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Brain Food by David Parr

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii August, 1998)


David Parr is a part-time magician whose lecture notes I was fortunate enough to have recommended to me some years ago by Eugene Burger. Those notes contained most but not all of the material in these pages, described far more briefly and with far less detail. One of the stronger items in these pages also appeared on Eugene Burger's most recent videotape, Gourmet Close-up.

There are eight complete routines here, accompanied by 14 essays, many of which serve as introductions to the routine descriptions, and occasionally as bridges between various pieces. I'll get right to the standout trick in the book, Slow Motion Swindle. This is Mr. Parr's clever and decided improvement on the Grant $5 to $1 Bill Transposition, essentially relying upon a feke which covers one corner of the bill. Mr. Parr has vastly improved the original trick and the original trick is still pretty darn good. (There are also a number of other variations on this trick, including an excellent marketed item by Al Cohen, and a sub-rosa handling of Bob McAllister's). One of the flaws of the original version is that the bill contributed by the performer contains the gaff, a point which the thoughtful spectator might realize in retrospect. Also, Mr. Parr was using Eugene Burger's excellent presentation for this trick, published in an early book, based upon a con game theme, but when the bills changed places the performer ended up with the smaller bill, the spectator the larger one. Not a very impressive con game!

Mr. Parr's methodology overcomes all of these problems, and provides for an exceedingly clean version of this trick. I'm not fond of this cliché and I try hard not to abuse it, but this trick is probably worth the price of the book, and certainly will be to anyone who goes out and adopts the trick for permanent use in a professional repertoire. Indeed, this is the version Eugene Burger now uses, and has for quite some time, since Mr. Parr first showed it to him.

The next most interesting item in the book is Mr. Parr's handling of the Mullica Wallet, which as mentioned was briefly described (but unfortunately not performed) on Mr. Burger's videotape. Mr. Parr has added both a handling and presentation idea that enables one to very cleanly handle the inner wallet, even tabling it temporarily before the revelation. Also, when the card is withdrawn from the wallet, a Post-It Note is stuck to its back, which can contain anything the performer wishes to write on it prior to performance. This is a very clever addition that helps to sneak the climax up on the audience with a degree of surprise, which is always desirable in Card-To-Wallet routines but all too rarely achieved.

Another sound item is the author's detailed presentation and handling of the vanish of a lit cigarette via a thumbtip. The presentation is equally applicable to a pull, the only method I would use in these days of widespread exposure of thumb tips, based upon my own professional experience. While I don't suggest that thumb tips should be avoided, I believe certain effects relying upon them should be, like the lit cigarette vanish and the small silk vanish. Children know about these things today. But the presentation is no doubt effective, and if you're inclined to use a thumbtip, this handling might serve to assist.

Other items include a version of Eugene Burger's Burned Card that is somewhat overdressed in my estimation, albeit that it includes a nice idea in which an occult symbol appears on a spectator's hand; a simple location effect dressed up as a mental feat (an approach I frankly find tired if not exhausted); a routine for the Lippincott Box that takes a very different presentational approach that strongly improves the routine's deception and surprise; a minor card revelation with another vaguely mental premise; and an elaborate final stage piece (all of the other material is close-up) based upon the Russian Roulette-done-with-poison plot, here turned somewhat into a version of Bank Night done with poison, and presented with the theme of Dinner with the Borgias. Yeah, you guessed it, most of us probably won't be doing this one anytime soon, but that doesn't mean it's not at least a mildly interesting read.

Mr. Parr makes it clear, both explicitly and implicitly by deem of his style, that he has been greatly influenced by Eugene Burger. I am sorry to say that Mr. Burger's extremely effective writing style, when transplanted to Mr. Parr, wears much less well on his acolyte. Many of these lengthy pseudo-essays are merely over-long introductions, in which the ideas could have effectively been delivered in a handful of opening sentences. Far too often great space and time is taken to present obvious points that occasionally border on the banal. And when I see an author describing a method or move as "a Zen thing," I find myself unable to do anything but conclude that either the writer does not actually understand what he or she is doing, or is too lazy to attempt to properly describe it. That which attempts to lay claim to a pretense of careful writing often seems self-indulgent and intellectually thin to me. Nevertheless, even if the writing style doesn't suit you—and in some cases it might, as your tastes may differ—there are a couple of damnably solid ideas here that are worth good money to anyone who actually puts them to use.

5" X 7" hardbound; 134 pages; illustrated with 60 line drawings; 1998; Publisher: Hermetic Press