“DARK STAR” H.R. GIGER’S WORLD— GIGER’S LAST YEARS

dark star poster

Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s World

Giger’s Last Years

Amos Lassen

Surrealist artist H. R. Giger (1940–2014) created monsters that terrified audiences Ridley Scott’s Alien. He has influenced science fiction, horror, music, tattoos, album covers, fetish art and so on. Sci-fi, horror, music, album covers, tattoos and fetish art. His paintings are intricate and he has done some amazing sculptures. This documentary by Brenda Sallen looks at the end of Giger’s life and how much of him is in the art he made.

dark1

Giger never had a problem feeling at home, even in places that most of us would not want to be, He was also happy to live among things that most of us fear. His world was the world of the strange and the unlikely. Some have referred to him as “the bearer of dark messages, charting our nightmares, drafting maps of our subconscious and molding our primal fears.” He was as acclaimed as he was controversial.

dark2

We see interviews with him are quite short and many are with his personal and professional entourage.



dark3

“DAY OF YOUTH”— Romance, Brain Damage and Life after College

day of youth

 “DAY OF YOUTH”

Romance, Brain Damage and Life after College

Amos Lassen

It is always fun to watch a movie filmed where you live because you recognize so many places. Director Jared Vincenti’s “Day of Youth” was filmed right here and as I watched, I found myself filled with Boston pride. The film premieres at the 2015 Boston LGBT Film Festival, just a short wait from now. Having seen an advance copy, I can tell you that it is well worth the wait.

Rhee (Alice Tully) wakes up in a hospital after a serious bike accident and well she is basically okay, she has no memory of the last three years of her life. Two of her exes, Aran (Joe Kidawsky) and Nat (Alex Sweeney) vie to win her back and now she has to decide whether she will choose a boyfriend or a girlfriend or neither and start something brand new. The film deals with what to do when one suddenly loses a past and have the freedom to start life all over again. In fact, Rhee is unable to find any great changes from what she is told has been her past and she is still unemployed and moving from boyfriend to girlfriend and back and forth over and over. She is still living at home with her father and while she wants to move forward, Nat and Aran take advantage the fact that she cannot remember her past and use that to try to get another chance with her. The time to make a decision about her life is coming with the New Year and all three characters have to deal with the situations they now find themselves in. While this is a comedy, we feel the angst of the characters as they begin to realize that the hopes that they have for themselves may never materialize. We really feel this with Rhee who returns to the world that is very much the same as the one she left with her accident. It’s a feeing that all too many college graduates share. I can honestly say that every so often, as I watched the film, that this is not a film at all but a look at the real world. Each and every one has experienced the same feelings we see here—we have all waited for that big break and while some get it, many do not. We spend so much of our lives waiting because we believe that when that big break comes, it will validate the years of our youth and give meaning to the lives we live in the present. Personally, I believe, that that what we are waiting really depends on how we wait and what we do during that period.

day of youth1

All is not hopeless however and there is a message here. Life is not like we usually live it as young people and there is a big world out there where people work, succeed and live. None of us have to face a life of mediocrity misery and/or nothingness but it is our call and up to us to change courses we are on by a little bit rethinking, redoing and reinvention. We have seen it happen time and again and I reminded of two of the big news in the world of music—Madonna and Cher. When their careers begin to hit a slow point, they considered the options and came back even stronger than before.

Vincenti made “Day of Youth” on a tight and small budget. He listened to his friends as he was thinking about how to do this film but most important is that he knew he had a good idea and he was determined to see it through and he managed to get people to work on the film doing what they loved to do. When someone is doing something he relishes, commitments are not difficult to get.

Memory defines so much of what we do and we see this played out here. Rhee has lost her memory but Vincenti did not and even though the idea of the film came to him a few years ago, it continued to germinate in his mind until the time was right to act on it. Using the themes of nostalgia, the inability to move and change, Vincenti continued to develop his plot. Sure, he had to make changes because of finances but because he was willing to compromise and had a good team to work with, the film became a reality and we get to enjoy it. It isn’t perfect but first attempt is?

