“THE THIRD WIFE”— Coming of Age

“THE THIRD WIFE”

Coming of Age

Amos Lassen

Film Movement brings us “The Third Wife”, a  beautiful coming-of-age story; a tale of love and self-discovery in a time when women were rarely given a voice. Set in the late 19th century in rural Vietnam, fourteen-year-old May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My) is given away in an arranged marriage and becomes the third wife to her older husband. She learns that she can gain status and security if she gives birth to a male child and this becomes a real possibility when she gets pregnant. However, her life is filled with danger when May starts to develop an attraction for Xuan(Mai Thu Huong),  the second wife. As May observes the unfolding tragedy of forbidden love and its consequences, she must decide to either carry on in silence and safety, or create a way towards personal freedom.

At 14, travels up river to marry a man she has never met and start a new life on his family’s silk plantation. The household, which includes servants, her husband’s two other wives and their children, is a place where intimacy and cruelty can be hard to tell apart. It’s the center of a world rendered with pathos and somewhat prurient fascination. This is  Ash Mayfair’s debut feature.
May’s new home is in a steep valley filled with flowering trees and airy wooden buildings and it is both a paradise and a prison. May’s daily routines are governed by rigid, patriarchal customs and rituals but they also include time  for solitude and even pleasure. The two senior wives, Lao (Nguyen Nhu Quynh Le) and Xuan welcome her with big-sisterly advice about sex, childbirth and domestic politics.

At 14, May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My) travels up river to marry a man she has never met and start a new life on his family’s silk plantation. The household, which includes servants, her husband’s two other wives and their children, is a place where intimacy and cruelty can be hard to tell apart. It’s the center of a world rendered with pathos and somewhat prurient fascination in “The Third Wife,” Ash Mayfair’s debut feature.

The story, which follows May from the day of her arrival through a pregnancy, shows us her social and physical surroundings with a quiet clarity. The seasons of her forced transition from child to mother are seen according to the silk worms  which are a source of metaphorical as well as economic sustenance. Like the worms, the wives are part of a cottage industry that mixes beauty and utility, captives of their own productivity.

When May becomes pregnant, she prays for a boy, observing that Xuan, who has given birth to two daughters, holds a lower status than Lao, the mother of sons. She also observes the affair between Xuan and their husband’s oldest son, a relationship that brings conflict and tragedy to the family.

 “The Third Wife” gives us a look at a tableau of injustice from a perspective that feels both compassionate and detached. We see a male-dominated hierarchy that directly oppresses women and brings misery to some men as well.

The cruelty that May encounters is a fact of life, as is the solidarity she occasionally experiences with Lao and especially with Xuan. The possibility of freedom occasionally seems real and the  final scenes allude to  “desperate and defiant” acts of resistance.

Here is one of the great scientific injustices throughout human history. Women have been blamed for not producing a male heir, even though it is only the father who can supplies the determining chromosome.. As the junior-most wife of a wealthy Vietnamese plantation owner, May’s position depends on her ability to give birth to a boy. The dysfunctional family dynamics and her first stirrings of passion also confuse May.

May looks even younger than her fourteen years, so the idea of her marrying anyone is rather disturbing. Nonetheless, she fulfills her wedding night duties and is soon pregnant. She is probably rather fortunate, because the senior wives, Ha and Xuan are quite supportive and protective of her. She also makes fast friends with Xuan’s daughters.

Director Mayfair brings us a wonderfully lush and evocative film that is also very steamy. As May, Nguyen Phuong Tra My looks distressingly young and vulnerable, but she is also convincing when her character starts to make some cold, hard decisions. Other actors are also quite good.

The film is a visual feast to watch. is absolutely gorgeous. Cinematographer Chananun Chotrungroj uses the rain forest backdrop and luxuriates in the trappings of  the 19th Century. It is hard to watch the tragedy as it inevitably transpires, but Mayfair keeps the viewers on the edge of their seats and makes them want to be in this world, despite its social inequities. 

