THE CRYING GAME”— 25th Anniversary Edition

“The Crying Game”

25th Anniversary Edition

Amos Lassen

It is hard to believe that it is 25 ago that “The Crying Game” was in theatres. It was considered a shocker and had a scene that if talked about would ruin the film for many viewers and we skirted it whenever writing reviews and/or speaking to others who has not yet seen the film. With the tremendous changes that have taken place in society, I cannot help but wonder if that scene would be so shocking today and with that thought in mind, I am going to write about it here.

The year of “The Crying Game”, 1992, I was enrolled in a post-graduate course on modern Irish literature and that scene was the focus of most of the class. I remember having to write a paper about how the film affected society and so I decided to concentrate on the shocker and came up with the title, “It’s Just a Piece of Meat” and that should give you a general idea of what was so different about the movie.

“The Crying Game” opens with British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) getting kidnapped by the IRA in Northern Ireland. They demand that the UK government release one of their top men who’s recently been detained, in exchange for the soldier’s life. Fergus (Stephen Rea), one of the kidnappers, unexpectedly starts to bond with his captive even though he knows they may have to kill him. Jody tells Fergus about his lover, the beautiful Dil, and asks him to check she’s all right if the worst comes to the worst. Months pass and while in London, Fergus looks for Dil and gets to know her and they begin to fall for one another. However, that’s before a revelation that could end their romance and it isn’t that Fergus was involved in Jody’s kidnapping. There’s also the inevitable return of the IRA.

When first released, the film was considered controversial in Great Britain because the hero was a sympathetic IRA terrorist, and as a result this hurt box office even though the film itself doesn’t really have much sympathy for what the IRA were up to. In the US, however, it was quite a hit but that had to do with Dil, Jody’s girlfriend who has a penis (that is boldly shown on the screen). Most people didn’t see this coming, but it became such a huge topic of conversation that the brief moment completely overshadowed the entire rest of the movie.

It just shows how times change. Today, there might be some concern about making a member of the IRA the lead character. The Good Friday Agreement tempered attitudes toward Irish Republicanism wouldn’t be seen as terrible as it was in 1992. The advertising campaign about one of the characters being transgender/transvestite would be thought to be tasteless and would likely result in protests in today’s world. As James Joyce said in his short story “Eveline”, “everything changes”.

While in the film itself the moment is supposed to be a surprise, it is presented with utmost subtlety. That’s largely because of Jaye Davidson’s performance. Fergus completely freaks out in a rather unpleasant way but for Dil it’s just one more time of being mistreated and disappointed. All Dil wants is love. Today, it would not be acceptable to handle it in the same way today but in the context of the time and of the movie itself, it makes a lot of sense.

There is nothing gratuitous about the scene. In fact it’s a key moment in the exploration of the film’s themes. In Fergus’ relationships with both Jody and Dil, “The Crying Game” looks at someone finding a bond that they wouldn’t have thought possible and which pushes boundaries they never expected to have pushed and challenges one to think of the world in ways they had never done before. This is a story of possible internal and personal redemption and the film is basically about whether people can save themselves by changing their point of view and opening themselves up to new people.

 

Another aspect of “The Crying Game” that probably would not be seen as okay is the fact that the film never seems sure what Dil’s gender status it. Both the character herself and the script never seem certain if she’s transgender or transvestite, or whether Dil sees herself as a man, woman or genderqueer. That could be because those involved in the making of the movie didn’t really have a full grasp of the issues, as evidenced by some of the archive interviews in the bonus extras that show something of old-fashioned views of gender identity.

It does work though, even though there are moments when it does get very close to treating Dil as a man in a dress. Dil, herself, who pulls the film through in that she is very aware of people’s perceptions, and while her willingness to mould herself to be what other people want her to be is a character flaw, it is also perfectly understandable in the context of someone desperate for human connection. Even thought “The Crying Game” today doesn’t quite have the impact it once did, it’s still an excellent movie. Even with its dark themes it’s a film that wants to believe in change and that things you might think were impossible for you to face, can make you a better person if you open yourself up to them.

The film looks good in this HD Blu-ray release and has interesting extras. That includes a lengthy ‘making of…’ documentary, made several years after the movie, but long enough ago that you can still see what the attitudes of the time were and gives an interesting insight into both the film and how gender was viewed then (and often is now). It also shows what an unusual film this was, which in its way was rather groundbreaking. While some may have issues with how Dil is depicted, few successful films before or since have treated a romance between a cisgender person and a trans individual so seriously.

It’s not surprising that a film that took on such contentious issues seems a bit dated. The film’s core of hope and dedication to the idea of unexpected bonds being able to change people is something that will probably never change.

“Tell Me How This Ends Well: A Novel” by David Samuel Levinson— Meet the Jacobsons

Levinson, David Samuel. “Tell Me How This Ends well” Hogarth, 2017.

Meet the Jacobsons

Amos Lassen

Set in the year 2022, “Tell Me How This Ends Well”, we see that American Jews are feeling a sense of anti-Semitism. When the Jacobson family, Julian and Roz and their three adult children Mo, Edith and Jacob comes together for the Passover Seder that year in Los Angeles, they speak of personal issues rather what is happening in America. Right away we notice that the three siblings claim that their lives were filled with mistreatment from Julian. It also seems to them that Julian is destroying their mother as well. Soon we hear resentment from every person as they argue why they all came to the Seder in the first place. We learn that the children have a plan to

end their father’s iron rule for good. The problem is they begin arguing with each other and we see that they do not really trust one another and therefore will not be able to put the plan into effect. can put their bickering, grudges, festering relationships, and distrust of one another aside long enough to act. For the reader however, we get a view through the eyes of the Jacobsons of where America is and where it is going. I am almost embarrassed to say that I saw several of my family’s Seders as I read.

Obviously this is a very troubled family and while some of what we read comes across as funny, it is actually very sad. One thing the family does have is a lot of life in it. Perhaps that is why I found it so unsettling. We see not only the intolerance of the outside threat of anti-Semitism but also the intolerance that members of the family hold for each other. It is as if we are going to watch them destroy each other. I must say that I am truly worried about the hatred for the Jews outside of the family and was reminded all too well of what happened in Germany just seventy years ago. As the novel moves forward, I realize that this threat is both possible and terrifying. When we read the dark truths that come out of the Jacobson family, we do not get a positive view of the future of the world and that is probably what writer David Samuel Levinson wants us to feel. Is it possible to bring order to the world when we can’t do so in our own families? I love dark humor and there is plenty of it here.

This is not just a book about a family and the landscape they live in—it is a book about everything. Next time you think about what the future will bring, take a look at this book. The way it is presented to us (with intelligence and humor) gives us a lot to consider.

 

 

 

 

“Walkaway: A Novel” by Cory Doctorow— The End of Death

Doctorow, Cory. “Walkaway: A Novel”, Tor Books, 2017.

The End of Death

Amos Lassen

We meet a man of many names—Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza who his friends know as Hubert, Etc. We learn that he was too old to be at a Communist party. However he felt that there was nowhere where he could be after having seen the breakdown of society. Perhaps he could have found a place with the disaffected youth but then they tend to party all of the time. After he met a very rich heiress named Natalie who was trying to get away from her father, the two of them decided to simply walk away from society. Formal society held nothing for them.

They soon realized that the world is a dangerous place and that climate change has caused a great deal of damage, cities have been left behind as a result of industrial flight and predators are everywhere. There is a steady stream of those waling away from society and war is imminent. This is science fiction that hits very close to where we are today.

This is a story of revolution, love, and the end of death and now that anyone can, via the computer, get whatever he needs, there does not seem to be a reason who stick around. and now that anyone can manufacture food, clothing, shelter with equipment comparable to a computer printer, there seems to be little reason to stick around a world of rules and jobs. So, like hundreds of thousands of others in the mid-21st century, they simply walk away.

