Stephen Speicher

The Illusionist (2006)

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39 posts in this topic

There was some malfunction in the sound equipment when I saw this movie, and with the muffled voices I probably missed half the dialogue. Despite this, there were several joys that shone through. The story was very intriguing, and the acting was superb. Edward Norton continues to demonstrate his brilliant acting ability, and Paul Giamatti, recently acclaimed for Sideways and Lady in the Water, showed an entirely different sort of character, quite convincingly.

I gave the film an 8, which might have been higher or lower had I heard the other half of the dialogue. ;)

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A phenomenal magician in turn-of-the-century Vienna pursues a woman well above his social standing. Is he a master of sleight-of-hand, or does he have supernatural powers?

This was a terrific movie, maybe the best so far of the year. Excellent plot and stylish settings, costumes, and photography. I felt transported back to the 19th century.

I highly recommend it and give it a 9.

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I, likewise, really enjoyed this movie. It had, definitely, both mystery and suspense and I intend to give it second viewing before it leaves the theatres.

Norton was riveting as the illusionist Eisenheim. As Stephen said, Giamatti was also excellent. He is terrific as a fawning functionary with a sense of justice and is the character who narrates the story and, ultimately, is the one character profoundly changed by the proceedings. Rufus Sewell, was his usual wonderfully rotten self, this time a nasty prince. His character looked completely different than he did in, say, "A Night's Tale," but he played this bad guy essentially the same. Since that was exactly what was needed, I don't fault him for it and enjoyed it greatly. I thought Jessica Biehl was adequate, certainly pretty to look at, but not up to the level set by Norton, Giamatti, and Sewell.

As a former magician myself, I appreciated the obviously thoughtful and well-researched recreation of the 19th century stage magic experience. The effects were "enhanced," with CGI replacing the "magic lantern" of the Victorian era for the modern audience, but that was entirely justifiable, since those audiences, never having seen so much as a movie or even a photograph, were much more easily amazed by much less than it takes to impress a modern audience. They essentially indexed the effects for inflation of audience expectation. The movie, as a historical costume drama should but rarely does these days, gives you a full experience of that time. And that includes the Romantic sense of life: Norton's hero demands of himself that he can and should aspire to be the best he can be and expects no less from those in his life. He makes those around him think bigger. The sense of life of this movie was wonderful.

I wanted to say something about issues raised in the movie, but I'd rather wait until most on this list that intend to see it do so. See it!

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They essentially indexed the effects for inflation of audience expectation.

What a great line, Alan. A classic succinct expression with meaning so far beyond the individual words. (You should get into the business! ;) )

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I gave the film an 8, which might have been higher or lower had I heard the other half of the dialogue. :D

I went to see the film again today, and this time I got to hear all the dialogue! If I were to rate the film now, I would probably bump my rating up to a 9. Not a truly great film, but a really good one. (One friend always asks: "Is the ending good?" He's been burned by bad endings too many times. I was glad to report to him that the ending was really good. ;)

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I saw it last weekend, especially after reading a rare, rave review by Boxofficemojo's Scott Holleran, a critic who is hard to please. I don't always agree with his analyses, but I have been very pleasantly surprised on a few occasions (I would not have watched Lasse Hallstrom's An Unfinished Life but for Mr. Holleran).

So, I went in with very high expectations, thinking: What is this film that bests V and Lady?

I enjoyed the atmosphere of the film. The acting by Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell was solid. Jessica Biel was a prize worth fighting for.

However, I thought Ed Norton was good but not electric, and I considered the plot lightweight. What really spoiled the film for me though were the loose ends:

Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

How did Eisenheim pull off the holographic boy in the audience, the magnetized sword in the palace (to which he had no prior access), and the realism of whatever holographic images were employed?

These unresolved issues cannot be dismissed by simply pointing out that "he gave a book of his tricks to Giamatti's character." They demand a fully rational explanation, for his skill at illusion is the fulcrum that keeps the story out of fantasy, and in reality.

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What really spoiled the film for me though were the loose ends:

Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

How did Eisenheim pull off the holographic boy in the audience, the magnetized sword in the palace (to which he had no prior access), and the realism of whatever holographic images were employed?

These unresolved issues cannot be dismissed by simply pointing out that "he gave a book of his tricks to Giamatti's character." They demand a fully rational explanation, for his skill at illusion is the fulcrum that keeps the story out of fantasy, and in reality.

I'm having difficulty appreciating your perspective. Why exactly are the secrets behind those tricks "unresolved issues," tricks that "demand a fully rational explanation?" This is, after all, a movie, not a course in magic. I agree that for us, as the audience, Eisenheim's skill as an illusionist is a key element of his character and the story, but why is it not sufficient for us to learn that he is a master illusionist, as evidenced by, for instance, the drawing plans we see for the orange tree illusion? For those who have some technical interest in magic, it might be fun to speculate on how the master created his illusions. But, for most, since none of the illusions were metaphysically impossible, why not be content with the knowledge that indeed Eisenheim was a master illusionist?

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I'm having difficulty appreciating your perspective. Why exactly are the secrets behind those tricks "unresolved issues," tricks that "demand a fully rational explanation?" This is, after all, a movie, not a course in magic. I agree that for us, as the audience, Eisenheim's skill as an illusionist is a key element of his character and the story, but why is it not sufficient for us to learn that he is a master illusionist, as evidenced by, for instance, the drawing plans we see for the orange tree illusion? For those who have some technical interest in magic, it might be fun to speculate on how the master created his illusions. But, for most, since none of the illusions were metaphysically impossible, why not be content with the knowledge that indeed Eisenheim was a master illusionist?

The emotional responses evoked by this movie depend heavily on the believability of what is presented to the senses. During this film, we are drawn in by Eisenheim's mysterious ability to do things that seem to defy metaphysical law.

We wonder: Is he a skilled trickster or is he actually able to bend reality to his whims? With each increasingly-mysterious performance, the viewer's emotional state is heightened.

In grammar, the start of a sentence requires (demands even) a proper resolution, since a sentence is a complete thought; without completeness, the sentence is not fully intelligible. In music, an unresolved sentence leaves the listener in a heightened emotional state, with a sense of "something missing."

The build-up (of Eisenheim's powers) we observe is essential to our emotional state, so that when Giamatti's character begins to review the way events must have played out in fact, esthetic symmetry demands that we be fully convinced of Eisenheim's skill in reality. To do so, all the questions raised by Eisenheim's performances ought to be revisited for completeness.

This is essential: those tricks are what led us to the emotional state in the first place. To "bring us down," the audience needs to know, in some broad detail, how he pulled them off. The filmmaker must present what transpired to the senses of the viewer. The senses are crucial here because this is a film about illusions: Is seeing believing?

Since this resolution wasn't fully executed, the movie, in my opinion, didn't feel complete and thus lacked the finish of great art.

I really, really wanted to enjoy this film, so I envy those who were convinced by what was presented. I wasn't.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

This is essential: those tricks are what led us to the emotional state in the first place. To "bring us down," the audience needs to know, in some broad detail, how he pulled them off. The filmmaker must present what transpired to the senses of the viewer. The senses are crucial here because this is a film about illusions: Is seeing believing?

I disagree that the audience needs to know how the tricks were done; merely that they are tricks resolves the question of whether he had supernatural powers.

The gift of the book to the Chief Inspector is the big reveal. It was reminiscent of the twist at the end of The Sixth Sense (which I won't describe here, in case someone hasn't seen it yet). Just when you think you have a grasp of the facts of the movie, one little book changes everything. Now one can run back through the facts presented and reach an entirely different conclusion (as the Chief Inspector is shown to do). It's a marvelous ending.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

They demand a fully rational explanation, for his skill at illusion is the fulcrum that keeps the story out of fantasy, and in reality.

