23 jul. 2015

An Honest Liar (7/10): The legacy of James "The Amazing" Randi

“Magicians are the most honest people in the world. They tell you they're going to fool you, and then they do it.”

A great title for a film that revolves around a magician who is devoted to uncovering the lies told by faith healers and psychics around the globe. The subject of this documentary is James “The Amazing” Randi, who was once a brilliant magician and escape artist, but has now decided to put his talents into use to unmask those people (the con artists) who are making money out of false claims and trickery. The documentary begins with an interview where Randi explains how a magician’s job is to tell its audience he or she is going to fool them and make them wonder how he or she pulled it off. That is a very different thing from a person who claims to have special psychic powers or a special communication with God and use those abilities to lie and deceive people. Randi’s passion for magic and his humanity led him to use his abilities to show others how they are being deceived without ever revealing the trick. The way he went about uncovering these people is what makes this documentary compelling as he creates fictional characters or personas to fool audiences, the media, and even scientists before revealing to them that it was all a scam and proving therefor how easy it is to deceive others when you have abilities to perform these tricks.  Randi himself is a charismatic man and we see it through some old TV archives in interviews with Johnny Carson, Larry King, and Regis Philbin. 

The documentary is pretty standard as it goes back and forth between interviews and TV footage, but what makes it stand out is the story it is telling which I wasn’t familiar with. I was so completely unaware of what this film was about that I didn’t even know it was a documentary until it began. In the beginning we are introduced to this great escape artist who marveled audiences with his stunning tricks. He explains he dropped out of High School at the age of 17 to join a circus and that is where his adventures began. Once we are introduced to the man himself, the documentary begins to explore some of the psychics he began to unmask. The first thing Randi decided to do was get his good friend Jose Alvarez to pose as a psychic who is traveling to Australia. They invent several media clips about his accomplishments in the US and once he arrives in Australia he immediately fools everyone because the media never even bothered to check the reliability of the sources they were providing them with. After exposing how easy it is to fool the media, he continues to do so with the scientists as well. There is one great clip about how they unmasked a faith healer named Peter Popoff by proving that his wife was telling him what to say through an earpiece from some prayer requests cards that they had asked the people to fill out prior to the service. 

Despite the great amount of footage shown of how Randi unmasked these psychics they still continued to fool a lot of people. Randi couldn’t understand why so many people failed to acknowledge that they were being fooled and clung on to their beliefs. Then as we were approaching the end of the documentary we were exposed to a surprising and ironic twist that allowed us to view this in a different light. Without giving away any spoilers, Randi himself was being deceived and after the deception he too decided to cling on to his love and accept it. Perhaps the lesson we might learn here as ironic as it sounds is that we choose to see what we want to see and accept the deceptions we want to accept. The twist kind of took everyone by surprise so it wasn’t explored all that much, but it still seemed to make an interesting point to what was being said. Rand’s personal life wasn’t as interesting as his work, but the end justifies why it was introduced in the first place. This was a good watch but it didn’t do anything groundbreaking for the genre.  

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