Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Great Chocolate Ripoff

Hoo Boy! From, here's an amazing expose of Noka Chocolates, a super-dooper expensive chocolate company. This gripping ten-part (!) series details how the fancy-pants company buys bulk chocolate from French chocolate-maker Bonnat, forms it into undistinguished truffles, and sells it at a markup ranging from 2500-7000%. Worst of all, they have a pattern of deliberate obfuscation on the issue of where their chocolate comes from, suggesting strongly in all their promotional materials and personal appearances that they make it themselves.

The article is currently bouncing all over the Web, including good discussions on Metafilter and BoingBoing. This is the kind of superb online investigative journalism that can kill off a slimy company in one fell swoop.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Amazing Coldplay Cover

Check out 81-year-old Fred Knittle's quietly devastating live cover of Coldplay's I Will Fix You.

The clip is from a documentary about Knittle and New England's octogenarian Young at Heart Chorus that aired on the BBC. Apparently, Kittle was supposed to sing with another man named Bob Salvini -- but Salvini died of a heart attack the week earlier.

YouTube creates another phenom. Knittle must be tickled...


Here's the original Coldplay video, by the way. It's a good song, but I think Coldplay kind of peaked with A Rush of Blood to the Head. Everything I've heard off their latest album seems a bit like Coldplay lite, including this song. I much prefer Knittle's version.

And while you're at YouTube, you definitely want to join the 6.5 million others who have watched this now-famous laughing baby.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Dice Stacking Video

Here's a fun video of a guy doing some pretty cool dice stacking. Dice stacking is sort of an allied art with magic. It's really a form of juggling but since it uses dice it also allies itself with gambling and magic.

At any rate, if you've never seen this stuff, enjoy!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

New Blog - Magic and Conjuring

I'm not normally that excited by the magic blogosphere, but Frederick of Oz has a new blog called Magic and Conjuring that I'm pretty pumped about. His stated goal is to explore the intersection of magic, meaning and art and to take a stance "against the trivialization of magic." He's only been at it for a week and he has already name-checked John Updike, Rumi, and the McBride/Berger/Neale trio.

I've added it to my Bloglines and I look forward to seeing where he goes with this.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Alex Grey's St. Albert on Ebay

Oh lordy, get your checkbooks ready! Psychedelic artist Alex Grey and the Multi-Disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (M.A.P.S.) have teamed up to auction off the last remaining print of St. Albert and the LSD Revelation Revolution, created to honor Dr. Albert Hoffman, the father of LSD. This print is number 1 of 50 and was personally signed by Hoffman shortly after his 100th birthday celebration earlier this year in Basel, Switzerland.

Opening bid is $3000 and all proceeds will be divided evenly between a M.A.P.S.-sponsored Swiss end-of-life research study (the first legal research with LSD in 35 years) and Grey's trippy Chapel of Sacred Mirrors project.

Alex Grey is probably the most gifted visionary artist alive. My favorite painting of his is 1984's Theologue (below, click the image for a bigger, better version at Grey's Web site). I think Theologue is as good a depiction of a transcendent experience as I've ever seen anywhere. I urge you to wander Grey's site if you haven't seen his work. It's truly mind-blowing and very, very beautiful.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thanks, Blogger!

Labels at last! Labels at last! Thank God Almighty I have labels at last!

It always struck me as a tad unseemly to complain about a free service, but the lack of post labels on Blogger has been the one thing that has tempted me to move my blog elsewhere. Without labels, older posts just kind of vanish into the ether of the "Archives" at the right, and most visitors are unlikely to feel much motivation to go digging in there. So the magicians who visit this blog and find hardly any magic-related posts may be disinclined to go searching for my occasional posts on that subject.

No longer. Blogger has finally updated their service with post labels and I have wasted no time in categorizing my stuff and sticking the labels at right. For instance, I have a bunch of magic posts (forty-five, if my labeling is accurate), including six David Blaine posts. The ability to categorize and make easily searchable large amounts of data is one of the hallmarks of the modern Web and it has been a major failing of Blogger that basic tagging hasn't been available until now.

The ability to label posts is pretty fundamental to blogging, and it facilitates certain types of posting. For instance, I threatened long ago to start posting mini-reviews of all the films I see. But the lack of labeling discouraged this enterprise. Blogger didn't offer any way for me to point readers easily to a complete list of all my reviews, and I knew that once posted the reviews would quickly disappear into the ether. I actually considered starting a separate blog just for movie reviews.

All that has changed. It's a new day at PeaceLove's Musings! Stay tuned.

Balloon Art Borat

Russian doctor-turned-balloon-artist Irina made this beautiful Borat in ballons. It's been bouncing all over the Web, including a prominent nod on Defamer.

The movie's extremely funny, too. Uncomfortable but funny.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Awesome Magic Clip - UPDATED!

UPDATE: Thanks to all the commentors, especially Rick Carruth, who identified the magician as Akira Fuji, a well-known (in Japan) close-up worker. Fuji has a video out called "Coins Akira's", which was translated into English by none other than the very clever Nathan Kranzo.

Via Rick Carruth's always-valuable Magic Roadshow, here's the most entertaining six minutes of close-up magic I've seen in a while. Even though I don't know more than two words of Japanese, I can tell that this non-Cyril is a seasoned pro. Lots of strong magic, too!

BTW, someone in the YouTube comments claims his name is Akira, and someone else claims to have met him at a magic convention in Sacramento. So now you know as much as I do. Can anyone out there help identify this talented young magician?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Pollack Breaks the Record

In my recent Picasso Musings post I mentioned that I'd love to have a Jackson Pollack painting in my personal collection. Coincidentally, David Geffen just sold Pollack's 1948 No. 5 to a Mexican financier named David Martinez for a record-breaking $140 million.

The picture above is how the New York Times displayed the painting, although I've never seen a huge Pollack displayed vertically, like this. I wouldn't be surprised if it's supposed to be horizontal.

UPDATE, January 25, 2007: Okay, I've had enough of seeing it vertical. I'm quite sure the painting should look like this:

Pollack is an acquired taste, but once he grabs hold of you his greatest works don't let go easily. I'm not normally envious of super-wealth, but this is one 4' x 8' painting I'd like to have on my wall.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Miscellaneous Musings

1. Via Wonkette: Over half or Americans now favor impeachment for President Bush. Isn't that called a "mandate?"

2. Via CNN: SF hero Craig Newmark of Craigslist has no intention of selling the site anytime soon. This represents a nearly supernatural resistance to the lure of super-dooper weath. Think about it for a moment. Could you resist a nine (or ten) figure offer dangled in front of you?

Also in the above article is the tidbit that MySpace, which Rupert Murdoch's News Corp bought less than a year ago for $580 million, is now valued at $15 billion -- a decent ROI by most standards.

3. NORML has a just come out with an extensive review of the recent scientific literature (2000-2006) on medical marijuana . There have been over 700 articles in the first part of 2006 alone, mostly from countries other than our own. Conditions for which cannibis and cannabinoids show promise include Alzheimers, Cancer, and Hepatitis C.

No wonder the powers-that-be fight it so ferociously.

In related news, the Drug War Clock tallies over 643,000 people arrested for cannabis offenses so far this year.

And finally:

4. Seen across the street: These folks built this cool wheeled wooden ship-thingy to promote the Palo Alto premiere of 9/11 Press for Truth, a film about the struggle between grieving 9/11 families and the White House.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

New Year's Eve Tickets Available Now!

I'm pretty excited about my upcoming New Year's Eve show! It should be quite a blowout; get your tickets early!


Picasso Musings

Regular readers might remember my post about the Online Picasso Project, a delirous joy for fans of that seminal artist. Today comes a double shocker.

First, I'm amazed that my absolute favorite Picasso, La Reve (The Dream) (1932) is in private hands. Casino magnate Steve Wynn owns it as part of his vast collection.

I'm pretty much sold on Picasso as the most important visual artist of the first half of the twentieth century (I think a good argument could be made that Andy Warhol holds that distinction for the second half). Even before he invented Cubism and changed all the rules of visual expression, Picasso was already the supernaturally talented painter of a slew of Blue Period masterpieces like The Old Guitarist (1903) and The Tragedy (1903) (below), both painted when he was only twenty-two, as well as the amazing Rose Period paintings like The Family of Saltimbanques (1905) (also below) and many others.

At the ripe old age of twenty-six Picasso invented Cubism, a paradigm shift so tectonic that he could hardly match it again, although he continued to create brilliant work right up to his death in 1973 at the age of ninety-two.

I'm a huge Cubism nut and I think Picasso brought a more focused intensity, more genius, really, to his Cubist works than any other artist ever managed. Check out the spare monochromatic complexity of his famous 1910 portrait of the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, on the right.

But for sheer beauty -- in form, color balance, sensuality, and passion -- I'll take La Reve any day. Painted when Picasso was fifty-one, this painting of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter is a true work of love. Marie-Thérèse never looked so beautiful; check out his other portraits from the same year if you don't believe me. The work is suffused with an intense eroticism; note the dual reading as both a front portrait and a profile view with penis -- presumably the artist's -- above her face.

La Reve is the Picasso I'd most like to have hanging on my wall at home (next to Matisse's The Dance, Jackson Pollack's Lavender Mist, and something by Jasper Johns -- as long as I'm designing my dream collection).

I was shocked to discover that La Reve is privately owned. That was the first surprise. Then I had an extra pang when I read the news today that Wynn was going to sell it (for a record $139 million) until he accidentally put his elbow through it while showing it to some celebrity friends.

Nora Ephron was there, and she blogged about it here. The New Yorker also has a nice story about the incident.

I can't imagine actually owning such a famous masterpiece in the first place. But if I did own La Reve, I certainly can't see myself ever selling it (assuming that, like Wynn, that I didn't really need an extra $139 million). Donate it to a museum, sure. But sell it to another wealthy private collector? I mean, why?

Be that as it may, I think it would definitely ruin my whole week if I accidentally punched a hole in it. Maybe Wynn needed that little lesson to remind him of why he collects great art in the first place. He and his wife have decided to repair La Reve and keep it after all.

Now isn't that a touching story?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Trippy Hubble Deep Field Video

Here's a mind-blowing short film about the Hubble Deep Field image from the edge of the universe 78-odd billion light years out. The numbers are, well, astronomical.

Link via Rick Carruth's Magic Roadshow.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

We Need a "Son of Sam" Law for Wars

Alternet has an excellent article tracking The Ten Most Brazen War Profiteers. This got me to thinking. Isn't it time we removed the profit motive from war?

Son of Sam laws, named after the infamous New York serial killer of the late 1970s, are designed to prevent criminals from profiting from any work of art or literature arising from their action -- and to allow the victims of their crimes to claim the profits. Son of Sam laws have run into constitutional trouble arising from their ostensible restrictions on free speech, but I see no such problem with a law prohibiting companies or individuals from profiting from war.

In fact, such a law would have the effect of preventing wars, as the military industrial complex would have a strong disincentive to ever use the product of its work. The Lockheeds and General Dynamics, the Halliburtons and Bechtels of the world would eventually have to move more thoroughly into non war-related fields. Imagine a world in which Bechtel turns down a multi-billion-dollar contract because they can't make any money on it!

A German proverb states:

A great war leaves the country with three armies - an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves.

Let's help prevent the first two by eliminating the third.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Olbermann Slams Rumsfeld

Keith Olbermann has his Edward R. Murrow moment!

Regular readers will remember how I rang in the new year lauding Olbermann in these pages. Well, he's at it again and he's even more gloves off -- and his target is a much bigger and more important fish. I know it's only cable but still, MSNBC is no Pacifica...

Check it out here.


Via PopURLs.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Greatest. Movie. Pan. Ever.

I haven't seen Barry Levinson's Sphere and the review to the left (click on it to read it, and boy is it worth reading) doesn't exactly make me want to. But the review sure explains a lot.

By the way, this isn't exactly worksafe. You have been warned.


People frequently ask me where I find all this stuff. Well, below I tip one of my not-so-secret sources.

One of the most exciting developments of the last year or so is the rise of "collaborative filtering" sites that aggragate the best and most referenced URLs on the Web. This is a very Web 2.0 idea, the idea of using the collective intelligence of millions of Web users as a filter to find the best and most important sites out there at any given time. Sites like digg,, slashdot, and metafilter make it easy to track the global brain -- or at least keep up with whatever the digerati is reading from moment to moment.

PopURLs is a fantastic site that collects the best links from a half a dozen collaborative filters, along with the hottest videos on YouTube and iFilm and some of the most viewed new photosets on flickr.

PopURLs is always one of my first stops on the Web when I have time to kill and an appetite for the new.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bizzaro's Promo

Magician and fellow blogger Bizzaro of Why Am I Stuck In Magician's Hell? has posted his new promo online and it's a blast. I've been in magic for a very very long time and it's rare for me to see a promo that actually makes me want to see the magician.

Check it out here; the boy's got talent!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Power of Nightmares

Yikes! It's been awhile since my last post! Ah well, time flies when you're having fun. I had surgery for a hernia a couple of weeks ago, so I've been kind of preoccupied with that. My Dad came for a visit to keep me company while I recovered, so that was fun having some one-on-one time with him.

At any rate, here at last is the information on how you can see the documentary I alluded to in my last post. It's a three-hour BBC documentary by Adam Curtis called The Power of Nightmares and -- bless the 'Net again! -- it's available to watch for free right now on Google Video.

I first heard about this extraordinary series when Andrew O'Hehir of Salon gave it a glowing review, calling it the most important political documentary of this decade, and perhaps of my lifetime.

O'Hehir goes on to say:

And as for broadcast on American television, I'm told that will happen, let's see, approximately 5,000 years after pigs first begin to fly across the frozen wastelands of hell. It's probably illegal not just to watch, but also to read about or think about. You and I are both committing treason right now.

Essentially, Curtis' thesis is that the current technique of the American political system is to promulgate fear of a largely non-existent terrorist threat. The Power of Nightmares starts out in 1949 when an Egyptian named Sayyid Qutb, studying in Colorado, is horrified by the decadence he sees around him and winds up as the spiritual founder of Islamic Jihad. In parallel at the University of Chicago, professor Leo Strauss, a German Jew who had fled Hitler and settled in the U.S., is experiencing a similar reaction and founding the neo-conservative movement. Curtis' great insight is that each of these two extremists needs the other to justify their own existence.

The Power of Nightmares includes interviews with many of the key players over the last fifty years. Curtis demonstrates time and again the ways in which high-level members of the U.S. intelligence service and the White House exaggerated or simply lied outright about the capability and threat of the enemy. He accomplishes this through a darkly satiric web of stock footage from all over the place (the ridiculous state of legal clearances, as O'Hehir points out, is another reason why this might never show in the U.S.). The Power of Nightmares is a grand, sweeping effort -- a blast to watch, and if even half of Curtis' argument holds water, very very damning, too.

Part One: "Baby It's Cold Outside"

Part Two: "The Phantom Victory"

Part Three: "Shadows in the Cave"

By the way, here's the BBC's blurb on the 3-part documentary, in which they sum it up thusly:

In a new series, the Power of Nightmares explores how the idea that we are threatened by a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion.

I urge you to check out this amazing documentary before it disappears from the Web.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Magician (1900)

My old acquaintance Tom Frank, who I wrote about a while ago, has pulled up stakes in Seattle and moved back to L.A. to be with his new love and start the next chapter of his life. In the process, he has discontinued his intensly personal diary-cum-blog Coming Through the Haze and started up a new blog about his L.A. experience, Reverie.

His latest post points to The Magician, a delightful Edison company short from 1900 which contains some early special fx work. Would that we could all work such wonders live!

Thanks Tom! And good luck with your new life!


Coming up next: The documentary that Salon's Andrew O'Hehir called "...the most important political documentary of this decade, and perhaps of my lifetime" is available to watch online!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Flatlife, plus Five More Minutes of Mitch

I stumbled across this by accident (isn't that how the Net usually works?) and just had to pass it along. Flatlife is a short animated film by one Jonas Geirnaert, who was 21 when he submitted it to Cannes as a lark and was as surprised as anyone when it won best short animated film. It's a charming slice-of-life in an apartment complex, cleverly conceived and beautifully executed.

Five More Minutes of Mitch features the brillliantly trippy comic Mitch Hedberg, whose wacked-out stoner observations always overlaid an essential sweetness. Hedberg died of a drug overdose a year ago March at the age of 37, which gives this clip a sad undercurrent.

His widow, comedian Lynn Shawcrowft, has a moving personal blog here.



I like vending machines, because snacks are better when they fall. If I buy a candy bar at the store oftentimes I will drop it, so that it achieves its maximum flavor potential.

I'm gonna fix that last joke by taking out all the words and adding new ones.

I like to hold the microphone cord like this, I pinch it together, then I let it go, then you hear a whole bunch of jokes at once.

This one guy said, "Look at that girl. She's got a nice butt." I said, "Yeah, I bet she can sit down excellently!"

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Big Snit

The Big Snit (1985), a wonderfully loopy short animated film by Richard Condie, is now online! I saw this when it first came out, as part of a feature-length "Animation Festival," and it was without a doubt the flagship piece of the festival. It still holds up beautifully, with its off-kilter rythms and its alternating surreal poetry and apocolyptic love story -- a gem.

The Big Snit was produced by the fantastic National Film Board of Canada, and they have put it and forty-nine other shorts online for free here. Thanks NFB! (And thanks BoingBoing for the heads up!)


It appears my blog may now be banned in much of India. Well actually, all blogs on Blogger and Typepad and anything on Geocities -- and maybe a lot of other domains. Check BoingBoing's ongoing coverage for up-to-date reports on this heinous censorship.

The rise of national Net censorship is a growing problem; thanks to BoingBoing for publicizing this problem with their excellent coverage.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pistachio Pudding

Oh man! Here's a funny little short called Pistachio Pudding, by one "needmoreshrooms" (don't we all?). I don't know anything about this kid except that he has a great, bizarre sense of humor and he's a disciplined editor. The pacing is what sells this so well.

Once again, I love YouTube and all the technology that has enabled talented people the world over to generate this kind of content. A 24-year-old kid with a camera and a computer can get out there and have fun and make something lively, wacky, and -- most importantly -- watchable.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

1979 John Lasseter Student Film

YouTube does it again! Someone has posted The Lady and the Lamp, a hand-drawn animated short that John Lasseter made in 1979 while a student at CalArts. It's an impressive work, showing the strong feel for character, especially in normally inanimate objects, that marks his later work in the Toy Story movies and his current offering Cars. And it's quite funny and inventive, too -- also Lasseter hallmarks.

I first noticed Lasseter way back in 1986 (!) when I saw his now-famous Luxo Jr., which was the first really great fully digital short animation (and Pixar's first film). I had seen plenty of other computer animation prior to Luxo Jr., but nothing succeeded dramatically the way this one did. The "adult" lamp dealing with the frisky "kid" lamp was priceless; the computer pretty much got out of the way.

Lasseter received an Academy Award nomination for the film, the first CGI film to do so. How exciting to see that he was animating lamps the old fashioned way years before Luxo Jr.!


Thanks again, BoingBoing!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Black Ops and the Iraq War

Craig Unger over at Vanity Fair has written an amazing article on the successful lies and "black ops" that led to the Iraq War. The article details the labyrinthine web of connections through elements of Italy's intelligence community all the way to the White House. Sample text:

For more than two years it has been widely reported that the U.S. invaded Iraq because of intelligence failures. But in fact it is far more likely that the Iraq war started because of an extraordinary intelligence success—specifically, an astoundingly effective campaign of disinformation, or black propaganda, which led the White House, the Pentagon, Britain's M.I.6 intelligence service, and thousands of outlets in the American media to promote the falsehood that Saddam Hussein's nuclear-weapons program posed a grave risk to the United States.

The Bush administration made other false charges about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.)—that Iraq had acquired aluminum tubes suitable for centrifuges, that Saddam was in league with al-Qaeda, that he had mobile weapons labs, and so forth. But the Niger claim, unlike other allegations, can't be dismissed as an innocent error or blamed on ambiguous data. "This wasn't an accident," says Milt Bearden, a 30-year C.I.A. veteran who was a station chief in Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, and Germany, and the head of the Soviet–East European division. "This wasn't 15 monkeys in a room with typewriters."


Link via Glenn Greenwald's excellent Unclaimed Territory blog, which pointed me to journalist David Neiwert's superb post on his Orcinus blog. Neiwert sums up the Vanity Fair article better than I do; it's a good place to start.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Art of Science 2

Faithful readers will no doubt remember Princeton's "Art of Science" contest, which I posted about back in July. Well, they're at it again; the 2nd annual Art of Science contest is over, and the winners and runner-ups are available for viewing. Easter Bonnet (pictured) is a particular standout; it's a laser etching with a speck of dust and has a diameter about half that of a human hair.

Interior Vacuum Vessel NSTX is also pretty cool, depicting a magnetic fusion device at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

And Defense to Offense is a dazzling psychedelic vision of Venezuelan butterflies.

Amazing Castle Optical Illusion

Via BoingBoing (again), here's an amazingly trippy visual illusion I've never seen before. Stare at the negative image of the castle for twenty or thirty seconds then, while staring at the black dot in the middle, move the mouse over the pic. The photo appears to be in color until you move your eyes, when it becomes clear that it's actually a black and white photo.

This one feels like a magic trick; the color literally vanishes right before your eyes! But, to paraphrase Doug Henning, "it's only an illusion."

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Juggling in an Eight-Foot Glass Cone

Fellow magic blogger Pagliacci linked to this lovely video of a juggler named Greg Kennedy juggling a boatload of balls inside an eight-foot glass cone. This reminds me of Michael Moshen's seminal work -- poetic, geometric, and very beautiful to contemplate.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Going Deep

Via BoingBoing, here's a hypnotic photo-in-photo-in-photo ad infinitum. Very trippy.

Click away!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Dude, this carwash sucks!

This happened across the street. A lady demolished a fire hydrant and produced a fountain.

The door is open for a reason, by the way. The side window is smashed (the airbags deployed, but the woman and her kids got out fine). So when they got her out and closed the door, the car immediately began filling up with water. Thus, the open door for drainage.

Anybody wanna' buy a very very very clean used car?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

President Gore Addresses the Nation - UPDATED

Here's President Gore giving his State of the Union Address [Dead link. See update.] six years into his presidency.


UPDATE: The video has been removed from YouTube "due to copyright infringement." In other words, NBC is too stupid to realize that the posting of a great video pulled from Saturday Night Live is the key to viral marketing and the major reason why SNL has become hip again (via sites like YouTube and the reposting of Lonely Island hits like "Lazy Sunday" -- which NBC also forced YouTube to remove -- and the hilarious "Natalie Portman Gangsta Rap").

Gore's self-sendup video is currently available on the Crooks and Liars site here.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blaine and Me

In the comments to my last post, Anonymous says, I'd be right shocked if ever the words "I might have been mistaken" were ever to leave your keyboard.

Actually, I have no problem admitting when I'm wrong; in fact, I have a whole list of narrow beliefs I used to hold which have been replaced by broader, more nuanced views.

I was absolutely, unequivocally mistaken about Blaine for years
(there, I said it). In the past I always felt a tremendous ambivalence about him. On the one hand, I could see that he blew people away and fostered a love of magic in every layperson he encountered. On the other hand, I was brainwashed by the typical magician line that he's an average talent, he uses stooges and trick photography, he's just lucky, etc. I reconciled those two views with the standard response to cognitive dissonance: I ignored them.

I now recognize that like many other magicians I, too, was blinded by jealousy. I resented that he was better looking than me, more successful, dated the beautiful women I'd like to date, got the reactions I'd love to get. And I resented that he did standard material and became rich and successful with it. My reaction had nothing to do with Blaine, of course, and everything to do with me. Blaine, as I stated in my very first post on the subject, is a mirror in which inferior magicians see their own inadequacies.

When Blaine first broke out onto the national stage, I had been a serious close-up magician for over twenty years. I had worked in restaurants, done street magic, worked in one of the top magic shops in the country, performed at the Magic Castle a bunch of times -- in short, I was an experienced and talented magician, pretty consistently well-liked by my audiences. But I seldom got the kind of reaction Blaine got. I seldom had people wonder seriously if I was real. I performed occasionally for celebrities in L.A., but I never had them adopt me as one of their own and insist I accompany them to their cool hangouts. Blaine did all that -- and then got a TV show and blew away the world.

I'm ashamed to admit that while I never trash-talked Blaine to laypeople, I would often provide a typical magician response along the lines of, "He's pretty good. He does a lot of standard material that I've been doing for years, so it's funny to see him getting these TV shows..." In other words, damning with faint praise.

It's only in the last few years that I lifted the veil off my eyes and recognized Blaine for the genius he is. Once I had this shift in consciousness, Blaine's overwhelming contribution to the world of magic became clear. His influence on every magician who came along after him is incalculable; it's hardly a stretch to define Street Magic as year zero of the new magic renaissance.

I have no problem, by the way, with people who simply don't care for Blaine. But the magic boards are still, almost a decade later, filled with people referring to him as a no-talent hack and a fraud, which seems preposterously off base. I now see that the vitriol directed at Blaine has nothing to do with him and everything to do with the jealousy and extreme narrow-mindedness of the magic community at large. Blaine blows away laypeople more deeply than any magician in recent memory. He does this not by performing the most flawless Erdnase Shift, but rather through his extraordinary charisma and showmanship. For this he should be embraced as a teacher

Hatred and contempt directed at a performer who accomplishes magic for laypeople so well deserves to be examined. Too bad the magic community as a whole seems incapable of such introspection.

Burden to Ono to Blaine

In the comments to my recent MCJ on Blaine post, JB makes an important point about Blaine's willingness to sacrifice almost everything for his art. The magic boards are full of skeptics trying to convince themselves and others that the whole aquarium stunt was just a trick (maybe a seven-day 3D holographic projection while Blaine sat at home watching cable?), but it's quite obvious that he essentially did what he said he did. It also seemed pretty clear to me that his failure at the end was not planned, that he was geniunely moved by the love from the crowd (those tears were real), and that he really does undergo extraordinary mental, physical, and spiritual experiences while carrying out his performances. How could you spend 60 hours in a block of ice, 44 days fasting in a suspended glass box, or 7 days on public display underwater and NOT learn something?

Chris Burden

In a way, Blaine really belongs in the category of "conceptual artist," with an obvious influence being the artist Chris Burden. Burden is most famous for 1971's Shoot, in which he had a friend, yes, shoot him in the arm. Although it was ostensibly a commentary about Vietnam and our culture of violence, Burden's personal exploration of pain and death has resonances far beyond the merely political.

Fortunately, Blaine seems uninterested in physical mutilation as self-expression. Unlike, say, Criss Angel, Blaine never reveals the slightest trace of machismo, or even body centrism. He trains intensively to prepare for his stunt performances, but his goal is never to punish his body. It's no coincidence, of course, that he displays his body at every turn as a way to create aesthetic resonance in his work via the physical beauty of his body. Nevertheless, Blaine seems like the kind of guy who would willingly lose fifty pounds, or gain it, if it facilitated a performance.

Can you see Criss Angel deliberately losing fifty pounds off that sculpted body in order to survive a long, drawn-out performance? Angel is much more of a magician and stuntman than Blaine. Blaine is concerned mainly with head spaces and spiritual short, with conceptual art.

Chris Burden's Five Day Locker Piece is a direct antecedent to Blaine:

Chris Burden
Five Day Locker Piece
University of California, Irvine:
April 26-30, 1971

I was locked in locker number 5 for five consecutive days and did not leave the locker during this time. The locker measured two feet high, two feet wide, and three feet deep. I stopped eating several days prior to entry. The locker directly above me contained five gallons of bottled water; the locker below me contained an empty five gallon bottle.

I don't know if Five Day Locker Piece is a work of conceptual art, performance art, or political theater, but there's something very beautiful about that description, about the symmetry of the bottles above and below, and about the way the whole work is constrained and contained. If Burden were performing that in my neck of the woods, I might be drawn to pay those lockers a visit, just to be in the presence of an ongoing work of Art.

That same energy pervades Blaine's work. For Drowned Alive, Blaine added a powerful visual component. The sight of this extraordinary guy magnified by the curve of the tank was tremendously evocative. I wish I could have been in New York when Blaine was in that aquarium. I would have loved to visit him.

Yet Blaine has distinguished himself by accomplishing something none of the conceptual artists of the past managed; he figured out how to become famous and beloved before he began his stunts. He became a celebrity by making friends with the world, by bringing joy and wonder into peoples' lives. As a result, Blaine brings a tremendous amount of goodwill to the table, not just from the intelligensia and the art-academy elites, but from "regular" people as well.

Yoko Ono

Long before she met John Lennon, Yoko Ono was a fairly well-known member of the Fluxus art movement, a "famous for fifteen people" conceptual artist in the elite art world. I recently watched a moving short film of Yoko Ono's Cut Piece, a 1965 performance in which Ono sat on the stage at Carnegie Hall and invited audience members to come up and cut off pieces of her clothing. The piece encompasses many themes -- about gender, violence, sensuality and sexuality, among others. Its context, the rarified art world of New York, ensured that it would be analyzed and dissected, that viewers would attempt to extract meaning from the work. That it would be taken seriously.

The fact that Cut Piece has a frivolous, occasionally playful quality does not detract from its essential seriousness as a work of art. The pre-Lennon Ono is not playing games, and she's not wasting her time (and a perfectly good dress) for nothing. She has something to say, and this is her way of communicating it.

As soon as Ono hooked up with Lennon, and her fame grew exponentially outside of the intelligensia, the criticism began. The experimental works on which she had earned her reputation (and totally captivated the most cerebral, difficult of the Beatles) were exposed to a larger audience unschooled in the language of conceptual and performance art. The mainstream turned against Ono with astonishing viciousness (the fact that she was widely -- and incorrectly -- perceived as having caused the breakup of the Beatles didn't help). She was attacked as a no-talent hack, a shameless self-promoter who simply rode the coattails of her superstar husband.

David Blaine

Interestingly, Blaine is in a similar situation; his fame has exposed his conceptual art to a society unprepared to take it seriously.

David Blaine is in a no-win situation with critics. The moment he branches off into truly unique and daring territory, he is maligned as a shameless self-promoter. It's as if now that Blaine is famous he is no longer allowed to do conceptual art. I don't know if the New York art world embraces Blaine, but they certainly should. Of course, if they are as driven by jealousy as the magic world they probably hate him, too.

Andy of MCJ nailed it in the post I cited at the beginning; the vitriol directed at Blaine tells us more about the haters than about the Artist. Chris Burden was widely ridiculed for Shoot, since it's easier to dismiss and ignore than to wonder why an intelligent person would have himself shot as an artistic statement. Yoko Ono's screeching and wailing performances are similarly reviled as "bad music," a stance which so obviously misses the point that it hardly deserves to be considered as serious criticism.

