NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Magic Newswire » June 23rd, 2012, 4:11 pm

Wait... You KNOW how the decoder rings work?! Pray tell! ;-)

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Richard Kaufman » June 23rd, 2012, 5:03 pm

God in heaven ... has ANYONE ever had another magician greet them by saying "Show me your Ambitious Card"?
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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby erdnasephile » June 23rd, 2012, 5:29 pm

You have to wonder if somebody was clowning Stone when they told him that.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Jonathan Townsend » June 23rd, 2012, 5:32 pm

That could be a fun badge for gatherings of card guys

Hello My Name is (top line)
middle where names goes
Show Me Your Ambitious Card (bottom line)

:)

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Richard Kaufman » June 23rd, 2012, 5:35 pm

Shall we just wear badges that read:

"Yes, I'm the Schmuck Who Does Card Tricks."
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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Jonathan Townsend » June 23rd, 2012, 9:27 pm

? was thinking of something that the folks who attend the GGG might enjoy.

IMHO the "YITSWDCT" would do better as a prestige pin. White for newbies, then green and all the way up to silver and gold trim for folks who ...?

:D

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Ross Johnson » June 23rd, 2012, 9:52 pm

Alex Stone interview on CHICAGO'S WGN RADIO:

http://media.wgnradio.com/media/mp3file ... 140602.mp3

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby El Harvey Oswald » June 24th, 2012, 9:18 am

"Sleights of Mind" includes a description of the retention vanish that's quite similar to the recent Alex Stone New York Times piece, and it's Jamy Ian Swiss who demonstrates and explains the move to the authors in "Sleights of Mind." In that I found that to be an entirely legitimate instance of exposure, I had the same reaction to Stone's article on the retention vanish. And while consistency can be the hobgoblin of small minds, here there seems to be no principled way to assail Stone's New York Times article while either praising or or maintaining tacit neutrality as to the identical exposure and identical subject matter in "Sleights of Mind." However, "Sleights of Mind" also supports some of the broader criticisms of Stone's book and broader project, in particular that he, in contrast to the "Sleights of "Mind" authors, has no actual expertise or authority. The factual errors that Jamy Ian Swiss catalogues further remove the Houdini-titled book from the realm of scholarship, and Ricky Jay's review is the last, dispositive word. Were the book's sales strong, whoever got behind it at the publisher could perhaps ignore having been duped by what must have been a specious, likely inaccurate, book proposal. Jay's devastating review will carry far more influence, though.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Bob Farmer » June 24th, 2012, 10:02 am

Given the Swiss and Jay reviews, Alex Stone should rename his book, "Fooling Himself."

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Larry Barnowsky » June 24th, 2012, 11:10 am

I listened to the WGN radio interview. A lot of self-promotion, pyschobabble, and totally unpersuasive arguments why exposing magic is good for magic and the spectator. I think the title should have been "Fooling Harper Collins".
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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Jonathan Townsend » June 24th, 2012, 11:21 am

New blurb for the book: "Despised my magicians.... you'll love every page"
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Richard Kaufman » June 24th, 2012, 11:25 am

I don't think tricks or sleights should be explained to laymen other than in magic books or other media created for specifically for them.

As far as whether there's a difference between Jamy Ian Swiss explaining a sleight to scientists that is then reproduced in a book, or Alex Stone explaining a sleight to anyone reading The New York Times--yes, there seems to me to be a substantive difference between those two things. The first is an instance of scientific study directed to a specific group who will buy that book (mostly people interested in magic) as opposed to explaining something in a gratuitous manner that reaches a large readership that has not specifically purchased an item to learn more about magic and that has no higher goal other than self promotion.
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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby El Harvey Oswald » June 24th, 2012, 1:21 pm

Well said; that distinction eluded me. I was beginning to find "self-promotion" a soft, even disingenuous criticism here; but that of course defines the difference. The "Sleights of Mind" authors also promoted their book and themselves, of course, but to a lesser, more modest degree. (See Jamy Ian Swiss on "hubris.") For instance, "Sleights of Mind" sets off each of its (many) revelations of a method/secret with a "warning," which despite probably being inconsequential in causing people not to read through, conveys a regard for methods not evident in the Houdini book. Additionally, when the "Sleights of Mind" authors audition at the Castle it's not the farce of the now-legendary FISM "red light." Likewise, when they consort with those who have genuinely contributed to magic it generates more than just a name drop.

