Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Magicians Website

The BBC website for the new magic series The Magicians is now live and can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcone/magicians/
I'm looking forward to seeing this series.
This is, as far as I know, my last blog entry for 2010 so Season's Greetings and Happy Holidays to everyone!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

ITV to bring out rival magic show to the BBC's 'The Magicians'

It's only been a short while since the BBC announced they are to make a new magic series The Magicians, in which magicians will compete against each other. Well, ITV1 has announced they are to make a similar series called Penn & Teller: Fool Us. Another coincidental similarity is that both series are being hosted by comedy presenters. Lenny Henry will host The Magicians and Jonathan Ross will host Penn & Teller: Fool Us. Which series will be the better? I hope they're both good. I hope this is the beginning of a comeback for magic on both channels. I can only wait and see.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Gambit Magazine

The second issue of Benjamin Earl’s magazine Gambit is now available. The magazine has changed slightly from the first issue. I still have some reservations about the use of space in such a slim magazine and feel more could be put into it. To be fair to Earl, the magazine is still a work in progress and Earl is obviously working towards improving it with each issue (and succeeding). I think the premise of the magazine, which is to concentrate on card magic, is an excellent one and I hope it flourishes (no pun intended regards card handling) and I am definitely going to keep it on my reading list. The original Gambit website has closed down and now the magazine is available through Earl’s website.

This is an opportunity to remind you of other magic magazines available in the UK.

Mystery Magazine edited by Walt Lees and published by Paul Cook’s Magic Books By Post.

Magicseen published by Mark Leveridge.

The LaBaL published by Al Smith. Al doesn’t have a website for The LaBaL. To inquire about subscriptions please email Al on albertesmith@myway.com

Finally, there is The Crimp by Jerry Sadowitz. For details on that, please go to the Magicians Only section on his website.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Translator Traitor.

There’s an old proverb that goes ‘translator traitor.’ It refers to the fact that even the best of translations can misrepresent the meaning of the original. It has also been applied to translations where over enthusiastic liberties have been taken to deliberately misrepresent the meaning of the original. That sounds a pretty awful thing to do but when it happens, the majority of the time the translator’s intention was not malicious in any way – merely very poorly thought through.

One example is the translation of the works of Chuang Tzu by Herbert A. Giles. He was an exemplary scholar and a talented translator. The setback was that he allowed his ardent Christian faith to sometimes cloud his judgement. That’s not a criticism of Christianity; it’s a criticism of Giles. His translation of Chuang Tzu is very readable and enjoyable. The trouble is that he betrays the original text and its meaning by presenting the writings of the Taoist as being essentially Christian in places, even though they were written hundreds of years before Christianity was created. He goes so far as to include God, God with a capital G, God of the Old and New Testament, in the text of Chuang Tzu despite the fact that God is never mentioned once in the original book. Giles even goes so far as to abandon the real title of one chapter and replace it with The Tao of God.

Giles’ choices involved a decision to not translate at times and to fictionalize a part of the text. He was not alone in this ‘translator traitor’ activity. One of the more creative translators, who is now ironically praised for his creativity in doing it, was Edward Fitzgerald who rewrote more than translated the text in regards to his version of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. A more modern offender, more liable to cause offence, was J. B. Phillips. He was a scholar who knew Classical Greek and translated the New Testament. He too allowed his personal view of Christianity, his interpretation of it, to interfere with writing a truly accurate translation: he rewrote parts of the New Testament that personally offended him. Not big parts; merely little parts; not many parts; but nevertheless he rewrote what he believed to be Holy Writ. He was, of course, taken up on it by other scholars.

An example is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus asks to see the body of Lazarus the reply is a concern about the smell of a body that has been decomposing for some days – Jesus ignores that and repeats his request. For Phillips, the idea that the odour of putrefaction should dare to enter the Holy nostrils of Christ so offended him that he rewrote the brief passage rather than provide a true translation of it. I’m not mocking Phillips in describing his reasoning that way because that is how he described it himself when he tried to defend his ‘translation.’ Bizarrely, he didn’t seem to understand the fuss about his occasional creativity regards translating the New Testament and his translation is still available, completely uncorrected, and is sometimes described as a paraphrasing of the text rather than a translation.

The reason for these examples is to show that no area of translation - be it religious, historical, philosophical or whatever - is free from the phenomena of Translator Traitor. Also, that such behaviour is not always deliberately mischievous. The intention, not thought through, is usually well meaning.

That brings me to suggesting to those that can that they should read and compare Professor Hoffmann’s translation of Robert Houdin’s Secrets of Conjuring and the original French text. Even if your French is abysmal, it becomes apparent that Hoffmann (Angelo John Lewis) applied a lot of effort in tinkering with the text. There are footnotes where he admits as much but they hardly touch on the amount changes he made. In his preface, Hoffmann writes regarding his translation “I have aimed at substantial rather than absolute fidelity” and he calls his preface the Editor’s Preface and not the Translator’s Preface. All in all, I don’t criticise Hoffmann for his translation but for those interested in the history of magic I do recommend taking time to compare the texts. On one hand, Hoffmann did the editorial job that Robert Houdin’s original (completely uncritical and lazy) publishers should have done and so the text gained something. On the other hand, the particular tone of Robert Houdin’s character expressed in his text is lost and replaced by that of Hoffmann. If you compare Hoffmann’s Modern Magic with his translation of The Secrets of Conjuring it is evident that the author’s ‘voice’ and ‘character’ are one and the same. Robert Houdin’s character in the original text is less formal than Hoffmann; his forms of expression reflect the French society he grew up in and not Hoffmann’s British Victorian stuffed shirt society.

