Friday, November 17, 2006

David Copperfield's sad demise

So here's a confession: when I was ten years old, I wanted to be David Copperfield. You understand, of course, that I mean the magician illusionist, not the Dickens character.

But seriously, wasn't he the coolest guy in the world? Windblown hair, smoke machines everywhere, all the time surrounded by obedient, gorgeous women in tights, watching them gyrate before him while Peter Gabriel played in the background. And then he'd get to shove them in a box or ram a sword through one of them (or both!), and then everyone would clap. Um, yeah, where do I sign up?

And you understand, again, what I'm saying: I didn't want to be a magician when I grew up -- I wanted to be that magician. It didn't occur to me until much, much later that Copperfield was really exactly like every other magician, just on a larger scale. Copperfield was like a rock star magician, in some other class from the losers who did birthday parties and stuff. Forget rabbits and top hats -- he made the friggin' Statue of Liberty disappear!

As I grew older, my idolization of the man declined quite rapidly...a decline that nicely match the decline in quality of his CBS television specials. Oh, the Flying special was fantastic, one of the best hours of TV I've ever seen, but he followed it the next year with the horrendously disappointing Fires of Passion, where his big illusion wasn't even an illusion at all, but some weak escape trick. (I've never liked escapes -- make something disappear, something appear, shrink, teleport, do something that seems somewhat magical; getting out of a straitjacket is just too real to be magic.) And he came back the next year with a goddamn clip show, which was the Jump the Shark moment for sure.

But he came roaring back in 1995, with...Unexplained Forces!

Ho boy.

See, here's the thing, if you never watched a David Copperfield special: the whole show is a series of illusions, all of them working through a theme building to the Big Illusion, the one James Earl Jones will hype in voiceover through the entire hour in between Clorox commercials (in the most bizarre product licensing ever, Copperfield specials were always sponsored by Clorox with Bleach...'cause it makes stains disappear, or something). And the Big Illusion in 1995 had to do with spirits.

Now, this isn't the whole thing -- I remember some really, really bad blue screen effects that shattered all suspension of disbelief and turned the entire program into a laughable joke. But here's the core section, and behold the Lamest Magic Trick Ever.

The question that should flash in the minds of the audience after any magic trick is, "How'd he do that?" That's what happens here, too, except the mind immediately answers it with a question: "Who gives a fuck?" Seriously, throwing newspapers around from behind a curtain? And we know the knots are good and tied perfectly, and that it has to be magic, because of those volunteers! Those are Complete Strangers, just some random audience members he's Never Met Before, and we can tell because they seemingly come from backstage.

(In one of the illusions during the Flying special, Copperfield selected audience members by passing around a bowl full of cotton balls; whoever wound up with a ball with a red dot in it got to join in the illusion. That's bogus, too, but at least it tries to look legit. This is just lame.)

And we've gone from making giant statues and planes and train cars disappear to...this. How fucking sad.

He wouldn't air another special for six years. By the time he did, the Masked Magician had destroyed stage magic for a generation, and Copperfield had to respond by doing David Blaine-like street magic. For a guy whose entire act had relied on smoke machines and Peter Gabriel, this was as disastrous as you'd expect. I think he retreated (in shame) to the Broadway stage after this, where I understand he made (makes?) a lot of money.

But I don't want to be David Copperfield anymore.

No comments:

Post a Comment