The Devil's Picturebook (PAL VHS)
The Professional Card Repertoire of Derren Brown
Reviewed by Ian Carpenter

This is one depressing tape. Long before its nearly 3 hour running time is up - in fact, somewhere during Derren's explanation of the first routine - something becomes abundantly clear. You are watching that rarest of combinations, a consummate card technician who is also a master of misdirection: the results are supremely elegant and well-nigh flawless. Then you remember: this is the tape of the material he doesn't do any more. A repertoire which most of us would be more than happy to trade on for the rest of our working lives, is here showcased, but primarily as a historical record. Read 'em and weep.

The visual style of Devil's Picture Book reflects Derren's own dislike for the standard paraphernalia of magic subculture. It is shot primarily in his own home - an abode straight out of CS Lewis - in a continuous, one-camera style; and takes the form of a conversation with his good friend, actor and fellow-magician Peter Clifford. What this lacks as a result in visual variety, is more than compensated for by the sense of our being privileged to eavesdrop on an intimate conversation. The only real artifice is that every few minutes our magic chums break off in time-honoured TV manner and gaze into telespace, when we cut to DB actually performing his routines for the Muggle world, again in their homes. Then back in his own little corner of HG Wells-land, Derren clearly and methodically explains his modi operandi (one for you and Guy there, D).

These are diverse and devious in the extreme, revealing the study behind the stunning routines: Lennart Green is clearly a major influence, along with Tom Mullica and numerous others, but the overall effect is that of a conductor who first learnt to play various instruments and now orchestrates them all into a seamless whole. Fearlessly and relentlessly deploying deck vanishes, impossible peeks, eye-warping switches and an arsenal of other under-your-nose techniques, Derren leaves his spectators no chance to even begin explaining what they see. And that's just the first 3-phase routine. For such a long tape, it wouldn't have hurt to include a brief running order on the sleeve. Okay, it's really not the point here; but for those of you who like lists, other reworked classics include Oil and Water, Card Under Box, and Out of this World. They are followed by more fully original routines by Derren like the blinding 'Smoke' and Doublethink, the latter featuring his patent Velvet Turnover, an alternative to the double lift.

For the latter part of the recording, we move on to what cognoscenti probably consider that archetypally Brown-esque area, psychological card forces. Anyone who has seen or experienced these will know how totally beyond explanation they appear. Even those of you relatively familiar with some methods from his previous book, will probably catch your breath at one point, as he discusses this area with Peter Clifford! Somewhere in there too is Extreme Mental Effort, a powerhouse challenge effect whose method will have you laughing or cursing out loud - and probably both.

It's unlikely anyone but the truly obsessed will watch the whole tape at one sitting, and in any case of course it rewards repeated viewings. However be sure to stay for the amusing end titles - and beyond, for a fascinating preview of an alleged 'Coming Attraction'. It's the best kind of in-joke - very funny anyway, and hilarious to those in the know. Derren's outrageous sense of humour is kept in check on his TV specials, so it's great to see it fully unleashed here.

Whether any of this material will really be learnt as it is by other magicians seems somehow unlikely, and Derren in any case makes it clear how that is not his purpose here. What you will see is the result of a highly organic process, where a unique magical maestro has somehow imprinted his own personality onto fifty-two pieces of card, and made them dance to the melody in his mind. Thank the Lord for video, or we might have no record of what Derren did when he was still 'just' a magician.


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Ian Carpenter February 2002