“ACT & PUNISHMENT: THE PUSSY RIOT TRIALS”— Protesting For Human Rights

 

“ACT & PUNISHMENT: THE PUSSY RIOT TRIALS”

Protesting For Human Rights

Amos Lassen

“Act and Punishment” is a feature-length film that is written and directed by Evgeny Mitta and features Pussy Riot band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Mariya Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, who were jailed in 2011 in Russia after protesting the country’s human rights oppression and specifically targeting the election of Vladimir Putin as president of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church’s ties to him.

The film begins after their release from prison and follows their evolution from political activists to punk-rockers that gained worldwide attention after their widely seen concert at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where band members were attacked by Cossacks who were hired as security at the Games. The film follows the Russian band as they took a stand against Putin and his oppressive regime. While three members were sentenced to prison for 2 years, this documentary explores their moral victory.

Russian activists Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samutsevich decide to separate from the well-known activist group Voina and create their own group named Pussy Riot that would express their ideas of female independence and bring together activism, feminism and punk rock music. Pussy Riot quickly drew public attention after a show in Red Square where they accused the Russian authorities of sexism.

The performance landed them in a police station and much mass media attention. Pussy Riot then decided to conduct a punk rock church service in the Moscow Cathedral of from journalists and cameramen who managed to film it. Three of the girls were arrested and threatened with seven years in prison, as a number of world stars express their support for the artists including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paul McCartney, Madonna and Franz Ferdinand. They were offered freedom if they agreed to confess and repent for their “crime”. Of course they refused and the court sentenced them to two years in prison. Their defeat in court became their moral victory, as Pussy Riot were cheered on by thousands of their new-found fans and supporters worldwide.

“MY ART”— Meet Ellie Shine

“MY ART”

Meet Ellie Shine

Amos Lassen

Ellie Shine is a 65-year-old single artist living in New York City. She has a good life: a stable teaching job, successful friends, and a loyal, aging and handicapped dog named Bing. As her dream of a respectable place in the art world becomes more elusive, her frustration about her lack of recognition begins to feel urgent.

Shine looks to gain inspiration and tranquility as she house sits for a friend in upstate New York. She uses the adjoining barn as her workplace where she stages elaborate recreations of classic movie scenes, (i.e. “Some Like it Hot” and “A Clockwork Orange”). Her business surprisingly evolves into possible pleasure when Ellie invites three local men (two gardeners and a lawyer) to participate in her art. The three become romantically interested in Ellie but she is determined not to interrupt her work.

This is a film filled with heart and charm. Its only agenda is to tell a sweet story of likeable people on a journey of self-discovery. At one point in director Laurie Simmons’s “My Art”, New York City art teacher Ellie (Simmons) and Frank (Robert Clohessy), a landscaper and sometime actor who Ellie has recruited for her latest project, are seen dressed as Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, respectively, and preparing to recreate scenes from John Huston’s “The Misfits”. Ellie responds that, while it’s impossible for them to ever be Monroe or Gable, they should nonetheless impersonate the two screen legends simply to see what happens. Despite the sheer vagueness of this explanation, which essentially shows Ellie’s approach to the multimedia project she works on throughout the film, it unintentionally explicates the feeling that, like Ellie, Simmons isn’t so much creating art as a means to explore cinema’s effect on identity as she is conducting an act of indulgence.

Ellie’s project begins once her school year ends and she travels upstate to house-sit. She meets and befriends small towners, including Frank. Wisely, Simmons never shows Ellie as being more intelligent or cultured than the townsfolk, but the scenes that don’t involve Ellie at work suffer from something being missing. In one scene, Frank’s landscaping assistant, Tom (Joshua Safdie), and the latter’s wife, Angie (Parker Posey), have a discussion that offers an intriguing glimpse into a relationship marked by unresolved problems and unacknowledged insecurities. Part of the fun of the film is the way the film is staged. Simmons never really elaborates on Ellie’s life and aesthetic ambitions beyond suggesting that the woman seeks to escape from a reality that has her struggling to keep up with the times, a point undermined by a monologue in which Ellie declares how content she is with her life making the recreations feel superficial. And since the reason for why Ellie is working on this specific project remains ambiguous, it’s as if Simmons merely wishes to see herself in other people’s films—which makes the possessive title paradoxical.

