I saw this in October at the Lincoln Center Film Festival. Here's the review I wrote at the time:
Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
I saw the world premiere of this documentary tonight at the Lincoln Center Film Festival. In a word: extraordinary. The finest magic documentary I've ever seen.
The directors, Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein treat the art of magic with such loving care and respect. It was a joy from beginning to end. The film was twelve years in the making, and the directors have put together a wonderful collection of interviews, photos, and biographical footage of Ricky Jay. There are photos and footage here you've surely not seen elsewhere--the nine year old Ricky performing professionally dressed in a tuxedo producing guinea pigs, the slightly older Ricky in a red toreador suit producing doves.
The through line of the film is the set of the mentors who Ricky Jay sought out and with whom he was otherwise blessed. His first one was his grandfather, Max Katz, a CPA who was an enthusiastic amateur practitioner of many arcane arts, but particularly of magic. And Katz learned his magic, the same way he learned his checkers, cryptography and other skills--by learning from the best. So Katz took lessons and made friends with Slydini, Al Flosso, Francis Carlyle, and Cardini among others. The young Ricky got to meet all of them and learn from all of them. And here is where the filmmakers really shine--they have found archival material on the aforementioned magicians that is really terrific. Together with Ricky's memories of each of these mentors, they present a portrait of the state of the art of magic in the fifties and sixties.
Later on, Ricky talks about his estrangement from his parents and his heading out West to study with Vernon and Charlie Miller. Again, great stories and great archival material on Vernon and Miller. And then Ricky goes on to talk about Vernon's heroes, Malini and Leipzig, and there's a wonderful segment with a British journalist who is gobsmacked when the reluctant interviewee Jay finally sits down with her in an out of the way diner, tells her he's sorry for having been such a cantankerous, difficult subject, and as he tells her about his hero Malini, he moves aside his menu and on the table appears a huge block of ice...She says that experience changed her life, to be the recipient of such a carefully thought about piece of art...And she checked under the table, there was no puddle of water on that sweltering hot day...
I don't know what muggles may think, but I know that those with any interest in magic will love this film. I really hope this is picked up and becomes available for wider showing, or at least becomes available on DVD. At the Lincoln Center showing tonight, the filmmakers spoke afterwards, and Ricky Jay was there, sitting two rows in front of me, and graciously joined the panel to answer questions. He said that he was amazed by some of the footage that was found by the filmmakers, they had found material that Ricky didn't know existed. And if Ricky Jay didn't know about it, then my guess is that up until now just about no one else did either.
One last note. The evening ended with someone in the audience asking Jay if it was strange to watch himself as the subject of a documentary. And he said--some of it was hard because--and here he started to choke up--he couldn't believe that he would never see his mentors again, he couldn't believe that no one would ever see Vernon or Miller perform sleight of hand again. It was very moving, and the audience gave the visibly affected Jay and the filmmakers a standing ovation.