‘The Amazing Johnathan Documentary’ – A dying magician’s final trick?
“The Amazing Johnathan Documentary” is the type of film that makes you feel like you took a journey. How you might feel about that journey is another matter.
Premiering Friday, Aug. 16, on Hulu, the 90-minute documentary from filmmaker Ben Berman (“Comedy Bang! Bang!”) starts out as a straight-forward profile of the Amazing Johnathan, a Las Vegas stand-up comedian and magician who in 2014 was diagnosed with a fatal heart ailment and given one year to live. Two years later, Berman comes into his Vegas home and life with wife Ana to chronicle what are presumably his final days. And then the craziness begins.
Johnathan, whose real name is John Edward Szeles, brings in another supposedly more decorated film crew to do a second documentary. Also, it turns out he’s a longtime meth smoker, a habit he continues even in declining health. These oddities and more make Berman wonder whether he’s the victim of a hoax and question just what is the truth.
And like that, the documentarian decides to make himself the documented.
“I can’t believe I couldn’t have imagined this …,” Berman says, “but Johnathan has made millions of dollars throughout his life deceiving people. He’s an illusionist, he’s a magician … a hoaxer. And in addition to him just being a known magician and an illusionist, he’s also throughout his friend circle, a known prankster. So how dare I begin filming a documentary on a magician and not expect to have potentially some magic and some illusion and deception done to me?
“You know, if you’re setting up to make a documentary, a documentary is something that is supposed to be based in acquiring the truth or telling the truth or real nonfiction narrative about what really happened. So why would I be surprised that I encountered some struggles with that from this illusionist?”
Self-doubt, chaos and acrimony ensue and Berman feels like someone on an out-of-control roller coaster, emotional and otherwise. And lest spoilers be revealed, this can be said: At this writing, the Amazing Johnathan is still alive and has two documentaries on him on the way.
“The guy lucked into everything he wanted to have happen…,” Berman says. “There are now to be … two documentaries on the guy, both revealing different things and both valuable to different degrees. Like when people are careless like Johnathan, mainly that comes back to bite them. But he’s careless and somehow he lucks into an incredible fortune of good things. It’s mind-boggling. It’s insane.”