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An Honest Liar

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An Honest Liar
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJustin Weinstein
Tyler Measom
Written byJustin Weinstein
Tyler Measom
Greg O'Toole
Produced byTyler Measom
Justin Weinstein
StarringJames Randi
Alice Cooper
Bill Nye
Adam Savage
Penn & Teller
Michael Shermer
CinematographyTyler Measom
Justin Weinstein
Edited byGreg O'Toole
Music byJoel Goodman
Left Turn Films
Pure Mutt Productions
Part2 Filmworks
Distributed byAbramorama
Release dates
  • April 18, 2014 (2014-04-18) (Tribeca Film Festival)
  • March 6, 2015 (2015-03-06)
Running time
93 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States

An Honest Liar is a 2014 biographical feature film documentary, directed and produced by Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom, written by Weinstein, Greg O'Toole and Measom, produced through Left Turn Films, Pure Mutt Productions and Part2 Filmworks, and distributed by Abramorama.[2] The film documents the life of former magician, escape artist, and skeptical educator James Randi, in particular the investigations through which he publicly exposed psychics, faith healers, and con-artists. The film also focuses on Randi's relationship with his partner of 25 years, José Alvarez, who at the time of filming, had been discovered to be living under a false identity, calling into question "whether Randi was the deceiver or the deceived."[3][4]

The film was screened at a number of 2014 film festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival, Hot Docs, and AFI Docs Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Feature. It was released in February 2015.



An Honest Liar documents James Randi's early life as a carnival-bound refugee from Toronto who, early on, dedicated himself to learning every trick performed by Harry Houdini, and even improving on some of them. In one of his feats as an escape artist, Randi frees himself from a straitjacket while being hung upside down by his ankles over Niagara Falls.

Age and concerns over the danger of his profession and his health leads him to retire from that occupation and seek out not only a new career, but a crusading obsession that makes him a pop cultural fixture by the 1970s: As a scientific skeptic investigator and challenger to pseudoscientific and paranormal claims, which leads him to expose the deceit behind religious faith healers, psychics, and other con artists who exploit the public. Randi becomes a recurring guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and makes appearances on TV shows such as Happy Days and in rock music artist Alice Cooper's 1973 Billion Dollar Babies tour, where Randi, portraying the Executioner, decapitates Cooper at the end of each performance.

The film spotlights some of the more notable targets investigated and debunked by Randi. One is mentalist Uri Geller, who performed psychic feats on the talk show circuit, such as bending a spoon with minimal contact, and guessing the contents of sealed envelopes and other objects. Randi worked closely with the staff of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson prior to a 1973 appearance on that program by Geller, who publicly claimed at the time that his acts were performed with genuine psychic ability, and not magic tricks. Randi had The Tonight Show staff observe strict controls over the materials that Geller would work with during his appearance to prevent any trickery or cheating. As a result, Geller was unable to perform any of the feats that he regularly performed on other TV shows. Another target is faith healer Peter Popoff, who during his church revival meetings, demonstrated personal knowledge of people in the audience, such as their names, addresses and illnesses, which he stated was due to the work of God. Randi discovered that the true source of this information was a radio in Popoff's ear with which he was fed information by his wife. Another venture on which Randi embarked had him perpetrating a hoax on the Australian public in which a young man claimed on Australian television to channel the spirit of an ancient seer. The man was in reality Randi's partner, performance artist José Alvarez. In another, Randi had two confederates, mentalist Steve Shaw and actor Michael Edwards, pose as mentalists in a Washington University in St. Louis study that mistakenly confirmed Geller as an actual psychic.

The film also details Randi's longtime relationship with Alvarez, his decision to publicly come out at age 81, and how Alvarez, at the time of filming, had recently been discovered to be living under a false identity, which leads to legal ramifications for the couple.


In 2012 producers Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein visited James Randi at his home in Plantation, Florida to express interest in filming a documentary about his life. To illustrate their bona fides to him, they gave him copies of their previous documentaries. Randi comments, "When I saw the product that they had turned out, I thought to myself, 'These are the guys. These are the guys that I think I can trust with my life story.'"[15]

The film was funded in part via a campaign Kickstarter, which successfully concluded on February 15, 2013, obtaining $246,989 USD from 3,096 backers, $98,989 more than its goal of $148,000.[16] The film is produced through Left Turn Films, Pure Mutt Productions, and Part2 Filmworks by Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein, who also directed, and written by Weinstein, Measom and Greg O'Toole. Toole also edited the film.[1][3] The film's music is produced by Joel Goodman.[17] It is distributed by Abramorama.[3]

Reception and release[edit]


An Honest Liar was screened at the April 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.[18] It was then screened May 1 and 3, 2014 at Toronto's Hot Docs film festival.[19] It was also screened at the June 2014 AFI Docs Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland and Washington, D.C., where it won the Audience Award for Best Feature.[17] Its wide releases was March 6, 2015.[20]

