By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—For years, James “The Amazing” Randi was a fixture on TV, frequently appearing on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and other talk shows. Now, his amazing life is the subject of a fascinating new documentary called “An Honest Liar.”
More than simply a magician and escape artist inspired by Harry Houdini, he also is a master skeptic, who helped debunk fake psychics, phony faith healers and predatory con artists with quasi-religious fervor.
A master deceiver who came out of the closet at the age of 81, Randi created fictional characters, fake psychics, and even turned his partner of 25 years, the artist Jose Alvarez, into a sham guru named Carlos. But when a shocking revelation in Randi’s personal life is discovered, it isn’t clear whether Randi is still the deceiver, or the deceived.[private]
Co-directed by Justin Weinstein (who wrote “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey”) and Tyler Measom (“Sons of Perdition”), “An Honest Liar” relives these twisted tales through interviews with people such as Penn & Teller, Adam Savage, Bill Nye, Alice Cooper, and many of the original participants in his adventures. The stories are brought to life through a wealth of rare, behind-the-scenes, and never-before-seen footage.
Just this week, it was announced that Barry Sonnenfeld had signed on to direct a feature adaptation based on Randi’s “Project Alpha,” a real-life deception told in the feature documentary. The feature film project currently is in development.
“Project Alpha” was an elaborate ruse orchestrated by Randi together with two fake psychics, Steve Shaw (now known as Banachek) and Michael Edwards. Banachek and Edwards auditioned for and then participated in a paranormal research project led by researchers who believed that the pair had legitimate psychic powers and had no idea that they were being duped. The testing of the two “psychics” included spoon bending, blowing fuses and moving objects in a sealed transparent container. Beginning in 1979, the project lasted over two years until the hoax was revealed publicly in a press conference held at Discover Magazine.
“I sought out Justin and Tyler immediately after I watched ‘An Honest Liar’ at Telluride Mountainfilm,” said Sonnenfeld, in a statement. “Not only did I love ‘An Honest Liar,’ but I knew there was an excellent narrative film to be made out of this story, with James Randi playing the ‘behind the curtain’ puppeteer.”
“The true tale of Project Alpha is one of twists, deceptions and comedy and Barry is the ideal director for the project,” added Measom and Weinstein, who will join the film as producers. “We are excited to work with him to bring his vision to the screen.”
The feature documentary “An Honest Liar” was recently released by Richard Abramowitz’s Abramorama. The multiple award-winning documentary, produced by Stephanie Levy, is slowly rolling out in theaters following a successful film festival circuit tour following its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival last year.
Asked at a recent screening of the documentary at Hollywood’s exclusive Magic Castle club how he felt about the warts and all documentary about his life story, Randi, who resembles a thin Santa Claus with his full white beard and mustache, said, “I’ve seen the film about 400 times now. I usually notice something in there that I hadn’t noticed the previous time. It’s surprising. There are so many twists and turns in the thing. But, no, I accepted it. It was tough the first time I saw it. It’s gone through a few adjustments since then. Now that I’m accustomed to it, I fully accept it.”[/private]