Monday, July 05, 2010

Project 365 (199/365): The Ever-Famous Sawing In Half Illusion

.:199/365: The Ever-Famous Sawing In Half Illusion:.

Watching this video clip, I realize more often than not how funny David Copperfield actually is. It’s not really something he’s well known for, but his comedic timing is top-notch and definitely adds a level of intimacy to his performances, even on a stage setting.

Anyways, according to Wikipedia, despite the fact that arguably the most popular illusion of our time is the illusion of sawing a woman in half, this particular illusion is actually a fairly recent invention. It’s rather disputed heavily when this particular piece of magic history first became performed for the adoring public, particularly because Jean-Robert Houdin, in his memoirs, mentioned this illusion being performed as early as 1809, although no official record of it exists.

The first historically recorded instance of this illusion being performed was as late as 1920, not even a century ago, and this was performed by a magician named P.T. Selbit. Jim Steinmeyer, in his book “Hiding The Elephant,” made it pretty clear that this particular illusion is quite young in contrast to other classics in the magic world, and even the first version of this illusion was admittedly crude and required hiding the entirety of the woman’s body from view while it was being sawed in half.

Over time, more and more variations of this illusion have been performed, including a variation that utilizes a clear box, one that appears completely bare of boxes (Also performed by David Copperield.), and even one that employs a whole lot of shock factor by using blood and guts to demonstrate that the sawing in half was anything but successful, as performed by Penn and Teller. With each iteration of the illusion, the classic script has admittedly turned tired and cliche’d for a bored audience who all seem to be saturated with stage magic, which is, to me, a crying shame.

I think what I find rather sad is that stage magic is often looked down upon by the average layman even more than street magic is. Everything is attributed to trapdoors, smoke, mirrors, and whatever else, and as such, it doesn’t seem impressive any longer to do a standard illusion for what it’s worth. There always has to be a twist, and there always has to be a way to step the illusion up and send it “to the next level”, whatever that means. As a fan of magic and its history, I find this a crying shame, and one of the main reasons why I understand how magicians could hate Valentino for divulging some of the best-kept secrets of the industry for decades. In my estimate, it’s not even the exposure itself that flummoxed me, but the smugness of Valentino to insist that he is justified in forcing the industry to “innovate” more. Who is he to impose such a challenge to the industry as a whole? Were these secrets his to give away? Clearly not.

Despite my very lax stance on exposure, one might say that my disdain towards Valentino is brought about by his attitude, more than anything else. However, lest we get too sidetracked, this discussion is about the sawing in half illusion, and keeping all of this in mind, this is a very cherished classic, and is a classic for a reason. It doesn’t matter how many variations people can come up with this illusion: it will always hold a special fancy to most everyone who has ever seen or heard of it.

I certainly agree with Mr. Steinmeyer when he says this illusion was a turning point for magic, historically. This heralded the beginning of sensational performances over the more subdued magical acts prevalent in the 1920’s. Nowadays, it’s almost a stereotype, no matter how misogynistic it may seem, that the lady is often tormented or victimized by the magician for his act. Prior to this illusion, though, this clearly was not the case. Indeed, the birth of the sawing in half illusion was a turning point in the world of magic and has definitely changed the way magic is perceived in general.

No comments: