The responsibility of a product review is that the guts of the author and their product is truly elucidated, points out Dr. John N. Booth in his last book (also from L & L). I offered this review to Shakespeare's E-Mail because I feel qualified to provide this.
I've been a "Sheridan watcher" since 1972. A sister who lived at 70th and Columbus, nary .25 miles from Sheridan's Sunday roost at the base of the Sir Walter Scott statue (at the entrance to "literary walk" in New York's Central Park) was alerted to his weekend performances by an article in the WestSider, a penny-saving weekly for neighborhood residents. She brought her 11- year-old magic-crazy little brother one weekend, and from then on I was a fan.
I have known the surrealist street magician since 1985. Our relationship has endured unprovoked jealousy, professional pitfalls and triumphs and the theft of his file from my Manhattan apartment. I own a one-of-a kind well preserved and shot Super 8mm film of his performance in Central Park circa 1974. My humble collection also contains a rare, signed poster from his indoor concert titled "Visual Alchemy." I have seen him work for lay audiences at least 20 times; and once, at his invitation, I subbed for him on a corporate show on a boat, because he was unable to get out of his contract performing in the Broadway road company of Sugar Babies. I was also the very first person to see Jeff turn a translucent yoyo into a live goldfish. After this triumph he strode forward and stated, "With this, I join the Hofzinser club."
Recently, I took him, as a guest of the Rockefeller Foundation, to walk among the surrealist works of the movement's founders at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. When we came to a room full of his inspirations of Max Ernst, Marcel Duschamp and Joseph Cornell, he remarked out of the side of his mouth (to no one in particular) in a W.C. Field's-like tone, "H-e-l-l-o boys!" It was an honest revelation.
Against this backdrop this information comes.
Firstly, minute by minute, effect by effect, thought by thought, I cannot deduce a better expenditure of $120 for 4 DVD's than Sheridan's "Genius at Work." The title "genius" may be a little off-putting as it is a self-appellation but so was Houdini's billing as "The Genius of Escape" and John Booth's being called a "Sleight of Hand Genius." As a media-crossing creator (Sheridan has also had exhibits of his surrealist objects in fine art galleries), Sheridan's magic is made more powerful, creative, enigmatic and genuinely wondrous by his excursions into the surreal realm.
Beginning with Volume 1 Sheridan assumes the mantle of FATHER OF MODERN STREET MAGIC. I cannot imagine anyone conversant in the history of magic and not making the immediate comparison to Robert-Houdin and his title of "Father of Modern Magic." In Robert-Houdin's case, the title was bestowed about 50 years after his death by Sidney Clarke, and later echoed by Henry R. Evans and others. In Sheridan's case, while I accept the title, there is also clearly the case of positioning himself amidst the pap and flurry of TV magic appropriating the title of his 1977 volume with Edward Claflin, Street Magic.
Volume 1 of "Genius at Work" commences with his well-known street act, which he performed thousands of times between 1967 and 1982 in and around Central Park in New York City. His street act is captured indoors. What a mistake! While I understand the rudiments of TV production and the necessity for controlled lighting and locked down cameras, the setting definitely disrupts the artist's oeuvre, and he mentions his unfamiliarity with studio bright lights "from so many years on the street." This statement is a well-placed truth in light of others' grand capitalization of Sheridan's métier. He also states up front that having been a silent performer for many years, the viewer will pardon his demeanor as a speaker and teacher. This brings to mind Harpo Marx's statement at the beginning of a lecture he entertained with a few times, "Unaccustomed as I am to speaking."
Volume 1 opens with Sheridan changing the time on a spectator's watch (it is not explained). One marvels he is able to do this without speaking, and he sets the stage with this time travel. Then we see Sheridan's Swan Lake Rope Routine. What a joy it is to see, clearly shot, edited and then explained by the creator, or perhaps the word "adaptor" might be used. As, Sheridan points out that his routine is a culmination of moves and ideas from George Sands, Edward Victor, Karl Germain and "others that are probably forgotten."
In addition to being a genius, and the father of modern street magic, Sheridan also attempts copious historical reference, giving credit where due, mostly.
The mid-piece of Sheridan's street performance is his flawless card manipulations, which form the body of Volume 2 of this DVD series. Card shooting, fanning, split fans and single productions are seen from the vaudeville of Cardini, Doc Elliott, Edward Victor and Howard Thurston. Sheridan also reminds the viewer in the detailed explanation section of the names Paul Draylin, Senor Mardo, and Robin Lane. Al Baker's seldom-seen Diminishing Cards shows Sheridan's connection with another age and a fine fixture of his performance.
Two miracles with a thumb tip conclude Sheridan's street act -- the cigarette in the coat, and the vanishing and reappearing water from a clenched fist. The performer reminds us in his explanation that he is "not crazy enough to think that he was the first to put a cigarette in a thumb tip" but he does stake claim to the effect's popularity (read that he has been ripped off lock, stock and barrel by other street workers for this routine).