Publishers are easy marks, with a propensity to "irreverent" exposes of institution with easily lampooned rules or customs. So the books come out, but when the authors lack command of the rules and customs they have a critical take on, their lifespan is about the duration of a moderately financed book tour. Which implies that there's only a few more days before only those who post here will be the only ones capable of generating publicity for the Houdini book.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Ken Becker » June 24th, 2012, 1:46 pm

I'm not sure why, but somehow I get the impression that Stone's
book won't make the New York Times best seller list.???

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby El Harvey Oswald » June 24th, 2012, 1:56 pm

Generally you need strong reviews, a huge popular following, or inside information on the formula, none of which seems to be present here.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby David Regal » June 24th, 2012, 2:30 pm

I understand the outrage of Jamy Ian Swiss, Ricky Jay and others at the hubris and misinformed nature of Mr. Stone's comments.

To me, however, the real matter is why we have the need to express outrage. If, for example, Mr. Stone studied with voice teachers for a year then claimed to be expert at singing opera, no comments from the professional opera world would be necessary - the man would appear foolish to every reader. The same could be said if he studied baseball for a year and declared himself a great player, or billiards, brain surgery, play writing, painting, etc. In every case his ignorance would be self-evident.

Why then is magic different? The answer is because, in general, people do not place magic in the realm of a discipline where expertise can reach a place of beauty, or an interpretative performing art. It can be both, but most people see poor performances of magic. Those in the audience for, say, "Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants," or Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimares' lovely recent show at The Magic Castle would not need to hear a rebuttal to Mr. Stone - they would understand what a performance of magic can be. To them, Mr. Stone would simply seem uneducated.

So the outrage, while wholly justified, is not the real solution - the true solution to elevating the stature of magic in people's minds is to create and perform better magic. When Mr. Swiss performs his card under glass to a room of astounded spectators, or Mr. Jay performs his full evening show to a rapt and respectful audience, these are the real lightning bolts, and the true vehicles of change.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Eric Fry » June 24th, 2012, 3:53 pm

Those are good points, Mr. Regal. But one of the reasons that laymen underestimate magicians' skill is that in many cases (not all) we hide our skill in order to create a mystery. In most cases, we want there to be no solution, including human expertise.

In other words, magic's foundation really is secrets, which are what our expertise hides, and we gain and lose stature in the public perception because of that. They might enjoy the mystery but not see the expertise.

Every art has its technique that many laymen haven't studied. But an art such as music isn't dependent on secrets. Ours is.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Jamy Ian Swiss » June 24th, 2012, 4:19 pm

I believe that while your comment about the standing of magic is accurate, David (and timeless -- see Makelyne in "Our Magic"), it generally applies to variety arts. And I think that the real problem -- timeless and frustrating and insurmountable -- is Tommy Wonder's point in "The Books of Wonder" (in his essay on Zombie) that sometimes in magic the method can masquerade as ability, and so particularly in short doses it is often difficult if not impossible For laymen to judge the quality of a conjuring or Mentalism performance. I would add that really this is true to varying degrees in all arts, both static and performance, as the more expertise the audience brings to the experience the more subtle and sophisticated their appreciation and critique. All the more true in 20th century arts that grow increasingly self-referential (art "installations" these days are virtually incomprehensible beyond the cognoscenti). This is a point Adam Gopnik subtly touched upon in his piece in The New Yorker ... a piece, btw, in which well more than a year of research served to provide genuine insights into the art and culture of magic. (And check that piece, "The Real Work," to see how much exposure the writer found necessary in order to truly explain the workings of magic to readers.)

Which brings to mind another example of an outsider and non-magician who, with years of research, was welcomed and appreciated by the magic community, namely Karl Johnson, who wrote the marvelous and insightful book, "The Magician and the Card Sharp." So you see, it can be done.

But to the original point, this is why we all hear stories of that "greatest magician" somebody saw do a trick with an invisible deck. As Ricky Jay points out, fooling people, in and of itself, isn't very difficult. Nor terribly interesting.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby David Regal » June 24th, 2012, 4:46 pm

I think judging a person's skill level and experiencing a performance are two different things, and no, I don't think a spectator needs to understand technique in order to appreciate mystery. It's an interesting question, though. It's like saying "One needs to understand music theory in order to fully appreciate Sinatra." I don't think that's true, either, but I can understand the train of thought behind the statement. Certainly different people can find different things to appreciate in a performance, but I have a hard time believing that one specific way is "better." When Armando does his coin routine, which looks effortless, as if the magic is just "happening," I think the audience has no idea of the technique involved, but feels they are witnessing an artist.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby David Regal » June 24th, 2012, 4:54 pm

And by the way, I once had a TV executive call me up and say:

"David, I saw the most amazing card trick in the world and you have to tell me how it was done! This guy called a wizard on the telephone and the wizard told me the card I was thinking of!"