David Blaine's every move is centered around presenting a vision of humanity that is generous and expansive, and his work encompasses some of the deepest, most personal exploration imaginable, presented in the most public possible manner. And yet he is presumptively dismissed by a large swath of the chattering class, including many people who would embrace Blaine as a genius -- if only he were an penniless conceptual artist submerged in an aquarium in an uptown gallery.


There is an astonishing moment in the Drowned Alive special, in which Blaine is interviewing Aaron Ralston, the 27 year-old hiker who cut off his own arm in order to free himself from a boulder that had him trapped. Ralston recounts how he began to lose all hope of rescue. He considered cutting off his own arm, but he only had a cheap, lightweight knife that would never make it through his bone.

Then Ralston discovered that he could get the boulder under which he was trapped to move. The young hiker knew that he would not be able to get it off his arm, but he realized that he could use the boulder to crush his bones, which would facilitate cutting off his arm.

As he pulled the boulder over his arm, Ralston relates, the pain was so excruciating that his very definition of pain had to be recalibrated. And yet, he claims that it was also the most liberating moment of his life. He literally felt reborn in that moment, and empowered. Ralston knew in that moment that he would save himself and live.

This is the key moment in the Drowned Alive special, since it describes the transmutation of exteme situations into profound spiritual epiphanies. David Blaine is a spiritual seeker, a man who seeks the light at the end of his carefully constructed tunnels. And he invites his audience to watch his every move, to participate with their love and encouragement.

David Blaine did it all on his own. He is a famous, rich conceptual artist and he definitely has something to say. He uses magic as one of his expressive tools, but he also uses endurance "stunts," which are really a form of performance art.

Blaine doesn't talk about meaning very much, except in the most general terms. He says he likes to push himself, to explore the limits of his abilities. But he never engages in deep philosophical or aesthetic discussions about his themes and purpose, which leads shallow naysayers to conclude that he has none.

Utter foolishness. Blaine is way too smart to punish himself for nothing.

He is also regularly dismissed as a con man, or a shameless publicity hound; he tortures himself with these stunts, the saying goes, and laughs all the way to the bank.

David Blaine doesn't need to do such things anymore. He doesn't need the money and he doesn't need the grief.

His fame is entirely earned. He has performed some of the most extreme conceptual art ever, and done so with grand showmanship, and a beautiful and inspiring sense of theater. Best of all (and most annoying to the Blaine bashers), Blaine never tries to ascribe any huge meaning to his performance pieces. He just does them and lets the world react.

That, my friends, is High Art.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Gnarls Barkley sings "Crazy" (live)

I hardly have a story here, except that I fell in love with Crazy the moment I first heard it. "Gnarls Barkley" consists of the vastly gifted rapper/R&B singer Cee-Lo and the equally formidable DJ Dangermouse, creator of the infamous Beatles/Jay Z mashup The Grey Album. Their Gnarls Barkley album St. Elsewhere just came out last month, although Crazy has been bouncing around for a while. Crazy has the historical distinction of becoming the first song in England to become a Number One hit based solely on digital sales.

This stupendous live version really shows off the soaring, angelic performance of Cee-Lo, anchored by the tight rythmic construction that Dangermouse brings to the table (and note how cool the Mouse looks behind the keyboards!).

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Evolution of Dance Updated!

I guess I'm a little late to the game, since I see on the YouTube page that the six-minute The Evolution of Dance has been viewed just shy of five million times. That should tell you all you need to know; the collaborative nature of Web 2.0 means that genuine crowd pleasers rise to the top, voted on by five million clicks from all over the world.

I'm sure it's all over the Web by now, but I'll post it anyway, since it's a blast -- and "Inspirational Comedian" Judson Laipply is definitely a talented guy.


Update: September 9, 2006. This clip has now been viewed 32 million times. Think about that.


Hat Tip, BTW, to MySpace buddy Wisteria for the heads up.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

MCJ on Blaine (from 2004)

Okay, I swear I'm not trying to be lazy here, posting the words of others. But some things are worth revisiting. Back in December, I wrote glowingly about the now-defunct "Magic Circle Jerk" blog (original post, and follow-up) and it's anonymous maestro Andy. Well, Andy sent me an email last night urging me to keep up the good fight with regards Blaine, and he included his very funny cut-through-the-bullshit post on Blaine from 2004. I had so much fun rereading it that I asked and received permission to post it here.

If anything, this post is even more relevant today than it was two+ years ago. The naysayers hatered of Blaine has deepened. Check the Cafe and the Genii Forum.

I still have no idea who Andy is, by the way. So don't ask.

When you're done reading this, I recommend you check out John LeBlanc's thoughtful Blaine posts on his excellent Escamoteurettes blog. It's nice to see I'm not alone...


Thursday, January 22, 2004
Andy's Take On Tired Topics: David Blaine

I like David Blaine.

Shhhhh. Don't talk to me. I'm a nerd.

Oh, yeah, that's right, I like David Blaine. I enjoy his specials, I have his DVD, I've read his book. What does this say about me? I don't think it says a whole hell of a lot. Maybe that I enjoy watching magic. I like to watch people freak out. I don't know.

Freud says that in order to find out about a person, we shouldn't ask them what they like, we should ask them what they dislike.

Comedian/writer Ali Farahnakian had a great show here in NYC called "Word of Mouth" and he talked about how when people are in traffic slamming on their horn, what we hear is-- HONK HONK "Hey fuck you, buddy" HONK HONK "C'mon. Move it, Asshole!" But what they're really saying is--HONK HONK "Somebody please pay attention to me!" HONK HONK "Somebody love me!"

So I always wonder what people are really saying when they constantly bitch about Blaine. I mean, I love music, but I hate shitty groups like Matchbox 20. I think they're lame and kind of worthless. But every time someone mentions Matchbox 20 or I hear a song by them I don't get all bothered by it. I just realize people have different tastes and some people like shitty, weak, pseudo-rock and roll.

In this thread on The Magic Cafe, "Macgyver" neatly lists the reasons why people dislike Blaine (He pretends he's listing other people's reasons, but they're clearly also his). They're almost all completely ridiculous. Let's take a look:

1. Constant use of plants and stooges-- Actually, he doesn't constantly use plants and stooges. Just because you don't understand how he accomplished a trick, that doesn't mean it utilized a plant or a stooge.

2. Camera tricks. -- Oh, come on. He used a camera trick to enhance the Balducci (levitation) for television. But ultimately he was trying to dramatically represent what the spectators were actually reacting to. Let's say you could make yourself disappear but it could only be performed for a couple of people at a particular angle. You're making your TV special and you realize that if you just film your disappearance it will be obvious to the television audience what is happening. But you don't want to lose the disappearance because the reaction to it was so fantastic. So you do a camera trick for the disappearance and intersperse it with the spectators reactions to the real disappearance. Is that so awful? Maybe. I can understand if you're completely anti-camera tricks. But somehow I don't think the vitriol reserved for Blaine stems from his performance of the Balducci.

3. Doing tricks that are store bought and require little skill, such as ID/Svengali/coin bite, ect. -- I have a theory. I don't think people were mad because Blaine was doing tricks that they could do. I think people got mad because Blaine was doing tricks that they could do, but they don't. In other words, many people bought an Invisible Deck when they first got into magic, but eventually stopped doing it and got into more complicated, convoluted tricks. Then they see Blaine on TV doing tricks that they disregarded years ago, and in their heads they're thinking "Why the hell am I spending all this time trying to do an invisible pass?" And that's a good question, why are you spending all that time trying to perfect an invisible pass? But that might be a difficult question to answer, so instead I think you should probably just piss on Blaine for taking bites out of quarters.

And honestly, this should have been a happy day for magicians. Here is someone getting national exposure and doing tricks that we can duplicate. If you weren't able to turn that into a positive for yourself without denigrating Blaine, then I'm afraid your creativity is rather sterile.