The scenes of sex and desire are treated with restraint, using juxtaposition to evoke mood so that silkworm caterpillars supply the disturbing emotion of May’s wedding night. The silkworm life cycle is returned to repeatedly through the film and we see that their busy existence is in many ways as futile and for the sole profit of others as that of the wives.

About Film Movement

 Founded in 2002 as one of the first-ever subscription film services with its DVD-of-the-Month club, Film Movement is now a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide.  Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci and Ettore Scola. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement. 

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”— “The Bigot Whisperer”

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”

“The Bigot Whisperer”

Amos Lassen

 “Where’s My Roy Cohn” is a new documentary from Matt Tyrnauer that takes its title from a quote that has been attributed to Donald Trump at a meeting with advisors where he expressed his frustration at the purported lack of loyalty among his staff. “Where’s my Roy Cohn?,” he asked and yelled, wondering why no one would back him in his favor against the injustice of the Russia investigation. Trump had once known the former aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy, meeting him when he, Trump, was new to the world of New York real estate and Cohn was a long-established fixture of member of the mostly mafia legal defense teams. Unfortunately for Trump, Cohn died in 1986, so Trump’s cry fell flat and without reply. What you will see here is Cohn, the self-serving narcissistic sociopath that he was.

Trump does not make appear in this film until near the end and even then only peripherally. Instead, the film is focused squarely on the life of Cohn from his birth in 1927 through his career-making prosecution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (Cohn actually colluded with the judge to push for the death penalty) to his association with McCarthy and beyond. He was a master manipulator of media who understood that one should never apologize for anything, ever and that he must never give up, never surrender. He was indicted numerous times for professional misconduct and was finally disbarred in 1986, mere months before his death from AIDS. Cohn was deep in the closet and known for his homophobic attacks on government workers.  His vicious hatred precludes any empathy we might accord to a gay man of his generation. Cohn mainly cared about Cohn.

We go through the main details of Cohn’s career until the end. This is the movie that Cohn deserves, it is slow and steady and gives facts but not much more. Tyrnauer uses traditional documentary techniques of voice-over narration, direct interviews, archival footage and photographic stills to expose Cohn’s malign influence and contextualizes him as a modern Machiavelli who influences our country today at the highest level.

He first came into the public eye as an assistant to J. Edgar Hoover and handled the prosecution of the Rosenbergs, a Jewish couple arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spying for Russia and securing Manhattan Project documents for the Russian government. Cohn,  was then a twenty-three-year-old fast-rising attorney who claimed to have not only persuaded the presiding judge, Irving Kaufman, to impose the death penalty but also to have had Judge Irving assigned the case. Cohn’s reward for the Rosenberg execution was an appointment as special counsel to the 1950’s American Senatorial disaster, Joseph McCarthy.

Tyrnauer provides compelling evidence that Cohn was responsible for much of McCarthy’s demagoguery and rise to power. Soon, however, Cohn would bring about his own and McCarthy’s fall from grace. During the Army-McCarthy hearings, direct questioning revealed Cohn had a “special relationship” with G. David Schine and pressured the U.S. Army to give Schine preferential treatment. Cohn resigned after he was humiliated by homophobic comments during the televised hearings. He, however,  claimed everybody wanted him to stay on but according to those who worked with Cohn, this was not the case.

From that, Cohn went on to be the personification of evil in 20th-century American politics. He was a mover and shaker “of dubious means”. He built his persona even though he was responsible for causing financial losses on his clients and family. We see the origins of the seditious right wing’s ascent, showing how Cohn, as  a deeply troubled master manipulator, has shaped today’s political world. He constantly defended himself by attacking his adversaries and utilized the press to generate sensational public sympathy for his plight.

Cohn refined his strategy over the years as the primary press leaker during his McCarthy days and gaining the friendship of the formidable press magnate, Walter Winchell, and other ambitious reporters. How Cohn had been able to pressure the judiciary was less clear. It seems that his political clout came from his wide social circle of wealthy, influential friends. Cohn was known for hosting lavish parties and mixing with almost every imaginable socialite of the day including artist, Andy Warhol, and he re-emerged as a New York power broker, mafia consigliere, white-collar criminal, and the mentor of Donald J. Trump.