When I first witnessed Jeff's show in 1972 he did the cigarette routine and absolutely slayed the audience. He also made water change to ice in his bare hand (which is not on these DVD's). The cigarette in coat and his vanishing the water from his fist and making it reappear from the inside of a man's -- sometimes woman's (!) -- shirt left the audience speechless. Sheridan's surreal world had interceded with busy Gotham and it was a happy moment for all. (He also pulled a crumpled dollar bill from the curly brown locks of my 11-year-old head.)
He teaches us on the DVD that the entire performance of the cigarette in the coat is dependent on the moves, gestures, visual lines and positions of performance -- but that mostly the trick is about the relationship between the performer and the audience. Sheridan is quick to point out that the guts of this trick are the jokes, bits and other silent comedic moment he brings to the performance. He told me once that his silent mime style was the foundation for the non-speaking half of a comedy-magic duo now residing in Vegas. Prior to seing Jeff work in his one man show "Visual Alchemy," Sheridan stated, Teller was just another Doug Henning rip off in a black leotard with long hair.
Volume 1 of "Genius at Work" also includes a few other gems -- a borrowed bill routine that reinvents the embossed wallet trick (I apologize for not knowing the proper name of this effect). In Sheridan's hands he provides showmanly meaning for this miracle and while a quickie, no greater magical punch can be delivered if you own the props. One of the pearls of Volume 1 is that we get to meet the artist and become comfortable with the voluminous discourse from this previously silent performer. Sheridan speaking is Woody Allenesque with his distinct New York accent (though the director and Sheridan are from different boroughs) and his manic energy is also similar to the comedic director, former stand-up comedian.
Volume 2, as stated, is Sheridan's mastery of card manipulation. As they say, "Here is the real work." Shot with two cameras to effectively represent the placement of the fingers for the extremely detailed sleights. Sheridan's production of a card in flight definitely requires this.
As I am a stranger to L & L's trick training DVD's and videos, I am delighted to report a most usable function. You can skip neatly between performance and explanation or simply watch the tricks in performance sans explanation. The studio audience is attractive, supportive, accommodating and provides honest, unscripted reactions I believe.
These DVD's are the next best thing to having personal instruction, and were you to slow down, zoom in, and still the moving image, the lesson is even more detailed. (Perhaps one day the wizards at L & L will devise a technology to answer student questions!) The other nice addition to this volume is that Sheridan gives credit to the creators (himself included of course) of the moves he teaches. It's good karma. I know of one manipulator who finishes his card act with a series of moves developed by Roy Benson to produce the Ace of Spades at his fingertips. When this was pointed out to the manipulator, he barked at the observer, "Yeah? Well, it finishes my card act, and he's dead, so no one cares." The modern student may take a lead from the father of modern street magic and remember whence we come. His interlocked hands card production is not as strong as the original Cliff Green method, though it is a different animal.
Volume 2 is perhaps the most useful for the average magical enthusiast or aspiring pro who wants to spend several thousand hours learning these time-honored moves. While I am unfamiliar with the mighty ocean of trick tapes and deception detailed DVD's, I do know that Jeff Sheridan teaches what he has done for almost the last 36 years. It is nice to see this material so well captured. You are watching a lifetime of practice, performance and experimentation. It is not EZ to do, but delightful to see what must be done.
Volume 3 focuses on the father of modern street magic as a creator. I can honestly say that after 35 years in magic that Jeff Sheridan is indeed one of the most creative magicians of usable, hard-hitting and practical tricks. "Original" is the rub. Most tricks are derivative of other material, so when Sheridan refers to "his" card stab, broad license is taken with a miracle very obviously set forth by Milbourne Christopher (5 years before Jeff was born under a different surname), as noted by Sheridan in passing. Sheridan's twist being the use of a napkin instead of Christopher's paper bag. Sheridan's re-introduction to this trick and his handling is also derivative of Christopher's student whom Sheridan repeatedly saw performing at New York's Top of the Sixes in 1986, though this goes unmentioned. His version of Jean Hugard's "Calcutta Mystery" which involves an uncanny triple prediction is also fine magic but doesn't acknowledge the creator. During his walloping good "Dream Card" trick he accidentally refers to a double back card, as a "double face card." Clearly creativity is his territory; explanations are not. He also doesn't acknowledge where his inspiration comes from; in this case, upon seeing my Signature Tick repeatedly in my living room, he chimed up "I'd love to steal that from you."
His cut and restored string is a knockout, and his adaptation -- I originally wrote up for him in the February 1994 MUM -- of the Kolar straw and Pavel walking knot leaves the L & L crowd with their jaws on the floor. As an impromptu illusion there is none better. He quips, "All I do at McDonald's is steal the straws, that's a fact." This shouldn't surprise anyone. Surrealists have a history of involvement with "found objects."
