6.9. 1940 – 23.11.2009
from Jerry Sadowitz
This months issue is dedicated to the greatest street conjuror of them all — Jim Cellini. Quite literally, he is to street magic what Roy Walton is to card magic—what Vernon is to theory—what Ramsay was to misdirection—Cellini is an unsung legend.
I first met him in 1981 or í82 in Amsterdam, I had gone over to try my hand at busking ìfor foreignersî, and on the second day there, I met him. I was walking along when a small crowd caught my eye. Through the crowd I heard an American accent and spotted some rope being cut into two pieces. I stayed to watch the show, was massively impressed, then drummed up the courage to speak to the performer, I told him I was a magician.
ìYou havenít got a set of cups and balls I can use, have you? I had my car broken into and my props were stolen. The people, you know? They think it is real. If they take your stuff away, theyíll remove your power.
I ran back to the hostel where I was staying, grabbed my set of cups and balls, and gave them to Cellini. We struck up a friendship, and although weíve only met on a few occasions (London, Amsterdam, Edinburgh) my admiration and respect for him is enormous.
His most impressive feat was a fifteen minute show in Edinburghís George Street where he earned a cool one hundred quid. If you knew how tight Edinburghers are, youíd agree this is nothing short of a miracle. Cellini is an entertainer, an artist and a very amazing human being.
When heís not ìworkingî heís a friendly, laid back and shrewd person. He also possesses a healthy dose of cynicism and good humor.
When he performs, heís like a shining star.
Youíre walking down the street and a friendly American voice invites you to ìwatch this one.î You stop dead as you watch a full sized magic wand instantly vanish before your eyes. Almost immediately, he pulls out a small purse from which he ñ impossiblyñ extracts the same wand!
You stay rooted to the spot as cigarettes suddenly appear and disappear…then coins…suddenly you are aware that a small crowd has gathered to watch with you.
A rope appears. Itís cut in half and restored a few times…
You are aware that this man ñ dressed in the gypsy outfit ñ might be from another time and space dimension. You know that he is special! His smile charms the hardest heart. Already he has transformed you from adult to delighted child (easily his greatest trick) you laugh and applaud with everyone else as chosen cards are found, rings linked and unlinked.
By the time heís half-way through the cups and balls youíve already made up your mind that this man is the greatest thing youíve ever seen (I kid you not) that heís traveled in time to be here, and most of all you feel honored and lucky to witness him in action.
I believe this is one of the proofs of a true artist…that you feel honored to be in that personís presence.
Before you know it, Cellini reveals the three apples from the cups. Then he tips his hat and a melon is produced from within. Everyone gasps and applauds.
Cellini gives a few words of thanks but already you reach for your wallet. Everyone ñ and I mean everyone ñ wants to put as much as they can into his hat.
As quickly as the crowd materialised, they vanish. All of them leave feeling much happier than they were fifteen minutes earlier.
Cellini puts the money away and finishes off the cigarette he lit up just before the show started. No sweat is broken.
Ten minutes later, heís ready to start again…
No doubt the reader is thinking ìRope? Coins? Cups and balls? Whatís so special about that? How can he be that good?î
Of course, itís the old story that itís not what you do but the way that you do it.
In the first place, he chooses good, solid tricks and he does them to perfection.
But the real artistry comes from the ìlean-nessî of the performance.
Just as there is no excess movement in a Roy Walton trick, or a wasted note in a John Barry composition, or any padding in a great movie, so there is no waste in Celliniís performance. More vital …everything in his performance is there for a reason, from his clothes to his speech.
Jim Cellini is charismatic and attention-getting. He really does look like heís stepped out of a different era. His opening trick takes ñ literally ñ half a second (the wand vanish) and requires only a momentís glance. …and how can you walk away when something has vanished before your eyes?!
Whatever his mood, Cellini turns on the most charming and wonderful smile. Itís irresistible. Other street performers shout and scream…they may end up with larger crowds, but think…those crowds keep their distance and sneak off when the performer asks for money! The shouting and screaming hurts the performerís throat up, and the police often move in to break up a crowd thatís too big.
Cellini gets a small crowd; he performs, but he talks. He breaks no sweat, he works 12-15 minutes and makes good money. He does six shows by the time another magician does two. Everyone sees the show, they enjoy it. No sore throat. No police hassle.
Cellini eliminates the ego problem which is so often the Achilles heel of the average street performer…He does just enough magic and ends on a clear and strong climax. When the hat rests on the table, you already have the thought of putting money inside it before Cellini asks you to!
Celliniís presentation is brisk, charming and descriptive. No excess patter! No excess moves!
He moves in and out. Unfortunately, no words of mine can describe the ìshining starî phenomenon that takes place in between.
He is an amazing human being. Like everyone else in a thousand crowds, I feel honored and lucky to have witnessed him. Even more honored to count him as a friend.