4. Having no story or patter, he keeps saying "look, look, look. Watch this, Watch here, look here, look, look, look." -- You know what I hate? Fucking stories and patter. Seriously, that stuff is way overrated. I don't need someone who's all like, "The last time I was India, I purchased this mysterious box." If I were a regular spectator I'd think, "Show me the trick, but don't patronize me, asshole." I think the longer you're involved in magic the more you believe you need some kind of story to accompany a trick. When you've seen twisting the aces a million times you begin to think, "Hey, this might be better if I wrapped it in a story about Paul Revere's midnight ride." But most times, it's not. It's really not. I agree that a trick benefits from context, but I don't think that a story or intricate patter is required. In David Blaine's case, the whole context of his performance is that he is someone who comes to you with no prelude, performs something impossible for you, then he leaves. The character is meant to be mysterious. About the best idea for fucking up the character he's trying to create would be for him to come up and say, "Good evening, my name is David Blaine and I'm here to show you some wondrous magical-merriment! Now, not long ago I was in the attic of a haunted house when a leprechaun gave me this coin..."

5. The Stunts... which have nothing to do with magic, only to get him more TV coverage and specials. --Oh, my god. Someone in the entertainment industry who does things to get himself more tv coverage and specials? For shame, Mr. Blaine. For shame. And what's wrong with the stunts? I like the notion that he's pushing himself to the limits of his endurance. I think that's interesting. Maybe it's not technically magical, but here's the way I look at it: Seeing a guy standing on a pole for 3 days when he could conceivably fall and smash his head on the pavement seems much more impossible than having someone accurately predict which one of four cards I would think of (i.e. B'wave). But that shows what I know, because the same people who think the stunts are lame think B'wave is genius.

6. He calls strolling magic, "street magic", which it isn't. Street magic is an art and Blaine alienated MANY street magicians by referring to what he does as street magic. --Jesus Christ, now you're just being silly. Really, that's what you have a problem with? The fact that he calls magic that he is performing on the street, Street Magic? You're beginning to betray your real motivations.

7. He comes across looking for the screaming spectator, and trying to be cool (which he is). Not for entertaining those specific people, but to make himself appear special and weird out their sense of reality. --I don't even really understand what this means, but if you're saying that he looks for people to get good reactions from. Well, asshole, you're right. HE'S TAPING A FUCKING TV SHOW!

8. He created many Blaine-wannabe's which do nothing but expose magic and go around showing friends BAD magic. --True. But don't blame him because there are a lot of unimaginative people out there.

Now, I'm not saying everyone has to like David Blaine, but the reason a lot of people come off as jealous when they complain about him is that their complaints seem to shift with Blaine's interests.

-When he first started out people complained that he was doing simple tricks right off the shelf that they could do themselves.
-When he stopped doing simple tricks off the shelf the same people complained that he was now doing tricks that they couldn't. "Oh yeah, well if I had a gimmicked store window, I could reach in there too."
-When he does his stunts people say, "That's not magic." But at the same time they say, "He's not really doing it."

In other words, no matter what this guy does people piss on him. So that's why their indignance seems somewhat hollow.

My favorite thing is when Blaine was hanging in the box in England and all these people would get on the message boards and say, "Nobody here even cares about Blaine. It's a bore quite frankly. All the people I talk to about him think that he's an idiot and that his stunt is stupid." Whenever someone goes out of their way to tell you how little they care about something, you can be pretty certain they're full of shit. You may say you don't care about Blaine, and that you find the whole thing boring, but the fact that you're talking to your friends about him and going onto message boards to read and write posts about him reveals a different truth.

If you don't like Blaine, that's great. Don't watch his shows. Don't read about him. But as with the other topics this week, letting everyone know how much you don't like Blaine is probably a waste of some precious resources. You come off not looking like the more talented, cool, unimpressed, person you believe you do. You come off as a person saying, "Somebody please pay attention to me! Somebody love me!"
Posted by: Andy / 5:59 PM

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Blaine - Drowned Alive

The anti-Blaine contingent is having a field day with his failure to hold his breath for nine minutes (he managed "only" 7 minutes, 10 seconds) after staying submerged on public display in a tank of water for a week. The simple fact is this was a beautiful and ballsy stunt, a great work of performance art that few others would ever even attempt. As Racherbaumer pointed out in the previous post (reprinted from back in 2000!), can you think of any other genuine superstar with the courage and guts to risk not only his reputation, but also his physical health, for something like this?

David Blaine is without serious question the most important magician since Houdini, and he is redefining the boundaries of magic, stunts, and performance art. Many magicians are aparently too jealous and small-minded to understand why he's so great. Last night's special featured some of the most cutting-edge magic ever performed on television, capped by an extraordinarily brave and grueling feat of endurance.

Best of all, Blaine is a man of the people, a magician who brings dignity and grace and wonder to some of the most reviled and feared people in our society. He even took a page from Johnny Cash and brought his magic into a maximum security prison. Throughout his work, Blaine always maintains a stance of humility and generosity towards all people.

The imagery from last night's stunt will stay with us for years. The dense web of symbolism permeating Blaine's work -- Birth, Death, Rebirth - will become more obvious as the years go by.

The naysayers don't know what they're talking about...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Racherbaumer on Blaine (from 2000)

I discovered the post below on the Genii Forum last night. It's by Jon Racherbaumer, one of magic's leading creators and theorists. Although I found it on a thread from 2003, Racherbaumer says there that he wrote it in 2000, right after the "Frozen in Time" special in which Blaine was encased in a block of ice on Times Square for 61 hours.

I'm humbled by how much deeper this post is than my own Blaine manifesto. I think Racherbaumer understood earlier than most just how profoundly Blaine was affecting people. He also expresses beautifully how Blaine's style and vision are original and modern. I am posting it here in full (with my occasional background comments italicized, and a few explanatory links), with his kind permission.


BLAINE GOT GAME? (from 2000)
by Jon Racherbaumer

“One who can only find his way by moonlight…”
- Oscar Wilde, commenting on the nature of a dreamer.

What more can be said about David Blaine that hasn’t been said before, ad nauseum? And of course press releases seldom reveal anything truly personal or revealing. From my obscured vantage point, I have little to add to what I wrote about David Blaine twice (in MAGIC magazine). My third, breezily brief excursus, by the way, will be in the January (2001) issue of MAGIC. My focus each time was about his approach, not his supposedly inherent skills as a sleight-of-hand artist.

I hate to keep hammering on the same points, but few magicians seem to get it. Blaine is primarily a creature created for and by television. From the cocoon of his New York street-performing period, he initially emerged as a hybrid television phenomenon, working as no one had done before and was savvy enough to know that performance is about the audience. He, until “Frozen in Time,” usually focused on spectators and human existence itself. What was filmed or televised occurred in the hot-damn here-and-now with all its glorious contingencies and grit. In fact, in many ways he prefigured so-called “reality television” and shows such as “Survivor” and “Big Brother.” However, Blaine transformed this “primal, see-it-right-now world” through post-production artifice. And whether anybody likes it not, television is an incredibly powerful and undeniably ubiquitous mass-cultural media form. It is a “window to the world” for most people —the one they depend on for transmissions of “reality”—live and direct, apparently unmediated, and relatively uncontrolled. And Blaine, using a magician’s prerogative to create illusions, has created a representative “world” where the street (usually grungy, “mean” ones) is his stage. The players are spectators who happen to be there when filming took place. Then Blaine plays a mischievous interloper in their reality...[snip]

Given this mise en scene, his most savvy ability, like the tricksters of myth, is to create and work with contingency. His sudden presence in the spectator’s environment seems random, almost accidental…He’s a mere, monosyllabic figure in their path, between situations, on the way to somewhere else…(God knows where?) He interrupts them and exploits this opportunity to demonstrate something novel, if not astonishing, with something as commonplace as a deck of cards. In short, he plays with their boundaries of expectancy and normality, momentarily trapping them only to set them free, making their minds discombobulated and perhaps transformed. At first he looks much like them, but then becomes something else. He’s “there” and “not there.” He moves on. He moves in and out of “frames,” in and out of “places,” a transient Lone Stranger dressed in black.

