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The Trick with the Gun is a droll, casually revealing documentary about what is known as the Holy Grail of magic.
The Trick with the Gun is a droll, casually revealing documentary about what is known as the Holy Grail of magic.

John Doyle: Holiday season magic is here in The Trick with the Gun Add to ...

Magic? You want the magic of the holiday season? You’ve come to the right place.

But there are all kinds of magic. To some, the magic of the season is relaxing with a sappy, soppy, utterly predictable TV movie about a lonely woman who meets a handsome, rich fella at Christmas.

To others, it is finding that, yes, indeed, that set of drill bits they always wanted is under the tree.

Me, as I write this a few days before you read it, I am flummoxed, harassed and probably haggard from it all. The magic I want is peace and quiet with a small dry sherry (obligatory reminder – that’s sherry the drink, not the woman) and a kitten on my lap. Maybe an Andy Williams Christmas album to help take the edge off things.

But enough about me. Magic – the real kind – is a dangerous racket. Harry Houdini, the legendary magician and escape artist, was once asked what the hardest escape was for him. To which he answered, “To get out of bed.” But he came close to death on many occasions.

I mention Houdini because a key scene in a program I’m about to recommend takes place in the Fantasma Houdini Museum and Magic Shop in New York. It is there that it becomes clear that many magicians have died attempting what is called the “Bullet Catch.”

The Trick with the Gun (on-demand on Super Channel) is a droll, casually revealing doc about what is known as the Holy Grail of magic. Fourteen people have died attempting the Bullet Catch. Houdini never even tried. What is chronicled in the program is Canadian magician Scott Hammell’s attempt to master it and perform it.

But the doc is not just about the trick. It’s about who instigated the attempt to perform the trick and how a lot of things went wrong.

Hammell is a well-known and long-established magician. Been devoted to it since he was a kid. He’s a deeply serious magician – a four-time Guinness World Record holder whose feats include hanging upside down from a hot-air balloon in a straitjacket and skydiving while blindfolded and handcuffed.

Hammell is also a motivational speaker who takes his magic tricks to schools to help kids overcome emotional and physical barriers. He is, as you can imagine, formidably disciplined and serious-minded about his craft.

It is author Christopher Gudgeon, a friend of Hammell’s, who prompts the pursuit of the Bullet Catch. Gudgeon is fascinated by Hammell’s ability to overcome his fears by perfecting his dangerous magic tricks. He’s a dad and we see a lot of him trying to do things with his kids that terrify him. This is nicely contrasted with scenes of Hammell’s parents and girlfriend being deeply concerned about their son undertaking an extremely dangerous trick.

Gudgeon is enthralled by the magic, but doesn’t really understand the seriousness of the circumstance – a bullet is fired from a high-powered weapon point-blank and caught by a magician. And Gudgeon wants to be the one who fires the bullet. He’s not very good with guns and at one point announces, “I’m ADHD, and it’s not a good idea to give me a weapon.”

The doc, made by Michael McNamara, is about many things. It’s about the famous trick, but it’s also about various forms of magic. What Hammell does with a breezy confidence is based on fierce commitment and single-mindedness about his job of performing tricks.

Gudgeon just doesn’t have that dedication. He becomes increasingly agitated as the training with the gun becomes deeply serious. He declares at the beginning that, as an author, he’s interested in the difference between fact and fiction, between illusion and reality. But when faced with an authentic circumstance where an illusion meets dangerous reality, he retreats into a kind of sulking animosity.

The doc is very engaging and humorous at times, as old posters and comic-book stories about magicians come to life. But it’s also about things that cannot be explained – personal fears and personal resentments and why, sometimes, you trust another person with your life.

Magic? It doesn’t come easily at any time of the year. And after watching this journey into one kind of magic, I wanted an extra-large sherry.

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Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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