November 21, 2014

Some who have seen the photo in the subways or streetcars promoting The Conjuror have asked me whether or not the illusion depicted in the photo has anything to do with Martin Scorsese’s film, Hugo, the one about a boy’s fascination with an automaton created by George Méliès, that pioneer of early cinema.

The answer is yes and no.

Yes in that George Méliès was a magician taking over the theatre founded by Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin. Méliès, of course, became a filmmaker and incorporated some of his stage tricks into cinema. Scorsese illustrates Méliès’s interest in magic by having him suspend a woman magically in the air. The illusion they recreated cinematically was Robert-Houdin’s Etheral Suspension, an illusion that we are thrilled to present, live, in The Conjuror in the manner closest to the way that Robert-Houdin did some 150 years ago. (There is no other performer that I am aware of who can perform this feat in the same manner as the originator.) It is both a challenge and a treat to perform.

The past has not only inspired the illusions in The Conjuror, but also some of the advertising.

When we first produced the show, we pilfered a poster of Howard Thurston’s from 1914. Thurston, of course, obtain the idea for the image from Harry Kellar. Kellar was the first to use the little imps whispering magic secrets into his ear in 1894. The Thurston and Kellar posters are exquisite.

About fifteen years ago, Canada Post was offering personalized postage stamps. They would print, as legal tender, the image you provided onto a stamp that you could use. I supplied them with our image of The Conjuror, the one with the imps. Canada Post refused to print the image. I asked them to review the decision. They refused once more, stating that they could not sanction the publication of an image that promoted devil worship.

Fortunately, I am not the only one with a fascination for little imps. While vacationing in St. John’s, Newfoundland, this past summer, I stumbled onto a local artist – J. C. Bear – who has been obsessed with imps his entire life. He first became aware of devils when he happened upon a copy of Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary. Later, he decided to sculpt imps in various forms because, to him, skeptical humour seemed an appropriate and often commendable reaction to life as a human in society. He added that he is at home in Newfoundland as it is a place where humour and skepticism are general and valued.

Needless to say, I loved his work, and had great fun transporting one of his bronze sculptures of an imp – carry-on of course – back to Toronto.

Later I asked Bear to write a few words about the work. He wrote, “Devils are effective precisely because they are not solemn. They have sufficient grace to be concise. They are not actually bad. Rather, they are perceptive – they got the good lines, and they can deliver them. Devils are fun. Most people can see that.” Most people, however, except for Canada Post!

Alla prossima.

David Ben