camera tricks, the effect alone, however amazing it might be in person, isn't going to make for compelling viewing by itself—you can see a hundred more impossible things in any show on the Syfy channel.

For a TV audience operating on that baseline, you have to try to recreate the sense of astonishment that comes from seeing magic done *right up in your face* by letting the viewer experience it vicariously through the spectator in the scene. And the only way to do that is a magician who's going to *shut up and let the spectator react*——who's going to let them fill the silence by selling the viewer on how astonished *they* are having seen the effect in person. Blaine's persona accomplished all that beautifully.

To summarize the underlying theory in his performances he creates a kind of void that doesn't interrupt the spectator's experience. A lot of magicians trample all over the effect, trying to be clever or profound. In short, they kill the potential power of the routine because they're trying too hard to make it powerful. He doesn't do that. With his stuff, there's no pressure release before the reaction, so the reaction is huge.

Teller makes a similar argument about why he doesn't speak on stage, listen to Teller explaining the origins of his silent character (first few minutes):



I feel that there are many magicians performing lame magic because of some aspiration of this goal and finding themselves falling short of it, and of course, those that are simply bad and don't know they're bad. I guess the question is where is the line where one can say less is truly more?

Magically

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danaruns
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I think you make some excellent points, Aus. Loved your post. I'm very interested in the minimalist approach these days, and the psychology behind making it work. Ben Earl also has some pretty interesting thoughts in that area.

Also, as far as David Blaine goes, I think his real early genius was turning the camera away from the magician and training it on the audience. I know that's off your subject, but I just wanted to put that out there as something that affected TV magic.
"Dana Douglas is the greatest magician alive. Plus, I'm drunk." -- Foster Brooks
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The aim is satisfaction of the human brain, which consists of two opposite hemispheres, both of which must be satisfied, to give whole brain satisfaction. It is no coincidence that our magic consists of two equal and opposite hemispheres, which we call Magic and Entertainment. To give whole brain satiation there must be a balance of Magic and Entertainment. Equilibrium applies all things where the aim is satisfaction of the human brain.
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The more "technique" used in a routine the more chance that something can go wrong. Minimalism should move to remove anything that is not really necessary or to put something in that substitutes for 2 or more others.

For a wonderful learning experience even if you never wish to do Mentalism read the Annemann book, Practical Mental Effects. Annemann has always been for me the Gold Standard of how to produce a lot with very little.
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Yes, indeed the magic ought to be as simple or as elegant as possible. That, though only applies to the magic side of it for the entertainment side is the opposite and so I and ought to be elaborate. The character ought to flamboyant and as our friend, Erdnase said “It will have been seen by the foregoing that the presentation of a card trick may contain much more bosh than action, and indeed the performance of the one just described might be advantageously prolonged by a great deal more nonsense. In all card entertainments the more palaver the more the interest is excited, and the address and patter of the performer will count as much if not more than his skill in manipulation.” – The Exclusive Coterie. One must, of course, be beware though of overdoing the entertainment side as that would drown the magic side. It is as always a matter of balance.
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

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The Hermit
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Magic has to have a context. It may be simple or not. That determines whether it fits the type of audience. There used to be a joke that you could take an audience member out of a magic show today and put him in one a hundred years earlier and he wouldn't notice much difference. that's why tricks seem old, they're in an old context. In the right context, any trick can work (maybe not the linking rings, unless it's Martin Lewis). And by context, I mean the context of performer, place, time and manner. Doug Henning and David Copperfield did pretty much the same stuff, stuff done thousands of times. Henning meshed hippie vibes to magic and made something that fit the times in a new context. Copperfield merged it with MTV and gave it new context. If you perform magic as magic, it's going to look old. Magic is old and most people don't like it. It stays in the same context until someone comes along and rewrites it ala David Blaine, merged hip hop culture to magic.
danaruns
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Yeah, I kind of agree with that. But then I keep thinking, REAL magic would be simple and have its own context, and the closer we can get to appearing to be doing real magic the less of the rest of that stuff we need. If we can show an audience something that is clearly impossible, but that has absolutely no (apparent) explanation, it doesn't need any context. They will remember that moment forever.

But never underestimate the ability of magicians to take something inherently profound and render it trivial.
"Dana Douglas is the greatest magician alive. Plus, I'm drunk." -- Foster Brooks
tommy
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REAL magic would be simple and it would also be boring.
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

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funsway
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Quote:
On Oct 4, 2017, tommy wrote:
REAL magic would be simple and it would also be boring.


Only to those seeking to "be entertained" - and some addicted to entertainment would be excited anyway.

For those able to entertain themselves, magic is as real as one cares to embrace, and never boring at all.
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst



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The Hermit
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Quote:
On Oct 5, 2017, funsway wrote:
Quote:
On Oct 4, 2017, tommy wrote:
REAL magic would be simple and it would also be boring.


