Monday, August 4, 2008

Derren Brown Flashback: Russian Roulette, Part 1

Derren Brown first became an international media sensation in 2003 when his Russian Roulette special aired. The stunt was simultaneously seen as a milestone in television history, a landmark in depravity, and an incredibly successful illusion.

This is part 1 of a 2-part account of the trick. I have not linked to all of the cited sources, but will do so at a future date, time permitting.

Derren Brown Flashback: Russian Roulette, Part 1

On May 14, 2003, the Guardian reported that Derren Brown was planning a Russian roulette stunt. Brown planned to choose a volunteer to place a single bullet in one of six numbered chambers of a gun. Then, as the nation watched via television, he would pull the trigger repeatedly until he arrived at the bullet, which he would shoot away from himself.

DB expressed some optimism, stating that, "If you put six items on a table and asked someone to pick one, I can always work out which one [they chose]."

When asked how he invented the stunt, Derren answered: "Oh you know, you go out, you have a few drinks, the next thing you know you've agreed to shoot your head off."

The planning of Russian Roulette was probably somewhat less spontaneous than Derren lets on. It combined one of Derren's simplest tricks with stakes high enough – and shocking enough – to generate a great deal of free publicity.

When asked where the Russian roulette special would be filmed, producer Andrew O'Connor was evasive. "It's only legal in certain countries to have a gun with live bullets and, possibly, commit suicide," he explained without identifying a filming location.

Regarding the risk of death, O'Connor commented that: "We are, of course, confident that it won't go wrong. Even so, Channel 4's decision to go with it is brave."

Derren was reportedly to use a 348 Smith & Wesson for the stunt. He attempted to allay fears by stating: "If I am not 100% sure, I will not pull the trigger. It would be humiliating but it would be preferable to the other consequences."

Prior to the stunt, Brown stated that: "It is a real gun with a real bullet and I am really putting it against my head." [afterwards he stated that even a blank would have killed him]

The day before the stunt, the Guardian ran an article entitled, "Inviting viewers to see a man risk his life is a landmark in depravity." The piece acknowledged that defenders of Brown's show could argue that it is no different than other high-risk broadcasts, such as racecar driving, in which participants can and do die on live television. The Guardian argued, however, that those other shows do not entice viewers by promising that they might see a death. That, many believed, was where Derren Brown crossed the line.

Various police officers and government officials warned that the stunt could result in copycat deaths. Brown objected to such concerns. "It does not glamorise gun violence,… We are dealing with it in the most serious and strenuous way possible. The drama will not come from the gun part, but from the fun and games and entertainment that comes from the selection process."

For his part, Derren went about his business as if he were truly preparing for a brush with death. He reportedly drafted a new will.

To be continued...

No comments: