“THE MISANDRISTS”— A Feminist Terror Film

“The Misandrists”

A Feminist Terror Film

Amos Lassen

“The Misandrists” is not a regular movie by any means and it is hard to believe that it was ever produced (but I do not mean that to be negative, quite the contrary, in fact). Every scene is an unexpected combination of cold, stilted Germanic acting and surprising dialogue filled with dark humor and self-deprecation that causes viewers to laugh and to choke in the same breath.

The story is about a feminist terrorist faction (“asymmetrical warfare”, as they call it) under the guise of a school for troubled and abused young women. The aim of Big Mother (Susanne Sachsse) is to forcefully initiate a new female world order, and her chosen tool of propaganda is homemade lesbian porn. Director Bruce LaBruce has filmed some beautiful naked women having sex, but he cleverly shows the movement’s female leaders manipulating and exploiting these camera-shy and reluctant young girls just as a man would.

With references to Isis (the Egyptian goddess of magic and fertility, of course), gender fluidity and communism, this is a very political film. It is also teeming with symbolism and psychedelic erotica.

It is an all-out horror with an explicit scene where Big Mother performs a sex change operation without anesthetic on an unlucky male prisoner (Til Schindler). This man was taken in secretly by the rebellious “separatist amongst separatists”, Isolde, (Kita Updike) who moves between feminine fragility and cold dominance in line with her unusual and very poignant characteristic.

This film seems to address the aggressiveness of modern feminism while portraying true equality in the fact that women can be just as cruel, lustful and power-hungry as men. It also questions whether equality is even possible in a corrupt, masculine world, which may be justifying such a female revolution. It could very well be that man-hating female revolutionaries do not want equality, and instead have established an alternative society of their own. I want to say that this is so Bruce LaBruce and most of you know that I am a tremendous fan of hiss movies.

We do not often see rabid females expressing their repulsion of men. The women here despise man’s odor, their presence, their proximity and their existence. They refuse to live in a phallocentric society. They do not strive for equality, as they don’t want to mirror themselves against what they see as a corrupt establishment.

LaBruce returns to the politics of sex, which he explored in minute detail in “Raspberry Reich” (2004), and here he adds a commentary on extreme feminism. The female characters seek “to reconcile the revolutionary need with sexual politics” by rejecting men and setting up their Female Liberation Army (FLA) in an unidentified remote location.

Seven young women live under the purview of Big Mother and her loyal sidekicks Sister Barbara, Sister Kembra, Sister Grete and Sister Dagmar. Until one day Isolde decides to harbor a wounded male fugitive in the basement, despite knowing that this is a gross violation of the rules. She is exposed but that’s not the only surprise she has in store. Plenty of commotion and blood will follow.

LaBruce mixes elements of pornography with Marxist rhetoric as well as throwing in a few experimental devices. Some of the most recognizable devices of extreme feminism are also present including the desire for parthenogenesis (reproduction from a non-fertilized egg, where males are redundant) and the replacement of HIStory with HERstory (despite the etymology of the word having no connection with males whatsoever).

LaBruce breaks the fourth wall and invites the audience into the movie towards the end of the film. “The Misandrists” is tribute to feminism from a male perspective. LaBruce stated in an interview about the film that working with so many women was a novelty, and that he “let the girls guide themselves, and do things the way they would do it” while making the film. He is very respectful of the females, yet his gaze is still pervasive, and this ultimately remains a very masculine Bruce LaBruce movie.

Basically this is a low-budget, high-fantasy tale of radical lesbian separatists living a cult-like existence. It’s a wild romp with all the campy noir you might expect in a film by LaBruce. For those of you who have not seen his work, let me just say that is a queer filmmaker and founder of queercore, actor, critic, and self-described reluctant pornographer. He is one of he directors who established the New Queer Cinema, but LaBruce embraced a strictly anti-establishment queer aesthetic aligned with the underground punk scene. This includes sexually explicit images, stilted B-movie acting, and cult film tropes like zombies and vampires, along with more traditional narrative filmmaking techniques. Because LaBruce gives a nuanced critique of gender essentialism even as he celebrates this male-free utopia, he raises “The Misandrists” beyond a merely satisfying rendering of a salacious premise. Like so many of LaBruce’s films , it is so much more than it appears to be.

