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Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

2012 | Not rated | 1.85:1

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay


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Theatrical release date

 17 May, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay


Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, May 15, 2013

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that my introduction to Ricky Jay was through his acting credits, watching him perform in the films of David Mamet and Paul Thomas Anderson, completely unaware of his legacy as a sleight of hand master. His magical authority would come later to me, making his accomplishments and skill even more impressive, with his very career a type of delicious misdirection to people of a certain age. “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay” returns focus to Jay’s far-reaching history with tricks and stage performance, sitting down with the subject to discuss his influences and career, placing attention on a man who would much rather communicate through his indescribable brilliance with something as simple as a stack of playing cards.

Ricky Jay was born Richard Jay Potash, and, as a young boy, he acquired an insatiable curiosity for magic, looking to his grandfather as a guide to this enigmatic world of stylish deception. He started performing at the age of four, stumbling through hoary illusions that fed his need to present in front live audiences, soon snowballing into television appearances, giving birth to a skill few adults could master. He rehearsed tricks from men with names such as Cardini, Slydini, and Malini, perfecting his work through repetition and intense study, even receiving an opportunity to monitor mastery up close when noted magician Alf Losso was generous enough to play his bar mitzvah. For Ricky, sleight of hand wasn’t a hobby, it was a portal to another dimension, offering him confidence and control that soothed his soul. And when hit his twenties, Jay was already a brand name, working the 1970s with Cher-style long hair and tremendous skill, wowing the likes of Dinah Shore and Johnny Carson, building his reputation as a master of misdirection.

Directed by Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein, “Deceptive Practice” doesn’t painstakingly track the steps of Jay’s career, instead remaining mindful of his influences, detailing the pattern of awe and curiosity that fed his imagination, urging him to achieve a level of skill that would rival the greats of the industry. There are moments of reflection, with Jay, ever the raconteur, discussing his time at the Magic Castle, learning from the likes of Dai Vernon and Charles Miller, helping to shape his abilities and focus his sense of theatricality, eventually transformed into one-man shows such as “Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants,” directed by friend David Mamet (who also participates in the discussion). True to its title, the documentary is more about reverence than dissection, leaving Jay in the shadows where he’s comfortable. We learn about his late-in-life marriage, his hot temper, and his fascination with artifacts of the vocation, but only briefly, often articulated through interviewees careful to discuss Jay with the utmost respect. “Deceptive Practice” isn’t out for blood, it’s there to absorb a rare moments of exposure from a man who’s built his life around a game of secrecy, and these slivers of illumination are riveting.

The real highlights of the documentary are the displays of magic and illusion, gathered from 50 years of television and stage appearances, while a few sequences are created especially for “Deceptive Practices.” It’s a time capsule of Jay’s work, watching him fling cards like ninja stars and shuffle with alarming fluidity. He lives for the surprise of others, displaying card tricks that boggle the mind, even pulling emotional responses from a few observers simply overwhelmed with his ability. The examples are numerous and supremely entertaining, especially for those unfamiliar with the depth of Jay’s performance history, watching him up his stage presence over the decades, appearing quite pleased to be an architect of confusion.

Smoothly paced and marked by a few rich ironies (a masterful card sharp, it appears Jay can’t work a cell phone to save his life), “Deceptive Practice” is an exceptional introduction to the magician. The documentary is also respectful of history and the importance of mentorship, with Jay chatting up the skills of Michael Webber, a younger magician who’s sustained a 30 year friendship with his idol. It’s this tone of respect that defines the viewing experience, focusing less on Jay’s faults and more on his achievements and hunger to test himself. Although the subject doesn’t come through in high definition, his legacy is hypnotic, celebrated and studied here in a manner that’s wholly satisfying and often eye-crossingly mesmerizing.

Starring: Ricky Jay
Director: Molly Bernstein

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