James Randi (magician “The Amazing Randi”) has long been one of my biggest heroes. A magician and escape artist, Randi made a name for himself in the 1950s as one of Houdini’s heirs, and broke many of the great man’s records along the way. I became aware of Randi while following his debunking of so-called psychics and his quest to find someone who could prove they possess authentic psychic powers. This documentary follows Randi’s life and career, his battle against endless fake supernaturalists and reveals many surprising secrets about Randi and those around him.
Randi was born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge in August of 1928. He saw a magician as a child and decided that was what he wanted to do with his life. At sixteen he ran away, joined the carnival, and never looked back. This is also the beginning of his first secret. From a boy, James Randi knew he was gay. He kept it a secret from the world until he came out in 2010.
The film takes viewers through Randi’s performing career, on the stage, on television and in the movies. He was a favorite on Johnny Carson and appeared in many other television shows. It also covers his battles with not only false psychics (are there any other kind?) such as Israel’s Uri Geller, but also occasionally with scientists who wanted so badly to believe they had found proof of honest-to-God psychic powers. The film includes the famous clip where Randi informed the Tonight Show prop people how to easily thwart Geller’s “powers” and show him as a fraud. It worked perfectly. Unfortunately, Geller went on to a fruitful career with his tricks, although he no longer claims to be psychic.
Randi’s other secret is a shock and comes out here for the first time. Over 25 years ago, Randi met a young man named José Alvarez, and they became romantic partners, which they are to this day. What no one knew was that Jose had a devastating secret of his own. During filming for this documentary, the government raided Randi and Jose’s house and arrested Jose. Randi admitted to knowing Jose’s secret. The filmmakers reveal what that secret is and why Randi went along with the deception. Never trust a magician.
The documentary does tell the tale of Jose’s arrest, consequences and how it affected his and Randi’s lives together. Overall it depicts a fascinating man and his life, warts and all. A man who has done so much good for the world and the truth. An exceptional film about a captivating man who veered off quite far onto the road not taken.
Rating: **** out of 5 stars