"The Prestige" Ebert Late Review

Discussions of new films, books, television shows, and media indirectly related to magic and magicians. For example, there may be a book on mnemonics or theatrical technique we should know or at least know about.

Postby Guest » 09/07/07 04:54 PM

Roger Ebert, recovering from thyroid cancer, is playing catch up on movies he has missed reviewing in the past year or so.
This week he reviews "The Prestige."

Find the review HERE


An interesting note in the review is Ebert's love of magic and his admission to being lousy at it.

Gord
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Postby Guest » 09/07/07 05:12 PM

Interesting review. He claims to know satan. Kewl!
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Postby Guest » 09/07/07 05:34 PM

I assume we're still trying not to spoil the movie's plot on this forum, so I'll be circumspect.

It sounds like Ebert objected to what the Tesla character contributed to the movie, which isn't consistent with the rest of the movie.

Some readers of the book were also put off by that element. They thought they were reading one sort of book, but it turned out to be another genre. I think it's a very fair criticism.
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Postby Guest » 09/07/07 05:57 PM

Another comment: If Ebert knows so much about Houdini, I'm surprised he characterized Houdini as "really" doing the escapes he claimed to.

In some effects, like the straijacket or rope ties, yes, Houdini really escaped just as he appeared to. It was an open display of skill and strength.

But Ebert must know that Houdini employed elements of sleight of hand and stage magic to effect many of his escapes.

Houdini must have used a magician's skill to conceal keys and picks and get ahold of them when he needed them.

The packing crate escape is a great illusion, in which Houdini arranges for members of the public to build the box, apparently to establish that it's unfaked. By the time of the performance, the box is just as faked as any illusionist's box. Is that an escape for real?

I'd call it a perfectly acceptable use of the illusionist's art, but I wouldn't say it was "real," if you mean real in the sense of not being a trick.

I recently read Maurice Zolotow's review of Christopher's biography of Houdini. Zolotow was bitter that Houdini used trickery. He called Houdini a fake.

I don't agree with that characterization. Like Ebert, Zolotow seems to think that all the escapes were supposed to be "real," not magic tricks.
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Postby Guest » 09/07/07 06:09 PM

Originally posted by Eric Fry:
I assume we're still trying not to spoil the movie's plot on this forum, so I'll be circumspect...
Eric, the book was published over a decade ago and the film's been on video a while now. Anyone who wanted to know the story already does.

Why do we pretend to keep secrets from eachother around here?

As to why anyone would walk into a story by that author without expecting some off the wall surprises ... well they've been missing out on things like his Inverted World novel which makes the simple (non)science aspects The Prestige seem petty.

Yeah he missed the fun of having a rock star known for elaborate staging in concert appearing from lightning many years before his character did about the same. Guess Satan had a hand in that writing.

Is this your hat? :D
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Postby Jeff Haas » 09/08/07 12:19 AM

Eric, I think you misread Ebert's review. Ebert is making the well-known point that Houdini didn't dematerialize his body to escape (like Conan Doyle thought he did) but that he got out via magician's techniques. Or else he's keeping the illusion of Houdini's skills alive, because he knows enough about magic to respect it.

Ebert was also kinder to the movie than I expected. It's basically about how two obsessive, unsympathetic a**holes can't stop competing with each other, and ends up with a ridiculous knock-off of a scene from "Silence of the Lambs."
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 09/08/07 07:31 AM

Having just read the piece, I agree with Jeff that Eric has misconstrued Ebert's comments.
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Postby Guest » 09/08/07 07:57 AM

I miss him talking about it on TV.
I like his writing, but I'm very
much auditory that I like when he
uses expression in his words to
emphasis specific things.

I'll have to go back and read it
more throughly, but I saw he mentioned
Randi! That's pretty kewl.
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Postby Guest » 09/08/07 09:31 AM

One way I've looked at this difficult-to-classify film, is that it's a morality fable on fame-seeking entertainers, with a Victorian Magic SciFi setting.

I like Ebert's reviews, but there's more to this film than he sees IMO.
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Postby Guest » 09/08/07 09:52 AM

Try thinking about it as if the Michael Caine character set it all up. Alfred is a very effective guy.

