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Short Film: Magic For Beginners

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, as media magician Jesse McLean pulls back the red curtain and reveals the secret of the biggest trick in human history in her brilliant short film Magic for Beginners.

You will be awestruck and dumbfounded when McLean reveals that you are not the master of your own memories and emotions. You are instead a wholly owned and manipulated subsidiary of the media. Your desires, your dreams, your happiness are all controlled by people you will never meet — probably, anyway — so that you will become an efficient little consumer. Your entire existence is enslaved by the transmission of images.

Pretty blond woman sings to the camera

Magic for Beginners vaguely resembles the classic Owen Land short film New Improved Institutional Quality: In the Environment of Liquids and Nasals a Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops, which features a man listening to a found recording of a strange comprehension test that Land then created surreal images to match the seemingly nonsensical audio.

For Magic for Beginners, McLean combines various found and original materials. Her own “test takers” are a man and a woman, shot separately, having emotional reactions to the TV and movie imagery spliced in between them. That, combined with audio testimonials from two people who find that their real lives magically intersect with their media obsessions — a girl meets the star of her favorite movie; a boy believes that video game machines start speaking to him personally — go to show how deeply media can shape our personalities and emotional cores.

The film then ends with an astonishingly edited compilation of fan performances of “My Heart Will Go On,” the theme song of James Cameron’s Titanic. While one can understand why young girls may want to perform this song at talent competitions — which makes up many of McLean’s chosen clips — less understandable is the phenomenon of amateur crooners belting it out in front of their webcams. (Although I will consider that maybe it’s just me who doesn’t get it.)

After viewing Magic for Beginners, one gets the feeling that it’s virtually impossible to have an emotional reaction to anything these days anymore without finding some way to relate it to a piece of media that’s been hard-wired into our souls.

Jesse McLean has several more videos posted on Vimeo to watch. You can also read more about her at her official website.