Directed by Harry Pallenberg and Phil Noyes
Slight but entertaining—though overlong at only 80 minutes—the documentary Women in Boxes takes a look at the unsung heroes of magic acts: the assistants. Directors Pallenberg and Noyes assemble interviews with female assistants of all ages, from a woman who came from a circus family and started assisting her magician father in the 1950s to younger second-generation assistants who hope to take center stage as magicians themselves. The interviews are often awkwardly shot, the editing can be choppy, and the archival footage is not always in the best condition, but the film provides some intriguing insights despite its cinematic shortcomings.
Nearly every assistant interviewed is married or related to the magician she works with, emphasizing what a trusting and intimate relationship the magician/assistant dynamic is. The explorations of family legacy in magic and in assisting also offer glimpses into a world rarely hinted at onstage. But the movie touches only briefly on the sexism inherent of the professional magic world and in the way assistants are treated and viewed by audiences, giving it a disappointingly superficial feel. Still, the sometimes-fascinating anecdotes and colorful characters provide just enough amusement that Women in Boxes might make for a decent cable special or souvenir DVD at the Magic Castle someday.
The bottom line: ***