Big Friday sale

Magie Duvivier by Jon Racherbaumer

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii October, 1996)


Dominique Duvivier is a unique card and close-up performer from France, perhaps best known for his popular Wild Card variant, Printing, a trick I first saw him perform at a Tannen's Jubilee some fifteen years ago. Subsequently I have had the opportunity to spend some time with Mr. Duvivier in Paris, both at the home of Gaetan Bloom, and at his intimate magic night club, Le Double Fond. Anyone who sees Mr. Duvivier perform will immediately note several distinctive characteristics of his work: His effects tend to be fanciful, oddly visual, sometimes carefree in construction and method; his performances are charismatic, playful, and audiences respond strongly to his work. I probably retain a stronger impression of his performing manner than I do of his methods and effects, and I would be hard pressed to judge if that is either a good or bad thing in itself.

Communicating Mr. Duvivier's idiosyncratic performance style is no easy task in a book. However, his eccentric approach to effect and methodology is certainly communicated in this volume, and I believe that reactions will vary greatly. Some will eagerly absorb and experiment with this material, while others will perhaps be put off by the direct methods and occasional abandonment of the kind of internal and/or external logic that many close-up magicians and especially cardicians are often fond of.

The book begins with a brief section of sleights; some are original with Mr. Duvivier, such as his Somersaulting Double, a flourishy Double Lift reminiscent of Paul Harris' somersaulting flourish, and another fancy lift, the Spring Set Double, based on the similarly titled John Cornelius flourish. Standard sleights that are utilized later in the book, like the Hamman Count and Ascanio Spread, are also described in this segment.

The first effect is a description of the aforementioned trick, Printing, for which it should be noted that a complete set of nicely produced special cards and matching card box are provided with each copy of the book, a unique premium making this purchase a good value. In Mr. Racherbaumer's introductory remarks to this item, he says Mr. Duvivier is "...not a slave to logic, and in that sense his work is related to Bro. John Hamman's. He tries things... if they fly, they stay in." While I'm not entirely convinced of the comparison to Brother Hamman, whose work (and lasting influence) is perhaps more often characterized by brilliant and subtle construction rather than any lack of logic, nevertheless the rest certainly holds true for the balance of this book. For the record, Printing is a variation of Wild Card (I think it fair to say, given its characteristic method and effect, despite no mention of that evolutionary line in the text), in which the plot spins delightfully out of control in a cartoon-like way. Cards progressively change to match other cards, then continue in multiple and overlaid images, eventually even matching the color of a seemingly random surface such as a close-up mat or the performer's tie, and finally a back changes to match the card case from which the packet was originally removed. The handling is simple and direct—some might say almost too direct— the plot imaginative and memorable.

One feature of this book that many will no doubt find frustrating is that a significant portion of the text is devoted to extensively gaffed materials which are not always easily prepared by the reader, and will in most cases need to be purchased. While no explicit pitch is made in these pages, one surmises that most if not all of these items may well be available from Mr. Duvivier, who also owns a major magic shop in Paris. More than 40 pages of this 179 page volume are devoted to such items, requiring a specially gaffed coin box, wallets, and various types of gaffed cards. Included in this material is Mr. Duvivier's somewhat over-extended treatment of Phil Goldstein's B'wave, entitled Nervous Breakdown, which, while it claims to "exorcise [the original's] weaknesses" seems to me an ingenious solution for a non-existent problem; that is, clever thinking which fails to improve the effect and may in fact serve to gratuitously detract from the original.

As an example of Mr. Duvivier's occasional grin-and-hope approach to methods, consider the following sentence, actually a footnote: "The spectator, since he is searching for his card, will not notice that the other three Tens are missing." In this case the spectator's card is the fourth ten, and so I ask you this: If a spectator is asked to find his ten in a deck, and is unable to do so, will he not notice the absence of any tens—cards that might in fact normally catch his eye, were they present, due to the similar value and, in one case, color? What percentage of lay people qualify as sufficiently "astute," to use the author's term, to notice that an eight card packet trick somehow ends up with nine cards at the conclusion? Mr. Duvivier's answer to these hypothetical queries is clear, but whether readers agree may say a lot about how they might react to much of this book's contents.