Here LaBruce treats metaphors as paints on a palette, and the film is filled with classic erotic imagery: “schoolgirls, covens, convents, and sex cults all mingle in a dizzying array of Sapphic delights.” This could have been a mess of a film but LaBruce is too good a director to let that happen. He sees B-movie acting is crucial and he chose exquisite women to be in his cast. LaBruce takes his feminist utopia and turns it into a critique of essentialist views even as it pays tribute to such feminist ideals. Yes, this is a twisted fantasy but made by a master who knows how to do so.

“SOMETHING LIKE THAT”— A Relationship Beyond Definition

“Something Like That” (“Alguma Coisa Assim”)

A Relationship Beyond Definition

Amos Lassen

Caio (Andre Antunes) and Mari (Caroline Abras) share a very close relationship. Over a ten-year period, there are three striking moments that we share with them. These incidents also out that relationship to tests. What we really see here are reflections on sexuality, labels and how time shapes and transforms encounters.

When the film opens in Sao Paolo, we meet the two and see them as happy ad free from care. But then one night when they are out clubbing, Caio kisses a boy for the very first time and his connection with Mari is never ever quite the same again.   

In the second part of the film in Caio some years later and he and his boyfriend are about to be married. Mari doesn’t like this and she is upset that her friend is so happy.

In the third part of their story, Mari is now living in Berlin and working as a house and home decorator and she has decided that Berlin is to be her home. Caio, now estranged from his husband, goes to Berlin to do some post-graduate work at a Berlin Hospital and the two soon settle back into their old routine of hanging out together.  One day that takes a totally different dimension when they get ‘high’ together and end up making love.  Perhaps this is what Mari has been hoping for all these years but when she became pregnant, she realized that she had not wanted this to happen.

“Something Like That” is the film that was originally to be a short film by directors Esmir Filho and Mariana Bastos who also co-wrote the screenplay. After winning awards as a short film, they decided to Open it up into a feature length film. We see how time shapes these two friends and their understandings about sexuality and life in general, and the lengths that they ultimately go to test their friendship. Both of them do not really know what they are searching for and whether life will ever turn out according to their dreams. 

 

“THE TEST OF LOVE”— Dealing with Change

“The Test of Love” (“L’Épreuve d’Amour”)

Dealing With Change

Amos Lassen

Director Arnaud Selignac introduces us to Paul (Fred Testot), a man who is uncomfortable in his own skin. His 20-year marriage to Marielle (Marie-Josee Croze) tested when she catches him in women’s clothes, and he realizes that he can no longer live a lie. Marielle’s initial disgust quickly turns to anger as she lashes out at him. When Paul attempts suicide, Marielle realizes that his life means much more to her than his appearance. They are convinced that their love will allow them to reinvent their life together and they and their two children brave the reaction of others and live with tolerance and hope.

 At first Paul and Marielle agreed that Paul will never do this again, but it is a promise that he is unable to keep.  The next time he is found out, there is anger again but it leads to a rational conversation when Paul explains that he not going just ‘through a phase’ and that he has been for years been fighting his awareness that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. When Marielle begins finally to embrace Paul’s crisis, their son Lucas (Gregoire Plantade) borrows his father’s computer and finds an online transgender group his father is a member off. A physical fight takes place that disturbs the whole family and then Paul is admitted to the hospital after a failed suicide attempt.

It is at this point for both Marielle and Lucas to accept the struggle Paul is going through is very real.  However Alice (Jeanne Guttet), Lucas’ sister,  refuses to listen to any reasoning and writes both her parents off as freaks, and leaves home and moves in with her boyfriend.

Testot gives a brilliant performance and manages to avoid all of the stereotypes usually associated with transgender characters. He shows his sensibility and his utter devotion to a family that he genuinely loves and is ultimately rewarded with their complete acceptance of him even when they still do not and cannot understand it all.

“FEMALE TROUBLE”—Tasty Tastelessness—–“There’s nothing divine about this earthly piece of trash.”

