THE MALTESE ILLUSIONIST – VANNI PULÉ

Who is Vanni Pulé in the eyes of Vanni Pulé?

In the eyes of many, I’m just a magician. I love the art of magic, and I’ve given thousands of performances over the years. Yet, out of calculated choice, magic was never really my full time profession. I could’ve taken it up as a job and left everything on the wayside, but I developed a tendency to be a rounder person, not just physically. I couldn’t abandon my interest in the humanities; literature, music and the visual arts. Besides, had I chosen magic as a profession, I would’ve forfeited my utmost dedication to family life, a commitment which is very dear to me. Above all, I see myself as a truth seeker and humanist. This may sound paradoxical, since I’ve sought to entertain by misinterpreting the truth. Nonetheless, the art of deception has brought me closer to the truth. By seeking out methods for creating illusion, I’ve tried to explore all possibilities and, on the way, discovered that we are surrounded by lies and deception. I’ve sought to fight that and, as much as possible, peel all the layers of artifice and draw as close as possible to an objective truth.

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What had led you to the art of illusion?

To be honest, I don’t really know what attracted me to it as a hobby and as an art form. I suppose, like all other children, I was fascinated by ‘magic’ at a very young age. This seems strange, since as a child, notwithstanding the fact that I was a voracious reader, I had no particular interest in fantasy; I was more into realism, even then. Still, I was captivated by the few sporadic performances of magicians on early TV and in public. A small basic magic set, given to me as a gift at the age of thirteen, and a book I bought a few months later, got me going. Notwithstanding my reluctance and acute self-consciousness, I performed some of them to a group of my friends. The applause became like a elixir to me, and that’s when it all started.

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Vanni Pulé and Gwilym Bugeja captured by The Foto Grafer

 

I have fond memories of your lectures on Shakespeare and the macabre and mysterious themes explored by the Bard. Has literature in any way contributed towards your magic acts or vice versa?

I love literature, especially poetry, and I’m a great aficionado of Shakespeare. Yet I’m not sure there’s a connection between my love of literature and my love of magic. Of course, literature, in a way, is magic, because it conjures up images in our minds and stimulates thought and creativity. Most art forms are related to magic because they create an illusion of reality. On the other hand, many writers have been fascinated by magic and illusion. Notwithstanding the various magical devices such as ghosts and witches, in Shakespeare’s plays, the Bard was probably very sceptical in real life. We don’t know much about his personal life but, to me, he seems too sensible and intelligent to believe in superstition. His main sponsors, however, did. Besides, there were other more recent writers who were fascinated by magic, like Evelyn Waugh, Somerset Maugham, J.B. Priestley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Philip Larkin and even Charles Dickens. The latter was even an amateur performer in his own right.

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Many know your wife Mary Anne to be an integral part of your acts. How did the magic happen between the two of you? Forgive the pun.

Well, we started our courting through magic. Most of the time, the magic that I performed in my youth required a partner. At first, it was my male cousin, then my two sisters in turn. Once, I had the opportunity of taking part in an amateur review show with singers and dancers. We took the show to the Astra Theatre in Gozo, and I needed a girl to assist me. I asked one to whom I had taken a particular fancy, but she declined. Mary Anne was next. Besides being a pretty girl – and of the right petite stature, I dare say – she was also good at being a sidekick and, for months, we worked on and off together. After a year, I asked her out and you know the rest. The start of our partnership coincided with a boom in cabaret, and at that time, the demand for our services as entertainers increased extensively.

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You have a deep interest in scepticism and rational thought. Would you say this stems from your exposure to the explanatory methods of illusion?

There’s definitely an overlap. My fascination with magic and my desire to consider all possible methods of achieving it led me into a quest for exploring all methods. In life, whatever I do, I try not to do in half-measures. I started researching all kinds of alleged paranormal, supernatural and psychic activities. Although in the seventies I was still rather naive, I started scripting a programme for radio, interviewing people claiming to have experienced anomalous events and exploring the unknown. I was reluctantly made chairman of a Parapsychology Society, which was a lot of fun, but it led me to discover that it’s all bunkum – there’s no real magic, no paranormal, no psychic powers. The more time passed, the more I realised that the unexplained isn’t necessarily inexplicable. When one attempts to investigate and scrutinise meticulously, one soon discovers that there’s either a natural explanation for the phenomenon, or the claimed manifestation doesn’t really happen as expected; what we call the shyness effect. It’s all deception or self-deception. Mind you, I don’t want to be dogmatic and say that there’s nothing paranormal, but, in my experience, there’s no proof of anything that defies natural science and logic; just misunderstanding or anecdotes. As Carl Sagan once said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I’ve great respect for those who sincerely believe or those who’ve genuinely felt something, but I’m still waiting for the evidence. If this eventually were to appear, it would change our whole concept of science. If this’ll ever happen, I’ll eat my top-hat.

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What has so far been your most dangerous trick?

I never really considered myself as flirting with danger. Yet I’ve put sharp razor blades consistently in my mouth, hammered a real twelve-centimetre nail up my schnozzle, and stuffed torches soaked with lighter fuel inside my mouth. But I never thought about it twice and, so far, I’ve survived unscathed. Mary Anne came close to danger in one technical rehearsal when a levitation almost gave way to gravity.

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Vanni Pulé with Sarah Kurvinen. Levitation moment captured by The Foto Grafer.

 

With no discredit towards your magical abilities, which trick in your toolbox would you like to be able to administer in everyday life?

I don’t have any magical abilities. I just use what’s available to me, good psychology, communications skills, optical illusions, sleight of hand, mechanics, etc. If I really were to acquire the facility of wielding my wand and making real magic happen – and I’m not envisaging that ever happening any soon – I’d eliminate all pain and suffering as a result of sickness, cruelty, starvation or whatever. But that cannot happen through magic. We have to strive to get closer to it through science, technology, education, selflessness and common sense.

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