This may sound as hyperbolic as most of his press releases, but if you carefully study his first two television specials, you will see what I mean.

Wow, that was quite an analysis! I think Racherbaumer latched onto something important here, recognizing that Blaine is not really playing the role of "Street Magician," but of a wandering, nomadic "Mysterious Stranger" -- which later became the title of his book. It's an important distinction. A street magician makes his living doing magic on the streets for tips. A friend of mine who used to do quite well with this lamented that it's "one step up from begging." Blaine, on the other hand, performs miracles for people, brings them joy and amazement, and asks nothing in return.

In my first article in MAGIC, I wrote:

“David Blaine is a man of contrasts, coming out of nowhere. He is open and closed, forthcoming and mysterious; and has taken a path less traveled to big-time Prime Time…and in terms of conventional career-tracks—the kind magicians follow and expect—he is strictly an anomaly.”

Time has passed and most magicians still think that Blaine is an anomaly. Others make harsher assessments, calling him "a fluke, a no-talent, an overrated and overpaid opportunist of modest talents.”

I disagree.

Blaine’s talents are raw and not easily defined. Casual observers see vanilla performances. He seems (as Jerry Sadowitz mocks) like he should be named David Bland. And admittedly there is an inscrutable placidity about his appearance—which is a cross between Chancey Gardner (in the film, “Being There”) and the Man Without a Name (Clint Eastwood) from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns. His body language is “cool” and a calculated, confident, interior intelligence leaks out like time-lapse photography. He mumbles, “Let’s try something…maybe...ah…” and then there are all those sudden “spikes” of drama. His muted voice (like a junkie coming down) is monotone, sounding a bit like Steven Wright, the comic. This adds to his ambiguous, Rorschach-type persona.

But regardless of what anybody says pro or con, Blaine is on a roll.


For him to stay on a roll, he must return to his roots. He must express his persona in different, more forceful ways. Another “Street Magic” special would slow his momentum. Déjà vu doesn’t cut it, although “one-shot wonders” often get three or four shots in television. Right now there is talk about a feature film. De Niro is interested and (the screenwriter of “Fight Club”) has apparently signed on. If this happens, it won’t be easy. The tricky part will be finding ways to successfully expand Blaine’s trickster-character so that it is a sustained, interesting, and compellingly dramatic presence for 106 minutes in a feature film. So far Blaine’s work is episodic, always captured in the hot-damn here-and-now with all its glorious contingencies and grit. In a feature film, he must do more than use a magician’s prerogative to create illusions. He must also be part of a character-driven, representative “world” above and beyond “the street.” He must interact with other characters (actors) rather than unsuspecting, ordinary street-people. But anything is possible.

Again, this was written six years ago, right after "Frozen in Time" but before Blaine had done the "Vertigo" (standing on a platform) stunt or the fast in the box over the Thames.

Now that the ice has melted, what remains to be remembered? Like other episodes of neo-television, very little reverberates beyond the day-to-day coverage. With hundreds of network and cable channels sending out signals, images, simulations, and “stories” 24-7, who remembers what happened yesterday? The public, for the most part, no longer talks about “Frozen in Time.”

But the always restless natives of magicdom were still abuzz. If Nethead gossip is any indication, many magicians thought that Blaine’s last show was a stinker, light on the magic, heavy on hype. (Hype-o-thermia, as one wag put it.) Their gossip doesn’t matter. ABC, the media, and loyal Blainiacs felt differently. The media rocked. Every newspaper except the Christian Science Monitor covered the Ice Skit, flushing out unlikely commentators from every quarter. Even a writer from the ultra-hip, liberal-chic Village Voice was moved to comment, calling Blaine’s stunt “X-treme Performance Art.” He wrote:

“Blaine is reviving an old vaudeville tradition: the death-defying act. His last piece, in which he lay six feet under in a Plexiglas coffin for a week, was supposedly a stunt Houdini wanted to do. Blaine's girlfriend told the Daily News that next ‘he may try to take a bullet.’ Of course, performance artist Chris Burden did that in 1971, as the death-defying urge moved into the art world.”

Notice the verbal difference? “Taking a bullet” is not the same as catching one.

To me, “Frozen in Time” had an unsatisfactory, disjunctive rhythm. Jumping back-and-forth from the melting ice to the trick-episodes broke the spells of both “scenes.” The frenetic energy of the actual site, except for Lynn Swan’s breathless, pre-game patter, was undifferentiated and undramatic. Compared to the X-treme coverage of the X-treme event, Blaine was almost catatonic before he was encased in the ice. When he laconically drawled that he was entering a frosty, see-through crypt to “challenge every human fear,” nobody thought he was climbing K2 or weathering “The Perfect Storm.” Yet if you listened to the clamorous coverage, you heard over and over the same litany of fearsome possibilities: muscle spasms, frostbite, blood clots, exhaustion, and hallucinations. And if that wasn’t enough, you had a deadpan-faced Blaine adding: “If I fall asleep and my face presses into the ice, they'll have to cut my face off.”

Nobody laughed…
….at least not right away.

Nevertheless, you must admit that when Blaine finally emerged from the ice, it was pretty tense. Even Bill Kalush (Blaine's close friend and collaborator) looked worried. Blaine slumped like he had survived a catastrophe he couldn’t remember. Unable to lucidly talk, he looked bewildered—as if he had indeed died yet was still conscious. If he was faking, De Niro take note; the guy can act.

Regardless, let’s give the guy some credit. He withstood a self-inflicted, brain-numbing, and body-punishing ordeal. Try imagining any celebrity-magicians putting themselves to a similar test. Blaine actually did something potentially dangerous. In the cosmic scheme of things, his endurance test is as silly as escaping from a straightjacket while hanging upside-down. But it was more believable than Penn Gillette catching a bullet between his teeth and his payday was bigger.

As mentioned earlier, the televised representation of the actual “test” site flattened out and diminished everything. Eyewitnesses had a different experience. Matt Fields, who visited the site, wrote:

“This time he's smack-dab in the middle of the ‘Crossroads of the World,’ New York's Times Square, in the street level atrium/lobby of the ABC "Good Morning America" studios at 44th Street and Broadway…If you've never seen this area at this time of year, it's only a little less busy than it is on New Year's Eve when they drop the ball. Thousands and thousands of people need to walk by Blaine just to get down the street. For a bit of a closer gawk you can wait on line and see David in his ice, obviously showing the strains of being enclosed and on his feet for two days, but smiling and waving to the crowds…the impact on the spectators is amazing. They wave, yell out things (‘Hey! Want me to get you a hot chocolate?’) and they talk about him, mentioning his name (not just ‘that magician’).”

Thomas Gaudette, another eyewitness, wrote:

“I visited the icy prison on the first day (Monday) and can confirm that it not only was a great publicity stunt, but that laymen were freaking out. I listened to their comments. He accomplished his mission. The New Yorkers I witnessed were very impressed.”

I initially thought that the Ice Stunt was not going to be an integral part of it; that Blaine would “break out” during the last five minutes, triumphantly liberated from the ice with ice-chipping fanfare, spotlights, and a cheering rabble. As it turned out, the third show focused on Blaine and the endurance stunt, not the trick-episodes. This, to me, was a blunder. The first two television specials focused on the audience. Viewers saw a filmed “representation” of what actually happened in the streets and saw dramatic, human responses. This is what made him celebrated in the first place: in-your-face tricks, in mean streets, with ordinary people. Shifting focus away from the “magic” to the Times Square hubbub was a disappointing strategy from an artistic standpoint. From a ratings-boosting standpoint, it was brilliant.

