Too-Perfect Theory

Discuss the latest feature articles in Genii.

Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 07/18/01 03:04 PM

This is a red-alert of a coming attraction--a long, delightfully dense article on an interesting, controversial subject that has been hotly debated for the past 30 years. Next month's issue will reexamine this topic (23 pages) and many luminaries have weighed in on the topic: Harry Lorayne, Mike Close, John Carney, Bob Fitch, Jamy Ian Swiss, Darwin Ortiz, Bob Neale, Eugene Burger, and others... Because we want to provide articles of lasting interest, we hope that our general readership will be responsive to large essays of this type. This is not something you can read and digest "on the run." It is not topical fluff or ephemeral, ho-hum fare. If you find this kind of article stimulating and valuable, we will be encouraged to provide more of the same. Please check it out and give us your detailed, constructive, and helpful feedback.

Onward...

[ July 18, 2001: Message edited by: Richard Kaufman ]
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Postby Joe M. Turner » 07/19/01 04:31 PM

That sounds like an incredible article. I expect that with such a variety of contributors, the views expressed regarding the TPT will cover the whole spectrum. The TPT is one of those issues where I find that I lean one way today and the other way tomorrow. I can't wait to read what the others have to say about it.

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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 07/19/01 04:57 PM

If this Forum can keep contributors on track and somewhat focused, it will be a powerful, ongoing way to maintain what I call duologues. The hard-copy magazine is the monthly "anchor" pub and the forum can be a rip-snorting continuum of "threads." Properly done, it can lead the way...
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Postby Brian Marks » 07/22/01 10:04 PM

I agree that various tricks are so impossible that they leave themselves open to the obvious method. They even leave themselves open to imaginary methods to laymen. I'll paraphrase Mike Close in that the solution to this is NOT to swap one possible method for several possible methods but to give them one impossible method...MAGIC!!!

The Random House dictionary gives us a choice of definitions:
1. The art of producing illusions as entertainment by use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices etc.

2. The art of producing a desired effect or results through various techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the force of nature.

the first definition may be the definition from our standpoint but you are not a magician to a laymen until you can be defined by the second.
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Postby Joe M. Turner » 07/23/01 07:53 PM

Reading Paul Cummins' review of the Jarrett book, I saw a relevant quote which I think summarizes one point of view quite nicely: "Smart people know it's hokum; they appreciate good hokum."

JMT
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Postby Guest » 07/25/01 06:08 PM

"When an effect is so remarkable that it is incredible, the illusion of magic is lost and only the puzzle remains." This Wilfred Jonson qoute was on p.108 of the July issue of Magic and summarizes his own point-of-view on the subject.
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Postby Guest » 07/25/01 08:16 PM

I don't think I've seen a trick yet that's "too perfect." I LOVE watching the effects that literally leave me gaping. And I don't always walk away trying to figure out the method, sometimes I just enjoy my reaction and use it to remind myself of the power of mystery. Although, sometimes I DO feel better if I come up with SOME possible method, however implausible.

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Postby Dave Shepherd » 07/25/01 11:29 PM

Thank you for compiling that extensive debate on the meaning of the TPT, Jon. Ever since I got the issue I have been obsessing about this topic. I started reading through the whole shebang for the third time today, and got through the "Doppelgnger" routine about the time the subway arrived at Al's Magic Shop.

I think (as you suggest in the article, Jon) that part of the trouble with this "theory" or concept-set is the terminology. The term "Too-Perfect Theory" is in a way somewhat glib. Of course we want our magic to have a "perfect" impact. and I don't think Rick Johnsson was really talking about impact, but rather about framing.

I particularly like Harry Lorayne's corollary notion of a "Room For Discussion" (RFD) theory, which I think might be a more useful way to think about the concepts Johnsson brought up.

It's been a long time since I've read any magazine, magic or otherwise, with a notebook and pen in hand. I'm taking notes of my reactions in the same way I would take notes while reading a textbook in a graduate-level university course. My reaction to the article(s) informs my own opinion.

I'll try to crystallize more thoughts on this as I read it and talk/write to other people about it.

