We're now well into January, and within the next week there will be a major event in the literary life of our community, and the first of seven cultural events for lovers of good films.
This week, let's split the column, between a presentation at the James Prendergast Public Library, and a series of films to be shown at the Robert H. Jackson Center, both in Jamestown. You would be well advised to participate in both.
THE GOSPEL TRUTH
About a hundred years ago, our area was a very different place from what it is now, although if we could be magically transformed to those early days, no doubt we would find much that hasn't changed, as well.
Local author and storyteller Paul Leone has provided us just such a glimpse of Chautauqua County in the earliest days of the 20th Century, in his recently-released novel ''The Gospel Truth: A Late History of the Town of Busti, Chautauqua County, New York.''
Next Saturday, at 2 p.m., Leone will be present in the Fireplace Room at the James Prendergast Public Library, in downtown Jamestown, to discuss his novel, which he describes as ''a satirical mock history, full of downright good fun.'' The event is free of charge and the public is invited to attend.
Also present at the library will be artist Gary Peters, Jr., who has illustrated Leone's book with seven pen-and-ink drawings. Area residents have encountered Peters in a wide variety of artistic endeavors, from playing a leading role in the Jamestown Community College production of ''The Producers,'' to performing inspired comedy with comedy troupe ''The Unexpected Guests,'' to his large murals portraying Lucille Ball, which are found throughout the downtown area of Jamestown.
Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the presentation, and both author and illustrator are willing to autograph copies, following the presentation.
Readers who are familiar with Leone's writing, from both his factual histories and his lyrical fiction, know that he has a gift not unlike that of writer Mark Twain, for believably portraying both the strengths and the weaknesses of people from the past. His characters had far less opportunity for education than most contemporary people have, and had far less opportunity to understand and appreciate what's happening in the rest of the world, yet they had a respect for learning, and the ability to contemplate serious issues which has been seriously blunted by modern people's opportunities to shut off their minds and spend their time allowing mechanical devices to do their thinking for them.
He writes of a simpler age, when people created tall tales themselves, for the sake of entertaining their listeners, and perhaps appearing more worthy of admiration in the eyes of their contemporaries. People today get their tall tales from cable news personalities and radio commentators, who twist and distort the most simple disagreements into a perpetual war of imaginary good versus evil.
The gist of the novel is that the local judge, Squire A. Fletcher Applebaum, has decided that he wants his children and grandchildren to know the world in which he lived, through the eyes and the minds of the people who shared the experiences with him.
The judge decides that he and four of his friends will each describe some element of life in the Town of Busti. Their separate accounts will be handed in to the local storekeeper, Ebenezer Rathbourne, who is charged with editing and providing a context for them and their points of view.
A final word is added by the oft-married Miss Maude, who seems to stroll gracefully through the lives of all five narrators, perhaps noticing more the true things they've told about themselves than the colorful events they claim to have witnessed.
Farmer Granville ''Granny'' Higgins describes how the weather in Busti is so suddenly changeable that geese might become frozen in a pond.
Horse trader Bill Crowley recounts tales of the local doctor who made his own medicinal tonic which was highly respected and much used by folks of all walks of life, although the fact that its principal ingredient was alcohol, may have been a major reason for its popularity.
The trader also recounts the exotic adventures in far off Africa, of the missionaries who have been supported by the Missionary Aid Society and its picnics and balls, which raise the funds to keep the missionaries at their work.
The judge himself can't decide if he is a supporter or an opponent of the technology which is introducing automobiles, telephones, and electric lights into the narrators' world. He tells of his invitation to Miss Maude to accompany him to Cleveland on the train, to purchase his very first automobile, and the adventures which he claims they had on the drive back to home.
The judge, like his fellow narrators, insists on spelling ''technology'' as ''teck-now-lo-gy,'' as though the word itself needs to be dissected and examined before any trust is to be invested.
Probably the most colorful of the narrations comes from Sven Olsen, a farmer who has settled on the crown of Swede Hill. Among Sven's interests is baseball, and he has formed a tight friendship with one Angel Paisoni, who was rendered totally blind by a bolt of lightning, but who was the leading player on the local baseball team because his sense of smell had become so developed by his blindness that Angel could run, hit the ball, and catch flies with the best of them.
Sven describes a most unexpected pet of his own, who has made his doing of chores far easier than they once were.
Sure, the stories are no doubt as exaggerated as the ''stretchers'' which Twain describes in his tales of Huckleberry Finn, but they tell us a great deal about the people who think they are believable, and possibly even about ourselves, in our assurance that they are not to be believed.
The novel has only 76 pages in hard bound edition, and is priced for sale at $16, Find them for sale at places such as the gift shop of the Fenton History Society, as well as before and after Leone's presentation next Saturday, at the library. If you need to seek the book out, you can use ISBN number 978-0-9658955-9-0.
