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GRAND ILLUSIONS :THE STORY OF MAGIC
PART TWO OF THE ACCLAIMED GRAND ILLUSIONS SERIES
Second Release Features 6 Episodes on 1 DVD
Following the success of GRAND ILLUSIONS: THE STORY OF MAGIC, Choices Select now brings you the anticipated second act: GRAND ILLUSIONS: THE STORY OF MAGIC PART TWO. With six more episodes, each featuring seminal figures in the world of magic, this sequel takes us deeper into this art form than its predecessor, and at the same time only confirms its relevance.
by Steve Dacri
I was pleased to receive this wonderful package called Grand Illusions: The Story of Magic, as I enjoyed the first part very much. WIth some disagreement on the presentation and the ommission of facts in some cases, I enjoyed viewing this DVD almost as much as Part One.
Lovers of magic and the related arts will appreciate the style and approach of the subjects. It effectively showcases many oscure individuals in the magic world, not content to merely stay with the safe, previously well-known subjects that the world associates with magic. With narration by producer Wilson Coneybeare, and featuring iThis vlume, together with the first volume, should be in the libraries of every magician and lover of the arts.
It is impossible to cover so much material without leaving out important facts. Many of the subjects covered have long since left this earth, and in the case of many of the earlier artists, such as the Maskelynes and Harry Kellar, there are very few around who can speak with complete accuracy on the subjects. Still, the high points are hit along the way, and even if one disputes the use of some so-called experts, there is a well-rounded historical viewpoint presented in a very entertaining, fast-paced series. I would rather have seen and heard from more historical figures and well-known magicians, to add a greater depth to the reportage. Instead, many of the same talking heads appear repeatedly, which makes viewers wonder how much may have been left out. Interviews have been conducted with some of the world’s leading figures in magic, yes, but a wider variety would have been better. The six parts of the series focus both on individual magicians, as well as specific styles and practices. Let's look at the episodes presented.
1. The Blackstones - This episode details the father and son duo of Harry Blackstone Sr. and Jr., whose careers collectively spanned almost the entire 20th century, and who are credited with helping to keep magic fresh with contemporary audiences.
As a young boy first discovering magic, I was fascinated by news footage and mentions in books of Harry Blackstone. I was too young to ever see him perform in person, but his son, Harry Blackstone, Jr. I am honored to say, became one of my closest friends, a constant source of inspiration and knowledge. His advice to me was always heart-felt, and he was a giant of a human being, both on and off the stage. Interviews presented here include his wife, Gay Blackstone, who continues to be among our closest friends in the magic world.
A former dancer, she admits to being smitten with Harry from the oment they first met in the office of Milt Larson, the founder of the Magic Castle. Not only did they have a great relationship both on and off the stage, Gay and Harry worked together closely to bring the Blackstone name to the absolute top of the heap once again, even surpassing Harry Blackstone, Sr. with their accomplishments. His run on Broadway broke all previous records, and his massive touring show was similar to a circus, with ample amounts of costumes, props and sets, many which were orginally used by his father.
I found myself completely overcome with emotion as I watched Harry perform his father's great routines, including the famous bird cage, and the light bulb illusion, viewed by many as the greatest magic illusion ever presented. Nobody could do these illusions better. Other have tried, but between the well-crafted routining and that hypnotic, powerful voice, Harry knew no equal. There simply was never a more charismatic magic performer on the planet. This episode effectively captures the essence of greatness of both Blackstones. I miss him dearly, and I am delighted that this and future generations can watch this episode to get a peek into the world of the Blackstone family.
I would have liked to see some footage of Harry speaking. Surely there exists so much from Harry's television appearances and interviews. I know Gay possesses a huge library of such clips, and I wonder why the producers did not call upon her to include a few of these gems.
2. The Maskelyne Dynasty - Chronicling the years between 1873 and 1934 when John Nevil Maskelyne and his descendents were mainstays of the London entertainment scene.
Up until now, very little can be seen on film (or video) on John Nevil Maskelyne and his family. This episode offers rare footage and insightful observations from those who had the chance to witness this giant of a performer. The influence of the Maskelyne's on the magic scene in Britain is accurately displayed ion this episode.
3. The Royal Dynasty - This is the story of how Harry Kellar began an unbroken mantle of responsibility to set a standard of excellence in magic, continued by Howard Thurston, The Great Dante and Lee Grabel and currently maintained by Lance Burton.
