Thursday, February 04, 2010
Thoughts on Cardini
UPDATE 4/09/2010: Sadly, the Miracle Factory has asked me to take down the video under threat of legal action. Magicians and others will now once again have to either watch the degraded version of the act or buy the entire Festival of Magic DVD to get the golden 9 minutes. This is a poignant demonstration of how copyright laws have nothing to do with protecting artists (Cardini died in 1973) and everything to do with controlling the free flow of information in order to prop up a dying business model. I do not intend the above as a personal attack on The Miracle Factory, an excellent company that puts out many wonderful magic videos, but rather a critique of the entire U.S. copyright system. I will be posting more on this subject shortly.
Cardini (nee Richard Valentine Pitchford) is an absolutely legendary figure in magic. He is widely reputed to have been one of the greatest magicians who ever lived, but magicians who saw him live (he died in 1973) are a diminishing lot. The only footage of his complete act, an appearance on a 1957 TV magic show called Festival of Magic, has been closely guarded among a small group of magicians. Incomplete, low quality versions have been up on YouTube for a while, but they look like copies of copies of copies and are quite tough to evaluate properly.
Kudos to The Miracle Factory for releasing the complete Festival of Magic on DVD in a beautifully remastered version. Finally, the rest of us can have the chance to check out Cardini's act and see what all the fuss is about. The whole DVD is worth watching; Robert Harbin, for instance, does the first and only convincing chair suspension I've ever seen.
So, does Cardini live up to his reputation? I have posted the Cardini segment up on YouTube so that all magicians can finally see it and learn from it. You really haven't seen it until you've seen this remastered version.
Cardini of England (NOTE: Dead link. Try this low quality version instead.)
Here's my take: It's stunning. This is one of the most elegant, funny and magical acts I've ever seen. Cardini doesn't just produce cards and cigarettes because he can. Everything happens for a reason, sometimes because he's drunk and can't control himself.
I would argue that Cardini's act barely deserves the label of "manipulation" act. Cardini uses classic manipulation technique to create magic, not to show off. He's not strutting his stuff, for the most part. He's just out there having fun, and his technique happens to be superb.
He also uses direction and misdirection in a very sophisticated, masterful way. He never does a move when you're watching; he creates "on" beats and "off" beats and uses them to cover his work. Best of all, he is such a charming personality that you don't really care one way or the other. Cardini is simply a joy to watch when he's on the stage.
Cardini's act has its roots in vaudeville and silent film comedy. I'm a big Charlie Chaplin fan, and his influence on Cardini is quite striking. In one of his early shorts, The Cure," Chaplin plays a wealthy drunk at a fancy rehab resort. The main room could be a double for Cardini's set. For all I know, Cardini may have also been influenced by an even earlier French film comedian, Max Linder, who also frequently played wealthy drunks.
And I love the sleeping guy in the background! How many modern magicians would set such a complete stage for their acts?
Really a treat. It's great that magicians can finally see this amazing act, and learn from one of the great masters of our art.