The Houdini Code
Harry Houdini, world famous magician and escape artist was also known for exposing fraudulent mediums. After his death, Bess Houdini announced that through a medium she received a message from her late husband. The press went wild with this shocking revelation, then just as quickly Bess recanted. There were allegations the whole thing was a hoax. Was Bess Houdini an innocent victim or as some speculated was she in on it? Now a century later Houdini’s fame is undiminished, but even the memory of what may have been his greatest trick has all but disappeared. What really happened? How did this extraordinary story simply vanish from history?
Produced, Directed & Written by
Executive Producer, Vision TV
Director of Photography
Title Design & Illustrations
Tango Media Group
Dan Johnston, Imarion Inc
Jakob Thiesen, Kitchen Sync
Ian Rodness, Kitchen Sync
Fred Smith Sutdio
Richard Hanet, Lewis Birnberg Hanet, LLP
Richard Warburton, Kay & Warburton
Stock Footage/Archival Visuals
Bruce Averbook Collection
Libbet Crandon de Malamud Collection
George and Sandy Daily Collection
Mary Evans Picture Library
Kenneth Closterman Collection
Library of Congress(Prints & Photographs Division)
William H. Mcllhany Magic Film Archive
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York Times
William V. Rauscher Collection
Kenneth Trombly Collection
With Special Thanks To
John E. Bird
Jamy Ian Swiss
The Conjuring Arts Research Center
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 Jeff Stone
One of the most fascinating things in the world, to me, is the history of magic. I have a true passion for the art, but I fear that on many, many levels magic is possibly heading in a wrong direction. People – magicians and lay people alike – have lost the respect for the art. I think it’s that level of respect felt by men like Vernon and Marlo and Paul Harris and others that makes a magician truly study and invest him/herself into our art.
I’ve sensed for a long time, however, that people are losing that passion and interest. Magic, on some levels, has been reduced to a bunch of kids who think that if they own an invisible deck that they’ll be as “cool” as Angel or Blaine. It’s a bit depressing sometimes. However, along comes Donna Zuckerbrot, an excellent film producer with a passion for the mysterious and strange, to save the day! I think it’s safe to say that most people like a good documentary if it’s about an interesting subject, and what’s more interesting than a DVD with a title like “The Houdini Code.”
The great thing about the Donna Zuckerbrot films is that they have a wide appeal. They’re not for “magicians only.” It was a Houdini book I read as a kid that sparked my obsession with magic. The stories and events in his life, the rich history, his love of the art was all very exciting to me. It inspired me.
However, In today’s world of nobody-reads-a-book-anymore-because-video-is-easier, Donna Zuckerbrot, has in her grasp, the ability to single-handedly shift the tracks of the magic train to an even more wonderful route and direction.
The Houdini Code was inspiring, fascinating, thorough, exciting and more. I absolutely loved it. It gets my highest recommendation. I think everyone should watch this. I really can see this film inspiring some young magicians to become serious students and develop a true passion for this amazing art that soooooo many people take for granted.
As for the style, cinematography, etc… one word: Brilliant. This is top quality professional work here, not some low-budget group of magicians filming stuff in their backyards. This is Hollywood-level quality and production value. I see no downside to owning this DVD. In fact, with a price tag of $20.00 bucks, the only down-side I see is that if you don’t own it, it means you shouldn’t have wasted your money on food; you should have ordered this DVD.
Harry Houdini is still considered to be the greatest escape artist and illusionists of all time. His ability to escape from chains, watery prisons, chests, cages and life threatening situations thrilled a generation until his early untimely death. In 2008 I do not think we really appreciate how much of a media celebrity he was at the time nor do we realize how central the issue of spiritualism was to both the media and culture and personally to Harry Houdini.
Houdini was a sceptic, while always acknowledging the possibility of the “more than the physical”, he was shocked and dismayed by the cheap tricks used by spiritualists to convince their patrons of life after death and, of course, make a quick buck. After his mother’s death his campaign against the exploitation of the weak because a crusade and this continued right through to his death. He studied the subject intensely and undertook scientific analysis of mediums and their séances and proved without a fraction of a doubt that they were using the same “tricks of the trade” that any magician used, except to commit fraud and, along the way, cause emotional suffering.
Houdini’s battle against spiritualism was a very public war for “critical thinking” involving clashes with many public figures including Arthur Conan Doyle, who while creating the arch rational detective Sherlock Holmes was actually a staunch psychic believer himself!
In the spirit of open minded enquiry Houdini regularly created codes with his friends that could be used after death, if it was possible, to prove the existence of the afterlife. Sadly this led to one of the most disreputable elements of the Houdini story. After his demise, with his wife Bess still in a state of extreme grief, consoling herself with alcohol and occasional drugs, she was manipulated by Arthur Ford, the charismatic spiritualist medium, to believe that Houdini was communicating from beyond the grave. Never mind that the message he gave could easily have been established from published articles of the period and information provided by Bess. Even today spiritualists and others like to claim that this case finally provided proof of survival after death and that Houdini became a believer in the post mortem state.
What is the real story regarding the Houdini Code ?
This hour long documentary offers a well researched balanced but critical examination of the case with interviews with historians, illusionists and those who continue to debunk those who exploit the gullible. It is also filled with rare photographs, film and images from Houdini’s life and career as well as from this early period of spiritualist excess.
The Houdini Code is an well produced documentary with clear narration and intelligent and insightful content and considering that today there are still quite a large number of books on the market claiming the truth of the “Houdini Code” it has a very pertinent and significant message !
Worldfest Houston (Silver-Directing)