Yes, Blaine has his critics - bitter magicians who snipe that he leans too heavily on hoary effects and performs without a sense of showmanship. It seems they're missing the point. Woody Allen, who was a juvenile magician, once said of Blaine (in a quote the magician reprinted on the DVD case of his home video Mystifier):"He understands that the key to affecting an audience does not lie in the feats performed as much as in the character the artist subtly creates."
"I'm not worried about what a couple of cranky magicians think," says Blaine. "The good guys, the really good magicians that make livings out there that are really respected, they don't have anything bad to say. They understand it's good for the art."
Holding a deck of cards in his left hand, he coolly makes the top card jump into his right hand, while a card in that hand jumps onto the vacant spot on the top of the deck. It's very impressive. "Yeah, I could sit here and do things like this, something that maybe, in the whole world, there's like two guys who can do this," says Blaine quietly, if not modestly. "But for me to sit there and do this? What does middle America care about that? So you put whatever is strongest, and some of the classics are strongest."
A history buff, Blaine has gotten into trouble in the past by speaking admiringly of Jesus Christ as a good magician. Now, he talks about Simon the Magi, a contemporary of Jesus who became an early pope. The story of Simon seems to be a cautionary tale for Blaine as he looks toward the challenge of being encased in ice. In the special, he says "I'd rather come out in a body bag than come out in the middle of it," but he's probably playing proud for the cameras. Simon the Magi, he says, came to believe he was the Messiah. "So he stood on the edge of a cliff and jumped off. He expected God to help him fly away." A smile creeps onto Blaine's face. "Instead," - he smacks his two hands together, illustrating Simon's end - "to his death." Blaine may say he's ready to die for his art, but at the end of the day even he knows it's just entertainment.
Look ma, I'm floating
"See if you can get him to levitate," said my editor, in what was probably a first for both her and me.
Though he doesn't do it much any more, Blaine's levitation effect - performed on the street, without benefit of wires or mirrors - was featured in his first special in 1997. If you're not expecting it and you don't know how it works, it's an extraordinary sight.
Blaine apparently performs the so-called Balducci Levitation. Here's how it works: The performer stands about eight to 10 feet away from his audience. The audience should be small in number and grouped together, so they are viewing you at about the same angle. You stand at a 45-degree angle, with your left shoulder closest to them. With your feet almost together, slowly lift up on your right toes, keeping your right heel close to your left heel. If you have strong toes - ballet practice, anyone? - you can get quite a bit of distance between your heels and the floor.
A few caveats: Don't stay up for very long, or people will have time to figure out how you're doing it. Also, watch your angles closely, since the effect depends on your left foot obscuring your right toes. Finally, don't walk up to someone and say, "Wanna see me float?" Warm them up with some card tricks. Before you levitate, don't tell them what you're going to do; it's best just to say something like, "Watch my feet." Underplay expectations. In magic, as in war, the element of surprise is your greatest weapon.