Sunday, May 27, 2007

The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. Eden Phillpotts

Norma Bessouet - Infinite Dandelions
You must go and have a look at Norma Bessouet's work over at the Arden Gallery site

Amongst the detritus of my ongoing search for happiness, enlightenment and fulfillment (with its side order of cheap thrills as and where I find them), I've found a mysterious parallel path. I keep stumbling into a theme of magic. Not wizard's wands (easy, now) and witch's bristles sort of magic, or the elvish (uh-huh-huh, thank you very much) and pixie dust kind, but the 'Look into my eyes,' kind of magic: of assistants in fishnet tights, puffs of smoke, trapdoors and 'Shazam!' infamy.

First of all, it was The Illusionist, with the ever-charming Edward Norton, who I swooned over more than once in his desperate bid to keep his girl. Then in Mull, I read a book about Helen Duncan, called Hellish Nell, who was the last woman in England to be tried and charged as a witch - actually, she wasn't a witch as I would understand it, she was a medium fakir, with a devilish talent for secreting long strands of linen about her intimate person (one of the nicer places was in her throat, I'm going to leave the rest to you - it's not that sort of blog), which she would then remove, magician-stylee and declare was spirit 'ectoplasm.' Reading Hellish Nell, I discovered a Victorian world fascinated with spirits and magic, at odds with its repressive reputation.

After Hellish Nell, I read a brilliant biography of Houdini - real name Erich Weiss - that revealed the years of sacrifice and hard work that preceded Houdini's fame. He spent years penniless, travelling the world from theatre to theatre. I also learned that mind-reading was a huge part of his early act. I may also have mentioned here that I'm currently reading Derren Brown's Tricks of the Mind - available from your friendly library service - which reveals many of the famous illusionist and trickster's methods and includes tips on memory, slight of hand and the art of reading body language. It was from him that I learnt that the word mentalist actually means something other than a derogatory term for a crazy person, it actually means: "apparently psychic entertainers whose illusions feature the ability to read minds, project the mind to alter the state of matter, foretell the future, and see distant and hidden objects." (Thanks to wikipedia for that).

But the best journey down my mentalist side road so far (there's a sentence that doesn't happen often), has to be a film I watched yesterday at my family home on Hayling, The Prestige (that's the name of the film, btw, not my family home). This is about a struggle for one-upmanship and revenge between two magicians, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. I'm not a fan of Christian Bale, but he had the same effect on me in this film as Nicholas Cage (who I'm also not a fan of) had on me in the film Next (another one about the power of the mind): make a male character even slightly magical in a film and I'll be spellbound by them quicker than you can say Presto Chango.

Better even than the plot of the film is its many references to the Victorian era of magic, and interestingly, how a fascination among the public with magic at that time took place alongside and interweaved with the growth of modern science. In the Prestige, I was introduced to Nikola Tesla, 'The Man who Invented the Twentieth Century' and I intend to search for more on him at my friendly local library. Most of all, though the film is beautifully filmed, and is, in itself an illusion, providing clues throughout to the over-arching theme, and revealing the ending to you many, many times over, without allowing you to actually see it. Recommended.

So, I've decided to update my money-making ambitions. If the writing for a living thing doesn't work out, I'm going to become a mentalist (resist the temptation, please).

Look into my eyes........

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