“Female Trouble”

Tasty Tastelessness—–“There’s nothing divine about this earthly piece of trash.”

Amos Lassen

Wow!!!—“Female Trouble: was made in 1974, 44 years ago and while I was living in Israel. I had never seen it although I did meet Divine when she went on tour and came to Tel Aviv. Now I finally got a chance to see “Female Trouble” on the gloriously restored Blu ray from the Criterion Collection.

Glamour has never been more grotesque than in this film that “injects the Hollywood melodrama with anarchic decadence.” Divine, engulfs the screen with charisma as Dawn Davenport, the living embodiment of the film’s lurid mantra, “Crime is beauty,” who moves from a teenage nightmare hell-bent on getting cha-cha heels for Christmas to a fame monster whose egomaniacal impulses land her in the electric chair. The film was shot in director John Waters’ native Baltimore on 16 mm, with a cast drawn from his beloved troupe of regulars, the Dreamlanders (including Mink Stole, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Edith Massey, and Cookie Mueller) and it provides perverse pleasures that never fail to satisfy.

The Criterion Collection has pulled out all the stops for this brand-new Director-Approved Special Edition – which includes a new digital restoration, Audio Commentary from John Waters, new and archival interviews, deleted scenes, rare footage and much more. As we watch, it is only natural to wonder where do these people come from and where do they go when the sun goes down?

  • The DVD Special Features include:

Audio commentary from 2004 featuring Waters

New conversation between Waters and critic Michael Musto

New and archival interviews with cast and crewmembers Mink Stole, Pat Moran, Vincent Peranio, Susan Lowe, Mary Vivian Pearce, and more

Deleted scenes and alternate takes

Rare on-set footage and More!

PLUS: An essay by film critic Ed Halterhate you and I hate Christmas!” screeches Dawn Davenport at her hapless parents after she fails to find her beloved cha-cha heels under the brightly decorated tree on Christmas morning. And so off she goes to begin a life of crime and debauchery.

“Body to Job” by Christopher Zeischegg— An Adult Film Career

Zeischegg, Christopher (Danny Wylde). “Body to Job”, Rare Bird Books, 2018.

An Adult Film Career

Amos Lassen

Former porn star, Christopher Zeischegg (aka Danny Wylde) has written a wonderful memoir of his adult film career and the life that came after he exited the movies. While this is not the first memoir by an ex-porn star I have read, it is by far the best and I suspect that this is because Zeischegg took the time to hone his writing in two other novels (reviewed here). Zeischegg writes about youthful naiveté, sex worker love, pro-porn activism, disenchantment, and violence and he does so as a man who knows how to write. I first must tell you that the book is quite explicit in the way it looks at vulnerability, longing, terror, and life. It is also unforgettable.

I have always thought that those who become porn stars are condemned to be jaded for the rest of their lives and I am glad that this is not true, especially for Chris Zeischegg who shows us how we remain human in spite of, and because of, our experiences. The read here is a journey that takes us through periods of “lust, numbness, love, and the feeling that comes from ‘somewhere just as deep as love”. Zeischegg emphasizes that a porn star begins as a person and ends as a person.

Knowing the quality of the author’s writing, I decided that I would read the entire book in one sitting and if you can do the same, I recommend doing so. For one thing, we get an excellent deconstruction of the sex trade and of the stigma of the sex worker the and bisexual male stigma. We immediately sense the author’s vulnerability and confidence.

I have always believed that to work in the sex trade is to live a life that is very dark and it is so here but with the author lighting up that world so that we can what the darkness hides.

Zeischegg came to the world of porn where (and I quote this because it is beautifully written) “the dark, rapey landscape of homophobic, sexist porn culture where intimacy is ill-advised and the human heart aches eternal.” We meet a man whose desires are pushed aside in a world where sex is work and not an expression of love. Sex was a mean to survive financially; it was a paycheck that changed it from an emotion to a routine. Christopher was a crossover performer (bisexual porn performer) who found no place in either gay and straight groups and we are with him as he moves from paying john to girlfriend to boyfriend and to performer on screen. I immediately saw that there was nonsense of direction but there was almost non-stop movement. He experienced a life of fluid sexuality that was as naked as he was.