Following Cohn’s lead, Trump began his flamboyant rise first on Cohn’s shoulders and then his back. Eventually, Trump became the master of personal attacks,  of sensationalism and hyperbole and using the press to get out in front of the story. The similarities between Cohn and Trump are uncanny and neither is the kind of person you would want to have dinner with..

“Roy Cohn was a corrupt lawyer, political dirty trickster, mafia associate and scumbag. He was a self-hating Jew who powered the engine of one of the worst anti-Semitic moments in American history, the demonization and execution of the Rosenbergs. He was a closeted man who refused to publicly identify as gay even as he was dying of Aids. He was so famous for being a mean bastard and there are not too many lawyers that can make such a claim.

Tyrnauer’s film is very standard collection of talking heads (including former protege Roger Stone) and news clips. We get an avalanche of facts. If there is a thesis here, it is that Trump ’s has been mentored by Cohn’s odious work.

Donald Trump was, for many years, a joke (though never a harmless one) but the damage he’s currently doing shames all because we laughed at him. The film connects Roy Cohn’s belligerent, boorish and obstructionist ways and our current President.

“ONE NATION, ONE KING”— (“Un peuple et son roi”) National Identity and the Emancipation of Women

“ONE NATION, ONE KING” (“Un peuple et son roi”)

National Identity and the Emancipation of Women

Amos Lassen

Pierre Schoeller’s “One Nation, One King”,  is a new look at the French Revolution. Political plebes topple their divine ruler while blowing glass, doing laundry and having babies. The film goes back and forth between the country’s king and its commoners. On July 14, 1789, the Bastille towers fell and we see the faces of the people at the bottom. a glassblower nicknamed “Uncle” (Olivier Gourmet); his buxom wife (Noemie Lvovsky); and the washing women Francoise (Adele Haenel) and her sister, Margot (Izia Higelin). Though of lowly station, they meet each evening to declaim their thoughts on the latest political events. 

Francoise, whose catchphrase becomes “There are no two ways to be free,” is especially vocal about the fact that the fight for equality should also include women’s rights. We see her again at the Women’s March in October of that year, when, during a rainstorm, a loud fishmonger from the Halles market (Celine Salette), leads a group of protesters to Versailles to demand bread, wheat and rights. Just around the same time, King Louis XVI (Laurent Lafitte), signs the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” which was one of the court’s many concessions designed to keep the monarchy intact and the republican fervor at bay, though the eventual outcome was, as we know, the opposite.

Political ideas are reduced to slogans and there is no sense of the extent to which either the workers or their sovereign really understand politics, in general, or France’s specific situation at that time. I did, however, find it beautiful to watch and the sets and the costumes are wonderful. Schoeller tends to supply broad overstatements rather than nuance.  The National Assembly is created and people such as Robespierre (Louis Garrel), Marat (Denis Lavant) and Saint-Just (Niels Schneider) take turns speechifying as the self-appointed representatives of the nation try to figure out what France wants to be and what it should do next.

There’s little sense of background or context here and the speakers come across as men in foppish wigs spouting big ideas in tiny speeches. Schoeller then reduces the mostly illiterate working classes, including Uncle and Francoise to rabid political groupies who attend each and go to every meeting of the Assembly. The spectators scream and shout throughout it all while not having a full grasp of what is even being discussed. 

It takes a while for Ulliel’s Basile to make an appearance. Basile has perhaps the most dynamic development of all the characters, going from being a convicted criminal to someone who is freed by a priest and who follows the king and finally ends up with the revolutionaries. But there’s little sense of any emotional dimension or psychological texture. 

The film cuts between different storylines for no apparent reason, culminating in the unlikely back and forth between a glassblowing apprenticeship and an endless roll-call vote in the assembly to decide on the fate of their royal ruler. Some of the interesting episodes, such as the women’s march, the planting of “freedom trees” or the massacre on the Champs de Mars, are treated hastily and superficially

Shot on many of the actual locations where the story happened, the writer-director manages to be authentic in terms of his visuals but without any palpable sense of emotion or more than a passing understanding of how politics influenced people’s thinking and behavior.

When the king finally walks up to the scaffold, a guard tells him to be “careful or you’ll slip.” The film captures the atmosphere of the time yet is unable to operate outside the most formulaic depiction of momentous incidents. It is trapped between a history and a generic sense of how to make those events “cinematic”.

Perhaps Schoeller got too caught up in the excitement of his subject, understandably overwhelmed by the scope of the Revolution and the way common folk rose up while craftier minds took charge. This is, I might say that this is a well-intentioned failure with a stellar cast, re-created speeches, production design and costume fabrics  that are as accurate as possible, but along the way forgot that moving between didacticism and tepidly-drawn fictional characters doesn’t make good cinema.

Schoeller’s script weaves incidents, from 1789 up to the king’s execution in 1793, around a group of earthy fictional characters who find their democratic voices (as well as love) in the tumult of the time. Probably Schoeller was overwhelmed by the complexity of the Revolution, and found the only way he could cope with the enormous amount of material was to render every event and scene far too superficially, while bathing it all in golden light. Julien Hirsch’s camerawork attractively captures the locations but without excitement and a sense of urgency. The actors go through the paces of scripted emotions but don’t inhabit real people, instead they come off as players in a historical pageant.

 The French Revolution is largely told to us from the point of view of the working men and women who fought for change and “One Nation, One King” is a sturdy, intelligent and occasionally stirring historical drama. Despite a great deal of talk, it may flummox those without a decent grasp of the shifting sands of this tumultuous moment in French history. Nevertheless, with its questions about national identity and emphasis on the women of the revolution, it feels like a timely film that may well chime with audiences.

The passion comes from the performances since the film involves very little action. The taking of Bastille is related after the event, the Parisian poor basking in their surprise success, and other riots and confrontations similarly take place off screen. There is one exception, in which continued disagreement about the king leads to a rally and the massacre of demonstrators ordered by the Assembly itself and it is a bitter pointer towards the schisms that  remain within the revolutionary enterprise.

For the most part, Schoeller’s film involves talk and debate. Here, the “people”, mean working class and the poor, and they are seen to be largely more inclined to drive the revolution forward until they win palpable rights and actual food on the table, than many of the privileged and periwigged classes who have assumed control of the assembly.

One member of the assembly states that “without Louis, the edifice crumbles,”  and he reveals the practical and emotional ties to the monarchy, particularly felt by aristocrats and others with more to lose. In contrast, the lawyer Robespierre is among those law-makers prepared to cut the tie, quite literally; and many of the working-class protagonists are with him.

At the same time, women, seen here as prominent forces on the front lines of the fighting, have no rights even to speak. Such contradictions ensure that the film has a nuance appropriate to a movement that was never a simple road to emancipation. The direction does not have with any of the panache associated with French period drama and this results in a certain stiffness and that is a pity because the poverty of the Parisian commoners is disconcertingly airbrushed.

The passion comes from the performances. The biggest impressions are made by women: Izïa Higelin, Céline Sallette (whose singing often rouses her character’s comrades and the film itself) and in particular Haenel, whose Françoise loses a child through malnutrition, speaks up for women’s rights and infuses her drifter-lover with her revolutionary fervor.

Garrel is a thoughtful Robespierre, Laurent Lafitte is a proud Louis, but in keeping with Schoeller’s agenda both characters are marginal.

“THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2”— A Limited Edition

“THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2”

A Limited Edition

Amos Lassen

In an isolated desert research camp that has been suddenly and mysteriously abandoned, an elite unit of soldiers tries to uncover the truth about the scientists who vanished. However, their attention is soon diverted by a distress signal coming from a distant mountain range and they quickly regroup and set out to investigate. What the soldiers don’t know is that these are the very same hills where the Carter family fell prey to a flesh-eating pack of hideously deformed mutants. As the number of soldiers in the cavalry unit  dwindles, it becomes obvious that their guns provide little if any defense from evil driven by hunger.

A motocross team on their way to trial a new super-fuel head out across the desert lead by Rachel, who, unbeknownst to the rest of the group, is a survivor of the cannibal clan which menaced the Carter family several years before. Choosing to take an ill-advised shortcut across the desert, the busload of youngsters drive straight into the path of the remnants of Rachel’s demented cannibal kin; Pluto and The Reaper.

The action takes place at a desert training ground for National Guard troops.Apparently, the few survivors from the original film did not bother to warn anyone about the cannibalistic clan, so it’s a total surprise to the soldiers when, two years later, they start getting picked off. Early on, when one of the hapless guardsmen gets torturously pulled through a small cave opening that he never should have fit through, we see that the army is up against formidable opponents. But retreat is not an option for these brave men and women and calling for reinforcements would have been cowardly.  

The film can be seen as a metaphor for the consequences of U.S. military intervention. Since the mutants are byproducts of Cold War nuclear testing turning against the government that created them, they’re kind of like the Taliban.

It seems like a perfect opportunity to give the mutants their due; it deploys a group of military people back to the scene of the crime. But it reduces the mutants to mine-dwelling freaks who murder and rape because, that’s what they do. 

The soldiers don’t realize that the mutants are luring them into various traps designed to kill the men and abduct the women for breeding purposes. It’s up to these unseasoned and often downright inept soldiers to fight their way out of trouble. 

The film has assembled a motley group of incompetents this side yet somehow misses the laughs. The film puts a heavy emphasis on disgusting makeup effects and visceral action sequences; whole characters are defined with little detail.

Bonus Materials

  • Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
  • Blood, Sand, and Fire: The Making of The Hills Have Eyes Part II – brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with actor Michael Berryman, actress Janus Blythe, production designer Dominick Bruno, composer Harry Manfredini and unit production ma
  • Stills gallery
  • Original Theatrical Trailer 
  • 6 Postcards
  • Reversible fold-out Poster

“THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR”— A Billy Wilder First (from 1942)

“THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR”

A Billy Wilder First (from 1942)

Amos Lassen

Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers) became tired of trying to make a living and avoiding advances of creeps like Albert Osborne (Robert Benchley),  so she decides to go home to Iowa using money she’s set aside for just such a rainy day. However the fare has gone up $5 causing her to be stranded in Grand Central Station. She decides to  disguise herself as Su-Su Applegate, a tall-for-her-age eleven year-old. This works until some suspicious conductors spot her smoking a cigarette on the observation car and she ducks into the first open compartment where she finds Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland), the commandant of the Wallace military school. He is returning from a failed attempt to secure a transfer to active duty. He buys Su-Su’s adolescent act and  Susan is convinced she’s met the man of her dreams under the worst conditions ever. Several complications later, Su-Su is spending a weekend at the military school, fighting off the advances of a number of aggressive cadets.

Philip’s fiancée Pamela Hill (Rita Johnson) also accepts Susan as Su-Su, but her little sister Lucy (Diana Lynn) isn’t fooled. Lucy doesn’t want Susan arrested and she needs an ally to show Philip that Pamela is  two-faced. Pamela has been pulling strings to wrongly convince Washington that the academy cannot do without Kirby. Meanwhile, Su-Su holds off the cadet wolves and goes to war against her female competition. 

Ginger Rogers has fun playing ‘Su-Su’ but it all backfires s when she meets Major Kirby. She’s encouraged when ‘Uncle’ Philip begins to see her as attractive, a development that Billy Wilder with his first Hollywood film exploits for all it’s worth. Major Kirby is clearly being turned on by what he thinks is an adolescent child, but since we’re perfectly aware that Susan is a mature 25, the naughtiness is censor-proof.

Everything comes to a head when Kirby tries to lecture Su-Su on the birds and the bees, comparing girls to light bulbs and boys to curious. Su-Su at first tells Philip that her family uses screen doors to keep the moths away, but when she sees that he’s having difficulty with the analogy, she lets him off the hook. When America’s young military cadets prove to be budding lovers. The irony is that Susan ditched the Big Apple to be free of unwanted advances, only to have it happen again.

Wilder’s personal brand of comedy is everywhere and wonderful. Running gags are  core constituent with Wilder style. back in New York. He loves topical jokes but they are certainly dated. Screenwriters Brackett and Wilder allow Susan Applegate to impersonate her own mother, thereby letting Ginger Rogers play Susan at three distinct ages.

Ray Milland is a fine foil for her as Major Philip Kirby, the officer who believes she is a frightened child, agrees to help her let her stay with him until they reach his stop, and eventually takes her home to the military academy where he teaches, pretending to be her father. 

Bonus Materials

 

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation transferred from original film elements
  • Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • New audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
  • Half Fare Please!, a newly filmed video appreciation by film critic Neil Sinyard 
  • Archival interview with Ray Milland 
  • Rare hour-long radio adaptation from 1943 starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland
  • Image gallery
  • Original trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork 
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: COLLECTOR’S BOOKLET WITH ESSAY BY RONALD BERGAN

“THE HOG FARM MOVIE”— Back to 1967, 68

“THE HOG FARM MOVIE”

Back to 1967, 68

Amos Lassen

In 1967, a group of artists, musicians and assorted freaks were living on a hilltop hog farm in Southern California. Paul Foster had been one of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. Now he was a computer programmer working for NASA’s Apollo team. Bonnie Jean Romney was an actress, doing ingénue roles on “Gunsmoke” and “Star Trek.” Hugh Romney was a poet and improv comic using theatre games to treat children with autism. He later changed his name to Wavy Gravy and become an ice cream flavor. 

In the summer of 1968 they went on the road with 40 painted buses, 2 geodesic domes, a light show, a band and the Yippee Party candidate for president, a 300-pound hog named Pigasus. This is a look at their epic journey across America, finally released  50 years later.
It was a commune of improvisational theatre performers, musicians, light-show artists, film makers, geodesic dome designers and Merry Pranksters that took shape on a mountaintop in southern California, where they had free rent in return for caring for forty hogs. As they traveled, they put on free participatory carnivals for thousands in rodeo grounds, Native American reservations, and colleges all across the country

The film features music by The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, Neal Cassady, The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and The Claude Doty Hog Farm Band. It was originally shot on 16mm in 1967-1968 and now fully restored in digital HD.

“PAPI CHULO”— Cross-cultural Communion

“PAPI CHULO”

Cross-cultural Communion

Amos Lassen

 “Papi Chulo” explores some deep emotional themes but lightly touch. Sean (Matt Bomer) is a gay Los Angeles weatherman who is having a rough time after a painful breakup. One day he has a breakdown on the air and his boss (Wendi McLendon-Covey) tells him to take some time of find also find someone he can talk to. Sean has a few ongoing projects around his house and decides his time off to take care of them, He goes to a local hardware shop for supplies where he sees middle-aged day worker Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) outside, and hires him to repaint his sun deck. Ernesto speaks very little English and has no idea what Sean is talking about as he tries to make conversation a variety of topics. Sean feels like he’s sharing his pain with someone, and having Ernesto around helps him cope with his loneliness. However, Ernesto doesn’t understand when Sean wants to hang out socially as well. He introduces Ernesto to his friends as if he’s a new boyfriend. Ernesto’s wife, Linda (Elena Campbell-Martinez), thinks this is very funny least until Sean gets a bit too close for comfort.

