Pablo Picasso once said, "Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth."
James "the Amazing" Randi uses the art of magic to shed light on deception. Summer Rewind's opening night film, An Honest Liar, follows the magician as he investigates psychics, faith healers and spirit channelers, exposing their "miracles" as mere magic tricks.
The documentary is fun popcorn fare, playing out as a spirited con artist caper film. But it's also affecting audiences on a profound personal level, which Randi is witnessing all over the world.
"At every one of the Q&A's after the film, I find people coming to me with tears in their eyes and taking me by the hand and saying, 'You made a big change in my life,'" he said.
Most viewers think Randi's most inspiring trick is simply being honest about himself, such as when he came out of the closet at the age of 81. And his most compelling revelation in the film is a discovery about his life partner of 25 years. When he found out that Jose Alvarez had been living under a false identity since he fled his abusive, homophobic village in Venezuela, Randi begged directors Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein not to use his interview about it. But, as he always does, Randi committed to telling the truth.
"I called the directors two days later and said, 'Wait a minute. My agreement with you was to show warts and all. So, I don't have any right to forbid you to use that segment,'" Randi told them. It's the film's most powerful scene — a moment of vulnerability beneath the veneer of show business.
An Honest Liar is far from the first attempt to bring Randi's life to the big screen. Several filmmakers approached him over the years, but only Measom and Weinstein shared his aim for raw honesty. It's unusual for a magician to show his hand, but Randi often says, "I'm not a magician. I'm an actor playing the part of a magician."
Perhaps Randi doesn’t give himself enough credit. Although he reveals the reality behind illusions and his fears beneath feats of fancy, he does so without stripping them of surprise and wonder. Certainly there is magic in that.
You can witness Randi's magic when he performs before the screening of An Honest Liar on Thursday night at 7. His partner, Devyi Pena, will be joining him along with the directors of the film at the Wheeler Arts Community. As you will see, Randi's performances have an intimate, confessional quality. He is the kind of artist who can turn a stadium into a living room.