Art and Ardor at the Card Table by James Nuzzo and Edward Marlo
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii July, 2004)
James Nuzzo is a podiatric surgeon and a lifelong aficionado of card magic, having been a longtime friend and protégé of the late Ed Marlo. Although only modestly represented in the published record, his name was often heard in connection with the Marlo inner circle. Dr. Nuzzo also performed close-up magic as a part-time pro, in addition to pursuing his medical practice. Thus, when word first reached me of this book, I was definitely intrigued; while much of the Marlo oeuvre continues to be republished and repackaged (as with the welcome release of the single volume Revolutionary Card Technique, reviewed in July 2003 Genii), it has been a while since we have seen newly released Marlovian fare. And the gang's all here, what with respected Marlo acolyte David Solomon providing the photographs and editorial assistance, and Marlin amanuensis Jon Racherbaumer providing editing, annotation, and a lengthy prologue.
One can readily accept that Dr. Nuzzo is an accomplished cardician, renowned in Marlo and Chicago circles in particular for his expert mastery over sleights like the Side Steal and his applications of Marlo exotica like the Hung Card. Dr. Nuzzo also collaborated with Marlo on several specialty manuscripts that saw limited release in the 1980s, all of which are now reproduced in this volume, including 21st Century Card Magic; Unforgettable Wild Card; and Marlo's Plus Package.
Following Mr. Racherbaumer's breathless prologue, Dr. Nuzzo's foreword, and supportive words from David Solomon, Dr. Nuzzo returns to provide some interesting personal observations and insights about his longtime colleague, Ed MarMarloio. The first card entry is the "Nuzzo Peek Count," a very interesting faro application for quickly determining the numerical location of a peeked selection. Unfortunately trouble is immediately afoot; the description is rendered semi-comprehensible thanks to the nomenclature of the accompanying photos having been completely botched. Apparently there are four photographs referred to in the text, however they are identified as photos 1, 2, and then photos 1 and 2 again, but only the first "1" and "2" photos actually accompany the text; the next two, which should have been referred to as "3" and "4," do not exist—no matter how they should have been numbered.
Although such disasters do not appear to repeat themselves to quite this degree, nevertheless it does present a portent of sorts. Magic books are harder to produce well than it may appear, and unfortunately this book proves the case. Effective descriptions are difficult to write, useful photographs are difficult to take, and if the work is well done, no one notices how hard the feat was to accomplish. Although there is sound material to present in this book, and all parties concerned doubtless expended great effort on the production, I found the result disappointing, and it consistently fails to do justice to Dr. Nuzzo's credentials and skills. For all the hoopla about Dr. Nuzzo's handling of the Side Steal to Rear Palm, whatever it is that sets his version apart is not discernible from the description. I am prepared to believe that his execution of the move is superlative and that the details of his particular version are of interest—they are certainly of interest to me!—but try as I might, I could not summon them from the prose and pictures which attempt to describe them. Although there are five photographs accompanying the text, this is the description of the actual position in which the card is retained: "The selection is eventually slid to a position midway between the Marlo and Tenkai palm positions." There are no doubt some of us who can read such a sentence and immediately grasp the precise nature of the card's position in the hand. The rest of us will find ourselves searching for a useful graphic depiction. The reader is in fact referred to one of five accompanying photographs "to understand the precise palm position Nuzzo uses." In the 1" x 2" photo in question, the depicted card, is barely V." of an inch in length in the photo, much of which is obscured by a hand in the way (in the act of pushing the card into the palm), and that portion of the card which is exposed is in fact in shadow. There is no illustration of only the card in the precise position in an extended hand, unobscured by the fingers of the other hand. And there are hardly any pictures anywhere in the book in which the key subject matter—hands and cards—come anywhere near to filling the frame. Thus the cards are infinitesimally small, and the kinds of critical details on which such highly technical work depends are consistently rendered undetectable. The result is frustrating beyond measure.
The very next item, "Nuzzo's Simul-Steal," is a multiple Side Steal; that is, a simultaneous steal of two cards in two different locations. This demanding and complex maneuver is described with no illustrations whatsoever. As if that fact was not sufficiently remarkable in itself, a footnote informs us that the move was previously described in Card Finesse II by Mr. Racherbaumer. I checked my copy: there-in the description is accompanied by no less than six photographs! Apparently the best thing all these editors could have done to rescue this book was to hire an editor.
The third item, the "D'Amico One-Hand Second Deal," mentions the right side of the deck in the opening paragraph of the description, and refers the reader to an accompanying photograph, in which the right side of the deck is essentially not discernible.