The differences in Robert Houdin’s text and that of Hoffmann are, thankfully, not as dramatic as the examples given regarding Giles, Fitzgerald and Phillips. Nevertheless, it truly is worth a look.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

La Belle et la bête by Jean Cocteau

When Jean Cocteau went to make films he took with him the traditions and methods of the theatre of his time. This is best seen in his film La Belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast). The film, while inexplicably overlooked by modern audiences, has been very influential in film making since it's release in 1946.

Many film makers have copied, sorry, included an homage in their films of the imagery to be seen in La Belle et la bête. The strongest imitator has been the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, so much so that film historian Sir Christopher Frayling was expecting a note of credit at the end of the Disney film - but there was none to be seen.

All sorts of film genres have imitated, sorry, paid homage to Cocteau's imagery in this film. Even horrors films have perhaps over exploited, sorry, paid homage to one particular scene from La Belle et la bête. It the part of the film when Belle has arrived at Bête's house. Her arrival and exploration of the house is laden with visual beauty and mystery. One shot is the very scene that Cocteau presented to the film backer as a drawing and based that drawing alone Cocteau received the money to make the film. Belle is moving down a corridor lined with doors and light gossamer like curtains which billow in a breeze.
Below is a picture from the film Dracula 2000 with the leading lady in a similar corridor. You may have seen many other moments like this in other horror films.

Putting aside the topic of paying homage to the imagery of Cocteau, the film has moments that owe a debt of gratitude (as do all film makers) to the theatrical and cinematic technical innovations of George Méliès - whom Cocteau was familiar with because of his theatre work. Cocteau seems to have relished the use of these and ingeniously created his own to work along side them. By modern special effect standards the film appears to show it's age and yet it is that quality that now, as Sir Christopher Frayling states in his commentary, makes the film even more fairy tale like or myth like in it's look. Some of what Cocteau did could be reproduced now in a modern theatre stage version of La Belle et la bête without any change to the methods. Other things, such as moments of graceful slow motion done by using high speed cameras, firmly lock the film into being a cinematic experience.

The tentative connection to George Méliès and the theatre methods used in the film make the film of interest to those interested in the history of magic and it's influences.

One last point is something I noticed entirely by chance. The actor playing Ludovic, Belle's brother, is a doppelganger for art critic Andrew Graham Dixon.

 [Copyright of the photographs belongs to the film makers and the BBC.]

Monday, 11 October 2010

A Spell Of Cards & Another Spell of Cards by Al Smith

An old proverb says “As many heads, as many opinions.” It’s an apt proverb to apply to the many different types of card tricks. For every magician that likes one type of card trick, another magician will dislike that type. Nevertheless, almost every category of card trick survives over time because of the magicians who do like them and part of that survival is the improvements and innovations created by them.

Al Smith’s two books are mostly, note the word mostly is used and not exclusively, about spelling tricks. As a writer who seems to never miss a good opportunity to employ double meanings, Al’s use of the word ‘spell’ in the titles refer to time spent with cards as much as the main type of card effects explained. So be assured that not every card effect in the books is a spelling one.

Just as with his book, Round the Square, these two books lead the reader through the principles behind the various kinds of spelling tricks in order to provide the reader with the ability to create his or her own card effects. Also, just as in Round the Square, Al puts in plenty of thought regarding the performance of each effect and not simply explaining how the effect works. And once again, where appropriate, Al provides the genealogy of an effect giving deserved credit to other magicians.

For anyone wondering about the worth of spelling tricks, you should give pause to the thought that very few of the classic tomes on card magic don’t include such card effects and The Encyclopaedia of Card Magic devotes a whole chapter to the subject. In the latest issue of The LaBaL, professional card magician and author Paul Gordon contributed a humdinger of a spelling effect called Standard Bikes and a variation on it called Standard Bikes With Aces.

For details on how to purchase copies of A Spell of Cards or Another Spell of Cards please contact Al Smith by emailing albertesmith@myway.com

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Magicians, a new television series

Twitter was a-buzz today with news of the BBC bringing a new magic show to prime time television in the New Year. R. Paul Wilson and Alexis Conran, of The Real Hustle, will be the magical brains behind the program whilst other magicians appear in the program. The program will be called The Magicians; there have been some emails asking if (because of the name) the series connects in any way with my art exhibition Magicians which begins on October 31st of this year – no, there is no connection whatsoever. There will be an aspect of competition in the series. For more details see the BBC press release by clicking on the link below.

The Magicians

Monday, 20 September 2010

I've Loved You So Long (on DVD)

These days, it’s rare to find a film which puts any trust in the intelligence of the audience. Even the most well intentioned real life dramas spend a lot of screen time directly explaining, in dialogue between characters, every step of the story in case the audience are not able to follow the plot. It’s a shame that this has become such a prevalent trend. It shows a lack of faith from the film industry towards their potential customers. It also means that dramas of high quality, such as I’ve Loved You So Long, are rare.

I’ve Loved You So Long puts trust in the audience’s ability to pull together the details to understand the film as the stories unfolds. Information on the underlying family mystery is presented to us not merely through the usual, overdone, method of dialogue but also through visual and emotional means. Film is a visual medium after all and to not make full use of that is to undermine the medium itself.

Kristin Scott Thomas is excellent in her role of Juliet. We learn a lot about her character through what she doesn’t say, refuses to say at times, and expresses in silent but emotional reaction to the others around her. Books and reading are made into themes, or recurring symbols, in the film. Something which is appropriate since the film is like a visual novel, using literary techniques of a novel to gently expound the inner life of the central characters. I’ve Loved You So Long therefore touches our emotions in a subtle but very strong way and the ending becomes deeply emotional.

To say any more would be to start to give away the plot. I can’t recommend this DVD enough. It’s probably Kristin Scott Thomas’ best film role to date.

[Photograph copyright by the film makers].

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Cards On The Table by Jerry Sadowitz

Just a brief note on the excellent book Cards On The Table by Jerry Sadowitz. I’ve noticed copies of this book on sale on sites such as Ebay; the price tends to be £25 to £60. There is no need to pay such a high price. The book is still in print and available from the publisher Martin Breese at £15.

This is not a book for amateurs but the effort put into learning the tricks is well worth it; for example, Name a Card Triumph and Ambitious Spots are both rewarding tricks to learn that never fail to amaze spectators.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Update Regarding My Website

Well, my website has been cleansed of the naughty spambot software that was attacking it and creating fake web pages full of spam. My lenghthy and daily chore of deleting huge numbers of files is now thankfully at an end. My webhost did their job well and by the end of next week I’ll be able to restore any missing files that are meant to be there.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Round the Square

Magic squares have a reputation of being the least appealing form of magic because there is a mathematical principle seen to be involved. To be honest, when I have read ideas for magic squares the information given usually does live up to a promise of dullness. The problem tends to be a complete lack of regard for performance. The best card trick in the world becomes lack lustre when thought and preparation regarding performance is missing.

Al Smith’s book, Round the Square, focuses on the very need - the very aspect of how to incorporate a magic square into a performance. The end result is magic. It can be presented as mentalism, psychic phenomena, an experiment in superhuman mental agility or plain old magic. In some of the tricks, any aspect of calculation appears to be hindered or impossible on the part of the magician and yet the magician succeeds in bringing about a magical conclusion. Al Smith cleverly creates a situation where the audience believes that what has happened involves far more than any mere mathematical principle and calculation. And they would be right. We all know that if you choose any line of numbers in a magic square it will add up to the same number on that magic square. But how is it possible for the magician to predict, in an envelope sealed before the performance, what that number will be when it is a volunteer randomly choosing the numbers that will fill a grid to form a magic square? After all, how can a magician know what numbers will be chosen prior to the trick being performed?

The book does not simply list and describe tricks; it teaches the principles involved, step by step, before explaining tricks such as Origeightor which received a lot of attention back in 1992 when Al Smith published it in Abra and Paul Daniels adapted it for use in one of his television shows. After explaining Origeightor Smith improves on it and then goes through many of what are seen as the weaknesses of magic squares and provides easy, workable solutions to aid performance. If you want to add a different form of mental magic to your repertoire then Smith’s book is more than worth a look. It will inspire your own ideas and improvements. For those who are interested, details on how to buy a copy can be obtained by emailing albertesmith@myway.com

Monday, 6 September 2010

Back To The Blog

I have been neglecting my blog for some time; this has simply been down to being involved in others things to the extent that I had no time to post any blog entries. That does not mean that I do not have blog entries ready and waiting to be posted. They will begin to appear this week and hopefully I will be back to posting two entries or so a week. I hope to include more reviews of books because the response to those type of posts have been good so far.
There are various bits of news to relate but I will leave that for another post. The only titbit of information I will give here is that my website has finally (as all websites do at some point) become victim to spam hackers. I spent an evening deleting files that were generating themselves in my webhosting account. They have stop appearing for the moment but are likely to reappear. I am relying on my webhost to sort out the problem.
I can only wait and see.

Monday, 16 August 2010

J. C. Wagner

J. C. Wagner died last night. To read more about him, please click on the link to view the blog of R. Paul Wilson.

Monday, 2 August 2010

DEALING WITH MAGIC: The Rise & Fall of The Supreme Magic Company

Every now and then on magic websites or in magazines you’ll read the sales pitch that a particular book is the most important thing to have happened in magic that year or whatever. Whether or not such products live up to that description I don’t know but I do know that this book by Ian Adair is an important event for anyone interested in the history of British magic.

Adair modestly deprecates his own effort at autobiography at the start of the book by stating “In writing this book, I didn’t set out to win any literary prizes, nor will I expect grand reviews for my writing skills.” Actually, his book should receive grand reviews for him having at least written and made generally available some form of memoir about contemporary magic in the UK whereas many, whose magical careers have included writing, have not.

