Review: Johnny Thompson’s Commercial Classics of Magic
It’s not always easy to determine what is or is not a good magic trick. We’ve all been in that situation where we were infatuated with something that fooled us early, and then when we learned the secret, the trick suddenly became lesser in our eyes. Then as we started to get into magic, we bought into hype, eager for new props, new tricks, new methods, things that magic producers were more than eager to sell us. After getting jaded on that, we started looking at things that fooled us deeply as magicians. After all, if we’ve been fooled, surely it’s the best trick, right? Somewhere along the way, we start performing, and there comes this weird schism between what we think we’re supposed to like, versus what the people we perform for actually like. We dive into theory, thinking the answer is there. We dive into experimentation, thinking the answer is there. We even start trying to re-evaluate that stuff that fooled us, a long time ago…
It’s not easy to know what’s a good magic trick.
Unless you’re Johnny Thompson, that is.
Mix one part Fred Kaps with one part Munsters, and you’ve got Johnny Thompson. The man is a great performer for close-up and stage. The man understands how to craft a magic trick so that it’ll play well. Actually, perhaps that’s too verbose. The man just plain understands magic.
This particular DVD set of his is a very, very good value at its regular price, but as the magic DVD market seems to be in a bit of a flux these days, it’s not uncommon for this set to go on special as a download. I personally bought all four for $40, and in terms of pure value, that was easily one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.
I mean, look at the contents of the first DVD. Coins through table, good trick. Han Ping Chien, good trick. Winged Silver, good trick. Copper and Silver, good trick. Vanishing Glass, good trick. That’s a list of 5 good tricks, all well taught, and he’s got them routined together in a single set, meaning that you’re not just learning five individual tricks, you’re learning how to make them fit into the broader context of your act. And that’s not even half the DVD. The rest of the DVD has the balls and the net, the MacDonald’s Aces, Matching the Cards, and the Benson Bowl routine. Forget good magic tricks, we’re talking a solid list of openers and closers.
Jumping ahead to the third DVD, there’s the Malini Card Stab, the Koran Medallion, and the Coin in Bottle. Richard Osterlind calls the Koran Medallion “a monster effect”, Coin in Bottle is frequently cited by Whit Haydn as an example of really strong magic, and the Card Stab was arguably the signature effect of the legendary Max Malini. These three could feature in anybody’s act. Rounding out the rest of the DVD is the Biddle Trick (complete with personal touches that turns this into a showpiece), Heads Up, Vernon’s “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”, the Phantom Cigarette, Hanky Panky, Spellbound, Presto Change-O, the 3 Ball Routine, and a livestock load and production. Again, capable material not just for magicians, but also mentalists, walk-around performers, and silent stage acts.
The second DVD has the Travellers, Triumph, the Vernon Poker Deal, Chink-a-Chink, the Cap and Pence, the Endless Chain, and the Mental Card Miracle. The fourth DVD has a lengthy Cups and Balls routine (one that doesn’t feel like just another iteration of Vernon’s), Cutting the Aces, the Color-Changing Knives, and the Color-Changing Deck. In terms of the breadth of material, perhaps these ones are a little below the standard set by volume #1 and #3. Even if one said they’re merely worth the money, it still puts them on par with the better DVDs out there.
Part of what you’re paying for when you buy these DVDs is not just the effect, but the history and stories behind many of them. This makes the DVDs potentially a troublesome purchase. If you like learning about the sort of thing that makes up a classic trick, or the steps that the older performers used to take in order to make something play strong, then you’ll like this stuff. If you don’t, then perhaps you’ll be a bit disappointed that it’s taking up space on a DVD that could have instead gone towards more material for you to evaluate and perhaps add to your act.
As a complete set, it’s very difficult to find a flaw. If you consider yourself a fan of the classics, then the product is essentially a no-brainer. The Cups and Balls, Triumph, the Koran Medallion, Travellers, Coin in Bottle, the Malini Card Stab, Copper/Silver, MacDonald’s Aces, Matching the Cards, the Benson Bowl… If you’re giving yourself an honest evaluation of your own repertoire, then if none of these tricks could supplant what you’re currently doing, then honestly, you probably don’t need to be buying magic DVDs, period. The next tier down, tricks like “Matching the Cards”, Chink-a-Chink, Winged Silver, Glass Through Table, the Color-changing Knives, Thompson’s variation on the Biddle Trick, the Cap and Pence… I mean, the least that you can say about them is that they’re really entertaining and engaging, and we’re talking about the sort of magic that a middling performer could use and still get great reactions, so long as the techniques are performed competently.
Perhaps the worst one could say that the distribution of the material perhaps could have been more even so that some DVDs might not seem to offer more than the others, which should really only be a concern if money is a bit tight. But if you’re able to pick these up at a reduced price during a download sale (the sort of thing which comes up once or twice a year) then pounce on it. Right now, at $100 for all four, it’s a great purchase. When that price comes down, then we’re talking about material that, for the price of a couple of pizzas, you could build an entire career around.