Before the screening of Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, it was announced that the just-completed documentary (that is more than a decade in the making) has yet to find a distributor. As someone who knew very little of the illusionist and renaissance man besides his appearances in films like The Prestige and Boogie Nights, I have to recommend after seeing Deceptive Practices that anyone who has the cash to grab this fascinating documentary.
Despite the days of prime-time magician specials or magicians appearing on late night talks shows being long gone (unless you count David Blaine’s “I’m going to stand on a pole for a month” as “magic”), people are still fascinated by illusionists. We think we know everything — especially with the Internet — but the truth is that big-time magicians like Ricky Jay protect the secrets behind their best illusions so carefully that they refuse to share their secrets with even their closest friends. The main narrative thread of Deceptive Practice is the challenge the directors, Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein, face in making a documentary about a subject who is so secretive about his art form.
Ricky Jay, for those who don’t know much about him (like me before the screening), is a magician, an actor, a writer, and technical adviser for film illusions, and has been performing magic his entire life (now in his sixties, Jay made his first television appearance at six). Inheriting his love of magic from his grandfather, Jay would train under some of the 20th century’s most famous magicians in his pursuit of knowledge of an art form that, based on its secretive nature, is hard to learn. The documentary follows Jay’s journey throughout his life as he explains a little bit about his craft — but don’t worry, there are absolutely no spoilers to be had here. That’s because Jay is a fierce protector of his illusions, the details of which he doesn’t even reveal to filmmakers he works worth unless absolutely necessary.
Those who think that there just isn’t enough mystery in the world will really enjoy Deceptive Practice, as it follows one of the few remaining art forms in which the secrets behind it are closely guarded. Jay is a great storyteller, and his recalling of events from his long career are not only fascinating, but also very funny. Though shot as a film, I imagine Deceptive Practice would find a better home as a television special because of its middle-of-the-road narrative: theatrically released documentaries are often expected to be controversial or make wild claims, but we don’t get that here. But that’s just as well — had this documentary revealed too much about Jay and his illusions I’d be less intrigued by his life and mysteries. Like any good magician, this documentary left me wanting to see more.
Rating: An interesting journey through a master magician’s life that may not be as revelatory as some might life (8/10).
New York Film Festival Screening Times
Thursday, October 4 6:30 PM Walter Reade Theater
Wednesday, October 10 1:00 PM Francesca Beale Theater