It’s never easy for someone to write a memoir on a particular form of career where others in that field are inevitably mentioned. It immediately prompts responses from readers with details that may aid, support or contradict the information given - sometimes in an unkind way. And so it takes a brave person to put themselves into such an arena, especially if it includes a controversial topic such as the demise of The Supreme Magic Company. But that is a process which historians rely on. Sometimes the people who won’t normally put pen to paper on the subject of a period in their life suddenly do in response to someone’s autobiography.

Adair’s autobiography is a very candid one. He writes of his successes, which is natural considering his successful career in magic, but he also includes his personal failures and does so without any trace of self-pity or excuse-making.

The first half of the book is Adair’s autobiography from childhood to present day. The second half of the book consists of mini-essays or memoirs of people and events. That may seem to be a strange thing to do but it has allowed Adair to give space for detailed information on specific topics about The Supreme Magic Company and even his own method of creating magic tricks.

The book is available directly from Ian Adair; for inquiries please email magicianadair@hotmail.co.uk

Monday, 26 July 2010

Card Stalking by Al Smith

Every now and then, a modest looking publication comes along that deserves a lot of attention. Card Stalking by Al Smith is one of those books. It is not a book for absolute beginners; it is one from which professional magicians can obtain some new card tricks for their working repertoire.

While every trick is original, Smith gives the history for a type of trick if there are earlier similar versions. Full acknowledgment is noted where known. To his credit, Al Smith thereby lists the shoulders of the giants he is standing on in having created some of these tricks rather than take the full glory for himself (which seems to be the trend these days).

Several tricks have motivated me into practising some card sleights which I have not used in a long time and to be honest, it reminded me of how useful they are. Most of the tricks have a comment section at the end which sometimes provides useful alternative methods for performing a trick.

If you wish to know more then please click here to see Al Smith’s flyer for the book. To make inquiries you can email Al Smith directly at albertesmith@myway.com.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Sand Sculpture Festival at Weston-super-Mare

The sand sculpture festival at Weston runs from the 22nd of May to the 5th of September. Below is a video of a selection of photos I took of some of the sculptures. It isn't free to get in but thankfully it's worth the small fee they charge. For more details go to www.westonsandsculpture.co.uk/

Friday, 4 June 2010

Wig On and Wig Off.

Whenever I watch Heston Blumenthal on television, there's been something about him that seems familiar. When I realised what it was, I had to put together the two pictures below. I wonder if Fabio can cook?

Monday, 24 May 2010

Martin Gardner dies at the age of ninety-five

I have just heard that Martin Gardner has died; he was ninety-five years old. Most of the obituaries and articles that have suddenly appeared announcing his death present him as a mathematician and puzzle master. As yet, I’ve haven’t found any that speak of him being a creative and talented magician. When he wasn’t writing directly about magic, the subject of magic still permeated most of his other writings.

Gardner knew such luminaries as Dai Vernon and Faucett Ross and was a friend to other creative card men, such as Bill Simon. One of Gardner’s books, The Encyclopaedia of Impromptu Magic, is highly regarded; Paul Daniels and other professional magicians have praised it and remarked on its usefulness in providing material for ‘on the spur of the moment’ publicity opportunities.

So while many of the articles describe Gardner as a polymath in terms of mathematics, philosophy, literature and other subjects – let’s also remember that he was just as influential in the world of magic, and as in all the subjects he wrote about, stimulated curiosity and intelligence regarding it.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Answer to 'Who Is It?' Competition Number 3

To my surprise, a lot of people quickly provided the correct answer. From these correct answers a name was randomly chosen 'out of a hat' and a large bar of chocolate is on it's way to Janis.

The answer is R. Paul Wilson, one of the stars of BBC's The Real Hustle. In the film Shade, he plays Mr. Andrews and is seen only briefly. The film is full of references to card magic (see the review in the latest issue of The LaBaL for full details) and begins and ends with a shot of a pair of hands displaying sleight of hand with playing cards. The film itself is not award winning material but worth a look for people with an interest in the history of card magic for a game of 'spot the reference' in terms of character's names, etc.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Who Is It? Competition number 3

I've decided to make this a difficult one. No picture clue this time; it's all down to your knowledge of British television magicians. He appeared, fleetingly but instantly recognizable, in the film Shade - which is about card players and con men. His name didn't appear in the end credits. If any British magician was going to advise on and appear in this type of film, it would be him. Those are all the clues that you are going to get. A real toughy, this one.

On other matters, I haven't commented on the election because there has been an overdose of the subject in every form of media. Now that we finally know the result here is my only comment:
Welcome to Britain's new sitcom: Dick and Dom in Da House.

Let's hope we laugh more than we cry.
[Photograph the property of Getty]

Friday, 30 April 2010

Walter Booth, Magician and Filmmaker.

In any of the popular histories of magic there is usually a slight detour into the era of silent films. The French filmmaker Georges Méliès is usually the example cited. A British equivalent to Méliès was Walter Booth. Lamentably, despite his creative contribution to film making he is possibly one of the most unappreciated and overlooked filmmakers of early British cinema.

Booth was born in 1869. He was a porcelain painter and an amateur magician. At some point, he joined Maskelyne and co. at The Egyptian Hall. Some time after that Booth joined the filmmaker R. W. Paul. I don’t know how that came about. It may have been because J. N. Maskelyne and R. W. Paul were friends and therefore Booth would have had the opportunity to meet Paul.

Booth brought a good deal of inspiration to R. W. Paul’s films. Trick photography and themes of magic and magic related topics became subjects of their silent films. Paul and Booth seemed to have shared Maskelyne’s scepticism towards Spiritualism and so there are a couple of humorous films on that, one of which includes an expose of the kinds of tricks that might be used at a fake séance.

Booth moved to several other film companies after leaving Paul’s firm. I do not know of any one DVD that brings together all of Booth’s existing films; however, the British Film Institute released the collected films of R. W. Paul (depending on the outlet where you buy a copy, prices can vary from £6 to £20). For some reason, after Paul left the film industry he burned all his negatives; this collection by the BFI is pieced together from many different sources and many of the short films consist only of fragments. Nevertheless, it is about two hours and twenty minutes long, which consists of sixty-two short films, and the commentary by Professor Ian Christie does discuss Booth during appropriate films which were written and directed by Booth. Booth made about thirty-five films and fifteen are on this DVD. They are not all magic related but his knowledge of stage work, theatre acts of his day and of the trick photography of Méliès is apparent in these films.

In 1915, Booth went into advertising and little is known of his career from that point. We do know the date of his death, 1938.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Conclusions to 3D Tests

The first thing to do is to provide some information which will answer the questions I have been sent.

The most popular format for 3D pictures, without using special glasses or viewers, is the one that uses the cross eyed technique. This sounds a bit odd but bear in mind that the Magic Eye 3D images that were once so popular relied on people going slightly boss-eyed; so it's not unusual for the viewer to develop a knack of doing either. There came a point where the cross eyed method became more preferable, perhaps because it was easier to learn. Way back when, books like Magic 3D by Tom Johnstone discussed how to create the images and may have been the first to use the phrase 'photographic freeviewing' to describe viewing 3D photos without special glasses. The principles involved were partially used in other books such as Boris Vallejo's 3D Magic mixed Magic Eye images with 3D renderings of Vallejo's fantasy artwork. Both books introduced the cross eyed method on some of the images as an alternative to Magic Eye boss-eyed technique.

In some ways the crossed eyed method harks back the Victorian stereoscope viewers. On these the double image of a scene used what is now known as the 'parallel' method. The image for the left eye was on the the left and the image for the right eye was on the right. The cross eyed method has the image for the right eye on the left and the image for the left eye on the right. That is about the only difference.

The images used to be created by one method; there were two cameras, not more than six centimetres apart (to approximate the view of a pair of human eyes), and each take a photograph of the same scene at the same moment. When the photographs are placed or printed side by side they can be viewed by either the parallel or cross-eyed method as 3D images.

Computer technology eventually had a say in the matter and various methods were thought of to take a single photograph and alter it, pixel by pixel if need be, to create a second photograph which, when placed next to the original, would create the required 3D effect when viewed cross eyed or through a stereoscopic viewer.

Hopefully, that is enough dull tech stuff to satisfy the curious.

The results of the software I have been testing is that only the double images created for the cross eyed method are of any worth; even then I still have to correct each image for anomalies. The other 3D images it can produce, such as anaglyph (which require the red/blue lenses on 3D viewing glasses) are abysmal.

Below is a 3D image, for the cross eyed method, of Veronica Lake. I do not know the name of the owner of the copyright of the original to give them credit. This image and the one in the previous blog entry were chosen by others as photos to test the software. Once again, the instructions are to click on the image to load a larger version; then look at the two images cross eyed until a new image appears between them - that image will appear tobe 3D.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Courtney Love in 3D

I have been trying out various software for rendering photographs into 3D images with the aim of rendering some of my artwork into 3D format. So far, one seems to be better than any of the rest but I won't give it's name because I have not fully tested it.

I give an example of the 'crossed eyed' variety of 3D image below. It is made from a photograph that Courtney Love posted on Twitter today [copyright of the original photo belongs with Courtney Love]. To view the image as a 3D picture, click on the photo to load a larger version (it's a large file so be patient); then look at the double image and make yourself go crossed eyed until a third image appears in the centre. That image will be in 3D. Alternatively, if you are a collector of Victorian stereoscopic photos, get out your stereoscopic viewer and look at the photo through them.

The software also has the ability to create a single red/blue anaglyph, which has to be viewed with glasses that have red and blue lenses. If I get the hang of creating those images I might upload an example.

One final note, I've been ill recently and so have not been posting any blogs or updating my websites. Normal service will resume soon, along with another 'Who Is It?' competition.

Friday, 9 April 2010


Dai Vernon is a name that few people interested in magic will not know. Apart from his well acknowledged ability of sleight of hand, another talent he had was cutting silhouette portraits and this skill contributed to his income.

Silhouette portrait artists still exist and armed with scissors and paper, they attend weddings or other functions and can cut a portrait for someone in less than two minutes. Others work from a studio, cutting portraits in a matter of minutes for each client.

Here is a video of Denise Clark cutting a portrait.

Here is a video of Tim Arnold who has been a silhouette artist for over thirty years.

