David Blaine in Bryant Park

Disney (via ABC) is selling David Blaine’s Vertigo as a death-defying feat. He’s going to stand atop a tall tower in NYC for two days… and then dive onto a bunch of cardboard boxes.

This is the same guy who can let you choose a card -at random- then shuffle the deck and pick -your- card. He can levitate! He inserted his visage into Da’Vinci’s Last Supper. He IS Rosemary’s Baby.
Opinions? Predictions? ABC will make a showcase out of it. Why cannot SDMB?:smiley:

I was kidding about the Rosemary’s Baby and Da’Vinci bit.

For reference:


You know, I saw Blaine’s first special, Street Magic, and really liked it. Especially the levitation trick. I thought he was an incredible magician.

Then, I actually did a little research. Checked out his “tricks,” and found out his levitation was, in part, a post-production edit, and that he had hot air piped in to his “block of ice.” I read up on other magicians. Now I find myself agreeing with my favorite magician, Penn Jillette. He said:


So, I’ll probably miss his new special. Of course, I only wish I could miss the hype too.

As the SDMB is ostensibly about combatting ingorance, not spreading it, let me see if I can shed a little illumination.

1. Blaine - the levitation stunt from his first TV special.

Yes, this was a combination of two things.

The first was something called the Balducci Levitation, which anyone can learn to do more or less anywhere, on the street or in your living room. It enables the performer to create the illusion of levitating about 2-3 inches off the ground. It only looks good to a small bunch of observers standing behind the performer, some distance away, with a narrow line of view. Dopers have already posted links to sites which explain the Balducci in more detail. Google, as ever, is your friend.

The second was a more substantial levitation achieved using standard magician’s methods for making a person appear to levitate two or three feet in the air. This was not filmed with members of the public standing around and watching. (If anyone had been present, they would have seen how it was done immediately.)

The producers filmed Blaine performing the Balducci, and got plenty of ‘reaction’ footage from folk in the street. Then they filmed the other version separately (presumably on a very quiet street with hardly anyone around). Then they edited the two together. There’s your miracle.

**2. Blaine - in general ** neither uses nor needs to use this kind of TV and editing trickery to deliver great magic. He has a very strong repertoire of excellent close-up magic which he has been performing on the streets for years. He should be given credit for finding a way to make magic seem ‘cool’, when for years it hasn’t been, and for bringing some good ‘close-up’ magic to a wider audience. This is the kind of magic that usually gets passed over in favour of big stage illusions. And let’s not forget that this guy used to do it for real - way before TV got interested. He really did go round offering to do magic for anyone who would watch, and in some tough neighbourhoods too! So give him credit for having a genuine love and passion for what he does.

3. Blaine - and TV I’ve been through this process myself (though obviously not so famously) and so have many of my fellow magicians. When you get involved with TV producers, there can be a very inelegant tussle between what we know is good magic, and what TV suits think makes for good TV and good viewing figures. This is when things like editing tricks and other ruses, which the vewing public might not like if they knew about them, come into play. Don’t always blame the magician. He’s part of the story, not all of it.

4. Penn Jilette’s comments More or less total rubbish! I know Penn & Teller quite well, and I’ve hung out with them, together and separately. I’m a fan. I actually travelled from London to New York to see their ‘Refrigerator’ tour a few years back.

By background, interest and traning, Penn is essentially a juggler, not a magician. He actually knows very little magic. You may find this hard to believe, but it’s true. Teller, on the other hand, is an excellent magician and has a life-long passion and love for the subject. Teller devises the shows, works out the magic, and handles all of the methodology. Penn provides the voice and the presentation. This is not to belittle Penn Jilette. His contribution is awesome, and he is wonderfully funny.

Blaine’s repertoire of close-up is not trivial ‘5th grade’ stuff, nor may it be accurately characterised as the kind of material other magicians learn and then move on from. Some of the things that Blaine does call for very advanced sleight of hand and very slick presentation. Credit where it is due.

Stick Penn Jilette and Blaine in a room and say “Show us some close-up magic” and I swear Blaine would wipe the floor with Jilette, in terms of mind-blowing, visual magic. Penn would be able to do very little beyond some very basic card tricks. On the other hand, you would probably find Penn funnier and louder, which you may prefer. I’d love them both!

But just be aware Penn likes to ‘mix it up’ a little and make loud, controversial statements. As far as he cares, if people are taking an interest in magic (as opposed to ignoring it) it really doesn’t matter.

For what it’s worth, James Randi is not particularly fond of Blaine either, but it has more to do with Blaine’s endorsment of noted quackpot Uri Geller. Randi describes Blaine as a excellent magician.