It gets better. He started to elaborate:

"First the guy made three rows of cards, I think each row had like seven cards..."

I didn't tell him a fu*king thing.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Jamy Ian Swiss » June 24th, 2012, 4:59 pm

Precisely the point I was trying to make, David. I do not mean "technique" in the narrow sense of technical skill, nor do I think Tommy intended it that way. But rather in the broader artistic sense -- everything that totals up to mean craft and art is part of the artist's "technique."

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby erdnasephile » June 24th, 2012, 7:23 pm

If I'm following this correctly, it seems that even from the days of Maskelyne until now magic has failed to transcend it's technique (as Max would say). ("Technique" in this context referring to craft, I believe).

If this is indeed the case, will it always be so?

Is it futile to expect more, except for those brief "lightning bolts" that David refers to?

The best part of me screams "NO!"--it's the striving, working, driving, and bleeding towards fleeting moments of high art that makes this whole shootin' match worthwhile...but the rest of me sometimes sighs heavily that the Stone's and H. Becker's of the world shall always be amongst us to drag things down.

It's in these moments that I fire up the DVD player to rewatch Jamy's inspirational oration on "Goals"--it always gets my head back on straight! Indeed, I think it applies perfectly to the situation at hand.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Jonathan Townsend » June 24th, 2012, 7:48 pm

erdnasephile wrote:...Is it futile to expect more, except for those brief "lightning bolts" that David refers to?...


That depends on whether you are a magic fan - a muggle in the audience - or working in the craft. If you seek magic - have a look in the bookstores and electronics trade shows as both industries have gone far beyond where Robert-Houdin hinted.

IMHO if you have audience feedback to refine your offerings and actively seeking to find ways to make your work more interesting to audiences you will, over time ( even with director ) find how to make that lightning. And if you can then resist the temptation to presume what works for you would work for most others and instead assist others to learn how to make their own lightning... over time the public will notice both you and others as chance permits.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Tom Klem » June 25th, 2012, 10:46 am

You should all read Ricky Jay's piece on this Alex Stone book in the Weekend Edition of the Wall Street Journal. It is in the Review/Book section on page C8. This is a terrible hurtful book that many of my friends are mentioned in. I am briefly mentioned. I think the world of magic is filled with wonderful amazing people. Sure not everyone behaves well from time to time but bad behavior is not the norm. Most spend hours and hours on perfecting their craft. No group keeps its history as well as magicians. But my words are pale compared to Ricky Jay review of this sad book. Find Ricky Jay's review and read it.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby erdnasephile » June 25th, 2012, 11:08 am

For those who haven't read Jay's review yet: Meir Yedid posted a link to it earlier in this thread.

For convenience sake, here it is again: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 ... 87644.html

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Tom Klem » June 25th, 2012, 11:54 am

Just to be clear when I said, "Sure not everyone behaves well from time to time but bad behavior is not the norm. ", I was talking about Magicians in general not Mr. Stone. What he has done with a sense of total indifference can not be forgiven.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Max Maven » June 25th, 2012, 12:46 pm

Tom Klem wrote:No group keeps its history as well as magicians.


Are you sure we're talking about the same group?

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Dustin Stinett » June 25th, 2012, 1:06 pm

Tom Klem wrote:No group keeps its history as well as magicians.

Respectfully Tom, you need to look around at other groups a bit more. Train enthusiasts do a better job than magicians. Music, film, flight, autos; the list is huge. I would agree that those relative few who "keep" magic's history do a fine job of it, but as a whole, we need to work hardermuch harder.

Dustin

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Tom Klem » June 25th, 2012, 1:31 pm

Dustin:

I agree that a better job could be done in general and some magicians do not care about history at all. What I find amazing is those who do really get it right and the pockets of knowledge in the collections of some. I am a newcomer to magic history wit only 7 years of investigation. I have been a historian for more than 25 years.

You all need to take a little praise from a layman.

