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Phil Van Tee is El Ropo - 2 Disc Set Review

Official Review

June 16th, 2014 12:04am
Reviewed by Dr. J. M. Ayala de Cedoz
This set was interesting in a couple of ways and while it was good, there were a couple of issues which I will address a little later. I will review this as a set, but also make comments on the individual discs from time to time, which I will note when that happens.

On the first volume you will find a feature 35-minute performance of the material that is to be explained. He performs as a character named "El Ropo", which makes intermittent appearances as a change of voice and asking/making witty questions and commentary. It was filmed in a "studio" that looked like a wall painted with cheap black spray paint; it was actually quite fun to watch but there were times I could not tell quite what to think - it was hard to tell if some of the awkward moments were intentional or not. Overall, the show itself was entertaining, very funny and I found myself laughing out loud through most of it. It is easy to see why Phil has accolades from so many of the top names in magic.

Phil did a great job in presenting his material and most of it is very simple, using the simplest of props and much of the material is his take on basic plots/effects in magic. Some of the material he presents is not magic at all but rather a form of jugglery, and some of it is presented as a mere puzzle. Even Phil points out on the DVD that some of the jugglery done with the ropes teeters right on the edge of looking like magic in the eyes of an audience that it works quite well.

Phil Van Tee is a sort of variety performer that does it all: He is a stand-up comedian, a musician, circus clown/performer (graduate of the Ringling Brothers Clown College), puppeteer, actor, magician and so on. This all leads to him being very entertaining, but there were some aspects I thought could be better, which I will explain now.

First was during the performance he has this habit of naming the effects and sleights that he is performing (though in a comical way) for a public lay audience, which annoys me greatly because in a trigger-happy crowd, you are basically giving away trade secrets. In this show he had the full attention of his audience and it was a small studio audience. Assuming because of his continued dialogue throughout the explanation sections, this is how he normally presents his show for both magician and non-magician crowds.

Both discs included a performance-only piece, both of which to me were ho-hum. A few of the things I felt that Phil did very, very well and has a great presentation for are things like the classic Threading the Needle, the Juggle Ring and Rope and his Color Surprise Pocket Knives. His work on Threading the Needle makes it very visual and very magical, the ring and rope is basically the same on/off move three different times but you will swear the rings just melt on and off the rope and his routine with the knives is quick and very visual with a great hook line.

His cups and balls is very, very...hokey to quote Phil himself, but it was entertaining-ish to watch. Certainly not my cup of tea because at times the handling is clunky and awkward due to the method, which for me interrupts the flow too much, but it definitely fits his character. Though Phil has added quite a few handling subtleties and ideas, there were times where his moves were obvious - at least to me. His handling of this classic has the potential to be confusing to an audience if you go too fast and at times, he appeared to do just that. In all fairness, he did say in the explanation of various effects that you should always avoid confusing your audience. All of the negatives were almost all erased by what is certainly one of the smoothest, nicest, prettiest and well-thought out final load revelation sequences I have ever seen, which with some thought can certainly be applied to other cup and ball routines. For the record, his version uses foil balls and paper drinking cups.

The teaching/explanation sessions were interesting for a number of ways because Phil would start to explain an effect, then he would hesitate like he had never really explained a particular effect to anyone. His crediting at first-sight was horrible because he would either mention a rough reference of where to find something and tell you to read a fuller explanation of it there, or he would not be able to remember where he found/learned something. I felt that many of the explanations on both discs were hasty and not very thorough and others were quite long and thorough-ish. Overall the material was explained well enough that you could learn what was being presented, but it could definitely have been better. There was only one effect in the entire collective explanation section of both disks that had an over-the-shoulder shot to clarify the moves. Why only one? There were a other explanations that definitely needed, and would have benefited greatly from, different camera angles to help show the moves more clearly. To me, this just says that someone is inexperienced with teaching or at the very least did not think very well on how to teach things clearly. Add to this the annoying habit he has of saying "blah, blah, blah" and assuming you know certain things and simply glossing over some of the material, it was frustrating and annoying at times. There were only a few of the effects with which I was not familiar or at least did not recognize but because I have read a lot of magic books and seen a lot of DVDs, I was familiar with the techniques. The clarity in explanation would be nice for those viewers which were not familiar with the material.

