If you have not yet watched the movie The Prestige, go buy or rent a DVD.
It is a darned good movie even for the lay public. When it was released in 2006, it promptly landed on top of the blockbuster list on its first week of showing in the U.S.
Watch the movie first, so you can follow intelligently this intelligent discourse that I have intelligently written today for intelligent readers. Okay, I’ll get rapped in the knuckles by my English teacher for being unintelligently redundant, but you got my point. Watch the movie.
What I find interesting in the movie is that it actually provides lessons we magicians in the Philippines can take to heart. That is, if we only spare a moment to savor the nuances of the story.
Lesson 1: Copying other magician’s act. Sound familiar? The problem is as current today as it was in Victorian era England.
Notice the difference (or similarity): Borden’s “The Transported Man Illusion” shows him bouncing a ball across the stage. He then disappears into a box and instantly steps out from another box across the stage and catches the ball before it bounces off the stage.
In Angier’s “The New Transported Man” version, he tosses his hat across the stage, disappears behind a door and reappears at the other end of the stage to catch the hat.
Angier’s act is patently a copy. He explains it away, though, as an “improvement” of an existing act, just like the way modern copycats justify copying by calling it “my own version”, “my own presentation”, “my own innovation”, “my own improvement”, and other unoriginal, even copied rationalizations. The bottom line, though, copying by any other name is still copying, as the movie so eruditely shows.
The only difference between the movie’s thievery and today’s stealing of material is that our modern magicians are a lot tamer than the characters of the movie. Today’s magicians merely turn red in the face with anger, complain bitterly, and spew obscenities when copied by imitators, but they never go to deadly ends and kill their rivals the way Angier and Borden do to each other in the movie.
Lesson 2: Keeping a Secret. With the advent of the Internet, this seems to be a dying discipline in the modern magic world. Not only digital media have made information dissemination a cinch but also a growing number of magicians seem to be in a rush to release their material for money and posterity.
In contrast, except for reason of family, Borden refuses to part with his secret. Not money, fame or the hangman’s noose can sway him to give up the secret of his trick. One of the lines he says which I find endearing is, “If you give the secret up, you are nothing to them (the audience).”
Lesson 3: Dedication to the Art.The movie teaches magicians, wannabe magicians and all manner of hacks what love of magic is really all about. Throughout the story, Angier and Borden show the moviegoers how they dedicate their lives to presenting magic illusions as best as they can.
In the final scene, where Angier and Borden converse in whispers so softly I could hardly catch what they are saying, Angier confesses he suffered for the tricks to become great. Borden, on his part, in an earlier scene, severs his twin brother’s pinky and ring fingers to show his commitment to the perpetuation of his illusion.
Ah, the movie portrays Chung Ling Soo in passing, but his brief screen time also drives home the lesson of dedication to the art. The film shows him as someone who maintains his unnatural stage gait even offstage, so that when he hides a large production bowl of water between his legs during his performances, nobody suspects the stratagem. (Yes, the production of the bowl of water, at least the Chinese method, is exposed in the movie. I don’t expect any howl of protest from the guardians of magic secrets. I guess it’s all right to expose magic tricks in the movies but not on television. Valentino chose the wrong medium.)
How many magicians in the Philippines can claim dedication to the art of magic to the extent that they show willingness to suffer for their tricks? Nowadays, one can hoard on tricks easily and cheaply from legal and illegal sources. The glut of secrets, methods and props in the market does not seem to offer much motivation for magicians to aspire faithfulness in their art.