In a section entitled "Hung Apps," concerning application's of Marlo's Hung Card idea (basically, a card stuck to the back edge of the table with some kind of adhesive), one must wait until the third item to see an illustration of the basic definition of a Hung Card. In the first illustration of this section, a handkerchief is depicted which conceals a card. An indication—perhaps with a dotted line—of the exact location of the card would have been an effective way to instruct the reader in what is supposed to be occurring. Instead, we are told that "[t]he card is picked up with the cloth and completely hidden within the fold," but if you have any idea as to the precise path the card takes or its exact position with-in the fold, you will have managed better than I did.
There is not even a consistent voice indicating who is the author. My best guess is that many of these descriptions were written at one time by Marlo, which would explain why at times we learn of Dr. Nuzzo in the third person On at least one occasion a paragraph begins simply with "Nuzzo" followed by a colon and the remainder of the paragraph within quotation marks. This we may take as Dr. Nuzzo's own words, but who is talking the rest of the time? It is an editor's job to resolve such a fundamental style issue, that the reader need not puzzle over it. These are far from the only examples of such problems. But to continue to identify them would be fruitless. Suffice to say, such flaws are repeated throughout the text.
As a side note, this first section is given the unfortunate subtitle, "The Nuzzo Touch." Since Dr. Nuzzo thanks Mr. Racherbaumer for the title of the book, perhaps the latter also deserves credit for this unfortunate idea. Considering that since the release of The Dai Vernon Book of Magic you don't have to be a "pulse-checking, hard-core card man" to know that the phrase "The Vernon Touch" has been inextricably associated with Dai Vernon, along with that having been the title of his monthly column in Genii magazine for more than 20 years, one cannot help but think this a disrespectful choice.
I was one of the Marlophiles who purchase the 21st Century Card Magic package when it was released in 1981. At the time, John Cornelius' "Shrinking Card Box" was all the rage. Mr. Cornelius' handling was preceded by an idea of Peter Kane's, but the Cornelius approach, featured (if memory serves) in his award-winning FISM act, was a nifty little self-contained gadget that became instantly popular. Coupled with the shrinking box was renewed interest in Brother John Hamman's trick, "Micro-Macro," which also introduced an ingenious and simple gimmick for transforming a miniature deck of cards into a normal-sized deck. Combinations proliferated, perhaps none more brilliant than that of Ron Wilson (which may be found in his book, The Uncanny Scot.) The Nuzzo/Marlo manuscript contained numerous variations on this theme, based on other gimmicks and a great deal of lapping. Although this is interesting material to experiment with, once you introduce lap-ping and switching of decks, you not only lose the elegance and practicality of the Cornelius and Hamman solutions, but I daresay anyone could come up with a plethora of variants that are ultimately inferior to these versions. That's why those two are the ones that have lasted and remain in popular use. This is session material, and if that is to your taste, you will find much of it here to ponder.
Similarly Marloesque noodlings abound. Two versions of the Ace Assembly are provided, for example, which depend entirely on the Benzais Cop or the Marlo Simulated Placement. These are methods for apparently dealing a card down but actually retaining it in angle palm, from which the card(s) can be transferred to other piles. Hence we are delivered methods like this: "You will (be) ... apparently dealing each Ace onto its own packet. In reality, perform the Benzais Cop three times. When you take the last Ace, deal all four Aces as one onto the fourth packet." I regard this kind of approach as little more than a comedy method. The element of construction, so critical to elegant conjuring, is not only entirely absent—it is ignored. Elsewhere under the heading of comedy methods comes this kind of notion: "In essence, you secretly attach to various parts of your attire a small square of double-sided Scotch Tape." Hey, if that floats your boat, by all means, have a nice cruise. To me it's more like setting sail in a colander.
Enough. Suffice it to say, much of this kind of material, in which traditionally effective methods are replaced with raw muscle methods like lapping and switching, simply do not appeal to me. There was a time when I confess I did find such things of academic inspiration and interest—I read every page of the Marlo Magazines that reside on my shelf but I can muster little excitement over a method for the "Card to Wallet" in which the wallet is lapped, the card is loaded in the wallet while in the lap, and then the wallet is secretly stolen and apparently produced from the jacket pocket.
As the saying goes, your mileage may vary. If you hunger for the kind of Marlovian experimentation that dominated in the 70s and 80s, you will find it here. If you hunger for elegant touches on sleights like the Side Steal as I do you will have a great deal of trouble appreciating exactly what it is that the author has to offer in their service. There are other good ideas to be found in these pages, to be sure, such as Marlo's ideas on changing the timing of false display counts like Elmsley, Jordan, and Stanyon Counts, a concept here dubbed the "Broken Count." But I found little joy and much frustration in extracting them in this sincere but inept publishing effort.