Take Two #1: Cigarette Paper Tear
Welcome to the debut of Take Two! Every Friday I'll be posting a pair of magic performance videos, accompanied by commentary—in essence a projection of curation. I encourage non-magicians to enjoy these clips along with the magic community, as I intend to avoid outright discussion of methods. All this is subject to some adjustment over time and experience, but these are the goals at the start.
Since this is the first installment, I’m actually posting four related video clips, but that won’t generally be the format going forward.
CIGARETTE PAPER TEAR
I first saw the Torn & Restored Cigarette Paper performed on stage by the great British mentalist Al Koran when I was about 15 years old. His version (described in Professional Presentations by Hugh Miller) inspired me to create my own version that I did for a time in my teens, and then retired (mostly because I was afraid it was too long) until I was well into my professional career in my 30s. I did return to doing a simpler performance of Nate Leipzig’s handling in close-up situations, inspired by seeing Michael Skinner perform it for me in the early 80s. But my original presentation, again based on Koran’s, is actually a stage piece. Koran's script was complete in perhaps five lines, while mine takes five minutes, in which I talk about seeing the annual holiday show at Radio City Music Hall as a child.
Decades later I tried it out on stage, not long after having the opportunity to do it in a thousand-seat theater. It was extremely effective—there is a moment in it that is silent, and I have a visceral memory of that first experience of standing in a spotlight hearing an audience's riveted and engaged silence, without people shifting in seats or murmuring, without even so much as a cough—and the piece has been a staple ever since, and was the close of my shows in the Peller Theater at the Magic Castle two weeks ago, where I was performing in collaboration with Peter Samelson.
In this first clip, is David Ben (of Magicana) performing the classic Nate Leipzig handling, which was recorded for posterity by Dai Vernon in the original Stars of Magic in 1952, and later in the marvelous and important book, Dai Vernon’s Tribute to Nate Leipzig by Lewis Ganson in 1963. The first time I saw this done correctly was when Michael Skinner performed it for me in Las Vegas at our first meeting in the early 1980s. The voiceover is by Persi Diaconis, the noted statistician and Vernon acolyte. This is an excerpt from the wonderful Canadian documentary about Dai Vernon, The Spirit of Magic, made by our friend Daniel Zuckerbrot.
Bruce Cervon was one of Dai Vernon’s most famous and successful students. Here he is on The Magic Palace, the marvelous 1970s Canadian television series that is now archived in Magicana's Screening Room, performing a modern version of the Leipzig piece, created by the ingenious Martin Lewis, as noted in the online notes.
I am confident that Bruce’s presentation is somewhat inspired by Al Koran’s version. Not only because of the opening reference to seeing a magician do the trick on stage, but also the aside, "You wouldn't know his name." This is part of two lovely ideas in Koran's presentation. First, the notion of recounting having seen a magician do this tiny trick on a huge stage, which cancels any psychological objection that audience members might feel if the trick is hard to see (remember, Koran was doing the trick on stage, not in close-up). This is the same idea that Ken Brooke used for the Egg Bag, who began his routine for that classic with a remark about seeing a magician do the small trick in a big theater. This motivates the audience to focus and pay attention instead of tune out from the small props. (Brooke mentions this in his manuscript on the routine.)
The other lovely part of this is that Koran would say (as described in Hugh Miller's book): "When I was a little boy, I saw a wonderful magician on stage. His name would mean nothing to you now, but to me, he was a real magician." I use a line very close to this in my own performance, and I invoke Koran's exact phrase, "His name would mean nothing to you now." I think there is great power in this line, a kind of nostalgia, and wistfulness in it.
In the notes, Martin Lewis makes reference to David Copperfield having performed a version of his handling. Above is David’s lovely version, the “Torn and Restored Heart,” from The Magic of David Copperfield III (October 24, 1979).
Finally, if I had to choose a favorite version of the Torn & Restored Cigarette Paper, it would be this one by David Ben from his show, Natural Magick (2011).
Like many of us, David has multiple versions, but this is a true masterpiece, combining two classic handlings (one from Leipzig, and the other from David’s own mentor, the legendary Canadian sleight-of-hand artist, Ross Bertram) into a total-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts masterpiece. I had the pleasure of seeing this in the first run of the live show in which David debuted the piece, and it remains an indelible highlight.
MORE: TAKE TWO ARCHIVE