The very idea of a story about characters that are in a rut and not able to move onto the next part of their lives is a universal theme. It is fear that so often holds us back but I have always found that when speaking about something I fear alleviates the issue greatly. So many of us fear that which we do know—the disadvantaged, the disabled, the marginalized members of our society and the future—all aspects of the not knowing conundrum and we fear them. Consider how many people fear death and why and you get the answer that we fear death because we really know nothing about it. Now the film belongs to the larger populating and it is waiting to be judged on its own merits. I loved it and I am sure many others will but even more important than the film itself is that we have a new young director who is going to make waves in the existing film community and we need to help him do so. It is out duty to support young filmmakers if we want to see a future with films with no ideas and themes.

boston lgbt

“FOR A LOOK OR A TOUCH”— A New Opera About Gay Men in the Holocaust

for a look

“For a Look or a Touch”

A New Opera About Gay Men in the Holocaust

Amos Lassen

 The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is performing “For a Look or a Touch” and it is the Bay Area premiere of composer Jake Heggie’s Holocaust-themed choral opera. This is the Holocaust against gay men and women.

It will receive its American premiere on April 1 and 2 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco as part of a concert named “Passion” and the event is co-sponsored by the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Due to the nature of the plotline, this may not be for everyone. The libretto was written by Gene Scheer. This is the story of Gad Beck, an elderly German Jew who muses over his lost love, Manfred Lewin, a Jew who was killed in Auschwitz. The opera is based on true stories of gay German men who were rounded up, arrested and deported to the camps where they were murdered by the Nazis. They were forced to wear the pink triangle. It has been estimated that as many as 100,000 gays were murdered in the Holocaust but this has become an unspoken footnote in “history.”

Some historians estimate as many as 100,000 gays and lesbians were murdered in the Holocaust. But unlike the postwar outrage over the loss of 6 million European Jews, the persecution of gays and lesbians remained an unspoken historical footnote for years.

Some of those who were persecuted did speak out and Beck was one of them. He was able to find the dairy of Lewin and then he joined the underground and helped rescue other Jews and then helped them escape to what was then known as Palestine (Israel, today).

The story of Beck and Lewin are the core of the opera whose title refers to the law that gave German police the right to arrest gay men as just a look or a touch..


S.F. Gay Men’s Chorus performs “Passion,” 8 p.m. April 1-2 at Davies Symphony Hall,  201 Van Ness Ave., S.F. $25-$90. (415) 392-4400 or http://www.sfgmc.org

“Snidelines: Talking Trash to Power” by Susie Day, illustrated by Pia Marella— Personal Essays and Political Satire

trash to power

Day, Susie (author) and Pia Marella (illustrator). “Snidelines: Talking Trash to Power”, Abingdon Square Publishing Ltd., 2014.

Personal Essays and Political Satire

Amos Lassen

This is quite a collection of essays that provide  “a perverse moral clarity to an increasingly amoral world” by reporter Susie Day who brings us “fast-breaking faux news”. Her satire is strong and she says that we have to regain the energy in the media that we saw during the AIDS epidemic and the Vietnam War. Day’s goal is to bring us together as one people; she says that it is consumerism and social conformity that us changing us and she worries that marriage equality will do away with the “transgressions” that once were responsible for the outlaw spirit that once characterized the gay community. She wants to change the world and some of what she says is startling. They says that gay men know about opera but they are unaware of lesbian opera and she goes on to explain the plot of the lesbian opera “Sapphic Ring Cycle” and he irony is biting.

We sense Day’s love for human rights and the injuries of the past hurt her. She is a woman who needs a cause and some she has championed include prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and displaced Palestinians (however this is one that is very difficult to agree with). Day writes with a humor that is caustic and very funny, especially when we realize that we are laughing at ourselves.

