​​​​​​​Can you raise the dead?

Headhunter was the name, I believe, Billy originally wanted for his television series. I first met Billy Jamieson through one of his friends, an enabler really, and was with that friend in Italy, when we heard the news of Billy’s passing.

Billy collected artifacts that demonstrated our capacity to humiliate and inflict suffering on each other. His collection included, among other things, the electric chair used at Sing Sing prison, the personal diary and logbook of the executioner hired to hang those convicted at the Nuremberg Trials, and dozens and dozens of shrunken heads. Billy, if he did not have it all, had seen it all. These artifacts were, in many ways, the Devil’s playthings.

Playing cards were also considered the Devil’s playthings. Cards have a rich and decadent history, and have been used to produce misery and mystery in equal measure. And that’s where I come in.

So, when Billy died, I dreamt up this fantasy shaped by the objects that Billy collected and lived with every day, and a card trick, a famous card trick—if a card trick could be considered famous—called, Calling the Colors.

Devised in the 1940s by an magic enthusiast named Bill Simon, Calling the Colors is a cross between Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, a rite of passage for any prestidigitator seriously interested in creating mystery through pure sleight-of-hand.

What made the film magical, however, was how quickly it all came together. It had to. Billy’s 5,000 square foot condo that housed his collection had to be sold, and the collection dispersed. We had only a window of a couple days to assemble the crew, to film the performance and the collection. Fortunately a call to Daniel Zuckerbrot, and company, helped to make it happen. Together, we assembled a band of artists, just as Billy often did when he called upon his friends on short notice to help him acquire a piece for his collection.

Now having seen the finished film, I can imagine Billy, sitting at the table, engaged in some ritualistic game, biding time but still discovering beauty in the mysterious, and sharing that discovery with the spirits that inhabit his world. (Despite the thousands of dead beings in his collection, Billy was adamant that there was only one ghost, a ghost that inhabited the Victorian funeral hearse he had converted into a saltwater aquarium.) Billy plays this game not as the Devil or as an agent for the Devil, but as someone who was simply willing to suspend judgment because he knew that it was only by suspending judgment—and being patient—that one could truly discover beauty, beauty in the macabre, beauty in the mysterious.

March 2013