I really, really wanted to enjoy this film, so I envy those who were convinced by what was presented. I wasn't.

Were you also disturbed in Atlas Shrugged by the lack of a "fully rational [physics] explanation" for Galt's motor?

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

Were you also disturbed in Atlas Shrugged by the lack of a "fully rational [physics] explanation" for Galt's motor?

Atlas Shrugged is not about Galt's capacity as a live, stage-show magician or illusionist. For Atlas, it is sufficient to show Galt's ability above other men, as Ayn Rand does in the torture scene where Galt tells his would-be destroyers how to destroy him.

Besides, no-one in, or reading, Atlas is confused about Galt's abilities -- we are not trying to fathom how he does it. We know he does it and the question of how he does it is irrelevant.

In The Illusionist, however, the question of how he does it - his method - is paramount: it is the lifeblood of the mystery (though not necessarily of the whole film).

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

I disagree that the audience needs to know how the tricks were done; merely that they are tricks resolves the question of whether he had supernatural powers.

About most of the tricks, I suppose one could fill in the blanks to an appreciable degree (the audience in his stage show were rented actors who were in on it, for instance). However, for the sword scene, considering he had no prior access to the palace, I don't see how that could go unexplained. Also, if the boy was a hologram through and through, how did he seem so real to Giamatti's detective?

I'm not asking for highly-detailed proof. But, I do think such a point is important considering the context.

The gift of the book to the Chief Inspector is the big reveal. It was reminiscent of the twist at the end of The Sixth Sense (which I won't describe here, in case someone hasn't seen it yet). Just when you think you have a grasp of the facts of the movie, one little book changes everything. Now one can run back through the facts presented and reach an entirely different conclusion (as the Chief Inspector is shown to do). It's a marvelous ending.

I don't consider that book a clincher, which is why I mentioned it in a previous post. I have also employed the benefit of hindsight and reconsidered the movie. I remain unconvinced. Perhaps I should see it again.

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Were you also disturbed in Atlas Shrugged by the lack of a "fully rational [physics] explanation" for Galt's motor?

Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

Atlas Shrugged is not about Galt's capacity as a live, stage-show magician or illusionist.

Yes, I really am aware that Galt was not a stage-show magician or illusionist. I asked in the spirit of a broader question than the concretes of their respective work. We accept Galt's productive value as a physicist, and the consequent loss of that value to the world, in accepting the existence of the motor Galt created. This is an essential aspect of the plot. We know as little detail of how the motor works as we know of Eisenheim's master illusions. Perhaps even less.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

Atlas Shrugged is not about Galt's capacity as a live, stage-show magician or illusionist.

Yes, I really am aware that Galt was not a stage-show magician or illusionist. I asked in the spirit of a broader question than the concretes of their respective work. We accept Galt's productive value as a physicist, and the consequent loss of that value to the world, in accepting the existence of the motor Galt created. This is an essential aspect of the plot. We know as little detail of how the motor works as we know of Eisenheim's master illusions. Perhaps even less.

Oh, I think I understood you, Mr. Speicher. And your point is well taken.

You pointed out the parallel between Galt's genius and Eisenheim's genius. We are asked to accept Galt's on "face value" as readers, so why not do the same for Eisenheim as viewers. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

And my response was that Galt's genius did not depend upon his skilful trickery of the beholder's senses, which is why Eisenheim's tricks (at least the one with the sword) beg elaboration - in my opinion.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

And my response was that Galt's genius did not depend upon his skilful trickery of the beholder's senses, which is why Eisenheim's tricks (at least the one with the sword) beg elaboration - in my opinion.

I think all that really says, in the context of our discussion, is that the two were different. But, I belabor the point, so I will not pursue it further.