Irish writer-director John Butler slyly allows this to play using the humor in the characters rather than the situations. As Sean and Ernesto develop this offbeat friendship, the script reveals more about these two men and it becomes clear that Sean really needs professional help. Even as things become deeply emotional, the film remains honest and optimistic and eschews melodrama. We are reminded all the time that Sean’s friends care about him, and even Ernesto begins to understand that Sean’s pain needs more than just a  listener.

Bomer is excellent and delivers a layered performance as a smart man who has pushed his emotions down inside and can’t quite understand why his life seems to be going out of control. He keeps hoping he won’t have to confront his feelings, smiles stiffly and has clumsy conversations with everyone he meets. Sean’s real connection with Ernesto is a nice surprise, and Patiño plays him with a wonderful sense of wry humor. They are a fascinating odd couple, and each of their outings around town gives something to their strange relationship.

Director Butler gives the usual California locations of Silverlake and Runyon Canyon a fresh twist. Sean’s home in Eagle Rock is isolated from the city and the  film uses dating apps and easy sex. So if the plot sometimes seems to be pushy, its relaxed pacing and gently themes involve the audience.

Even though Ernesto understands very little,  Sean still insists on talking to him almost nonstop.  He talks about the work he needs done but then gives highlights of his life.  There is something in the warmth of the older man’s smile that encourages Sean to  share more and more .

The second day Sean insists that they take a break and go rowing on a local lake. He’ll pay the agreed hourly rate regardless of any work that gets done or not, and although Ernesto was initially wary of the fact that Sean is gay, he warms to him even though he has no idea what he is thinking about.  It is definitely not sexual in any way, but on the 3td day when the go off for a hike in LA’s hills there is a genuine warmness developing and an improbable friendship between these two strangers  who are totally opposites.

The second part of the film sees a change in tenor  as we learn why Sean is in such state and how his relationship with Carlos ended,  and everything makes sense.  We not only find our attitude to Sean’s seemingly odd behavior changing into compassion and something we can all relate to.

Here is cross-cultural communion that drives a metaphor into the ground. The film begins in medias res, with Sean having a meltdown on live television while reporting on a scorching heat wave sweeping through Los Angeles. He’s given a sabbatical that he’ll come to understand as a tacit firing, and at exactly the point that the job no longer really matters to him. He must get his deck painted before he can think about it.

What follows are events that find the lonely Sean taking the quietly obliging Ernesto on day trips around Los Angeles. Later, Ernesto guiltily acknowledges in a phone conversation to his wife  that he sees what the stranger by the lake does but that his bond to Sean is, in “conditionally transactional, possible only if it’s mediated by money.”

“Everybody’s Doin’ It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York, 1840-1917” by Dale Cockrell— A History

Cockrell, Dale. “Everybody’s Doin’ It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York, 1840-1917”. W.W. Norton, 2019.

A History

Amos Lassen

Dale Cockrell’s “Everybody’s Doin’ It” is the story of popular music’s seventy-year rise in the brothels, dance halls, and dives of New York City. We read about the birth of popular music, including ragtime and jazz, in convivial meeting places for sex, drink, music, and dance. Whether coming from a single piano player or a small band, live music was a nightly feature in New York’s dive bars where men and women, often black and white freely came together and this presence shocked the elite.

This drove the development of dance music that would soon span the world. The Virginia Minstrels, Juba, Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin and his hit “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band all played a part in beginning making new sounds and making them popular.

Musicologist Dale Cockrell recreates this underground world by researching tabloids, newspapers, court records of police busts, exposés, journals, and the reports of undercover detectives working for social-reform organizations who were gathered evidence against such places. “Everybody’s Doin’ It” illuminates the how, why, and where of America’s popular music and its journey from the dangerous Five Points of downtown to the interracial black and tans of Harlem. The book contains 30 illustrations. It also exposes the interracial and underworld origins of popular song and dance in the United States by taking is us into nineteenth-century concert saloons, cabarets, dives, and dance halls.
we are reminded that  prostitution was everywhere back then and was one of the ways that women could survive and it was an integral part of New York’s  music scene.”
Cockrell’s uses an archivist’s gaze to open  a new world for readers, showing how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

“The Song of Songs: A Biography” by Ilana Pardes— The Greatest Love Poem

Pardes, Ilana. “The Song of Songs: A Biography”, (Lives of Great Religious Books), Princeton University Press, 2019.

