Terry Herbert

Discuss the views of your favorite Genii columnists.

Postby Guest » 01/21/04 04:36 AM

January 21, 2004

Dear Genii:

As a personal friend and devoted student of Terry Herbert, I took exception to Matthew Fields video review of Childrens Magic the Herbert Way, which appeared in the January 2004 issue of Genii.

To me, a review is fair play when the reviewer is knowledgeable and unbiased about a particular subject. If he doesnt meet these qualifications, then the editor has the responsibility to find someone who does. Knowing that Matthew Field had a limited viewpoint on childrens entertainment, I think Genii made a bad judgment call by printing his worthless opinions. Wouldnt it have been more credible for Genii if someone like Danny Orleans who has extensive experience in this field had tackled this particular review?

For the uninitiated, Terry Herbert is regarded as one of the greatest childrens entertainers in the world. He released only one video, Childrens Magic the Herbert Way, which became one of the best selling videos on childrens magic ever released.

Whats ironic is that David Kaye (Silly Billy) is mentioned in this review. What the reviewer didnt know is that David was so impressed with Terrys old videotape that he approached L&L, who had acquired the rights to the film, about re-releasing it.

Unfortunately L&L didnt do their homework. Although legally they werent required to do so, as a courtesy they should have touched base with Terry prior to releasing his work in a DVD format. Also, somewhere on the DVD or its packaging L&L should have mentioned that this work was originally released as a video over a dozen years ago by Supreme Magic. Although the quality of the film might seem a bit dated, what isnt dated is the infectious laughter from all the children seen on film. In fact, the first time my son (who was 6 years old at the time) saw this video he said, Dad, I want to watch this every day.

To give you an idea of how impressed I was when Terry Herbert sent me his personal studio recording of his show over 3 years ago, I immediately booked a flight to England. Subsequently, I purchased and acquired the rights to Terrys Monty the Rabbit Production Box, which to me is the epitome of good childrens magic. And take it from meits far from being a Square Circle-type device as described by Mr. Field. Even someone like John Gaughan would be in awe of the workings of this mechanical marvel.

I could go on and on and counterpoint Matthew Fields review but the bottom line is he just proved to magicians that he knows very little about entertaining children.

Mark Walker
Baltimore, MD
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Postby Matthew Field » 01/21/04 09:19 AM

Mark Walker, an admirer of Terry Herbert's, has a perfect right to his opinion--about Terry Herbert as well as about my review, and about me for that matter.

I took pains to detail the many awards Mr. Herbert has won and at no time did I denigrate Mr. Herbert's performance. What I did take issue with, however, was the contents of the video and its usefulness to potential consumers. I noted that the video contained, for the most part, Mr. Herbert's handlings of marketed effects, and that the workings of those effects were exposed. If Mr. Herbert had the right to do this is unclear to me. The applicability of the type of presentation Mr. Herbert uses to other performers, and other pieces of apparatus, is limited, in my opinion.
This does not diminish Mr. Herbert's skill, or my respect for him.

I also took issue with some of Mr. Herbert's pieces of advice for children's performers, which I found obvious. Maybe others, maybe Mr. Walker, find advice like "Children like it when you talk in a funny voice" to be deeply revelatory.

I took pains to explain my experience (or lack of same) as a children's performer. But I have witnessed many children's performers and performances.

A reviewer does not have to be a movie director to be a movie reviewer. I stand by the recommendations I made in the December Terry Herbert video review.

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Postby Q. Kumber » 01/21/04 11:34 AM

When Terry Herbert's video first came out, I regarded it as one of the best videos on children's magic. One of the routines I put straight into my show (the one with the flower). Terry's style of performance is the exact opposite of mine, yet I learned a lot from it.

True, you need to invest in props, but that is the same for pretty much any magic book or tape - the purchase of a deck of cards requires a (minor) investment. Many card guys I know buy decks by the gross. Practically all of the effects in Maskelyne and Devant's "Our Magic" require an investment in props. Tommy Wonder's DVD's reqire an investment for many of the effects - some to such an extent that it is unlikely anyone will ever make that investment.

