“BALLEN” (“BALLS”)— Short but Important

ballen

“Ballen” (“Balls”)

Short but Important

Amos Lassen

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Teun, a 22-year-old student is diagnosed with testicular cancer and he has to move back home in order to undergo chemotherapy. His dorm mates and his friends organize a farewell dinner for him and even though it all starts out pleasantly, emotions run high. This is quite a profound look at an important issue for men. Cancer of this kind is rough but we must all be aware of it. This is a very honest look at the effect testicular cancer has not only on the person who has it but on his friends as well. We become aware of the feelings of Teun as he deals with his feelings. There is a challenge in the film that adds to the story but I believe the main purpose of this movie is to alert us to the dangers of cancer and how we should deal with it.

“SONS”—Stopping the Abuser

sons

“Sons” (“Sønner”)

Stopping the Abuser

Amos Lassen

Lars (Nils Jørgen Kaalstad) is a 25-year-old guy with few prospects for the future. Then he discovers that an older man is fooling around with the teenage boys in his suburb and this triggers anger and terrible rage in him. He decides to mount a crusade to stop the man but it soon spirals out of control and his actions end up putting those that he set out to protect in danger.

While working as a lifeguard, Lars sees Hans (Henrik Mestad) swimming with the kids. Lars hadn’t seen Hans for years, but he’s still haunted by the stories of the things Hans used to do to young boys that Lars knew when he was a kid. Lars is determined to get Hans barred from the pool but his boss refuses to do anything about it unless there is proof. Lars decides to get some and leaves his post with a camera and follows Hans. He expected what he would see so he was not surprised and he does get photos on tape of Hans with one of the troublemakers at the pool, Tim (Mikkel Bratt Silset).

Because he left the pool, Lars lost his job but that does not stop him in his mission. He goes to Tim and begins to blackmail Hans. Eventually he gets to Hans’s apartment and his computer where he stores the pictures of the boys that he has been with and these go back some ten years. Now Hans is certain about what he has to do. He finds Joakim, one of the boys whose picture Hans has. Joakim is now working for the TV news department and he agrees to show the video on the air. When he does he says that it was made by a group known as Anti Pedo Action—and within hours, the TV station is flooded with emails of support, as well as cries for help from other young boys. When Tim sees the number of emails, he realizes that he must come forward and help others. Granted this is not an easy film to watch but it could have been much heavier. There are some very disturbing moments but they are not as graphic as they could be. The focus is in on the characters and not the action. The screenplay is quite well written and the story is quite moving. We see inside the mind of a pedophile as well as the people that he touches. Han seven goes so far as to become a surrogate father to some of the young victims, all the while manipulating them as he feeds them and makes them feel important. We also see some of the victims years later and some are angry while others don’t even want to think about it, much less talk about it. As Tim, Silset gives a powerfully convincing performance as the young boy who isn’t sure who to trust and what to believe. With a strong cast playing even stronger characters, “Sons” tells a gripping story that you won’t soon forget.

 

“Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution” by Mona Eltahawy— A Manifesto

headscarves and hymens

Eltahawy, Mona. “Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

A Manifesto

Amos Lassen

“Headscarves and Hymens” is a passionate manifesto that decries misogyny in the Arab world and it was written by feminist Egyptian/American journalist Mona Eltahawy. Eltahawy is controversial and she gets a lot of press. This is probably because she dares to write of misogyny, an explosive topic and one that both engages and enrages readers. Here she takes another step forward. Having been a campaigner and commentator on the issues of women in the Middle East, she knows what she speaks about. She explains here that since the Arab Spring began, women in the Arab world have had two revolutions to undertake: one fought with men against oppressive regimes, and another fought against an entire political and economic system that treats women in countries from Yemen and Saudi Arabia to Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya as second-class citizens. She has traveled across the Middle East and North Africa, meeting with women and listening to their stories and this book is a plea for outrage and action on their behalf. Eltahawy confronts the “toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend.” Here is her manifesto that is motivated by hope and fury equally and it is powerful, incendiary and illuminating.

I must admit that as I was walking near my neighborhood bookstore, Booksmith of Brookline, I felt the copy of the book in the window call me over. After all, this is quite a title. The book is quite simply a call to arms that is in part based on some of Eltahawy’s own experiences (being groped in Mecca while on Hajj, for example). She presents us with the misogynistic and barbaric attitudes toward women in the Muslim world. Some of what we read sounds ridiculous— a Saudi cleric declared that women shouldn’t drive because it damages their ovaries and Rawan, the eight-year-old Yemeni “bride”, who died of internal bleeding after being violently penetrated on her “wedding night”. Many times people do nothing until the anger builds up and that is what happens while reading this book. Eltahawy presents an angry indictment of the treatment of women throughout the Arab world and she is a voice from behind and beyond the veil.

It is very difficult to read this without being outraged to the point of disgust. The author has lived in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and she has worked as a journalist in most of the countries in the region. She draws from a wealth of personal and professional experience. In reporting about the institutionalized misogyny there, she is breaking many taboos against shaming the governments and the religious authorities and against exposing traditions that demean and cripple young girls and women. She shares with us the double standards that exist for men and women in the home. The Arab Spring brought many changes but equality for women was not one of them. Here those responsible for this are named, as are the victims and she further states that “We are in denial if we do not honestly reckon with the role of religion in maintaining the patriarch’s rule at home, including how the men of religion help him to uphold his rule.”

