Howdy, loyal readers!
The contest for the FREE Gum DVD is still going strong: It ends at the end of the month, so you still have time. Simply shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Second quick item: I've received a few comments where readers question my abundance of high 9 or 10 scores for items that I've reviewed. Some have questioned my scores, feeling that giving out a 10 means that when something truly special comes along, I won't be able to go higher.
It's a fascinating viewpoint. so for clarification, I'll simply state that I judge each product against itself, not against other products (except in cases where I might review two DVDs teaching different methods of the $100 bill switch, for example.)
Judging each product means I do not compare that often. If there's a well taught bill switch DVD that sells for $20 that gets a great response and does what the ad promises, to me that justifies a 10 just as much as a $4,000 illusion. They're separate entities and if each gets a good response from my audience, they both deserve a 10.
That's how I look at it, and I'm sure others will judge things differently.
By the way, if you've read this column and are convinced I rate everything highly, scroll through a couple of reviews - there's a 4 in there, and quite frankly, my next review (not this one) will be REALLY low. That will come later in the week - it'll be for good reading.
Today's item is something that's been out a while but again, I've had plenty of time to truly digest it.
It's Max Maven's 2-DVD set, "Nothing." It retails for $99.95 at Hocus Pocus and can be found here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=7693
This DVD is billed as being able to walk into a supermarket, buy a few things and put on a 50-minute mentalism show.
You can can certainly do that if you wanted, but that's not Maven's intent with this release, but I'll get into it a little later.
EFFECTS: Max teaches the following:
- a simple opener using a psychological force
- a watch routine where two watches have their times randomly set without looking and are finaly shown to match
- an add-a-no type effect using nothing more than a note card and a pen...there's no switching or nailwriters. A perfect 'anytime' effect
- a "just chance" game show type effect where everyone who particpates gets a 'prize.' Two versions are taught and this routine is a marvelous exploration of the concept of making the journey interesting
- a really cool Astrology routine involving poker chips. This was probably the strongest piece on the DVD
- a very clean, simple-in-method Psychometry routine. If I was ever going to do a psychometry routine, this is the method I would use. Simple, easy and foolproof
- a magazine test. This is the "Parasights" manuscript published years ago. I thought the page selection (it's a partial force...several possible pages) was weak, but the revelation was fantastic.
I'm not going to delve too deeply into the effects. I liked some and disliked others, but if you're looking for good solid mentalism effects that play with little to no angle concerns, there's something on here for you. My guess is that many people will dismiss much of this material because the methods are "not very interesting," to quote Eugene Burger.
The working pro will glean several fascinating lessons here, while the hobbiests or those new to mentalism may not be that enamored.
However, the biggest "problem" many may have with this is Max's very dry presentations. I find Max to be a fascinating individual with a good wit, but he's very subtle, not going for the bannana peel, so to speak.
The effects here will play in the real world, but this DVD is proof positive that for mentalism - any mentalism - to play for you, you MUST adapt everything to your character.
The REAL secrets in this DVD are truly cool nuggets of wisdom. There's a fascinating bit of stage craft that I picked up on this that helped me out a great deal. I won't reveal it here, but I will tell you that it has nothing to do with an effect and can only be found by accessing Max's "director's commentary" on the first disk.
There's an intense, two and a half hour discussion on the history of each effect, alternate presentations, the secrets (of course) issues of troubleshooting and most fascinating, taking advantage of things that fall your way. This intense, detailed discussion involves Max and five other people, including Eugene Burger and Stephen Minch. These five don't really contribute a lot, but it makes for a different dynamic than just one person talking to the camera.
One of the best bits of discussion involves a great piece of advice involving making a multi-part routine more interesting by revealing each revelation in a different way. I've since adapted this bit of thinking to my presentation of the Pain Game - another example of taking some of Max's advice and experience from thirty plus years and adapting it to a totally different prop or effect.
What I'm trying to get across is the idea of not just looking at this DVD for new tricks but for those bits of business and great ways to make your presentations sing.
There's also a roughly hour long discussion of mentalism between Max and Michael Weber. This discussion is truly thought-provoking and it's made me improve as a mentalist, even if I don't always agree with Max's thinking.
Max discusses issues of character, presentation, mindset and so much more. It's a wealth of thought provoking material.
I'll give you one specific example - in the discussion, Max talks about how he's had risks built into some or most of his routines (to make it interesting for him) and sometimes, he's had, after a long buildup, a failure with the final revelation.
Max relates this failure as not necessarily a bad thing. He compares it to a football game when a running back gains 30-40 yards in a single run but is tackled two yards from the goal line. He says that the running back is praised for having a great run and he's not blasted for failing to get into the goal.
Max's idea is that if you make the journey interesting, then the audience will appreciate the journey even if you fail.
I agree and disagree with his thinking.
First, making the journey interesting is crucial to any conjuring - magic or mentalism. The journey HAS to be engaging. It's NOT just the "ending."
I love that aspect of it, and to me, it's the most challenging part of mentalism - making the journey interesting.
However, I disagree that if you make the journey interesting enough that people will appreciate the journey and forgive the failure. This may be true for some audiences, but as a general rule, I'm sorry, but I respectfully disagree. You can gloss over a failure, move on, win back the audience, make the failure "disappear" (see his great thoughts on his opener) etc., but people are paying you (in this example) to read minds and if you don;t do it, you fail.
Unless you have a John Archer type of personality or you make the magic/mind reading a by-product of your act and not the main part of the act, (as in a "stand up comedian/magic act")people are going to see a failure as a failure.
I do believe that if you make the journey intersting enough, it will certainly make recovery from a failure easier and smoother, but Max (at least the way he presents it on the DVD) seems to state that the audience will appreciate the journey itself.
I've been in corporate shows or high school shows doing mentalism and while some audiences will forgive a mistake, many more pounce. Modern audiences are cynical. Part of it is the idea that mentalism is hard to describe. Most clients describe me as a magician and some describe me as a mind reader - which sets up a challenge I try to avoid - and to me, I don't like to claim or even hint that I'm the real thing, so in my realm, people are paying me to what I'm doing, whether it's "reading minds" or "doing tricks" or whatever label you put on it or they put on you.
If you don't do what you say you can, people will lose respect. To draw on his own analogy, consider the Buffalo Bills. They went to the Super Bowl four years in a row - they had a "great run," but because they never won, they failed completely in many fans' eyes.
I agree that keeping the journey interesting is necessary and can make a mistake fly by easier, but I've never agreed with the "realism" of scripting in mistakes.
Setting all of this aside, it's a fascinating discussion and I'd love the opportunity to sit down with Max and discuss this. I respect his view point and he states it well. I think both sides of the debate can be argued, which makes this DVD set a must have. Even if you don't agree with Max, he'll get you thinking about your performances in a way you may not have and it's great brain food.
Another great thing about this DVD is that unlike some L&L releases, this was apparently shot straight through and Max had to deal with mistakes and/or spectators who did not understand instructions, made mistakes, etc.
Max was unflappable and he showed how to handle things that don't go correctly.
Despite the fact that I wasn't terribly excited about some (most) of the pieces presented in and of themselves, I firmly believe that if you have any interest in performing mentalism for paying audiences, this DVD set is a must have. A perfect 10.
Later this week, check back in for a product I really did not like, even after devoting a year and a half of work into it.
Until next time...