I do want to note, however, considering how you and I have responded the same to so many other films, often on a sense of life level, I feel sad that you have missed out on the enjoyment of this lovely film. (But, there is always the next one ... :blink: )

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

I do want to note, however, considering how you and I have responded the same to so many other films, often on a sense of life level, I feel sad that you have missed out on the enjoyment of this lovely film. (But, there is always the next one ... :blink: )

Don't feel sad ... I look forward to our next cinematic celebration! :)

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I went to see the film again today, and this time I got to hear all the dialogue! If I were to rate the film now, I would probably bump my rating up to a 9. Not a truly great film, but a really good one. (One friend always asks: "Is the ending good?" He's been burned by bad endings too many times. I was glad to report to him that the ending was really good. :blink:

I second the "good ending" question. Charlotte's Web was the first to burn me on that when I was [six?].

Were you also disturbed in Atlas Shrugged by the lack of a "fully rational [physics] explanation" for Galt's motor?

lol. There is no end to things that people find "disturbing" about Miss Rand's novels. This summer I met a gentleman who seemed very rational [businessman, highly educated, articulate, good sense of life, etc] who suddenly turned cold to me upon hearing of my love for her. It turns out he was appalled, repulsed, by Anthem. Why? Because he says it upholds racism and determinism. Huh???? He said that the hero was handsome, strong, and fit, ie exceptionally superior to most of the human race; genetically superior. Therefore he concludes that Miss Rand upholds racism. Lol. I was so surprised I forgot even to laugh. What seems funny is how he seems to be living on a different planet wrt logical thinking; but of course it's not funny that he lives on my planet. [Note; he did not read any of the non-fiction.]

It seems to me that one of the hardest things for some people to understand is that novels, even Miss Rands, are novels. Just because she could weave astonishingly true philosophy into her novels did not mean that those books were didactic. They were art. They were fictional dramatizations.

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I wouldn’t trust myself not to give you spoilers!

Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

As I wrote this I waffled about my rating of ’10.’ It’s really fun to spend time pondering my rating! I had two quibbles. One with my own system of comparison and one with the hero. You’ll see those below, which make my review a bit jumbled. But this is time to post, no rewrite! For now I judge it 9.5 but I believe my whole system of rating movies needs some reconsideration. In the last few years I’ve erased so many problems in my life that I think my needs from art are slightly different. Hmm. Yes, definitely some reshuffling of my favorite movies are in order. I will enjoy pondering that. This movie’s rating might then also change a bit. Anyway, it is clearly a wonderful movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed it as perfect lightness after my busy and productive September 11 anniversary!

Norton was riveting as the illusionist Eisenheim. .... I thought Jessica Biehl was adequate, certainly pretty to look at, but not up to the level set by Norton, Giamatti, and Sewell.

Hi Alan! But the lady had her way in abstentia, don’t you agree? And I felt that it was not impossible, with a different plot, that she would have appeared at that level.

The only quibble I had with the hero was he seemed to slump a bit as he answered, “Nothing.” Plus, though that line worked in the end, I was a bit afeared at the time that we were going into nowhere land. Hmmm. Yes, I am definitely still put off by that. Ok, I reduce my rating a bit. It still stands as being superb fuel.

As a former magician myself, ....The effects were "enhanced," with CGI replacing the "magic lantern" of the Victorian era for the modern audience, but that was entirely justifiable, since those audiences, never having seen so much as a movie or even a photograph, were much more easily amazed by much less than it takes to impress a modern audience. They essentially indexed the effects for inflation of audience expectation.

Thank you! How fascinating!

[the movie] gives you a full experience of that time. And that includes the Romantic sense of life: Norton's hero demands of himself that he can and should aspire to be the best he can be and expects no less from those in his life. He makes those around him think bigger. The sense of life of this movie was wonderful.

Precisely! That’s why I rated it a ’10,’ even though I agree that it’s not a heavyweight movie; it didn’t bring any new thinking to my life.

