‘Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay.’

thThis highly rated documentary is now very much available, as a download, a DVD or to stream on Netflix. If you haven’t caught it yet then you should, as it is one of the best 90 minutes about magic you are ever likely to see. In fact, you will probably enjoy it even more on a second viewing, I certainly did. Ricky Jay is one of magic’s true gems and this production does a great job of displaying some of his facets.

The movie was directed by Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein who also acted as producers on the project along with Alicia Sams and Philip Dolin. The documentary breaks down into three main ingredients; archival footage, interviews with Ricky’s associates and intimate footage of Ricky Jay himself discussing his amazing life in magic. The documentary is smoothly narrated by Dick Cavett, who knows more than a little about the art of magic.

I have enjoyed watching Ricky’s curiously unique career since I arrived in the United States in 1974. His was a fascinating journey every inch of the way and it is nice to get a little insight into Jay’s influences and the mentors that helped shape this singular performer. Fascinating footage of performances by Slydini, Al Flosso and Dai Vernon are an added delight for serious magic buffs.

From the earliest footage, of a nine-year old ‘Tricky Ricky,’ it is a story of a strangely devoted and obsessed magician carving out a singularly unique place in the magic world. There is very little mentioned in the documentary about Jay the actor; he has been superb in many capacities in the movie world. However, there are some brief glimpses of his various one-man theatrical demonstrations of sleight of hand. There are also some great clips from the various television shows he appeared in in the ‘70s when he was first introducing the world to the art of ‘Cards as Weapons.’

The documentary, true to its title, really does take a close look at the influences and mentors in Jay’s life. From the moment his grandfather, Max Katz, introduced him to Cardini, it was nothing but the finest in magic that shaped Ricky. His stories about Slydini, Flosso, Francis Carlyle, Charlie Miller and Vernon are not only interesting but offer a great deal of insight into these iconic men of magic. Jay does a neat job of encapsulating and verbalizing the lessons he learned from them all.

There is a nice segment devoted to Max Malini, who was a cherished inspiration to Dai Vernon. Many magicians are familiar with the classic story 523a13f93608a.preview-300of Malini’s ‘block of ice.’ There is a delightful addendum to this story and how it was re-enacted by Ricky for the benefit and amazement of British reporter Suzie Mackenzie. It was obviously the emotional high point during the contentious filming of a BBC special.

Interviews with David Mamet, Michael Weber, Persi Diaconis and Ricky’s long-term manager Winston Simone, all add tone and texture to one’s understanding of what ‘might’ make Jay tick. I say might because it is apparent from the movie that Ricky is an enigmatic and rather guarded loner; even in the center of his own creative team. He doesn’t look like an easy man to understand or get to know; that is one of the things that makes this carefully crafted portrait so enjoyable.

This documentary was inspired from the article, ‘Secrets of the Magus’ by Mark Singer in the New Yorker magazine, and was intelligently transferred to the screen by a very talented team. It held my attention from the opening shot of Jay shuffling a deck of cards in a quietly brooding manner, right up until the closing monologue when Ricky recites a story written for him by the great Shel Silverstein. Rent, stream or better still buy this movie, it is a rather special one about a very special magician.

It is pretty much worth the price of admission to see the extremely youthful Jay performing his manipulative act in the white ‘Slydini’ outfit, hand made for him by Tony himself!

~ by Nick Lewin on February 7, 2014.

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