“BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE”— A Yakuza Thriller

blind woman's curse

“BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE”

A Yakuza Thriller

Amos Lassen

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Akemi (Meiko Kaji) is a dragon-tattooed leader of the Tachibana Yakuza clan. In a duel with a rival gang Akemi slashes the eyes of an opponent and a black cat appears, to lap the blood from the gushing wound. It seems natural that revenge would follow and the cat together with the eye-victim go on to pursue Akemi’s gang and leave a trail of dead Yakuza girls, their dragon tattoos skinned from their bodies. The film combines female Yakuza with a traditional Japanese ghost story and also mixes in some grotesque-erotica and what we get is quite a mash-up of classic genre tropes.

blind1Akemi and her clan members pursue and meet their opponents and Akemi delivers a sword thrust to kill the opponents’ leader. Aiko, his daughter, tries to come between them and suffers a blow to her eyes that cuts her and blinds her. While this is going on, a black cat that goes unnoticed licks the daughter’s wound. Revenge continues for years and great dissension grows with Akemi’s people and death is prevalent. They are joined by a new member who comes to help but she is odd and also blind. She carries the curse of the blind lady and it is about to take care of Akemi, the dragon lady.

blind2The well-known erotic and grotesque film director Teruo Ishii, is at the helm here and he gives us a film that mixes horror and yakuza conventions. He sees the film as a bit of nonsense. Visually the film is gorgeous and it is entertaining to watch and when we consider that it was made in 1970, it becomes all the more interesting. Many see it as a hybrid of the period gangster, revenge, and horror film genres.

“Fallen Jewel”— A Learning Journey with Waxie Moon

fallen jewel

“Fallen Jewel”

A Learning Journey with Waxie Moon

Amos Lassen

Get ready for a “queer pop-art fantasia” when Waxie Moon takes you on a journey as he searches for the perfect man. Moon has been called a “burlesque performer for a new century” and he is really something. Two of his biggest addictions are romance and clothing and he is always ready to fall in love. The film is a collaboration between long-time friends, local actor/director Wes Hurley and Marc Kenison/Waxie Moon, a gender bending seductress. The film dares to be both “raw and refined, high art and pedestrian, male and female, ridiculous and sublime”. The two claim to have been inspired by quite a list of people including “Goddard, Fellini, Dreyer, Douglas Sirk, Fassbinder, Tennessee Williams, early silent cinema, as well as Sex in the City, John Waters, Jean Genet and 70’s exploitation.” Those who appear in the film are a list of who’s who from the Seattle arts scene— Sarah Rudinoff, Inga Ingenue, Lou Henry Hoover, Miss Indigo Blue, Nick Garrison, Jerick Hoffer, and dozens more.  This is something of a fairytale but totally pulled apart but how could anyone want to be anywhere else when they could be with Waxie as he looks for love.

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Some of you may have been lucky enough to see the documentary, “Waxie Moon” which was also a partnership between Hurley and Moon and looks at the career of our gender-bending star. The two wanted to follow that with something new and completely different so they began thinking about putting Moon into different film genres in order to see how they could deconstruct the techniques of Hollywood and form him into an ”ironic heroine”. In other words they wanted to look at Hollywood themes and the treatment of women in today’s popular culture but with Moon as the woman in the situations.

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The resulting film is a love letter to Seattle and to Moon. It is also a tribute to the art of dance with numbers happening when least expected. As we move toward the end of the film, there are surprises when suddenly we realize that we are looking at the meanings of lust, sex and desire.

“THE TANTI MAN”— A Sexy Gay Summer that Was

tanti-man

“The Tanti Man”

A Sexy Gay Summer that Was

Amos Lassen

 Tanti Man is a term derived from French Creole/Caribbean term for an effeminate man and/or homosexual. The film looks back at the 70’s and 80’s and does so in a montage of images and reminiscences of filmmaker Bobby Abate’s youth. He shares his memories of a seaside town to when things got sexy with another young man.

