'Deceptive Practice' & 'Now You See Me'

Unlike those legendary magi—Faustus, Simon Magus, etc.—who claimed contact with the spirit world, modern magicians merely prove that their hands are quicker than our eyes. Yet, as they snatch coins from thin air and produce the very cards we thought about but never named out loud, don’t they make us doubt, for a few seconds at least, the daylight solidity of the world and our ability to perceive simple physical realities?

Ricky Jay (born Richard Potash) is one of the great living magicians, specializing in but not limited to card tricks, and in the documentary Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, directors Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein keep their camera very tight on his face during the interviews, as if by registering every blink and facial tic they could establish some undeniable psychological truths, no matter how reality-disorienting his tricks are. Yet his countenance turns out to be no easier to read than the movement of his hands. Round, plump, bland, and bearded, his face could be that of, say, a streetwise New York actor of a savvy and amiably aggressive disposition—the sort of workaday thespian who might be offered roles turned down by Paul Giamatti. (In fact, Jay has acted in films, notably House of Games, directed by David Mamet, who staged some of Jay’s shows and is one of the commentators in this film). There’s certainly nothing...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.