Well, I’ve seen Penn & Teller on the Larry King show, andI recall King asking them how good they were (in purely technical terms) as magicians. Penn(who, naturally did all the talking), answered, “I’m… okay. Just okay. Teller is VERY good.”

So, if Penn Jillette DID insult Blaine’s technical skills as a magician, it’s NOT because he thinks so highly of his own skills.

But as far as I can tell, MOST magicians are using the same old tricks magicians have used for a hundred years, or (at most) small, clever variations on those same old tricks. Is David Baine “unoriginal” in that sense? Well, of COURSE! So are Penn and Teller, so is David Copperfield, so is practically every magician.

The only way to make magic (a rather stale genre) gripping and fascinating is to present the same old stuff with a new twist. That may mean packaging magic in humor (as Penn & Teller do), or giving the old tricks a perceived “edge” or attitude.

Penn & Teller perform old tricks with a smirky, irreverent attitude, hoping people will think"they’re funny." David Blaine performs old tricks with a street-punk, tough guy attitude, hoping people will think “he’s cool.” People either find these shticks entertaining or they don’t.

Penn is being kind to himself!

Not so. “As far as I can tell” may not be very far, with due respect. There are new creations in magic every week, just as there are new songs or new paintings or new books. It’s one more area of creative human endeavour. Naturally, one can argue the extent to which the ‘new’ is merely a variation on the ‘old’. One can always cite poor examples (where the originality is slight). There are other examples where the originality is very impressive.

Copperfield, in particular, has assembled a fantastic team of creative minds to create new illusions and effects that no-one has ever conceived of before. One of his consultants, Jim Steinmeyer, is resonsible for devising some of the most creative and innovative illusions ever presented.

As I’ve just explained, not so. Free speech and opinion and all that, but it would be nice if you refrained from talking about things you patently know nothing about. It is not all the ‘same old stuff’. Just like in music, some guys do the ‘same old stuff’, some guys perform classics which have proved their audience appeal, and some guys do new, innovative stuff which is the result of a lot of creative energy and application. As for the “a rather stale genre” remark, I would offer that (a) such a remark often tells us more about the observer thanthe observed and (b) you either don’t know what ‘genre’ means or you are using it incorrectly.

Wrong again. Some of their routines are time-tested classics of magic. Some are new, original with them, and have never been seen before. Some are one-offs, devised and presented once for a TV special never to be seen again. Teller even registered a dramatic copyright on one of his original creations to prevent anyone else copying it.

Magicians are the worst people to talk about the position of magic in society. You’re in it! You don’t have any perspective with the way it is percieved by the populace. Everything that was said by Astorian is correct in general.
You’re talking about the exceptions s if they were the rule.
I’m an Improvisor. If someone was going on and on about how hackneyed, irrelavent and anti-innovationImprov Comedy is, I couldn’t fault them. They would be right. That’s the way Improv is percieved by alot of people. But I know there are styles, troupes, individuals working in improv that are fantastic, completely redeveloping the genre and would blow this people away if they ever saw them.

Now about Blaine…I don’t like him…as a person.

Every interview I’ve ever read or scene with him he comes off as a total cock.

I’m headin’ down to Bryant Park. And I’m bringin’ my pea-shooter with me.

On a TV magic special a while back they showed a French magician with one arm doing a card trick so slowly that one could SWEAR it was pure magic!

He was good at the slow, close-up stuff.

To paraphrase a post made when DB was in the block of ice:

There’s a dummy on that pole. Interpret that as you wish.

Hi Spritle. That was Rene Lavand. He is a master of close-up magic and sleight of hand. To have achieved all he has in magic despite losing his arm in an accident in his youth is truly remarkable, and deserving of the highest praise and admiration.

Interesting sidenote: have you ever anyone shuffle cards using a riffle shuffle? You splitt he cards into tow side by side piles, then kind of interweave the corners by riffling them off your thumbs, then square the cards up. Most card players can do a decent riffle on the table. Most magicians who do card tricks can do a riffle shuffle without a table, just holding the cards in the air with their hands (we learn to do this because there’s often not a handy table). Rene Lavand taught himself to riffle shuffle a deck of cards without a table, and using only one hand. That’s how ingenious and amazing he is.

Hey Mr Green Fool, calm down. All I’m doing is providing facts. All I have said about the repertoire and relative merits of different magicians, the amount of creativity and innovation, and the validity of the ‘same old stuff’ point of view, is accurate and well-informed. Take it or leave it - it’s no skin off my nose either way.

Hey, c’mon, all you New York Dopers! Anybody wanna join me with my pea-shooter in Bryant Park? Bring along slingshots, big ol’ rubber bands with paper clips, zip guns. First one to bring him down gets lunch!


Why did I just get a vision of the scene from Jaws where everybody lines up to catch The Shark and brings little fishing poles and cans of worms?!?

Spritle, who would love nothing more than for DB to get a bad case of the Green Apple Trots whilst atop the pole.

I’ve read this before and that right there will make me NEVER watch anything from this guy on TV.

I know very VERY little about magic tricks but with a video camera and Adobe I can make anything disappear. But that would be cheating.


I have never posed as an authority on magic. I concede without hesitation that I possess no skills as a magician, and have only a crude understanding of how the simple, basic tricks work. I am only a tepid fan of magic, and whatever commentary I offer, I offer only as someone who's watched magicians at work, live and on TV, over the years.

Based purely on what I’ve seen on TV and at live performances, the essence of magic shows hasn’t changed much in a century. Whether you were watching Houdini at a vaudeville house, David Copperfield in Vegas, or Penn & Teller on the David Letterman show, you’re almost certainly going to see variations on one of the following bits:

  1. Making people/stuff appear out of nowhere

  2. Making people/stuff disappear

  3. Ripping/cutting people/stuff into pieces, then reassembling them, as good as new.

  4. Escaping from seemingly dangerous traps

  5. Finding a card that someone has selected out of a deck

  6. Levitating people/stuff.
    mainstream audiences very rarely see magic tricks that don’t fall under one of those categories. So, to that extent, virtually all magicians ARE unoriginal! Most popular magicians rarely do anything that doesn’t fall into those categories. And most people have already seen dozens of variations on these tricks. How is a magician to make such things entertaining, when most of us in the audience have already seen this stuff before (or, at least, THINK we’ve seen it all before)?

    Packaging and attitude are a big part of it. It may be that Teller is an infinitely better magician than Penn Jillette in every technical sense, but his tricks wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to watch if he didn’t have Penn Jillette providing a comical framework for Teller to work within. And even if David Blaine is a superb magician in the technical sense, the fact remains, he SELLS himself with attitude. Another magician doing the same routine, but without Blaine’s looks, charisma or edginess would never attract the same large audience.

 Thus far, I've concentrated only on the presentation of magic. I haven't commented on the skills it takes to carry out a trick or the ingenuity it takes to conceive a new one. Ianzin knows a hell of a lot more about this than I do, and he seems irritated by my seeming lack of appreciation for all that it takes to come up with a good idea and to pull it off. Well, in the first place, I don't dismiss the skill it takes to pull off even rudimentary tricks. Evn a third-rate magician doing ancient card tricks possesses skill and dexterity that I certainly don't have. Even the lamest of escape artists possesses a physique and a degree of flexibility I certainly couldn't match. Heck, executing ANY of magic's cliche tricks requires timing and agility I couldn't muster.

  But, unless I'm sorely mistaken, even the newest, cleverest tricks STILL seem to rely on the oldest methods of magic. Card tricks STILL invariably come down to sleight of hand or deception (tricking the patsy from the audience into seleding the card you wanted him to select all along). Escape artists STILL rely on physical contortion,  hidden apparati, and "traps" with built-in (but hidden) exits. Coming up with something wholly original in magic is difficult- about as difficult as finding a wholly new way to play the guitar or a wholly new way to throw the curveball. Hence, I have great respect and admiration for the rare magician who's able to do that... and almost as much for the magicians who've managed to find new, clever ways of packaging the same old stuff (whether with comedy, "street punk" attitude, or anything else).

Just wanted to pop my head back in and thank ianzin for his insight. I was very impressed by Blaine’s close up magic, and there is no doubt he is a talented magician, but he made a decision in his first special to “cheat” and he lost credibility. It doesn’t mean he isn’t talented, it just means he lost me as a fan. Somehow, I think he’ll go on without me, as hard as that is to believe.

How is standing on a pole for 35 hours magic?

Seems to me to simple require great balance, concentration, and some nice camoflauged straps holding your feet in place.

…and the people sitting out there watching that yawn-fest…

I kinda like salon.com’s take on this. They picture Blaine as a low-rent, wimpier version of MTV’s Jackass.

I don’t really care either way about Blaine’s stunt work, or his close-up card tricks. What I want to know is how he cheats at his little mind-reading tricks. I saw the street magic TV special a couple years ago, and he had people think of a number between 1 and 1000, then guessed it. People payed in advance, or what?

Think Harry Houdini. I would not call his “stunts” magic, however he was an expert showman and captured people’s imaginations. I equate Blaine’s stunts to his being the Houdini of the age of television. I’d rather watch his “everyman” schtick than David Copperfields cheesy Vegas ripoffs any day.

I actually watched the jump…came across it by accident, but it was pretty cool.