Does that diminish the usefulness of Our Magic or Mr. Wonder's DVD's. In my opinion absolutely not. You can learn from the experience and thinking of others, even if you disagree with them.

Nobody is ever going to be fully happy with reviews and reviewers but as GENII has a selection of reviewers, surely the items sent for review could be passed to those who are skilled in that particular field.
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Postby Matthew Field » 01/21/04 02:06 PM

I have the highest regard for Quentin Reynolds, and gave a rave review to his "Five Minutes with a Pocket Handkerchief." I have no doubt that he found much to appreciate and even emulate in Terry Herbert';s performance.

But the video in question is not a performance video; it purports to teach. And what is taught is the workings of commercially available tricks.

I think any thinking magician can get a world of value from watching a pro work, and there is no question that Mr. Herbert is a pro.

But I was not reviewing Terry Herbert. I was reviewing an instructional video, and I found it lacking.

To bring in Tommy Wonder, because he uses and explains apparatus (which is, by the way, his to explain because he invented it) is beside the point.

As I said, my role is to report on the quality of submitted videos, as a guide to potential consumers. At least that's the way I see it.

Terry Herbert's friends and associates may have a different agenda.

Again, this is not meant to cast aspesion of any kind on the brilliant Quentin Reynolds.

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Postby Guest » 01/21/04 07:45 PM

That Matt Field is not a children's entertainer has been established by Matt himself. His other qualifications magically are also a matter of public record, pretty much. I have never met Matt, but know a fair deal about his qualifications, so others must know much more.

The fact is, a reviewer is merely giving his OPINION of a product. Anyone familiar with reviewers knows this. If you don't, then spend some time with the TV guide, or The New York Times Book Review. You'll find yourself disagreeing frequently. If you can align yourself with the reviewer and feel sympatico, then you can reasonably expect to be well guided by his review. If you are not of a similar mind, then it is likely that you will not agree with his view (Duh!). (You can use his previous reviews, other generally available information about the reviewer, etc. to make such a determination). Knowing this, I've read everything that William Buckley disliked, and ignore most of what he cares for. What I HAVE NOT DONE is characterize his personal opinion as worthless, an ad hominem attack as far as I'm concerned, simply because I don't agree with his view.

As far as a reviewer acting as the guiding light for otherwise uninformed buyers, well I can only speak for myself, but I always seek a second, and usually, a third and fourth opinion. In todays' information age a multiplicity of opinion is easily had.

I think that Matt is certainly qualified to address the issues of originality, entertainment value, depth or shallowness of analysis, production values, etc. given his experience with, and exposure to, the magic community generally. (That, of course, is just my opinion, a "review of the reviewer", so to speak...)

The material in question might be better served by a dissenting review, focussed on critiqueing said material, rather than that materials' last reviewer...

Best, PSC
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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 01/21/04 10:47 PM

Several times I've exhorted (quoting someone else) that a critics primary (not only) task is to discover what is GOOD and what is MISSING from any work.

I've seen Terry H. work in person and will attest that his approaches, delivery, and understanding of what works for HIM and what in MANY cases will work for other children's entertainers is seasoned and of top quality. This being said, it's obvious (just in the few postings on this Forum so far) that friends of Terry would review Terry's video much differently than, say, a lay person or non-children's entertainer (such as Matt F.). Others would have also expressed a variety of impressions and observations regarding the video.

When I read the review I did not make the mistake of assuming that Matt F. was reviewing TERRY. Because he specifically judged the tape by other criteria was precisely what made his commentary useful to me. Likewise, as Paul C. pointed out, the "spin" of reviews should spur us to read other opinions and then reserve final (subjective) judgement after seeing the video a couple of times.

Deep analysis or deep "reviewing" cannot be done in the space Genii permits. 1000-1500 words cannot do the job. It can, however, in the right hands provide interesting and thought-provoking saliencies as well as editorial "spin" to whet a reader's appetite and then motivate them to cheer, rebutt, or rave on in greater detail.

