Card College: Volume 4 by Roberto Giobbi
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii October, 2000)
What can be said about this, the final volume in Roberto Giobbi's superb Card College series, that has not already been said before? I have already commented most favorably on these remarkable books in my reviews of the three previously released volumes (see the April 1995, April 1996, and January 1999 issues of Genii), and if those columns failed to induce you to obtain those three wonderful books, then I can't imagine what I might add to compel you to do so now. Nevertheless, I'm sure there must be a few malingerers—or latecomers—out there, and so I will do my best, this one final time.
With this volume, Roberto Giobbi—professional conjuror, lecturer, author, and award-winning cardician—completes what now indisputably amounts to the definitive course of study of card conjuring. Card College does not merely pick up where Hugard and Braue's Royal Road to Card Magic left off; rather it starts over again, adapting that seminal work's basic structural approach, but recasting that which Hugard and Braue already covered with a 21st century intellectual and artistic sensibility, and only then substantially adding to and updating that material with the great advances in card magic that have occurred since. Will there ever be a time in card magic as explosive and creative as the latter half of the 20th century? It's difficult to imagine, these four volumes will doubtless serve as a critically important guide until such time comes again, and likely beyond.
In these 16 chapters Mr. Giobbi continues his lessons, cleaning up loose ends of a sort with subjects like Lapping, Sandwich Techniques, Vernon's Tilt (which seems the most accurate if somewhat oxymoronic moniker we seem most likely to be using these days), and even an entire chapter on "Turnovers;" advancing previously addressed methods such as Reverses, Force Techniques, Flourishes and Advanced Pass Techniques; diving into the depths of advanced subjects including Card Switches, Packet Switches, Culling, Stacking, and False Dealing; and then swimming out beyond safety into The Deck Switch, and Estimation.
These are exciting subjects, and the true cardician may find his skin tingling and the blood beginning to rush in his ears as one relives or considers anew the possibilities avail-able when one can actually succeed in switching cards and decks, or estimating the size of a cut, right before a spectator's unsuspecting eyes. Goodness, what a thrill that both the painstaking study and the brave application of the Real Work of magic can be! Perhaps it's my imagination, but it seems to me that Mr. Giobbi lets a bit of that personal thrill subtly reveal itself in these pages, because certainly he has met the challenges of these techniques and reaped their rewards in his own experience. Thus the author shares some of his own pet applications in this volume—a practice he continues from previous installments but perhaps reaches greatest effectiveness here, now that he is unconstrained by the need to apply more remedial techniques, and can instead share his own expert work.
It bears mentioning in this context that while Card College is rightly best known as an instructional work, nevertheless it is also a compendium of superb magic, a point that some may have overlooked. And so in this volume readers will discover Mr. Giobbi's own outstanding versions of "Everywhere and Nowhere," a crisp version of "The Collectors," and a fabulous and extremely deceptive Ambitious Card routine entitled "Ultra-ambitious" (portions of which will, elegantly executed, fool many magicians), and a stunning but extremely practical estimation effect entitled "Impossibility." Mr. Giobbi also continues to offer superb contributions of some of his colleagues and confidants, including a version of an instantaneous Ace Assembly originally used by Jose in his award-winning FISM act, and an astounding if challenging trick by Juan Tamariz entitled "Trimental." In this remarkable plot, three spectators each freely select and fairly return a card, upon which the deck is shuffled. The spectators now offer some sort of personal object, which they each place in a different pocket of the performer's jacket. The magician now directly names the selected cards, whereupon he produces them (with empty hands) from his pockets—with each card being extracted from the pocket containing the personal object previously loaned by the corresponding spectator!
The author also continues to present his personal refinements on a variety of expert sleights; these include some excellent work on packet switches, including the Talazac Switch, which dates back to Gaultier's timeless Magic Without Apparatus, and some notable touches on what is here dubbed "The Toss Switch," a move that has already been previously worked over by a number of con-temporary cardicians (John Carney's popular version being known as the Versa-Switch). Mr. Giobbi's sage advice abounds in every section; while he endorses the Push-Off Second Deal, he wisely points out that the size of the brief in a Strike Second is "not a critical aspect of this deal," encouraging the student to "go ahead and push the (top) card over as far as you find comfortable ..." His analysis of deck switches is outstanding, pointing out (and then describing for each entry) what many deck switch descriptions overlook, namely that every deck switch must incorporate four phases, including placement, preparation, technique, and clean-up.