“BENEATH THE HELMET: FROM HIGH SCHOOL TO THE HOME FRONT”— Five Soldiers

BeneathTheHelmetPoster-211x300

“Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front”

Five Soldiers

Amos Lassen

“Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front” is different kind of coming-of-age story. It follows five Israeli high school graduates who are drafted into the army to defend their country. At the age of 18, away from their homes, families and friends these young people undergo a demanding, inspiring journey that shows us just who they are and who they want to be. Israel is a country with a mandatory draft and one’s role and position in army service is an important part of their lives and can influence their careers. The film shows us how these young men and women defend not only their homes, but also the very important values of peace, equality, opportunity, democracy, religious tolerance and women’s rights. The army teaches valuable lessons and as an audience we can appreciate the way that these are understood and internalized not only by the soldiers but by the audience as well.

beneath the helmet1

The media has been good to the Israel Defense Forces and it often writes about the bravery and accomplishments of those in it. The Israeli army is often ranked as one of the top ten military forces in the world and of course that makes us wonder how it came to that place especially when we know that it is mandatory and it comes from an entire population.

beneath2

As the film explores the new recruits as well as their commanders, all of the emotions are covered—for them and for us. We laugh with them and we cry with them and the film instills a sense of pride. Having served in the Israel Defense Forces, I was once where they are and it is easy to want to serve our homeland—to do our part for our people and to feel that heritage and the brotherhood that comes with Israel and the Jewish religion. Being in the army is the same as being part of a big and extended family.

beneath3

The majority of the youth of America think about going to college directly from high school while Israelis have to put their college education on hold until after the military. They, however, do not complain when their lives are interrupted for national service. There are young Americans who feel that Israelis are too nationalistic and too militaristic but then they do not know what it means to have to fight to keep your home and what it is to lose a father and a bother to war. They do not understand that we have enemies who want to eradication of the Stare of Israel and there are those that call for the annihilation of the Jewish people. The soldiers of Israel who are fighting for us might be far away but they are our family and they are protecting our land and our right to exist. A film like this enforces our sense of connection and not just with Israel but also with Jews everywhere.

beneath 5

The film was directed by Wayne Kopping and produced by Jerusalem U (a film-based nonprofit organization created to transform Jewish and Israel education). 

beneath4

The film doesn’t only show the soldiers on base — it also spends a lot of time showing their lives outside it. We see their struggles whatever they might be and we share their happiness and joy. So often when we talk about Israel, we forget the human element and it is so important to bringing about understanding and support. We must also remember that a good part of that human element comes from the soldiers, the teens who instead of worrying about what movie they will see or what girl they will date, are defending the country. It is important to know why Israel has to have a military and what these young people give up for the three years that they serve. The film also helps us understand the difference between the American Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces. Do the Americans who go into the army really know what they are defending? Here in America do we ever feel threatened by rockets coming from Mexico or from Canada? It is the soldiers of Israel soldiers who defend where they live— Israel is their homeland, their family that is being attacked, and everyone feels the impact. It is very, very real.

 

 

 

“THE FAREWELL PARTY”— Knowing When to Say Goodbye

the farwell party

“The Farewell Party” (“Mita Tova”)

Knowing When to Say Goodbye

Amos Lassen

“The Farewell Party” is a dark comedy about compassion, friendship and knowing when to say goodbye. Set at a retirement home in Jerusalem, we meet a group of friends who build a machine for self-euthanasia in order to help their terminally ill friend. When rumors of the machine begin to spread, more and more people ask for their help, and the friends are faced with an emotional dilemma.

Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach) and his wife Levana (Levana Finklestein) are in their 70s, and live a comfortable life inside a Jerusalem retirement home. But when their friend Max falls prey to an irreversible illness, they face a terrible shock. Max asks Yehezkel to help him die with dignity, Yehezkel, a longtime amateur inventor, rises to the challenge by constructing a machine that will allow Max to self-administer a lethal dose of tranquilizers. However, Levana believes that such a device is immoral, and expresses her passionate disapproval. But when Levana herself begins to face a serious health issue, Yehezkel finds that his feelings about his new contraption become increasingly complicated.

the farewell party

In our contemporary culture, death is something of a taboo. We certainly shy away from talking about it so it is hard to imagine anyone wanting to see a movie about the end of life. Yet “The Farewell Party” is a very good movie with something to say.

We look at death here from a different point of view. We are in a nursing home where some but old people face a fading existence. We face the question of who benefits from prolonging the suffering of a terminally ill patient who only asks that somebody would please pull the plug on him? Why deny to him a compassionate gesture that is conversely so easily granted to an animal?

Israeli culture is very aware of how simple it was, in a time so still painfully close, to slip from a gentle death that is afforded to the terminally ill and go to the forced euthanasia imposed on the mentally ill as it was in Nazi Germany.

Directors Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit maintain a safe distance from these cultural considerations.  Likewise they do not look at religious issues involved but if they had the topic probably would have been a good deal easier to deal with. Instead, they tell a quick story that is constructed around a group of characters. An interesting aspect of the film is that it is centered on an “eternal carousel” that is moving and caught between the need for moral imperatives and free will and this is no easy task.

the farewell party2

Here is the basic storyline—- a group of friends at a Jerusalem nursing home try to put an end to the suffering of a friend who is terminally ill. One of them builds a machine that can deliver a painless death. The machine is totally automatic and the patient himself can start it when he is ready to do so by just pushing one button and in doing he releases the others of the responsibility of causing death.

Soon rumors about this machine start spreading among the other nursing home residents and it did not take long before other terminally ill residents begin to request access to the machine. The story does not resolve the existential dilemma by searching for an abstract thesis, but rather it lets it form in each single frame. The directors provide a series of stories around the ethical question, and each story is capable of taking charge of a moral direction, each represents an individual destiny. Ione of those stories happens to be of a little old lady including the story of the little old lady who never accepts death and advocates for life at all costs.

We see one character whose fate is loose whatever memory she has of herself to Alzheimer’s. She watches recordings that include the final and last statements just before they push the button in order to end their lives. We see a cinematic picture that defies the passing of time, and the slow fading away of the individual conscience. Herein is the expression of a question that invests the very sense of the function of the audio-visual medium in contemporary society. There is no argument that the questions and themes here are high drama yet, the film is paced in the spirit of comedy. It goes beyond black comedy and re-establishes the dominant status-quo cultural values.

There are two ways, at least, to think about the film. Some will see it as blasphemous and maintain that only God has the right and to power to create and to take away life. We can also see it as a courageous attempt to change the way stories are told. As a film, it strongly asserts only real life can assert poetry that can have us laugh or cry with no contradiction.

It’s a film that firmly asserts the conviction that poetry can only be where we can find the real Life that makes us laugh and cry at the same time, without there being any contradiction. An interesting note about this film is that the majority of the cast is made up of former stars of Israeli movies who are now at the age of the residents in the Jerusalem retirement home. Aside from those already mentioned we see Aliza Rosen and Ilan Dar.

 

 

“DRAG BECOMES HIM”—A Documentary about Jinkx Monsoon

drag becomes him-

“DRAG BECOMES HIM”

A Documentary about Jinkx Monsoon

Amos Lassen

Jinkx Monsoon stars in the documentary “Drag Becomes Him” by director Alex Berry that will be having its to world premiere in Seattle, Washington on April 29, 2015.

Jinkx was the winner of season five of LOGO TV’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. “Based on a series of short films made by Berry and Jerick Hoffer, Jinkx’s boyish half both before and after the filming of RPDR, the film chronicles the path of Jinkx/Jerick from their hometown of Portland, Oregon, to Cornish College of the Arts here in Seattle and the establishment of their drag career in the clubs and bars of Capitol Hill. Along the way, you’ll hear Jinkx/Jerick tell the story of their journey with the help of family, friends, and co-stars giving their own testimony. For Seattle fans, it will be a special treat as dozens of familiar faces will appear in the film which also features “Seattle” as a major character in the story, as showcased by the gorgeous night time camera work of director Alex Berry.”

Drag Becomes Him is a behind-the-scenes foray into the personality and passion of entertainer Jerick Hoffer, also known as Jinkx Monsoon, a drag queen Seattle’s The Stranger dubs “the best f**king performer in Seattle.” The cherished original series will be expanded to include additional footage and an entirely new edit, offering an even deeper glimpse into the life of this charming, Gregory Award-winning, off-Broadway-performing, RuPaul’s Drag Race-winning, all-around lovable drag superstar. Drag Becomes Him is directed by Alex Berry and produced by Basil Shadid and Dual Power Productions. Jerick Hoffer (aka Jinkx Monsoon) is a seasoned Portland-born entertainer and graduate of Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. As early as 2006, he appeared as the lead dancer in the world’s largest drag queen chorus line, which made the Guinness Book of World Records. By 2012, he had advanced to roles in Seattle theaters, playing Moritz in Spring Awakening (Balagan Theatre) and Angel in RENT”.

