If you watched television during the 70's chances are you saw the Amazing Randi. The stage name of expert escape artist and magician James Randi, the Amazing Randi was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show among many other TV appearances, including an episode of Happy Days. Just as likely to be exposing fraudulent spoon benders or faith healers as he would be recreating one of his idol Houdini's legendary escapes, Randi was as famous for his unwavering commitment to debunkery as he was for his own hammy hocus pocus. Thus it's the height of irony that at the core of the life of a man who built his career on revealing "the man behind the curtain" was a big secret, and not the kind that all magician's keep.
Of course, that secret was revealed years ago when Randi came out, and his long term relationship with Venezuelan artist José Alvarez is the heart of An Honest Liar, a new documentary about the now 86-year-old's life on- and offstage. Theirs is an unconventional partnership and not just because of their 33 year age difference. Soon after meeting, Randi enlisted Alvarez to pose as "Carlos", a so-called "spirit channeler" who was the key component of his exposé of such charlatans. Together for almost 30 years, their love for each other is palpable, most sweetly when José refers to his diminutive Dumbledore not as "James" but as "Amazing".
What sets An Honest Liar apart from other showbiz docs is an unexpected, shocking revelation that just so happened to come to light during its filming. Directors Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom handle this twist respectfully but effectively, making the film's final act an emotionally charged series of events leading up to quite the timely finale. As both an entertaining biography of an enigmatic subject and a satisfying offbeat love story, An Honest Liar holds true.
MD Rating: A-
An Honest Liar is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD:
Review by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.