Matthew Holtzclaw is living my dream. (One of them, anyway... I'm already living most of the others.) Professional magician and magic consultant, his act knocks people's socks off (Susan Sarandon's, at least) even when someone else has the stage. I spoke to Matthew this week about his favorite horror movies, but his thoughts on Arrested Development, YouTube amateurs, and the art of expertly crafting nail-biting moments of suspense were too good to leave on the cutting-room floor:
TB: Being a career magician is many people's childhood dream. What happened along the way that contributed to this being a reality for you?MH: I remember saying in middle school that if I could do magic for a living I would do nothing else. I never imagined such a thing was possible. I moved to New York in 2002, met a few working magicians, and said "I can do this". I think living in the right city is key. It doesn't work in most places.
TB: Consulting for magical effects in theatre sounds amazing, but very different than performing in person like you do at other events. Do you consider yourself to be a performer first and foremost?
MH: I'm definitely a performer first, writer second, and consultant third. I have a bachelor's degree in theatre and because I am self-employed and have to go where the money is, I can't always work in theatre and film as much as I would like to. The collaborative feeling you get when working on a project for the stage or screen is thrilling. I just finished work on a magical, violent production of Macbeth directed by Teller (of Penn & Teller) and almost every day I would be literally hopping up and down in joy because some magic or gore effect came together beautifully. I'm now consulting for a stage production of Dracula and again I'll be finding ways to make actors appear, disappear, and most importantly for the titular character, bleed. Strangely, I'm often asked to find creative ways to kill people.
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TB: While everyone enjoys magic tricks, it's obvious they tap into some dark place in our minds that relishes a sense of mystery or danger. Is this part of the allure for you?
MH: Magic should be scary. It should unsettle. Now, an overweight man with a greasy ponytail wearing a vest decorated with playing cards IS unsettling and, sadly, the norm for most people's experience of live magic, but that's not the kind of "scary" I'm talking about. The construction of a moment of horror is similar to the construction of a moment of magic. Both have to be clear and concise yet disruptive. I always say, the monster in your front yard is more disturbing than the one in the haunted house. You walk into a bad place, expecting bad things. A good magic trick sneaks up on you while you're just relaxing. That's why the best magic doesn't happen on TV or on a stage, but rather in the comfort of your living room.
TB: There seems to be a renewed interest in or amusement with magic in the past few years, thanks to stuff like Arrested Development, The Prestige, The Illusionist and so forth. Has that had an impact on how people react to your work?
MH: There is a definitely a renewed interest in magic. I've heard it called a renaissance but that would imply that a lot of it is good. Gob Bluth is one of the best characters ever created and I think very good for magicians to see how we are perceived. I adore The Prestige. It's the best movie about magicians ever made. The Illusionist, however, is a piece of contrived, saccharine nonsense.
Magic is very much in the zeitgeist right now. I'm not a doom sayer but I do wonder if the overload of magic everywhere won't cause a backlash in the near future. The movies about magic, even The Illusionist, are great for business. The morons on YouTube, either performing badly or outright exposing magic in their bedrooms are probably the biggest threat right now. But hey, what do you do about it? Technology and information being that accessible is a wonderful thing. There's this asshole with really spiky hair right now who has is own well produced weekly internet show and he's exposing well known tricks to the public. These are tricks that working pros use to make their living. The guy is probably making some nice coin. This is called a "whore" in show business. That guy, the YouTube kids, and TV magicians selling their magic tricks on magic websites, directly after they perform them on a special-- these are probably the worst things happening to magic right now.MH: I simply love movies. I think film is the highest of art forms. A horror movie, like magic, is usually done without a brain in its head. No point of view, no personality, just shock. The sad thing is, people think horror is easy. It's not! To take something fake, that is outwardly false, and of no actual harm to an audience and use it to bring them to a state of rattling, shaking, jumping fear is incredibly hard. The audience pays for their ticket, saying, "Okay, I'm going to watch a flat screen, full of editing, lighting, acting, fake blood and sound effects and I'm going to pretend for an hour and a half that it's really happening." We know there aren't ghosts, demons, aliens, or zombies out there. There are madmen and killers but thankfully, most of us never meet them when they are mad or killing. For me, horror movies are a celebration of humanity, art, and most importantly life. I always quote Penn & Teller on the beauty of fake blood and violence- "Gory special effects celebrate the victory of art over cruelty."
TB: Why do you love horror movies or think they're important?