Today I’m gonna recommend a documentary about teen magicians called Make Believe. The movie follows six young magicians as they practice their routines, hone their patter, and develop their stage personas to compete for the title of Teen World Champion.
The movie is lovely and fascinating in its no-holds-barred look at the disparate personality types in the kids drawn to magic. Nose-to-grindstone perfectionists, fun loving born-to-be-that-one-fun-uncle (funcle?) types, deeply introverted small towners, and soccer loving comedians. Magic, it seems, only requires imagination, charisma, and the kind of hard work that makes people like me throw up at the mere idea of it.
The main appeal of the documentary is its decision to follow teen magicians. Keyword here being teen. Children and magic are an adorable or even inspiring combination. They have their entire lives ahead of them, and they’re using some of that limitless chronological potential on card tricks and hats. If they had centered the documentary around grown-up magicians, the failure would be too much to bear.
The film is well shot, and balances its time between the competition, the personalities, and the actual phenomenon of teen magic (and magic in general). The kids are full of hope and determination, and negotiate the pressures of their own quests for perfection as well as the pressures of their mentors. Now, the thing here, again, is thank God these are kid magicians, because I have an intense and unending distrust of grown-up magicians. I’ll be honest, most of this recommendation is therapy for me. I don’t like magicians. Here’s why:
There was a magician who lived on my street. This, I like to say, is the best opening of a children’s story, and the worst opening for a story 100% not suitable for children.
This is the latter. When I was nine, I was playing video games with the magician’s son. Things were going fine. The game was Tekken and I was happily Yoshitmitsuing the ever-loving shit out of my friend, when in came his father, the magic man. His shirt was off, his ponytail is long and swinging, he looked like he just bareknuckle-boxed a wolf to a standstill. He smiled at me. My friend rolled his eyes. The magician held out a ratty deck of Bicycle cards and said the unofficial motto of the socially inept and clinically depressed:
“Pick a card.”
I did. Three of hearts. Then the magician puts the card (without looking, ’cause magic) and says to me, “now c’mere I wanna show ya sumthin.”
(Pro-tip: Guys, when the middle aged magician on your street says “C’mere…”
But I did, because I was nine years old and believed in magic, still. And that man led me through his decrepit house, past his withered and terrifying grandmother. Our journey then led us up a sans-railing staircase and past his gigantic terrifying mural of the grim reaper (an image so terrifying and striking to my nine-year-old I can summon it in vivid, flea market oil-on-velvet detail to this day, and shudder), past his wall-mounted ninja weaponry (relics, I learned later, from the days before he was a magician and was instead a merciless bounty hunter), and past his ferret and twelve pound caged, but nonetheless rage filled bunny rabbit (Radagast and Merlin, respectively) and up to his bedroom.
On his bed lay a decades-younger-than-him naked woman. She was laying face-down atop his bedding. She was the first naked woman I had ever seen. The magic man gave me a lion king wink (“someday, son, all this will be yours”) and led me over to his computer. I tore my eyes away from the lit fuse of my own premature puberty and looked at the computer.
It had a loaded webpage. It was the booking website for magic man’s services. In giant letters at the top were the words “Is this your card?”
Under it is a digital image of a Three of Hearts card. My card.
He chuckled and said, “pretty amazing, isn’t it?”
In the trip up to this flickering Dell computer, I learned that bounty hunters, mean-spirited bunnies, death-worship, May-December romances, and nudity existed. It was my card, alright, but my nine-year-old mind was melting for decidedly non-magic reasons.
I don’t trust adult magicians. No teen magician ever made me grow up before my time as I stared at a computer and stood next to an uncomfortably proud shirtless man.
Make Believe is a good documentary. And very much worth your time. It’s a damn good story and, believe it or not, it’s pretty magical. And no one in it was a bounty hunter. I think.