When our dreams fail to be realized, cinema calls to us with the promise of sanctuary. For a couple hours, we escape into the lives of others. One of the most refreshing things about Laurie Simmons’ similarly provocative feature directorial debut, “My Art,” is in how it challenges the very notion of what constitutes a happy ending. 

Though Simmons is a renowned artist with a career spanning over four decades, she is best known to moviegoers as the real-life mother of Lena Durham.. “My Art” has been described by Simmons as her attempt to explore the mind of a sixty-something female artist on her own terms, and while her performance is just as deftly understated, it contains different layers of intrigue.

The final moments of “My Art” may seem tragic at first glance, until we realize that the “happy ending” for this is different from what we have come to expect. Simmons ends her film on an assuredly optimistic note, as Frank and Ellie watch their dreams becoming realized, all the while standing apart, facing separate directions.

“#artoffline”— Art in the Internet Age

“#artoffline”

Art in the Internet Age

Amos Lassen

It is very difficult not to wonder what happens to art in the Internet age. “#artoffline” brings together philosophers, artists and exhibition makers who believe that endless reproduction liberates art from “a muddled art market and an undemocratic exhibition circuit.” Then there are critics who wonder whether the urge for physical objects is really just a nostalgic fetishism. Digital technology has completely transformed the experience of art forever.

Walter Benjamin, the German philosopher, argued in 1936 that “the technological reproducibility of artworks changes the nature of art in an essential sense – the aura of the work could not possibly survive such doubling.” Almost everyone you hear in #artoffline disagrees with Benjamin. They think that, in the era of the internet and virtual reality, the demand for authenticity is no longer relevant. They see the focus on the value of physical objects as a kind of fetishism. The questions remains whether the internet can liberate art. “#artoffline” explores many views in order to let us decide what they think is good for the future of contemporary art. Do we lose something if the physical artworks disappear?

The film was made by the Columbian artist and director Manuel Correa and produced by Emil Olsen from Norway. The interviewees include a variety of artists and curators who discuss issues related to the field of art’s use of the Internet as an arena for artistic production, but most of all as a dissemination tool. Among the key arguments in the film we find is the claim that the Internet contributes to democratizing the arts: through the algorithms of “like” logic, it dissolves curatorial power and allows room for additional voices in the conversation.

This is a sixty minute documentary project featuring interviews with artists, curators, philosophers, collectors and critics who understand that we live in a networked world: today, taking selfies or photographing artworks is an integral part of the experience of visiting a museum; the works photographed can be transmitted in a matter of seconds. As an artist this is fascinating, because you can access and quickly see what other artists around the globe are producing. Although some of our interviewees believe that the acceleration of images poses a risk of homogenizing art production, the Internet also comes with tremendous potential for the transmission, circulation and development of theory.

The film illustrates the ways in which digital technologies are also aiding the creation of new audiences, and fostering a participatory culture that exists outside of traditional institutional spaces for art.

“SEIJUN SUZUKI: THE EARLY YEARS”, Volume 1— First Time on American Video or DVD

“Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years: Vol. 1”

First Time on American Video or DVD

Amos Lassen

This is a collection of the youth movies of Japanese director and iconoclast Seijun Suzuki. What we really see here is the evolving Suzuki’s style of the B-movie. Suzuki is best known for the cult classics “Tokyo Drifter” (1966) and “Branded to Kill” (1967).

