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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Penny for your thoughts » » Premise of Blaine's recent work based on Mentalism principles? (11 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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January
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I apologize for the long-winded post, and I also apologize if this has already been discussed at length.

I know some of Blaine's recent stunts have garnered some criticism from some, e.g. Penn Jillette, who claims Blaine's stunts such as the "real" bullet catch have no place in magic. This makes some sense to me--I recall one magician saying that DB's approach is kind of like saying, "Hey, look at these cool card tricks; now I'm going to hang myself from the ceiling by my balls." It also occurred to me, however, that what Blaine is doing is quite similar to some principles found in mentalism.

I think one of the most challenging things about tackling mentalism is that for there to be any room for genuine wonderment, it's quite helpful to appear capable of doing the things you say you're able to do, regardless of the premise of your mentalism. For example, if you're using the "I'm not really psychic; I'm just really good at reading clues," justification, then you better come off as a really perceptive, intelligent person (e.g., Derren Brown's presentation). Or if your premise is some sort of preternatural ability, you should probably come off as a bit creepy. I've also found that many of the best mentalists actually can genuinely do what they claim to do in some instances. For example, Jermay actually can get people to forget a card quite often. Many mentalists are unusually good at cold reading, and cold reading is fairly genuinely reading someone's mind and person through close observation. Derren Brown's psychological card forces are an instance where he really does use subtle language, gestures, and suggestion to cause spectators to picture a certain card without them realizing it.

So whether one claims it is through intellectual or paranormal ability, the premise of mentalism is some sort of psychological manipulation. Many good mentalists are able to genuinely do this well enough that there is a seamless transition between their genuinely doing it and their effects that use more covert deception.

I've noticed Blaine has started doing a bit more mentalism in his recent work. But even his work that is still more strictly magic has borrowed the principle of blurring the line between genuinely doing something and doing something through trickery or deception. While the premise of mentalism is the manipulation or control of psychological objects, magic is more focused on physical objects. So, when Blaine skewers his arm, he creates a blurred line that calls into question the rest of his performances. Where does the real end? I understand it's more ethically hazy than mentalism since most of his stunts involve self harm of some sort, and there is the worry that it may inspire people to try to recreate his performances with disastrous results. But that's not really the topic I wanted to tackle here. I just thought it was interesting that he seems to be blurring the line between real and trickery in much the same way mentalists do. This blurring can really create a sense of wonderment in audiences who are used to feeling that regardless of whether they know how it's done or not, that all magic is trickery.

Your thoughts?
Tom Cutts
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Quote:
On Dec 13, 2016, January wrote:
the premise of mentalism is some sort of psychological manipulation.

Quite simply, no, it's not. That is presentation style. A choice of the performer.

As for blurring the lines between real and otherwise, that is a magician frame of mind.
January
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Perhaps I didn't express myself clearly. I know "psychological manipulation" might imply a sort of naturalistic explanation, but I just meant that mentalism deals a lot with unseen, psychological material--thoughts, unseen touches, etc.--and manipulating those in some sense, by reading them through a naturalistic explanation, or through paranormal means, etc., while magic tends to deal more with the physical. Obviously, the two aren't discrete, separate categories, and there is a lot of overlap, but that is the basic distinction we make, right? I could be confused here, but most of the mentalism stuff I've seen seems to deal more with mind reading / psychokinesis / telepathy, etc.


Quote:
As for blurring the lines between real and otherwise, that is a magician frame of mind.

I don't understand your meaning hear, but you've piqued my interest. Doesn't most magic or mentalism have at least some people wondering "Did he really do that?" or "That doesn't really seem possible!" Or did you mean something else?

I just meant Blaine had taken it a little further than most, thus some magicians strong responses to his approach.
January
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My apologies if original post was stupid and I've made a fool of myself! New member here.
Tom Cutts
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Here is what I am sensing, and it's just my observation not a judgement; your perception of what mentalism is is very limited. You seem only to have experienced the current trendy style and effects. Those will change soon enough when the next breakout star happens and the common style changes to mimick that.

I could drop the word "manipulation" at the feet of magicians, but that isn't entirely the case. It is the hammer of those who need to control things. Those who need to display power over others. For instance, when you go to see a movie, are you manipulating it? When I see a thought, or more accurately sense a thought, it is that simple. Just an observation; not a manipulation and not a play for power over others.

As to your second question, magicians use tricks, mentalists do it for real. And what they do are two very different things. The confusion in perception of both the public and the community is due to weak persona development on one side and a tsunami of tricksters claiming to be mentalists on the other. There is enough blame to go around to be certain.
January
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Yes--I guess, "manipulation" was a poor choice of words. Darn the limit on the editing function!

