Posted by: Melany | August 20, 2009

The Magic of Journalism

Bright Leaves

In class we watched part of a documentary called ‘Bright Leaves’, created by Ross McIllwee. The documentary starts with a very passive, calming voice-over, the voice of McIllwee and he is describing a dream that he had about standing in a field of large, bright tobacco leaves. This sequence was effective because it is unusual – it is not everyday that you see a huge field of giant plants. McIllwee then informed us that he was going on a journey to his hometown to discover his roots. He explores the connection between his family and the tobacco industry. Although the topic is not particularly pleasant, the connection to his own family and the way it is presented as a journey of personal discovery makes it particularly appealing.

McIllwee uses poetic imagery and lets the material just exist. He does not force the story, nor does he force his characters do to anything in particular. He uses hindsight and his calm manner to link the elements of the story together. It is reflective and continually asks the question: “What if?”

Ross McIllwee, creator of Bright Leaves

Ross McIllwee, creator of Bright Leaves

His real-life characters are particularly appealing. He allows the characters to live without being judgemental or impacting on their ability to tell their part of the story. These individual characters allow the larger story to come to life.

For example, his second cousin who collects movies and movie paraphernalia is a very interesting character. He is very unique and has fascinating things to say. If McIllwee interrupted this character’s ability to simply “live”, the appeal of the documentary would have decreased slightly.

This documentary is very accumulative (all of the elements are combining and building upon one another) and meditative (the progress of the documentary is non-linear. It appears as though McIllwee is struck by a thought and then continues to pursue this, before returning to his original point). This documentary has a very meandering style – weaving from one element to another, seemingly without obvious purpose.

McIllwee has utilised various stylistic techniques in his documentary. He focuses on the intricate details to really set the scene. These details help the audience to understand particular characteristic of his characters.

For example, his childhood friend is in the middle of a conversation with McIllwee and suddenly bursts out that she has noticed a cat in the bushes. This is later used as a poetic device, however it shows a lot about her character and her ability to get lost in the world around her.

. . .

My Idea

So my very broad concept at the moment is the art of magic. I was thinking about what I enjoy and the first thing I thought of was Harry Potter. My mind then went on to why so many people still enjoy magic, even though we know it is an illusion. So that is my very broad concept: why do we still enjoy magic when we know it is not really magic?

I discussed this idea with the class and was offered some interesting suggestions.

How magic has changed over time?

It was previously though of as the work of witches and was considered evil. Now it is something fun that is performed at children’s birthday parties.

Groups would gather and watch the magic unravel before their eyes. This was a big event that was enjoyed by many.

These great illusionists had significant pride of place in the community. Successful illusionists could wield enormous power over the masses who believed them to be magical and thus, complied with their will.

Today, is there competition between magicians to become the top dog?

Magic is symbolic of escapism and faith – connection with religion.

There is often a link between magic and childhood. Children are the most gullible and are swept away by the magic of these illusions. Are we tapping into our inner child and escaping our troubles?

What inspires people to become magicians? What kind of person decides that they want to trick people for a career? How is this ambition harnessed?

The emergence of movies about illusions and magic, for example The Illusionist, The Prestige and Harry Potter.

Harry Potter Movie Poster

Harry Potter Movie Poster

Audiences are not as easily impressed any more. In order to shock people the tricks have to be grand. For example, appearing to rip apart limbs and have the arms crawling away. Or climbing the MGM building in Vegas as a stunt.

Lastly, I would like to explore the connection between psychology and magic. Magic utilises the fundamental elements of psychology: illusion, fascination, deception, trickery.

I have found a few examples of the connection between psychology and magic.

Research in problem solving shows that once we have one solution in mind, it is very difficult to consider alternatives.

The writer offers a solution to how one illusion works. I found this particularly interesting.

A recent study by Dr Gustav Kuhn of York University and colleagues has examined a very simple use of misdirection in the vanishing ball trick. This is where the magician throws a ball into the air three times, but on the third occasion it disappears. Dr Kuhn, a practicing magician, is shown demonstrating the trick in the following clip.

In reality the magician has palmed the ball on the third throw but still looks upwards as though expecting to see the ball in flight. The spectators follow the magicians social cue and look up as well.

Dr Kuhn’s study found that it’s this social cue of looking upwards that has a huge part to play on whether this simple trick works or not. Around two-thirds of observers said they saw the ball actually moving upwards when the magician looked up. But, in another condition when the magician continued to look at his hand only about one-third thought they saw the ball moving upwards.

What do you think? I watched the clip after I read the solution and it seemed so obvious that he didn’t throw the ball the third time. However, I hadn’t picked up on that before.

Research suggests that it takes about a tenth of a second from information arriving in the brain to its conscious perception. Living a tenth of a second in the past is potentially deadly so we seem to get around this lag by ‘predicting the present’. Even before incoming stimuli are fully processed our brains are trying to work out what is going in the ‘future’, i.e. right now

Our automatic predicting of the future is often used by magicians to trick us. The most common example is where a coin is made to disappear after it is apparently passed from one hand to the other, when it has in fact been palmed. Because the mind is already working ahead, assuming the coin has been passed to the other hand, it’s as though it has disappeared when the other hand is revealed to be empty.

. . .

Using psychology, they
create an “effect” (what the audience sees or perceives). The way that they do this is
called the method. Author Simon Singh describes the method as “the magician’s secret
way of achieving the effect.” Often, psychology is used to disguise the method and
separate it from the effect. The audience will then see the effect, but not the method.

Using psychology, they create an “effect” (what the audience sees or perceives). The way that they do this is called the method. Author Simon Singh describes the method as “the magician’s secret way of achieving the effect.” Often, psychology is used to disguise the method and separate it from the effect. The audience will then see the effect, but not the method.

This article discusses similar points to those above, however this includes the tricks that are used by people posing as ‘psychics’ and how expectations differ between psychics and magicians. Very interesting.

For centuries, magicians have accumulated a whole series of psychological insights, touching on areas such as memory, perception and deception.

The challenge for the magician is to divorce the effect from the method so completely that the audience has no hope of reconstructing the method after the trick is over. This is achieved using the psychology of misdirection, once called “the grand basis of the conjuror’s actions .” Misdirection generally means directing the audience’s attention towards a particulararea, enabling the magician to perform the vital conjuring action unnoticed elsewhere. Successful misdirection exploits several psychological principles, such as the fact that the human mind is easily distracted by novelty or movement, and thetendency to look where others are looking.

This looks to be a very interesting avenue to explore in my article. I just have to make sure that it doesn’t get too boring and scientific.


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