“’Drag Becomes Him’” provides an intimate glimpse inside the life of internationally acclaimed drag performer Jinkx Monsoon. This raw and affectionate film follows the passionate pursuits that transformed a working class boy in a struggling family to an illustrious performer on a global stage.

“Influenced by a grandmother with charm school polish, Jerick Hoffer learned to fuse the sophistication of a southern belle with the crass behavior of a working girl. Jinkx Monsoon has what RuPaul describes as “a stage left, off center kind of quality.””

Drag Becomes Him follows Jinkx’s trajectory from a small stage in Portland, Oregon through a growing career in Seattle to the relinquishing of the crown one year after winning RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Expanded from the acclaimed five-part web series of the same name, this cherished portrayal of Jinkx Monsoon peels back the layers on one of the brightest stars on the drag circuit.

 

 

“CAN’T STAND LOSING YOU: SURVIVING ‘THE POLICE'”— The Rise and the Fall

can't stop losing you poster

“Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police”

The Rise and the Fall

Amos Lassen

cant1

The new documentary, “Can’t Stop Losing You” is based on the memoir of Andy Summers, guitarist for the band, The Police. It follows Summers’ journey from his early days in the psychedelic ‘60s music scene, when he played with The Animals, to chance encounters with drummer Stewart Copeland and bassist Sting, which led to the formation of a punk trio, The Police. During the band’s phenomenal rise and its dissolution at the height of their popularity in the early ’80s, Summers captured history with his candid photographs.

81186313EM001_The_Police_An

The film uses rare archival footage and insights from the guitarist’s side of the stage and it brings together past and present as the band members reunite, two decades later, for a global reunion tour in 2007.

cant3

Andy Summers is the quiet one in the band and he is less comfortable with the spotlight than singer/bassist Sting, and more reserved than drummer Stewart Copeland. Summers was a wunderkind and late bloomer, immersed in London’s Swinging Sixties music scene by his early twenties, but not achieving his own success until nearly forty. (In footage from the Eighties, his decade-younger bandmates try to convince one interviewer that the Andy Summers who played with the Animals and Soft Machine was actually his father.)

Through disappointment and stardom, Summers reads passages from his memoir in calm, deliberate voiceover. Experienced editor and first-time director Grieve weaves in footage of the Police’s 2007 reunion tour (compiled by Lauren Lazin), creating the feeling that Summers is walking in his own footsteps.

cant4

We see here how the Police’s genre-defying sound resulted from three distinct styles (and egos) bashing together.

“THE GREAT MUSEUM” (“Das Grosse Museum”)— The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

the great museum“THE GREAT MUSEUM” (“Das Grosse Museum”)   

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

Amos Lassen

Kunsthistorisches Museum (literally translated as ‘Museum of Art History’) in Vienna was opened in 1891 by Franz Joseph I in order to find a grand home for the Habsburgs’ formidable art collection. “The Great Museum” is an unprecedented look at what makes one of the largest museums in the world work and it touches on everything from restoration and visitor services to font choices for marketing materials and budget wrangling. Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum is home to masterpieces by Raphael, Rubens and Vermeer, as well as extensive collections of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, arms and armor, and musical instruments. Director Johannes Holzhausen, an art historian, was given seemingly unrestricted access to the museum’s myriad of different departments during 2012 and 2013.

the great museum1

The film begins as the museum is preparing to close for a facelift – paintings are removed from the walls and packed away into storage, sculptures are dusted down in their most intimate areas, and display cases are meticulously wiped. Work begins to renovate the rooms and the contractors move in. They break up flooring, remove wallpaper and re-plaster. The director of the museum, Sabine Haag, takes Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, on a tour of the work in progress. MacGregor is clearly impressed by Haag’s vision, noting that the British Museum cannot match the Kunsthistorisches Museum for exhibition spaces with a history so closely related to the works they contain.