This Forum has provided some of that, as evinced by what others have said. It also gives reviewers such as Matt F. a chance to further articulate his stances and answer his critics (quid pro quo)...because, let's admit it, reviewers are likewise reviewed, chastized, and libeled...

The beat goes on...

So...

Thanks for the counterpoint, gents...

Onward...
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Postby Matthew Field » 01/22/04 10:31 AM

Thanks to Paul Chosse and Jon Racherbaumer for their understanding of what I'm trying to do as a reviewer.

I would also second Jon's comment that arenas like the Genii Forum give dissenters an unusally generous opportunity to voice their points of view. This is a great boon to thinking magicians.

I have no claim to opmniscience, and have taken pains from my very first column to catalog my possible failings.

Am I wrong about Trry Herbert's video? I admit that possibility. But I viewed it and reviewed as honestly as I could, with no agenda, and the results are there to be read and taken issue with in this Forum for those who wish to do so.

We must bow to the great Genii for the opportunity to do so.

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Postby Pete McCabe » 01/23/04 12:06 AM

In my opinion a reviewer has to do two things: to tell you what they think of the product, and why. Just telling me what you think is virtually worthless. I've read more product reviews by Michael Close than by anyone else, but if all he did was tell me whether he liked or disliked a product, that wouldn't help me at all.

Fortunately, Mike (and Matt) never do that. They always tell you why they think what they think. So if they say a trick isn't suitable for real-world use because it doesn't reset, I can disregard that comment since, as an amateur, I never have to worry about resetting.

By the way I was very pleased to see David Regal's last review column. It seems to me that David is changing his style from a very detached, almost scholarly tone to a much more personal expression. This makes his reviews more meaningful to me (and more enjoyable to read, as well).

It is not practical for Genii to have each product reviewed by an expert in the field. More to the point, I'm not sure what the benefit would be. Terry Herbert's video is not, I don't think, intended for expert children's show performers. It's intended for people who are not experts. In other words, people like Matt Field.

That said, it is always useful to hear multiple viewpoints on any product, so the opposing viewpoints posted here on the forum are invaluable.

They might be even more useful if they were given in a more respectful manner. Whenever someone resorts to personal insults I always assume they are arguing from a weak position. But that's probably just my own bias.
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Postby Guest » 02/01/04 08:41 AM

After reading what others have to say about this issue, I think I can see things clearly.

First, there is no question that Terry Herbert is one of the best children's magicians ever. The list of other children's magicians supporting him on this forum, including me, should speak volumes about Terry's acumen.

We can also agree that Matthew Field is a talented, careful reviewer who takes his reviews seriously. So where is the problem?

I think the problem lies in the fact that Matthew may not understand one of the concepts of children's magic that is not true about other genres of magic. In children's magic it is not about the props or original effects, it is really all about the routines.

For example, I do the Coloring Book in my show. But I don't do it the way the instructions that come with it say I should. Hey, a blow book is a blow book. But it's what I do with the Coloring Book that makes the kids actually demand to see it when I arrive at a party.

On Terry's dvd he does a routine with the Silver Scepter. He doesn't just try to keep it in his hand as it rises up. He does five hilarious minutes with it.

Another example: On Michael Finney's new dvd he explains his versions of Six-Card Repeat and Card on Forehead. ( I am a big fan of Michael Finney's. I am just using this as an example.) Finney did not invent these effects. But he is teaching his original routines of these classics that have made him such an entertaining, successful magician.

I have invented some original effects. But classics are classics for a reason. It's what you do with a classic effect that reflects your inventiveness.

Mark Walker is correct that I helped to get this dvd released. I have always felt that Terry's video was the best children's magic video around, and have been recommending it to others for years. But it was out of print for many years. When Terry told me that L&L had the rights to the tape (bought from Supreme) I contacted L&L and encouraged Louis to review the tape and consider releasing it, with my strong recommendation. I am thrilled that this dvd is available again.
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Postby Bill Mullins » 02/02/04 01:58 PM

With all respect to David Kaye's comments above, I don't think the problem is whether or not Matt understands the peculiarities of children's magic and magicians.

