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The Art Of Invisible Thread by Jon LeClair

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii December, 1997)


Jon LeClair is without doubt one of the finest exponents of invisible thread magic in the world, a branch of conjuring technology that is frequently misunderstood and too oft abused. While the idea of connecting a thread to something and thus animating or levitating it seems extremely simple in principle, simple does not mean easy (as Al Baker so sagely warned us), and in practice invisible thread is anything but easy to use effectively. With recent advancements in this area, especially the use of invisible thread reels, the work seems to have merely become easier to do badly, as tyros step, yard by yard, further and further away from that floating bill, flailing or, worse yet, dropping their arms, until all but the blind old lady at the back of the room has assuredly reached the insight that, yes, Virginia, they really do make thread that thin.

Jon LeClair is a different sort of animal. He is the kind of thread monster that will step up to a table or a group of people standing around a cocktail party, proceed to animate a finger ring, then float a paper napkin, then twirl a playing card entirely around his body, then animate a freely examined deck of cards and the selection within, say his thank you's and move on to the next stop where he promptly repeats it all again. Think about that: The impression, and the mastery required, is nothing less than awesome, and that repeatability is one of the hallmarks of LeClair's approach.

All that I know about invisible thread is in this book, from thread management and subtleties, to building complete confidence in the ability to perform with invisible thread literally inches from peoples' noses. And if nothing eke, I have come to understand that invisible thread is more than just hard to see string, hut actually a diabolical device that demands reverence and serious study.—Jon LeClair, The Art of Invisible Thread

Early in his career, the still rather youthful LeClair released his fundamental handling, appropriately designated the LeClair Animator, to the community ... (Note to would-be magic writers: Your own meager social circles notwithstanding, the world of magic may or may not be a community but it is most assuredly not a fraternity. Please do try and get a clue!) ... where was I? Oh, yes. He released his LeClair Animator to the community rather soon after his arrival on the scene, and perhaps for this reason among others his expert contributions to the field have unfortunately been taken for granted by some and entirely overlooked by others. On the other hand, I immediately adopted Mr. LeClair's methodology, and have incorporated it in my own work in many ways, including recommending it in my lecture, which has for over a decade contained a segment concerning invisible thread. (The author includes his handling of one of my own pet routines in this volume.) I cannot tell you how many magicians I have seen fooled by Mr. LeClair's version of the Al Baker Haunted Pack, which, when properly performed, contains nothing to tip the gaff, or even indicate that any added mechanical element is present.

Mr. LeClair's contributions aside, it must also be noted that the literature of invisible thread magic is sparse and widely dispersed. The most important early works on thread magic (relying on human hair, before the development of synthetics) are those of Al Baker; his books are among the best of twentieth century conjuring literature, but unfortunately are entirely out of print, and I urge students to hunt down his titles from the used book dealers. The best contemporary basic primer we have is The Invisible Thread Manual by Ralph Wichmann, recently reissued and expanded by Breese books. Known in some circles as the Braco Book (drawn from Mr. Wichmann's stage name), this is an invaluable work that I recommend highly to all prospective students of the subject. (Although current space limitations prevent me from reviewing the book at this time, I have included some details for interested parties at the conclusion of this review.) Elsewhere there is still the fine if terse instruction sheet by the inventor of the Floating Bill, John Kennedy; Michael Ammar has provided some solid work in the Magical Arts Journal (except note that while the handling details described there are sound, the specific description there was associated with elastic thread, a poor choice for practical use in that particular effect). I have also written a manuscript about invisible thread that has been well received in some quarters, entitled The Animated Ring. There is also good material on video, including from Mr. Ammar (which unfortunately led to the abandoning of his own invisible thread book project), a fine video by Kevin James on the Floating Rose that also includes some brief but outstanding work on the Floating Bill, and there is an interesting video from the makers of the ITR (Invisible Thread Reel). While Finn Jon is widely noted for his brilliant innovations with invisible thread, there is only a limited published record of his contributions, and the same goes for other notables like Eugene Burger, who has a handful of items in print, and John Haar, who put out some interesting gimmicks in the 1980s. There have been numerous gimmicks and gadgets: the Socrate gimmick is mentioned favorably by Mr. LeClair and assorted one-shot entries by dealers, including, most famously and influentially, the Fred Kaps/Bruno Hennig Floating and Dancing Cork, released by Ken Brooke and now available in print, and later, Steve Duscheck's Wunderbar, and perhaps less well known, the Daniel Cross Animated Seahorse. But that really isn't a lot when it comes right down to it, and not much of a body of invisible thread literature has been amassed over the years.

