A film by Robert Neary and Tyson Smith
Producer and Director: Robert Neary
Co-producer and Cinematography: Tyson Smith
Running Time: 78 minutes
Film Website for purchase options
You may not recognize the name Robert Neary; he is not a major filmmaker, you won’t see him strolling around Cannes or Sundance, and he doesn’t have a footprint at Grauman’s Chinese. What he does have is a blog titled Plead Ignorance, written under the moniker Robert the Skeptic with an avatar of Dr. Strangelove.
Let there be no mistake, however: this film is no amateur effort. It is a first-rate production throughout—from sound and lighting, editing and graphics, to cinematography and music. I was surprised, frankly, by its professionalism.
What Neary and Smith have put together is a compelling look at a truly unique individual named Jerry Andrus—a “magician” if you want the short description, a “modern-day da Vinci” if you don’t. Patrick Martin, a fellow illusionist, describes him thusly: “Jerry is a kind of a combination of Albert Einstein and Walt Disney.”
Jerry tells much of his story himself (he didn’t live to see the finished film, however), while fellow magicians and others who knew him, along with archival stills and film footage, fill in details and facts about his life and work.
Jerry, the man, is described as a “fanatically honest person” by magician Jamy Ian Swiss. Andrus refused to tell a lie, and Swiss backs this up: “. . . even the little white lies, the theatrical lies that a magician routinely tells, are objectionable to him.”
I think Jerry reveals himself for who he is when he tells a small audience:
"Now if what I’m doing as a magician primarily doesn’t fool you then I am not doing my proper job as a magician; but if I do or say anything that makes anyone feel foolish then I am not doing my proper job as a human being by my standards. So I want to pause and explain to you why we can all be fooled. I can probably fool you for the same reason I’ve been fooled because you’re the most wonderful thing I know of in the universe that I’ve seen and that’s a human being. And you have an incredibly wonderful human mind. And a lot of our mind is on autopilot; and most of our, a lot of our thinking is absolutely beneath the conscious level, it has to be. You don’t look at a dog and wonder what it is. You don’t look at an automobile and wonder what it is; we’re on automatic pilot making these decisions and they’re usually right but sometimes they’re wrong. And because of that we don’t need to feel foolish." [Italics and bold are mine.]
To me, Jerry Andrus was an eighty-eight-year-old boy who never lost his insatiable curiosity about people, the power of the brain, or the world around him. Through hundreds of inventions and observations, he designed incredible tricks meant to fool (but never belittle) his fellow humans.
Jerry disdained the common “magical” practice of misdirection because it violated his policy of honesty. Rather, he invited onlookers to watch his hands very closely as he performed sleight-of-hand with either optical illusions or a common deck of cards. He went straight for “the burn,” which in magician’s parlance means, “catch me if you can.”
Neary and Smith have created a work much larger than I can cover here—Andrus’s genius, his Skepticism, the Castle of Chaos—but this is a review and not a documentary of their documentary.
"We’re each a unique mixture of sub-atomic particles. And so the only thing that’s left other than our remains is the effect that we might have had on other people or maybe will have on other people."
In my opinion, Jerry, this film attests to the affect (present tense) you have, and will continue to have, on other people. Well done, Robert and Tyson.