In my opinion there were some techniques in some of the effects that he used which were not very good and could be made better with alternative moves or sleights, or more practice. As Phil says though, "...this is the way I like to do it and it is up to the viewer to find a way that they prefer to do it, and that works for them." Some of his technique was quite sloppy in some areas but somehow he appears to have made it work. Magicians will probably be able to tell most of the time when he is "doing something sneaky" but the audience will not. Speaking of magicians recognizing something, if you are the type that has studied classic tomes like the Henry Hay book, the Mark Wilson Course and others, some of this material will be familiar to you.

On both disks during the explanations, Phil is joined by a magician that looked like an eager 12 year old star-struck kid at times, but I really appreciate that this magician was learning some of the effects on camera for the first time as opposed to having been taught some any of the material before the shoot, off-camera. Because of that he was asking some of the same questions the viewers at home might ask, as well as making some of the same accidental discoveries and some of the same "mistakes" for lack of better term.

Now, here is where it got somewhat interesting and this goes back to the apparent lack of knowledge that Phil seemed to have at times: This magician seemed to know the proper names, some of the psychological subtleties and other things about what was going on where Phil did not. I am not saying that Phil is a mindless nincompoop - far from it. It just surprised me to hear Phil try and explain something that he was not entirely familiar with only to have the person he was teaching be able to explain it, or at least reference a name. Other times, Phil got quite "deep" as to why he thinks something would work and for the most part, he was right.

The camera work was okay and although it was studio-quality, there were some spots where it got a little shaky because someone bumped the camera, and other times during the show, Phil would ask, "Hey camera 7 (or whatever number was appropriate at the time), did you get that?" The audio in the show and during the explanations was quite clear and crisp for the most part, only a few spots where it was weak because of turning away from the microphones momentarily but nothing that affected the enjoyment of the show or the learning portions. The show and the explanation sections were both well-lit.

The menu was well-laid out but was very annoying to navigate because at the top of each menu on both disks, you had the option of playing the entire show in the studio. Beneath that, you had the titles of some of the effects from the show and the option to play the performance of that particular effect OR the explanation. There was no 'Play All' button for the individual performances/explanations of each effect, so after watching one performance and/or explanation it takes you back to the menu, then you have to click on the next performance and/or explanation and so on. This was highly annoying.

Each disk had a bonus section and on disc one it includes a performance from the Magic Castle and a comedy club, both of which were grainy, probably because they looked like they were copied from a VHS tape. You DO remember VHS, right? It also includes a 20-minute conversation with Phil about his career and his creation of his character, El Ropo. I particularly enjoyed watching this interview because you learned a lot about Phil as a person and as a performer, his views and ideas about magic and performing in general. He comes across as a very nice, yet reserved guy. As you may or may not expect, he is quite a different person off-stage. This disc also included three trailers, one of which was the disc you are watching already - what for? I will tell you: I have not a clue!

The second disc was set up the same way with the same 35-minute show and the same annoying menu options. Its bonus section included a different presentation of his cup and ball handling, shot at home. It also included two other grainy comedy club performances of some of the same 35-minute act you saw on both discs. Some of the material in the live shows were not in the studio show at all, thus not explained.

The ad copy is 100% accurate.

Having said that, I am not sure why they made this a two-disc set when it could have certainly all been on one, and further, why they also offer each disc individually for the price of $24.95 each. In my opinion, for what you are getting and the quality of everything concerned, $24.95 for each disk is just a bit too high, but as a set for $39.99, the price is just about spot on.

Even though I was familiar with a lot of the material on both discs, I still found some things I want to play around with and other ideas I want to use with my existing repertoire. In short, it is hard to say how or why I would recommend this DVD set. If you look at the effects list in the ad copy and if you see something you might like, pick it up. If you see things you already perform, you might get a few ideas to use in your own handling(s). 3.5 stars.

