A Vertical Sawing is a sawing in half illusion in which it appears that someone is being sawn in half vertically, i.e. from head to toe, rather than across the body through the waist.
Miss Boots (Ovette) sawing
In this version of the illusion, the magician shows a vertical box, which is supported on a low frame, and has two full-height doors in the front panel. Both the top and bottom panels have two holes in them, and the box is designed to separate into two halves vertically (i.e. left and right). The magician then introduces his main assistant, who is dressed in white, and wears large white boots and matching large gloves. The assistant steps into the box, placing their legs through the holes in the bottom panel and their gloved hands through the holes in the top panel. The magician then closes the doors on the front of the box, locking the assistant inside. With the doors closed, all that is visible of the assistant is their boots and gloves projecting out of the box. Using a large cross-cut saw, the magician and another assistant then saw downwards through the box, between the assistant's gloves hands, dividing them in two. Having sawn through the box, the magician then inserts two large metal dividers into the cut and, having done that, pulls the box halves apart. Having shown the assistant in two halves, the magician then pushes the box halves back together, removes the divider blades and opens the doors to show the assistant inside. The assistant then steps out of the box and joins the magician to take their bows.
Sorcar-style sawingThe Sorcar-style sawing is similar to the Miss Boots sawing, except the box is full-height, and the holes are placed in the front doors rather than being in the top and bottom panels. Additionally, the assistant does not wear the large boots and gloves of the Miss Boots sawing. It is generally known as the Sorcar-style sawing as it is most associated with the Indian magician Sorcar Jr, although it has occasionally been performed by other magicians.
In this version of the illusion, the assistant climbs into the box and, after the doors have been closed, places their bare arms and legs through the holes in the doors. The magician then saws downwards through the box, inserts the divider blades, and separates the box halves. All the time the magician is sawing through the box, and while the halves are separated, the assistant's arms and legs can be seen moving, showing that they are not fake. Sometimes, while the box halves are still separated, the magician will invite audience members to shake hands with the divided assistant to further show that the hands and legs are real. The magician then pushes the box halves back together, removes the dividers and releases the assistant from the box.
Vanni Pule's "Joking Apart"Maltese magician Vanni Pule performs a version of the vertical sawing that he calls "Joking Apart". This name comes from the painting of the front of the box, which carries a figure of a Joker or Harlequin. The box has a hole in the front for the assistant's face, two more for their hands, and a final two for their feet. It also has a slot in the front from the base to just below the face hole. The assistant enters the box via a door in the side, placing their face, hands and feet in the appropriate holes. With the assistant locked in the box, the magician then inserts two divider blades into the slot in the front of the box, cutting the assistant in two from their crotch to their chest. With the dividers in place, the magician is then able to hinge one side of the box upwards to separate the two sides of the assistant's lower body. At all times throughout their division, the assistant's face, hands and feet remain in view and moving. The magician then hinges the box half back down into position, removes the blades and releases the assistant from the box.
David Copperfield's "Blade" illusionIn 1993, magician David Copperfield premièred a new version of the vertical sawing in his stage shows, which he called "The Blade". Designed by Don Wayne and built by David Mendoza, this was the first "visible" vertical sawing.
The performance begins with Copperfield introducing a very large blade, which is lowered from the ceiling by a hoist. He then explains that, while most magicians cut people in half across their waist, he's devised a new way to do it. The blade is then raised back to the ceiling and swung behind the curtains. The curtains are then raised to show the blade suspended in the air with a female assistant hanging from a strap attached to the edge of the blade. The assistant is dressed in white, and wears large boots and gloves as in the Miss Boots sawing. After a short routine where both assistant and Copperfield hang from the strap below the blade and spin around, they are lowered back down to the stage and a large box is introduced, supported above the stage on a low frame. The assistant climbs into the box, placing her legs in a pair of stocks in the lower edge of the box, and extending her gloved hands through holes in the sides of the box. Copperfield then locks her legs in place using the stocks and closes the curtains that form the front of the box. With the curtains closed, all that is visible of the assistant is her boots extending out of the bottom of the box and her gloved hands extending out of the sides. The blade is then raised above the box, taking Copperfield with it. Standing on top of the box, Copperfield guides the blade down through a slot in the middle of the box, cutting the assistant in two from head to toe. Two male assistants turn the box side-on to the audience to show that the blade does indeed pass right through the box, before the blade is lifted out of the box again. The male assistants then insert two large divider blades into the front of the box. Then then pull the box halves apart, allowing the hoist to lower Copperfield and the blade back down to the stage.
