Jeff McBride: A Magickal Life
Imagine a magician who reaches into his hat to pull out the rabbit he previously hid there and finds himself not with a bunny but a unicorn. By the time Jeff McBride was a teenager he was appearing on national TV. Since then he has won world renown among lovers of magic and illusion. Whether gracing a stage in Las Vegas or Paris, performing a card trick under your nose, or teaching a master class to already accomplished conjurors, he is one of the contemporary masters of the arts of deception. He is also the follower of a spiritual path based on a form of magic that he says, far from being a deceit, is a path to sacred reality.
Directed & Written by
Executive Producer, Vision TV
Director of Photography
Title Design & Illustrations
Tango Media Group
Kitchen Sync Digital Audio
Richard Hanet, Lewis Birnberg Hanet, LLP
Richard Warburton, Kay & Warburton
Stock Footage/Archival Visuals
The Miracle Factory
From Enter the Center
Composed and performed by Abigail McBride
From Beneath the Veil, Soles on Earth, Dancers of Twilight
Performed by Zingia
Composed by Katlyn & Michael Breene
Courtesy Sequoia Records
Composed and performed by Gary Stadler
Courtesy Sequoia Records
R. Heath Foxlee
Produced in association with VisionTV with the participation of the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credits and the Ontario film & Television Tax Credits.
Review by Barrie Richardson
Jeff is always a magician, always the enthusiastic entertainer. In any one day, he might produce a small rose for a desk clerk; vanish a coin borrowed from a person he meets in a check-out line and then discover the coin in a wrapped chocolate bar, and a little later, read the minds of a group of college girls sitting next to him in a coffee shop. That same night he might be headlining a show in Las Vegas where music, lights and costumes provide an ambiance for his mask-changing act and flawless sleight of hand. Then there is Jeff as the master teacher and organizer of the Magic and Mystery School, and Jeff as an initiator of the Burning Man Festival.
Jeff McBride- A Magickal Life was produced in Canada for a series on the lives of unusually creative persons. The DVD documents Jeff’s rise from a boy magician to a headliner in Las Vegas while still in his 20s and then his search for real magic and possibly more meaning to his life. The viewers follow Jeff on this odyssey We meet his friends in magic and in life, and we see how he develops concepts, rituals and philosophies that grow into novel and successful ventures.
We also learn how Jeff and his colleague, Eugene Burger developed a Magic & Mystery School that not only has courses for magicians, but also specialized programs for non-magicians, such as those who are in the health care professions and interested in the power of magic.
The viewer gets to see the drumming and dancing rituals of the Burning Man ceremony held each year in the desert, within which participants seem to have emotional and possibly spiritual experiences. Whether this is your cup of tea or not, the footage is fascinating and provocative.
I thoroughly like the insights we gained when we learn about some of Jeff’s early personality traits, as a cocky, aggressive and self-centered person who happily matures into an apparently considerate, even-tempered sage. Human flaws, missteps and idiosyncrasies make a report not only quite interesting , but also humanize the story.
If you want to get some fascinating insights in to the life of a unique and offbeat character who lives his life with enthusiasm and passion, kindness and respect for others, this is perfect for your library.
All in all I loved this documentary. Best of all for me was seeing short snippets of Jeff’s card manipulations, the mask act, his water bowls, and Miser’s Dream. It reminded me of how I felt when I first saw Harry Blackstone Sr. make a lighted light bulb first float in the air and then whoosh over our heads. This took my breath away. And so does the life, energy and art of Jeff McBride.
If you’re a fan of McBride, get it. If you’re not, get it. If you’ve never heard of McBride, get it. Get it? This DVD is a documentary style production with interviews of many of McBride’s friends, including Eugene Burger. There are a few sort of sections. In no particular order, you have interviews of friends, pivotal moments in McBride’s life, his spiritual/religious journey, and let’s call it words of wisdom from McBride.
If you are looking for a DVD with tricks, wrong alley. However, if you want to learn and see the progression of McBride’s career, right alley. I’ve always, personally enjoyed biographies of magicians. Genii Magazine (November 2007) had an excellent bio about Max Maven. I just eat that stuff up, so if you like bio’s you’re in luck.
My favorite parts were the “words of wisdom” from McBride. He just would say these things in some of the interview segments that would really resonate with me. Finally, my least favorite part, the part I could pretty much have totally done without was the footage of the fire dancing. Some of it was interesting and fascinating, and the interview segments where they discussed it were cool. But one can only stand so much footage of watching people dance in front of a fire.
I’m not here to mock Jeff’s beliefs or practices by any stretch. I feel that is one area that is off limits. Those are very sacred and special beliefs for Jeff and many times were part of the Pivotal moments in his life. I just felt that the footage was a bit too long for the average viewer. One other thing that would have been cool would be to see more about the Mystery School and more footage of Jeff performing.
Still, for a fun viewing that doesn’t require as much focus as a teaching video, yet still has the magic feel to it, this is the perfect Sunday night biography.
Review by Brad Henderson
Fans of Jeff McBride will consider this film, produced by award-winning Canadian documentarians Daniel & Donna Zuckerbrot, a must-have. Not only are small portions of some of McBride’s signature pieces archived, but his personal and performance philosophies are explored at length. Most importantly, it chronicles McBride as both a performer and a seeker of magic.
