Woody Allen conjures up illusion for 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Wed Jul 23, 2014 2:59pm EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Woody Allen explores the mysteries of illusion and love in "Magic in the Moonlight," a period romantic comedy inspired by 1920s clairvoyants who were debunked by leading magicians of the day.

The Oscar-winning director has long been fascinated by magic, a recurrent theme in his films. In "Magic in the Moonlight," which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, reality and illusion collide on the Cote d'Azur in the Roaring Twenties, when spiritualism and seances were in vogue.

The "Annie Hall" director, now 78, said the fraudulent spiritualists exposed by Houdini and other magicians "led me to the idea."

"I'm all for illusion," he added. "I set films very often in the past because I can create the illusion more tantalizingly."

Like "Midnight in Paris," Allen's most successful film with global earnings of more than $151 million, "Magic in the Moonlight" travels back to 1920s France. It is a world of blue skies, vintage cars and costumes, sumptuous villas and an international cast headed by Briton Colin Firth.

The best-actor Oscar winner for "The King's Speech" plays Stanley Crawford, an arrogant, master illusionist who performs as Wei Ling Soo, complete with elaborate Chinese costume and makeup.

When his friend and fellow magician Howard, played by British actor Simon McBurney ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), enlists Stanley's help to debunk a young American clairvoyant, he cannot resist the challenge.

"He is very committed to his craft, very resentful of anybody who tries to appropriate that as something spiritually authentic," said Firth. "There is something of the Henry Higgins in him, the man who considers himself at the top of his field and is dismissive of amateurs. And he is a rampant snob."   Continued...

Director Woody Allen arrives for the premiere of his film "Magic in the Moonlight" in New York July 17, 2014.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson