I am struggling to write my constellation essay, only because there are so many things I want to write it on. Everyday, it seems I find something new. Cath Davies’ Goddesses and Monsters lectures have opened my mind to noticing things that I previously would not have, and to relate academic theories to things that I would never have before. I am not challenging things that I would not have before.
My dad has always had a fascination with David Blaine, which, like his adoration of David Bowie, the sea and photography, he has passed onto me. Netflix recently added David Blaine’s last documentary called ‘Real or Magic?’ a documentary featuring seemingly impossible illusions and magic tricks and some clips of the preparation leading up to his stunts. Aside from some incredible card tricks and street magic, David Blaine is a performance and endurance artist, putting his body through insane situations to push the human body to the absolute limit. He has frozen body in a block of ice, held his breath under water for 17 minutes, stood on a pillar almost 100ft in the air for 36 hours, caught a bullet in his mouth, fasted for 40 days in a glass box suspended from a London bridge and has had one million volts of electricity directed at him during a 73 hour performance. Blaine has said on film that he would never want to die of old age and he does his life threatening stunts because they are exciting and this is quite clear from his documentaries.
One particular trick featured in the documentary, which I made all of my housemates watch last night, is one in which David takes an ice pick and pushes it through various parts of his limbs. The ice pick appears to go through his skin and out the other side. When he lets go of the ice pick, it stays in position, wedged in his flesh. In the documentary, David performs this ‘illusion’ for Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston, Ricky Gervais, Will and Jada Smith, Kanye West and Woody Harrelson and a professional doctor, who X-rays his hand mid-illusion to prove that the ice pick really does go through his skin. A point David always makes when demonstrating this act is that there is no blood. Neither on his skin, in the hole or on the ice pick, there is no blood at all. Blaine speaks of how he saw a magician create this illusion when he was a boy and there was a lot of fake blood. David Blaine spends years perfecting his tricks and illusions and longer preparing for his large stunts. The doctor in the documentary said, as he always does, that he recommends that David not perform this illusion, as there are infinite arteries, blood vessels, nerves and bones in the hand and he has no idea how David has bypassed all of these thus far. At the end of this clip, the doctor tells the camera there is only one explanation. David has no blood running through his veins. I often get frustrated with magic and magicians because I just want to know how the trick is done. There is rarely a trick which renders me completely speechless, as I feel that often it is easy to see that there are camera tricks or simple mind games and proven psychology which magicians utilise to make their illusions look real. David Blaine is something else. Referring to himself as an endurance artist is, I feel, the most accurate thing he could be labelled. I have no explanation for the things David Blaine does, not even close. I refuse to believe that what David Blaine does is false or camera trickery, as his tricks have been caught on mobile phones, seen in real life and, aside from all of this, when recommended by professionals to not actually perform his planned stunts but to instead make them look as if they are really being performed, David always says no. He says this would be boring. I cannot explain why there is no blood, but I do honestly believe that that ice pick is pushed through his flesh and out the other side. In the clip with Ricky Gervais, after his sceptical attitude to begin with, Gervais exclaims throughout: This is mental. What the…thats mental. Sorry David, seriously, this isn’t a trick. You’re just sticking a needle through your fucking arm. What are you doing? That’s fucking horrible. You’re a maniac. That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life. After the trick is over and reality has been restored, Gervais attempts to comprehend what has just happened: This was something else. I mean it was amazing. Either way its amazing. One is it’s one of the best…the best illusion I’ve ever seen close up. Or you’re a maniac. Either way, well done. I still have my first theory here. That that did happen and this isn’t a trick, it’s a double bluff. So you just did something and you want people to think its an amazing illusion like your card tricks but actually you just stuck things through your arm. That’s brilliant! It’s the best con ever because it’s not a con.
I agree with Ricky Gervais here. I don’t know how he has managed it, but I do believe David Blaine threads a needle through his skin and pulls it out without there being any blood. Unlike other magicians, he creates illusions by doing exactly what it is that he promises the audience will see, this being so unbelievable that the audience are left not being able to comprehend what they have seen or how he has done it. David Blaine makes people believe in magic.
You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uV-S4aGLpY
Many of David Blaine’s tricks and stunts relate to tropes of the grotesque, many involving the inside coming out, begging the question, is David Blaine a magician or a monster? The connotations with the monster’s unravelling body and the ideas of oozing and the things that are contained within the flesh coming out are easily applied to Blaine, as in this particular trick. There is a fascination with the fact that there is no blood, because there should be blood. The fact that there is no blood instantly makes Blaine less human, because, in theory, there couldn’t possibly be a way that he could pierce his arm and not have blood come out. Shildrik said of monsters it is the propensity of the monster to deconstruct at any time, and this could be true for Blaine. In his work, he pushes his body to absolute limits and performs tricks that physically damage or harm his own body. From the trick above, it appears that his body is one which cannot be harmed, and he is of superhuman standards of pain threshold. This also gives him monstrous qualities, as the amount of stress put on his body could mean that Shildrik’s theory applies here. David Blaine is also an example of the abject body that which does not respect borders, positions, rules…that which disturbs identity, system, order (Kristeva 1982 cited in Creed, 1993, p8). The abnormal and unexpected ways that his body reacts to his stunts shows its lack of ‘respect’ for rules and borders of nature, disturbing what is thought to be normal. However, despite his associations with connotations of the monster and the grotesque, David Blaine fits tropes of the glamour. Dyhouse said glamour was linked with artifice and with performance, which would be relevant here as artifice is exactly what Blaine creates when he performs, and he creates a performance using everything from his tone of voice to facial expression to the way he delivers his tricks. Brown has a slightly darker theory of the glamour, which is still relevant to this case. Brown believes it is an experience that moves one out of the material world of demands, responsibilities and attention to productivity, and into another, more ethereally bound, fleeting, beautiful and deadly. This sentence seems to define exactly what it is that David Blaine does, as he moves out of the material world and into other where there are no boundaries. He is simultaneously a glamorous and monstrous character, making him ever more baffling in a world where society likes to know exactly who and what you are.