The book is so new that it hasn't yet been processed into the collections of local libraries, but there will be copies available for borrowing in the near future. While you're at it, you might want to take a look at other of Leone's writings. I see a number of different ones available for borrowing, including ''The Horse Fiddle,'' and ''Chautauqua Ghosts.''
The humor is gentle and never cruel or mocking. And it tells us a great deal about how women came to have the right to vote and how paved roads and the sound of the internal combustion engine became part of our lives, which might cause us to think a bit differently about our own challenges.
JACKSON CENTER MOVIES
Stretching along Prendergast Ave., between Fourth and Fifth Streets, in downtown Jamestown, the Robert H. Jackson Center was created to honor the life and the life's work of one of our community's most influential and significant former residents.
Robert H. Jackson had a successful life as an attorney and in a variety of government posts, but he is most respected for two: he served as the principal prosecutor of the chief surviving Nazi leaders at Nuremberg, immediately after World War II, and he served with distinction on the U.S. Supreme Court, participating in some of the most important decisions ever made by that body, including ''Brown vs. Board of Education.''
Since its founding, the center has given a great deal of energy and concentration, not only on Jackson's history, but on the attempt to provide education to the community on the vital role of law in preserving our culture and our way of life.
The center has recently announced that it will invite the public into its beautiful and very comfortable theater, to see seven films, all of which deal with the courts and the legal system. The first film will be shown Wednesday evening, beginning at 7 p.m., and a new one will be shown every other Wednesday, through the middle of April.
Admission to the films is free of charge. If viewers wish to remain after the films and discuss, they may do so, but there will be no official program, so that the audience can get home as soon after the end of the films as they choose.
The film series was created by Gregory L. Peterson, attorney, and President and former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Jackson Center. The seven films were selected from a list of the top 25 films about the legal system, as chosen by the American Bar Assn.
Peterson said recently, ''We were glad to work with the staff of the James Prendergast Library, to put together these showings.
The library's director, Catherine A. Way, said recently, ''We hope the films will provide food for thought and people will look forward to viewing them with others.''
The films represent many views of the law, and come from many different areas of the world and different aspects of the law, but they all explore their action, issues, and characters in the context of a legal trial. I hope you'll invest some Wednesday evenings and seeing these films and sharing them with your friends and neighbors. It's a chance to see the inside of the Jackson Center, and to learn more about all the things it has to offer.
Here is a brief description of the seven films:
While driving through the fictional Beechum County, Alabama, New Yorkers Billy and his friend Stan chance to stop at a convenience store, at the exact time the store is being robbed. The clerk is killed in the robbery, and witnesses incorrectly describe the two out-of-towners as the killers. Lacking money or any understanding of how much trouble they're in, the young men hire Billy's Cousin Vinny, who has recently passed the bar exam and has never participated in an actual trial, to defend them.
Much of the film centers on the interplay between the laid back, old-school judge, as played by Gwynne, and the high energy, slick-talking New York attorney, played by Pesci.
Among the film's stars are James Stewart, George C. Scott, and Lee Remick.
The film takes place in a small town on Michigan's sparsely populated Upper Peninsula. Stewart plays a folksy, small town attorney, who is hired by Ms. Remick to defend her husband, who has been arrested for murder. The district attorney, aware of the Stewart character's cagey skills, brings in a high powered state prosecutor - played by Scott - from the state's capital of Lansing.
The case goes back and forth, as sympathy for the skills of the big city D.A. contrasts with the laid back folksiness of the local attorney. The end of the film has often been described as a great surprise.
The plot concerns the trial of three Australian soldiers for the killing of three South Africans, in 1902, during the Boer War.
In background, the English government, which was governing Australia as a colony, in those days, wanted to end the war with a peace treaty. It has occurred to the English that if they demonstrated they were willing to punish their own troops, in defense of their enemies, that it would make them appear more trustworthy and make the treaty more likely to be accepted.
The issue is important in the film, whether soldiers can be trained, sent into battle and instructed to kill, yet can be expected to decide the legal fineries of when and whom they should not kill.
The film and its cast were nominated for both Academy Awards and Golden Globe awards.
The cast includes Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, and Charles Laughton.
The plot concerns a handsome young man who is accused of having murdered an older woman who had become enamored of him, and who had left him all of her wealth, in her will.
The defendant's wife is a beautiful German woman who at first provides an alibi for him, but eventually changes her mind and volunteers to testify for the prosecution.
The defense attorney immediately launches an effort to disprove the wife's testimony, seeking reasons she would have turned against her husband and gain she would make from creating a false conviction.
As a publicity stunt, audiences who bought tickets to the film were required to sign a statement that they would not reveal the ending of the film to anyone. Even the British royal family were required to sign the paper.
This film also received a rating of 100 percent from the Rotten Tomatoes site. The same plot was re-made in the 1980s as a television movie, and the play version has been performed around our area, most recently by the Warren Players.