But I find your response enlightening. I find it helpful to try to figure out what the recent trend is in order to understand what the current "box" is--then I can try to think outside the box. I've currently only read the central works by (in no particular order) Corinda, Anneman, Osterlind, Banachek, Cassidy, Derren Brown, Larry Becker, and Luke Jermay, so my understanding may be a bit limited to common recommendations here. I'm trying to work my way through all of Cassidy's suggested reading in 39 Steps to Mentalism before I start purchasing more just to get a good foundation.
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It's all a matter of character. For Penn the Blaine bullet catch does not make sense as no one in their right mind can catch a bullet. Penn & Teller present my method of the bullet catch as a mystery, they even call it the Magic Bullet rather than a bullet catch, the impossibility of the bullet catch getting from one side of the stage to the other. We have done many bullet catches with Criss and always presented it as real. BUild up as Blaine did and Derren, the drama building up to it, and the catch. Last time we even built a special glove for Criss to catch it with and had the police SWAT team shooting the bullet. Funny magicians don't talk about those catches but that's another story.

It is all about character.

Blaine has presented his stunts as real mind work for a long time in the presentations of what he does in the moment. He has revealed thoughts, numbers and such. THis is not new for him. He opened his second special with my Psychokinetic time, a PK effect where you read someone's mind and alter their watch. Again this is not new for Blaine to use the methods of mentalists but keep in mind, although we use psychology, EVERY SINGLE SUCCESSFUL mentalist uses tricks to accomplish his effects. Yes, we may have an effect or two that relies upon psychology to accomplish an effect but it is a one off and not a full huge piece relying solely on psychology. That would be foolish. We use tricks, slight of hand, slight of mouth, direction, misdirection. PRoblem today is so many mentalists are getting caught up in the psychological Subtleties only, my books were meant to enhance, not take over the methods. If a mentalist does not get that I can assure you his performance sucks and he will fail and not be able to make a living at what we do. Unless he goes full "Psychic mode." (meaning readings and the like) Even then he will not be able to do it. He will fade away conning people in a small section of the world.

It is not everyone can be a David Blaine or Criss Angel and mix magic and Mentalism

It is a all about knowing your character.
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Jerskin
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Blaine has been doing mentalism since his second special so it isn't a recent thing.
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I would say Blaine has been performing mentalism since his first special, and that the "trendy","modern" approach to mentalism, for good or ill, is almost entirely due to his original TV specials.
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Robert Houdin 's bullet catch helped stop a potential war

Not sure if he'd be a mentalist but boy did he have Karacter
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January
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What the heck, Banachek himself responded to my thread? I've forgotten my original question now! Wow, didn't even know you posted here. I'm a huge fan.

If you check back in, I really love your work, and I also noticed Blaine doing at least one of your effects on "Real or Magic." It was one of my favorite moments on the entire show, and after reading your work I appreciate it even more for its beautiful boldness and simplicity.

Thanks for the clarifications, all. I do feel a little silly for my original post, and I hope it wasn't too irksome, but I've already learned quite a bit from the thread, so it's certainly worth it. I don't mind feeling silly if it helps me to learn.
ed wood
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Quote:
On Dec 13, 2016, Dr Spektor wrote:
Robert Houdin 's bullet catch helped stop a potential war

Not sure if he'd be a mentalist but boy did he have Karacter


I thought it was a light/heavy routine?
ProfessorJinksy
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Quote:
On Dec 14, 2016, ed wood wrote:
Quote:
On Dec 13, 2016, Dr Spektor wrote:
Robert Houdin 's bullet catch helped stop a potential war

Not sure if he'd be a mentalist but boy did he have Karacter


I thought it was a light/heavy routine?


It was both. For the bullet catch, two musket balls were used. One was fired at a wall and was filled with blood. The second he caught in his teeth. Or something along those lines.

I think the OP had good points about Blaine. Of course, he is a magician and he does tricks, but he is also "weird" for real, and he frequently does things that blur the line completely between real/fake. This is why people talk about urban shamanism when they talk about Blaine. And the OP may not know, but Bizarre Magick is also a category, and may be a little closer to what Blaine is accomplishing.

But Blaine has definitely earned the right to be called "the real deal" despite his open use of trickery. It's beautiful to watch him work.
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Don't forget, Blaine revived a dead pigeon, turned a homeless guy's coffee into money, levitated, all kinds of stuff...

Of course there was magic, but one of the things I always liked about Blaine was that he has evolved in subtle ways, yet kept to the core..

Weird guy, sideshow freakery, magic, shaman...he DELIBERATELY blurred those lines, it wasn't by being clumsy or not knowing who he was...conscious choice...huge difference...

Will always be a fan...
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January
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Quote:
I think the OP had good points about Blaine. Of course, he is a magician and he does tricks, but he is also "weird" for real, and he frequently does things that blur the line completely between real/fake. This is why people talk about urban shamanism when they talk about Blaine. And the OP may not know, but Bizarre Magick is also a category, and may be a little closer to what Blaine is accomplishing.


Thanks for mentioning the bizarre magick genre. I've hopped over to that part of the page, and it is certainly an interesting genre.

