As a kid, I loved magic. Illusions on a grand scale, card tricks in your face, the feeling of power when you knew how a trick was performed, the pure elation of a practice-makes-perfect performance that fools family and friends.
I’ve been waiting for Hulu to release The Amazing Johnathan Documentary since I first became aware of it at True/False Film Fest this year. The film in a single line: A dying magician, fond of pranks and meth, tries to revive his act as a documentary crew follows him through the struggles, but he ends up confounding the director’s expectations through a bit of sleight of hand. It’s an incredible piece of postmodern art, but it’s hard to write about magic without ruining the trick. Here’s my attempt.
- Some magical writing on magic: Chris Jones wrote a brilliant profile of Teller, the silent half of Penn & Teller, and it’s Jones at his best.
- Here’s the illusion that Jones references in the opening paragraph.
- Magic demystified: This was a Penn & Teller trick first introduced to me on The West Wing, and it’s practically performed in full on the show, but this version goes a bit further, and it’s a lot of fun. The rhetoric is as good as the illusion.
- Magic is hard work. It can take years to perfect a trick. But as Teller describes to Ira Glass of This American Life, “If you really understand a magic trick, down to its mechanics and the core of its psychology, the trick gets better, not worse.” That was part of the fun of The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, and how seeing behind the scenes of how it was made increased the value of the film rather than diminish it.