31 December 2006

My Top DVDs Of 2006: Television Pt. 1

The Best Moments Of The Amazing Kreskin
(VCE Inc., 3 discs)

This three-disc set compiles nearly nine hours of the World’s Foremost Mentalist’s years on Canadian television from 1971 to 1977, which began as The Amazing World Of Kreskin (from 1975-77, it was retitled The New Kreskin Show) and was produced at Ottawa, Ontario’s CJOH Studios (where Bill Luxton, of Uncle Willy And Floyd infamy, served as Kreskin’s Ed McMahon-slash-Jim Fowler, steering the largely college-age audience members through their polyester-clad paces). Kreskin pretty much commanded the first season on his own, bounding into the audience rows Donahue-style to decipher Social Insurance Numbers, "mind-read" their playing card selections (always a fresh deck!), and lead draftees into experiments in table tilting and Jack Bergerac’s old arm-twirling shtick from The Hypnotic Eye. His first wave of guests was limited to such otherworldly oddballs as prolific paranormal phenom Sybil Leek (she pleads tolerance for modern druids and tells of meeting H.G. Wells and Lawrence Of Arabia as a child) and former-wife-of-Lex-Barker turned psychic/astrological columnist Arlene Dahl.

The program became such a hit that by its next season, it was second to Hockey Night In Canada as the most watched homegrown series. The star power, such as it can be defined under these terms, grew comparatively to include such tax-shelter-era staples as Robert Vaughan (warming up for Ed Hunt’s Starship Invasions perhaps?), Patrick MacNee (in Toronto shooting The New Avengers with Joanna Lumley, enthusing over Langella’s stage turn as Dracula), Loretta Switt, Nipsey Russell, The King Of Kensington (and then-CanCon icon) himself Al Waxman (Americans will know him from Cagney And Lacey and William Fruet’s Death Bite), William Shatner (who would appear four times during a career low point that would have him doing spots for the Canadian grocery chain “Loblaws” while Roddenberry prepped umpteen versions of his Star Trek revival), and even Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who was the co-founder of Project: Bluebook and an advisor on Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (in which he can be glimpsed in a cameo).

Considering the age of the episodes and the fact that the series was entirely stage bound and recorded live, the overall video/audio quality of the set is more than adequate—the image is soft (the transfers are reportedly direct from the original masters) but the programs seem complete despite the odd reference to an event from an episode not included in the compilation (for reasons unknown). Kreskin (born George Joseph Kresge, Jr., but whose legal name is “The Amazing Kreskin, btw) comes off witty and eminently likeable with a gangly, disarming rapport with his audience and C-list celebrity guests that was no doubt essential to his apparent “abilities”—in the same era that could make Sonny Bono a star it’s not too much of a leap to conceive that this bespectacled beanpole could enchant a nation week-in, week-out. What’s interesting (and admirable, considering his seemingly inexhaustible supply of true believers) is that he vocally dismisses any notion of his illusions as the result of some supernatural power, and repeatedly reminds the viewers that his apparent “gifts” are nothing more than a refined aptitude for slight-of-hand and deduction based upon information from the participants that is willing, if unconsciously, offered. At the time, he was offering $50,000 (Canadian?) to anyone who could prove he utilized “plants” in his audience (Luxton would choose Kreskin’s participants by chucking golf balls over his shoulder into the seats)—presumably, the offer still stands today.

If three discs—which include engaging and lucid commentary from the still-at-it Kreskin himself--aren’t enough, the collection comes with a mini-reproduction of the vintage Milton-Bradley board game “Kreskin’s ESP”, which was originally released in 1967 (before headlining his own series, he was a popular fixture on Steve Allen, Mike Douglas, and The Tonight Show) and was a huge bestseller (I was tempted to fork out nearly a hundred smackeroos for it at a memorabilia show until my significant-other talked me out of it). The gem that comes with the game’s “mystery” pendulum had to be manufactured in India and delayed the set’s release for months—note that this pressing is limited to 3000 copies and will eventually be replaced by a 2-disc set sans game repro.