Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries And Mentors Of Ricky Jay (a film review by Mark R. Leeper).

May 13, 2013 | By | Reply More

‘Deceptive Practice’ tells the story of the mysterious Ricky Jay, at age seven already a professional stage magician. Today, he is an expert in all things arcane, but particularly sleight of hand and anything to do with feats of playing cards or dice. He frequently cameos in films by David Mamet and Paul Thomas Anderson.

‘Deceptive Practice’ is simply Ricky Jay telling his story – apparently for once with a minimum of deception – and illustrated with photographs and footage of some of the great stage magicians of Ricky Jay’s time. One almost expects that Jay would be performing some sort of trick on the viewer, though none is apparent. But if we got it, it would not be a deception.

Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.

What is he doing there? Frequently you see Ricky Jay in films, but he does not look like an actor. Jay looks just a bit scruffy and squalid. He had a cameo as a mentor to two great magicians in ‘The Prestige’. He was a high stakes poker player in David Mamet’s ‘House Of Games’. His films generally seem to have something to do with stage magic or grifters or fooling people in one way or another or perhaps just the arcane. When he speaks, he gives the impression he is not an actor but someone drafted off of the street. He seems to be just being himself.

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries And Mentors Of Ricky Jay (a film review by Mark R. Leeper).

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries And Mentors Of Ricky Jay (a film review by Mark R. Leeper).

Who is he? His name is Richard Jay Potash, though he goes under the stage name Ricky Jay. Put a deck of cards in his hands and it will gracefully flow like it was a ballet dancer. Ask him for the jack of spades and he will cut the deck and there it is or perhaps he will just flick the deck and the jack will jump out on its own. He may be the world’s greatest expert on sleight of hand.

Writing on the history of the circus and of stage magic and of spiritualism is a sideline, but he has written a lot of books on the mysterious. His specialty is illusionism and conjuring, but he has great knowledge in seemingly any field of the arcane. ‘Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries And Mentors Of Ricky Jay’ is a documentary telling the life and fascinations of a most mysterious and hypnotic man.

The format of the film about his career is Ricky Jay telling his own story with occasional narration from Dick Cavett. Along the way, he tells of the magicians he has met and many whom he learned from. These are nearly forgotten stage magicians, absolutely wonderful illusionists. They taught Ricky Jay the art and artifice of illusion and, in return, they are here getting a short reprieve from the oblivion of the forgotten. We get to see on film stage magicians with mysterious names like Slydini and Cardini. Later mentors included Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller. Many of these magicians show up in archive footage.

Jay, now in his mid-sixties, grew up in Brooklyn in a middle-class Jewish family. Early on, he came under the influence of his grandfather, an amateur magician. At age six, when most kids are mastering the multiplication tables, he already had performed a full magic act on television. Though his parents did not understand his passion for magic, Jay knew that would be his life’s fascination. His grandfather introduced him to great stage magicians who were his grandfather’s and soon his own personal friends.

But the stage magicians he met were not his closest friends. That honor was reserved for decks of playing cards. He even named one of his magic acts ‘Ricky Jay And His 52 Assistants’. He can easily spend an entire day doing nothing but manipulating cards and watching himself in a three-way mirror, getting his moves just perfect. There are infinite possibilities for him in a simple deck of cards.

He sees possibilities with cards that nobody else would have thought of. He wrote a book called ‘Card As Weapons’ declaring that a deck of cards can actually be used for self-defense. I had seen the book and thought it was a joke, but, in the course of ‘Deceptive Practice’, he from a few feet away throws a playing card about a quarter inch into the green hide of a watermelon. Can he really do that or is it some sort of a trick? Probably nobody will ever know.

Also along for the ride are several magicians and associates who know Jay professionally and as friends interviewed to tell what they knew or thought of Jay, David Mamet among them.

Ricky Jay’s compulsion is not to be merely the best stage conjurer. He very likely long ago achieved that. He wants his agility to be perfect, and any imperfections he still has are not likely to be noticed by the likes of you and me. ‘Deceptive Practice’ is a fascinating study of one man’s mania to attain perfection and only he can judge how far he is from that goal. Ricky Jay right now has the compulsive desire to be better than his fiercest competitor, Ricky Jay of ten minutes ago. I rate ‘Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries And Mentors Of Ricky Jay’ a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper

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Category: Films, MEDIA

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