'American Experience: Houdini'
(Harry Houdini / DVD / NR / 2011 / PBS)
Overview: Wrapped in chains and encased in a crate, magician Harry Houdini was dropped into New York's icy East River. Horrified onlookers watched him emerge, unharmed, less than 60 second later. Easily the world's most famous escape artist, Houdini mesmerized audiences with astonishing acts of magic like the Water Torture Cell. A circus performer turned gifted artist, Houdini confronted humanity's greatest fears: entrapment, pain, and death.
DVD Verdict: This PBS American Experience documentary was first broadcast on January 24, 2000, and until now has only been available on VHS. Hosted by David McCullough, this very good hour long doc includes interviews with David Copperfield, James Randi, Ken Silverman, E.L. Doctorow, Dorothy Young, and even artist Al Hirschman, who knew Houdini and talks about being invited to punch him in the stomach in his dressing room (and "hurting my hand").
One thing I really like about this particular doc is it doesn't fall into the familiar narrative trap of transitioning from his mother's death to his anti-spiritualist crusade, thereby lopping out 10 years of his life and his entire movie career.
This documentary tracks his career very accurately. This doc also features several unpublished photos, including a shot of Houdini standing in his Milk Can in handcuffs that I've never seen anywhere else. It also ends with wonderful footage of Harry and his wife Bess kissing and hugging outside a theater.
I recommend this documentary to seasoned Houdini buffs and anyone who might be curious to learn more about the great "master mystifier." [JC] This is a Full-Screen Presentation (1.66:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.