This is a multi-generation SF thriller about the changes of the next hundred years…and those who will live their consequences. Doctorow philosophizes about how the world that is coming might be in an age of makers, 3-D printers, mobile fabricators, and endless food sources, the book asks what life would be like. It seems that the rich have gotten richer and everyone else has walked away from society to live communally in “environmentally gutted rural areas and dead cities”. Hubert, Etc., his pal Seth and Natalie Redwater become friendly with a tech-savvy barkeep, Limpopo, who explains the precarious, money-less walkaway culture to them and says that what is there only works in practice. It’s a world where identity, sexuality, and perception are all fluid, guided by fiercely intellectual debates and the human collisions that draw people together and where all technology that exists. The walkaways discover a way to scan and preserve consciousness online. We ask the questions that if the body is gone, does perception remain? What threat might iconoclasts present to their capitalist overlords? A lot of the focus in on Natalie who is kidnapped by her father’s mercenaries. The story then becomes on of the “first days of a better nation” where immortality is the goal.

A truly visionary techno-thriller that not only depicts how we might live tomorrow, but asks why we don’t already. We get an implication of permanent decentralized storage.  Today, we are reminded that

if we don’t behave and go to work every day and what happens when  there is no more work.    It all begins at a communist party meeting where those who are there break into an abandoned factory, get high and dance. We see there that inequality is everywhere and there are only two groups of people, the super-rich and those who are out of work who have nothing to do. We get a look at walking away and leaving capitalist society. Communes are established in places where cities once had been. These communes are hi-tech, connected, moneyless economies. They 3d-print whatever they need.

We remember that cultures are made of people and we need to transform ourselves as individual people. The protagonists struggle and have no method, aside from introspection to overcome their situation.

This is the story of transforming one society into another better one. We are given a lot to think about and you might have to read this more than once to see where it is going.

 

 

 

 

 

“Bullies: A Friendship” by Alex Abramovich— An Unlikely Friendship

Abramovich, Alex. “Bullies: A Friendship”, Picador, 2017.

An Unlikely Friendship

Amos Lassen

“Bullies” is the story of a writer’s very unlikely friendship with his childhood bully, now the president of a motorcycle club in one of America’s most dangerous cities.

Once Alex Abramovich and Trevor Latham were mortal enemies. At elementary school on Long Island, the two were always after each other. As time passed and they matured into adults, they lost track of each other. Decades later, when they met again, Abramovich was a writer and Latham had become President of the East Bay Rats, a motorcycle club in Oakland.

In 2010, Abramovich moved to Oakland, California to enter Latham’s world of fight clubs, Heavy drinking and fights on the streets of the city. At the same time, Oakland was in the process of gentrification and Alex began to wonder how it was possible to live in a place filled with violence.

As Trevor and his gang, Alex explores issues of friendship, family, history, and destiny and shares what happens.

In the early 1980s, when he was in fourth grade, Alex was bullied by a boy named Trevor Latham. In 2006, Abramovich learned that Latham had become a bouncer and had started a motorcycle club, the East Bay Rats in Oakland. This intrigued him and he went to Oakland to meet Latham for the first time in more than 20 years.

Ultimately, Abramovich moved there for several years and wrote this book about Oakland, the motorcycle club culture, masculinity, violence, and the meaning of family and friendship. The story is at times quite brutal especially in the parts about the fight nights that the Rats sponsored. The Rats lived in a section of town where there was almost no police presence and where there was a lot of crime. Other parts of the book funny and sensitive. The Rats considered Abramovich as their “embedded” journalist and referred to him as just that. He was not crazy about the name but he did get to know the Rats and their community.

Abramovich shares what he found when in Oakland. Trevor works as a bouncer in a bar including Trevor, his old enemy who now accepts him as a friend. Their childhood fighting not only did not influence their friendship but rather became the basis for camaraderie. Abramovich is invited into Trevor’s where anything could happen. Alex gives us a brief history of Oakland and describes it as dysfunctional. Trevor accepts this and uses it to explain himself— he does not see right or wrong; he has learned to live with what is. He loves to use chaos to confront chaos and Alex reports what he sees with no judgment and no resolution. Closure comes in the fact that Alex’s childhood bully has not changed his own perspective has. We see what happens when a group of men who do not fit into the system, they reject it.

”The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats” by Allen Ginsberg— The Creation of a Course

Ginsberg, Allen. ”The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats”, Grove Press, 2017.

