Holy Toledo! I watched this documentary yesterday.
The Jan Rouven sequences are difficult to watch—given the details of his arrest and subsequent guilty plea. Rouven’s Svengali, Frank Alfter, expresses a cynicism which pervades the magic profession. While feuds amongst magicians range from trite to legendary, Alfter’s take on jealousy and thievery plainly describes an inner ugliness that stains the art form.
David Minkin’s scenes tell a pleasant success story laced with a nervous energy to which many performers can relate.
Like Ben, I was most intrigued—and moved—by the candor and plights of Jon Armstrong and Brian Gillis.
I was quite pleased to learn, after watching, that Jon applied his goal-based discipline to his physical health. I would imagine the best is yet to come for this talented and earnest man.
Brian Gillis' early performances on Johnny Carson's tonight show were an inspiration when I was in my late 20s.
Through the kindness of friends, I manage to get into the Magic Castle a few times a year. Late last month, I went to see Jared Kopf rule the close-up gallery as only he can. While eating dinner at the Palace Bar, I recognized Brian Gillis to my left. I introduced myself and we struck up a conversation. Out of that meeting, I found myself back at the Castle last weekend as Brian's guest.
After catching Jeff McBride's wonderful close-up set, I ventured to the W.C. Fields bar where Brian was working. I met up with him between sets. While he waited for the next crowd to file in, we sat and talked. Brian was extremely gracious and thoughtful. He spoke reverently about his mentor, Eddie Fechter. Brian grew up not far from the Forks bar where the owner, Mr. Fechter, slayed audiences every night. "To this day," Brian said, "the best magician I've ever seen was Eddie."
I then watched Brian astonish his audience with rapid fire miracles and powerfully funny presentation.
His performance character is such a wise guy, the contrast of the honest, forthright and down-to-earth Brian Gillis is all the more remarkable. He certainly does not put on airs while the cameras roll. The hard knock survivor, the pro, the optimist, the pragmatist and the gentleman on the screen is the real deal.