It is therefore abundantly safe to say that Jon LeClair's The Art of Invisible Thread Magic is one of the most important books we have on the subject. Mr. LeClair describes in complete detail his LeClair Animator, which, as he so clearly explains, is not a gimmick but rather a method. Mr. LeClair's handling is similar to that which Fred Kaps used for the Floating Cork, although Mr. LeClair's thread has been freed up for general application, whereas the thread was permanently attached to the cork. This is not a selfworking, foolproof method (as if there could ever be such a thing; it's been my experience that fools can be very determined). But this is an incredibly practical method that, with sufficient practice and experience, can open the door to an entire catalog of miracles.

And that catalog is collected and completely described in detail, including Mr. LeClair's handling for the Floating Bill or paper napkin; the Al Baker Erectile Bill; the Animated Matchbox (an incredibly clean version); the Hummer Whirling Card; and, among many more, his all but definitive version of the Haunted Pack, named the Animated Deck. Herein, the spectator may take the deck in their own hands, shuffle it, and select a card (this is the procedure I favor). The magician retrieves the deck and promptly dribbles the cards to a point at which the spectator stops the action, whereupon the spectator returns the card, and the magician dribbles the remainder of the cards on top. With no further action or false moves, the deck animates and cuts itself; then a single card animates and extends from the deck. The spectator retrieves this card, which of course turns out to be the selection, and then is immediately handed the deck by the magician. Everything is clean! As the author declares, his version "...can be performed in the nude with a borrowed deck... the ultimate test conditions."

Yes indeed, this is the ultimate version of this effect, as far as I am concerned. It is also the most difficult invisible thread trick I have ever used; much more difficult than, for example, the Eugene Burger handling (who provides a useful introduction to this volume), which nevertheless comes remarkably close to duplicating the effect of the LeClair version. You will not take this book home and be performing this trick the next day, but if you wish to understand the ins and outs and many ancillary issues of invisible thread, including thread strength, lighting, shadows, spectator management and the like, then this book will explain all of that and more, and teach you a wide range of effects as you follow along the path. There are essays and bits of finesse and tips provided throughout that will be invaluable to any invisible thread worker; Mr. LeClair's solution for an out for the Floating Bill in cases when the thread breaks is something that most readers will find already in their magic drawers, but the presentational logic behind his usage is impeccable. What's more, this book includes, in a sizeable appendix, the most detailed instructional material ever released on not only how to extract individual strands of invisible thread from nylon yarn, but also, and most importantly, how to extract that yarn from commercial nylon pantyhose or stockings. This is material that magic dealers do not really want you to have, and has never before been widely released. (John Haar wrote some excellent work about some of these subjects years ago that, unfortunately, never saw wide circulation.) And the author also includes with each book a small sample of invisible thread and the special dyed putty that is also a critically important element of his approach and which he also explains in the text how to prepare. (It should be noted that the author also sells separately what he calls his "Equipment Wallet," a very handy little plastic wallet with a huge supply of thread and putty.)

My one complaint about this book is that it appears to have been somewhat hastily assembled and badly edited. Mr. LeClair's sincerity as a writer clearly shows through, but the book is seriously and frequently marred by his tendency to mangle the language and its grammar. Between the misuse of words, misspellings, misplaced apostrophes and nothing less than an utterly random usage of commas, as if they had been sprinkled like salt and allowed to remain wherever they happened to fall, Mr. LeClair's abundant and impeccable skill, effort and expertise, coupled with the importance and potentially timeless nature of a work such as this, deserved far more care. There is no reason a book like this shouldn't remain on the shelves for a century, but even contemporary purchasers deserved a more carefully and cautiously prepared product. That is simply too bad, not only for readers but for Mr. LeClair's own personal legacy, but these distractions aside, this is a critically important work by a true contemporary master of the subject.

5 - 1/2" X 8-1/2" hardbound with dustjacket; 160 pages, illustrated with 120 line drawings; 1997; Publisher: Agency of World Entertainment