The Creation of a Course

Amos Lassen

In 1977 some twenty years after he published his landmark poem “Howl,” and Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road” hit the stores, Allen Ginsberg decided it was time to teach a course on the literary history of the Beat Generation. After creating the course, he taught it five times and through it he was given the chance to present the history of Beat Literature in his own way. Now compiled and edited by Beat scholar Bill Morgan, and with an introduction by Anne Waldman, “The Best Minds of My Generation” gives us edited lectures with their notes. We also get a look at the Beats as Ginsberg knew them as friends, confidantes, literary mentors, and fellow revolutionaries.

Ginsberg was responsible to the creation of a public perception of Beat writers and he knew all of the major figures personally. This made him uniquely qualified to be the historian of the movement. In this book, he shares stories of meeting Kerouac, Burroughs, and other writers for the first time and he explains his own way the importance of music to Beat writing. He discusses visual influences and the cut-up method, and introduces us to the group who led a literary revolution. This is a personal and critical look at one of the most important literary movements of the twentieth century.

Like many liberal arts courses getting to the end of the information that needs to be presented in the time allowed for the class rarely happens. The overwhelming amount of information is a limiting factor and different areas tend to be given more attention than others. By putting the course into book format, the information is preserved in detail and the reader is free to take in the information in any order..

Ginsberg insists that it was Kerouac who led the Beats and he is given the biggest section of the book. Ginsberg analyzes several books and gives first-hand information on Kerouac’s life and writing experience. Most of Kerouac’s books are at least semi-autobiographical and Ginsberg gives the behind scene look. William S. Burroughs is covered next and part of this section are Burroughs letters to Ginsberg while he was in South America. Ginsberg explains Burroughs cut-up style including the theory behind it. The idea is that we are presented with information in such a way to hide the real message. The cut-up reveals the true method. The idea was that you could take a speech, cut it up, rearrange the pieces, and find the true meaning.

William Carlos Williams had a great influence on Ginsberg and is praised throughout the book, Gregory Corso, Hubert Huncke, John Clellon Holmes, Carl Solomon, Peter Orlovsky, and of course Neal Cassady all have small sections of the book. Ginsberg does include himself and it is informative and very humble. As the central figure and historian of Beats, Ginsberg plays the role of the narrator rather than a major player. The introduction is by Anne Waldman poet and a member of the Outrider experimental poetry community and she provides and excellent introduction. “The Best Minds of My Generation” provides a detailed examination of the beat movement and its members. Small chapters with descriptive titles let the reader pick and choose their interests if they do not want to read the book cover to cover.

It is fascinating to read Ginsberg explaining his own development as a writer. We so often read about his literary influences and it is here that he gives concrete examples of the importance of William Carlos Williams throughout the book, and later of Christopher Smart. His description of his own transition from polished poems in a classical style to “Howl” is wonderful. So many critics seem to think of the Beat writers as wild, unrestrained, or even untalented artists but what we see here is that their mastery is quite clear. Ginsberg chose to use a particular piece of work and take it apart to explain why it works. He picks works from across each writer’s career to show development and change, and he sets it all within the literary historical framework, showing where each piece of work originated. This is what makes the book more than not just a valuable reference book for scholars. It is, in fact, a very readable text.

“More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers” by Jonathan Lethem— A Life Spent in Books

Lethem, Jonathan. “More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers”, edited by Christopher Boucher, Melville House, 2017.

A Life Spent in Books

Amos Lassen

“More Alive and Less Lonely” is a collection of more than ten years of Jonathan Lethem’s finest writing on writing including new and previously unpublished material such as appreciations of forgotten writers and overlooked books, critical essays, and personal accounts of Lethem’s literary encounters and discoveries.  What is so interesting here is that Lethem writes with the same insight about the classics and modern literature. We read about Melville and Dickens on the same high level as say Pynchon and Philip K. Dick. We sense his love for all things literary. There is always something to be learned by reading Lethem. Not all of the essays are for everybody so it takes a bit to get to the ones that a specific person enjoys.

What is unique is how Lethem manages to win people over concerning authors that they may have not cared for before reading this. Lethem makes literature exciting. I found myself reading about writers that I have never considered reading before.