Available at your favorite Murphy’s Magic dealer

Product info for Phil Van Tee is El Ropo - 2 Disc Set

Author: Van Tee, Phil
Publisher: Anthony Asimov Magic
Average Rating:  (1)
Retail Price: $39.99
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Manufacturer's Description:

Phil Van Tee - also known as the zany "El Ropo" - has performed over 16,000 shows in 40 years, was nominated for the "Parlour Magician of the Year" Award by the Academy of Magical Arts (The Magic Castle) in 2012, and is the 1st Place Winner of the Magic Castle's 2009 Strolling Magic Olympics.

In this 2-DVD set, Phil performs and explains 16 tried-and-true routines including the hilarious "Ropito" and the stand-out "Card In Rope." Ropes, juggle rings, coins, thimbles, cowboy hats, paper cups, silver balls, "swirly lights," clothespins... this is strong visual magic "El Ropo" style!

2-DVD Set Includes:
  • 35 Minute Live Show
  • 16 Tricks Performed and Explained
  • Over 2 Hours of Detailed Instruction
  • Two Bonus Feature-Length Live Performances
  • Performance-Only Tricks
  • 20 Minute interview with Phil Van Tee about the creation of El Ropo

"Phil is an entertainment machine and knows how to get the maximum reaction to any effect. Here he will share with you his valuable techniques that turn simple tricks into commercial routines."
- Jon Armstrong

"Like most of the veterans of the Magic Castle, it took me a while to key into the world of El Ropo. It has, however, been fascinating to watch his metamorphosis into a Castle favorite, after his having logged in literally thousands of performances here. He's a vaudevillian 'trickster' with excellent magic chops."
- Jack Goldfinger

"Phil makes audiences happy! Whenever I know Phil is performing, I bring my guests to see him. Phil is silly and his magic is amazing. He is great entertainer! If Pee-wee Herman and Will Rogers had a love child it would be Phil Van Tee."
- Paul Draper

"El Ropo surely doesn't string you along - he carefully ties together his many years as a working pro, looping practical magic and unique comedy into one big beautiful bow. Don't let his height and skill-set intimidate you, El Ropo's tricks are for magicians of all shapes and sizes."
- Rob Zabrecky

"Phil Van Tee is a charming and funny performer, one I love to watch over and over. I have worked with him many times on many different kinds of stages, and his routines keep the audience enchanted for the entire spell of his show. He is a dangerous desperado of magic!"
- Pop Haydn

"Give Phil Van Tee enough rope and he'll not only amaze an audience but entertain the socks off them. He could then take those socks and dazzle them some more! Amazing, entertaining and clever, this DVD set is a must-have!"
Mike Bent

"Phil Van Tee is El Ropo" is ISSUE #3 in the Black Rabbit Series, which features outstanding professional magicians from around the world who perform full shows for live audiences in a studio setting.


Hat Balance

El Ropo's opener where he balances a cowboy hat on his nose.

World's Fastest Knot
A lightning-fast knot tie... don't blink or you'll miss it!

Improved Threading
An impossible solid-through-solid effect where a rope penetrates another rope three times.

Figure 8 Knot
A move that cleverly ties a knot into the shape of a "Figure 8".

The Triple Knot of Zanzibar
As fast as a whip, tie three knots onto a rope!

Juggle Ring & Rope
A solid multi-phase ring and rope routine that keeps them laughing and applauding.

Phil's hilarious trademark effect with a mini rope version of himself!

The S.O.B Knot (Card in Rope)
A jumping knot effect with a show stopping finale: a selected card is found inside a tied knot!


Coin Roll Techniques

Phil's techniques and advice on rolling coins across the fingers using different coins.

Circle of Coins
An impromptu matrix with five coins that teleport under the hands.

Spellbound Segue
El Ropo's clever use of a Spellbound sequence to hide the 'one ahead' coin following any Matrix routine.

Card in Clothespin Under Tie
A spectator's signed card appears trapped in a clothespin beneath a necktie!

Shaky Cards in the Hat
Make a dozen freely selected cards instantly reverse in the deck just by shaking a hat!

Color Surprise Pocket Knives
Phil's handling of the classic pocket knives routine, with a killer color-change ending.

Recombinant Thimbles
An epic two-hand multi-phase thimble routine that will leave them completely baffled.

Paper Cups & Aluminum Balls
El Ropo's trademark version of Cups & Balls using every day props building to a big finish.

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