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1

Of course he was a charming man. A delightful person. Who has ever questioned it? But not a great magician.

By what standard do you judge?

Myself. Who else?

You consider yourself a greater magician than Robert-Houdin?

Certainly. He was a fine illusionist But what is that? A man who depends on a lot of contraptionsmechanical devices, dockwork, mirrors, and such things. Havent we been working with that sort of rubbish for almost a week? Who made it? Who reproduced that Patissier du Palais-Royal weve been fiddling about with all day? I did. Im the only man in the world who could do it. The more I see of it the more I despise it.

But it is delightful! When the little baker brings out his bonbons, his patisseries, his croissants, his glasses of port and Marsala, all at the word of command, I almost weep with pleasure! It is the most moving reminiscence of the spirit of the age of Louis Philippe! And you admit that you have reproduced it precisely as it was first made by Robert-Houdin. If he was not a great magician, what do you call a great magician?

A man who can stand stark naked in the midst of a crowd and keep it gaping for an hour while he manipulates a few coins, or cards, or billiard balls. I can do that, and I can do it better than anybody today or anybody who has ever lived. Thats why Im tired of Robert-Houdin and his Wonderful Bakery and his Inexhaustible Punch Bowl and his Miraculous Orange Tree and all the rest of his wheels and cogs and levers and fancy junk.

But youre going to complete the film?

Of course. Ive signed a contract. Ive never broken a contract in my life. Im a professional. But Im bored with it. What youre asking me to do is likeasking Rubinstein to perform on a player-piano. Given the apparatus anybody could do it.

You know of course that we asked you to make this film simply because you are the greatest magician in the worldthe greatest magician of all time, if you likeand that gives tremendous added attraction to our film

Its been many years since I was called an added attraction.

Let me finish, please. We are presenting a great magician of today doing honour to a great magician of the past. People will love it.

It shows me at a disadvantage.

Oh, surely not. Consider the audience. After we have shown this on the B.B.C. it will appear on a great American networkthe arrangements are almost completeand then it will go all over the world. Think how it will be received in France alone, where there is still a great cult of Robert-Houdin. The eventual audience will be counted in millions. Can you be indifferent to that?

That just shows what you think about magic, and how much you know about it. Ive already been seen all over the world. And I mean Ive been seen, and the unique personal quality of my performance has been felt by audiences with whom Ive created a unique relationship. You cant do that on television.

That is precisely what I expect to do. I dont want to speak boastfully. Perhaps we have had enough boasting here tonight. But I am not unknown as a film-maker. I can say without immodesty that Im just as famous in my line as you are in yours. I am a magician too, and not a trivial one

If my work is trivial, why do you want my help? Filmyes, of course its a commonplace nowadays that it is an art, just as people used to say that Robert-Houdins complicated automatic toys were art. People are always charmed by clever mechanisms that give an effect of life. But dont you remember what the little actor in Noel Cowards play called film? A cheesy photograph.

Please

Very well, lets not insist on cheesy. But we cant escape photograph. Something is missing, and you know what it is: the inexplicable but beautifully controlled sympathy between the artist and his audience. Film isnt even as good as the player-piano; at least you could add something personal to that, make it go fast or slow, loud or soft as you pleased.

Film is like painting, which is also unchanging. But each viewer brings his personal sensibility, his unique response to the completed canvas as he does to the film.

Who are your television viewers? Ragtag and bobtail; drunk and sober; attentive or in a nose-picking stupor. With the flabby concentration of people who are getting something for nothing. I am used to audiences who come because they want to see me, and have paid to do it. In the first five minutes I have made them attentive as they have never been before in their lives. I cant guarantee to do that on tv. I cant see my audience, and what I cant see I cant dominate. And what I cant dominate I cant enchant, and humour, and make partners in their own deception.

You must understand that that is where my art comes in. I am your audience, and I contain in myself all these millions of whom we speak. You satisfy me and you satisfy them, as well because I credit them with my intelligence and sensitivity and raise them to my level. Have I not shown it in more than a dozen acknowledged film masterpieces? This is my gift and my art. Trust me. That is what I am asking you to do. Trust me.


Robertson Davies World of Wonders | World of Wonders | c