“American JewBu” by Emily Sigalow— The Jewish American Encounter with Buddhism

Sigalow, Emily. “American JewBu”, Princeton University Press, 2019.

The Jewish American Encounter with Buddhism

Amos Lassen

Many Jewish Americans today enjoy a dual religious identity in which they practice Buddhism while remaining connected to their Jewish roots. In “American JewBu”, Emily Sigalow shares the story of Judaism’s encounter with Buddhism in the United States and shows how it has given rise to new contemplative forms within American Judaism as well as have shaped the way Americans understand and practice Buddhism.

Sigalow begins back in the nineteenth century and brings us forward to today tracing the history of these two traditions in this country and shows how they came together. She maintains that the distinctive social position of American Jews led them to their engagement with Buddhism, and shows us how people incorporate aspects of both religions into their everyday lives. Through original in-depth interviews that she conducted across America, Sigalow looks at how Jewish American Buddhists experience both religious identities. Jewish Buddhists cause consternation about prevailing expectations of minority religions in America. Instead of just adapting to the majority religion, Jews and Buddhists borrow and integrate elements from each other. By doing so they have left a mark on the consciousness of this country.

We see the leading role that American Jews have played in the popularization of meditation and mindfulness in the United States, and the impact that the traditions have had on one another

“Jews in the United States have been engaged in religious, spiritual, and secularized paths toward creating a Jewish Buddhist sense of self.” Here we read why Buddhism is so popular among American Jews. Sigalow looks at the important factors of
history and sociology and we see  why Jews turned to Buddhism, how this coming together has changed both faiths, and how Jewish Buddhists or Buddhist Jews teach us about American religion.

JewBus are often commented upon on but rarely studied, probably because there has not been what to study.  To understand the multiple ways Jews influenced the development of Buddhism in America, this is the book to read. Sigalow combining ethnographic research with historical and cultural analysis gives us a brilliant portrait of Jewish Buddhists in America. She puts simplistic explanations of the JewBu to rest and replaces it with historical and social accounts of today.

“Impure Acts: Poems” by Angelo Nestore, translated by Lawrence Schimel— Brutally Lyrical

Nestore, Angelo. “Impure Acts”, translated by Lawrence Schimel, Indolent Books, 2019

Brutally Lyrical

Amos Lassen

I have always wanted to be a poet but have been shy about sharing my poetic words with others yet I am perfectly comfortable sharing my prose. One of my guilty pleasures is, however, reading others poems and I do so every day. I have my poetry time set aside in my daily schedule. I came upon Lawrence Schimel’s translation of Angelo Nestore’s “Impure Acts” and literally wept as I read is brutal and beautiful lyricism wishing that I had been the one to put down such wonderful words. Schimel has always provided me with poetic food for thought and he has really outdone himself here. I experience fabulous joy and deep heartbreak as I read. Nestore writes of a different kind of desire than most of us have ever experiences. He is sure of himself and what he desires and the communicates that with his readers in a way I have yet to experience and until I do, my heart will probably be broken a bit. Nestore is liturgical to a degree and is well aware of the distance between himself, the poet his audience, the reader. We may never cross that bridge yet he shares ideas on how to do so.

“I want to raise suspicions,

have men shout at me in the streets…”

Using the Catholic idea of communion, he brings it a new meaning as he experiences as he takes it at his gym,

“The blonde boy looks exhausted.

I’m turned on by the sweat on his chin,

The candor of those beads soaking his towel.

I imagine myself crossing the threshold that separates us.

I open my mouth beneath his chin and stick out my tongue,

like a child kneeling before the altar.”

Néstore’s “Impure Acts” examines and explores ideas that have been passed down to us about gender, reproduction and desire and I shudder as I read the differences between what we have been told and what we actually experience ourselves. I certainly do not stand before the same altar as those that came before me and those that come after me will, too, have a different altar.

Looking at the four divisions of the collection, “The Body Almost”, “Pelicans Die of Hunger”, “Imagined Daughter” and “Songs to an Empty Crib”, we get an idea about what we are going to read before we actually do. Nestore announces that he belongs to a new kind of men, a race of this time that both celebrates and avenges the thoughts of something bigger out there. Yet, Nestore looks at fatherhood/motherhood and the idea that we, ourselves, are able to go against biological laws and civil codes. We are the masters of our fate and as such we can do and will do to remain so.

