VOD film review: The Amazing Johnathan Documentary
Ivan Radford | On 22, Nov 2019
Director: Benjamin Berman
Cast: John Edward Szeles
Watch The Amazing Johnathan Documentary online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Google Play / Sky Store
Never heard of John Edward Szeles? In 2007, he didn’t expect anyone to hear from him ever again, after he was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition. Given one year to life, the magician – known as The Amazing Johnathan – continued not only to live but to plan his own comeback tour to boot. Filmmaker Ben Berman was there to film the illusionist as he quit retirement and tried to get his stage career back on track. But what he soon finds out is that he’s not the only one.
To say more would ruin the surprise of The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, a film that’s built arounds its ability to catch you off guard. It takes that cue directly from its leading man, the self-described “Freddy Krueger of magic”, who performs such tricks as sucking on his own eyeball or chopping his hands off. In action, his shocking feats of deception are impressively gory to witness. Applying the same tactic to a film about him, though, doesn’t cast quite the same spell.
Berman follows Johnathan loyally and continuously, even as other obstacles threaten to disrupt his planned film. Johnathan, for his part, starts off engaged and excited about the project, but as layers upon layers of meta-storytelling begin to pile up, you eventually realise that he’s less interested in a portrait of himself and more interested in studying the very nature of documentary filmmaking and questioning the line between truth and fiction.
It’s a quick-witted deconstruction of the genre, using titles and repetition to amusing effect. But the longer it goes on, the less moment the commentary on factual storytelling has; Berman’s apparent frustration is made contagious by his subject’s increasingly aloof elusiveness, and you wind up feeling like we haven’t really gotten to know much about Johnathan at all. But if you want to glimpse a talented magician at his peak, plus hear talking head contributions from Weird Al Yankovic among others, The Amazing Johnathan Documentary is certainly worth watching for its entertainingly unpredictable ride. You just wish that the trick being pulled was a little less elaborate.