Dave Shepherd

[ July 25, 2001: Message edited by: Dave Shepherd ]
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 07/26/01 10:44 PM

Now that I've read the "Too Perfect Theory" section of the August issue of Genii, I feel that I can jump into the fray. This seems to be a popular subject lately, as I was involved in a TPT thread at another BB just a few weeks ago. My comments here are not a rehash of what I posted then, so anyone interested in reading those can email me for the URL where the thread is archived. Bob Kohler had some interesting thoughts on the subject as well.

Without knowing it, my introduction to the concept came when I was in high school (mid 70s). A fellow student, Leo, in my shop class had a solution for everything I did, and he was none to shy about sharing his "solutions." He had the most incredible solutions imaginable for the effects I performed. I thought he could have written a magic parody for Mad Magazine, the solutions were so crazy. Luckily, everyone else realized that Leo was nuts as well. The problem was, every once in a while, Leo would get real close! However, he was so crazy, even when he was close, everyone ignored him - thank goodness. Once, he told everyone that I had a "hollow mannequin finger" that I used to stuff my "little cloth" in. "Nobody counts how many fingers you have," he said. From that point forward, I never again did a barehanded vanish/production from a thumb tip. It was "too perfect."

The point is, Leo had to find a solution, and he'd settle on one (and be absolutely convinced that he was correct), no matter how improbable.

It was not too long after this that I read the original essay and put two and two together. I bought the "theory" then, and I still believe in it today.

Thank you Jon and Richard for putting together one of the best series of articles to appear in a single issue of a magazine (any magazine) in a long while.

Best regards,
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Postby Brian Marks » 07/27/01 12:46 AM

I would like to see more articles like this one Richard. They really are thought provoking.
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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 07/27/01 01:46 PM

RK and I certainly want, big-time, to provide thought-provoking articles of every kind. This is what creates the vital zap and lasting verve of any pub. Without reader involvement, pubs are merely barks in the wind...So, "T'is a consummation devoutly to be wished..." Let's make it happen.

Although I'm unsure about how many futurists there are "out there" in magicdom, I would love to publish an article which speculates on how the magic world will be and look 100 years from now. Will there be magicians doing sponge balls and Color Monte? Or will our aborional reality be subsumed into hundreds of virtual realities or worlds, making everything somewhat more magical than the everyday fare we now dispense? Will the current "illusions" now done in Vegas and even shown in Disney World pale and look quaint? If so, who will pause to look at our equally quaint and minor tricks?

Enquiring minds want to know! ;)
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Postby Brian Marks » 07/27/01 06:29 PM

It looks to me that money is becoming more and more obsolete through new technology with electric money. You cant find Kennedy Halves. New dollar coins are unpopular and not compatable with what I usually do with halves.

Where will coin magic be in a hundred years from now? Will people even know what coins are?
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Postby EdAndres » 07/27/01 08:39 PM

Considering coins from a thousand years ago are still around I would say yes. Coins whether new or old will always hold an inherent value to humans. Even if only sentimental. :cool:
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Postby Jeff Haas » 07/28/01 08:07 PM

One point that struck me in the Too Perfect Theory article, was in re-reading Rick Johnsson's piece.

He wimped out. Rather than try to come up with a method that would eliminate all possible solutions, he said, "I'll leave that to you...I'll take the easier path." And then he settled for "good enough" in his solutions. He was content to have people think, "Gee! What a clever guy!"

What would be interesting as part of this discussion would be to see some examples of Johnsson's effects. We got to see JR's and other approaches. How did the guy who started all this construct a trick?

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Postby Matthew Field » 07/29/01 12:03 PM

When I first read the "Too Perfect" article (pre-publication) I honestyly felt it was just a re-hash of very old stuff.

But I've got to say, I really enjoyed the material by Harry Lorayne, John Carney, Jon R. himself, Patrick Watson and, especially. Darwin Ortiz, among the other contributors.

