by T.J. Tranchell
They aren’t playing the Rio because Penn & Teller still rule the roost there, but they could do a TV special, maybe something along the lines of David Copperfield-lite.
I loved those specials when I was young. They were events. I got extra TV time just to watch him. Two of the biggest specials came at a time when I was ripe to be influenced. His ninth and 10th specials, “The Escape from Alcatraz” and “The Bermuda Triangle,” respectively, aired when I was just learning about the Bay area maximum-protection prison and the mysterious Atlantic Ocean triangle that made airplanes disappear.
It might not seem like a big deal to escape from Alcatraz, but when you look at the specials that came before, they fit right in. Previously, Copperfield had floated over the Grand Canyon, walked through the Great Wall of China and made the Statue of Liberty disappear. For all I knew, Copperfield wasn’t a magician; he seemed more like a James Bond supervillain who decided to entertain for money instead of ransom.
Entertainment is the key. Norton has it, even if it is only in 30-minute doses at an amusement park north of Coeur D’Alene. Copperfield, in my lifetime, is still the best. I love Penn & Teller, too (and have even spoken to Teller). Norton is more like them: he wants you to have a good time.
Taking Copperfield’s place in the popular magic pantheon have been Criss Angel and David Blaine (Blaine has 12 specials since 1997, whereas Copperfield had 20 between 1977 and 2001). The difference, to me, is that Angel and Blaine seem to focus more on creeping people out than wowing them. Blaine has been called an endurance artist, which is quite different than a traditional illusionist.
Endurance art is like a marathon. If a regular illusionist is a sprinter, they could do a handful of tricks well over and over; the endurance artist does one thing for a long time and tries not to die.
Norton’s act never gives the sense that death is possible. It’s a family show with a bit of a sexy steampunk edge. Copperfield, well, there were a couple times when I thought he might not make it. Blaine and Angel seem to rely on the idea that they might actually succumb to the rigors of their “magic.” Freezing oneself for days is just as much an act of endurance for the audience as it is for the artist.
For me, a good magic special includes card tricks, a few birds, messing with the audience in a way that makes them part of the joke instead of the butt of it, and one big illusion. I doubt anything will ever get bigger than the magic of David Copperfield. (Unless someone like Norton gets ambitious.)
Tranchell is a journalist and freelance writer in Moscow, Idaho. He once had the Blackstone Magic Kit but only succeeded in making the wand look like it was melting. Do you like magic? What’s the best trick you ever saw? Let’s talk: firstname.lastname@example.org.