There is something inherent in our nature that causes us to value that which is unique. Many philosophers and social scientists are far more intelligent than your dear old Cougar about why this is but, if you will allow me, I’d like to propose a theory.
Tennis star Andre Agassi once said “What makes something special is not just what you have to gain, but what you feel there is to lose.” That is a wonderful quote and a great sentiment but I don’t think it quite captures the entirety of what makes something “special”. To me, “special” has to be earned. Things aren’t special just because losing them would hurt. They are special because they have earned our respect and admiration. Only then do we consider what there is to gain or lose.
I bring all of this up because of the two movies we have for this month. Each movie is special, in my opinion, and I may even have a special little surprise for you at the end.
Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay (2012) – [Unrated]
I don’t believe in magic. Maybe it is being a wild animal and growing up close to nature but when I watch a magician like David Blaine or Criss Angel, I know that there is always a trick, something you aren’t seeing, something the magician knows that you don’t. That is the crux of the magician’s performance. But every so often you come across a performer who is so proficient in her/his craft, so confident and so charming that you don’t care. A true performer like that has an uncanny ability to persuade you to suspend your disbelief, if only for a moment, to look at things through wide, child-like eyes and lose yourself in the moment. Ricky Jay is one such performer.
Now, you are probably saying to yourself, “Collin, who is Ricky Jay?” The thing is, you probably already know him. He has been in 36 movies and TV shows since the 1980s including House of Games, Boogie Nights, Mystery Men, Deadwood, Tomorrow Never Dies, Magnolia and The Prestige to name a few. If I put up a picture of him, you would recognize him and say “Oh, that guy! I didn’t know his name.” I suspect the other thing you wouldn’t know about him is that he is also one of the preeminent practitioners of close-up magic.
This documentary is about the passion of Ricky Jay. It is the story of a young man who is introduced to the world of magic by his grandfather and has spent the entirety of his life learning from the forgotten masters of his chosen art. The film is filled with tales and recollections of past and future masters who have fascinated, entertained and mentored Ricky Jay and it is his passion for these stories that makes the movie so interesting to watch. Jay’s love for the art of close-up magic is both undeniable and infectious even if he appears to be calm and cool on the outside. Time after time, the viewer is presented with shots of Ricky Jay practicing his card shuffling in front of a three-sided mirror and while your eyes gravitate to his hands, if you look up to his face, you can see how lost he is in the world of his cards, as if there is nothing more satisfying in the world than perfecting a trick.
There is a scene where the filmmakers speak with a British journalist who reminisces about interviewing Ricky Jay for an article. He invites her to lunch and they speed off together to the restaurant. They run into a good deal of traffic and while they are stuck, Jay tells the reporter about a particular 19th century piece of magic that has defied all attempts at explanation. The journalist asks for a little more detail and he tells her that it involves a magician producing coins from under a hat on the table of a restaurant and then something else. They finally make it to the restaurant where they are late for their reservation and are given the last table available. When they sit down, Jay props his menu up in front of him at the table and tells her a little more of the story. Then he removes the menu, revealing to the journalist that he just performed the very same trick he was telling her about. She is so touched and amazed by what he has done that she starts to cry.
I’m not saying that Deceptive Practice will move you as profoundly as Jay’s trick affected the journalist but seeing someone who is so clearly in love with what they do is both fascinating and touching. Deceptive Practice is well worth your time and might just remind you to take some time to remember those things that you love doing.
7.5 paws out of 10
Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon) (1902) – [Unrated]
And finally, I wanted to talk about the recently restored (and re-scored) short film, Le Voyage Dans La Lune. Those of you who have seen Hugo will recognize the creator of this 1902 film classic, Georges Méliès. Let me repeat . . . 1902. This short film is considered to be the first science fiction film. It was also one of the first to use special effects. A segment near the end is animated making it also one of the first animated films. To say that Le Voyage Dans La Lune was groundbreaking, in my opinion, isn’t strong enough.
Le Voyage Dans La Lune is the story of a group of men who travel to the moon in a bullet-shaped spaceship. While exploring the surface of the moon, they are captured by moon-men. It is a beautiful fantasy made all the more spectacular by the way it was created. At roughly 14 minutes in length (which was almost the entire length of a reel of film at the time), it packs an incredible amount of wonder and joy into its relatively short running time. Perhaps that was because Le Voyage was Méliès 400th film and by that time, he had a little experience. Made for what at the time was a princely sum of 10,000 Francs, it was also Méliès’s most successful film. A little too successful perhaps as it was illegally copied and released under other names (including by Thomas Edison’s film technicians).
I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy Le Voyage Dans La Lune so you can imagine how excited I was when I finally got a copy of the recently discovered and restored version on Blu-ray. In 2002, a print of the movie was found in a barn in France. Not only was it the most complete cut of the film, but each tiny frame had been hand-painted, giving each scene a beautiful, modulating patina. It was sent to a lab, scanned, cleaned up and restored. A copy was sent to the French band, Air, who created a score for it and it was submitted to the Cannes Film Festival. The results are spectacular. I know it’s not some exciting action movie. There is no shirtless Taylor Lautner. But do your old buddy Collin a favor and watch this.
10 paws out of 10
And since this whole set of reviews is about things that are special, I’ve got a special treat for you. Take fifteen minutes out of your day and click here to watch the restored Le Voyage Dans La Lune. While you do, just imagine what it must have been like for your great-grandparents to see something like this over a hundred years ago before we had rockets or any hope of even setting foot on the moon. I can only imagine that, to them, seeing this must have felt like magic.