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Postby Gary Freed » 07/29/01 08:47 PM

Just an aside on the "Too Perfect Theory" contribution of Mike Close in the current Genii..He uses the Frog Prince (one of my favorite Close effects) as an example.."a signed card vanishes..... frog..unfolded, it is the signed card". In the versions I have read and seen, the card it a duplicate, not signed. Terrific trick, but maybe not that perfect. (or am I missing something?)
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 07/30/01 11:40 AM

Can someone clarify if the card in "Frog Prince" is signed or not? My recollection is that it is NOT signed. :confused:
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Postby Joe Pecore » 07/30/01 12:57 PM

I have Mike Close's "Workers" video which contains the "frog prince" and it does NOT use a signed card.
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Postby Michael Close » 07/30/01 03:03 PM

I, too, was surprised to see the Frog Prince described as using a signed card. I went back to my original write-up in Workers #3 and there is no such reference there. (In fact, the effect of the trick is not described in Workers #3.) I assume that Jon added this description and mis-remembered the effect.

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 07/30/01 03:13 PM

Oops! Sorry Mike! I have an additional piece about Too-Perfect from Tom Stone going into the October issue, and I'll make the correction in print then. I honestly can't remember if the mistake was mine or Jon's (not that it makes any difference at this point).
Many thanks for the correction (and welcome to the forum!). :)
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Postby Curtis Kam » 07/30/01 05:29 PM

Regarding TPT, (and I haven't seen the issue yet) has anyone noticed the contrast between the position Tommy Wonder takes in his essay in The Books of Wonder, (i.e. that he'll take the road Rick Johnsson wouldn't, and will pursue an effect until it is perfect) and his utilization of the TPT to improve, exactly as suggested by Johnssson, the effect with the little pocket slates? (also in TBOW)

I hope I'm not the first to say it: The problem seems to be that it's simply overstated. The TPT is not applicable to every effect. It's not a "theory" or "axiom" it's more of a "consideration."
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Postby Guest » 07/30/01 06:38 PM

My issue with the 2PT is that it assumes the goal of magic is to befuddle, baffle, and fool. Is the goal of music only to make people dance, tap there toes, or bob their heads? (not bang their heads :eek: )

When presentational context is complelling the reaction of "How's it done?" is replaced with "Isn't it wonderful that happened?". When it is in the audience's interest to believe in the magic rather than diffuse it. When magic can become caring inspiration rather than "deucedly clever" assaults on one's intellect

I realize the 2PT was conceived (too perfect conception?) when magic was an array of elaborate puzzles which never dreamed of being terribly emotive. A time when props leisurly reclined in their adventures in the magician's hands.

The vacation is over. Ensconse me clearly in the "Not Perfect Enough" camp where audiences are unable and most often unwilling/unneeding to unravel the deeply woven mystery.

Tom Cutts

[ July 30, 2001: Message edited by: Tom Cutts ]

[ July 30, 2001: Message edited by: Tom Cutts ]
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Postby Guest » 07/30/01 08:37 PM

The fundamental difficulty with the application of the TPT is that all audiences are different.

It is hard to deny that SOME audiences will treat EVERY magical effect that they see as a puzzle to solve. For these people, a "perfect" effect can, indeed, lead them to the M.O.

Every spectator of magic is somewhere between the prone-to-wonder and prone-to-ponder. Unfortunately, this means that the "threshold" of too-perfection is different for every observer.

One of the first rules of public speaking is "know your audience". Not a bad tip for magicians, either, IMHO.

Doug Peters
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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 07/31/01 02:26 AM

Some hasty marginalia:

For the record regarding the signed card gaffe in the TPT article in Mike Close's "Frog Prince," I double-checked what I sent RK and I sent him a verbatim account of what Mike wrote in WORKERS #3. Somehow several added words made their way into the text... along with the adjective "signed." Ah, yes. Details, details. T'weren't me, though! Put the blame on Mame, babe!This does not mean to suggest that a signed-card version does NOT exist.

Also, Simon Aronson in a much earlier (private)post also made the same point about audiences being diverse and a strange motely. The degree of any single spectator's inquisitiveness and tendency to be overly analytical will widely differ.
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Postby Ray Banks » 07/31/01 09:53 AM

First of all this is a great board.

In reply to Jon's 'futurist' comment I will offer this:

Magicians still do cups and balls and linking rings to appreciative audiences and those effects are several hundred years old.

100 years from now they will still be doing some of things we do now because some effects transcend time.