The film is both a fond and scathing documentary. Along with his camera crew, Holzhausen went behind the scenes to explore one of Vienna’s (and the world’s) leading museums, which manages the cultural legacy of the Habsburg dynasty. It is a difficult legacy, says one of the participants. How can one present this art, largely produced to assert and reinforce the power of the Habsburg dynasty (one of the most important royal houses in Europe from the 11th through the 18th centuries), in a contemporary way? How can it help inspire people today? The cautious response of one museum employee—“Well, the glass cabinets are modern”—points to a real problem.

The Vienna museum complex is not only a site devoted to preserving the past, it is also a business enterprise. It stands in competition with other museums and cultural institutions around the world yet it is subject to a rigid finance plan and has undergone budget cuts.

The workers who are greatly dedicated and they ensure that works of art are available to the public day after day. Again and again, Holzhausen shows artwork in the hands of employees in the process of transportation, examination or restoration. The existence of such works is entirely dependent on the careful attention and respect paid by these workers.

We learn that the priority was the custody and maintenance of the objects for future generations. This was the thinking that lay behind the museums founded in the 19th century. Since the 1990s, museums have increasingly had to fall into line with the priorities dictated by neoliberal economics.

the great museum2

Until the mid-1990s, Austrian museums were subsidized by the state. Then they were converted into institutions competing on the free market with a basic grant from the state. This grant has not been increased since then, meaning that the museums have to generate more and more income. Holzhausen stripped away the gilded veneer of this Viennese museum to show how it works.

The film shows the opulent galleries, empty save for the cleaning staff, who are removing every last speck of dirt while in adjacent rooms, workers tear off plaster and dig up floors readying the rooms for a total redesign. Then we see the directors of the museum, planning the new advertising and logos, attempting to buy new artworks and organizing events or photo opportunities with government ministers upon whose subsidies the museum depends. Every aspect of what it takes to establish and run a major museum is given a brief spotlight, collecting a series of small episodes within the context of this major project.

These day-to-day activities are captured using the approach of direct cinema. By presenting things as they happen without any framing or bias allows the events to just be without interference. Whether the viewer enjoys the film or not depends upon his/her appreciation for direct cinema or an acceptance of non-narrative driven film. The images are the real strength here, with Holzhausen’s background in art history suiting the subject matter perfectly. There really are some incredibly well framed shots and intricate moves that show the director’s familiarity with the camera and an ability to provoke an emotion or a thought through interesting framing or a smooth dolly shot. There is something wonderfully fascinating about being invited behind the scenes of a particular world to see what makes it tick, to see the lives of people whom were previously unknown yet whose work can be witnessed in all its lavish glory.

“SHE MUST BE SEEING THINGS”— Jo and Agatha

she must be seeing things poster

“She Must Be Seeing Things”

Jo and Agatha

Amos Lassen

Jo and Agatha are lovers. They both have promising careers: the Brazilian-born Agatha is an attorney; Jo is a filmmaker and she is working hard to complete the shooting of a movie, “Catalina.” Agatha is jealous and convinced that Jo is having an affair with a man and she decided to follow her one night. However, is she following Jo or is it someone who looks like her.  She may be seeing things: she’s jealous, convinced Jo is having an affair with a man and follows her. Agatha sees Jo as either too exhausted to pay much attention to her or else she’s hiding this affair. In the movie within a movie we see some of “Catalina,” and it comes across as being a melodrama. When Agatha watches the movie she thinks that she sees Jo in scenes with sex and violence instead of the person who is playing the lead actress.

This is a strange movie but it is fascinating with odd acting and weird music. None of it seems to fit together and this is probably why I found it so interesting. We all know that expression, “so bad that it is good”.

The plot is basically simple so why does it come across as difficult to understand? There is no overall theme and at times it is quite mysterious. Why, for example, does Jo write by conquests with men in her diary when she is involved in a love affair with a woman? How is it that she left her diary out so that Agatha could find it and read it? This is more like a home movie than anything else and it is a low budget film. There are some graphic lesbian sex scenes so you might want to watch before you host a showing. The story is quite interesting but the acting is quite heavy at times. As to whether the questions are answered, you will have to see the movie to find out.