"Was I ever tempted to become a con-man or a card shark. [pause] Yes."
Why oh why isn't this playing HotDocs this year? Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries & Mentors of Ricky Jay played the New York Film Festival last year, and has a handsome and compelling trailer. This is, of course, no surprise as the subject is on magic and sleight of hand, but even more so, on Ricky Jay.
One of my heroes, Jay is a master practitioner of the art of 'up close magic,' something with no gimmicks or stunts favoured by the glitz and hubris of Las Vegas and TV showmen. As he says in the trailer, "It's about honesty. You tell your audience you're about to deceive them before you do so." The man is one of those rare examples of 'the perfect artist.'
Jay is also a renowned scholar and author of several history books in his field, and consultant for films needing his particular skill set. He was the lead 'magic consultant' on both The Prestige and The Illusionist, which came out back-to-back in 2005, and even appears as a magician in the former. He works on more subtle jobs, such as designing the leg-hiding wheelchair for Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump (I bet you thought that was all CGI, didn't you?). He has a seductively compelling voice (important in a performer), that both Paul Thomas Anderson and Rian Johnson used to great effect in the prologues for Magnolia and The Brothers Bloom, respectively.
The man has done his best on-screen film work with David Mamet, stealing every bit of the best Mamet-ian patter in House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner and Heist, as well as a straight up taping done by Mamet of his 1996 one-man show, Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants. He's also played a Bond villain and a Deadwood croupier, and has a face that is probably recognizable to many folks even though they do not necessarily know his name -- or real area of expertise!