With the assistant divided, Copperfield opens the curtains to show the assistant's divided form within, with the left half of their body in the left-hand box, and the right half in the right-hand one. In the original stage presentation of the illusion, both curtains were opened at the same time, but in later televised performances, just one curtain was opened at a time. The curtains are then closed, the box halves pushed back together, and the divider blades removed. The curtains are then reopened to show the now restored assistant within, who Copperfield then releases from the leg stocks, allowing her to step down out of the box.
First performed by Copperfield in 1993 in his stage shows, this appeared in his 1995 TV special The Magic of David Copperfield XVI: Unexplained Forces. Although Copperfield normally performed it on one of his usual female assistants, he did very occasionally also perform it on his then-wife, supermodel Claudia Schiffer. Shortly after being featured in the TV special, it was removed from the stage show, and is not known to have been performed since.
Later standing versionsMagician Ken Rush performs a version of the vertical sawing in which the assistant's bare arms project out of holes in the sides of the box, being supported by brackets located below the holes. With the assistant secured in the box, large divider blades are pushed through the box from front to back, allowing the box halves to be moved apart. With the assistant separated, the box halves are then turned around 180-degrees and pushed together, which allows the divided assistant to shake hands with herself. The box halves are then turned back around and pushed back together, allowing the dividers to be removed and the restored assistant to be released from the box.
Prone vertical sawings
The earliest vertical sawing was devised by Joseph Dunninger, and involved a long, shallow box mounted on rails that extended across the stage. At the midpoint of the rails, a large buzzsaw was mounted. At the start of the performance, the box was over to one side, clear of the saw, and the end was opened to allow the assistant to slide inside. Her feet would extend from the side nearer the saw, and when the top was closed her hands would extend from it. Cuffs with long chains were applied to her wrists and ankles to prove she did not pull her hands and feet inside. The box would then be slide into the saw, which would apparently slice through the assistant. Swords would be pushed down through the box to prove the assistant was not hiding in one part. With the box across the saw, the assistant would be asked to move her hands and feet. Finally, the box would be slide the whole way across, and the assistant released.
Early in his career, David Copperfield included such a sawing in two of his early specials. The illusion involved a platform, raised over head height, on which the magician lay down, and then restrained. He was covered with a box so that only his hands and feet were visible. A saw is then passed down the centre of the box from below, apparently sawing the magician in half. On one special the sawing was by Marie Osmond, and on another it was by Cindy Williams.
A different type of vertical sawing was devised by Simon Drake for one of his TV shows. A box is used which is similar to that used in a Clearly Impossible sawing, but which has a lengthways slot from between the feet to just below the neck. The magician is lying within this box at the start of the performance, and his entry is not show. A large hand saw is placed through the slot in the box and between the magician's ankles. The assistant then begins to saw through the magician. The effect is presented with blood and gore, and no restoration is shown. As no actual separation of the box takes place, this is a "sawing through" illusion, rather than a true sawing in half. In both televised versions, the sawing was performed on the magician, although Drake performs it on one of his female assistants in his live shows.
The "Holly Box"
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In November 2006, magician Criss Angel premièred a brand new lengthways visible sawing which had been developed for him by designer Franz Harary. At the end of an interview on British daytime TV show This Morning, he locked interviewer Holly Willoughby inside a translucent horizontal box and used a five-foot circular saw to saw her in half lengthways.
Just over a year later, in December 2007, Harary made a rare TV appearance on the 2007 Royal Variety Performance in the UK, performing a revised and more "family friendly" version of the illusion. In this new version, the assistant, who in this performance was once again Holly Willoughby, was placed in a translucent vertical box to be divided in a standing position.
As both of these performances featured Holly Willoughby as the assistant being divided, and as Angel also performed the illusion a number of times on his then-girlfriend Holly Madison, these versions of the illusion have become commonly known as "The Holly Box".