I think what surprised me most about Christopher Zeischegg is that he is not only a fine writer but he has a sense of awareness about who he is and the world in which he leaves, In a way this invalidates how we usually think of porn stars (although I have to hand to Stormy Daniels especially if she is able to bring down the President). As I mentioned earlier, this is not the first book that I have read by

Zeischegg so I already knew that I liked his writing. What really drew me to this book is his honesty about his life and about who he is. He has the ability to bring together fact, fiction, poetry, art, violence, love, humor and magical realism and he does so with style and grace (not a word commonly used on porn stars). Zeischegg sees the sex industry as just another option for the smart, educated, and aimless until he realizes differently.

When I first read Chris Zeischegg I knew that he is special. His voice is fresh and original and I knew that there were stories that would come out that would surprise us by their quality. I love that he can make the personal become universal and global.

We see the raw humanity behind porn where I doubt we consider that reality even exists. Porn is a fantasy world that thrives almost entirely on what is not real. Zeischegg shares that dark word with fearlessness. I do not usually read porn (although there are a couple of writers that write what I call literary porn that I am always ready to read). This too is porn or at the very least very bold. But what we have here is so beautifully written and so sincere that I am okay saying that it is XXX but I am willing to call it porn.

There are shocks and revelations aplenty here and there is sorrow, boredom, desperation, happiness and craziness. Here is one little story that I love. “Of course, there were all the practical reasons for doing porn: money, validation, trying to get through school, etc. But in regards to my desire to write, porn gave me material to explore. I didn’t need to go out and research something. I was living it. The research was my life.”

The book blurs the line between memoir and fiction making the reader guess what is real and what isn’t and this was fun for me. Even though I do not give stars or ratings to the books that I review, I am making an exception by giving this book five big fat shiny stars and totally recommend it.

“The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius” by Zach Schonbrun— How We Understand Athletic Genius

Schonbrun, Zach. “The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius”, Dutton, 2018.

How We Understand Athletic Genius

Amos Lassen

“The Performance Cortex” explains athletic genius and gives us a new perspective on the science of elite sporting performance. We have all heard these questions: “Why couldn’t Michael Jordan, master athlete that he was, hit a baseball? Why can’t modern robotics come close to replicating the dexterity of a five-year-old? Why do good quarterbacks always seem to know where their receivers are?” yet we have never really had them answered except by speculation.

Writer Zach Schonbrun had done extensive research to look at what actually drives human movement and its spectacular potential. He traces the fascinating history of motor research and gives details of how new investigations in the brain help to explain the extraordinary skills of talented performers like Stephen Curry, Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and Lionel Messi. He also looks at musical virtuosos, dancers, rock climbers, racecar drivers, and more.

We know that movement (regardless of how much) requires extraordinary computation that many of us have taken for granted until now. “The Performance Cortex” takes us into a new way of thinking about the athletic gifts that we strain to see. Now we are looking at the brain. What is so intriguing is that the athletes themselves seem to have no idea how they do much of what they do, because it occurs beneath their conscious awareness. Schonbrun reveals the latest science on how elite athletic feats are actually accomplished. Letting us understand the genius behind sports. He tells us that the next wave of athletic training will look at the relationship between the mind and the body, and the neuroscience that seeks to explore and exploit this interaction to create better athletes. 

We see that despite the emphasis that we putt on hard work and grit, most professional athletes are not elite only because of the extra training hours or their particular body build. Mental analytics is the next frontier in sports and new companies are already exploring new ways to conquer it. “The more we understand the brain’s impact on the way our bodies move, the more obvious it is that sports and neuroscience cannot be separated. Soon, scanning draft prospects’ brains with an EEG will become as much of a standard as a yearly physical.” We certainly have seen the opposite of this with respect to Aaron Hernandez and the new theories as to why he went from a star to a murderer and taking his own life.

 The book not only challenges how we understand athletic genius, but, it fundamentally changes how we see the intersection of athleticism, the brain, and the future of sports.