Mike Bornstein use to tell me "the best tricks are in old books." He should have known as his brain was filled with knowledge of the art. Some of your best history is with in yourselves.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Dustin Stinett » June 25th, 2012, 2:23 pm

In my experience (which is now measured in decades), it's more like "some magicians care about history" while the majority do not, and that is unfortunate. And Mr. Bornstein's advice to you is something he (wisely) took from someone who mentored him. And, sadly, the number who takes that advice to heart is also in the minority.

But I am in no way putting all the blame on the majorityand particularly the younger generationsfor these deficiencies. The onus is on us who care about history, collecting, and study of the classics to figure out a way to get them to care.

Dustin

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Ken Becker » June 25th, 2012, 3:27 pm

Erdnasephile, you seemed to have misinterpreted my posting.
My comment was 'tongue in cheek' and perhaps I should have
put a Smiley Icon on it. And I'll overlook your insinuation that
the "Beckers of the world are dragging it down"
I have no support for the kind of book published by Stone.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Bill Marquardt » June 25th, 2012, 5:43 pm

I am curious as to whether or not Mr. Stone was in fact booted from the S.A.M.? His actions are certainly in violation of the oath; "I will not expose the secrets and principles of magic, nor will I support those who do."

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby erdnasephile » June 25th, 2012, 5:45 pm

Ken:

My apologies for inadvertently offending you.

My original post reads: "that the Stone's and H. Becker's of the world shall always be amongst us to drag things down." (emphasis added by me)

The "H. Becker" I was referring to is Herbert Becker who wrote this unfortunate book: http://www.amazon.com/All-Secrets-Magic ... 597&sr=1-2

Again, my apologies--my post was not directed at you or any other person with the Becker surname.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Ken Becker » June 25th, 2012, 5:56 pm

I have no problem as I have always enjoyed
your comments on a number of subjects. And I was convinced
that if your comment was about my posting, it was due to
misreading my intent.
Thanks for your response.
Ken B.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Eric DeCamps » June 25th, 2012, 6:41 pm

Max Maven wrote:
Tom Klem wrote:No group keeps its history as well as magicians.


Are you sure we're talking about the same group?


Well put Max.

Thank goodness that there are some in our community who are able correct the gross exaggerations and claims made by a few who use their minimal knowledge of magic history as a platform for self-aggrandizing with no regard for accuracy.

Eric DeCamps
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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Bob Farmer » June 25th, 2012, 7:40 pm

Herbert Becker -- another hack -- however, in one of his books, he does have a first-person account from someone who was present when Houdini got punched in Montreal. Becker, I believe, is from Montreal.

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Jon Racherbaumer » June 25th, 2012, 10:06 pm

It appears that a large number of magicians and associates cooperated (aided and abetted?) Alex Stone during the preparation of his book. Is it then fair to say their willing contributions are part of it? Granted: Sometimes "contributors" consent to interviews and offer commentaries to writers having full knowledge of how this material will be used, in what contexts, and whether or not the book's themes and/or agenda are acceptable to them. Sometimes this is not the case. At this point, do we know which alternative is the case? Not knowing one way or the other, is it also fair to wonder if there is some legitimate "guilt by association" at work here?

I'm not making any accusations. I'm just asking...

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Richard Kaufman » June 25th, 2012, 10:32 pm

Frequently, people are interviewed by members of the media or authors writing books and have no idea how their contributions will eventually be used, or taken out of context, or even what the author or film maker's true intent is until the final product comes out. You always take a chance.
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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Jon Racherbaumer » June 26th, 2012, 1:01 am

RK makes a valid point, especially regarding personal interviews...and unless an interviewee demands that a legally enforceable, reciprocal agreement be signed, they DO take chances. Meanwhile, until any published result is scrupulously analyzed for fanciful facts, factoids, distortions, and lies, readers cannot sort out facts from fiction.

Alex Stone clearly stated his intentions and goals in writing his book. If it is proven otherwise, then the title of his book should have been FOOLING MAGICIANS. Right now the kangaroo court is a lively place. High horses are being ridden. Greek choruses are warbling. In a few weeks the marketplace will decide what is meritorious or at the most mundane level what is saleable.

Maybe McLuhan was right? "Art is anything you can get away with..."

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Re: NY Times review of Alex Stone's FOOLING HOUDINI

Postby Tom Klem » June 26th, 2012, 9:41 am

billmarq:

Alex Stone is no longer a member in good standing of the Parent Assembly of the Society of American Magicians. He covers this in his book and I am mentioned in that regard briefly. More that that I wish not say.


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