An Honest Liar

Luckily for documentary makers Justin Weinstein and Taylor Measom, the life of James Randi has three distinct acts, all of them pretty interesting. Born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge in 1928, Randi hoped to follow in the footsteps of Harry Houdini; by the time Randi retired from show business at age 55 (after nearly dying in a botched escape act), he’d become one of the most famous magicians in America. For the next few decades he devoted himself to debunking would-be psychics and faith healers, and after he came out as gay in his early 80s, federal authorities revealed that his partner of 25 years had been living illegally in the U.S. under a false identity. Randi’s story suggests a modern-day footnote to Herman Melville’s novel The Confidence-Man, reflecting the strange interplay between show business, religion, and hucksterism in American life.