Ricky Jay: Deceptive Practice - Filmmaker Interview with Molly Bernstein

When I first saw Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants, in a small theater in Manhattan (1994), I knew nothing about magic and I was astounded to learn this was a whole huge artistic field that is like no other. It is a totally low-tech form of entertainment. It’s a guy sitting at a table with his hands and telling stories and making an adult, sophisticated New York audience gasp. I had never experienced anything like it, and I was one of the gaspers.

I was gasping not only because the effects were so extraordinary and the sensation of being fooled was so wonderful, but also because I was being introduced to this incredibly rich world — the art of sleight-of-hand — and the history of that art, which I really knew nothing about. That’s what inspired me to learn more and eventually make a film about Ricky Jay.

It took me and my partner Alan Edelstein a lot of time and effort to gain Ricky Jay’s trust. As you may imagine, he is a rather private person, but he’s a private artist. He’s a magician, so much of his craft has to remain secret. He’s a guarded person.

Even though he’s incredibly comfort in front of a camera, it did take us a long time to get to know him an get to the point where he felt comfortable with us following him with cameras.

We worked on this film for many, many years. I think the first footage we shot was in 1999. It was very on and off. We were chipping away at it for a long time and it was a very gradual process.

Ricky is an American Master because he is truly a mater of his craft. But he’s also so passionate about the art. That’s what makes him such a fascinating subject. He brings this very singular perspective and interest in the history of his art and he brings that into his performance. That’s what dazzled me when I saw him perform on stage.

He takes this relatively unknown art and these people who were so important to him, but are somewhat obscure, and makes you feel like you’ve got to learn about these people know about them, and how could you have missed out on this amazing world and never known about Slydini and Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller?

It’s a whole world that he presents when he performs and when he writes. He brings history to life in a way that is truly masterful.