The Feints and Temps of Harry Riser
by Ed Brown, illustrated by Earle Oakes
Published by Kaufman
Reviewed by Anthony Owen
It has been said that you can tell a great deal about someone from the friends they keep. This is certainly true of Harry Riser. From his close friendships with Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller and Stewart Judah you would probably guess that this new big beautifully produced 272 page book is packed with great sleight of hand magic. And it is.
The text is peppered with references to the output of this magical trio and their influences - Erdnase, Hoffmann, Robert-Houdin, Hofzinser - and other late 19th/early 20th century conjuring classics. Due to this background and the fact that Brown wrote the bulk of this book twenty years ago, it stands out from the current stream of new material appearing developed by close-up performers working in the wham-bam thank you ma'am, high-speed, hit-'em-hard, 'real world' of 'wandering', 'hopping' and 'stomping'.
However, I'm sure with a little intelligent thought, some of the routines in this book could be adapted by readers to such situations, particularly the in-the-hands stuff like Three Card Metamorphosis, one of my favourites from the book, in which the faces and backs of three cards transform several times; Wild Homing Card, a multi-phase, multi-change Wild Card routine; Hornswoggled Revisited, a classic short change routine which Riser has finally given a climax and The Golf Lesson, a neat entertaining sequence to produce five solid golf balls of varying colours. The latter routine, almost unchanged, would make a wonderful unusual feature for a banquet table wanderer or stand-up performer willing to put in the necessary effort. The rest of the material requires table space and would be best suited to a 'parlour' type setting in which the performer is in full control of the situation. Those who say that such situations don't exist in the modern day real commercial world - away from magic societies, conventions and magicians' homes - are only showing that they've never been booked to perform under such conditions. And, of course, at least eighty percent of those who call themselves 'magicians' only ever perform at magic societies, conventions or at home.
The introduction explains the basis of Harry's magical philosophy and the title of the book, which comes from the Robert-Houdin coined terms: 'feints' ("a false show, a pretense, an imitation, a simulation") and 'temps' (translated as a "favourable moment"). Riser's multi-purpose Gambler's Top Cop is used to effectively illustrate these terms and principles. However, for me, the general feel of the material in this book is best described by Brown's introductory comments about the last of the thirty two items - Riser's Close-up Billiard Ball Routine - in which he says that "it is not a manipulative effect in the traditional sense of the word. That is, it is not an exhibition of skill or dexterity, nor is it a series of simply visual displays. Rather the handling is low-key, subdued, and natural." Low-key, subdued and natural are words which well describe Riser's performing style, judging on his recent appearance at The Magic Circle, and certainly sum up the material in this book. This is not a book of in-your-face skill, but of presentations and routines, filled with care and affection, in which the art conceals the art and the performer's focus is on the intelligent plots.
Although, no doubt, many readers will delight at the natural and ingenious handlings for classics like Cups and Balls and the Cap and Pence, my favourite aspect of this book were the presentations given to many well known close-up sequences to provide them with a more audience-friendly 'framing' than the usual 'displays of skill' close-up . My favourite examples of this were The Distraction Factor, a great card effect which leaves a spectator with a bizarre impossible keepsake; SemiAutomatic Gambler, in which the classic Ten Card Deal (performed recently by Ricky Jay on his Tx documentary) gets a long-needed climax; The Jumping Bean Coins, at last a presentation for Coins Across which goes beyond 'How many here? and how many here?'; The Practice Deck; Dealer's School (this utilises Harry's Marked Deck system for a regular Bicycle Rider back design, another highlight of this book); The Legendary Five Ace Poker Hand; Royal Flush Assembly; Wild Homing Card; Cheating the Cheater; Hofzinser Hole Card
Transposition and the, already over-sold, Golf Lesson.
Sadly, the many photographs in this book of Riser with many magical greats are un-credited and, at times, the description is a bit wooly, but, on the whole, this is a great book and lovers of classic sleight of hand should require no further encouragement to invest their money and time in Mr. Riser's repertoire.
© Anthony Owen, July 2000