“The Boy Who Came Back” (1958) and we see the first appearances of Nikkatsu Diamond Guys and regular Suzuki collaborators Akira Kobayashi and Jo Shishido. Here, in one of the films Kobayashi is cast as the hot-headed hoodlum fresh out of reform school We also see is a story of a young student who hooks up with a down-at-heels traveling circus troupe. “Teenage Yakuza” (1962) stars Tamio Kawaji as the high-school vigilante protecting his community from the extortions of mobsters from a neighbooring city. “The Incorrigible” (1963) (also known as ”The Bastard”) and “Born Under Crossed Stars” (1965) are both based on Toko Kon’s novels about young love and represent Suzuki s first films set in the 1920s era and later celebrated in his critically-regarded Taisho Trilogy.

 

 

 

 

“Holy Ceremony” by Harri Nykanen— Jewish Themes and Nordic Crime

 

Nykanen, Harri. “Holy Ceremony”, translated by Kristian London, Bitter Lemon Books, 2018.

Jewish Themes and Nordic Crime

Amos Lassen

Ariel Kafka is a detective with quite a fascinating name and this is the third volume in the Ariel Kafka series. This is not regular detective fare— it is something special in how it brings together classic Jewish themes with the traditions of Nordic crime and we see professional responsibility and ethnic affiliation clash. You will probably be surprised to learn that there are two Jewish cops in Helsinki. Ariel Kafka is one of them. He is a lieutenant in the Violent Crime Unit and sees himself first as a policeman first, then as a Finn, and finally as a Jew. He is stubborn and dedicated policeman who is always willing to risk his career to get an answer.

Kafka’s latest case is that of a woman’s body with religious texts written on it. She was found in a Helsinki apartment but was not murdered there. It seems that her body was stolen from the morgue. Then the body was stolen a second time and is found and this time is part of a sacrifice in a funeral pyre in Helsinki’s Central Park. This leads Kafka to investigate a series of crimes that lead to the enigmatic Christian Brotherhood of the Holy Vault. Now if you want to know more about this organization, you will have to read the book because to say anymore about it would spoil the read.

What I can say is that what begins as an investigation of Christian religious lunatics becomes a hunt for a perpetrator who is mentally damaged and was the victim of pedophilia at a boarding school. The Brotherhood of the Holy Vault was founded at the school. Former members of the Brotherhood members have gone on to become Oxford professors and important CEOs and all are now hesitant and reluctant to recall their school days. But before Kafka can solve the puzzle, more than one person must pay for past sins with his life.  The final twist takes the investigation in a totally different direction and we see the ultimate motivation for the crimes is money and that the mentally unstable alleged perpetrator being is used as bait.

What began as an investigation of Christian religious lunatics becomes a hunt for a perpetrator. The book reads quickly and I found myself turning pages as quickly as possible and each time being caught up in twists and turns. There is dry humor here as well as suspense. I do not often say this because I do not always have the possibility to do so but I had a great time reading this.

“Chronicles of Spartak: Freedom’s Hope” by Steven A. Coulter— San Francisco in the 22nd Century

Coulter, Steven A. “Chronicles of Spartak: Freedom’s Hope”, Jubilation Media, 2018.

San Francisco, the 22nd Century

Amos Lassen

A little over a year ago, I received a copy of Steven Coulter’s “Chronicles of Spartak: Rising Son” and I was a bit dismayed on how to approach it. By and large, I do not read science fiction and thought this might hinder how I feel about the book. On the other hand, I know how much work goes into writing a book and I believe that our literature must be read and spoken about. The surprise came in how much I enjoyed the read even though my mind was conditioned to not like it.

I noted in my review that it seemed to me that “Rising Son” left the door open for a sequel and now we have “Freedom’s Hope” and while it is a sequel each book stands alone and on its own. Even though this is true let me refresh my reader’s mind as to just who Spartak is.

When he was sixteen-years-old, Spartak Jones was betrayed, kidnapped and sold. this was in the year 2115 and America is split into factions and the ruling elite are involved in a power struggle. Spartak becomes a hero as he fights for right. His

exploits are famous and they have indirectly caused the feeling of liberalism to again take hold in underground and he becomes a symbol of hope for the people representing both what was and what can be. And just to note, Spartak is gay but his

sexuality is a non-issue. He immediately wins us over with his personality and his prowess. Writer Steven Coulter sharply and adroitly manages to mix in themes from what we are experiencing in our culture today to give relevance to the story and he gives us a hero who thinks as much of others as he thinks of himself and he champions equality and peace in a world where that does not seem likely.

In looking at the new volume, “Freedom’s Hope”, I suppose we can say that it is about a young man who finds love as a revolution takes place all around him We move ahead to the year 2116, Spartak is now 17 and the war between the ruling classes is picking up momentum. He has now become his own man after the terrible ordeal of having been kidnapped in “Rising Son”. The liberal underground uses his wholesome and swashbuckling image to build support for democracy even while others plot Spartak’s destruction. From the Space Elevator, some 22,000 miles above the earth, Spartak and Zinc McClain, scion of the nation’s richest family, begin “an audacious scheme to thwart a religious war and a military coup.” From this point on things move very quickly and writer Coulter wonderfully brings together science fiction, fantasy and politics.

There is so much to like about this book and its characters and I found myself reading the entire book in one sitting after having shut myself off from the rest of the world. I deliberately have said very little about the plot because I learned that when I tried to do so I was also writing a spoiler so you will have to take my word for it and read this. I am sure that our opinions will be in sync.

“Unmaking ‘The Making of Americans’: Toward an Aesthetic Ontology” by E.L. McCullum— Reading Differently

McCallum, E.L. “Unmaking ‘The Making of Americans’: Toward an Aesthetic Ontology”, SUNY University Press,2018.

Reading Differently

Amos Lassen

As a graduate student, I fell in love with the writings of Gertrude Stein and unlike so many others, I felt she had something to say. Then the news leaked that se had been a Nazi collaborator and my respect for her work was diminished considerably. Regardless of her political views, she did have something to say and E.L. McCullum shows us that in her epic novel, “The Making of Americans”, she taught us how to read differently. To do so we have to change the way we read now. In “The Unmaking of Americans”, each chapter “works through close readings of Stein’s text and a philosophical interlocutor to track a series of theoretical questions: what forms queer time, what are the limits of story, how do we feel emotion, how can we agree on a shared reality if interpretation and imagination intervene, and how do particular media shape how we convey this rich experience?” We become aware of Stein’s agenda and epistemological drive and see her thought experiments that bear on questions that are central to some of the most vibrant conversations in literary studies today.” Of late, we have had ongoing debates about the practices of reading, the difficulty of reading, and even the impossibility of reading and we now face the fact that the time has come to have a fuller critical engagement with reading and this book shows how.

Here is the Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

What to Make of The Making of Americans: An Introduction to Reading

 

  1. It Takes Time to Make Queer People: Heidegger through Stein

 

  1. Why Should Any One Keep on Going?: Feeling the Story

 

  1. A Real Aesthetic Aspiration: Body-Maps of Emotion’s Narrative

 

  1. I Write for Myself and Strangers: Kant with Stein

 

  1. Still Narrative: Matisse, Deleuze, and Stein

Works Cited

Index

“Sexual Identities: A Cognitive Literary Study” by Patrick Colm Hogan— Identity, The Diversity of Sexuality and the Scope of Gender

Hogan, Patrick Colm. “Sexual Identities: A Cognitive Literary Study”, (Cognition and Poetics), Oxford University Press, 2018.