Abate says that the film is “A summer memoir of my love affair with Salisbury Beach and a strange and charming drifter. When I lived in Boston, I was obsessed with a beach town on the north shore of Massachusetts complete neon pizza shacks, a run-down amusement park, pin ball machines, and a roller skating rink collapsed into the ocean. Populated by colorful weirdos and misfits, I felt more at home here then I did in Boston — it was a place for those who somehow felt protected amongst the crumbling facades and faded memories. At the time, I felt most comfortable in tenuous spaces and in fleeting encounters with unavailable men.”

Included are entries from Abate’s journal of his teen years and we see the melodrama and self-destructiveness that he went through.

 

“DAY OF ANGER”— When a Gunfighter Comes to Town

day of anger

“Day of Anger” (“I giorni dell’ira”)

When a Gunfighter Comes to Town

Amos Lassen

It was Sergio Leone who turned Lee Van Cleef into a major star with “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. Afterwards Van Cleef stayed in Italy to make a few more ore spaghetti westerns. This is one of them and it was directed by Leone’s former assistant Tonino Valerii and it is considered by many to be among the best of that genre.

Street cleaner Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma) is relentlessly bullied by the people of Clifton, a small town. When legendarily ruthless master gunfighter Frank Talby (Van Cleef) comes into town, Scott jumps at the chance to rise up from the gutter, and maybe even surpass Talby’s own skills. However there is the question as to why Talby doing in Clifton in the first place? The chemistry between the two is lively and fun to see and that along with some interesting action scenes as well as a jazzy music score by Riz Ortolani score make this a movie to be seen and remembered.

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We tend to remember Lee Van Cleef as playing second fiddle to Clint Eastwood in Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. Not many remember that afterwards he made a number of strong entries in the genre without being overshadowed by his co-stars and director.

The plot of “Day of Anger” is rather typical genre oater— an aging gunman takes on a young protégé. Because he had been treated so badly by the townspeople, Scott wants revenge and he befriends Talby to learn how to get that revenge. Everything was going well until Talby kills the man who raised him and now the protégé must use his lessons to turn on his teacher.

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We see Cleef in top form as the aging gunman and up-until-now, directors he had worked with always wisely chose strong, usually younger, actors to act second to him. Here Valerii chose Giuliano Gemma, a charismatic young man on a fast rise. He perfectly compliments Cleef as he plays the abused, clueless protagonist that undergoes dramatic changes throughout the film with an array of emotions.

\Van Cleef possesses a feral cynicism of this distinctly European vision of the American west. He is given the opportunity to explore the full range of emotions and his gunslinger Frank Talby is slick and ruthless and possessed of a burning intelligence and ambition. Talby represents a kind of justice, but the justice he metes out to the corrupt leaders of Clifton, is poetic, and not at all motivated by an innate sense of moral justice. In reality Talby is only interested in taking care of himself, making a lot of money and eventually taking control of Clifton. He uses a combination of guile, gunfire and blackmail to do this. When Talby takes Scott we are deceived into believing Talby is a good man outraged by the disrespect and injustice that Scott has had to endure, but his motives turn out to be selfish and self serving.

Scott is his opposite who wears his heart on his sleeve.  Every slight and humiliation his character Scott endures is visible on his face. We first see Scott on his daily rounds; cleaning out toilets, sweeping floors, having the fact that he has no father being constantly thrown at him. There are those in Clifton that take great joy in abusing him and we soon realize that he is the emotional core of the film.

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Talby is the only character to show him kindness and respect (in fact Talby shoots a man dead for objecting to Scott drinking with him in the saloon) and soon after the film morphs into the familiar theme of the teacher/student relationship. We might not realize this at first because of Scott’s childish naivety. Talby teaches him some hard and harsh lessons, which include allowing a useless citizen to beat Scott to a pulp. We see him as idiotic and comedic but he is filing away every lesson. Talby seems to enjoy watching Scott make his mistakes, before offering his take on things. Even at moments of intense gratitude there is the sense that this is a friendship based on mutual convenience, and when one of them inconvenienced by it will soon be over.