While succinct theoretical material is present throughout the entirety of Card College, the author has also previously contributed some purely theoretical content as well, most notably in a lengthy and truly invaluable segment of Volume 2. Appropriately, he concludes this volume with a fairly brief but incisive theory segment on "The Structure of Magic." Many serious theoreticians eventually come around to trying to provide a Unified Field Theory of Conjuring, and Mr. Giobbi's effort is a worthy entry. Openly acknowledging the foregone and inescapable limitations of such an enterprise, the author then provides a thoughtful and constructive concept of a pyramid, formed upon a foundation of the effect, built upon in subsequent layers of method, staging, psychology, communication, and history, to yield the final twin results of the intellectual and emotional effect that the experience of magic induces in an audience member. In examining these elements, any student will no doubt find pause for thought, as for example when in the discussion of staging Mr. Giobbi comments in passing that "As soon as the effect and its method are chosen, we pass to the staging of the illusion. This step considers all the elements responsible for what the spectator perceives and experiences. It is at this point that most magic texts stop." [The emphasis is mine.]
He then goes on to point out that that staging actually "includes theme, script, subtext, symbolism, emotion management, dramatic curve, construction and much more." Did you address all of these elements in the last card trick that you attempted to learn? As one approaches the top of Mr. Giobbi's pyramid—which he later transforms into an iceberg, pointing out that, to the spectator, all of the structural underpinnings of the pyramid are invisible, save the tip: the intellectual and emotional effect—one finds him or herself faced with the important layer of history. Admitting that an audience will be virtually unaware of this element of a magic performance, nevertheless the author insists that "The respect and humility resulting from this study (of historical roots) will produce a competent and strong personality, one of an artist interpreting his art. It is this personality, built on true knowledge and acquired skill, rather than on empty self-confidence, that is an inseparable part of the magic effect created in the minds of the spectators." Was ever a truth more apparent yet less widely understood?
There are those who, as Richard Vollmer points out in his foreword, have mistakenly viewed Card College as "an excellent compilation of modern card magic." Although there is an unavoidable aspect of this to the series, it is in essence a side effect, and clearly not the intended goal; this is decidedly not an encyclopedia. Mr. Giobbi has given us something far more profound: he has led us in a direction, guided us upon a path, and provided us the tools by which we may negotiate our trip beyond his personal guideposts and preferred visiting points. The author points out that "all artists are philosophers," and it might be added that so are all great teachers, and this one has provided us with guiding philosophies that will serve students of life as well as students of magic.
Like all fine teachers, Mr. Giobbi has offered us the results of a phenomenal body of considered decisions—choices that reflect his personalized approach, and that can-not possibly meet with the consistent agreement of every practitioner who studies these books. Mr. Giobbi never got around to including that Strike/Hit Double-Lift I've mentioned in previous reviews, clearly because he does not share my regard for the technique. He provides two sections of flourishes, and some experts—indeed included among his own contributors!—may eschew such maneuvers. He has elected to avoid entirely the subject of the memorized deck, about which he could likely have written a substantial volume in and of itself (and while there has yet to be any mention of such an idea, might this subject eventually be addressed in yet an additional volume in the series?).
But no matter—what is important is that the considerations are deliberate, the choices are clearly presented, and the student is given opportunities that, once fully explored, will enable him to eventually make his own considered choices. Together with his collaborators—illustrator Barbara Giobbi-Ebnother, translator Richard Hatch, and publisher Stephen Minch—Roberto Giobbi has gifted the future of his art with a legacy: the legacy of sleight-of-hand artistry, accompanied by the intellectual depth required to bring that legacy to life. In closing, he states that "There has never been and, may I be permitted to speculate, never will be a successful magical artist—at least in the area of card magic—without a profound mastery of sleight-of-hand." Whether you are beginning on that path, or a veteran traveler, from this day forward you will be hard-pressed to navigate it without Roberto Giobbi's immaculate guiding works.