Nestore’s voice is filled with power and he should be read by every gay male, every gay female, every bisexual, every transgender, every cis-person. He should be read by everyone and as you read, revel in what he has to say. Let me just say that were it not for Lawrence Schimel’s stunning translation, we might have missed this altogether. Now that we have it, we should take it up.

“I shake off the hand that grips me, calls to me.

A foreign mass forms within and grows in the mystery.

I attain ecstasy.

I stain the earth with the final see of hope.”

“Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir” by Mohammed Abdulkarim Ali— Addiction and Recovery

Ali, Mohammed Abdulkarim. “Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir, University  of Regina Press, 2019.

Addiction and Recovery

Amos Lassen

Mohammed Abdulkarim Ali was kidnapped by his father just as Somalia was experiencing societal implosion. He was taken first to the Netherlands by his stepmother, and then later on to Canada. Now away from his birth family and dealing with the forces of Somali tradition and Western culture, Mohamed had to find a way to face his queer coming of age. The story he gives us is not one that will make you smile; it is a very powerful look at “one young man’s nascent sexuality fused with the violence wrought by displacement.”  Most of us never face anything quite like it but then on the other many of us have experienced that displacement and self-acceptance can cause.

“My road to lasciviousness took many years. I found out how far I could go by using my body for gratification.” To understand that thought, it is necessary to understand what Ali meant by lasciviousness which is actually much milder than the usual definition. It was his way of exploring his sexuality by hiding it from others. “I used a glass deodorant bottle to probe my asshole. I thought about whether I should lube up the staircase railing and slide back onto it. I wanted to know how much pain my dick could take. Further along Ali discusses the roles of dominance and submission and that he as a black man was expected to be dominant while, in truth, he enjoyed being submissive.

This is a striking and stunning read that certainly opened my eyes about so much and in less than 200 small pages (the book is physically very small, thought-wise, it is encyclopedic). Do not be misled by title of “Addiction and Recovery”. Finding who you are can be quite addictive.

“Both tragic and healing, Angry Queer Somali Boy offers resplendent writing that intimately grapples with placelessness, identity, and belonging, in all its forms. ” —Huda Hassan, writer and researcher

“My Drunk Kitchen Holidays!: How to Savor and Celebrate the Year: A Cookbook” by Hannah Hart— Fun. Food. Friends

Hart, Hannah. “My Drunk Kitchen Holidays!: How to Savor and Celebrate the Year: A Cookbook”, Plume, 2019.

Fun. Food. Friends.

Amos Lassen

Food Network star Hannah Hart’s new holiday cookbook is great fun way to  celebrate year-round festivities with food, drink, and friends. She includes almost fifty ideas that are arranged into twelve months of themes and recipes for how to celebrate.

We get ideas how to commemorate holidays from Valentine’s Day to Graduation, Pride Month and International Left-Handers’ Day. And of course we have the fall holidays with recipes and ideas for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and an inclusive celebration of Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Christmas.

Hart provides suggestions for fun and joyous ways to celebrate with family, friends, pets, and the entire community. I love to just sit and read cookbooks for the little stories that they tell and I really enjoyed this one. I loved the section, small but fun, on Pride and reading what the author as to say about having and exhibiting pride.

The recipes are easy to follow and I love that we sense Hannah’s personality throughout book. The photos were beautiful and often mouth-watering.

“Continental Divide” by Alex Myers— Discovering the Meaning of Masculinity

Myers, Alex.  “Continental Divide,  University of New Orleans Press. 2019.

Discovering the Meaning of Masculinity

Amos Lassen

Veronica Bancroft never felt like the girl she was born. He became Ron but when telling his parents, they decided to no longer pay part of his Harvard tuition fees and so he left school in order to find a way to be financially independent. He went to Cody, Wyoming where he finds work on a ranch. He was in “the land where men were men, or they got the hell out of town.”

“Continental Divide” by Alex Myers is the story of Ron’s journey to self-acceptance. It is also the story of hiding who he is.  He wears compression shirts and showers  when no one else is in the bunkhouse, and falls for outspoken Cassie, a horse wrangler and co-owner of the ranch with her brother Gus. When Ron is outed by Cassie’s malicious younger brother, Marc, he’s fired and has a target on his back. He is determined that being transgender will not limit what he can do and where he can go. “I have to stand up and live as who I am, with the expectation that people will treat me decently.” Through great courage and a great deal of pain, Ron is able to fix both old and new relationships “finds a home in himself and his chosen family.” His story is a “moving meditation on fear, masculinity, and the power of coming out.”