I just love being in that atmosphere. The hero’s seriousness was wonderful. It was even better how he led both the lady and the inquisitor to his way of thinking. Even the sets were terrific, for example. I’d have liked to say ‘yes’ to a bite to eat and enjoy the lovely two-story room of the first inquisition.

I consider Chocolat to be a nearest neighbor; The Illusionist is far better because of its complete and total lack of mysticism.

For a while I’ve been debating how important art is to me in a movie versus sense of life. This movie answers my question. The basic sense of life must be good. If it is good, then complete artistic integration tips my scales. Hmm. I wonder though, if I’m being fair to my top movies. The best 10’s probably don’t compare to this, or do they? I’ll have to ponder.

My first reaction is that I respond more to live theatre. It has a clearer hierarchy in my mind. For example, I have two shows whose images and ideas are seared in my psyche. There’s one movie like that, but its importance is lower, not at the same level as the theatre. Maybe it’s related to the fact that I tend to like sculpture more than painting. I always sit as close as I can to a stage, where the passion is real.

I’m definitely a bit baffled [and curious] about how I can’t remember feeling the same way from a movie as I’ve felt at some theatrical productions. Wow. There are so many actually that are so vivid in my mind. Yet movies, hmm. The fuel is so different for me.

I wanted to say something about issues raised in the movie, but I'd rather wait until most on this list that intend to see it do so. See it!

I will look forward to it!

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Ok, I've thought about my rating of The Illusionist a bit more. I had an A+ experience of having a great day and a great ending to my day. However, I had no grandiose expectations of the movie. I didn't expect it to be a movie that would really "stick to my ribs" and support me in any future battles. I expected and received a good movie that was very enjoyable with a nice sense of life.

The 1-10 rating system doesn't work well for me I find. Here I now think I'd call this a B+ movie, bordering on A-. I'd need to check my fairness to other movies to upgrade it to A-. There is very little wrong with it, but it didn't try to accomplish a great deal. Its heroes and conflicts are not on a high level. For example, the greatest conflict is not between heroes.

So, I just wanted to clarify that I think this is a good movie but not a great one. "Great" definitely needs to be memorable, not just very pleasant. For example, Superman Returns was worse in a number of respects, but the heroic portrayal of Superman in full regalia made it memorable. In that case, I credit the actor's fully conscious respect for Superman.

I would definitely patronize further movies by the creators of The Illusionist! I don't know their experience, but it seemed like a newer work. If so, that's great news as we may expect more and better if this one succeeds financially. I hope it does.

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Wonderful! I love this movie!!! I gave it a 10

In a nutshell, my favourite points about this movie were the characters, especially Eisenheim. I loved the cool, relaxed, confident nature about everything he did. By the end of the movie, I was in awe of him and cheering for his success!

I also loved how the Chief inspector made the right choice to preserve his honor and the movie ended with his clear conscience.

And of course, the justice :blink:

Very well done! :)

~C~

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Warning: There are BIG spoilers about this movie in this post.

In a nutshell, my favourite points about this movie were the characters, especially Eisenheim. I loved the cool, relaxed, confident nature about everything he did. By the end of the movie, I was in awe of him and cheering for his success!

I also loved how the Chief inspector made the right choice to preserve his honor and the movie ended with his clear conscience.

Eisenheim is a real hero, and his character was awesome. Eisenheim is the protagonist, in that his actions drive the events of the movie; he initiates, the world reacts; he acts, others respond. As we learn, he is a true master of illusion, and not just on a stage. He misdirects the other characters, particularly the mob, the Chief Inspector, and the prince. They dance on the strings he pulls, and see what he wishes them to see.

Note which characters do and do not have internal conflicts. The protagonist really has no internal conflicts; the drama is external to him. Yet the Chief Inspector has conflicts with the prince, Eisenheim, and himself. For the latter, he is caught between his desire for power (as a lackey to the prince) and his sense of justice.

I contend that the central conflict of this movie is the internal conflict of the Chief Inspector. Eisenheim sets him up so that the movie's climax is the confrontation between the prince and the Chief Inspector. (To underscore the scene's importance, it is also the first scene we see, but from a different perspective.) Will the Chief Inspector pursue justice, and arrest the prince, costing him the power he yearns for, but saving his soul? Because of the conflict, the central character of the story is the Chief Inspector.

This division between protagonist and central character reminds me of Atlas Shrugged, where the prime mover (Galt) drives the action from behind the scenes, while the central conflict (Dagny's decision to shrug) lies with another character. There are differences between the movie and the book, of course, but it is interesting to see the similar separation between central character and protagonist.

It's another aspect of the movie that is worthy of admiration.

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I wouldn’t trust myself not to give you spoilers!

Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

Hi Alan! But the lady had her way in abstentia, don’t you agree? And I felt that it was not impossible, with a different plot, that she would have appeared at that level.

<snip>

My first reaction is that I respond more to live theatre. It has a clearer hierarchy in my mind. ... I can’t remember feeling the same way from a movie as I’ve felt at some theatrical productions. Wow. There are so many actually that are so vivid in my mind. Yet movies, hmm. The fuel is so different for me.

Well, that certainly takes the discussion in a different direction. This movie tried to recreate the sense of an audience at a stage show of the Victorian Era, but, as with any movie, you are looking at a flat screen and not 3-dimensional people. I agree that a good stage production can beat a movie for "aliveness," because... well... the people up there are alive. But I'm surprised that this movie brought this contrast up more than any other, unless it's because of the fact that it had moments that were intended to recreate a stage show experience.

That brings me to the issue Mercury seemed to have such a problem with: The believability or unbelievability of the effects this fictional magician performed in the context of the movie. I took it quite a different way than he did. Again, I saw this as a representation of the effect on the audience of a great magician, not the literal re-enactment of specific 19th Century illusions. On a modern audience, a Thurston "Sawing a woman in half," or "The rice bowls," or "the floating lady," all of which were mainstays of the stage at the time, would have left us flat, so far beyond that has film -- and even stage magic -- gone. David Copperfield uses Industrial Light and Magic techniques to fly around a stage like something out of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," in fact,

"Warning: There are spoilers about Life and Stage Magic in this post."

he used the same wire techniques and a lighting and set design equivalent of green screen background manipulation to make it work. In the old days, an unusually bent pipe and a saw horse did the trick just fine and audiences were in awe (I will not explain further in public).

