Corvallis filmmaker debuts film about the late Albany illusionist Jerry Andrus
"He was genuine, he was probably the most genuine person I think I've ever known," said Corvallis filmmaker Robert Neary, while reminiscing about his good friend Jerry Andrus recently.
Andrus, a longtime resident of Albany, died in 2007. He was known throughout the world as one of the best and most-influential "close-up magic" performers ever. His brother George, an artist and award-winning photographer, still lives in Albany.
"Jerry is not a household name, but most magicians know Jerry's name because his magic was so unique," Neary said. "He was such a pioneer and he was so well-loved."
Andrus is equally regarded among scientists, educators and skeptics as a visionary, poet, philosopher, inventor and creator of truly astounding optical illusions.
Neary recently finished a feature-length documentary on the life of Andrus which includes extensive interviews from notable thinkers, artists and magicians.
The World Premiere screening of "Andrus, the Man, the Mind & the Magic," will be at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, at the Hollywood Theater, 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd., Portland. The film screening will be the kickoff attraction to National Magic Week.
The documentary unfolds in three acts. "The Man" chronicles Andrus' early years and his development as a humanist, independent thinker and as a fanatically honest person.
The second act, "The Mind," looks at the creative genius that he possessed and his unique optical illusions.
Finally, the last act, "The Magic," shows Andrus' mastery of sleight-of-hand magic.
Original poetry and philosophy readings by Andrus are interspersed throughout the film.
"The readings are Jerry's stab at literary works," Neary said. "And actually of all the things that he wanted to last beyond him, he was most interested that his writings would continue on."
"He has volumes and volumes of things he has written," Neary said. "His mind was just always, always going. He carried a recorder in his pocket at all times. If anything came to him he would record it before he forgot."
"Those little ideas that popped in his head might come out as poetry, they might come out as an optical illusion, they might come out as a magic trick," Neary said.
As the film illustrates, these little ideas often turned into something mind-blowing for most people, such as a plywood box that baffled the senses with beams that seemed to cross both in front and behind other beams.
"To me, it's more of an insight into what makes a genius," Neary said. "To me, genius is the ability to put different things together, to see the overall interconnectedness of things. I think Jerry recognized that early on."
The film is rich in local ties, including footage from da Vinci Days in Corvallis, interviews with members of the Corvallis Secular Society and scenes from the "Castle of Chaos," Andrus' former Albany home, which doubled as a workshop for his mind's creative wanderings over the years.
"I helped to clean the house out," Neary said. He likened it to an archeological dig. A team of family friends, scientists, magicians and psychologists combed through everything he left behind.
"It's amazing the stuff that was in there. It was filled from floor to ceiling with relays and motors and plastic gizmos and magic tricks and metal and just everything. All things that he acquired because at some point he thought that there might be a way to connect this thing and that thing together and make something spectacular," Neary said.
Neary himself has done a beautiful job of piecing together the pieces of Andrus' life in the film.
From the first dramatic opening scene of a small child just days old, the film builds momentum as it explores what it means to be human while delving into Andrus' character and his effect on those he meets.
"A documentary filmmaker has all sorts of barriers where people don't want to talk to them," Neary said. But, with his stellar reputation among magicians, mentioning Andrus' name had a certain magic of its own.
Neary was able to secure interviews with James "Amazing" Randi, Michael Shermer, Ray Hyman, Jamy Ian Swiss and many other.
More than 50 hours of interviews have been edited down into the film.
"With Jerry it was amazing. I contacted the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Calif., and they almost never allow cameras in there," Neary said. "We were given 'carte blanche.'"
Early on in the production Andrus had a bout of throat cancer, and that really motivated Neary to rush to work on the project.
"I thought, I need to do this. I need to get this guy's essence on film before he's gone," Neary said. "It turned out that it was kind of serendipitous, because just as we were wrapping up the production is when he died of prostrate cancer."
"I guess the overriding thing that I try to get across in the film is that the man lived in real time, he lived in the real world and he didn't need false beliefs of any sort to sustain him. And he thought that that gave him a clear vision," Neary said.
"Everybody who met him understood that he appreciated every day of life."
Neary still lives in awe of his friend, for his humanity, his philosophy and his incredible skills at illusion and sleight-of-hand.
"The amazing thing is that while I was filming Jerry, I was getting 24 frames per second. So, I can actually slow it down to look at it frame by frame and there are sleights that he does that I still don't have any clue how he did it."