“The Luck of Friendship: The Letters of Tennessee Williams and James Laughlin” edited by Peggy Fox and Thomas Keith— An Unlikely Friendship

Laughlin, James and Tennessee Williams. “The Luck of Friendship: The Letters of Tennessee Williams and James Laughlin”, edited by Peggy Fox and Thomas Keith, W.W. Norton, 2018.

An Unlikely Friendship

Amos Lassen

“The Luck of Friendship” chronicles the unlikely friendship between Tennessee Williams and James Laughlin. That friendship began in December 1942 when the two men met and bonded at a Lincoln Kirstein mixer. Each of them loved Hart Crane’s poetry and out of that meeting a strong friendship began and continued for many years. James Laughlin was the founder of a small publishing company called New Directions, which he had launched seven years earlier as a sophomore at Harvard. Tennessee Williams was a young playwright who a week later sent a letter to Jay (how he always addressed Laughlin in writing) hoping to arrange a meeting to discuss his poetry. From that point on their friendship went on for 41 years during which Williams experienced “critical acclaim and rejection, commercial success and failure, manic highs, bouts of depression, and serious and not-so-serious liaisons.” Williams thought of Laughlin as his “literary conscience,” and called him such and New Directions serves to this day as Williams’ publisher of everything that he wrote. Through their letters, we get a look into the literary history of the mid-twentieth century and the struggles of a great playwright who was supported in his endeavors by his publisher and friend.

However, because Tennessee and Laughlin were both travelers, their lives rarely crossed, so their bond lived in their correspondence. I knew Tennessee fairly well but in reading these letters I see a different man that the one I knew. The letters show him to be a practical and dedicated man of the theatre, an artist who was not willing to compromise and a loving and loyal friend.

James Laughlin was the first person to publish Tennessee Williams and as far as we know, he was the only major collaborator with whom Williams did not fall out. Together the two men were able to put Tennessee into print keeping both the words and the independent publishing house alive. Both men expressed themselves beautifully in prose and through their letters, they give us a deep and intimate look into their lives.

Here we see the sane Tennessee Williams minus the drugs and infused with a great sense of idealism, seriousness and humor. The writing is at times poetic, at times campy and filled with gossip. It seems to have been impossible for Williams to write a letter without grace to Laughlin. We immediately sense the moving friendship between the two men while at the same time seeing how much each depended on the other but not symbiotically. They were both titans in the world of letters and literature and we are very lucky to have this volume.

Let me just add a word about the two editors here. Peggy L. Fox, is the former president and publisher of New Directions and she was Tennessee Williams’ last editor as well as co-literary executioner of James Laughlin. Thomas Keith began his association with James Laughlin, Peggy L. Fox, and New Directions in 1987 and has edited the Tennessee Williams titles for New Directions since 2002. Both of these literary personages are well equipped to edit these letters.

“Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016” by Frank Bidart— Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize

Bidart, Frank. “Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

WINNER OF THE 2018 PULITZER PRIZE IN POETRY AND THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR POETRY

Amos Lassen

The collected works of one of contemporary poetry’s most original voices, Frank Bidart has the ability to turn the body into language and dares to go into the dark places of the human psyche. This new Pulitzer Prize winning volume, “Half-Light” contains a all of Bidart’s previous books, and a new collection, “Thirst”. On “Thirst”, Bidart examines his life before he moves on to do something new. It is here that he sees himself as one who is still searching for who he is and on of the “queers of the universe.” Throughout the entire collection, Bidart is a visionary with revelations and both unguarded and intimate. He is an unresolved conflict that is constantly renewed who is eternally restless.

Here is a collection of fifty years of poetry that gives voice to what goes on inside of both real and imagined people. It some senses it is autobiographical.

Bidart has the ability to transform a poem into “a vocalized (albeit anguished) performance of consciousness and moral interrogation, an occasion for metaphysical speculation that is oracular and sublime.” Then there are Bidart’s thoughts on

homophobia, doubt, and a parent’s confusing love can shape a gay child. Bidart gives us an invocation of love even where that love no longer exists and thoughts on friendship and mortality.

Bidart is intense and this comes out of need, desire and his own art as a poet. He shows us what it means to be human.