His "right of passage" trick combining the penny to dime trick plus the dime through dental dam trick is a lesson in applied creativity. The routine melds two singular tricks into a cohesive whole that is a "justified" fantastic tapestry. It is also quaint kiddies magic brought a notch higher.
This routine shows the mind of the master and his copious understanding of what is possible with a little work in the head-scratching department. For me, the absolute pearl of the DVD series was on Volume 3, the jumping and Re-attaching pocket watch!
I am saddened that this is being made available to the masses except that it so clearly defines the robust outside the box thinking of Jeff Sheridan. A pocket watch that is dis-attached from its chain is visually reconnected almost as if it jumps. It is beguiling sorcery because the props are uncommon, the moves are clean and effortless and the miracle made is a visual hallmark of his prodigious creativity. Even if you do not want to spend the time, money and effort to create this miracle (as it does take some doing) this one effect does bridge the gap between tricks and dreams come true. It is a moment in a magician's life that is precious, pure, perfect and rare.
"Clone Cards" is Sheridan's version of Peter Kane's "Wild Card." It is the best version I have seen since Peter Samelson's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." "Sheridan's Princess" is his version of the Princess Card trick and is a simple piece of effective wizardry. His vanishing and reappearing pipe and ladies fan also deserve mention, though both are more ideas and moves than complete routined tricks. No matter. He shows what can be done with uncommon props. An idea with thimbles, and a silk penetration illusion also show Sheridan's diversity with props.
Volume 4 of Genius at Work is titled "Stand Up Stunners" Call it parlor, stage or living room magic, you are sure to find something of use. Several effects with Hen Fetsch's classic Mental Epic board are conceived and produce solid results. One piece in this vein combines Fetsch's board with the Clipline Prediction. My only question is "why three articles need to be used when one will suffice?" Though obviously the force clipping is desirable for the finale, this is thinking that ascribes to the idea that mental magic has it's own justifications and therefore acceptances.
His floating energy capsule or cleverly titled "weight loss pill" is very powerful and while Sheridan gives credit to the hook up being a floating cork set up, again his raw creativity creates a whole new trick out of known magician's technology. Throughout there is an unspoken accepted fact; knowledge of types of invisible gimmickry and that classically manipulated cards that have been used over and over begin to look as if run over by a truck. There is much more on these DVD's.
Louis Falanga is to be commended for producing these four DVD's at considerable cost. If you get one trick out of these DVD's you're ahead of the game.
Volume 4 of Jeff Sheridan: "Genius at Work" DVD's (comprising about 6 hours of viewing) are a good portion of one individual's life work. Magic, while being a job and a source of income for this performer-creator has also been a life obsession, he freely admits. What these DVD's show is his dedication to his obsession.
Jeff Sheridan opens the book The World's Greatest Magic by Hyla M. Clark. He has co-authored 3 books; created very successful tricks for billion dollar toy companies; taught David Copperfield as a teen named David Kotkin; performed at John Lennon's final birthday party and at Kim Basinger's wedding to Alec Baldwin; opened for Joan Jett's band and won over the rowdy rock thong in a Broadway theatre; scared Salvador Dali at the St. Regis Hotel with his smoke bubble magic; appeared in Werner Herzog's classy variety show in the best theatres in Europe; and appeared as an Arabian Nights kind of wizard in Singapore for thousands of dollars for a 3 minute show. He's starred in one movie in Europe; been the subject of a documentary; sported long hair before Doug Henning and been House Magician in Germany at the Tiger Palast for many years. Yet, the silent magician has traveled difficult road. When asked by the audience at the opening of this DVD series how he is, he replied, "Not too well actually" and then adopts a more positive outlook. You decide.
On these DVD's Jeff Sheridan comes full circle from the svelte stranger clad in black, a wisp of magical wind encountered by chance only successfully challenged for true Pied Piperdom by Philippe Petit's grand exploits on the street (and in the air); to being a middle-aged, somewhat exasperated "genius." As the "Father of Modern Street Magic" he rises again amidst the film editing technique of David Blaine TV. And why not? Another street magician from the 70's has already made many big "hats" (that's street slang for making money) as the judge on Nightcourt.
It is nice to see this body of work documented and made available to set the record straight, coming from the no rules "rough trade" life learned as a famous street entertainer in the Big Apple. At the very least you will get one prolific man's truth from these DVD's. The viewer can decide if Sheridan's cleverness stands up to his self-imposed titles. Only history will provide the answer to these broad claims.
Sheridan once remarked to The New York Post that John Henry Anderson was one of the first to pull a bunny from a top hat. The street magician sighed, "That's life, something begins as art and winds up cliché."
Let us hope that these DVD's preserve the artistic spirit of Jeff Sheridan before the cliché gets too much attention.