In the last article on magic and the movies, I wrote about how magic and magicians have been portrayed in the cinema. But there were so many flicks I wanted to mention, I had to write this “sequel” so you could have an opportunity to check out these movies too and tell me what you think. So turn down the lights, grab the popcorn and lets go!
JUDEX (1963): I find this French crime flick from the 60s fascinating for many reasons. It’s a stylishly shot, moody black-and-white film directed by the great Georges Franju. While the plot is a standard crime revenge potboiler, the visuals are out of this world. The opening scene – a costume ball where the guests are wearing the heads of animals – will burn into your memory. And even though the main character is not a magician, he is played by one: the incomparable Channing Pollock. Pollock was a famous cabaret performer and actor, and in this part he portrays a mysterious crime fighter. You actually get to see him perform some magic, and his looks, charm and elegance really add to the overall story.
(Note: before he passed away in 2006, I got to meet Mr. Pollock at the Magic Castle. He was as magnetic and mesmerizing in person as he was on the silver screen.)
A still from the film JUDEX.
THE ESCAPE ARTIST (1982): Okay, I’ll admit a special attachment to this movie because it was filmed in Cleveland, Ohio where I grew up. Still, this story of a young boy magician (who becomes embroiled with the machinations of a corrupt mayor and must struggle for what’s right) has a certain charm to it that’s –- pardon me – inescapable. This is the directorial debut of the wonderful cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, so need I tell you, the film is gorgeous to look at. The magic consultant was Ricky Jay, magic historian and master of sleight-of-hand. A nice Saturday night date movie.
Caleb Deschanel, director of THE ESCAPE ARTIST.
HUGO (2011): This is truly a magical film, and for so many reasons. Directed by Martin Scorsese and originally released in 3-D, it tells the tale of an orphan in 1930s Paris who lives in the walls of a train station, and is trying to solve a mystery concerning his late father. The film is also about the eternal magic of cinema, and one of the main characters is Georges Méliès, a real-life magician who became a filmmaker and is one of the forefathers of special effects in movies. Méliès was around for the birth of cinema in 1895, and a year later was creating and projecting his own films.
A still from Méliès’ most famous film: A TRIP TO THE MOON.
Like THE ILLUSIONIST (2006) – a film I mentioned in my earlier writing – HUGO truly captures the feeling of the time, and there is an essence of magic that permeates the entire experience. This is a must–see… check it out.
Whew! I’m out of space, but there’s STILL more movies I want to write about! How about you? Drop me a line and let me know about any films with magic that you love — or hate — and why. I’d be very curious to hear, and maybe you’ll help me discover a cinema experience I haven’t seen!