“ALL GENDERS WRAP”— How to Wear Tefillin

“All Genders Wrap”

How to Wear Tefillin

Amos Lassen

“All Genders Wrap” will feature 10 diverse Jews—including trans and non-binary people and tefillin,a prayer object typically worn by Orthodox Jews that can be a strange thing to learn how to properly wear. Tefillin consists of a set of small, black boxes with tiny Torah scrolls inside and leather straps, Tefillin is customarily only worn by men—but ,as of late, that is changing.

Rachel Putterman is a 52-year-old woman who enrolled in Rabbinical school, she couldn’t quite get the hang of how to put on Tefillin. She turned to YouTube only to discover low-quality videos solely featuring men.

She realized that in the videos that that there was nobody that looked like her and she felt this to be a glaring gap. So, Putterman, who formerly worked as a public interest lawyer, decided to start an IndieGoGo campaign to create an educational video featuring people of all genders. The project will aptly be titled “All Genders Wrap”.

Putterman is directing “All Genders Wrap”, a film that is being produced by fellow Hebrew College rabbinical student Gita Karasov. The video will include 10 diverse Jews (including men, women, trans, and non-binary people) of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Putterman says that she wanted to make a statement to counter what is seen on YouTube and that there are people of all genders engaged in practice of using tefillin. In addition to featuring diverse Jews, the video will also talk about other differences in Tefillin practice. Jews from Spain, Bulgaria and north Africa, for example wrap Tefillin according to Sephardic rather than Ashkenazic customs. One who is left-handed wraps on the left arm instead of the right.

Putterman believes that the film will be on interest to within a small subset of the Jewish community: those that are interested in laying tefillin but not the Orthodox. Many non-Orthodox synagogues now encourage both men and women to use Tefillin.

The personal stories of the 10 diverse Jews will in the video. Putterman feels that there is something profoundly satisfying “about this visual imagery of non-cisgender men wearing this stuff, and not just wearing it but engaged in the practice.”

Personally, I hated wrapping Tefillin when I was forced to do so and it was until very much later that I decided on my own that I wanted this to be part of the way I live.

 

“ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON”— Twenty-Six Episodes

“ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON”

Twenty-Six Episodes

Amos Lassen

I was living out of the country when “Laugh In” was at its prime and so I only got what friends would send me and I don’t remember even having seen an entire episode all the way through. I have made up for that now with the Time Life “Laugh In” series and I am glad to report that now available for the very first time at retail prices is The 7-disc fourth season set that features 26 complete, remastered episodes from the Emmy® and Golden Globe®-Winning series with guest stars that include Truman Capote, Art Carney, Johnny Carson, Wilt Chamberlain, Carol Channing, Tim Conway, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr., Rich Little, Debbie Reynolds, Don Rickles, Rod Serling, Orson Welles, Joey Bishop, William F. Buckley, Phyllis Diller, David Frost, Andy Griffith, Peter Lawford, Rich Little, Bob Newhart, Vincent Price, Carl Reiner, Flip Wilson and many more! Our “Laugh In” regular cast is made up of Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Lily Tomlin, Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Gary Owens, Alan Sues, Ann Elder, Dennis Allen, Barbara Sharma, Goldie Hawn and Johnny Brown. 

The ’60s gave us “in-crowds,” “be-ins” and “love-ins,” and “Laugh In” that was broadcast from beautiful downtown Burbank. Straight man Dan Rowan and wisecracking co-host Dick Martin led a gaggle of goofballs through a rapid-fire assault of one-liners, skits, bits and non sequiturs that left viewers in hysterics and disbelief. Most of these comic moments could not be done today because someone would find them offensive when they are really just for fun. Anything and anyone in the public eye was a target. Back then there was no political correctness.

Imagine if you can: Don Rickles impersonating Arlene Francis? A boxing match between Sammy Davis Jr. and Wilt Chamberlain? “Laugh-In” writers produced 26 rip-roaring, laugh-a-minute episodes included here.

We also have the long-running classic sketches of “Cocktail Party,” “Joke Wall,” “The Farkle Family” and “Gladys and Tyrone. 

The set also includes two new-to-retail, specially produced bonus features: interviews with Lily Tomlin and Arte Johnson.