This is a touching and personal coming-of-age novel about Ron’s struggles to forge his identity as he deals with the dangers of a world that does not want him.

 

“Frankissstein” by Jeanette Winterson— A New Kind of Love Story

Winterson, Jeanette. “Frankissstein”, Grove Press, 2019.

A New Kind of Love Story

Amos Lassen

Where would I be without the wonderful literary stories of Jeanette Winterson? Her inventiveness and gorgeous prose has always been there for me and I so appreciate the contributions she has made to the canon. In “Frankissstein”, we are taken back to Lake Geneva in 1816 and meet nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley who is inspired to write a story about a scientist who creates a new life-form.  We then move forward to Brexit Britain where Ry,  a young transgender doctor is falling in love with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor  who leads the public debate around Artificial Intelligence and who has been carrying out experiments of his own in an  underground network of tunnels. At the same time, Ron Lord who is freshly divorced and living with his mom, is primed to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for men who are lonely. Across the Atlantic Ocean, a cryogenics facility is housing dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead … but waiting to return to life.

Have you ever wondered what will happen when humankind ceases being the smartest beings on the planet? Winterson shows us that we are much closer a future  of that kind than we realize. In this reimagining and reanimated “Frankenstein”, we have a “cautionary tale for a contemporary moment dominated by debates about Brexit, gender, artificial intelligence and medical experimentation” and it is filled with new ideas.

This is a book that attempts to shift our perspective on humanity and the purpose of being human in a very dark and entertaining way. By relooking at Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, Winterson takes us into a story about modern-day neuroses and issues. We see the fine line between horror and high camp. It takes a brave person to dare to change the classics and succeed and this is what Jeanette Winterson has done. She looks and laughs at the nature and the future of life, death and what it means to be human. She “examines immortality and science’s ethical obligations through the alternating narratives of two people living centuries apart:  author Mary Shelley and Ry, a transgender medical doctor interested in cryogenics.” Her characters wrestle with many profound questions of what it means to be alive, if the brain could survive outside of its mortal body, and if the soul can be reborn in a reanimated mind. The story is wildly funny and profoundly sad. Another question asked here is whether we are our bodies or our minds, neither or both? Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein rises into a post-Internet world and his idea of creating life from death is much closer than before.

“OCTAV”— 30 Years in the Making

“OCTAV”

30 Years in the Making

Amos Lassen

Director Serge Ioan Celebidachi actually began writing the screenplay for “Octav” some thirty years ago. The film actually looks like a movie of people who have gone through life and have now reached a point where they are trying to understand where they came from. It’s full of nostalgia and memories yet there are no regrets. We see a combination of past and present, real and imaginary.

There are many pieces of Octav’s life that we do not know and we do not get to know why he is now alone It seems that nothing happened between  childhood and the present moment but we lose that sense of insignificance as the movie moves forward.  

There are many metaphors and a lot of philosophy and while it may seem like a lot we realize that whatever happens on the screen is just convention

Marcel Iureș is Octav. He came to Romania to recovers his nationalized house that he decides to sell it. He struggled for so many years to recover his home but then unloaded it. He meets Spiridon (Victor Rebengiuc), an old friend who is almost completely absent from the entire second act of the film, only returning to the end.

This film has won an astonishing 104 prizes yet I am not sure how. Watching this was at times a delight and at other times, a struggle. There must be more to it than what I saw.

“APPRENTICE TO MURDER”— Magic, Murder, Madness?

“APPRENTICE TO MURDER”

Magic, Murder, Madness?

Amos Lassen

Director Ralph L. Thomas’s “Apprentice to Murder” is set In early twentieth-century Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Young Billy Kelly (Chad Lowe) meets a charismatic magic healer, Dr. John Reese (Donald Sutherland) who is shunned by the rest of the community for his non-conformist beliefs. Together, they investigate a mysterious sickness that is hurting the area and which Reese believes is the work of a local hermit. As the plague spreads, Billy falls deeper under Reese’s spell and wonders if they are doing God’s work or the Devil’s. This is a story of misplaced faith and the macabre that clouds the lines between conventional notions of good and evil.

