The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

ABY- PROD­UCT of the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks in the US has been in­creas­ing scru­tiny of re­li­gion. The rise of re­li­gious scep­ti­cism is most ob­vi­ously seen in the writ­ings of Richard Dawkins and Christo­pher Hitchens, and will next be seen in US comic Bill Ma­her’s doc­u­men­tary Religulous , di­rected by Bo­rat ’ s Larry Charles.

Ma­her’s Michael Moore- style romp through re­li­gion is al­ready gar­ner­ing ter­rific re­views in the US, de­spite the comic’s colour­ful rep­u­ta­tion, and may be seen in cin­e­mas here as soon as Novem­ber.

Such prob­ing works tend only to in­flame their sub­jects and re­as­sure their view­ers. Even scep­tics preach, so to speak, to the con­verted.

It has al­ways struck DVD Let­ter­box as strange that scep­ti­cism is of­ten used as a pe­jo­ra­tive term, yet be­lief or faith, words that sug­gest in­vest­ing in some­thing un­known or un­prov­able, are in­vari­ably pos­i­tive terms.

I’m a jour­nal­ist and I be­lieve in things — my fam­ily, the Gee­long Foot­ball Club, the Easter Bunny — but I was at­tracted to the job, per­haps sub­con­sciously, not just to ex­pe­ri­ence things but to ques­tion them.

Which is a cir­cuitous way to get to ma­gi­cians Penn & Teller and the DVD release of their tele­vi­sion se­ries Bull­shit!

Trust me, there is a con­nec­tion. The Amer­i­can duo made their name as an off- Broad­way magic act with an edge. They trans­ferred to Broad­way and TV with an ir­rev­er­ent de­meanour led by the bol­shie Penn Jil­lette ( Teller has not re­vealed his first name) that con­trasted with magic’s nor­mally cheesy mi­lieu.

They repack­aged some ba­sic trick­ery into com­pelling acts, in­clud­ing one that formed the ba­sis of an episode of The West Wing , in which they made a US flag dis­ap­pear by set­ting it alight within a copy of the US bill of rights. Nor­mally, they re­store the flag; in The West Wing they did not, set­ting off pre­dictable hys­te­ria.

Penn & Teller be­came even more in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters, though, when they be­gan ex­plain­ing magic, a prac­tice that, at least in per­for­mance terms, is all about


‘‘ Bull­shit!




bodeym@ theaus­tralian. com. au


Show and tell: Penn Jil­lette, left, and Teller il­lu­sion and tech­nique, not about the su­per­nat­u­ral or ethe­real gifts.

In fact, ma­gi­cians frown on those, such as Uri Geller or so- called psy­chic medium John Ed­ward, who claim their magic is su­per­nat­u­ral, in­ex­pli­ca­ble or any­thing other than a clever de­cep­tion. Which brings us to

, which is into its fifth se­ries on the US Show­time net­work.

is the nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of their act, a for blind be­liev­ers. Penn’s de­scrip­tion of the show is prob­a­bly best: We’re go­ing to hunt down as many pur­vey­ors of bull­shit as we can.’’

The first episode of the first se­ries ( the sec­ond se­ries is just out) takes on psy­chic medi­ums, which is like shoot­ing Harry Hou­dini in a bar­rel, but en­ter­tain­ing nev­er­the­less. And for once Penn is quite heart­felt; you ex­pect all his mono­logues to end with a slash of cyn­i­cism, de­cry­ing the ne­far­i­ous prac­tice.

We don’t give a rat’s arse about the money th­ese bas­tards are mak­ing,’’ he says. It’s about the des­e­cra­tion of mem­o­ries.’’ Later episodes shoot down ev­ery­thing from the ben­e­fits of bot­tled wa­ter, fad di­ets, baby prod­ucts and feng shui to alien ab­duc­tions and end- of- the- world the­o­rists, in­clud­ing Nostradamus, who noth­ing more than a bad poet with a para­noid streak’’.

It’s all very funny pri­mar­ily be­cause the sub­jects and ad­vo­cates are so un­blink­ing in their en­thu­si­asm and ( this is be­ing gen­er­ous) numb- skulled. And Penn & Teller are show­men.


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