;)
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Postby Jim Morton » 08/01/01 04:25 PM

I received my copy of Genii over the weekend. What an excellent assortment of essays! I found John Carney's assessment of the Too Perfect theory the most perspicacious. Darwin Ortiz's opinions--while laudable for their aspirations of perfection--seemed quixotic. Eugene Burger's name popped up in a couple of the essays. I would be interested in hearing his opinions on the subject, along with Jay Sankey, Jeff McBride, Max Maven, and Juan Tamariz, to name but a few.

There is a corollary to the Too Perfect theory that a few of the writers touched upon, and that is the stooge effect. This is when a trick is so strong, and so inexplicable that the audience assumes that any participants in the effect were stooges. Like a panacea for bafflement, this explanation is liberally applied whenever other explanations fail.

To see the nonsense that this approach can wreak, go to alt.magic.secrets and read some of the supposed explanations for effects in the David Blaine specials. Such a cynicism towards magic is understandable with outrageously strong tricks, such as Paul Harris's signature on a dollar bill, which Blaine performed in his last special; but the same guy who posted that this trick was done with a stooge (it wasn't) also maintained that the reason the boy in the second Blaine special chose the four of hearts out of five cards was because he was also a stooge. I don't have to tell many people here that the trick with the four of hearts was Vernon's Five Card Mental Force. Stooges are not necessary.

Some of the blame for this must lie with Blaine, whose willingness to use clever editing leads viewers to assume that all bets are off. The stooge effect is less of a problem in a smaller venue or in a live performance. Television seems to bring this concept to a boil.

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 08/01/01 09:40 PM

Jim,
One of the big problems with what Blaine is doing is not just editing. It's the performance of things that can not be counted on to work most of the time. They simply tape him walking up to different people and asking a person to think of a number. One out of a hundred times he will have predicted the right number and that's the clip they'll show on TV. That is too perfect!
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Postby Guest » 08/01/01 09:58 PM

Richard,
While I do agree that some of Blaine's editing choices were less than commendable, I have to respectfully disagree with the specific example you used.

I don't want this to turn into a whole Blaine debate, but the number things he does are legit. I'm sure you're familiar with the work that Banachek (nee Steve Shaw) and others have done in psychological forces. The number examples Blaine uses that I've seen have all been classic psych. forces. Are they 100% successful? No. But they are 80-90% successful, if not more. In that case, I don't think Blaine was wrong to include those. I do these on a regular basis in real life with a great degree of success and great reactions from the participants.

Respectfully,
Andy
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 08/01/01 10:13 PM

Andy,
I don't recall, but did we ever seen any of Blaine's failures?
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Postby Guest » 08/02/01 02:32 AM

True, we didn't, but I don't think that's relevant. If he was taking random guesses and missed a majority of the time, yes, it'd be a legitimate gripe. Given that around 9 out of 10 times it does work exactly like you saw it on tv, I think that not showing that 10th time is acceptable.

My criteria for whether an edit is acceptable is whether you could go off in real life and leave your audience with the impression that they saw the same thing. Even if you did fail on one, if you do it well they won't know it's a failure and you can go on with a second test. That will likely succeed, and they go home not realizing you ever failed, convinced you did the same thing Blaine did.

His tool for avoiding the audience from recognizing the failure is to edit it out. In live work, our tool for doing that is to psychologically edit it out -- something Banachek does a much better job of explaining than I ever could.

Same goes with his levitation -- could you do it exactly like David did, to the letter? No. If you did a standard Balducci levitation, though, would your spectator remember it as being exactly the same. I'd bet you a month's pay they would -- I've certainly gotten equivalent reactions.

--Andy

P.S. - As an aside, why is it that we tear Blaine a new one for these edits, but we don't say a peep when Copperfield edits together multiple takes of one effect shot over the course of a week so that it appears perfect on TV? Isn't that the same thing?
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Postby Andi » 08/02/01 04:16 AM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
I don't recall, but did we ever seen any of Blaine's failures?
Did we ever see any of Copperfield's failures, how about Lance's or even Paul Daniels? I can't recall seeing any and I don't really think that television is an appropriate place for failure due to the fact that it is normally a medium used to showcase an act or personality - then again, in very rare circumstances it could be used to great effect.