When Kellar passed the mantle to his chosen successor, Howard Thurston (who paid the grand sum of $5,000 for Kellar's props and show equipment), a new era in magic began. Thurston carried on with the show, adding his own personal touches, although many who saw him, such as my friend Dai Vernon, revealed that Thurston had absolutely no sense of humor and very rarely connected with the audiences as did other more charismatic performers, such as Blackstone, and later, Dante. Lee Grabel, I am happy to report, is still vibrant and full of life and humor. He no longer performs, but recently sat in the front row of a performance of mine at a magic convention, and afterwards, we spent many hours talking about magic and his magnificent career. It is easy to see wht he was such a commanding presense onstage, as were all the other greats xovered in this series. He is a special man. With a great love of people and entertaining them.
Where was the interview with Dante relatives who are still around? And Lee Grabel? Why do we not see footage of Dante backstage, or in interviews? I know this footage exists, so I was a bit disappointed to not see some of those gems here. We must keep in mind, however, that six episodes of roughly thirty minutes each requires brevity and inevitably, loss of details and omissions. We should overlook and understand the limitations of the medium, and concentrate on the good parts that are presented here. And there are many.
4. Dai Vernon - This episode features the magician who has been universally acclaimed as the greatest sleight-of-hand artist of the 20th Century.
My friendship with "The Professor" as he was known, began when he first honored me by attending my first performance ever at the Magic Castle, back in 1973. Afterward, he complimented me on the show, and that was the beginning of a very special relationship that ended in 1992 when he left this earth for a permanent engagement elsewhere. I have mixed feelings about this chapter. It brought tears to my eyes, seeing and hearing his voice after all these years, which triggered many fond memories of the time we shared together. That's the good news.
The bad news is so much has been left out or glossed over. Many of his friends, and serious students were not even contacted for their comments on the man and their experiences with him. So many of us learned life lessons from Vernon, from mind-blowing sleight of hand and routines, to off-stage lessons in mind power, psychology and subjects far removed from magic. He was a giving, kind, insightful man, he was painfully honest and critical of magicians. He rarely tolerated non-professionals who tried to pass themselves off as professionals. He was humble, preferring to mention other great magicians from the past as the inspirations for his work. He taught an entire generation of card men and close-up workers, many of whom still earn a living in magic to this day, yours truly included. He will always be regared as the greatest magician who ever lived.
Where was the mention of his students like Mike Skinner, or Ricky Jay (Ricky and I, along with Jeff Altman and others spent many nights and early mornings with Vernon, with cards in hand and cigar smoke thick, and none of this made it into this chapter). The legendary games of cards we enjoyed, with Vernon, Kuda Bux, Joe Cossari, Joe Berg, and later, Johnny Platt were never mentioned, nor was Vernon's relationship with Tony Slydini, or his historic "Farewell Lecture Tour", which was a stated highlight of most living magic enthusiasts over the past 50 years who were fortunate enough to witness it.
5. Women Conjurers - Despite traditionally being limited to the role of assistant, this episode follows advancements made by female magicians, and offers explanations as to why more “Women Conjurers” don’t exist.
Again, I repeat what has become my mantra here, much has been left out of this subject. Many female performers exist in the magic world today, and only three of them are interviewed. One of the most notorious is Elizabeth Warlock, whose father was a well-known magician. Elizabeth has seen many of the greats, and would have offered insights into the world of female magicians, but she was nowhere to be found here. What about Mystina, or Joyce Beck, or Becky Blaney? In Las Vegas alone, we have several professional female magicians, and not one of them appears in this episode. Again, the same approach exists, a smalll bit of footage, and in this case, only three interview subjects, leaving viewers to wonder why so few female magicians exist, both in the past and at present.
6. Mentalism - Considered in this episode are all the aspects of mentalism, which is the art of performing under the pretense that the tricks are actually the result of superior mental ability.
A well-rounded presentation of this popular banch of magic. This episode wisely stays away from the subject of the occult and mind power, and effectively points out that mentalism is simply another form of magic presentation, designed to entertain and cause audiences to scratch their heads in wonder, as they do when they see a lady float or vanish from the stage.
Overall, there's a lot of wonderful magic showcased, and many of the pioneers and early magicians are seen and heard from. Conspicously missing are interviews with many prominent magicians. Where is Siegfried & Roy? Or David Copperfield? Or Lance Burton? Or Hohnny Thompson? How about Milt Larsen, the cresator of both the Magic Castle in Hollywood and Caesars Magical Empire? These ommissions, as well as many others I have mentioned, casue one to wonder how much greater (and therefore, more accurate) these portrayals could have been.
I must admit, because I have personal connections to many of the subjects presented, including personal friendships with several, I am highly critical of the material that has been left out. That is not to say I didn't enjoy these episodes. On the contrary, I applaud the efforts of Paragon Pictures and the Discovery Channel for putting forth this fine series, and highly recommend this to sit on the shelf next to Volume One of magic lovers the world over.
ILLUSIONS: THE STORY OF MAGIC PART TWO
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