Friday, January 2, 2009

Jeff McBride's Ritual of Liberation

I should have seen it coming. When Ben Mack told me that he could get me totally obsessed with stage magic without even performing a single trick, I had to take him up on it. Wouldn't you?

Jeff McBride magic lessons

I was even more skeptical when Ben presented me with a video magic lesson from Jeff McBride's Magic & Mystery School, which I was all too ready to dismiss. You see, Jeff presents himself as a classic Las Vegas magician, all stage smiles and goofy outfits. As it turns out, this is his foundation trick, and I've got to hand it to him: Jeff McBride nailed me. And we weren't even in the same room.

So why should I have seen it coming? Indulge me for a paragraph and I shall explain...

A few years back, I saw a truly remarkable film about rival magicians called The Prestige. It's a movie full of reality-bending, beautiful scenes and high concepts, but one small part stuck with me more than any other. Early in the plot, the two rivals go to see an old frail Chinese man perform a vanishing trick that baffles even his competition, involving the disappearance of an enormous and water-filled fishbowl. Christian Bale's character immediately sees it: the onstage performance is not the real act -- the old age and frailty are. He is carrying the fishbowl between his legs, from the moment it disappears until the moment he arrives safely at home, and can stop pretending to walk slowly, stooped over, and leaning on a cane.

Which brings me to Jeff McBride, who subverted my expectations at every turn. His posture, delivery, pacing and even his clothing is part of the act. The Ritual of Liberation is a single trick, but in demonstrating it, McBride teaches multiple lessons -- not only about magic and presentation, but also about good online business design.

Since this is a review, though, let's return the core question: Does McBrides Magic & Mystery School deliver the goods? Absolutely yes. Everything is explained clearly and demonstrated repeatedly at accessable speeds. The video is in Quicktime format, which is a free download, and Quicktime has seen massive improvements since I swore to stop using it 5 years back.

The Ritual of Liberation video comes bundled with their introductory lesson, which is an interview with Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger. Although the video could have been shorter, the live format serves as a very humanizing introduction to the two magicians. Considering what they're talking about, both of them are refreshingly free of pretension and artifice. In addition to demonstrating several simple but powerful opening tricks, both of them make a lot of fascinating points.

My favorite? "Magic is an effect without a cause," says McBride, which is the most concisely accurate definition I've seen. Rather than content himself with the "wows," though, he's been building a career using miraculous entertainment to challenge and question his audiences. "This is not just about fooling people for the best result," as he says.

Jeff McBride brings an infectious passion for both the mechanics and the art, urging students and novices alike to "practice what you enjoy." However, much like The Prestige, one small part stuck with me more than any other...

...and sure enough, Ben Mack was right: I am indeed hooked on practicing sleight of hand and studying up on stage magic in 2009. What got me? Eugene Burger said it: "magic tricks are interesting because they're inexhaustable." I have been fascinated all my life by cognitive bias -- the perceptual limitations of the human animal. Magic offers a hands-on understanding of what I've only been reading and thinking about so far.

By the way, this is Justin Boland, and I'm looking forward to meeting you all at Ben's ESP Boot Camp on the 31st. I'll be the Jesus lookalike taking notes up front.

1 comment:

Ben Mack said...

If you are in New York or New England there is an opportunity to see Jeff McBride in January you will love...