Magician Chung Ling Soo, actually an American named William Robinson, was born on this day in 1861. But it was the other end of his life in 1918 for which he is better known, when he was killed in a bullet-catching trick gone horribly wrong, an episode which turns up as an anecdote in Gus Van Sant’s interminable mumblefest Last Days. Robinson copied the act of an actual Chinese magician, Ching Ling Foo, and advertised his putative origins in expensive full-colour posters which spoke to the public’s conception of mysterious, opium-crazed China. What these posters lacked in authenticity or racial sensitivity they made up for in graphic impact and exotic, kaleidoscopic elegance.
“Oriental Splendour and Weird Mysticism”