As for the effects that Mercury points to as being unexplainable in the context of Norton's character, not having been in the room or with the sword before and having Paul Giamatti's character accepting the "hologram" as real, that requires a different reasoning. Again, I saw the effects as we saw them on screen as a modern movie extrapolation of the original effects of the time. When Houdini vanished an elephant on the stage of the Hippodrome, audience members who were later quoted described it along the lines of "He led an elephant out on stage, clapped his hands, and the elephant just disappeared!" One in a hundred noted that he had put the elephant in a gigantic "wagon" the size of a freight car. Let's just say angles and construction were critical in this illusion, but it was a phenomenon at the time. As a former magician, it's always amazing just how much the uninitiated observer leaves out. Well, it's actually not amazing, it's a part of the job. In magic, misdirection is a key element and is more an application of psychology than a gimmick or a technique. If one were to perform the "sword in the stone" illusion that Eisenheim did, in actual live performance, it would involve trickery that, essentially by definition, the audience wouldn't see nor remember, or he wouldn't be a very good magician, now would he? The description of the event would have been as we actually saw it on screen, but the effect would have likely involved the addition of a gimmick to the sword, to attach it to a hook in the floor, or some such. Now, the objection that Eisenheim had never been there is amusing, because one of the things magicians do is to plan very hard for things that are supposed to be spontaneous. One magician I was talking to not too long ago, was talking about a great magician who died recently, who would always pull some amazing stunt, seemingly impromptu, such as making an entire dressed turkey appear under a previously empty napkin at this other guy's own dinner table. Well, this friend (A), also a magician, mentioned that, after this man B died, he was going through his own (A's) cupboards for something and found a three-week old ham :-D Apparently, B had set this up ahead of a visit, so that he could produce a ham at A's house. How he got into A's kitchen with a ham was not clear. And magicians have many ways, including some sleight of hand, confederates, and misdirection, etc., to doctor items that the owners never knew were ever touched. So, we were treated to the effect on the audience in the movie, not the magician's point of view. That wouldn't have been very impressive, whatever you might think. I find that people are often profoundly disappointed when they find out how a trick was done. They're often so simple and involve things you just didn't notice, rather than great feats of skill. But part of the skill of a magician is doing those necessary things so that you don't notice them. Another thing about magic is that, even for a magician, it's often difficult to "see the trick" as it's happening in performance, unless you know the routine beforehand. I was recently at the Magic Castle, watching an excellent magician producing and vanishing doves. I know how all this is done, although I don't work with those messy little bastards myself. I'll give a little away to say that a key is that the audience sees only the fluttering, live animal, after it's produced, not the sleight of hand, which is essentially the same for a bird, believe it or not, as for a ball or a playing card. Though I knew all that, I didn't know the sequence of events in his act, so I could see the production of the bird, but not when and where he picked it up, except in those cases where I recognized a production coming because he was "quoting" a classic progression, something I'd seen before.

My point in all this is that you are not supposed to see the mechanics of the illusion: That's the hallmark of a bad performance. I've seen a beginner do dove magic, auditioning at the Magic Castle, who was so bad that I couldn't figure out, on several occasions, whether he was supposed to be producing or vanishing the birds, since the palming (hiding) of the birds was so godawful. What the producers/director of this movie did was to bypass all of that and use movie trickery to produce something that an audience of the time would have thought they had seen. If you don't like that, you are entitled, but it was a valid choice and gave us important information that this guy mystified people, including those, like the prince, who considered themselves too smart to be fooled. By the way, that's a classic fallacy: The smartest, those with the best-developed undersatnding of causality, are generally the easiest to fool. Kids are notoriously difficult to fool with sleight of hand because their sense of causality is still shaky, so they're looking at your "other" hand, when an adult would be looking where you allegedly "put" the coin, or whatever. Just try this: With an adult, pretend to throw a coin in the air, follow it's pretend motion with your eyes, and they will generally follow. With a kid 3-5 years old, they'll still be looking at your hand with the retained coin. Those kids can be a pain. :-) Strong magic depends on our developed understanding of the world and our expectations as to how things behave.

As far as the "holograms," that was a loose translation of the primitive projection used at the time, using what they called a "magic lantern," essentially, an early equivalent of a slide projector. Audiences, never having seen such a thing (until early in the 20th Century, when it showed up in public displays), would be amazed when a human figure was projected against a black curtain and looked like a ghost. Again, if they'd done that in this movie, it would have been inconceivable to us how the audience would have bought it as a manifestation of anything special. It's just too mundane for our modern eyes. That's why I say that this was a translation of the experience of the time, not the literal recreation of that experience. That wouldn't have worked. Someone of Eisenheim's sophistication and relentlessly questing nature could have known how to produce a Daguerrotype or other early photographic image.

Sorry for the long-windedness, but I'm assuming that somebody might find this useful as background. The bottom line for me is that the illusions enhanced the characterization of the great magician for me.

Oh, as for Jessica Biehl's characterization, I just found her to be a limited actress. She made little of the lines Norton threw to her about major life decisions... she didn't have it in her to stop, let us see the gears turning, and give us a response that would allow us to experience the depth of her love, or concern, or fear. She's just limited and I think that would apply to whatever she were to do, although she may well grow into an excellent actress in the future. Not a big deal, just an observation.

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