Randall James Hamilton Zwinge (James Randi) didn’t earn the name, The Amazing Randi for nothing. The 86-year-old Canadian-American has built a career on great things, first as a magician modelling his stunts on Harry Houdini’s work before graduating to become an author, skeptic and all-round investigator who lifts the lid on people making falsehoods. This typically involves faith healers, water diviners, psychics and anyone else claiming to be involved in the paranormal or dark arts. An Evening With James Randi was an interesting and insightful session where we walked away having learnt an awful lot.
The night was opened by Richard Saunders, the President of the Australian Skeptics organisation. He introduced a documentary that was three years in the making about Randi titled, An Honest Liar. The film drew together archive footage of Randi’s stunts (including one where he was suspended upside down over Niagara Falls in a straightjacket) as well as interviews with MythBusters’ Adam Savage; collaborator and musician, Alice Cooper; author Jamy Ian Swiss;science guru, Bill Nye; magician and psychologist, Michael Edwards; and mentalist, Steve Shaw (Banachek).
An Honest Liar doesn’t just devote air-time to Randi’s supporters. An interview was conducted with Uri Geller (Randi has previously exposed him as a fraud after Geller had bent spoons and made other paranormal claims). The film also covered Randi’s exposé of “faith healer”, Peter Popoff who – at the time – was learning information about the audience he was “helping” through an earpiece where his wife fed information from some questionnaires the crowd had completed earlier that day.
There was also the “Carlos Hoax” where Randi and his partner, José Alvarez (Deyvi Orangel Peña Arteaga) duped the Australian public and media into believing that the latter was a famous healer (even though the press pack was riddled with lies and fabrications). The film is a must-see for any skeptic, intelligent person or fan of James Randi (and these things are not mutually exclusive).
After the screening there was a question and answer session hosted by Lawrence Leung (Unbelievable). In this section, Randi also did two stunts. One involved having his hands escape from a rope that had been double-knotted behind his back and another involving a levitating matchbox. The subjects touched on Randi’s childhood where he was a child prodigy who was allowed to skip school and the life-altering event when he saw Harry Blackstone, Sr. perform.
Randi was also joined by Australian Skeptics founder and businessman, Dick Smith and the two responded to questions from the audience. They both described how they tested would-be water diviners. Randi was very funny and interesting to listen to. He ultimately pushed the message that we should all apply critical thinking and a common sense approach to every claim. He also said that skeptics should be kind and understanding to their loved ones who may not share their own personal views.
An Evening With James Randi was a fascinating one. His no-nonsense answers and logical and analytical responses provided real food for thought for the assembled crowd. It also ended on a rather emotional note as he said that this could be goodbye, as it might be his final visit. Randi may be looking a little like a frail Sigmund Freud and he may have retired from his more outrageous stunts, but his mind is as nimble as a youngsters and he proves to be a witty and clever man that everyone should take a moment to learn from and listen to.
Originally published on 9 December 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/an-evening-with-james-randi-metro-theatre-sydney-07-12-14
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