Andy - my thoughts on the reason why we don't say anything when Copperfield does it are unclear, but I'd hazard a guess that it's due to the fact that it's almost become fashionable to bash Blaine. Am I so wrong to say that Blaine has actually done some good work and has done a lot for updating magic in the eyes of spectators? Or am I just unfashionable?

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Postby Dave Shepherd » 08/02/01 07:44 AM

Andi Gladwin wrote:
Am I so wrong to say that Blaine has actually done some good work and has done a lot for updating magic in the eyes of spectators? Or am I just unfashionable?

I teach high-school in my non-magical life. I teach in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC (i.e., in a fairly sophisticated region).

The ONE magician of whom the kids at my school know anything at all is David Blaine. If it weren't for Blaine, magic would be for these kids a totally nerdy, marginal, stupid thing. Copperfield on TV? Makes relatively little impression on these kids.

I've also noticed that Blaine has a very high profile among less-tuned-in laypeople with whom I come into contact, such as the woman who cuts my hair or patrons in the restaurant where I perform.

Sorry, I won't jump onto the "bashing Blaine" bandwagon. He's good for magic, IMHO.

Respectfully,
Dave Shepherd

[ August 02, 2001: Message edited by: Dave Shepherd ]
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 08/02/01 09:27 AM

I've said it in other places, and I'll say it here: I have no problem with edits, camera tricks and the like. Please don't hate me.

Consider this situation: you have this absolutely incredible effect - one which is truly a reputation maker. There's only one problem. In order to get a sure-fire result, you need to use a stooge. Would you do it? Ok...some may, some may not. How about a stacked deck? Would you use that? A gimmicked card? Where does one draw the line between skill and technology?

I have heard people say that by using creative camera edits and camera tricks, you are breaking an implied contract with your audience. Bull. The only contract I have is to entertain them. Period. Does it really matter how I do it? Personally, I'm of the opinion that we should use whatever methods are at my disposal to astonish the audience.

Also, remember that you must know your audience. Blaine and Copperfield's audience is a TV audience. They have at their disposal the ability to edit and splice their video to produce the maximum effect. Isn't this our goal? To produce the maximum effect?

The only caveat I would add is that, like any other technique, it should be invisible to the audience. So, if the performer is standing on one side of the stage and then he suddenly winks out of existence with no cover and appears on the other side of the stage, I think we'd all know how he did it. How else? (I think I definitely prefer 'How Else? Theory' to 'Too-Perfect Theory' as was mentioned in a few of the articles.) The idea is to dress it up in a way that, as Erdnase might say, they "will not suspect, let alone detect" the method.

Anyhoo...I'm done now. I realize that my view is not exactly a popular opinion, but hey...I never claimed to be normal. :)

-Jim
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 08/02/01 04:16 PM

Copperfield is a talented performer--one of the greats. But he has TWO audiences: one of television viewers, and one of live viewers for his 500 shows a year. They are different audiences and his material is performed differently for them. (Blaine is a different story, because he seems to ONLY have a TV audience.)
If you go back and watch the Copperfield TV special from last April, closely watch the end of his performance of the "Laser" illusion where he gets sliced in half. At the very end, he lifts his upper torso back into position on his lower body. There is a camera cut, David "shakes it out" and walks. This, of course, is an edit. As you know if you've seen him perform this in his live show over the past 5 years, at the end of the trick the lights must go out while he exits the stage.
He CANNOT simply walk at the end of the trick and continue with the show.
Is this trick photgraphy? Absolutely not. Is it a great idea for performing on TV? Yes, it's a wonderful idea.
I think that David has gone a long way in perfecting this kind of careful editing since we first noticed it in that special many years ago where he combined two different kinds of levitations and edited them together. We all saw it, of course, because the members of the audience were changing like a magic trick.
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Postby Eric DeCamps » 08/02/01 05:42 PM

I think that David has gone a long way in perfecting this kind of careful editing since we first noticed it in that special many years ago where he combined two different kinds of levitations and edited them together.


Richard,

Are you refering to the Flying over the Grand Canyon?

