Our community has never lacked for creative thinkers.
A few years ago, a group of six graduates of the State University of New York at Potsdam came to Jamestown, and formed a theater company called the Bunbury Theatre Company. The young artists created a performing space out of an empty basement with their own hands, and for several years, performed challenging, intelligent theater.
They introduced Jamestown to the writing of Oscar Wilde, Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, and others of the great minds who have created our culture. Sadly, they fell afoul of the well-known local dislike of ''things I have to think about,'' and they are now dispersed to many areas of the country. Among the members of this now historic group was Bryan S. Higby. His wife, Amy Payeur, was also among the members of the company.
Higby completed his first novel at the age of 15. While he lived in Jamestown Higby wrote two more. The pair he wrote in Jamestown were expected to be followed by a third, on which he was still working, when he left town. Their titles are ''The Diary of a Logos,'' and ''A Logos at Large.''
The as-yet unpublished third novel was the completion of a trilogy which began with the pair from Jamestown. All dealt with material which was a little bit like Franz Kafka, a little bit like Mickey Spillane, and a lot of things which were other worldly and mysterious.
Even while he was here, Higby was interested in filmmaking. Now he is in the process or releasing to the public a commercial film, which will soon be available on DVD. It is an anthology of seven short films, three of which were shot at familiar sites, right here in our community.
This week's column is dedicated to Higby and to the creative spirit which has produced this piece of artistry. We've decided to make an attempt to break the deadly cycle which has become a ''Catch 22,'' which swallows up the work of many young writers and filmmakers.
Newspapers and other media outlets are reluctant to review or discuss works of art until they are published. Meanwhile, publishers and companies which create and/or sell books and films are reluctant to invest in advancing them until there is a market for them, which presumably is created by publicity.
We hope that some day soon, Higby's film will be available for sale in public outlets such as Amazon.com and Blockbuster.com. Higby is also examining other distributing companies. We just searched both those sites, and as of today, they aren't available yet. Maybe they will be, by the time this is published. I hope you care enough to look into it.
As I've said in the past, pioneers can't just check into the Holiday Inn.
TRANSMISSIONS: VOLUME ONE
Higby's anthology film bears the title ''Transmissions: Volume One.'' He calls the production company ''No Budget Cinema,'' obviously with good reason.
The seven short films on the disc range in quality and in style. Most were clearly recorded with a single camera, with actors wearing their own clothes and lighting, pretty much limited to what was available on the sites at which they were filmed.
The sound gets quite loud, then sometimes fades. Obviously, these are very early works in the filmmaker's career.
All of the seven works are abstract. One is clearly an allegory. Others may be.
Higby is fascinated by the fact that people sometimes snap in a single moment, from one reality to a totally different one. An individual may be pursuing a criminal with Sherlock Holmes, in 19th Century England, when the ringing of a phone makes him close his book or turn off the film and snaps him into his own home in 21st Century Jamestown, for example.
Someone may be stepping on stage as the leading actor of a Broadway production when a ringing alarm clock wakes him from that dream and reminds him he will soon be due at work, in the real world.
Often the key which separates two separate worlds is a typewriter. At least, that's the one which seems to fixate Higby's attention. Eschewing computers and pens, he utilizes typing on manual, portable typewriters as an image, again and again.
Let me give you a brief description of each of his seven short films:
Later we may see him, once again doing his daily things.
Morgue is not a success in the private eye game. He sleeps on a couch in his office, and dresses like someone who doesn't dress well.
From time to time we see one or more people typing away on manual typewriters. Are they creating Morgue and the people of his reality? One thing for certain, there is definitely a monkey room, behind the closet, wherever poor Morgue goes.
One of the strongest elements of this first film is electronic music, by Jesseca Trainham and by Halle Brown and Isaiah Carter.
A phone call, however important, which is made to a telephone where there is nobody to answer, is probably a waste of a phone call. Higby probably needs to do a better job of connecting his creativity to the perception of his observers, if he wants his art to go beyond his own entertainment.
But, there is a wealth of material to challenge your thinking. I'm not at all sure I understood it, but I did enjoy working at doing so.