Part of the problem is, however, that all of those who have disagreed with Matt seem to be coming from the perspective that the review is to serve the product being reviewed, rather than the audience of the reviewer. Matt is working for me, not Terry, when he reviews Terry's products.

I figure myself to be a fairly typical reader of Genii -- a hobbyist, who might occasionally do a trick. I think that I and those like me are the market for most L&L videos -- we watch these tapes and DVDs for entertainment, and to learn something (usually, new tricks). From that general perspective, Matt's review was pretty much on target. If I were a working kid's entertainer, or if I wished to become one, I'm not so sure that the review would have been useful -- but in either of those cases, my interest in the material would be greater, so I might still want to get the video.

A review doesn't have to be positive to be useful to those of us who are buying, and if we understand the biases and perspectives of the reviewer, we have enough information to make an informed disagreement with him, and purchase the product anyway.

Matt's review was fine, with these caveats.
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Postby Matthew Field » 02/03/04 07:23 AM

My friend David Kaye does me a disservice in his recent post. He presumes, I think unfairly, that I can't appreciate the nuances of presentational aspects of a performer (or at least a children's performer). As he put it, "In children's magic it is not about the props or original effects, it is really all about the routines."

Contrary to what David states, this is not endemic to children's magic; it is, I believe, true of all magic.

As well read as I know David to be, he might have missed my review of the previously mentioned Quentin Reynolds' video, "Five Minutes with a Pocket Handkerchief," in which I wrote extensively about this. Or, in another context, my review of the Bill McIlhany Blackstone, Sr. video, which I considered one of the ten best of all time, in which I wrote about nothing but presentation.

But time moves on. I remain happy that a video David and others consider excellent is out on the market, and that a Forum exists in which others can post their views.

My thanks to Bill Mullins for getting the point and expressing it nicely.

I once showed a friend a video of Slydini, one of my magical heroes, and his response was one word: "Lapping." He didn't get it.

Maybe that's true of me and the Terry Herbert video, and I can well understand some of the postings here by people who saw in the video what eluded me. But remember that the Herbert video is supposed to be a teaching (as opposed to performance) video, and much of what Mr. Herbert's supporters find of value in that production remains concealed between the lines, as opposed to explicitly presented, as one might expect in an instructional video.

In my opinion, enuf said.

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Postby Guest » 02/03/04 11:44 AM

Reviews should be done by people who understand the category that they are reviewing. Look through the New York Times Book Review sometime, and you'll find history professors reviewing historical biographies, Shakespeare scholars reviewing the latest tome about the Bard, and the like.

Unfortunately, some people just don't like children's magic. It's not serious enough for them. It's not challenging enough. It doesn't fool the adults.

But that's not what's it's designed for. It's designed to baffle, amuse, and entertain kids. Some people just don't get this, and they never will.

Unfortunately, there are some magicians who choose to devote years of their life to reviewing. I know from experience that that contorts their view of what they are reviewing. For a time, I was a professional movie reviewer, and I found that it changed my perceptions. I didn't like how it changed me. Ebert, Roeper, and Field are all different people because they review so damn much.

Not only that, but these reviewers fail to realize the damage that a bad review can inflict. That damage is irreversible.
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Postby Ian Kendall » 02/03/04 12:52 PM

Is anyone else reminded of the letter wrote to Magic complaining about the review of the Mentalism tapes that was less than complimentary? The best bit was the next month when someone else wrote in to say if he ever complained about a bad review, shoot him.

The question of reviewers' credentials has been around for ages (and more specifically, December), and only seems to surface when a bad review is given. Since David brought this up most recently, perhaps he would agree to be part of a hypothetical example.

I write a book about Street Magic. I've been doing it since 92 and I think I've got some good advice to pass on which would help reduce the ridiculously steep learning curve the the Street entails. I send my book (Round the world with a suitcase) to two magazines for review. One magazine's reviewer loves the book. He recognises that I am passing on some important information, and gives the book a glowing review.

