I'll admit a certain weakness for the NY Times... - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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post #1 of 1 (permalink) Old 09-29-2006, 03:45 PM Thread Starter
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I'll admit a certain weakness for the NY Times...

Which is not to say I'm married to it.

But their writing (even when not made up) is often the most entertaining and inspired out there. (For pure reporting I'd prefer the WSJ, but...)

Anyway, they just had a column about a dispute between magicians; the reference therein to Ricky Jay is to the actor; a pretty good character actor whom you'll recognize if you watch many movies. I hadn't known he was also a magician. He's also got a great sense of humor; I loved his one quote about watching the other guy's act. Lastly, only the NY Times would have thought to seek out for a quote Teller, the non-speaking half of Penn & Teller.

September 27, 2006

Dueling Magicians: Whose Trick Is It Anyway?

The Knight’s Tour, a feat of mental agility in which you trace the path of a knight to every square of a chess board, landing on each square only once, is at least a thousand years old, Eric Walton explains when he performs it in the finale of his show “Esoterica” at the DR2 Theater. But it was hardly esoteric to the woman in the audience on Monday night who whispered that she knew how it worked.

“Oh, I’ve seen Ricky Jay do that,” she said.

Mr. Jay, the sleight-of-hand artist and magic historian, did the Knight’s Tour in “Ricky Jay: On the Stem,” his 2002 show. It wasn’t the only overlap between Mr. Jay’s and Mr. Walton’s acts. “I paid for a ticket and I sat through the show,” Mr. Jay said, “and I would very much like my money and my material back.”

Mr. Walton has said that he and Mr. Jay are both new dogs performing old and well-documented tricks.

“This material has been out there,” said Mr. Walton, who has been working on his current act for the last four years. “The best magicians can do is take existing routines and sort of put our own spin on them.”

The skirmish began a few weeks ago when Mr. Jay went to “Esoterica” with friends including Jules Fisher, the Tony Award-winning lighting designer, who is also an amateur magician. The resemblances were apparent early on.

Like Mr. Jay, Mr. Walton uses antique and sizable words — “Brobdingnagian” (Mr. Walton), “pachydermatous” (Mr. Jay) — wears pinstripe suits and combines his act with professorial asides on magic history.

Some tricks overlap too: in “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants,” his 1994 show, Mr. Jay made a fountain of cards spring from both hands and plucked two previously chosen ones from the air, a trick, he said, that was the trademark of a card man named Max Malini in the 1920’s. Mr. Walton does the same trick, though with one hand, for his encore.

In “On the Stem” Mr. Jay performed an old con game called Fast and Loose, involving a gold chain, which he said showed up in Shakespeare; Mr. Walton does the same trick, and mentions the specific Shakespeare plays.

Then there was the Knight’s Tour.

Mr. Jay set the trick up as a tribute to Harry Kahne, a 1920’s performer who specialized in the Multiple Mental Marvel: performing several mental tasks at once. In his version Mr. Jay recited the Knight’s Tour without looking at the giant chessboard behind him, in between finding the cube roots of several random large numbers, quoting Shakespeare and singing work songs.

Mr. Walton, who also pays tribute to past performers, does the Knight’s Tour without looking at the chess board, while completing a magic square — in which all rows, columns, diagonals and quadrants add up to the same randomly selected number — and throwing out state capitals and trivia.

A few days after the performance, Mr. Fisher sent an e-mail message to Mr. Walton saying the presentation of the Knight’s Tour “so closely approaches its inspiration as to border on plagiarism,” and suggesting he try another trick.

In response Mr. Walton sent a lengthy message with a detailed history of the Knight’s Tour, mentioning a recent performer, a Belgian chess showman, who combined the tour with feats of memorization.

“Does performing an existing effect, or variation thereof, confer upon the performer of it ownership of that effect, or the exclusive and perpetual right to all subsequent interpretations of it?” Mr. Walton asked in his message. “On this point you and I are obviously in disagreement.”

Shortly afterward, Mr. Walton contacted a Web site, ontheleesh.com, to which he had given an interview, and asked them to remove a quotation describing Mr. Jay as a source of inspiration.

Teller, the non-speaking half of Penn and Teller, who has seen Mr. Jay’s shows but not Mr. Walton’s, said such debates arose quite often in the magic world. Outright ownership isn’t at stake, he added, but Mr. Jay’s act constituted a painstaking and innovative revival of some little-practiced classics, and a certain code of courtesy should apply.

“If an act hasn’t been prominently performed for a long time, and someone takes the trouble to bring it back from absolute death and put it into his act with fine touches, and which at least hasn’t been seen by a current generation,” he said, “the gentlemanly thing to do is say, ‘That’s his for now.’ ”

That said, he added, “magicians are not unique in their absence of creativity.”

Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy; its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery. (Winston Churchill)
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