Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay is exactly what it says it is, filtering the man through the people who helped him learn his craft. Those looking for a standard biography, or even some of the secrets behind his tricks (yeah, right), will be out of luck. Although the film does loosely trace Jay's life childhood to adulthood, Jay is mostly quiet on personal experiences, making only passing references to parents which he didn't get along with. His recollections of famous illusionists such as Al Flosso, Slydini, Cardini, Dai Vernon, and Charlie Miller are presented through his eyes, with the spotlight on those men and their craft, and the viewer is left to fill in the way those people have influenced Jay's work.
Director / producers Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein are particularly lucky in that even the magicians that taught Jay who were most prolific in the 1930s and 1940s made the occasional TV appearance in their twilight years, providing an incredible wealth of fascinating vintage footage for them to draw on. Although Jay can explain the principle of an illusion or a technique all he wants, to see many of these masters perform really helps understand what aspect of their techniques Jay assimilated into his own stage act. Everyone understands a principle like misdirection, but it's something else to see Slydini actually doing it. The filmmakers also have the benefit of Jay's own extensive archive of photographs, journals, and other ephemera that he has collected over the years (Jay has published several books on the history of magic).
The filmmakers are also blessed with a forthcoming set of interviewees, including Jay's close friend Michael Weber, who also studied under Charlie Miller and co-founded Jay's company, Deceptive Practice; Jay's longtime manager Winston Simone, who helps fill in some of Jay's personality, and David Mamet, who talks briefly about the things about Jay's persona that draw him in (Jay's film work is mentioned, but not discussed in the film). There are also two absolutely wonderful eyewitness accounts, by Sensei Fred Neumann, and journalist Suzie Mackenzie, both of whom have a sparkle in their eyes and a genuine sense of wonder in their voices when recollecting an illusion Jay performed for them that is especially wonderful. Nearly all of the memories on display are warm, and even those that hint at Jay's sometimes prickly demeanor only add to his image.
Of course, the real "get" is Jay himself, who dominates the documentary with his wonderful storytelling ability and sharp wit. Bernstein first approached Jay with the intent to do a documentary back in 1994 or 1995; since then, the filmmakers have sat down and recorded new recollections whenever possible. Although the finished film only runs 88 minutes, nearly every minute of time spent with Jay is packed with information -- the cream of the crop. On paper, a history lesson about the craft of magic might sound less intriguing (or revealing) than a look into Jay's personal life, Deceptive Practice uses Jay's passions as a mirror to reflect the man -- no sleight of hand involved.
The Video and Audio
A Dolby Digital 5.1 track seems almost unnecessary for such a quiet film that mostly involves Ricky Jay's distinctive voice, but I suppose it's nice to hear the original score by Claire and Olivier Manchon spread out to the surround channels. The same minor variance in the picture quality applies to the sound as well, with the occasional additional hiss of an interview recorded outdoors. An English 2.0 track is also provided, but regrettably, no subtitle or caption streams.
An original theatrical trailer for Deceptive Practice is also included, as well as a .pdf of Mark Singer's profile of Ricky Jay, accessible via DVD-ROM.