Magic is a funny thing. You can love it and be mystified by it but still want to deconstruct how what you saw to the point that you ruin it for yourself. Magic tricks are closely guarded by the magic community, except in cases where assholes release videos.
Perhaps not as well know, or maybe just forgotten, but long before there was the Masked Magician there was Mystery Magician.
In 1986, CBS/Fox Video released a direct-to-video instructional special that spoiled many popular magic tricks and managed to be a VHS that I was obsessed with. The host, a legitimate magician, was shrouded in mystery and a full body black morphsuit.
Thanks to the magic (ha!) of YouTube, we can all enjoy this long out-of-print video. Let’s take a look at all six parts, shall we?
This magician had been a performer for over 20 years, according to the video. Why he decided to betray his brethren for a home video release will perhaps forever be unknown (okay, it was for money, obviously). The video presents step-by-step instructions on how the tricks are performed without any cuts or camera foolery.
The opening is so spooky and creepy, making way for the seedy fella revealing the secrets of his craft. Well, not only his secrets, but other magicians’ secrets as well.
I do enjoy how the magician and his male assistants all get full body and face coverage, meanwhile females get a swimsuit and small dollar store mask. Considering the female assistant’s commitment, particularly in the “saw a lady in half” trick, I’d say she needs some better compensation.
The background music in this is a combination of late 80s/early 90s video game music and the music you think they’d play at a fancy restaurant when you’re a kid.
While the magician is talking, it’s like he’s making motions to talk, but it’s all voice over anyway. Do one or the other (hint: just do a voice over).
Even watching this as a kid, it felt wrong. That didn’t stop me from watching it in the basement over and over again, fascinated by it, but also kind of mad. Like, wtf is this guy doing? And maybe even stranger: my uncle was a magician. Owning this video was like a betrayal to him in a way. I was too young to see my uncle perform and I didn’t grow up around him, but I feel like we all knew better than to watch this video.
I always liked the variety of tricks in this video. Super dangerous sword suspensions to death defying… key ring tricks? Yeah, I don’t know either. I also enjoy how we’re warned not to perform sword suspension, but then it’s not the magician or his bros that get up on there, it’s the lady.
Excellent team work, bros. You get a gold star. And the ability to put “works well with others” on your resume. Take a bow, you’ve earned it.
The Zig Zag Lady features some more upbeat music, almost a “Gloria” sound-a-like. I really applaud that lady’s flexibility.
All that moving women into weird positions has us exhausted. How about some sleight of hand? I joke, but sleight of hand is a good starting point. Please, by all means start with sleight of hand and card/coin tricks before taking a chainsaw to a lady. Or anyone.
The music once again has shifted, this time to department store muzak. I can appreciate this choice on many levels.
Don’t forget to try the Lady and the Tiger trick at home. Good luck finding a fucking tiger.
Perhaps the backlash against Mystery Magician is why I hate knowing how tricks are performed. I fully realize no one is getting cut in half and all that, but I still enjoy a little mystery.
Later in life, in the last five or so years, I’ve seen two live magic shows: Penn & Teller and David Copperfield. Penn & Teller were fabulously entertaining and left me wondering how they performed some of their tricks, but not enough that I went online to ruin it for myself.
David Copperfield, on the other hand… not so much. Perhaps it was my mistake for getting front row seats or maybe for paying too much attention. We saw ushers scouting out and talking to would-be volunteers from the audience, a volunteer from earlier in the show appeared at the end trick (they even did the whole “I’ve never met you in my life” spiel except you just saw that dude five tricks ago, Copperfield!), and watched Copperfield read off a monitor to not only keep volunteer names straight but to tell us his very personal stories from his childhood. Really takes the magic (ha!) out of it.
It was later revealed that Hal Marquardt was the man behind the mask (not to be confused with the Masked Magician from the late 90s/early 2000s, Val Valentino whose name is so nice his mom named him twice) and was kicked out of various magic societies. I always found it doubly disappointing when the Masked Magician was unmasked because I always hoped it was a pudgy white Phantom of the Opera type. Instead, Val looked like he could star on a Telemundo telenovela.
There’s Val Valentino’s reveal above. See what I mean?
Meanwhile, Hal Marquardt now performs on cruise ships?:
Still disappointing, but not nearly as much as Val. Hal seems much more sophisticated when he has that sultry clearly-not-his voice (guess that mystery of the voice over and him not really talking in the Mystery Magician video is solved).
I always feel like magic should feel like this:
YOU’RE THE DEVIL DAVID BLAINE.