Now about getting one's hands dirty...
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 09/08/07 09:55 AM

I don't know when the word "cool" became "kewl," but it's not. Please avoid language abortions here on the Forum (such as "u" for "you," etc.).
Thanks.
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Postby Guest » 09/08/07 10:05 AM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
I don't know when the word "cool" became "kewl," but it's not. Please avoid language abortions here on the Forum (such as "u" for "you," etc.).
Thanks.
Agreed, I'm all for clarity and precision.

Cool was 1960s argot from the 1950's beat folks. References something that's accepted even though it's known to hide things which are not acceptable.

Kewl is from the 1990s and it's even pronounced differently - meaning desirable/pleasant emotional connotation.

From the ironic to the post-ironic.

:)

Now back to our story where Wolverine thinks he has a deal on a butler but thanks to Alfred, Bruce Wayne has him seeing double. ;)
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 09/08/07 10:40 AM

No spoilers, please.
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Postby Guest » 09/08/07 03:44 PM

Thanks for the comments on my comments. I agree that I misunderstood Ebert's point about Houdini. Although now that I've re-read the review, I still don't know what his point was. Any ideas?

The problem with the Tesla element is that it's not in keeping with the nature of the rest of the book/movie. It disrupts the artistic unity. In the book in particular it comes out of nowhere.

It's a deus ex machina: "an unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot (e.g. an angel suddenly appearing to solve problems)," as Wikipedia puts it.

We see the principle of artistic unity in magic as well. We don't start an act with silk tricks and segue into mindreading. We don't wear a red rubber nose and do a gambling routine.

Kickers are another example. Most magicians would say that the kicker, while being a surprise, should fit in with theme of the trick. We don't surprise everyone by producing an egg at the end of a four-ace routine.

Most of the Prestige is a dark naturalistic drama about two obsessed people, but part of it is something entirely different. For some of us it didn't work.

It would be like Biff creating a time machine for Willy Loman and sending him back in time so he can get a nice steady job at a factory and not end up as a failed salesman.
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Postby Guest » 09/08/07 07:58 PM

With all possible respect for Mr. Ebert, I feel he has missed the point of the story and the film.

The questions are asked:

Are you willing to get your hands dirty?
What if you could do that trick for real?
What is the price of living with/in an illusion?
What is the nature of prestige?
How is it against our nature to share prestige?

Let's look at the second question as we are magicians and look to another fiction, Star Trek, to see how it's been avoided until now.

Surely the nature of illusion offers some simple either/or (exclusive or) design decisions which we all live with. And every thinking viewer of Star Trek is left to wonder about the implications of a certain bit of technology they use and only one character complains about. And with few exceptions all I have met and read from have avoided that question. But now we have Chris Priest bringing the question and a conservative answer into a story and so we get taken off the hook and left to focus on other more character based matters.

See what comes of stopping our thinking about a problem before it yields some interesting possibilities? We get shown up by a sci-fi author who brings some of our arts questions right into the forefront of a story as motivations for its characters.

IMHO the story stands and the questions stand. Even a facile reader can guess why one of the characters immediately decides to add an extra cleanup and convincer after his version of the trick. That decision speaks to the basic motivation of the character and their background.

Without offering answers to the questions posed by the author I can also appreciate how the screenwriter offered a compacted but none the less valid version of the story. Business is business and the nature of the tale is IMHO reflected well in the film.

And so I'm left to wonder what Mr. Ebert needs to believe in order to have the opinion he states. But that's okay, I like mysteries.

Jonathan
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Postby Jeff Haas » 09/08/07 11:28 PM

I see the Tesla element of the story as yet another variation of the magician who is disenchanted with stage magic because it's not real, so he searches for "real" magic. This is a common element in many stories about magicians. You almost never see the magician portrayed as a creative person who enjoys creating new experiences for audiences. (Think of the way they show special effects people at ILM, or animators working at Pixar - these people are always shown having fun coming up with some new clever moments.)

In this story, when one character finds "real" magic (actually, just a method the other guy doesn't know about) it doesn't change him at all. It simply turns into another weapon in his obsessive fight.
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