Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay

From April 17 – 30 Film Forum will present the US theatrical premiere of the documentary “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay.”  The film is about the life and career of actor, world famous magician, magic historian and collector of antiquarian books, Ricky Jay. Jay narrates the film, a fascinating look at the life and career of this unique performer.

Whenever I see Ricky Jay on screen, as an actor, I know that I am in for something interesting and special.  A small sampling of his filmography includes movies directed by David Mamet, Paul Thomas Anderson and Chirstopher Nolan: “House of Games” (1987), “Homicide” (1991), “Boogie Nights” (1997), “Magnolia” (1999) and “The Prestige” (2002).

I knew Ricky Jay was also a master magician from having heard about his sold out one man shows: “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants,” “Ricky Jay: On the Stem” and “Ricky Jay: A Rogue’s Gallery,” all directed by Mamet.  However, I knew little of his prowess as a magician until I saw this energetic documentary by filmmakers Molly Bernstein and David Edelstein

“Deceptive Practice” focuses on Jay’s life and career, starting at age four when he apprenticed with his grandfather, an amateur magician.  The film has generous amounts of archival footage of Jay performing on television as young as age seven, to the present day with Jay dazzling audiences in his live shows.  A headline proclaims, “You are not asked to suspend your disbelief.  You are given no choice.”

The clips include many television appearances, some with Jay as a young, long haired kid doing three card monte tricks with Steve Martin on “The Dinah Shore Show.”  Through it all Jay narrates his life, speaking of his influences which include magicians now largely forgotten: Al Flosso, Slydini, Cardini, Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller, most shown doing their acts in archival footage.

One story told has Jay taking two one dollar bills, rolling them up together and unfurling them as one two dollar bill.  Jay did this trick for a friend who later confronted Jay in a men’s locker room shower and asked Jay to do the trick again, figuring that, with Jay standing there naked, there was no way he could replicate the trick and yet, the friend incredulously relates, Jay does it and then goes to get dressed.

What impressed me, besides the card tricks, which can only be described as pure magic, is the fact that Jay allowed so many of them to be recorded.  This must present an additional challenge to Jay as a magician because film, or video, can be rewound, slowed down and run frame by frame to possibly reveal how a particular trick is done.  Jay mentions that he does not like cameras, yet fortunately for us, he has allowed this incredible document to be made.

Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street.  For more information visit

Deceptive Practice: The Mystery and Mentors of Ricky Jay, Directors Molly Bernstein and David Edelstein 2013, Kino Lorber,  88 minutes


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on April 23, 2013, in Documentary, New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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