Friday, 9 November 2012

Mysteries of Magic

The Impossible made Possible

This is a great documentary series from 1997 directed by Mel Morpeth. It features magic luminaries like Penn and Teller and this series was apparently the first time the ever silent Teller publicly let himself be interviewed. I particularly like the first and last of the episodes. The first is on the history of magic, the second on illusions and the third and last is about death defying stunts.

The Learning Channel is known for its informative programs, and the Mysteries of Magic series is no exception. The first DVD in the trio, The Masters of Mystery, takes the viewer on a magical journey from the campfires of ancient tribes to the bright neon lights of Las Vegas and delivers a concise history of illusionists throughout history. Featuring interviews with top magicians of today (such as Lance Burton, Eugene Burger, and Jeff McBride), The Masters of Mystery uncovers the origins of the many modern tricks that still make audiences wonder "How did they do that?" Beginning with the magicians of ancient Egypt who translated age-old beliefs into physical acts of illusion, the DVD offers us a glimpse into the religious ceremonies that gave early magic makers their first platform for performance.
Using clips from modern television specials, the disc provides a definitive history of the classic "Cups and Balls" routine, possibly the oldest magic trick ever recorded. We are also educated about the book The Discovery of Witchcraft, written by a magician to expose the tricks of the trade in order to save many wizards of the time from being burned at the stake.
Technically, the DVD doesn't offer much. In fact, the greatest trick involved may be getting the disc out of the box it comes in--and the menu selection is a bit lacking in extras. The content, however, provides plenty of insight into the medium without revealing any secrets. --Zachary Lively

The old theory that magical illusions are all done with smoke and mirrors is proven in The Impossible Made Possible. This episode of the Learning Channel's Mysteries of Magic series explores the origins of some of magic's most intriguing illusions.
Beginning with the 1790s multimedia show phantasmagoria--a performance using a simple magic lantern and wall projections--the documentary provides insight into the early special effects that made magicians legendary. Peppered with interview segments conducted with many modern artists, the DVD shows us how magicians of the past harnessed the powers of sound, light, optical illusions, and even narcotics to bewilder their audiences.
The program also features the "Allied Arts," which are illusions such as fire-eating and -breathing, and a clip from an old Laurel and Hardy film spotlighting the funny and engaging performance of a regurgitationist. There are marvelous and entrancing automatons, tricks from the early days of electricity, and finally, the invention that eventually brought the death of the music hall performer: motion pictures.
Aside from a simple scene-access menu and a brief summation of the factoids behind the production of the program, the DVD has little to offer technically. It is the content, however, that makes the disc truly magical. --Zachary Lively

Part three of the Mysteries of Magic series examines the fearless magicians who risk their lives for their art and to entertain the audience. Features the sword basket, guillotine, and cannonball escape tricks. ~ Heather M. Fierst, Rovi
In this final episode we get to hear the history of one of the most famous illusions of all time the 'sawing a lady in half', including footage of Richiardi's infamous most gory and grotesque version.

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