Those who are new to McBride may find this portrait distancing. While it accurately represents him and his worldview, the Zuckerbrots leap headfirst into McBride’s unique philosophy and spiritual practices that might push some viewer’s boundaries. He has immersed himself in a variety of disciplines which have helped create one the more unique acts in our field. More than that, this symbolic approach to magic is not only one of McBride’s secrets of artistic success but, whether used knowingly or not, a common element among other successful magical artists. As McBride says on symbolism in magic, “The audience may never be aware of that, and that’s the power of the magic.”
For some, this film will prove a fascinating insight into the creative process of one of magic’s most successful artists. Others may find it confusing or even off-putting. And some may prefer to avoid knowing altogether. After all, once the secret’s told, you may never look at the magic in the same way again.
Review by David Goodsell
Fifteen years ago Eugene Burger wrote that “the stunning visual images present in his work make [Jeff McBride] a true master of the bizarre.” In 1991, when this was written, Jeff had not yet fully developed his full-evening show. But even then he was influenced by “the sort of conjuring which…in Max Maven’s words, ‘references a larger magical universe beyond the boundaries of the performance’) can be found in other cultures and in other traditions.” We as spectators, and perhaps, for some, as more serious observers of trends in conjuring, recognize that there is something different about Jeff McBride. An initial reaction is that he is non-traditional. But, upon serious reflection we recognize that perhaps he is among the very few who are traditional magicians. Hmmm. Who is this person?
Now you have a chance to find out. His recent 50-minute DVD, JEFF McBRIDE – A MAGICKAL LIFE is a biographical “documentary [that] features Jeff in performance and takes you into his private world. A world where he and his partner Abigail focus on magickal events and rituals with powerful and ancient roots. Follow them from the bright lights of Vegas to Burning Man in Arizona and discover how magick is alive and present all around us.” You won’t learn any tricks, but you will learn about Jeff McBride.
Most of us have seen Jeff McBride perform. We have been impressed by his sleight-of-hand skills and by the drama, the theatricality, of his presentations. The costumes, the masks and the other props, fit Jeff. Few of us see ourselves doing magic the way he does it. But, you see, Jeff’s routines are much more than conjuring. They represent his “magickal life.” The mask is perhaps his best known trademark, and here we learn the origin of the concept as he presents it, how it grew out of the necessity of doing something… what… to capture audience attention in the rough and ready New York bars and dinner clubs which were his real training ground – a kind of combination of marshal arts and Japanese Kibuki theater. Masks – do we hide behind them? Do we purposefully use them? Do we need them? What lies behind them? Part of Jeff’s genius lies in his ability to sense how an audience will respond to ritual used in theatrical magic. I think Jeff would say that people respond without fully understanding why. They are entranced and amazed, and perhaps it is because the life lessons represented metaphorically in Jeff’s routines speak to some inner, subconscious understanding. Does that sound mystical? Maybe metaphysical? Yes, it does. Do I believe it is so? Maybe. I believe Jeff believes and that magic for him is wrapped in spirituality far more so than for most of us, and I respect that. For him the mask represented a transformation of the Trickster, where the tricks matter most, into the Sorcerer, where magic is power.
I think these transformations become evident as we watch this DVD; but I, for one, likely would not have recognized them had they not been explained here. Jeff describes his meteoric rise to success, to a headline spot in Las Vegas, and then the realization that there must be more. He is not the first to reach that point in life, what can be for some a turning point. Jeff sought the answer in a personal three-day vision quest in the solitude of the Nevada desert. For him real magic began at the fire. The results were, indeed, transforming, and drumming and fire dancing have been an important part of his life ever since. In addition, Jeff developed a strong desire to take the life-changing aspects of tribal drumming, rhythmic meditation and fire dancing into the theater. The sorcerer became the Oracle, and his magic changed in fundamental ways and ritual took on an even more important role. Jeff’s water bowls routine is a fine example of this. But the Oracle does more than perform. The Oracle becomes the teacher, as well, and it was in this stage that The Mystery School was founded in close association with Eugene Burger, who, Jeff will explain, has achieved the fourth and final point in his magical progress, that of Sage. The Mystery School, and later the Masters Classes, appear to be of equal importance to performance in Jeff’s life. Would that we all had attended The Mystery School!
The successful inclusion of ritual and ceremony in his shows and his teaching reflect the importance of the same in his continuing personal quest for spirituality. Magic is all about transformance, Jeff will tell you, and personal transformance is fundamental to happiness, emotional and physical health, mental achievement and spiritual growth. Dancing, drumming, the fire circle, with like-minded people seems something like a cleansing ritual. In fact, Jeff explains that the fire circle is composed of many circles, like the solar system. Those who dance close to the fire, in the orbit of Mercury, experience a more excited energy state than those further out. Each separate orbit provides its own benefit: graceful movement, rhythmic feeling, meditation, etc. Astrology? Perhaps. Alchemy? Here we learn that the fire circle is likened to the alchemist’s flask, where the base metals in our lives, holding us down, keeping us back, are melted down, the dross discarded, and in its place we can find silver and gold. These are interesting… no, intriguing… powerful concepts.
This is an excellent DVD, informative and entertaining. We are treated to Eugene Burger’s lovely Gypsy Thread routine and several segments from Jeff’s routines. We especially enjoyed the “Miser’s Dream” routine using a boy from the audience, and fully understood the tribal coming of age metaphor involved, once it was pointed out to us. We hear from Jeff’s wife, the lovely Abbi Spinner McBride, and Jeff’s long-time friend and manager, Tobias Beckwith, as well.
Storytelling magic? McBride’s magic is filled with stories. If you did not understand that before, you will after watching Jeff McBride – a Magical Life. And we predict you find much more than mere entertainment the next time you see him perform in person.