Billy Kelly lives with his mother Elma (Rutanya Alda) and alcoholic, abusive father Tom (Eddie Jones). One day, while walking home with Alice (Mia Sara), a beautiful young lady named who works at the same factory as himself, they see an angry, seemingly rabid dog in the middle of the road. They hide behind a bush and the other villagers flee in terror when an elderly man manages to tame the dog by using a simple religious ritual. Alice tells Tom that she lives as a lodger in the man’s house. She also reveals that his name is John Reese and that he is a Pow-wow doctor (a traditional practitioner who uses faith and magic in order to cure ills).

Later on, Billy pays John a visit in order to get help for his father’s alcoholism. To his surprise, John not only gives him a remedy for his father’s ailment but he also casts a blessing on a facial wound. When the injury heals practically overnight, Billy is convinced that this mysterious man’s powers are real and decides to become his apprentice.

While he is at work, Alice meets him during his lunch break. She does so to ask him to take her out on a date and also to express her own concerns about John. She tells him that she heard  that he spent four years in a mental asylum. Billy gradually becomes involved in a romantic relationship with her but refuses to believe her stories about John who is mentoring him. Things get darker after John’s attempt to cure a young girl results in her death. This is followed by a string of incidents that are inexplicable and thereby supernatural.  There might be a connection between these occurrences and a sinister local man named Lars Hoeglin (Knut Husebø). But, there is also the possibility that John might be playing with Billy’s impressionable mind.

The film mixes period drama with religious horror in a technologically backward and superstitious rural area. A richly-defined supernatural world is built up around its central characters. Donald Sutherland gives a fine performance as a  wizened, eccentric character performances here. He comes across as being as a vulnerable victim and as a cunning manipulator. Chad Lowe is fine as the hapless protagonist but he looks and sounds more like a 1980s than an authentic character from the period.

 Even with its flaws, the kind of film provokes thought and discussion after it is over.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original 35mm interpositive

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Original lossless mono soundtrack

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  New audio commentary by author and critic Bryan Reesman

  New video interview on religious horror cinema with Kat Ellinger, author and editor-in-chief of Diabolique Magazine

  New video interview with cinematographer Kelvin Pike

  New video interview with makeup supervisor Robin Grantham

  Theatrical trailer

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Paul Corupe

“THE DEAD CENTER”— Arising from the Dead

“THE DEAD CENTER”

Arising from the Dead

Amos Lassen

When a dead suicide victim (Jeremy Childs) disappears from the morgue, a chain of events begins that has the power to destroy everything, and everyone, it touches. 

 

Troubled psychiatrist Daniel Forrester (Shane Carruth) helps a mysterious patient who is brought to the emergency psych ward in a catatonic state. Forrester tries to break through to his mysterious patient. When a string of mysterious deaths shake the ward patient ward than he had thought. As he comes to realize what he’s let loose, a race against the forces of evil threatens to destroy him. 

“The Dead Center” is a supernatural thriller that looks at the demons that live inside all of us.  With this film, writer/director Billy Senese, has been regarded as a powerful new voice in terror . 

Senese establishes a hero who fits squarely within another, older horror tradition: the dedicated man of science who struggles to hold onto his own sanity when dealing with the boundaries of his  own world view.

Dr Forrester has been through troubles of his own but remains devoted to his patients. He’s used to coping with odd situations so when a confused man  who is seemingly unable to remember anything, he takes his aside, calms him down and  begins a conversation that might help him arrive at a diagnosis. What he doesn’t know is that just a few hours ago this particular patient was pronounced dead in another part of the hospital after being admitted as a suicide victim, and that another doctor is frantically searching for him. What he can’t understand  is that this John Doe has actually been dead more than once and that something has come back with him from the other side.

