Critics' Pick

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay (NR)

Documentary 88 April 17, 2013
By Alan Scherstuhl
Turns out, Ricky Jay is one of those guys who has to sit in the restaurant with his back to the wall. That's not just because the sleight-of-hand master and historian of magic is-- as interviewees in this new doc attest-- a cantankerous sort who is thick with the great card-sharps of the age. It's also because, for all his on-stage triumphs, Jay, like the great Max Malini, prizes the impromptu deception as his art's finest expression. Deep into Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, a reporter for the Guardian recounts a long afternoon with Jay. They wound up at a bustling Sunset Boulevard taco joint, where Jay worked a trick so grand that if someone had pulled it in Old Testament times we might have a competing set of gospels. The reporter burst into tears—this feat, executed just for her, over lunch! This spirited doc keeps its back to the wall, too, the better to dazzle you with its clips of Jay pulling astonishments with the decks of cards he is forever just unwrapping from their plastic. Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein are never stingy with footage of the magicians with whom Jay has studied: Cardini, Slydini, Francis Carlyle, Al Flosso, Dai Vernon, and more. We also see mad and gorgeous excerpts from his library of magic guides and posters and paraphernalia, dating back centuries. But what sticks with you is Jay, supremely calm, shuffling a deck, performing impossibilities like he's just making them up as they come to him. Here’s a movie with magic.
Molly Bernstein, Alan Edelstein Kino Lorber Films

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