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Postby Steve Bryant » 08/02/01 06:00 PM

Jim Maloney, do you really mean this:

I have heard people say that by using creative camera edits and camera tricks, you
are breaking an implied contract with your audience. Bull. The only contract I have is
to entertain them. Period. Does it really matter how I do it? Personally, I'm of the
opinion that we should use whatever methods are at my disposal to astonish the audience.

Given that logic, you could be the greatest mentalist ever by using a stooge in every effect. Or the greatest cardsharp. After the spectator shuffles the deck, you could turn off the camera, ring in a cold deck, and proceed. What would be the point? There is not only an implied (or stated!) contract with the audience, but surely some contract with yourself, some sense of accomplishment re what you are doing. And it gets back to the heart of the Too Perfect thing. If it's just too impossible, then any intelligent audience knows you haven't done anything at all.
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Postby Jim Morton » 08/02/01 07:01 PM

Yeah, I don't think that the editing is the problem per se. A good example is the arm twisting effect Copperfield did in his last special--simple direct and baffling. The editing is virtually invisible unless you know what you're looking for.

On the other hand, several people (non-magicians) I talked to after the Copperfield special summarily dismissed the laser trick as a computer graphic. They had seen all those behind-the-scenes reports on the special effects in movies like X-Men and Jurrasic Park III, and they assumed that this was just one more example of the same thing. Arthur C. Clark once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Nowadays--at least where television is concerned--one could also argue that magic is indistiguishable from advanced technology.

This all goes back to the Too Perfect Theory, but television adds two problems: you can't interact with the participants, so their credibility is unavoidably suspect, and nothing that happens has to exist in the real world. These are hard problems to combat. Blaine did it by taking a man-in-the-street approach, and by choosing people that did not appear to be actors. Copperfield did it by telling the TV audience that you could see everything in the special in his live shows. Even so, plenty of people were quick to attribute every effect to either CGI, or stooges.

At least when I perform close-up, I don't have to worry than someone will accuse me of using computer graphics to make an ace turn into an indifferent card. :D
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 08/02/01 07:36 PM

Originally posted by Steve Bryant:

Given that logic, you could be the greatest mentalist ever by using a stooge in every effect. Or the greatest cardsharp. After the spectator shuffles the deck, you could turn off the camera, ring in a cold deck, and proceed. What would be the point? There is not only an implied (or stated!) contract with the audience, but surely some contract with yourself, some sense of accomplishment re what you are doing. And it gets back to the heart of the Too Perfect thing. If it's just too impossible, then any intelligent audience knows you haven't done anything at all.


Steve,
Yes, I mean exactly what I said. And yes, you could use camera tricks or stooges for every effect. Personally, I think that'd be rather stupid, though. Would you, for example, use a double lift for every card effect that you do? Would you use a French Drop to vanish a bunch of coins in a row? How about a thumbtip? I don't think you would.

Someone using camera tricks should be smart enough to NOT use it for every effect, and to be certain that when it is used, it 1. enhances the effect and 2. is deceptive. Just like any other technique. Overuse will certain dilute the effect, but used sparingly, it can be very effective, and I think that there are some good examples out there that show that.

-Jim
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Postby Guest » 08/02/01 07:43 PM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
If you go back and watch the Copperfield TV special from last April, closely watch the end of his performance of the "Laser" illusion where he gets sliced in half. At the very end, he lifts his upper torso back into position on his lower body. There is a camera cut, David "shakes it out" and walks. This, of course, is an edit. As you know if you've seen him perform this in his live show over the past 5 years, at the end of the trick the lights must go out while he exits the stage.
He CANNOT simply walk at the end of the trick and continue with the show.
Is this trick photgraphy? Absolutely not. Is it a great idea for performing on TV? Yes, it's a wonderful idea.


Forgive me if I'm missing the point, but how is that any different than the edits Blaine does? Why is it okay for Copperfield to do that change, but it's not okay for Blaine to change the levitation, or to show successful takes of the psych. forces?

--Andy
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Postby Brian Marks » 08/02/01 09:02 PM

editing isnt a trick photograph. but it is a tick to show only whay you want...television misdirection
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