 

 

“TUPAC– ASSASSINATION III: BATTLE FOR COMPTON”— Deconstructing the Context

“Tupac – Assassination III: Battle For Compton”

Deconstructing the Context

Amos Lassen

The murders of rap legends Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace have resonated with the public for over 20 years and are still unsolved. In this documentary we look at why these murders remain cold cases. We look at new evidence as well as at the power structure behind the politics of corruption inside and outside Death Row Records. We see, in detail, the embedded corruption that led to Death Row Records and the perfect storm that allowed them to operate. It seems that the problem with these two cases was that everyone was looking for hard facts but not at the context in which those facts are presented. This film deconstructs the context that led to the shooting and does so reasonably and in-depth and provides context to the events surrounding, leading up to, and after these murders. Beginning with the ‘shaping of the narrative’ in the aftermath of the killings , cover-ups are exposed and we see that there were evidence leaks from Death Row Records to the LAPD.

“Battle For Compton” clarifies the environment in which these murders happened and the reasons for the case is still open.

The body of works contained within this film makes the case of what exactly happened 20 years ago, and what has happened during these years to cover up the shameful badge abuse running rampant amongst the Compton and Los Angeles Police Departments.

The film gives proof that cops were involved with both murders, and reveals what the Los Angeles Police Department hid from us at its attempts at pinning the Shakur shooting on gangs and how their story changed many times. Through audio clips and the documents, firsthand accounts and supporting court and police documents show how corruption was present in almost every aspect of the case.

Connections ran deep between the LAPD and the gangs of Los Angeles. This is probably the reason that the police have no interest in solving the case. Blame has been thrown around during the years following the murders and there have been many theories about what really happened. We see definitely here that the case is actually much bigger than anyone has ever thought.

“PORTO’— A Love Story


“Porto”

A Love Story

Amos Lassen

Jake and Mati are two outsiders in Porto who once experienced a brief connection. There is something mysterious about the moments they shared, and in searching through memories, they relive that time. “Porto” is an American-abroad love story starring the late Anton Yelchin. Director Gabe Klinger deconstructs a one-night stand from what was and from what could have been.  

Jake (Yelchin), is an American with no direction in his life and he exists in a state of self-exile, who has coming to Porto perhaps because it’s so beautiful. Mati (Lucie Lucas) is a French archaeology student with long-nurtured sorrows of her own.

One rainy day, Jake and Mati’s eyes meet at an archaeological dig and later run into each other in a cafe, initiating an impromptu date that lasts until morning. This brief encounter is the skeleton for the screenplay by Klinger and Larry Gross. The story is deconstructed and retold three times; first from Jake’s perspective, then from Mati’s and then from both together. Each time we see subtly different connections that were made and missed on that night. Through long, seemingly simple and void sequences, we see life and its most beautiful and devastating moments in just a few minutes. Yelchin owns this film. Once he appears on the screen we concentrate on him and realize that we do not need to look at anything else. Lucas as Mati is beautiful and stunning. She is loving, sweet, passionate and scared. She needs someone but she also needs her space. She’s perfect in her contrasts.

The Old-World city of Porto, Portugal, was the filming location chosen by Klinger, who is a writer and film-studies professor as well as a director —and perhaps as indebted to his past as the couple whose brief but intense romance provides the heart of the film. Set against the streets of Porto, we watch Jake and Mati fall in love if even for a very short time. Their memories flit between one place and another, between past and present, as we are invited to imagine, relive or even try to understand what it was that so mesmerized them at the time of their meeting.

Klinger appears to be telling us that the only thing that can hold together the different phases of our lives is love. We see love here as a mystical force, capable of propping up something as ethereal and elusive as the ambiguous portrait of a memory.

“Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage” by Dani Shapiro— Marriage and Memory

Shapiro, Dani. “Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage”, Knopf , 2017

Marriage and Memory

Amos Lassen

Marriage like anything else that involves living beings changes over time. It is shaped not only by the married couple but also by outside forces and even by legislation as we have seen recently. We know that not all marriages are alike. Author Dani Shapiro invites us into her marriage as well as into her life and she shares how she sees it. As we get to know her, we see how she faces her lives. Now you may wonder why the word “lives” is in the plural and you will soon understand that she shares the life she dreamed of having and the life she actually has.