 Talby begins blackmailing his way to control of Clifton and Scott is allowed his opportunity to return some of the vitriol he experienced. The ultimate lesson that Scott learns is that he is nothing without a gun and that those without the power to make life and death decisions are exploited in this world. When a mysterious assassin arrives and challenges Talby to a duel on horseback with front loading rifles, it is filmed operatically and we see Talby’s sadism when he deals with those that stand in his way. We really see this when he leaves the corrupt owner of a saloon to burn and die in a fire and then Talby builds a new saloon on the ashes of the old one.

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 However, Talby’s best-laid plans are undone by a series of errors made due to his own vanity and his own greed for power and material gain. The film is very clear in its statement about how power corrupts and even those who are free of blame are dragged into deceit and lies. We sense the inevitability that

Talby and Scott will face each other in a duel, and we have no idea how to predict the outcome. I see Talby as the classical anti-hero. He works for justice until justice is no longer in his best interests. Scott on the other hand wants the town to fear him after years of mistreatment, but he soon finds Talby is being rough and unfair when he realizes that there are other men working are helping him take over the town for himself. The murder of Scott’s old mentor, an ex-marshal turned stable owner who once ran Talby out of Abilene at gunpoint, is what sets Scott against Talby and this is what leads to the showdown between master and apprentice.

One more point—the movie has had several names including “Day of Wrath”, “Gunlaw” and “Blood and Grit”.

“MARK OF THE DEVIL”— In Cahoots with Satan

mark of the devil

“Mark of the Devil”, (“Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält”)

In Cahoots with Satan

Amos Lassen

 “Mark of the Devil” begins with a group of local witch-hunters chasing down a monk and two nuns who, it has been decided, are in league with Satan. A public execution in the town square follows, including the removal of the monk’s fingers and his tarring and feathering. It was indeed a spectacle and we even hear, “Strip him – that way the women will enjoy it too!” Women who were regarded as the object of temptation suffered terrible fates and since those who hunted witches were men, we can expect the worst treatment of women possible. The ugly Albino (Reggie Nalder) organized these hunts. But then Christian (Udo Kier) comes to the local tavern and advises Albino that he’s arrived there ahead of his master, Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom), who will arrive shortly to oversee future witch trials. Obviously, this upsets Albino and he’s quick to pick up on the chemistry between Christian and barmaid Vanessa (Olivera Katarina). When Albino tries his luck with Vanessa he is rebuked and condemns her as a witch and tries to take her into custody. Christian has something to say about this and here starts the story that exposes his own lust for women.

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Christian believes that he has been employed to undertake God’s will, Albino is ambiguously conscientious about his approach to his work and Cumberland sees corruption within the local authority’s ranks. These three points give intrigue to the film. That is not to say that the film is not exploitive because it most certainly is. We see young women stretched on the rack, stripped naked, whipped, raped, having their tongues torn out with tongs, burned and so on. It even becomes more violent when we understand the terror that these women feel.

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Cumberland is frustrated because he is impotent and this is what causes him to act so madly. Christian understands to mean that God does not want dead people; he wants confessions. However when Christian falls for Vanessa, he begins to see the atrocities as an excuse to swipe valuables and land from the aristocracy. Aside from being a cult film, “Mark of the Devil” is an important chapter in the history of exploitation cinema as it managed to deliver extreme material in the context of an historical, deeply pessimistic story. It shows us an utterly compromised world in which innocence has little value, money will just get one killed, and almost anything can be seized under the guise of the church.

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The cast is totally wild and participation in this movie went on to open doors for many of the actors. By today’s standards it is somewhat mild but it certainly gives us a look at horror as we once saw it and it will continue to remain a standard for many horror film aficionados.

“Evil is, as Evil Does” by Dennis Burnier Smith— A Crime Thriller

 evil is as evil does

Smith, Dennis Burnier. “Evil is, as Evil Does”, CreateSpace, 2015.

A Crime Thriller

Amos Lassen

David Steinberg, a young Jewish businessman, is abducted from the streets of Manchester’s Gay Village after a night out with his fellow workers. Three gay men, the leader of whom is a huge bodybuilding sadist, took him. One of the other two is a longhaired hippy type with teeth that look like fangs and who has a blood lust and for that his teeth come on handy. The third is a slim cross-dresser who feels that he was born into the wrong body. This is not the first time that they have done something like this and David is not their first abduction. We learn that during the past two years, three other straight men have been abducted and then disappeared. The scene of the crimes has always been the famous Manchester Gay Village. The three take David to a quiet riverside spot where he is subjected to a brutal sexual attack and when they believed that he was dead, he was left in the sewer with the rotting bodies of the prior victims. He manages to escape and find his way home where he locks himself in and begins to plan his revenge on his abductors. Each of the three will be dealt with differently but what will be common among them is the violent that he has planned.

There were two policemen assigned to the case—Detective Inspector Jake Shreiver and his partner Detective Constable Bill Williams and they have been investigating since the first man disappeared. They have been determined to find the killers and bring them to justice but new killings have forced them to look at things differently.

Now that I have left you hanging and hoping curious enough to read the book, let me just say that I really am not much of a mystery reader and the only mysteries I read usually are those that have been sent to me to review. However because there is a Jewish main character and I have been working on establishing the definitive Jewish LGBT reading list, I decided that this was going on my list. I was surprised at how much how I got into the story and the reason for that is the quality of both the prose and the character development. It is a good read that will keep you turning pages rapidly.

“BULGARIAN RHAPSODY”— The Summer of ’43

bulgarian rhapsody

“Bulgarian Rhapsody”

The Summer of ‘43

Amos Lassen

In the summer of 1943, the Jews of Bulgaria were forced to follow the laws of Germany. In that same year, Moni (Kristiyan Makarov), a Jewish teen from Sofia and Giogio (Stefan Popov) the son of the commissar for Jewish affairs’ driver, meets Shelly (Anjela Nedjalkova) (17) a Jewish girl from Kavala (Greece). Both boys fall in love with Shelly and their values and limits of friendship were tested while around them the world rages in conflict. Then Bulgaria was ordered to deport the Jews and trains carrying some 11 thousand plus began traversing Europe. The fate of our three major characters is a reflection of what happened to the Balkan Jews during the Second World War. The faced horror and destruction.

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Moni, Giogio and Shelly are remarkably charming at a time when charm was not seen much. The performances are beautiful and sensitive and it is not often that we get a love story against the backdrop of the genocide of the Jews of Europe.

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 This is something of a new way to see history; with the little tales of the people who were the unfortunate suffering punished to live at this period. Shelly escaped the world through geography and we certainly see the importance of geography here in that the Jews in the older areas of Bulgaria were allowed to live while those in newly annexed areas were destined to die. The movie is adapted from the reminiscences of several Bulgarian survivors, and is filled with emotion. The three’s stories blend into each other in kind of an irregular fashion while they are able to keep us aware of time and place. Ivan Nitchev directed the film.

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“BOBBY AND CLYDE” by Etienne— Back in Time

bobby and clyde cover

Etienne. “Bobby and Clyde”, Smashwords, 2015.

Back in Time

Amos Lassen

I always look forward to a new book by Etienne and he never disappoints. This is something totally new as we are introduced to the characters of Bobby and Clyde and go back in time with them to the 1960’s. For those of us who were around then, it was a different time especially regarding the technological advances we have made since then. We used to have to wait for the mailman and phones were at home. Communication was totally different (and the milkman brought his products to us). It was a simpler time then but gay people were not out like they are today and neither did they have the threat of HIV/AIDS looming over them.

