By Bears Fonte
“I have a whole line of DVDs out there. People buy them and go, ‘well, that sure is nice but who can do it?’ It’s like juggling seven ice cream cones, while you’re standing in a hammock, making love. You can explain it, but to see it and to do it are two different things.” Master Card Mechanic Richard Turner is talking to me at SXSW, forever shuffling and cutting the deck in his hands as easily as breathing. The cards are a blur of motion, and as the new Luke Korem documentary DEALT details, he works with a deck as he works out, as he eats, even as he falls asleep.
Turner, winner of the 2015 Academy of Magical Arts Close-Up Magician of the year award, is quick to point out the difference between a card mechanic and card magician. “A card magician is somebody who creates certain sleights to amaze and fool people. And those are techniques that many, many people can do because they’re not that difficult,” he says, “A card mechanic is a person who develops moves and techniques specifically for the purpose of stealing your money. In other words, controlling the outcome of a card game. In a card game, unlike a magician, you can’t use misdirection. Magicians, you make them look here while you do something over there. You do anything like that in a card game – BAM – you’re in heat or you’re dead.”
Above them all, at the tip of the spear as he says, is the card mechanic. “Those techniques— to deal those cards invisibly in the middle of the deck or off the bottom of the deck, or second card down, and shuffle the cards and have them back where you want them or go into any position,” Turner explains, “those techniques are literally a thousand times more difficult to accomplish than techniques used to perform card magic. There’s just a couple of people in the world that are known, respected mechanics.” Turner has showcased his amazing skills on television shows such as That’s Incredible!, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, for Johnny Carson, Bob Hope and live at the Magic Castle where he is a member of the Hall of Fame.
“Anybody from Penn & Teller to Copperfield, you bring up the name Richard Turner, they will know of him,” says director Luke Korem, “But I think for the general public, what I’m super excited about is, not only are they going to know about Richard Turner and how great he is as a card guy, what we’re really excited about is inspiring and encouraging other people, through his story.”
I have buried the lead intentionally. Richard Turner, in addition to being the greatest card mechanic of all time, a Fortune 500 motivational speaker, and a black belt in Karate, IS LEGALLY BLIND, and has been since a bout with scarlet fever at age nine.
“At first, I thought it was going to be more of a biopic,” admits Korem. “I didn’t really know his relationship with his son, the relationship with his wife, his sister – I didn’t know all of these elements.” His sister, also blind, has begged Turner to embrace technology made specifically to help people who find themselves in these circumstances, but he for years even refused to use a cane. “About six months into it, I realized there was a deeper, richer character arc and I didn’t really talk to him about it,” the director says, “I just kept doing more present day filming, more verite, [and]I noticed him starting to change and evolve. I had seen all this archival of him, people calling him blind and all these things. Learning about his childhood. I knew there were scars.”
DEALT really captures a great man on the verge of accepting help for the first time, fundamentally altering the way he views himself and the world. At times, with the cameras on witnessing his disagreements with his sister, it feels like Korem’s presence alone may have helped Turner along. “Richard is a very stubborn person and he’s very independent,” says the director. “It’s not like I was going to force anything to change or to happen, even if I wanted it. It was just a matter of constantly listening and being there. There was no way you were going to change Richard’s mind. It all had to come inward, from him.”
Korem is perhaps particularly well-equipped to dive into the details on Turner’s craft. After finishing his last film, LORD MONTAGU, about the British playboy and renegade class-crosser, the co-writer of the film, Bradley Jackson, suggested Turner as his next subject. “He’s like, ‘Don’t you have a magic dad, or something like that?’” Korem jokes, and explains his father made his living as a sleight-of-hand magician in the eighties, “‘Ask him if he knows this guy.’ I called my dad up and was like, ‘Dad, have you heard of Richard Turner?’ And he goes, ‘Dude, I’ve been telling you to make a film about this guy!’ So he introduced me to Richard.” But Korem had to do more than just pitch Turner to get a seat at his table. The director remembers, “He’s like, ‘Look, I gotta couple of other people looking to make a film about me. I need to know if you can make a film. Send me your film so I can watch it.’ And I’m like, ‘uh, okay.’ So I sent him the previous film. One of his best friends co-created Home Improvement. I didn’t know that. I would have been freaking out.”