 

At first, this seems to be seem like just another horror film about possession or a zombie but it has a lot more going on both narratively and thematically. The slow bill might be disconcerting to some audiences, I see this as an intelligent act of filmmaking that demonstrates an understanding of horrors that are present in the world. There are several surprises coming at you so be prepared that all is not as it seems.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  High Definition (1080p) Blu-rayTM presentation

  5.1 DTS-HD master audio and lossless stereo audio

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

  Commentary with writer-director Billy Senese, producer-actor Shane Carruth and co-star Jeremy Childs

  Commentary with writer-director Billy Senese, producers Denis Deck and Jonathan Rogers, and cinematographer Andy Duensing

  A Walk Through The Dead Center, an in-depth making-of documentary featuring new interviews with writer-director Billy Senese, producer-actor Shane Carruth, cinematographer Andy Duensing, and many others revisiting the locations and discussing the production

  Nine deleted scenes, including an alternate ending

  On-set interviews with actors Shane Carruth and Poorna Jagannathan

  Head-Casting with Jeremy Childs, a brief look at the creation of the make-up effects seen in the climax of the film

  Intruder, a short film from 2011 directed by Billy Senese and starring Jeremy Childs

  The Suicide Tapes, the original short film from 2010 directed by Senese and starring Childs that later inspired The Dead Center

  Midnight Radio Theater, six chilling radio plays ( Insomnia , The Long Weekend , Disposable Life , The Suicide Tapes , The Woman In The Basement , Blood Oath , Flu ) written, produced and directed by Billy Senese

  Theatrical trailer and teasers

  Image gallery

  Reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork

  FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing on the film by Jamie Graham

“MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES”— Cagney as Chaney

“MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES”

Cagney as Chaney

Amos Lassen

James Cagney, a legend in his own right pays homage to legend Lon Chaney in “Man of a Thousand Faces”. Cagney gives a multifaceted portrayal of silent cinema legend Lon Chaney. Chaney captivated audiences with early horror classics such as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Phantom of The Opera”. He gave vivid personifications of grotesque and afflicted characters. His extraordinary make-up skills, and miraculous ability to completely transform earned him international acclaim and the famous nickname of the title of this film.

Chaney led a life plagued by hardship and heartache. This insightful bio-pic traces the arc of the actor’s career from impoverished vaudeville clown to Hollywood stardom. It also captures  the drama of his private life. For the first time, the film is presented in High Definition, with revealing extras.

The film is an almost completely fictionalized telling of the story of Lon Chaney. It captures some of the flavor of silent Hollywood while at the same time misrepresents Chaney’s career and is really a showcase vehicle for the estimable talents of James Cagney, who takes the movie and runs with it proving that historical accuracy isn’t essential for great entertainment.

Vaudeville clown Lon Chaney (James Cagney) has career problems when his wife and stage partner Cleva Creighton Chaney (Dorothy Malone) is said to be a liability to his act. Cleva loses all interest in her marriage and her new baby when she discovers that Lon’s parents can neither hear nor speak. She strikes out on her own and becomes unfaithful. When Lon retaliates by getting her fired from an important singing engagement, Cleva takes poison, ruins her voice and disappears. With the help of agent and sympathetic showgirl Hazel Bennett (Jane Greer), Lon restarts his career as an extra at Universal and works overtime to win custody of his young son Creighton from the courts. That doesn’t happen until his career takes off playing characters with bizarre infirmities and frightening faces, all having come out of his seemingly magical makeup kit.

We see Lon Chaney as a dedicated, warm-hearted and supremely talented trouper  who deals with prejudice, hardship and heartbreak. Chaney’s problems are the kind that would make a lesser man bitter and hurt.

Cagney’s winning personality colors everything here. Prejudices against hereditary handicaps were so strong in earlier eras that Cleva’s fears are entirely understandable. Chaney selfishly hides the information from her and immediately resents her lack of compassion. We are not surprised that she turns against their relationship. His later grudge against Cleva is the only hint in the movie of the real Chaney’s reported unforgiving nature.

It is Cagney’s magnetic presence makes this great entertainment. Dorothy Malone has one of her best roles as the misunderstood Cleva, while the dreamy Jane Greer is extremely patient as the woman waiting to catch Chaney when he’s free. Jim Backus is charming as the agent, dispensing details about the silent film period’s relationship to vaudeville.

Director Joseph Pevney’s 1957 look at Hollywood history is a very good biopic of silent star Lon Chaney even if it is not true.

 

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  Brand new restoration from the original negative by Arrow Films

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio soundtrack

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  New audio commentary by film scholar Tim Lucas

  The Man Behind a Thousand Faces, a newly filmed look at Lon Chaney and his legacy by the critic Kim Newman 

  Image gallery

  Original trailer

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys

  FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully Illustrated booklet with a newly commissioned essay by Vic Pratt of the BFI