Bobby and Clyde were the best of friends for sixteen years but then they were separated and each was on his own. Time passed and Bobby began to think of Clyde and wondered what ever happened to him; after all, Clyde was his first love. Through flashbacks to the ‘50’s we learn of the love they shared and that this love had been torn asunder (I love that word but seldom get to use it) by circumstances that neither boy could control. Bobby had never wanted to be torn from Clyde and he learned while visiting his parents home that Clyde had not disappeared but had left notes for Bobby in a secret place they both had shared. Bobby learns that Clyde did not want to be found but this made him all the more anxious to find him.

What Bobby does not understand is the danger involved here and while I would love to share what this is with you, to do so would ruin a wonderful reading experience. What he discovers is not a fairy tale and could send both  into  danger. Now  Bobby knows what he has to do— find Clyde and then hide him.

For those who grew up and/or came out in the 60s, you know what I mean why I write about how different it was and I really do not think that any of us thought we would see the day when gay marriage would become a reality or even that we did not have to be afraid about who we are.

I have long been a fan of Etienne’s writing and this book ranks right up there with the rest of them. With Bobby and Clyde we have two characters that are easy to love and we find ourselves doing just that. For me they represent what so many of us want—they are just men who love each other but at a time when this was unacceptable. They had to find a way to live in a world that did not include them.

“Another Day on Willow St: a Play” by Frank Anthony Polito—- The Meaning of Love and Sacrifice

another day on willow street

Polito, Frank Anthony. “Another Day on Willow St: a Play”, Woodward Avenue Books, 2015.

 The Meaning of Love and Sacrifice

Amos Lassen

Ian Brown is married to Stacy Gold and he is eight months pregnant. She worries about whether she and husband will maintain intimacy after the child is born. Mark Gray is an actor looking for that big break and he and his lover, Paul Green, who lives in Boston, have been in a long distance relationship for some six months. Mark, like Ian and Stacy live on Willow Street in Brooklyn. Paul’s mom is nearing the end of her days and her dying wish is to see Mark and Paul married. Under the right conditions, this would have been perfect but Mark has never come out to his parents nor has he ever been in a committed relationship. Both couples are afraid of losing what they have.

By coincidence Mark and Stacy meet and become friends. As the two talk we see Stacy’s frustrations with Ian’s work and we feel Mark’s pressure to come out. Both Mark and Stacy begin to see that they are partially at fault for the way they feel and they begin to help each other deal with the issues and each learns to shoulder his/her own blame. We see that it is all about compromise and that both of them have to act before it is too late and they lose what they love. Sometime we seem to forget that relationships are built on giving and taking.

Polito reminds us that communication as well as disappointments is important to any coming together and as we laugh and tear up as we read, we understand that we might just be seeing something of ourselves in the characters. The play is set two weeks before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 when some of us did not yet fully realize the importance of love and being together. Not that any of this was unimportant before the attacks; it just seems to be really important when we know that the world is about to be changed forever.

“Best Women’s Erotica 2015″ edited by Violet Blue— Women and Desire

best women's erotica

Blue, Violet (editor). “Best Women’s Erotica 2015”, Cleis Press, 2015.

Women and Desire

Amos Lassen

I always look forward to this time of year when Cleis publishes its “Best” books and each is a winner in its own class. Violet Blue once again (10 years) has edited this year’s “Best Women’s Erotica 2015” that focuses on desire and women as seen in 18 stories. Once thing I noticed and editor Blue mentions in her introduction, “Diamonds are Better” is that erotica really never gets old or stale and we certainly see that in the stories we have here. Those included this time are Valerie Alexander, Tasmin Flowers, Annabeth Leong, Malin James, Rachel Woe, Gwendolyn Kansen, Beatrix Ellroy, Lana Fox, Giselle Renard, Sue Lenee, Cix, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Alison Tyler, Lydia Hill, JT Louder, Dani Butler, Evey Brett, Laila Blake and Ariel Graham.

Once again I come upon what I refer to as literary erotica in that the stories are wonderfully written and extremely seductive and hot. There is also great diversity in subjects here and the themes include first time sex, revenge, re-exciting the partner, getting what one wants and so much more. I can only imagine how much fun it was to select the stories that are included.