I think what Banachek really hit on (that I completely missed) is that the difference with Blaine is that at times he's focusing the core of his performances on something that is actually pretty genuinely what it is (like the kerosene/water regurgitation), while a mentalist would use trickery for the core effects, and the more subtle manipulation to smooth out the edges and create believability (is that a word?). Derren Brown is the mentalist that comes to mind as going to the greatest lengths to do this (maybe even overboard), as he'll devise a really extensive and ornate NLP script for an effect that's actually pretty simple in order to "explain" how it's done to his audience.

But Blaine is doing sort of the reverse: his "biggest" effects are often focused around the regurgitation or skewering his hand (which I actually think he genuinely does, since I've seen other performers showcase both these skills as standalone acts). This "real" (or purportedly) real effect is the core, while more standard magic and mentalism elements are the build up. The more trendy form of mentalism is the reverse: genuine psychological forces and manipulation lead up to the more deceptive material.
ProfessorJinksy
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Quote:
On Dec 14, 2016, January wrote:
But Blaine is doing sort of the reverse: his "biggest" effects are often focused around the regurgitation or skewering his hand (which I actually think he genuinely does, since I've seen other performers showcase both these skills as standalone acts). This "real" (or purportedly) real effect is the core, while more standard magic and mentalism elements are the build up. The more trendy form of mentalism is the reverse: genuine psychological forces and manipulation lead up to the more deceptive material.


In my opinion, January, you're touching on some important themes.

There aren't really any "answers" to these issues, but you can learn a lot from the conversations, and from studying what other people do or don't do, and what makes it work or not work, from your perspective. At the end, you'll find what you want to do, or find enjoyment from doing, because that's what will work for you.

You have to remember, though, that a GOOD mentalist will conceal the fact that they are "cheating" just as a good card cheater would. So, if you do an analysis of Blaine vs. A Good Mentalist from an audience perspective, you'll get a different analysis. Because a layman wouldn't see it the way you've characterized it, because ideally they aren't privy to the methods. And it is the audience perception that ultimately draws the line between mentalism and mental magic, at least in my opinion.
January
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Because a layman wouldn't see it the way you've characterized it, because ideally they aren't privy to the methods. And it is the audience perception that ultimately draws the line between mentalism and mental magic, at least in my opinion.

Yes, I agree of course! It is funny how laypeople perceive what is the most "impossible" element of a performance, since they don't know the methodology behind it.

It is interesting that when I was a layperson, most of the effects that I found the MOST impossible in Blaine's performance (I had only seen him and a handful of other magicians) were more standard mentalism effects. I just assumed the audience members were stooges, especially since they were famous people, but now I know most of these effects in fact involve no stooges at all. For me, it was more believable that Blaine could skewer his hand than that he could read someone's mind. But at the same time, many of my friends had exactly the opposite impression when viewing his performances. Either way, I think the blurring is important for audience who have personalities similar to mine.
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This is a great thread for me to see at this time. I'm just getting into this. Just starting to grasp some basic concepts, with no real idea of the persona I want to present.

Reading from the top, at first I couldn't understand why Gilette says this has "no place in magic." I've seen the Blaine special and thought it was great and frankly can't see the beef. Who is one successful illusionist to say what doesn't belong in magic? Moving down a few post, another living great nailed how this is relevant to me. It's about the character. Banachek opened and closed his response with that, and hit us with it in the middle in case we missed the book ends.

The performance needs to match the persona. The presentation sells the skills and the skills are what you perform. Good acting without good technique isn't magic, and good magic or mentalism without context is weird. This is exactly where I am struggling right now. I'm practicing some spoon bending, (amazing a few of the other dads at scout camp this year) and I'm working on learning some mind reading/ fortune telling techniques, but I have no idea how I'm going to present any of this. (At camp, I said "watch this thing I've been practicing, and tell me if it looks real..." The guys loved it and said it looked real. There was no act and I didn't say how I did it)

I don't like the "psychological" explanation and I'm not really 'new agey' and I'm not going to give a disclaimer. I don't know how I'm going to present, and this thread underlines the importance of figuring that out.
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The title of this thread is about Blaine's premises, but many of his tactics lean toward mentalism, too, in so much as, he really does a lot of things for real. I'm not going into details in Penny but (on Jimmy Fallon, for example) he appears to use (and succeed with) bold psychological tactics that are reminiscent of the great Chan Canasta.

I think that Blaine is sort of a mentalist, in the truest sense of the word, because many audience members believe that there is something real, freaky, abnormal, spooky, creepy, or what have you, going on. And there is! This makes Blaine a magician in the old sense of the word, ie., the mago. Which is sort of what a proper mentalist tries to do today.

I would not have thought that someone in this day/age could, on the whole, be accepted as a real mago, but I think that Blaine has achieved that because he has nerves like steel cables and apparently no fear.
Second Sight
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For what it's worth, the latest issue of the Journal of Performance Magic from the University of Huddersfield had an interesting paper in it about Blaine. It can be read here:

http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/29939/
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