Thursday, February 02, 2006

Criss Angel and Cyril - UPDATED

I posted a while back about magician Criss Angel, star of Mindfreak on A&E. The magic blogosphere remains a hotbed of virulent anti-Angel criticism, most of it quite reactionary and unsupported. I think part of the problem stems from the complete inability of most magicians to put themselves into laymen's shoes.

I just caught two more episodes of Mindfreak, one in which Angel lights himself on fire before vanishing and reappearing as one of the "fire extinguisher guys," and the other an episode where Angel, suspended on fleshhooks in his back, is helicoptered over the landscape. The latter does not qualify as magic, of course, since (I assume) he actually did the suspension exactly as shown.

Angel did a couple of pretty strong tricks during the first episode. In one, standing on the sidewalk and surrounded on all sides, he vanished from beneath a big garbage can and reappeared on a balcony above. In another, he demonstrated a voodoo doll on unsuspecting passers-by; when he jabbed the doll in the leg, for instance, the spectator felt a sharp pain in her leg. He then offered the doll to the spectator, who jabbed it into various body parts. Angel gave a gasp and started bleeding from the selected body part (leaving the spectator feeling vaguely guilty -- a nice twist).

One of the best things about Angel is the familial aspect of his projects. He's New York Italian Greek all the way, and two of his brothers are part of "Team Angel." So we get plenty of, "This is the most dangerous thing my bruddah has ever done"-type talk, along with a lot of "I love my bruddah and I'm worried that he could get seriously hurt." For the "Criss on Fire" episode, his mother comes to Vegas for her seventieth birthday and is rewarded by seeing her son running around on fire (a sight which seems to her genuinely, and unsurprisingly, traumatic). But all ends well, with "I love you, Ma" and hugs all around.

The "Hanging by Fleshhooks" episode was more a piece of performance art than magic, but it was a pretty stunning thing to see on television. Reviewing back to the time he had spent six hours suspended horizontally (in "Airplane" position") on fleshhooks in New York City, Angel then discusses with his team the greater difficulty and pain involved in hanging vertically from a single line of hooks. Luckily, they had a "master piercer" on hand to insert the hooks.


We've come a long way. I remember, about fifteen years ago, when I first read ReSearch Publications seminal book Modern Primitives and learned about (among other things) body suspensions. At that time, the notion of hanging from fleshhooks, which has its origins in a Native American ceremony, was extremely underground; Fakir Musafar, who coined the term "modern primitives," had to worry about being arrested when he performed the ceremony for the extraordinary film Dances Sacred and Profane (which is now, after twenty years, available on DVD).

How amazing to see a body suspension on TV! As part of a mainstream magic show! Although the world has changed and become more tolerant, it's also safe to say that Criss Angel has positioned himself on the cusp of that change. He doesn't come across as particularly weird or fringe at all; he's a nice, somewhat Goth, mama's boy. Who hangs from fleshhooks and sets fire to himself.

I don't know where he's going with this, but I'll definitely be watching.


Which brings me back to Cyril Takayama, the talented L.A. kid who moved to Japan and became a star. Cyril is something of a "magician's magician." He takes what are in many cases standard effects and turns them into things of beauty, often fooling knowledgeable magicians in the process. Best of all, Cyril is an enormously appealing performer -- gracious, clever without being a smartass, handsome but not macho, graceful, courteous, and very smart.

Regular readers will know that I'm a big fan of Cyril's magic. His stuff is all over the Web these days, and here are a few more stunners:

Cyril does the Signed Card through Window -- on a glass-bottomed boat!

Cyril boils a Cup-a-Noodles -- in his bare hands on the street!

Cyril performs a beautifully layered, deliriously deceptive old classic. I'm especially fond of this one, since it shows how a great performer can use timing and pacing to increase his impact tenfold. Watch how Cyril sells this effect. Beautiful.

And, just in case you haven't gotten your fix of Cyril, here are some more.


Thanks to my old buddy FK for the latest round of Cyril links, which he sent me a week or so ago. I went two weeks without a post, a lifetime in the blogosphere, but I'll try to keep up a more regular schedule from now on. Stay tuned for more magic-related posts, among others.

UPDATE: I almost forgot. While I was sitting on my ass and not posting these Cyril links, Pagliacci posted a few others here, including a most-excellent -- and extremely deceptive -- mashup of the classic coin effects Matrix and Miser's Dream. Well worth checking out.

UPDATE #2: Oops! In my original post above, I inadvertantly misidentified Cyril's hometown. He is from Los Angeles and the post has been corrected.


Anonymous said...

criss angel is hott:|! and he does AMAZING work..i usually dont like to watch magicians..but for him i can make an exception!;D

Anonymous said...

plus, criss angel is greek.

PeaceLove said...

D'oh! Good catch; I've corrected it in the body of the post. I've known he was Greek for a while, but I guess I didn't realize it when I wrote the post. NY Greek and NY Italian sure look similar, to me.