Silhouette artists can also be found in Britain; one example is The Roving Artist Ltd, a business employing more than one such artist.

[The videos are copyright by the named artists]

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Classic Secrets of Magic

This week I acquired Classic Secrets of Magic by Bruce Elliott.

As a writer Bruce Elliott had many faults. His ability varied on each work he wrote and the stories he wrote for The Shadow Magazine, when Walter Gibson would be on holiday, are considered the worst of all the Shadow stories in style and content. The phrase ‘Homer nods’, which refers to when a writer’s standard slips down to far below his or her best, can be applied to Elliott’s work with an unkind frequency. This would not be a big deal with the many magicians who write magazine articles about magic or pen their on book on the subject. They are magicians first and writers second. Elliott, however, was an author who wrote mystery fiction, science fiction and television screenplays. He was also one of the editors of the magic magazine The Phoenix. It is reasonable to expect a more consistent standard in his writing. To throw even more mud, he was published by main stream publishers who should have pointed out his lapses before they were published, providing Elliott with the opportunity to correct them.

So, with these faults, why are his magic books of any value? Quite simply, it’s the magic they contain. Once in a while, not too often to be a problem, his explanations can be as clear as mud but, usually, overall the magic is good quality. In this particular book Elliott’s few unclear moments are made even worse by the illustrations that accompany them. A lot of magic books in the past have ‘stylized’ or cartoon style artwork. This is usually not a problem except when sleight of hand is being illustrated. The unnamed artist (possibly Stanley Jaks) uses an unrealistic style where fingers appear to either be made of rubber and form strange contorted positions or the fingers are bizarrely long as if illustrating sleight of hand for orangutangs. A small number of the illustrations are just plain wrong in what they are supposed to depict and so it is best to rely on Elliott’s text.

Despite its faults, I like this book. It goes over some of the classics of magic and provides, what were then, up to date additions to their performance – as well as the handling of various tricks by (his then) contemporary magicians. The latter, of which I wish there were more, provides details about the acts of performers of that time and their personal ‘twists’ to some well known magic tricks.

Although I’ve criticised Elliott, don’t be put off reading his material. In the greater part of his writings he explains quality magic with an easily understood straightforwardness. The rare hiccup in meaning can be overcome with a little thought and the correct props at hand to follow his words.

Tragically, Elliott was only in his fifties when he died. He was hit by a taxi and the accident left him in a coma. He died about four months later.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

This Only Works on One Day of the Year.

Write down a three digit number. Each digit must be different. The difference between the first and last digit must be great than one. This is number ‘A’. Reverse the order of the digits of ‘A’ to create a second number. This is number ‘B’. Subtract the smaller number from the greater. You now have a third number, ‘C’. Reverse the digits of ‘C’ to create a fourth number, ‘D’. Add ‘C’ and ‘D’ together. The result is number ‘E’. Multiply ‘E’ by 1,000,000. The result is number ‘F’. Subtract 966,685,433 from ‘F’.

Substitute the digits with the appropriate letter from the following list: 1=L, 2=O, 3=F, 4=I, 5=R, 6=P, 7=A. Read the result backwards.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Answer to ‘Who Is It?’ [number two] And More.

The answer to the ‘Who Is It?’ competition was Pete Firman. It was a nice easy one this time where almost everyone gave the right answer. A name was chosen at random from said people and a large bar of chocolate is now is now on its way to Alan.

In fairness to Mr. Firman, having subjected him to an optical illusion, it’s only fair to provide a link to his website and point out that he’s on tour at the moment and may be appearing at a theatre near you.

Also, to be fair to the victim of the ‘Who Is It?’ competition number one, here is a link to
Max Somerset’s website.

There are two items of note that I’d like to recommend today. The first is an article by Romany, Diva of Magic. She wrote an interesting piece for the Secret Art Journal about how to build a small theatre in your own home.

The other item was twittered by R. Paul Wilson earlier this week. Madhi Gilbert is a young man of great will and determination. He has learned sleight of hand with playing cards, performing false shuffles and more. Why is this a big deal? Well, Madhi Gilbert has no hands. So I’m not entirely sure what you call sleight of hand when the magician doesn’t have any hands. Here is a link to his YouTube Channel where you can see him demonstrating his skill. I can only feel admiration for this young man, especially when people with two good hands give up on learning sleight of hand so easily because they regard it as too difficult.

One final bit of news is that the Bizarre Bath Comedy Walk begins its 2010 season next week on the 30th of March and its well worth attending. The Walk begins outside the Huntsman Inn on North Parade, every evening at 8pm.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Who Is It? [number 2]

Here is another 'Who is it?' question. I made it this morning; it's based on the Dragon illusion which can be found on YouTube but I've changed it and added to it to make it resemble a famous British magician. Just to be clear, based on the number of Harry Potter related answers I received in the last 'Who is it?', this has nothing to do with Harry Potter or any other fictional magic character. This is a real person.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Bristol Day of Magic and 'Who Is It?' Answer

This year the 50th Bristol Day of Magic is being held on Sunday the 9th of May at the Winter Gardens and Playhouse Theatre in Weston Super Mare. The performers include Geoffrey Durham, Michael Vincent, Rafael, Pilou, David Stone, Ian Keeble, Etienne Pradier, Ray Davenport, John Kimmons, Graham Jolley and Tony Stevens. During the day, at the Winter Gardens there will a one man show, lectures and close-up shows - as well as a Dealers Exhibition which includes some of the leading magical suppliers in the UK. In the evening the Gala Show takes place at the Playhouse Theatre. For more details and a downloadable application form, please visit the website of The Bristol Society of Magic.  I attended the Bristol Day of Magic last year and I have to say it was absolutely fantastic and I fully recommend it to anyone interested in magic.

On Tuesday I posted a photo of Kong impersonating a famous British magician and asked who is it? The answer was Max Somerset (Kudos to Max Somerset, Sophie Evans, Paul Cooke and everyone else involved in The Sorcerer's Apprentice) and a large bar of chocolate is now on its way to the person who was the first to provide the correct name. For some reason, a lot of people said it was Dumbledore. What are you people like? Eh? If Kong and I get bored next week, we might post another photo of him doing another impersonation.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Who Is It?

Here is a photograph of Kong. We were both feeling a bit bored with all the paperwork we've been doing and so we did this photograph.

Kong is impersonating a famous British magician. Who is it?

Monday, 15 March 2010


The Peterborough Society of Magicians are holding their 21st Annual Sale, Exchange and Lecture Day on Sunday the 28th of March 2010.  Doors open at 10.00am and close at 5.00pm and it is to be held at the Millfield Community Centre, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, PE1 2PE. There will be lectures by Martin Cox and Christian Lee and a workshop by Al Smith, the editor The LaBaL. For more details, including on how to register, please visit the website of the Peterborough Society.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Sand Art

Way back when, at a time when the BBC still had the good taste to include magic shows as part of their output, Paul Daniels would include unusual acts as part of his show; one of those acts was sand art.

Fortunately these days, the internet provides access to examples of sand art.  Ilana Yahav is a world renowned sand artist appearing on television from Europe to the Far East. Of course due to British television companies' perverse stand, in complete contradiction to the rest of the world, to avoid broadcasting any act that might come under the label of variety we're unlikely to see her on British television. (Years ago, the then person in charge of the BBC who said that 'variety is dead' further demonstrated the 'accuracy' of his knowledge of public opinion by also saying that Doctor Who was unpopular and cancelled the show, apparently with the view that it would never be aired on our screens again. Hmm.)

Anyway, below is a video of Ilana's work entitled One Man's Dream. Ilana Yahav's website can be found at http://www.sandfantasy.com/

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Patrick Page Memorial 1st March 2010

I received an email today informing me that there will be a memorial for Patrick Page on Monday the 1st of March. For details please visit the Facebook page RIP Pat Page where you will find posts by Sharron Rose, who is assisting the Page family with arrangements. She provides details about the memorial, where to send flowers or how to make charitable donations to St. Christopher's Hospice in memory of Page. Anyone wishing to attend the memorial should contact Sharron Rose using the email address she provides on the Facebook page.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Patrick Page 17 March 1929 to 11 February 2010

Patrick Page died on Thursday the 11th of February after a long illness. Tributes have begun to appear on the internet; Magicweek have a short article on him this week and social networks such as Facebook have had messages expressing the sadness felt at Page's death. Among those were messages by professional magicians such as John Lenahan, Ali Cook, John Archer, Pat Fallon, Paul Gordon and many others.
A Facebook group called RIP Pat Page has been created and the number of members quickly went into hundreds. Some of the members knew Page as a colleague or friend; others, like myself, were inspired by his writings. Like a lot of people interested in magic I bought, as a child, his book The Big Book of Magic (which I still have). If I remember correctly, at the time it caused a bit of a grumble amongst some magicians because it revealed so many secrets to the general public. Page, I am told, was a quick wit ready with a funny remark for all occasions. One Facebooker related the memory of Page being in an audience watching a magician pulling a seemingly endless amount of flowers and other items out of a box. Page dryly remarked "I hope he finds what he's looking for."

Friday, 5 February 2010

Ultra Balloon Modelling

When it comes to balloon modelling the best I can do is make a little dog, teddy bear or squirrel. Even with those, it takes a lot of imagination to picture what they are supposed to be. Balloon modelling tends to be scoffed at by some people interested in magic but it is easy to forget how advanced balloon modelling has become. Here are two photographs of dresses made by balloon modelling. More pictures can be found by clicking here. [The photographs are copyright by the website given in the link.]

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Immaculate Card Magic of Walt Lees

I’ve had a fortunate week for finding and buying second hand books. Among them was The Immaculate Card Magic of Walt Lees edited and photographed by Lewis Ganson. The modest appearance of this thin book doesn’t prepare the reader for the amazing quality of the card magic it contains. There are four card routines explained step by step, in great detail, and illustrated with photographs of each step. At the moment my favourite is the one called Four Blank Cards. The phrase ‘jawdropper’ gets used a lot these days to describe the effect some magic tricks have on an audience. Well the four routines in this book truly are jawdroppers. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a DVD out there somewhere based on the routines in this book.