The most interesting material here is probably to be found in a seven-trick section of ace routines, including an extremely easy ace revelation sequence, a strange barehand appearance of the aces, and a very odd routine entitled Progressive Jazz which consists of an almost incomprehensible array of transformations and transpositions with little logical thread to it.

There are several non-card items, including a few coin box routines (all using gaffs of one sort or another) and a very simple if frankly inelegant version of the Linking Pins. There is also an elaborate Cups and Balls routine using a combination set of cups—one cup is gaffed a la Chop Cup—which is most notable for what is certainly a novel climax in which, in the course of the appearance of the large loads, a fourth cup also appears on the table. Vernon often cautioned us that confusion is not magic, and readers must judge which category this denouement falls under.

Despite my admittedly mixed reactions to some of the content, I must point out here that this is the most attractively designed book I have seen from Kaufman & Greenberg in some time, probably since Steel and Silver [page 66]. Obviously some effort was expended here on the fonts, headers, page numbering and other design elements, as a succesful attempt to reflect the rather offbeat nature of the material within its covers. The illustrations are by Ton Onosaka, and they are up to his always exquisitely high standard.

One other not insignificant element of this book is that it is written by the inimitable Jon Racherbaumer. He is also, of course, the author of such noted works as Card Finesse, the producer of the seminal journals Kabbala [page 458] and Hierophant [page 454], and much more. Mr. Racherbaumer was once known as the world's leading Marlo acolyte and prophet, and simultaneously as a distinctive writing stylist; what might be described as something of an enfant terrible with a strong sesquipedalian streak. In recent years the beast appears to have been tamed, as he now claims the role of "avuncular friend to all," and appears to be attempting to settle many an old feud (some more successfully than others, as in at least one notable case with one of his cohorts at the new journal, The Looking Glass). In general, the Duvivier book seems somewhat more carefully written than some of the other books more recently penned by the author. This is not to say, however, that signs of hasty word processing are entirely absent. But frankly, what I found most interesting about the author's approach to this volume often lay in the footnotes and/or credit histories. Careful readers of this latest work will scavenge the terrain for signs of the author's latest tastes and direction, and receive mixed signals. For those inclined toward such explorations, the following may provide a few road markers of interest.

A revisionist history of ATFUS is recounted that is perhaps, as the Paul Newman character in Absence of Malice says, "accurate, but not true." The role of Alex Elmsley—a name slighted in the past by the Racherbaumer/Marlo chronicles (see the Faro Shuffle history in Card Finesse, for example)—has now been finally and fairly brought to light by Stephen Minch in his Collected Works of Alex Elmsley [page 89]. While Mr. Racherbaumer's version seems to include all the right facts, he is at such pains to safely navigate his self-tied tightrope that readers prone toward vertigo might be well advised to read slowly. The author ever so carefully points out that the Marlo variant (in essence a change in fingering) of Elmsley's breakthrough concept "is more flexible because you can execute the switch anytime." Readers will judge for themselves whether this constitutes protesting too much, or just enough; proximity to Chicago may provide correlation, if not causality. Elsewhere we are reminded that "Ed Marlo introduced the notion of mixing the deck and locating the Aces" to the Triumph plot, as if this is an invention of which Dai Vernon—not explicitly mentioned here, but implied via the Triumph reference—could not have conceived. Mr. Racherbaumer also takes on Harry Lorayne and his Halo Cut, perfectly willing to speculate upon all manner of hearsay evidence—which admittedly may well be of legitimate value—but this is a habit that seems to vanish instantly the moment such speculation might risk sullying the Marlo name. In considering such niggling nomenclature, we can all be thankful that Edward Marlo's substantial reputation need not rest on such picayune hair splitting as this; the author might better serve the memory and record of his mentor if he would take a step back and consider this indisputable fact.

I earnestly believe that much of this material may well find an audience which finds it appealing in the extreme for its unusual, unpredictable plots and the generally undemanding nature of the methods. Mr. Duvivier's work certainly warrants consideration by a larger universe of cardicians, and the volume is something of a bargain with its inclusion of a lovely and distinctive packet trick. I suggest you check it out and decide for yourself whether Mr. Duvivier's unique tastes are suited to your palate.

8 - 1/2" X 11" hardbound with dustjacket; 179 pages; illustrated with line drawings; 1996; Publisher: Kaufman & Greenberg