On November 2, 2014 BBC Four aired the film as an episode of the documentary series Storyville, under the name: Exposed: Magicians, Psychics and Frauds.[21]

Critical reception[edit]

The film holds a 98% score on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 34 reviews with Critics Consensus "A thoughtful and surprisingly layered documentary enlivened by its subject, An Honest Liar serves as a well-deserved tribute to a fascinating life."[4] Geoff Pevere, reviewing the film for The Globe and Mail, gave the film three out of four stars, calling it "aptly seductive", though he called into question whether the methods Randi used in the case of the Australian hoax were a form of dubious deceit themselves, stating, "The ultimate question in An Honest Liar is whether it’s possible to know so much about the method behind the magic without being fooled into believing your own act."[9]

David Rooney, reviewing the film for The Hollywood Reporter, thought the film "intriguing", but felt the transition from Randi's investigations to the revelations about Alvarez were too abrupt, and the conclusions lacking full coherence, and summarized the film as "a compelling magic act that loses focus in the big finish when the cloak gets whisked away."[17]

The film was a Critics' Pick of The New York Times, for which reviewer Jeannette Catsoulis called the film a "jaunty, jovial portrait with a surprising sting in its tail". Catsoulis also called the development of Randi and Alvarez's legal problems to be "moving".[20]

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a grade of "B", praising Weinstein and Measom's directorial style. Though Roeper thought that the film lost some momentum when exploring the minutiae of the Washington University hoax, and found the shift in focus of the last third of the film to the matter of José Alvarez's identity jarring, Roeper stated that Randi deserves a standing ovation for his work, and called the film "an honest portrait" of him.[22]



  1. ^ a b c d e "An Honest Liar". Tribeca Film Festival. Archived from the original on September 6, 2014. Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  2. ^ Weinstein, Justin. "An Honest Liar credits". www.anhonestliar.com. Flim Flam Films. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c "An Honest Liar" Archived 2016-03-13 at the Wayback Machine. Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  4. ^ a b "An Honest Liar (2014)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  5. ^ Sullivan, Walter (July 27, 1988). "Water That Has a Memory? Skeptics Win Second Round". The New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  6. ^ Cohen, Patricia (February 17, 2001). "Poof! You're a Skeptic: The Amazing Randi's Vanishing Humbug". The New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
  7. ^ Rodrigues, Luís F. (2010). Open Questions: Diverse Thinkers Discuss God, Religion, and Faith. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. p. 271. ISBN 978-0313386442. LCCN 2010011195. OCLC 548555665.
  8. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "All Music: Alice Cooper". allmusic. Archived from the original on November 10, 2010. Retrieved December 23, 2010.
  9. ^ a b Pevere, Geoff (August 8, 2014). "An Honest Liar: An expose of trickery". The Globe and Mail.
  10. ^ Adam Savage (August 20, 2008). "Skeptics' Guide to the Universe #215 with guest Adam Savage" (MP3). The Skeptics Guide to the Universe (Interview). Interviewed by Steve Novella; Novella, Bob; Watson, Rebecca; Bernstein, evan. Archived from the original on December 19, 2008. Retrieved November 18, 2008.
  11. ^ Shermer, Michael (ed.). "Masthead". Skeptic. Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  12. ^ "University of Herfordshire Phonebook". Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  13. ^ Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon Faculty Information, Eugene, Oregon: University of Oregon, archived from the original on February 27, 2009, retrieved July 27, 2009
  14. ^ Alcock, James (March/April 2014). "In Praise of Ray Hyman". Skeptical Inquirer. Vol 28, No. 2.
  15. ^ Sturgess, Kylie (March/April 2015). "Behind the Magic: An Interview with James Randi". Skeptical Inquirer Vol 39 No. 2, pp. 38–42.
  16. ^ "An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi Story". Kickstarter. Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  17. ^ a b c d Rooney, David (June 30, 2014). "'An Honest Liar': Provincetown Review". The Hollywood Reporter.
  18. ^ Barsanti, Chris (April 25, 2014). "Tribeca Film Festival 2014: ‘An Honest Liar’ + ‘In Order of Disappearance’". PopMatters.
  19. ^ Teplitsky, Ariel (May 1, 2014). "Worth a look: An Honest Liar". Toronto Star.
  20. ^ a b Catsoulis, Jeannette (March 5, 2015). "Review: 'An Honest Liar,' a Documentary About the Debunker James Randi". The New York Times.
  21. ^ "Exposed: Magicians, Psychics and Frauds". Storyville, BBC. Retrieved November 3, 2015.
  22. ^ Roeper, Richard (2015). "An Honest Liar (2015)". Richard Roeper & The Movies. Retrieved June 5, 2015.

External links[edit]