There’s an early scene in this film when Eddie Marsan, as Josef Fischer, introduces a magic show. He sets a tone that demands our attention. We know we’re in for something spectacular, maybe unbelievable, and a lot of fun. What follows is a cast, performance, and story that astonishes and delights.
The Illusionist is classic storytelling. It’s charming like a book of old-world fairy tales. But what really makes this a lovable piece of media for me is the way it echoes the romantic beginnings of cinema, the early history of film itself. While watching this movie I couldn’t help but be reminded of Eric Barnouw’s book, The Magician and the Cinema and the close connection between movies and magic shows.
Of course, this is a story about a magician. Its based on a short story, set in Vienna around the turn of the century, so we’re off to a good start for classic, romantic storytelling. It’s interesting to contrast this flavor of Romanticism with that found in The Prestige which was released at about the same time. Both films are about magicians. Both are set in the same time period. Both are fantastic and have their own flavor of charm, but one is light and one is dark. Although The Illusionist has a sense of mystery and even a kind of dark magic, The Prestige is about darkness. Where The Illusionist is a classic, tidy love story, The Prestige is a case study in vengeance and despair. That sounds harsh but the fact is that both films are amazing and entertaining, just what you’d expect from 2 talented magicians with different personalities.
There’s a warm, flickering texture to this film. It’s aware of itself and knows from whence it came. It knows its own beauty. A music score by Phillip Glass adds another layer of magic. As pure entertainment, it might be about as perfect as any film. It’s easy to enjoy, like Mozart. With that easiness there comes a universe that is romanticized, not complex and realistic. It might not provoke or challenge viewers, but it will please them and maybe even inspire. And let’s be honest, sometimes we just love a fun film. Entertainment might be the best thing that movies have to offer us, just like a good magic show. I know they can offer us a lot more. But the real reason we watch most of what we do is for entertainment. I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that as long as we’re aware of the other possibilities. Does art always have to confront us and slap us in the face? To everything there is a season. And I would also point out that maybe what we are confronted with in this film is, in fact, plenty:
Josef Fischer: Life and death. Space and time. Fate and chance. These are the forces of the universe. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a man who has unlocked these mysteries. From the furthest corners of the world where the dark arts still hold sway he returns to us to demonstrate how nature’s laws may be bent. I give you Eisenheim.
Eisenheim: From the moment we enter this life we are in the flow of it. We measure it and we mock it, but we cannot defy it. We cannot even speed it up or slow it down. Or can we? Have we not each experienced the sensation that a beautiful moment seemed to pass to quickly, and wished that we could make it linger? Or felt time slow on a dull day, and wished that we could speed things up a bit?
And one more quote to wet your appetite for this beautiful film:
Chief Inspector Uhl: Promise me you won’t do it again.
Eisenheim: I promise you you’ll enjoy this next show.
I was listening to Christmas music on the radio the other morning on my way to work. I was thinking about how obnoxious some of it has become. But just then a beautiful song came on. It started with some guitar harmonics and a single voice. I thought, this is more like it. Then, as I listened, it started to sound familiar. And then I realized, wait a sec, this is a recording I made!
It feels great to hear your own music on the radio, and it feels even better to realize that you actually like it. The track was O Come, O Come Emanuel. Angela Pace-Soffe was the voice and Mark and I played guitars. It was made for our CD, A Timeless Christmas, back in 2002. Since then, we changed the CD a little, re-recorded some stuff, re-mastered, and re-released it as Christmas Hymns. The newer CD uses the instrumental version of the same track. Here it is:
These are excerpts from a documentary I made in 2005. It’s about playing in small bluegrass band.
I was interviewed about my music for Mormon Artist (web magazine). Read the interview here.
“You know Cecilie I’m just calling because you are a friend of mine and I want to tell you that you have a pretzel in your ear.”
I was digging through some old video tapes and found this, from 1996. I took a video camera with me when I toured with the BYU folk dancers. I had the time of my life traveling around on a bus in Scandinavia with a bunch of college students.
I apologize in advance that not everyone from the tour is represented equally here. I wasn’t really thinking about that at the time. I was just filming people around me and they tended to be the ones that I knew a little better. In any case, I hope this brings back some good memories. I had forgotten a few things and it made me laugh out loud more than once.
I skipped work on a rainy autumn morning, strapped a video camera to the bumper of my truck and drove the Nebo Loop. Each image is a composite of several video stills. Created in 2004, I think.
Koosharem is a place in Utah. It’s out-of-the-way and unknown. I don’t even know if it qualifies as a town. In fact, I’m willing to entertain the idea that it’s not a real place, but just a distant memory or a dream.
On September 6, 2008 we loaded Trent’s SUV with banjos, mandolins, and other instruments and drove to Koosharem. It was for a wedding gig, outdoors, in the middle of nowhere– the kind of gig that reminds us why we’re in a bluegrass band. There were 5 of us crowded in a small vehicle. We listened to music and talked as we traveled thru small towns.
Our band name was Miles To Go, a fitting name now that I think about it. Traveling is one of the blessings of bluegrass. But there are other benefits too:
- Tons of super good barbecue.
- No one cares if you actually know how to play.
- You get fantastic ideas for how to put on a beautiful, memorable wedding.
We followed hand-made signs. Some of them made us laugh. They led us down dirt roads and eventually to the wedding site: an open field in the middle of ranch-country. Food was prepared while we set up our sound equipment. There were strings of paper lanterns and lights. There were wood crates and coke bottle vases, a celebration of wild flowers. Glass jars with tealight candles hung from an old tree. There was a wooden dance floor on the ground in front of us.
It seemed like the perfect place at the perfect time. The distant mountains were in silhouette. The setting sun turned everything to gold. We felt the first refreshing air of autumn as the sun disappeared completely and the sky filled with stars.
We played traditional tunes while people visited and danced. I remember Cassie and the bride sang Blackbird. I remember realizing too late that the arrangement I knew was non-standard and would probably throw them off. I remember that we had to play for longer than normal, which meant we got to try out a bunch of songs that weren’t quite ready. Tamilisa improvised on mandolin while I tried out my newly discovered classical-steel-string-banjo-guitar and sang, “One morning, one morning, one morning in May.”
We ate dinner on a picnic table in darkness. There was very little light from a nearby lantern. That’s the best way to eat barbecue, when you can’t see what’s on your plate. You just dish spoonfuls of bean/corn/spare rib surprise into your mouth: wave upon wave of sweetened tomato sauce deliciousness.
Thinking about Koosharem makes me hungry and nostalgic. I’ll probably never return. But at least I have a souvenir to help me remember. It’s a drink holder that says “Eat, Drink, and be Married! Rickenbach Ranch, Koosharem, Utah, USA.”
Pictured above, Miles To Go (in 2008) was Geoff Groberg, Tamilisa Wood (now Miner), Cassie Singley (now Gadd), Trent McCausland, Hillary Barlow (now Harris). All the beautiful photos in this post were taken by ?, the wedding photographer.
I redesigned the blog, again. I’m trying to simplify. Also, Goudy Oldstyle is cool.