Stephen Speicher

The Illusionist (2006)

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39 posts in this topic

Sorry for the long-windedness, but I'm assuming that somebody might find this useful as background.

Useful indeed, and certainly nothing to apologize for. I thank you for taking the time to present your perspective in such detail. Fascinating.

I must say, Alan, I continue to be impressed: not only a singer and an actor, but you can write about magic with more of a flair than my three-volume 1940s edition of The Tarbell Course in Magic!

(My only suggestion would be to magically transform that 686 word, 3,155 character paragraph into several more chewable ones. :blink: )

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(My only suggestion would be to magically transform that 686 word, 3,155 character paragraph into several more chewable ones. :) )

:blink: (I'll certainly try in the future... as Descartes(?) said, essentially, if I'd had more time, I would have written a shorter letter)

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:blink: (I'll certainly try in the future... as Descartes(?) said, essentially, if I'd had more time, I would have written a shorter letter)

Fermat?

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:blink: (I'll certainly try in the future... as Descartes(?) said, essentially, if I'd had more time, I would have written a shorter letter)

Fermat?

Three's the charm ... try Pascal! (Although, to be fair, Pascal penned that remark while writing under the pseudonym of Louis de Montalte.)

You were probably thinking of Fermat's Last Theorem, wherein Fermat claimed to have discovered a marvelous proof of a proposition that has sinced escaped the best mathematical minds for more than 300 years. In the margin of a book Fermat scribbled that the margin was too narrow to contain the proof. When Andrew Wiles finally discovered a proof in 1993, he required 200 pages to demonstrate it (which makes one wonder if Fermat was pulling someone's leg, or a lot of mathematician's legs for 300 years :) ).

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You were probably thinking of Fermat's Last Theorem...

Yes, I was. I hadn't heard of Pascal's comment before.

Such an educated group in this place! :blink:

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Warning: [reply to] There are BIG spoilers about this movie in this post.

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.

No, it's not that. It's that even within myself, I guess my most important battles are between the good guys. Which of my favorite artworks is better? Why? I find those questions fascinating. One important piece is that, as a dancer, I do like to create art and feel it rather than just see it or hear it alone. Also as someone with a "desk job," I really like to exercise and not sit for my playtime. I contrast that, very personal, view with Rob Tracinski's recent statement [TIA Sept 2006]:

Film is the newest art form, and it is arguably the most powerful art form, with the potential to combine the power of painting, music, and literature in one all-absorbing experience.

FYI, I adore Rob & Sherri's sense of life and choices in art. And I love movies too, this movie just made me start get the gears going on why I think my taste in movies is a bit different from my taste in sculpture, for example. Maybe it's not so different, but I enjoy thinking about it.

[magic tricks are] often so simple and involve things you just didn't notice, rather than great feats of skill.

...

The smartest, those with the best-developed undersatnding of causality, are generally the easiest to fool.

...

the illusions enhanced the characterization of the great magician for me.

I loved the magic in the show and your insight enhances it ever so much more!

I contend that the central conflict of this movie is the internal conflict of the Chief Inspector.

I completely agree, and that's the primary reason it's a lightweight movie. The chief is not a hero. And, though I am not sure about all of Prof. Andy Bernstein's views on this matter, I'd agree that definitely in this case an internal conflict is not a large stature conflict.

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.

Which lines were those? I feel she had so very little stage time she could hardly have stolen the show. But I don't know her other work.

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Fermat?

Three's the charm ... try Pascal! (Although, to be fair, Pascal penned that remark while writing under the pseudonym of Louis de Montalte.)

Pascal, that's right! I get them confused... It must have been Descartes' Evil Demon on my shoulder leading me to give him the credit. (I don't believe Pascal had an Evil Demon... not that he talked about, anyway...)

Thanks!

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Warning: [reply to] There are BIG spoilers about this movie in this post.

Which lines were those? I feel she had so very little stage time she could hardly have stolen the show. But I don't know her other work.

I've only seen the movie once and the ground under it has grown cold, so I forget the exact wording, but I'm thinking of the scene in the carriage, in which he asks her if she's willing go away with him now. That was an opportunity to think, to consider her life, the Prince and all his violence and jealousy, her constantly being monitored, her love for Eisenheim, yes, but also the years of absence from him, his status, what her life with him would be like, where he'd been and where she'd be,... all of that, of course. If she'd just personalized what I just wrote down, or even simply just memorized it and repeated it in her mind before she responded to him, you would have seen her actually or apparently thinking about what had been asked and the significance of her response. Even if it were an easy decision to give up her life here and now, the joy in that decision would have been visible, or it could have been fear, anger (at the Prince), or an overwhelming relief, or ... The point is that human beings think and we can see when someone else is thinking. We need that to believe the character up there on the stage or screen. Milton Katselas calls it "reflective delay," referring to the fact that the lack of that think time before a response betrays the lack of any internalization on the part of the actor, the lack of actual cogitation. Someone asked Robert De Niro what he was thinking in a particular scene with which they were partiularly impressed. He said "don't ask me that... you don't want to know... I could have been thinking of the steak I was going to have for dinner. The point is -- did you like the scene?" "Oh, yeah! It was amazing!" "Good. Then let's leave it at that."

