Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay (Kino Lorber, NR)

Deceptive-Practices 75He’s never less than intriguing, and always leaves you with the impression that whatever you already know about him, there’s still much more yet to be discovered.

Deceptive-Practices 500

If you only know Ricky Jay from films like House of Games and Tomorrow Never Dies, and most especially if you’re not familiar with his work at all, you owe it to yourself to check out Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein’s documentary Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. Besides offering great insight into what makes Jay tick (no small feat for such a guarded character), it also shows you a generous number of Jay performances and gives you a quick education in the history and art of magic in general, sleight of hand in particular.

Early in the film, Jay says “I know absolutely nothing about the twentieth century,” and that’s one key to his approach to magic. His act is about as far as you can get from the glitzy shows put on by David Copperfield or the exhibitionism of David Blaine: instead, he generally performs before a small audience and does sleight-of-hand with cards, cups, and other simple tools. But that simplicity is the point—a Jay performance is all about his skill and delivery in an intimate setting, and those qualities have sustained him through a career spanning almost 60 years and including several successful Broadway shows, numerous film roles, and 10 books, as well as his primary career as a stage magician.

Jay was introduced to magic by his grandfather, Max Katz, a CPA who was also a serious amateur magician. He made his first public performance at age five, and by 17 was out of the house and making his own living, working as a bartender as well as a magician. He perfected his craft, crediting the magicians Charlie Miller and Dai Vernon as his primary mentors, and he also began collecting historical books on magic, which provided him with more tricks as well as the material for many of his books.

Jay speaks with great respect of his predecessors, several of whom are seen in performance clips, including Cardini, Max Malini, and Al Flosso, the Coney Island Fakir (you can’t make such names up). Much of the film is told in Jay’s voice, with ample clips of his performances, as well as interviews with his manager Winston Simone, writer and director David Mamet (who has directed Jay both on stage and in films), and journalist Suzie Mackenzie (she has a great story about a block of ice).

Although Jay is notoriously reticent about his personal life, at the end of watching Deceptive Practice, you’ll have a pretty good idea what makes him tick. You’ll also want to run and watch some of his movies and read some of his books, because he’s never less than intriguing, and always leaves you with the impression that whatever you already know about him, there’s still much more yet to be discovered.

Extras on the DVD include additional interviews with Ricky Jay and his colleagues, additional clips of Jay and others performing, a nifty animation designed by Lisa Daly, a promo for Bob Dylan’s song “Love and Theft,” and the theatrical trailer. | Sarah Boslaugh

The DVD of Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay goes on sale on Nov. 5, 2013, distributed by Kino Lorber, and the film is currently available on demand from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, and VUDU HD Movies.

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