Friday, October 29, 2010

Extreme Card Manipulation... Why?

The Asian cardist emerges from the dark corners of the local magic shop, arms spinning like propellors. The light hits him. He's flipping, spinning, cutting, and puree-ing cards like no tomorrow. Dramatically, he announces "I'VE GOT IT! I CAN FINALLY DO SICK AND TWISTED WINGS OF THE MOCKINGBIRD!"

What and WhatWhat of the What?

Extreme Card Manipulation. A genre of magic. But I ask... why? How does XCM in any way relate to magic? I don't get it personally. I'm always seeing DVDs and such being released, with equal balances of card magic and these extreme card flourishes. There's a lot I feel is wrong with this.

Firstly, what do XCM (X-treme Card Manipulation) and card magic have to do with each other? They only have one thing in common... they both use cards. Big whoop. If that's the only thing they have in common, they shouldn't be a combined art. It's as simple as that.

And these people who, in the middle of doing a card effect, execute this drawn-out 14-packet XCM cut, what the hell are you thinking? XCM, whether or not you believe it, is BORING after about 3 seconds. So why do these huge cuts that take 30 seconds to perform in the middle of a card effect? There's so much wrong with this.

For instance, pacing. In wasting time with your cut that only you really care about, you've broken the timing of your routine. I know, personally, if someone were to do a card effect on me and waste 30 seconds in the middle of it trying to impress me with how many packets he can hold between his fingers, I'd yawn and lose interest pretty quickly.

Don't get me wrong... Extreme Card Manipulation is a respectable art. It clearly takes extreme amounts of practice and dedication and it clearly isn't close to being easy. But why combine it with magic? It's like putting icing on a cake that already tastes good enough on its own... and the icing is so cheap and sugary that it ruins the whole cake. It doesn't taste horrible, but it doesn't taste great either.

Some of the world's most successful card magicians are so successful because they DON'T exhibit fancy cuts, shuffles, etc. They are useless eye candy in the long run and, truth be told, nobody really cares. But more important, consider this logic... If you can do this fancy cut with the cards, then you must be capable of amazing sleight of hand technical wonders too in the spectator's eyes. The successful guys, Paul Vigil and Lennart Green immediately come to mind, are so succcessful with their card magic because they don't do ANYTHING fancy. In fact, Lennart Green deliberately handles the deck overtly in a novice way, to discourage the thought that he has incredible, devastating skills.

This doesn't mean your card magic can't have flourish to it... some small, neat, nice in-the-hands cuts and shuffles are great. They're small, cozy, are over in barely a few seconds. They do maintain interest and don't really raise suspicion. It's when packets of card are being tucked under your chin that the problem arises.

Want to be a card magician? Be a card magician. Want to be an XCM artist? Go for it. Just, please, keep them seperate.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Breaking The Cliches

How many times have we watched a Cups and Balls routine that DIDN'T begin with the magician stating "This is the oldest trick in magic"?

I can only think of one routine I've personally seen (granted I haven't seen every routine in existence) that DIDN'T include such a line. Yes, it's an interesting line... it gives the trick a bare significance, at least historically, that in theory raises interest. I'm guilty of using the line myself. But I stopped... as soon as I really started to see just how many magicians use it. It's tiresome. Imagine the spectator who sees a lot of magic... don't you think they'll notice and grow tired of the same old Cups and Balls lines?

Magic is riddled with cliches... whether in stock lines, routining, or even persona. I've been considered, in some regards a performer very much like Jay Sankey... while I personally don't see this in my work, Sankey WAS a large influence on my earliest years of studying magic, so perhaps he rubbed off a bit onto me. Aside from that, I've tried to break free of magic cliches, to some degree.

Some magicians tried too hard to break free of cliches. Results are, bluntly put, disastrous. Consider Criss Angel. He tried to push what David Blaine sort of pioneered to the extreme and the results were far from spectacular.

We can't be pushing ourselves too far off track here... don't become the extreme opposite of the cliched magician or performer, just try to raise yourself above what's considered standard. If you follow the magical standards, you become just like every other magician... nothing makes you stand out. If that's how you wish to conduct yourself as a performer, that's fine. But in terms of success, I can't think of anybody who wouldn't want to stand out.

The next time I see a magician with a top hat on, I'll shoot myself. I'd rather not see magicians fulfill the public's hokey perspective of our art. People that dress in capes and perform with Change Bags and Mirror Boxes are exact examples of what makes the public look down on magic as though it's the silliest waste of time.

If you have such a hard time being different, unique, creative, you're simply in the wrong artform. Magic's about doing the impossible... so how hard could it possibly be to be unique?

So, to the standard magi out there... burn your top hats, set your rabbits free into the wild, and trade in your Change Bag for a prop that's YOU. Choose your work according to who you are, what your performing persona is. And if you're going to do the same stuff as everybody else, please, for the love of God... do it differently.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Internet Magic Forum

Okay, somebody had to point out the big green elephant in the room... What's the deal with magic forums? Who's bright idea was it to create an online community for magicians, when the LAST thing we need is an online community?

But why, you may ask, are magic forums such a bad thing? They are a place to get advice, aren't they? They are a place to discuss and debate topics in the art of magic, aren't they?

Yes, and that's what's wrong with it. Why the hell am I going to accept performing advice from a forum magician? Do you actually think the fact that he's logged in 8 hours a day dishing out advice means he has experience? The fact that people accept this advice as though it is credible appalls me.

Yes, magic forums connect us, and yes, they are a good way of sharing experiences and becoming somewhat of a distanced community. But if you actually think you're getting totally credible advice from magic forums, you are mistaken. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of forum go-ers that CAN give legitimately worthwhile advice... these magicians usually have a bounty of years of experience under their belts, and now take it easy in their magical retirement and help the young and less experienced magicians of the world. But let me ask you a question: How do you seperate the men from the boys here? How can you TELL who has said experience, or who can't practice what they preach? How much do you want to bet that half of these advice-givers are sitting at their computer with a worn copy of Strong Magic, typing advice directly out of the pages? Or giving their own crackpot advice?

Every minute you spend on a magic forum is a minute you spend NOT getting experience and NOT learning. I can compare this to playing a Soccer Video Game... you're not actually playing soccer! But it sure feels like it doesn't it? People play a racing video game, think it makes them experts at driving, then can't park a car to save their lives. Same deal.

To whoever pioneered the magic forum... shame on you. You've given an alcoholic a six-pack of Heineken. Nobody really needs it, but if they've got it, they'll use and abuse it. They'll drink and drink and eventually think they're capable of jumping off a 5 story building.

Well guess what? Splat.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Epidemic of Beginner Ignorance

"You remember that trick you did before? By Sam Finch?"

This was the question. An aspiring magician, fresh into his journey to greatness, asked me something that baffled me. Who the hell is Sam Finch?

"Umm, what was the effect?"

That was my reply... hopefully his response would help narrow it down.

"Well, I named any card, you tossed the Ace of Spades high into the air and caught it in the center of the deck... and it turned out to be right next to my card."

Now I knew what he was talking about. The Robin Hood Card. By STEPHEN MINCH.

This wasn't a fist-time occurance either. I'm too often riddled with odd questions and remarks about "The Elmer Count" and "The Shizbo Vanish", having no idea what they are talking about. How on earth do these people live their lives? How did they get through school? How difficult is it, with an arsenal of 2 basic magic effects, to remember the appropriate names of the moves and effects, as well as the creators they study?

New magicians know of Frank Everhart's Chicago Opener by the name of "The World's Greatest Card Trick". They perform Triumph routines, thinking they are called "Renegade". Where these names come from, I shudder to think.

You may accuse me of nit-picking... but I'm really trying to embody a bigger picture here. Beginners are working with mis-information (usually from the internet) and it's our job as more experienced performers to push them in the right direction.

The bottom line is, if you know of new (or even old) magicians that make common ignorant mistakes, don't grin and accept it, HELP THEM. Don't be afraid of sounding "holier than thou", it's your job to guide and educate. These people are the future of magic once the rest of the Marlos and Vernons vanish, so we might as well get them started in the best way possible. Have them already beginning toward a road of greatness. They'll be plenty of steps ahead of the ill-informed. An example of this would be my good friend in magic, Reuben, who I met in my first year of high school. He had begun to study magic over the prior summer and was very much the kind of person I describe in this article. He's an exceptional magician and performer now, and he has often said to me that, if it hadn't been for me pushing him away from the crap he'd led himself to and pointed him toward worthwhile resources, he probably wouldn't be in magic still. There you have it.

Stop this epidemic. Educate a magic neanderthal today.

Welcome to The Magic Rant!

Good day everyone!

Michael Kras here... I'm just a young guy with a cynical attitude, like most teenaged magicians are nowadays. This blog is sort of a fun venting outlet for me. I love to vent, and now I have an acceptable way of doing so.

I'm here, of course, to rant about magic... The old, the new, the cliche, the pet peeves, EVERYTHING, for your entertainment pleasure. Don't you worry, I'll have full posts coming very, very soon... And be forewarned. I don't plan on being gentle. I'll be blunt, even harsh at times, and unapologetic. Maybe we'll get some good ol' controversy going. Until then, anticipate the unknown.

Michael Kras