The Greatest Love Poem

Amos Lassen

Ilana Pardes in “The Song of Songs: A Biography” gives us the essential history of the greatest love poem ever written. What makes it even more interesting is that we have varieties of love throughout and we can look at it as a poem about divine love or as a poem about human love. In Pardes’ biography, we concentrate on human love and she “reveals how allegorical and literal interpretations are inextricably intertwined in the Song’s tumultuous life.” The body is key to many allegorical commentaries in all its aspects including pleasure and pain and eroticism. In this world of modernity today, the allegory has not disappeared and we see new modes of allegory that have come forth in modern settings and including the literary and the scholarly to the communal. This is the beauty of Hebrew scripture. Each of us has the ability to interpret as it affects us individually or as a group. I cannot remember how many times I have read and studied “The Song of Songs” intently and each time I would find something I had not thought about or not noticed before.

Writer Pardes gives us rare insights into the history and story of this poem and she traces a diverse line of passionate readers and these include Jewish and Christian interpreters of late antiquity who debated the Song’s allegorical meaning, medieval Hebrew poets who introduced it into the elegant and opulent world of banquets, and kabbalists who used it as a way to the celestial spheres. We see how feminist critics have been amazed by the poem’s egalitarian representation of courtship, and how it became a song of America for Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Toni Morrison. And yes, it is audacious and it is beautiful in its audaciousness.

 For centuries, mystics, poets, and writers from ancient rabbis to modern poets  have loved this poem and transformed it in their literary outputs. This study is not an interpretation but rather a history (biography) of “The Song of Songs” and a look at perceptive literary readings. Through examples we see the distinction between literal and allegorical as ambiguous. Of course the big questions remains— Is it a celebration of the erotic desires of a young man and woman? Is it about the love of God for the Jewish people or is it about the desire of the mystic soul for union with God?

“Entitled: Discriminating Tastes and the Expansion of the Arts ” by Jennifer C. Lena— A Fascinating Look at the Art Scene

Lena, Jennifer C. “Entitled: Discriminating Tastes and the Expansion of the Arts ”, Princeton University Press, 2019.

A Fascinating Look at vThe Art Scene

Amos Lassen

In “Entitled”, author Jennifer C. Lena gives us an in-depth look at how democratic values have widened the American arts scene, even though it is elite and cosmopolitan.

Some two hundred years ago, wealthy entrepreneurs founded museums, theater companies, and symphony orchestras in an attempt to mirror European art. Now today’s American arts scene has widened to embrace photography, design, comics, graffiti, jazz, and many other forms of folk, vernacular, and popular culture. How did this happen and what led to it? Lena shows how organizational transformations in the American art world while we lived in a shifting political, economic, technological, and social landscape made such change possible.

In chronicling the development of American art from its earliest days to the present, we see here that while the American arts may be more open, they are still unequal. “Entitled” looks at key historical moments including the creation of the Museum of Primitive Art and the granting of federal and state subsidies during the New Deal supported the production and display of culture. Lena explores the efforts to define American genres, styles, creators, and audiences and “the ways democratic values helped legitimate folk, vernacular, and commercial art, which was viewed as nonelite.” While art lovers have acquired an appreciation for more diverse culture, they also carefully select and curate works that reflect their cosmopolitan, elite, and moral tastes.

It is fair to say that elite tastes have broadened, but we cannot help but wonder if a cultural hierarchy is still in place. Using case studies throughout history and cross artistic disciplines, Lena  answers this by showing “how even as elites incorporate cultural forms created by marginalized groups into their taste repertoire, social hierarchies [can] remain firm.

We see clearly how, starting in the nineteenth century, worlds of art existed in the United States and “who paid for them, who made the art, and how audiences for the results emerged.”