I Thought It Was A Harness


SPOILER ALERT: A popular illusion

When you learn how a trick’s done, does it “spoil” it for you? Sometimes I gnash my teeth a bit, but I find that when I know how a trick’s done, my appreciation for the trickster actually increases, and I have a good opportunity to examine my own cognitive biases and how I fell for redirection.

Several years ago I spent a few months obsessively watching Banachek [Chris Shaw]’s DVDs on stage magic. [wc] Banachek’s series is like a Penn and Teller show except with an extremely polite Canadian, and better explanations. One of the things I loved is how Banachek explains that some tricks are really hard technical set-ups, whereas others are memorization, or simply misdirection and sleight of hand. If the trick’s a good one, you may slap yourself on the forehead at the glaring obviousness that you missed – that, to me, is the sign of a good trick, well played.

Via The Register comes a tidbit that I did not expect: [reg] [google patents] Let’s do the ‘reveal’ backwards so you can see when you catch it.

A velcro-quick-change boot that looks like a loafer, including supports around the ankle.

The patent holder’s name:

Inventor Michael J. Jackson, Michael L. Bush, Dennis Tompkins
Current Assignee Triumph International Inc
Original AssigneeTriumph International Inc
Priority date 1992-06-29

If you’re like me, you immediately searched to see if Jackson has any other patents, and you found out that he does not.

So, that’s the trick – Jackson’s shoes were braced, and he had a kick-plate in the heel that could be slotted against a protruding spud on the floor. From there, it was a question of how well he used his body language to redirect the audience’s attention and his dance skills to isolate his body movements. That set-up must have put tremendous pressure on his ankles

My assumption was that it was a harness, with a very fine black steel wire going down between his shoulder-blades. Then, the trick would be to dance without getting tangled in the wire – a good wire-operator like the guys who do movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon could have made Jackson fly around the set. But this was 1992. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon didn’t happen until 8 years later.

Once you have an appreciation for how strong steel can be, this trick is also pretty clear: [int]

Some rebar and a couple of steel plates. The trick, such as there is, is getting into position without it being obvious that they are climbing onto a metal gantry.

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I remain a huge fan of Michael Jackson’s dance performances. For several decades he broke new ground, by dramatically re-inventing other artists’ techniques, from James Brown to Michael Jordan.

And here is a little video for you, of Michael Jackson at the peak of his power, with Prince and James Brown. Prince demolishes a stage-prop (he should have used the floating meditation trick’s rebar brace!) and James Brown’s band doesn’t miss a beat. One gets the impression they’ve seen stage antics before.

Comments

  1. says

    Oh, weird coincidence: I literally *just* read a Facebook clickbait article on these exact tricks (and a few others).

    Spooky. :)

    I also want to build me one of those levitating rigs (in secret) and have the family come home to me “levitating” in the living room.

  2. says

    It doesn’t bother me to know how an illusion is done because I love the artistry and science behind them. Close up magic is one of my favourite types to watch because of the sheer effort into getting it right.

  3. Chris J says

    Yeah, I’m not too bothered by the explanation of illusions either, unless the goal is to try to figure it out first.

    But I was gobsmacked when I sussed out what you meant by the levitation setup. Didn’t even cross my mind how much of a framework that stick could really be. Love it!

  4. says

    When you learn how a trick’s done, does it “spoil” it for you? Sometimes I gnash my teeth a bit, but I find that when I know how a trick’s done, my appreciation for the trickster actually increases, and I have a good opportunity to examine my own cognitive biases and how I fell for redirection.

    It’s the same for me. If I just see some person on stage make it look like a rabbit appeared in his hat out of nowhere, I will perceive it as boring. I know that there are people who can do these kinds of tricks, and seeing yet another case where somebody performs yet another similar trick to what I have already seen before doesn’t seem interesting. For me the interesting part is learning how the trick was done. Knowing what exactly happened increases the fun and my appreciation for the person who performed that stunt.

    If the trick’s a good one, you may slap yourself on the forehead at the glaring obviousness that you missed – that, to me, is the sign of a good trick, well played.

    Yes, same goes for me.

  5. says

    Tangentially: I was at a dinner with James Randi, once (back when I thought JREF was cool) and asked him about Richard Feynman. I had heard, elsewhere, Feynman speak about working with Randi on the Uri Geller takedown – apparently Feynman and some of his students had produced a case-hardened steel spool that you couldn’t bend with a bulldozer – the plan was to film Geller trying to bend it.
    Randi said that he used to do tricks for Feynman, and the rule was that if Feynman asked a question, Randi had to answer it honestly with a “yes” or “no.” Feynman usually figured out the hardest tricks, eventually, even if it took him years. Feynman said that he enjoyed having something to think about if he ever had a moment where he wasn’t doing anything else.

  6. says

    YOB@#1:
    I also want to build me one of those levitating rigs (in secret) and have the family come home to me “levitating” in the living room.

    That would be tremendous fun! Do you know any kids? You could make a levitating kid trick…

  7. konrad_arflane says

    Prince demolishes a stage-prop (he should have used the floating meditation trick’s rebar brace!) and James Brown’s band doesn’t miss a beat. One gets the impression they’ve seen stage antics before.

    Well, they probably had, but what you’re really seeing is the Iron Rule of Showbiz in action: The Show Must Go On.

    I saw a clip a few years ago of a guy in an American church somewhere doing a number from (IIRC) Jesus Christ Superstar as part of the service. They had sprung for some pyrotechnics to liven things up a bit, and then something went wrong, and something caught fire. And the guy just moved a bit away from the flames and kept right on singing, while people ran around with fire extinguishers behind him. The show went on.

  8. Dunc says

    It doesn’t bother me to know how an illusion is done because I love the artistry and science behind them. Close up magic is one of my favourite types to watch because of the sheer effort into getting it right.

    I have a friend who’s pretty good at close-up card tricks… (Even co-wrote a book on the subject.) The most amazing thing for me is that even after he’s shown me exactly how a trick is done and I’m watching like a hawk, I often still can’t see it when he does it properly.

  9. says

    I recently watched a video where a dentist or technician did coin tricks with a kid, probably to make him comfortable. OK, sleigh of hands, you know that shit, probably only impresses nervous 5 year olds.
    But
    BUT
    The “coins” were some disks with light and my brain is still screaming “what happened?????” because whenever the coins were gone, so was the light and with normal coin tricks the light would be a dead giveaway. How did he do that?????

  10. says

    Gilliel@#11:
    Good up-close street magic is amazingly well-evolved, isn’t it?

    It’s possible the lights were part of misdirection – have some way to turn them off, and you heighten the illusion that they have disappeared. That could be done with a contact or magnetic switch, or just very careful timing. Probably a contact switch.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGvtUCWfBDg

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