Identity, The Diversity of Sexuality and the Scope of Gender

Amos Lassen

In “Sexual Identities”, Patrick Colm Hogan extends his work on identity to examine the complexities of sex, the diversity of sexuality, and the limited scope of gender. He uses a diverse body of literary works and illustrates a rarely drawn distinction between practical identity (the patterns in what one does, thinks, and feels) and categorical identity (how one labels oneself or is categorized by society). Using that distinction, “he offers a nuanced reformulation of the idea of social construction, distinguishing ideology, situational determination, shallow socialization, and deep socialization.” His argument is for “a meticulous skepticism about gender differences and a view of sexuality as evolved but also contingent and highly variable. The variability of sexuality and the near absence of gender fixity–and the imperfect alignment of practical and categorical identities in both cases–give rise to the social practices that Judith Butler refers to as “regulatory regimes.” Hogan explores the cognitive and affective operation of such regimes.” The book turns to sex and the question of how to understand transgendering in a way that respects the dignity of transgender people, without reverting to gender essentialism.

Hogan delivers the foundations of what we really need to understand about the ways that we “exist as situated sexual beings in the world.” Hogan adds to and deepens the major intellectual traditions that inform sexuality and gender studies. He “presents a brilliant, insightful and nuanced investigation of sexuality and gender. Considering the role of affect and emotion in shaping sexual identities, among other innovations and modifications, it is a provocative and significant contribution to the burgeoning field of cognitive cultural study.”

“Drawing on cognitive science, post-structuralism, feminism, discourse analysis, and queer theory, Hogan demonstrates that we cannot fully understand what drives sexual and gender dimorphism unless we inquire into the specific cognitive biases that structure our notions of identity. Coming from the humanities and remaining committed to the rich interpretive tradition of literary studies, Hogan is poised to transform both the sciences and the humanities.”-Lisa Zunshine, Bush-Holbrook Professor of English, University of Kentucky

“Open Love: The Complete Guide to Open Relationships, Polyamory, and More” by Axel Neustadter— Love

Neustadter, Axel. “Open Love: The Complete Guide to Open Relationships, Polyamory, and More”, Bruno Gmunder, 2018.

Love

Amos Lassen

Axel Neustadter answers some fascinating questions out love such as who do we love and who can we love and how many? With “Open Love,” Neustädter explores the possibilities and reveals the secrets of non-monogamous gay love. Some of the possibilities include fuck buddies, platonic friendships, spiritual partnerships and the open relationship which has always posed special challenges for people willing to step outside of monogamy template. Neustädter looks at all the important questions asked by anyone who’s desired a relationship with that certain extra quality.

We read about relationships without drama, jealousy, fidelity and safe sex practices. We also look at polyamory through a gay perspective. The book is actually “a guide to the freedom and joy of alternative relationships.” It also explains about expectations and failures.

“THE SECT”— Horror

“THE SECT”

Horror

Amos Lassen

 

“The Sect” was the Italian actor-turned-director  Michele Soavi’s third feature film his best-loved film. It opens in Southern California at a hippy commune that allows a Manson type (Tomas Arana) into their midst and soon thereafter find themselves slaughtered. We then  move forward to Frankfurt, Germany in 1991 and meet Miriam (Kelly Curtis), a humble primary school teacher and spinster whose life takes a turn for the bizarre when she accidentally hits an old man named Moebius (Herbert Lom) with her car. Taking him back to her home rather than a hospital, she helps the strange elderly gent back to health. But as things get weird and it becomes apparent their paths may not have crossed by accident. It seems that sinister occult forces are at work all around Miriam, and that fate has some big surprises for her. In this country the film went by the title “The Devil’s Daughter” and this gives us a pretty big hint even if the film itself does not seem anxious to give too much away at first.

Miriam is a pretty schoolteacher who lives alone with only her pet rabbit for company.

After taking the old man home, he seemingly collapses and dies, but not before infecting her with a bizarre parasite and opening up an apparently bottomless pit in her basement. It turns out that the old man is the cult’s leader, and that their plans involve impregnating her with the Antichrist.  To say anymore will ruin  the film for those who have not yet seen it.

“The Sect” is a visceral experience and one that defies a literal explanation