Another book that is a treat is John Fisher’s Magic Book. This book was written for the general public and not for magicians, for this is a magic book with a difference. Rather than teaching the readers magic tricks to perform to their friends, this book is the magician. The reader simply chooses a trick, gathers together the list of props (household items) and then follows the instructions. A mini-miracle or puzzling swindle will then take place before their very eyes. Some of the tricks have now become familiar to us, many have not and some are variations on tricks we thought we knew all about. They are all very simple and intended merely for the entertainment of the reader. It’s the sort of thing that Lewis Carroll would have loved to have written.

John Fisher's book is, sadly, long out of print. Walt Lees' book is still in print and available from Magic Books By Post.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Chance Photography

Sometimes with photography we don't realise just what we have really taken a picture of until we look at the print or until a friend points out what we have overlooked. There are plenty of examples on the internet and here are just some and one trick photograph.

Here we see how the photograph was actually shot.

[Unfortunately, no information was given about who the photographers were or about copyright. If you recognise your work feel free to contact me and I'll add a copyright notice]

Thursday, 21 January 2010

The LaBaL: January Issue & Facebook Page

Just a quick word about The LaBaL. The January issue is now available. It features reviews of Joshua Jay's Magic: The Complete Course, Magicseen Magazine, David Gemmell's Pasteboard Adventures, Lewis Jones' The Magic Gourmet and Paul Gordon's The Real Secrets of Card Magic. There are articles with opinions on Magic-Con, the public's perception of magic, The Duckworth Lewis Method, Noah Kelly and Stateside News from Paul Hallas. The issue includes a number of card tricks including by Paul Gordon (here are links to Paul’s website and blog) and Chris Wardle (website).

There is now a Facebook page for The LaBaL. It has only just been created and the number of members are therefore low; it would be appreciated if you could join the page, building up the numbers and also provide LaBaL’s publisher with feedback on each issue. It is important to note that The LaBaL is not a glossy magazine; it is a combination of a magazine and a fanzine (Al Smith, the publisher, combines the words and calls it a Magzine) of professional magic in the UK and is for magicians with a serious interest in magic. Details on how to buy a single issue or a full subscription can be obtained by visiting the Facebook page or by viewing the advertisement on the links page of my website.

[The above image is copyright by Al Smith and The LaBaL (c) 2010]

Friday, 15 January 2010

Mystery Magazine for January

The third issue of the new British magic periodical, Mystery Magazine, was delivered this week. Editor Walt Lees and publisher Paul Cooke are certainly pulling out all the stops to provide us with an all colour extravaganza on a monthly basis.

This month the president of The Magic Circle, Jack Delvin, discusses his career and the present status of modern magic in a six page interview. There is also a lengthy review of the International Magic Convention which took place last November. If you have never attended a magic convention, then this article will provide you with a taste of what one is like.

The magazine is, for me, a welcome return of what was best about Abra (Abracadabra magazine) which closed down last year. Paul Cooke, owner of Magic Books By Post, has updated the Abra style of the magazine with an all colour format. The magazine even has its own website with an easy online method of purchasing single issues or a full subscription. While not Abra, it is apparent even after only three issues that it is becoming something more than that and I look forward to seeing what it is like by the end of the year.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

January Updates.

The book The Art of Iugling by Sa Rid, 1612, has been delayed. This has been because I found copies of Sa Rid’s other book Martin Mark-All and I’m including the text in the book to be published. The delay is not a long one. The publication date is now in February. The publication of Hocus Pocus Junior will be not be that long thereafter.

Publication of the first book, and any other book, of the Ancient Greek Drama Series has been suspended for an indefinite period. One of the plays was converted into a film script and I await an answer regarding the option being taken up by someone. I personally do not see it happening but with agents being what they are I am patiently doing as I am bid (for a while) before inevitably forging ahead with my own plans.

I’ve neglected uploading more videos to You Tube. This has simply been down to lack of time. The winter months kept me busier than I expected. The promised videos will begin to be uploaded soon but not at the rate I hoped. I have some academic research which begins in February and which continues through to the summer and this will mean focusing my time on what is absolutely essential. So editing and uploading videos has to take second place for a while.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Entertainment Defying Acts

This week the BBC broadcast the film Death Defying Acts starring Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta Jones. The basic gist of the film is that a fake psychic tries to swindle Harry Houdini out of a $10,000 prize for evidence of contacting his late mother. There were two main areas of disappointment regarding this film.

The first was that the writers did not appear to know very much about Houdini. It was almost as if the story was about another magician entirely. As it turns out, the original writers had a story that did not involve Houdini at all but, as usually happens with the many handed interference - sorry, contribution - of a production team, one of the main characters became Houdini. After which there was very little obvious consultation of any authoritative biography, of which there are many. They instead used the popular urban myths about Houdini that have been bandied about since his death.

Would the film have been more palatable if a fictitious magician was used? Not really and that was the second area of disappointment. My wife Jill, who knows nothing about Houdini and therefore could not be put off by any form of representation of him in a film, was quickly made so bored by the film that even the dreaded washing of the dishes had a greater allure for her. Followed by any other activity she could think of to do. The pace and plot did not particularly grip our attention and the actors had little room in either to have the opportunity to make us feel any empathy for the characters they portrayed.

[The above image is copyright by the film-makers]