Only to those seeking to "be entertained" - and some addicted to entertainment would be excited anyway.

For those able to entertain themselves, magic is as real as one cares to embrace, and never boring at all.


Well that explains it.
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I don't know. I think of it like science.

If there's a way to "break the laws of physics", what we're really doing is discovering new laws of physics. If I say these things, and I make these motions, it causes this to happen. Or if I mix this substance with this substance, in this location, while speaking these words, it creates this event.

There would have to be some kind of system to it, even if those systems were simple.

Of course, I could be influenced by all the fantasy/sci fi I read. The Magicians and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell had great representations of what magic could look like.
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RayLogan
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On Sep 9, 2017, MeetMagicMike wrote:
Cards are still in the culture but very much on their way out. Young people know about cards because their parents play with them. When I ask people to pick a card I always explain the difference between clubs and spades and even then they often confuse them.


I know that I'm late to the party but as a close-up table hopper for 40 years and still going - cards are not even close to their way out. Some routines maybe but not cards. I don't do cards at every table because of a time constraint, but when I do I often ask if they like cards. They always say yes and if they hesitate I say don't worry, I'll just do a dozen or so, gets a laugh. I do a couple fast ones and then they are putty in my hands. No long effects... I love card magic and feel I choose the right routines, many mine, not bragging, just sayin'. If you have to worry about the props you use to be relevant you're going down the wrong path. It's you that has to be relevant and up to date with your presentation, not the prop.
Stan Allen took the rings to a different place and used coat hangers and I'm sure him doing the routine would still be funny and magical even today. I think many could watch Cardini today and love his act. If Marilyn Monroe walked into a room dressed in fifties attire there wouldn't be anybody complaining and saying she's outdated, it's all in the presentation, not the dress, I mean prop. Smile
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Quote:
On Oct 4, 2017, danaruns wrote:
Yeah, I kind of agree with that. But then I keep thinking, REAL magic would be simple and have its own context, and the closer we can get to appearing to be doing real magic the less of the rest of that stuff we need. If we can show an audience something that is clearly impossible, but that has absolutely no (apparent) explanation, it doesn't need any context. They will remember that moment forever.

But never underestimate the ability of magicians to take something inherently profound and render it trivial.


It depends on what context you're going for, context seems to have an equivocal quality to it when it comes to magic.

I'm sure many magicians have had the experience countless times of having someone who has just learned that you do magic say to you, "So your a magician! Can you make my wife disappear?" And if your a restaurant magician, you've undoubtedly had a patron say, "So, you're a magician! Can you make my check disappear?"

These gags get tiresome so quickly that it's easy to ignore them without realizing that, beneath the corny humour, the layperson is telling you something very important. He is saying, "If your really a magician, why don't you do something useful?"

For context, this seems to be a straightforward application of it.

Also many argue that few effects are so unequivocal that as to speak for themselves without patter interpretation by the performer. Suppose you place a red-backed card on the table. Then you have a spectator select a card from a blue-black card deck. When the red-backed card is turned over it proves to be the same as the selected card.

Did you foresee the future or did you control the spectators will to choose the card you wished? Perhaps you were demonstrating extraordinary coincidence, or perhaps you and the spectator were joined in some psychic, sympathetic link that led you both to be attracted to the same card. Which is it? You have to decide. Once you decide how the effect will be interpreted, you must incorporate that interpretation into your patter.

However, there are instances where this line of thinking is thrown out the window, and the best example of that is Bro Hammanns Two card trick where it seems that ambiguity is cultivated in order to let the spectators mind create its own context and by extension the impossibility that is perceived. I'm not sure if this is the exception to the rule or not, but it is worthy of note.

However, I think the context that your referring to is of a different kind to what applies to the above examples. Some believe that magic is inherently meaningful. If you do something that is truly impossible even as something trivial as floating a small object, it has tremendous meaning. That's because, while the achievement itself is trivial, the implications are not. If it's truly impossible, it brings into question everything we know about how the universe works.

That's why baffling magic always evokes an emotional response. If you see something that all your instincts tell you is impossible, it has to be meaningful to you. The implication is that from this point on you can't be certain of anything, and maybe that is a context of its own.

Magically

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The Linking Rings is a classic yet overdone hack trick. With that being said, I close with it at the Magic Castle and frequently get standing ovations. I have used it for 5 people and for 5,000. My specific routine is the result of about 40 years of work and improvements. There is not one day I do that routine that I don't continue to find more subtleties and nuances to make it more effective. It is the essence of a perfect effect that uses multiple conflicting methods. It is simply an instrument. Are you a hack playing chopsticks or Rachmananoff? I accept that it has been overdone and overexposed and use that as a point of departure. It spite of huge illusions and spectacle, this one illusion continues to be one of the most talked about and confounding features of my show when I talk to the audience afterwards. That's really all I need.
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danaruns
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Wonderful post, Aus. Smile
"Dana Douglas is the greatest magician alive. Plus, I'm drunk." -- Foster Brooks
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I would love to see a performance of your linking ring routine Aus. Funnily enough the "classic" linking ring (5 - 8 rings) is hardly ever seen in the UK nowadays (the 3 ring non examined "pretty" version took over). There is so much scope for entertaining and baffling sub plots (spectator can / can't do it, plus the overlapping / cancelling methods). Just shows it's not what you do but the way that you do it.

I understand Robert Harbin prefaced his performance with a comment along the lines "you might have seen this trick for sale in joke shops where the rings have splits in them - these are nothing like that ....look" - talk about tackling exposure head on...
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Check out Linking Hearts" as a way of revitalizing the rings. The different shapes and different linking possibilities make a huge difference.
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst



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Aus
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Quote:
On Oct 7, 2017, ChrisPayne wrote:
I would love to see a performance of your linking ring routine Aus. Funnily enough the "classic" linking ring (5 - 8 rings) is hardly ever seen in the UK nowadays (the 3 ring non examined "pretty" version took over). There is so much scope for entertaining and baffling sub plots (spectator can / can't do it, plus the overlapping / cancelling methods). Just shows it's not what you do but the way that you do it.

I understand Robert Harbin prefaced his performance with a comment along the lines "you might have seen this trick for sale in joke shops where the rings have splits in them - these are nothing like that ....look" - talk about tackling exposure head on...


Perspective makes a difference so before your eyes start glazing over as just another linking ring routine, take the time to think of the tricks potential. So much great magic is potentially lost because people take a to linear perspective on what things are.

Sometimes I wonder if magic is spoken too much in the abstract and people simply don't know how to do the things that are often advocated for them to do, one such example is the often dispensed advice of "making a trick your own". How does one do that exactly?

Living in a magic vacuum of no direct influence of any kind in my formative years in magic, I had to find answers to this and other questions and formulate my own answers. In searching, I found other creative arts had similar problems.

Being creative was one such example, creating your own ideas through creativity I have always found it explained as an abstract notion which has been difficult to define thus hard to teach.

Modern day interpretations seem to come from other creative arts as some sort of emotive experience where looking at the subject matter makes the viewer awash in some sort of primal feeling that they then channel into their creative work well others describe it as a lightning bolt moment that strikes out of the blue from nowhere. Trying to explain a concept like that in any meaningful way was like nailing jelly to a wall.

Then it occurred to me that in terms of magic we didn’t need to look at others for a clear definition only a definition as it applied to US and what we do. For our purposes, three main viewpoints needed to be viewed in the creative process. The three viewpoints of focus I distilled where the practical, the theatrical and the effect.

Through these three lenses of observation I would exercise my new ideas through posing simple questions, which are:

Can I substitute something in it?

Can I combine it with something else?

Can I adapt something to it?

Can I modify and magnify it?

Can it be put to some other use?

Can I eliminate something?

Can I reverse or rearrange it?

Once you start seeing things in this way, you stop seeing things as they are and start seeing things as they could be and that my friend is when things start getting really exciting.


Magically

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I think things get old. Some things are old when they are new. But even old works say, when someone puts on a show that is to look like an 1800's presentation.

But what makes magic good? I invented Matrix. How? I did Sympathetic coins and watched the audience. Some of it was good and some not so good. When I sat at a table working with the props, my focus was, "What does the audience see?" Then, "What does the audience want to see?" In so doing I came up with two moves I had never seen before. At that time the moves appeared so naive to me, I thought them worthless. When I showed the sequence to the guy that got me into magic he acted like it was some kind of different fluke. One day Al Goshman was in the shop and he bent over backwards to see how it worked. I showed it so a friend at the magic shop and he offered me $5 to teach it to him. I still did not know what the routine meant. One day at a convention hanging around with Larry Jennings (Larry and I go way back) it happened. He forced me to get together with the owner of Genii magazine. He took poloride pics, gave them to me and had me write instructions around them and send them to him. The trick appeared in Genii in 1972. You can still get a copy of it.

What is my point. The point is that Matrix was born out of taking the point of view of the audience. The moves were created from that perspective. Today, Matrix has been butchered with improvements. From my perspective the "improvements" consist of taking old concepts and warping the original matrix.

Again, the point is to force yourself to take the point of view of the audience: not some moves, not some cool gimmick, not your ego, and not what is popular.
Magic Al. Say it fast and it is magical.
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