Best part of this film was the appearance of a number of local sites and individuals. Dr. La Mancuso's office played a major roleas a setting, for example. Joe Scapelitte was the frightened protagonist, and Len Barry was a bullying rival employee at the protagonist's employer.
If you end up seeing this one, I hope you'll share your thoughts on it with me.
Like ''Billy,'' the setting is clearly in Jamestown, and the actors are local. It takes place entirely in the Labyrinth Press Coffee House, on E. Second St., in downtown Jamestown.The actors are Higby himself and the artistic director of the Bunbury Company, Matthew Hamilton-Kraft.
The film is intelligent, funny, and has a bit of an intellectual kick to it, at the same time.
The plot is a familiar one which goes back to Boccaccio and to Geoffrey Chaucer. A group of friends plan a crime, but their individual greed and distrust of one another turns the cleverly-planned event into something which none of them expects.
Anyone who loves the so-called Films Noir which were so popular in the 1930s and 1940s will especially enjoy the effort, although it takes a miracle for a modern actor to pull off a line like ''You might end up with a pair of concrete galoshes.''
Edgar Allen Poe's poem ''The Raven,'' is famed for its portrayal of a narrator who creates a horrible fate for himself, which is in no way influenced by anyone or anything outside himself, and then who insists upon that fate, rejecting all salvation. He is convinced that a mysterious bird is hypnotizing him, but the reader understands that the raven of the title says only one word, and the narrator chooses to ask question after question to which that word is a distressing answer.
This film presents actor Rick Snyder, who creates a giant mask, which completely covers his head. The mask resembles the head of a raven. Snyder hangs the mask over his door, and allows it to distract him from the normal activities of his life to the point that he finally puts it on, over his own head, and allows his fixation on a simple object which he has created himself to replace his own head with the nightmare of the mask's reality, instead of his own.
This film is also was enriched by jazzy and appealing music by Jesseca Trainham.
The DVD has an ''extras'' section, which seems to be a collection of outtakes and deleted scenes, without narration.
With no background, nor any information, that's what was aroused in my thinking by Higby's films. I hope you get a chance to see them, and you'll let me know what they inspired in you.
Since we have a bit of space left, allow me to share with you a skillfully written and deeply absorbing novel, from the New York Times Bestseller List. It is called ''The Gargoyle,'' by Canadian author Andrew Davidson,
Like some of Higby's films, this book tries to take a classic story and to set it in a contemporary setting, where it will enlighten contemporary readers who might not relate to the universality of the original.
The classic base, in this case, is ''The Divine Comedy'' by Italian poet Dante Alighieri. The poem is a huge allegory in which the poet imagines himself taken on a tour to see Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell, and he struggles to explain both what he saw there, and the moral meaning of those things, for his living audience.
The most famous segment of the poem is the vivid description of Hell, which is often presented by itself, with the title ''Inferno,'' or ''Dante's Inferno.''
Within the first two pages of ''The Gargoyle,'' we meet a narrator, whom we never meet by name. We learn that he is young, rich, and dazzlingly handsome. One sunny Good Friday morning, he is driving under the influence of cocaine, with a partially full bottle of bourbon clutched between his knees. Suddenly a vision of flaming arrows coming toward him causes him to lose control of his expensive car, burst through the guard rail, and plunge into a ravine.
Car and driver are engulfed in flames. The alcohol from his open bottle, spills everywhere and becomes an accelerant to the flames. Our narrator regains consciousness in the burn unit of a small hospital, so badly burned that he isn't expected to live. Used to being admired from the first glance, and being surrounded by people who envy him and want to be with him, he now is a gargoyle, in constant pain, who frightens and disgusts strangers who happen to see him, unexpectedly.
As he drifts in and out of consciousness, and copes with the powerful pain killers which he is prescribed for his pain, our narrator originally has trouble distinguishing his dreams from reality. Gradually, he learns that he is being frequently visited in the hospital by a woman named Marianne Engel. She is always described by her entire name. She has agreed to pay his enormous medical bills, and wants him to agree to come and live at her house, where she will agree to nurse him, when he no longer needs to be in the hospital.