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.