The second magazine's reviewer did not like the book. He notices that most of the information has been covered in earlier works by Jeff Sheridan and David Groves. He gives the book a bad review.

Neither reviewer has ever done Street Magic. They have never built an edge or given a bottling speech. I am idignant at the second reviewer because he has no knowledge of the subject in question and did not give my book a fair reading.

Should I not, therefore, discount the review of the first magazine for _exactly_ the same reasons?
Hell no! There's some good copy in there...

It does not go both ways. Either we accept the reviewers we have, or we do not submit for review items that we deem out of the realm of expertise of the reviewer in question.

Secondly, anyone who thinks Children's Entertainers are not skilled is missing the boat. I do not do kids' shows for many reasons, but I have the utmost respect for those that do. I've explained rocket propulsion to a hundred ten year olds before, and it is by no means a walk in the park.

Thirdly, I was always a believer that sh1t sticks. However, Louis Fangala said in his Magic interview that bad reviews have very little effect on sales, especially in this wired world where large amounts of word of mouth is attainable for very little effort. Oz Pearlman took a beating in Magic last year, but I doubt that his DVD has sold too badly. Seeing certain comments dotted around the Interweb he has been doing some damage limitation, and so he should. But I never saw him complain (having said that, I didn't read too deeply).

In closing (audiable sigh of relief heard throughout world) this is one of those topics, along with exposure and what's the best card trick, that will never go away. We've had it with that Glass thingy, the books thing at the end of last year, and now this. The bottom line is that the review was made, comments were aired and now everyone has a better idea of the tape.

Take care, Ian
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Postby Q. Kumber » 02/03/04 01:39 PM

While I didn't agree with Matt's review, I fully understand where he's coming from. You can even write a good review and be damned by some purchaser who doesn't like what he gets.

The correspondence here reminds me of a comparison I've often made between children's magic and mentalism. Both require complete and active audience involvemnet, both generally require the least technical skills, both require the maximum presentational skills and both are of least interest to magicians at conventions.
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Postby Matthew Field » 02/03/04 03:44 PM

Originally posted by David Groves:
these reviewers fail to realize the damage that a bad review can inflict. That damage is irreversible.
That's just plain wrong, David, on two separate points.

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Postby Guest » 02/10/04 05:06 AM

Dear Genii:

It has been interesting reading the varied responses to my original posting. Im guessing that most people who have sided with Matt are (1) not Kid Show Entertainers or (2) havent actually seen the product were discussing.

I realize that every reviewer and responder to this forum has the right to his or her opinion. Im also sure that Matt Field is a decent human being with good intentions.

My personal hang-up is that I like to see products reviewed by people who are in fact experts in their chosen fields. For me, it gives reviews more creditability.

Look, Im personal friends with Mike Caveney and think the world of him, his publications, and his performances. Yet, I would still question his opinion about kid show entertainment only because it isnt his specialty. And knowing Mike, I think he would agree with me on this.

My magic resume shows Im no slacker. Yet, I honestly dont think I would be qualified to review a book on close-up magic simply because it just isnt my thing.

And Matt, dont take this the wrong way buddy, but when you don't know the difference between a baic magic prop like a Square Circle and an Automata (Terrys Monty Rabbit Production Box), you leave me no choice but to question your opinions and level of expertise.

I just find it rather strange that Genii has Danny Orleans a fantastic childrens entertainer on its staff and didnt utilize his expertise when reviewing Terrys DVD.

You know, I just read an excellent review of Terrys DVD in the January issue of the Linking Ring. If you compare the reviews, you would think that we were talking about two completely different products.

To me and countless others, Terrys DVD Childrens Magic the Herbert Way - is a rare gem in todays world of pedestrian children's entertainment.

Sincerely,

Mark Walker
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/10/04 08:50 AM

Mark, everything gets a good review in the Linking Ring, or haven't you noticed.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/10/04 08:52 AM

Mark, everything gets a good review in the Linking Ring, or haven't you noticed. I think all points have been made, and this thread is closed.
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