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David Blaine's Ancestors

February 23, 2007

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The Prestige. Carter Beats The Devil. The Illusionist. In this age of high-def, hi-tech, hi-fi culture, it's strange see how fascinated we still are with the world of the 19th century magician. David Blaine may be partly responsible for renewing interest in fakirs, escapologists, and levitationists. But somehow Blaine's feats of derring-do don't carry the same magic for me personally as books and films about these fictionalized earlier wizards.. There's a deep live performance element to Blaine's work, of course, but it's so hyped and mediated that, now matter the extremity of Blaine's tricks and stunts, they always seem impersonal and removed from us. But the magicians in the current wave of storybooks and movies seem utterly present. In being more theatrical, they're also more real.

Last night, after wandering around downtown Oakland (a far from magical experience today though I'm sure the area gave off a different aura one hundred years ago when it served as the setting for Carter Beats The Devil,) I watched The Prestige. It's a quirky film. The storytelling feels garbled and the camera always seems in a rush, almost as if the cinematographer didn't believe in his ability to trick us with the lens. As a result of this approach, the film had an otherworldly, ephemeral quality that was quite appealing, but I couldn't quite grasp what was going on half the time. I'd like to read the book upon which the film is based. And, more generally, it would be fun to investigate what lies beneath this early 21st century renaissance in a form as apparently outmoded as the stage magician.

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