Friday, 29 March 2013

Tricks of the Pickpocket Trade

Writing is a uncertain way of making a living. Most people need backup skills and an alternative method for generating an income. Here's something that might appeal to you... picking pockets. Your teacher tonight will be Apollo Robbins.

Robbins, who is thirty-eight and lives in Las Vegas, is a peculiar variety-arts hybrid, known in the trade as a theatrical pickpocket. Among his peers, he is widely considered the best in the world at what he does, which is taking things from people’s jackets, pants, purses, wrists, fingers, and necks, then returning them in amusing and mind-boggling ways.

In more than a decade as a full-time entertainer, Robbins has taken (and returned) a lot of stuff. He is probably best known for an encounter with Jimmy Carter’s Secret Service detail in 2001. While Carter was at dinner, Robbins struck up a conversation with several of his Secret Service men. Within a few minutes, he had emptied the agents’ pockets of pretty much everything but their guns.


In magic circles, Robbins is regarded as a kind of legend. Recently, psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and the military have studied his methods for what they reveal about the nature of human attention.

Here's a short video in which he shows some of the how of his trade.


IMDb    Website    Wikipedia ________________________________________________________________________

In 1953, Sam Fuller made a film called Pickup on South Street. (The film was remade in South Africa in 1967 as The Cape Town Affair.) At the time, "pickup" was New York slang for picking a pocket. Sam Fuller knew a few professional pickpockets; he also knew Dan Campion, the Chief Detective of the Pickpocket Squad of the City of New York, who became an advisor on the film.

Apollo Robbins poses for a photo while picking a pocket from under the cover of a newspaper.
The paper is held well out of the way here for the benefit of the intended audience.
In Pickup on South Street,  Richard Widmark steals a purse from a lady's handbag
under the cover of a newspaper.
In The Cape Town Affair,  James Brolin steals a purse from a lady's handbag
under the cover of a newspaper.
I grew up on a housing estate where a disproportionate number of people were burdened with larcenous inclinations. One of my brothers was in and out of prison from the age of 15. The first time he went in, he was an angry country boy who scored high on initiative and low on knowledge. When he came out, he was a walking encyclopaedia of criminal ways and means. I spent a lot of time as a teenager listening to stories about criminal techniques. Although I eventually chose the straight path in life, I never entirely lost my interest in the alternatives.

If you'd like to know more about Mr Robbins and his unusual skills, here's a (long) article in The New Yorker you might like to read.

1 comment:

Kathy Smart said...

This video shows there will always be masters who can direct your attention exactly as they wish. Film makers, of course, need to study how to direct the audience's attention.