That De Niro comment is an example of a not so "method" method, just to point out that the actor can get mileage out of any evidence of thinking, but I'd find it hard to believe that he isn't generally right there with the conversation and responding to what's being said. I know for myself, when I'm completely in a scene, I listen, really listen, to what the other person is saying, I don't just look like I'm listening while I'm trying to remember my next line, and that communicates to the audience. The conversation becomes real to the audience. That's what's meant by being "in the moment" in acting. My point is that Biehl was saying lines, maybe furrowing her brow, looking "troubled," whatever, but her reactions were generalized, not specific, did not draw us in to her point of view. That would have made the whole scene stronger, it would have made Norton stronger. As it is, he dominated those scenes and her tepid responses downgraded the power of the relationship itself. I found myself thinking, "Ok, so she's really pretty and he's still infatuated with her," rather than believing it to be a great, eternal love of two soul mates. Both have to be great souls for us to experience that and that didn't happen. The movie was still excellent, but her performance was a missed opportunity to deepen that aspect of it.

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Oh, one more thing: It's true that Biehl didn't have much screen time. But Judy Dench received an Academy Award for her supporting performance in "Shakespeare in Love" and, so they reported, her entire screen time was 8 minutes. So that's no excuse. :-)

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I'm thinking of the scene in the carriage

Alan, I agree completely with everything you wrote! I considered it so poorly rendered that it was the equivalent of a missed line. She did better later on, in the house scene.

And say, you changed your avatar?! Lol. Should we ask for your health and if perhaps you've been typing into boards that are less wise than ours here?? To indicate the Forum I would like the punch line to be a kiss! How do I get that?

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(which makes one wonder if Fermat was pulling someone's leg, or a lot of mathematician's legs for 300 years :) ).

I've thought that it would be a real kick if Fermat really did write it down somewhere else, yet to be found, and that it really was an elegantly simple proof. Given the difficulty in hundreds of years since then by some extremely smart people, though, that seems unlikely. My guess is that he mistakenly thought he had a proof, but it was flawed.

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I give the movie an 8. I enjoyed the acting and the sense of life of Eisenheim, and the crafting of the mystery. I tend to agree with Mercury's objection, as I would put it: as portrayed in the movie, the illusions are just *too* good. Ironically, it is modern CGI that makes it that way. For instance, we clearly see in one case that a little boy is walking through the theatre aisles, and he looks completely solid and believable, yet is an illusion because a bystander's hand passes through him. I'm pretty sure that that level of illusion, done in that way, isn't possible even *today*, in an actual theatre setting. If it were, we could have superlatively 3D computer imaging devices, which is an area still very much lacking (I mean actual 3D volumetric rendering, not 2D renderings of 3D scenes.) There is also the issue of the seemingly unremovable sheathed sword stuck into the floor.

Because of those factors, including some shots of what appeared to be a "lab", my thought until the end was that Eisenheim was actually a Jules Verne type of super-scientist, who had a mastery of technology and physics far ahead of his time.

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I just loved this movie, every element of it. I have no hesitation giving it an A or a 10. It was everything a great movie should be: ingenious, improbable, romantic, thrilling, enthralling. The characters were magnificent, and the plot and characters were completely integrated.

A previous poster had complained that the main conflict was "not between heroes"--I do not think that is an essential element of aesthetic greatness--it may be the metaphysical viewpoint of a specific artist, such as Ayn Rand, but even her fiction features a lot of conflict between the heroes and villainous characters. And the question of the correctness of an artist's metaphysical viewpoint is in my view a secondary consideration when evaluating art.I vastly prefer Great Art made from flawed metaphysical premises than pedestrian art made by the Metaphysically Correct. Besides, since art is merely meant to contemplate, it is not itself bad to experience art from different viewpoints, since it enables one to have richer experiences and helps one more clearly identify one's own values.

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Recently, when enjoying Cordair's recent production of Monna Vanna, I realized common plot elements and themes between the play the "The Illusionist." That accounts, in part, for my enjoyment of them both.

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