Once I realized that I couldn’t see any horror films at the 2014 TriBeCa Film Festival, I decided to try and see a number of different genre films. I feel I did a good job of that, while still seeing the movies I wanted came for. Last summer, Now You See Me entertained the child in me. Who doesn’t love magic? So when I saw there was a documentary playing at TriBeCa about James “The Amazing” Randi, I knew I had to see it.
My expectations were pretty much nonexistent for An Honest Liar. I went in knowing very little about this man, and left feeling like he was a friend. The film opens with Randi explaining how he got into magic, leaving home, and then trying to do all of Houdini’s tricks. You may have seen him on an episode of Happy Days, which is how I recognized him.
What is An Honest Liar, besides an oxymoron? Randi describes himself as a man who does a magic trick, admitting that it clearly isn’t real, and he is honest about his deception. What started as a career deceiving audiences quickly turned him to revealing the frauds of the world. I found that I didn’t know a lot of the stories that Randi debunked at the beginning, mainly due to my age, but a few of the later ones I vaguely remembered, primarily Peter Popoff. If the name isn’t familiar, maybe what he did was: he would go around with a tent and proclaim that God was speaking to him, and healing people through him. This was at some point in the ‘80s, I believe.
What makes An Honest Liar such an interesting documentary is not just the debunking, but also the fact that James Randi is a very interesting subject. I don’t want to ruin too much for those who know little about the man, but the film covers some surprising sections in his life, and while obvious from a certain point on, it was refreshing to see it all getting aired here. The film is very candid at times, and there’s a moment where Randi asks for something to not be shown. During the Q&A after the film, director Tyler Measom made clear that everything used in the film was cleared by Randi himself.
There was a special guest at the Q&A, and he was asked a few personal questions. What I really liked was that he was completely humble and honest, and at one point, what he was saying brought a tear to my eye.
An Honest Liar isn’t going to blow your mind, but instead open it to a world that you may not have known existed. Another interesting thought is that if he never debunked all of these cases, who would have? Would we have the likes of the Mythbusters? The film is very open and refreshing; if you have the chance to see it, please do, as it was my second favorite film at TriBeCa this year.