|Uri Geller and the YouTube Video Smearby Peter Fotis Kapnistos
(Copyright © 2009 Peter Fotis Kapnistos)
Posted: 14:40 April 19, 2009
Some years ago, Uri Geller became the world's best-known psychic celebrity. The belief that Soviet telepathic phenomena could in fact pose a grave danger to the Western world was taken rather seriously in the 1970s. Uri Geller was at the heart of the related uproar. Even "Nature" magazine, the world's most respected science journal, published a detailed report on Geller's remarkable talents.
Fatefully, after the Soviet Union collapsed so did scientific concern for psychic phenomena. Israeli-born Geller promptly came under ever-increasing attacks by the established media. Leading the hardened criticism was James Randi (Randall James Hamilton Zwinge), a stage magician and professional skeptic. In 1973, Johnny Carson asked Randi to secretly prepare a spur-of-the-moment test for Uri Geller's scheduled TV appearance on the "Tonight Show." Geller later said that Johnny Carson's skepticism blocked his powers. Could a public figure recognized by prestigious scientists and "Nature" magazine fleetingly lose his intuitive ability?
Perhaps we might find a parallel to Uri Geller's quandary in the famous story of the Swiss figure, William Tell. Whether by a coincidence or a striking synchronicity, the expert marksman was a native of Uri, one of the Swiss forest provinces. According to tradition, in the 13th or early 14th century William Tell defied Austrian authority and was forced by the hated Austrian governor to shoot an apple from his son's head with a crossbow at a distance of 80 paces, or else both would be executed. At that remote distance the average human cannot make out an apple, let alone aim a crossbow at it. We can therefore only imagine that William Tell aimed somewhere vaguely over the top of his son's head.
William Tell split the apple with a single arrow from his crossbow, without mishap. But if the skeptical Austrian governor had distracted him with peripheral mayhem and noisy commotion, would Tell have lost his instinctive talent? According to the Swiss narrative, William Tell carried a second arrow in his quiver. If he had ended up killing his son in that test, he would have turned the crossbow on the governor himself.
Today, over half of the Swiss population believes that William Tell really lived. A modern scientific view of the Tell account implies that any healthy adult male should be able to reproduce his success. But in reality, William Tell represents one in a million. The strict scientific premise of controlled repeatability does not apply in his particular set of circumstances. And that perhaps is also a major reason why many scientists shun Uri Geller. His psychic abilities do not conform to the scientific principle of repeatability.
More recently, it was alleged that Uri Geller was caught cheating in an Israeli TV documentary that has lately also circulated on YouTube. The accusation was that a slow motion shot revealed him producing a small magnet from behind his ear or out of his hair to influence a compass needle. In other words, he purportedly put on a magnetic false thumb. The claim was carried by major news agencies and repeated in several publications, including Wikipedia and some prominent science-oriented magazines. I found it rather puzzling because I'm a photographer and the Israeli documentary in question was actually Uri Geller's own TV show. Why would he do such an unnecessary thing on camera? And if he did, why wasn't the unsightly scene finally edited out of his finished video product?
To satisfy my curiosity, I finally confronted Uri Geller about the accusation. In a telephone conversation, Uri, who speaks three languages, bluntly told me that he never used a thumb magnet. "More ridiculous," he exclaimed, "is that I plucked it out of my hair!" There was a time in Geller's early career when he did use some crude magic tricks at the suggestion of one of his promoters. Uri actually wrote about it in his autobiography. But why would he admit to that –– and not the thumb magnet? What difference did it make? Those things led me to suspect that Uri Geller's critics were perhaps wrong about the cheating accusation. So I decided to do a frame-by-frame analysis of the controversial video clip.
The Disingenuous Video Scene
In "Photo 1" we see a wide overall view of the controversial Israeli TV video scene where Uri Geller's critics accuse him one way or another of allegedly plucking a slightly thick "hidden magnet" from the edge of his hairline. Notice the fingertips of the young man standing to the right. It is clearly identifiable that motion blur and not some conjuring glove or terminal projection causes the bent deformation of the young man's extended hand.
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