Ricky Jay is a master magician. Like most magicians, he does not like to share his secrets. His grandfather raised him in the magic tradition, and introduced him to some mentors who are the real subject of the movie. Jay had no use for his parents. His friends became his family, but his teachers, the master sleight of hand artists like Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller, and others with names that end like Houdini’s–Slydini and Cardini, and the great comic Flosso who made Ed Sullivan laugh– raised him not just as a performing artist but as a human being.
Jay says, “The real key to learning is almost like the sensei master relationship in the martial arts. The way you want to learn is by someone that you respect showing you something.” The mentors shown in the movie are his senseis. Ricky Jay spent untold number of hours with them, watching, refining, developing his art, until they trusted each other enough to show each other an “effect.”
There is enormous risk in what he does. Exposure would be fatal. The code of conduct among magicians is iron clad. You do not reveal anything. And at his grandfather’s funeral, the wand was broken in the same ritual that takes place every year at Houdini’s grave on October 31, to show that with the magician’s death, the wand has lost its magic.
Visually, interviews with Jay take place in front of mirrors, seated at bars. Suzie Mackenzie of the Guardian relates an effect that was done just for her, an intimate demonstration of Jay’s tending to the details of what makes magic so amazing. We forget ourselves for just a moment, and think that logic has been suspended.
Some people might be frustrated by the amount of magic actually demonstrated. The few scenes that do show Jay performing are quite wonderful, especially when he was on the Dinah Shore show with Steve Martin, and when he was very young and had long hair streaming down his back. There are many scenes of Jay shuffling cards almost as an act of meditation. He does this extraordinarily beautifully if you can call shuffling an act of beauty. He and the cards are one. But the movie is not a recording of one of Ricky Jay’s shows. That would be another movie, and one I would love to see. Bernstein and Edelstein’s movie is about how a master magician became great, through working with others who he considered greater than he was until he could meet them as peers and share their trade in friendship.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone lucky enough to have access to it.
Here is the link to the movie:
Here is the link to Film Forum