Blaine first endurance stunt (“Buried Alive”) was not a significant part of the subsequent television show. It was a “prequel,” a back-story, a publicity-generating device. Its staging area was in the world, but off-camera, and the media coverage was huge. It was also a bit like a soap opera with no beginning, middle, and end; it was episodic and continuous. It was, as Umberto Eco calls such things, neo-television. That is, it is remarkable and newsworthy for being televised; for being on television as a televised phenomenon. Its coverage is another event to be covered. Over and over fed on itself. There were stories about the stories and coverage of coverage. “Live” endurance stunts, like the publicity feats of Houdini, have such saturated reality that it is best experienced through “a kind of filter of preconceptions and expectations fabricated in advance by a culture swamped in images.”


The episodic trick-part of the third installment of the Blaine Game was marginal. How many do you remember? There was the trick where he borrowed a woman’s ring, accidentally dropped it down a grate, and then rediscovered it inside a small liquor bottle found several feet away. He upped the ante and instead of resuscitating a dead fly, he brought a dead bird back to life in Central Park. He borrowed somebody’s baseball hat and produced a live snake from it—a sure way to evoke screams. Still upping the ante and thumbing his nose at Too-Perfect Theorists, he asked a scruffy guy to think of his girl friend. Then Blaine used a cigarette lighter to burn a hole in his tee shirt, which he then presses against his fleshy midsection to “frame” a tattoo of the guy’s girl friend’s face! That’s the sum-and-substance of the “magic show.” Otherwise there were some brief travelogue shots of Blaine walking alone in an arid, desolate place and through an immense field of what looked like sunflowers, looking nomadic, mysterious, and…perhaps, lost! What was conspicuously missing (as I stated in an early assessment) was Blaine “tapping into the primal roots of magic by breaking through people’s personal spaces, by penetrating the defensive threshold of what ordinary folks are willing to believe and unprepared to contemplate.” That was the trickster everybody loves to watch and that is probably the magician others magicians tuned in to see. Compare this “magic show” with the last special. For the record, here is a quantitative breakdown by the numbers of that second special:

I think this is hilarious. Racherbaumer breaks down the whole special, as if the whole can be derived from the sum of the parts. This seems, to me, a very subtle slap to all the naysayer magicians who dismiss Blaine as a no-talent simpleton.


Actual running time (without commercials): 44 minutes and 50 seconds
Number of individual performances or scenes: 45
Cited Locations: New York City (Times Square), Atlantic City, New Jersey, Dallas, Texas, Compton, California, San Francisco (Haight-Asbury), Mojave Desert.
Number of on-site spectators, added together: 106
Number of females: 35
Number of males: 71
Number of stray dogs: 2
Number of different tricks performed: 26
Number of tricks repeated: 8
List of repeated tricks and the number of times they were performed: Impromptu Levitation (7), Biting and Restoring Half-Dollar (3), Wrist-Watch Steal (3), Meir Yedid’s Arm-Twister (2), The Raven Coin Vanish (2), Ambitious Card (2), Fechter Transposition Trick (2), Think Of A Card (2), and Double-Card Change In Spectator’s Hand (2).
Number of card tricks: 17
Number of coin tricks: 4
Number of other kinds of tricks: 5
Number of gaffs used: 6
Number of dealer tricks performed: 7
Specifics: Devano Deck, Invisible Deck, Folding Coin, Cigarette-Through-Half-dollar, Super Neck-Cracker Gimmick, the Raven, Arm-Twister (mss.)
Number of flourishes: 6
Specifics: Coin Roll, Fingertip Fan, One-Hand Fan-Close, Hot-Shot Cut and Card Spin (Daryl), Card Toss, Instant Replay (Paul Harris).
Easiest trick: Biting and Restoring a Half-Dollar
Most technically difficult trick: Daryl’s “Snow-Shoe Sandwich”
Most impressive card trick: Hummer’s Selection-Against-and-Behind-Window
Most impressive coin trick: Cigarette Through Half-Dollar
Most impressive trick in the entire show: One-Man Impromptu Levitation
Second most impressive trick: Think-Of-A-Card Divination
Best geek trick: Yedid’s Arm-Twister
Type of decks used: Bicycle - Tally-Ho (Diamond-Circle Back)
Number of times a blue deck was used: 4
Number of times a red deck was used: 14
Most recognizable lay person: (tie) Deion Sanders and Emmit Smith of the Dallas Cowboys football team.
Weirdest name of lay person: Fruit Loops
Number of basic card sleights used: 11
Specifics: Tilt, Bluff Pass, Double Lift, Top Change, Jog-Fan Control, Classic Force, Riffle (Mental) Force, Snap Change, Flip Change, Coin Switch, Mercury Card Fold
Technical Advisers: Michael Weber, Paul Harris, Harvey Cohen, Ray Cuomo
Most frequently uttered expletive: “Wow!”
Number of rejections: 2

Notable utterances by lay persons:
“I don’t care if he makes a million or starves to death…It’s mind-boggling!”
“You is stupid!” (to another lay person)
“You don’t have any tools?”
“I think he is not natural.”
“This man is not right!”
“I’m kinda broke. Can you make money?”
“Are you a guru of some kind? I just moved from Los Angles. Am I going to have success?”
(Deion Sanders) “I’m going. I gotta go home and take a nap!”
(David Blaine) “I don’t know if I’ll be able to get off?” (prior to levitating)]

This next section is a scream. Racherbaumer is directly addressing the vast multitude of magicians who see a trick and decide they want to do it exactly as seen -- in other words, copycats without a shred of original creativity -- by simply telling them where to find the tricks Blaine did.

Ready Reference Guide to Select Tricks That May Catch Your Fancy:
(1) “Impromptu Levitation” (Ed Balducci) - Pallbearers Review (July-1974), p. 755. Although it is credited to Balducci, the originator is unknown, but it was shown to him by one of the original Harmonicats: Erwin Levine. Finn Jon is also a great exponent of this impressive levitation.
(2) Wrist Watch Steal: Stars of Magic - Francis Caryle
“Snow-Shoe Sandwich and Hot-Shot Cut” by Daryl - For Your Entertainment Pleasure!
(4) “Convincing Tilt” by Daryl - The Last Hierophant (June-1980), p. 39.
(5) “The Snap Change” - Marlo’s Magazine #2 (1977), p. 158. This is based on the “Visible Color Change” by Joseph Cottone. Popularized by Marlo and J.C. Wagner.
(6) Marc DeSouza’s Color Change, The Trapdoor (originally invented by Oscar Muniz)

In the end and despite its comparative lack of magic, “Frozen in Time” his show helped ABC win the Sweeps. It finished 20th and almost 16 million people watched the show. Only “Law & Order” outdrew the “ice man.” I’m also told that the only “news story” of 2000 that exceeded the amount of saturated and extensive international coverage given Blaine was the Columbine Shootings; and that, my friends, is an impressive factoid.

But what does it mean?

Maybe it's simply this?

Blaine understands what Houdini understood and what Uri Geller understands. It's not what you actually do, but what they think you do and have done. The rest then ferments in the massive, global spin-machine until it becomes potentially mythic.


Blaine’s First and Second Acts have come and gone. He is now able to use real money and his celebrity-capital to parlay his next dream-scheme. You can expect him to do something different, something outrageous. He is a risk-taker who puts everything that he is (whatever that may be) on the line. He goes for broke and that’s what I like about him. California journalist, Marnelle Jameson calls Blaine “The Houdini of the Hoi Polloi” and quotes him:

“For me it's more about the people than the effect,” says Blaine, who calls his brand of magic “intimate,” because he usually works one-on-one. “My favorite part is when I connect. If there's no connection, there's no magic.”

The media, meanwhile, stands by. Investors keep investing. The money keeps rolling in…and David, finding his way by moonlight, keeps looking for those connections that produce the magic that feeds his dreams, vexes his critics, and delights his fans. Blaine’s got game.

His mother would have been proud.


Thanks, Jon, for the great and prescient essay. I look forward to seeing what you write about "Drowned Alive," tonight's two-hour special.