Wizards and Magicians

This is the continuing story of my journey to identify and rid myself of magician voice in performing mystery entertainment. It will make the most sense if you look at them in order. See here for the whole series.


In July of 2013 Mark Wilson and I put together an evening for the Austin chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. The topic was “Magic in the Movies.” As we talked about different approaches we realized that there was not really time to go and edit clips out of movies about magic. We decided that it might be interesting to use trailers for movies—the industry’s shorthand to tell an audience about a film. We further decided that we did not want to limit ourselves to showing people doing magic tricks, but to be open to films that depicted magical people and situations. (The final vibrations of the Harry Potter franchise were still faintly thrumming and the Hobbit films were keeping Middle Earth alive for everyone.)

The results of our searching were about 78 trailers. Some have been removed from YouTube over that time and a few have been added as they were discovered. See them all here:

It’s interesting to see this again after all this time on my path. My memory of these trailers is that stage magicians were generally portrayed as self-deluded, comic figures or villainous con men. As I see these again I have a more balanced view, I suppose, because I see a broader spectrum. However, it’s incredibly valuable to see magic and magicians from a view outside our industry. This is how magic is perceived by the lay audience, or Hollywood, at least. And those are the people who tell the stories that shape our world.

The films depict two categories of character: wizards, who deal with real power, and stage magicians, who are entertainers. In other words, they explore world of real magic and worlds of deception.

In the films where magic is real the power seems to be respected. There are moments of mischief and some wizards are foolish but the forces they command are usually substantial. These perspectives taught me much about how people imagine real magical powers. There is a lot of context there to explore. It is often very different from the context in which magic tricks are presented.

The films that portrayed stage magicians was also interesting. In theatre, characters often have focused and exaggerated versions of traits. Ego was certainly a common focal point. Sometimes the magician was deeply skilled and daring. Sometimes he was self-deluded. In pretty much every case they aspired to be “great.”

The common thread through all these characters, of course, was the secrecy. They were all in possession of knowledge that was not available to the average person. They also tended to stand apart from society. They didn’t fit in. In some stories this inspired awe. In others in inspired ridicule. It rarely garnered trust.

I’m not going to analyze these any deeper here, particularly because my view of them today is different from my memory of them. They spoke to me then and they speak to me today. I’ll let them speak to you.

The lesson I take from this is that there is a difference between the way that I viewed magic and the ways that others viewed it.  I would see something that I thought was misrepresented and had to remind myself that it was right from the perspective of the people who produced this art. It was shaped by their own beliefs, their own experiences. It was their own truth. When it was uncomfortable that meant something too.

See what truths stick to you. Which one thrill you? Which ones disgust you? Note those. They say something about your own relationship with magic. The most powerful ones will make you say “I wish…” Those were the things that pushed me down the rabbit hole.

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