Indie Watch: Mario the Magician: Building Magic
Let’s face it, despite their best intentions, most human interest stories are boring, predictable pieces of manipulative feel-goodery. The genre, which mostly finds its home on television fluff-piece segments reminiscent of Bart’s People, is easily one of the most maligned subcategories of the documentary tradition. In recent years, though, a slew of fascinating and inspiring feature-length documentaries emerged with a distinctive human-interest bent. From the compellingly apocalyptic paranoia of an unlikely street artist in Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles to the popular redemption of Detroit-based folk singer Sixto Rodriguez in last year’s Oscar-winning Searching for Sugar Man, this new batch of biographical documentaries shows that human interest stories have the power to not only inspire and enlighten, but also to reveal something true about the human condition. Filmmaker KAL’s new documentary short, Mario the Magician: Building Magic, also belongs to this new brand of revelatory biographical cinema.
Mario the Magician follows its eponymous street performer through a weekend of performances in New York City. Alongside clips of Mario wowing crowds of children with his whimsical illusions, we see the magician in his workshop and home office, building the mechanical and textile infrastructure of his magic act. We are Mario’s private audience, the one that sees the sweat behind his effortless tricks and the charming humor that casts a spell on the public.
Clothed in a pork pie hat, suspenders, and khaki pants, Mario looks like he just climbed out of the pages of a steampunk novel, complete with the machinery and gadgets to prove it. His appearance is part of his act, sure, but it’s also part of his charm. Performing almost entirely for the benefit of children, Mario uses his old-fashioned appearance to play the role of the wholesome trickster, a man from another time and place whose animated suitcase is full of wonder and whimsy.
Mario’s old-timey costuming and charming attitude belies the work that goes on behind the scenes. Without breaking the code and showing us how the magician’s tricks work, Marchese reveals the hours upon hours of thoughtful experimentation that make her subject a true innovator in his craft. Mario has aspirations of becoming a magic trick designer, but the ease with which he performs suggests that he doesn’t have plans to leave the stage anytime soon.
In just six short minutes, Mario the Magician: Building Magic ever so slightly lifts the curtain on the world of a street performer. In keeping with the human interest tradition, the film shows how long and hard a person has to work to be successful in their artistic field, and sheds some light on the Edisonian aspects of street magic. With so much intrigue and wonder, Marchese’s short film begs to be made into a feature documentary, and the director has established a Kickstarter campaign to fund a full-length version of Mario the Magician. Take a look at this short doc, and you won’t need to be tricked into supporting Mario and Marchese’s larger vision.
The Kickstarter campaign for a feature length version of Mario the Magician: Building Magic can be found here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ramblingrosa/building-magic-a-documentary-about-mario-the-magic