We often think of magicians as flashy and spectacular, even campy (David Copperfield), or as possessing ironic dry wit poking fun at magic (Penn and Teller), or for "guerilla" tactics and major stunts (David Blaine). I wonder if there is also something like "populist magic" or "social magic" too? If so, then the young British magician Drummond Thomas Money-Coutts, otherwise known as DMC, might fit this category.
DMC is something of a world traveler, performing street magic in places like south India, Tanzania, Beijing and Kenya, producing documentary shorts through his company DMC Pictures, Inc. His minidocs are very low-budget productions shot with a miniDV camera, often using direct address narration from DMC himself, intercut with montage sequences depicting his street performances.
DMC's minidocs have social messages beyond self-promotion. For example, his feature-length documentary titled Kenyan Conjurations (2008) shot with friend Tom Lyon, raised money for a new school in a Kenyan town. He slept on the streets of london for Homeless: Where the Heart Is, in order to raise money and awareness for youth homelessness. And he made Tanzanian Devil in order to draw attention to the negative effects of superstitious beliefs in impoverished countries, particularly for women for whom witchcraft becomes a 'legitimate' excuse for punishment for their (often sexual) transgressions.
In a minidoc titled, Why Do We Believe? DMC asks why do we still today in an "age of evidence and proof" hold on to these archaic beliefs? (Interestingly, he groups together witchcraft and creationism wedding together First and Third worlds). In a subsequent minidoc titled, What is Magic?, DMC argues that magic is nothing more than "the momentary creation of the illusion of a possibility." He is firmly against the notion of "real" magic, upholding instead scientific empiricism. In short, he says, "magic is simply the illusion of magic." He continues, "real magic is not found in card tricks... to me the real magic in this life is [found] in all those thousands of moments that, if even for a second, make your heart stop."
Interestingly, What is Magic? is shot primarily in Cairo after the Arab Spring. In the video one of his characteristic montage sequences is interrupted by a close-up shot of the sign outside the National Council for Women in downtown Cairo. The camera zooms out to reveal that the building has been burnt, the brick exterior is charred and black. The minidoc gives no commentary on the events nor the significance of the burned out building, it simply returns to its overall narrative about everyday magic. What is interesting are the implicit claims of this video, which suggests that the participatory nature of magic provides a space for connection and new understanding. One has to have an open mind to enjoy magic, but one must also be critical, to "watch carefully" in order to expose the trick, because as DMC reminds us, it is only an illusion. Perhaps the video is suggesting that there are more things in life that are illusory, that we must adopt detached critical distance in order to truly understand the world around us rather than relying on the false beliefs that keep in place patriarchy and ignorance. Unfortunately, he never really mentions issues like neocolonialism, lack of health care and education, political instability, and unemployment. Oh well...