by David Parr
Reviewed by Anthony Owen
Brain Food by David Parr is a 130 page hard backed book which was published last year by Stephen Minch's Hermetic Press and, repeating the format of the publisher's terrific Books of Wonders, the book alternates essays and performance material.
The book opens with an introduction by Eugene Burger, the Chicago based close-up magician best known in the UK for his memorable appearances on the Paul Daniels' Hallowe'en specials.
Parr's readable writing style struck me as being heavily influenced by Burger's and both the essays and eight performance material pieces described here would not have been out of place in one of Eugene's early books. (In fact one of the items has been previously released by David on Eugene's Gourmet Close-up Video tape.) This is not a criticism of the author; he is obviously (as I am) a fan of Eugene's, has been influenced by his writings, performs in similar environments - commercial close-up (wandering and hopping), formal close-up (sat behind a table) and small theatrical shows - and has now chosen to release some of his performance material and thoughts. But I think it's fair to say that the similarity is sufficient that if you like Eugene's stuff you'll probably enjoy this book and if (for whatever reason) you don't, you probably won't.
The book follows Parr's journey through a number of experiences to turn his work into art ("I determined that art is creative self-expression. It is doing the material I want to do and, in the process, sharing a part of myself with the audience."). Following the path of ideas, presentations ("I realised that many of my effects suffered from a lack of presentation"), methods and effects ("I decided to set myself an artistic goal: to create a finished magic piece from scratch - new presentation, method and effect - and add it to my repertoire within a year.") using material from his close-up repertoire to illustrate each step (my favourite being his presentation for a cigarette vanish in a thumb tip).
Other topics under discussion in the book include the strength of using everyday, recognisable objects over "magic props" (to introduce a neat handling for the Tom Mullica Card in Wallet), "Suspense and surprise" (an essay which precedes Parr's presentation for Burger's The Burned Card, Werewolf, which contains both) and "Poison and Politics!" The latter is the opening to the highlight of the book for me, a 22 page section devoted to the background, presentation and method of a single performance piece of Parr's: Dinner with the Borgias, one of the most entertaining, theatrical, intelligent presentation for "Just Chance" I've ever come across. This section concludes with "The Dessert, a discussion with Eugene Burger about the piece. I'd love to see more writing like this about stand-up performance material, but the sad honest truth is that most of it just doesn't have this level of depth or thought behind it.
I don't think there's anything in this book for those in search of moves or magic session fodder, but for those of you - and God I hope there's some out there reading this - who want to improve yourselves as a performer and a magician I think you'll find this book will be worthwhile.y.
(Reprinted from The Magic Circular, the house magazine of The Magic Circle, with permission of Editor, Anthony Owen.)
© Anthony Owen August 2000