Do we ever really stop to think about what really affects the bonds we form with others and even more specifically about the bonds of marriage. We live in a world of shifting identities making it difficult to commit and this is just one of the variables that we face today. Writer Shapiro looks at literature, poetry, philosophy, and theology to gain knowledge about the challenges of matrimonial life as well as the joys and she shares what she learned with us. She writes thoughtfully, precisely and elegantly as she tells us of the young woman she used to be and the woman she became. As a young woman she has dreams, aspirations and expectations. She shares about her husband and the love they have for each other as well as their daily lives together. We see that marriage is not the glamorous life that many think that they will have. They have to deal with raising a child, paying bills and other mundane parts of life. We can only wonder if what was imagined before is still there.

“Shapiro writes of her love for her husband and for her son, alluding to the almost tragedy that happened in her son’s infancy. She writes of her parents’ relationship and her in-laws’ relationship. She writes of memories of her fateful meeting of her husband and even of her past loves. This is an open look at love and relationship between two people; not perfect but yet perfect for one another”.

As if we did not already know, we learn what it means to have a life and all that goes with it including responsibility, doubt, loss, love and disappointment.

Shapiro looks back and examines her own life, giving us examples of the positive and the negative, the good and the bad, what works and what doesn’t and how these influence the present and the future. So much of what she writes is common to many and at one point I found that even though I am male and single, she was writing about me. What is really interesting is that the book seems to be composed randomly yet reads smoothly. If you have ever played “what if” with yourself, then this is a book for you. In fact it is a book for everyone who has ever had strong feelings for someone else.

It is not easy to write about an intimate relationship while still being a part of it and the tact that courage that it took to write this is amazing. Shapiro and her husband have been married for eighteen years yet there are still vulnerabilities. To expose them poetically requires skill and this is what we see here above all else.

 

 

“HEARTSTONE”— Facing Adulthood

“Heartstone” (“Hjartasteinn”)

Facing Adulthood

Amos Lassen

Set in remote fishing village in Iceland, “Heartstone” introduces us to two teenage boys Thor and Christian as they experience a summer where one tries to win the heart of a girl while the other discovers new feelings toward his best friend. When summer ends and the harsh nature of Iceland takes over, they realize that the time has come to movie into adulthood.

“Heartstone” shows us the dramatic hardships of cruel, confusing adolescence and fumbling sexual awakenings and does so with detail, and both come from first-time director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson. The film captures a community of wayward youth in an Icelandic fishing village. We focus on fourteen-year-old Thor (Baldur Einarsson), a angelic-looking boy whose voice is maturing faster than his body, and his best friend Kristján (Blær Hinriksson), a tall, blonde withdrawn teen. Both teenagers are on the verge of manhood, with Thor directing his attention to one of the local girls and Kristján silently harboring feelings for Thor.

Set mostly outdoors against a gorgeous landscape, we get powerful performances from young people with no formal acting background. Adolescence in the cinema is not new and we have begun to see more and more films about it. The fact that this is something every person goes through makes it a unique experience that is too personal to share. This is exactly what lies behind the movie: a personal story based on the director’s experience of growing up in a remote fishing village.

Like in any Scandinavian film, nature is a part of the story. What makes this story different is that it is, above all, about human nature. Our story takes place surrounded by a cold sea, flat grounds and green mountains and the natural harshness and beauty are the yin and yang of this story. This is a story of a strong, beautiful bond between two boys that is framed with aggression and violence from the very first moments. In the opening scene we see an act of meaningless aggression by one of the boys calling a fish ugly and then jumping on it. We learn that Thor is exposed to constant humiliation thanks by his sisters and he lets his inner aggression out in a form of offending other people, spitting and kicking the grass. We wonder if there is any escape from this world of cruelty. This is the world that the characters here live in and they are used to it— it is the normal world to them.

The film is made up of many separate details including the relationship between parents and children, homosexuality, life in a rural village and life in a closed society, first love, awakening sexuality, puberty, closed society, friendship, suicide. What the film is really about is discovering one’s true self and this is a painful and harsh process from which no one can escape. We are all exposed to this at an early age and we see here that with no support, it is impossible to express feeling about going through it.. There is always something left behind afterwards and it defines our lives and who we are. The story here is about awkward, obstinate teenagers becoming grown-ups and they are still awkward and obstinate but a little bit wiser, stronger and better.