The author tells us that the time has come for women to speak out about their situations. It is not easy and even somewhat dangerous to speak out about sexual harassment and assault and it is even more dangerous and riskier to speak out sex abuse and crimes that go on in the home. Eltahawy says that the time has indeed come to realize that hurt begins at home and that is the place where we need to heal. Only anger, rage, tenacity and audacity will bring about changes.

“My Body is Yours” by Michael V. Smith— Reconciliations

my body is yours

Smith, Michael V. “My Body Is Yours”, Arsenal Pulp, 2015.

Reconciliations

Amos Lassen

 “My Body is Yours” is “a memoir about fathers and sons, breaking out of gender norms, and reconciling with a dangerous childhood.” Author Michael V. Smith is a novelist, poet, improv comic, filmmaker, drag queen, performance artist, and occasional clown. In this new book, he takes us back to his early years when he was, in his words, “an inadequate male― a fey kid growing up in a small town amid a blue-collar family; a sissy; an insecure teenager desperate to disappear; and an obsessive writer-performer, drawn to compulsions of alcohol, sex, reading, spending, work, and art as a means to cope and heal.” In his art he questions what it means to be human and goes a bit further asking, “How can we know what a man is? How might understanding gender as metaphor be a tool for a deeper understanding of identity?”

He regards some of his past as failures. He says he failed at masculinity and he failed in knowing his father. He looks at gender norms and wants to find a way to break out of them and presents us with new ways of thinking about gender. He grew up as a “fey kid”

Smith has so much to say that his writing is often frenetic and we become aware of his compulsions as he writes about cruising for sex and he shares the vulnerability he feels when writing and performing. He searches for a way to be comfortable in the body he was born into especially when the world tells him that he does not fit. He sees gender as a ‘conscious, live response’ instead of a societally prescribed formula for shutting off.” He wrote this book with all of his heart and we sense the heart in it. He is commanding, intimate, complicated and somewhat divine. Some of the topics here include barebacking, grieving, addiction and the previously mentioned gender. Smith is both very brave and compassionate.

“EVERLASTING LOVE” (“Amor Eterno”)— Teacher and Student

everlasting love“Everlasting Love” (“Amor eterno”)

Teacher and Student

Amos Lassen

“Everlasting Love” is a dark film. A shy and introverted teenage boy, Toni, accidentally meets his teacher, Carlos, at a cruising area in the woods. The students tries to start a love affair with the teacher and what follows is a dark and gloomy relationship. Toni wants the relationship to go beyond sex but this is not what Carlos wanted… at first.

From what I understand, Marcal Fores directed the film in just 13 hours.

“In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art” by Sue Roe— Transforming the Art World

in monmarte

Roe, Sue. “In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art”, Penguin Press, 2015.

Transforming the Art World

Amos Lassen

“In Montmartre” is a look at the birth of the Modernist art movement and those who transformed the world of art in bohemian Paris in the first decade of the twentieth century. It began in 1900 when Picasso, then a teen, was avid about finding fame and fortune. He got to Paris and over the next ten years, he joined with Henri Matisse, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Georges Braque, Amedeo Modigliani, Constantin Brancusi, Gertrude Stein, and many more, and together they revolutionized art and artistic expression. This is a group biography of the men and women who deeply changed the arts with movements like Cubism and Fauvism and Futurism. We also get the stories behind some of the paintings of Picasso and Matisse. By telling us the artists’ stories we get a peek at immortality and one of the most important times in the history of art.

Through their stories, Roe brings to life one of the key moments in the history of art. If it were not enough to learn about the artists, we also learn about their lovers, patrons, all the colorful people that were involved and influenced this movement and that period in Paris.

We can never go back to that world but we can read this book which is the next best thing. We learn of the Van Gogh’s influence of some of the early paintings of Picasso, we see photos of the inspirations for the artists and we learn about who Leo Stein was, and how the salon society helped in pushing the new culture forward. It is fascinating to read how society and variety came together to bring us an intellectual movement.

Author Roe places Matisse and Picasso at the core of the book and at the core of the modernist movement. Matisse was the first to have commercial success as Picasso was struggling to reshape forms on canvas and create new works. Roe also includes other artists. As a graduate student I did a lot of research on Cubist literature and this book would have been a great help. One review I read said that

Roe’s attempts to include Gertrude Stein’s experiments in writing and Poiret’s in fashion in the same league was unnecessary and I have to disagree especially in the case of Stein. Stein’s influence on the English language is very important and to ignore her is a disservice. Yes, I know she was a Nazi collaborator but that doesn’t really change her contribution to the period.

It is the setting in Montmartre that brought everyone together. The period of these artists really only lasted for a decade but walking the streets there today’s brings up so many images. While the artists are gone, the artwork isn’t and neither is the influence they provided.

Montmartre seemed to have created the foundations for the wider arena of modern art. In retrospect, the bohemian world of the artist in Montmartre in the first decade of the century may be seen as a kind of living parade, “a brief dynamic, entertaining drama containing all of the seeds of the main, twentieth-century show — and all of the fun of the fair.”

 

 

“Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence” by Bryan Burrough— The FBI and the Revolutionary Movements of the 1970s

days of rage

Burrough, Bryan. “Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence”, Penguin Press, 2015.

The FBI and the Revolutionary Movements of the 1970s

Amos Lassen

Those of us who lived through the 60s and 70s are familiar with the names of radical groups back then—The Weathermen, The Symbionese Liberation Army, The FALN and The Black Liberation Army. There was a stretch of time in America when bombings by domestic underground groups were a daily occurrence. The FBI went to war against these groups and others who were part of the revolutionary underground and who were dedicated to the violent overthrow of the American government. History has not been good to these groups or the fight between them and the FBI. Looking back, we can see that many of the efforts of this underground were ineffectual, if not criminal in themselves. Bryan Burrough’s “Days of Rage” attempts to temper those judgments by looking at the time when they were active and to fit them into the larger framework of American history. He re-creates an atmosphere that seems almost unbelievable some forty years later. The 70s were a time of radicals born here in America. He shows that many of the participants were nice middle-class kids even though they smuggled bombs into skyscrapers and set them off them inside the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol, at a Boston courthouse and a Wall Street restaurant that was filled packed with people having lunch; they robbed banks and assassinated policemen in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta. The FBI was encouraged to do everything possible to undermine the radical underground and as it did it broke many laws as it reed to bring the radicals to justice. The book has many revelations as those who were active in the underground and the FBI speak openly about their experiences for the first time. We read about the major and important revolutionaries, about the FBI and the endeavors to stop the bombings and we enter some of the minds of American terrorists who were raised here as well as the minds of members of federal agents. The research is extensive and the interviews are enlightening.

I remember well the chaotic state of this country back then—there were war protests, the black power struggle, talk of Cuban-style revolution. Much of the country thought these self-styled revolutionaries were ”hippie freaks”. Today, some of those involved shake their heads and wonder themselves how they could have been so misguided to think that they could take down the government. I remember going to some of the meetings on my college campus and hearing the cries of the radicals.

Burrough shows us that the counterculture movements were not just a bunch of hippie radicals who were protesting the war in Vietnam. For the most part, they were deadly serious, hard-core communists,” and the protests and the struggles weren’t about the war. He says, “What the underground movement was truly about — what it was always about — was the plight of black Americans,” he says. Peaceful protest was not for them and even today some of what they did is still shocking. Burrough says that his biggest challenge was to explain that the radicals of that time did not seem insane as they do today in retrospect.

 It seems that there has been a tendency in America to forget or downplay the significance of these movements in American history, or minimize the very real significance of their actions. Burroughs gives them all that is necessary for us to get a better understanding of the groups.

Rabbis Speak at Conference on Gays in Orthodoxy

rabbi1

Rabbis Speak at Conference on Gays in Orthodoxy

This week there was a major event in modern Jewish history—a group of modern Orthodox rabbis have done what advocates for Orthodox gays and lesbians say would have been unthinkable as recently as five years ago: They spoke at a conference on the treatment of gay, lesbian and transgender people in Orthodox communities. Present were four prominent Orthodox rabbis who participated in “Faith, Desire and Psychotherapy”, a conference held April 19 at Columbia University that marked the first time rabbis and mental health researchers came together in a public discussion about homosexuality and Orthodoxy. A similar discussion was held in 2009 at Yeshiva University but without Orthodox rabbinic participation.

Regarding gays and lesbians, change has come slowly to the Orthodox community. Actually the Orthodox maintain that homosexual relationships are forbidden under Jewish law (halacha). Therefore there is great tension between the limitations of religious law and the inclusivity that is sought by gay Jewish activists and those that support them and this was addressed at the conference. Present were some 120 social workers, therapists, students and rabbis. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin who is the former president of the centrist Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of America stated that the we live in a world where people care about people. This is one of the values of Judaism and denying that is not good.

Other speakers included Rabbi Mark Dratch, the RCA’s executive vice president; Rabbi Shaul Robinson, the leader of the Modern Orthodox Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York; and Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, a faculty member at the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. There were other important Orthodox Jews present as observors. Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the former executive vice president of the Orthodox Union who also holds a doctorate in psychology. He says the reason he attended was to learn more about the situation and what was going on. He further remarked that there is no endorsement for any specific program now and the situation is simply be studied at the present (and this is still a good more than it would have been say, even five years ago).

rabbi2

In 2010, Rabbi Nathaniel Helga authored a declaration, signed by over 100 Orthodox rabbis, which called for the inclusion of gays as “full members” of the Orthodox community. The statement emphasized that while Jewish law forbids gay sex, it “does not prohibit orientations or feelings of same-sex attraction, and nothing in the Torah devalues the human beings who struggle with them.” There was a rebuttal from over 200 Orthodox rabbis and it was called the Torah Declaration. In it homosexual inclinations are described as being “changeable.” At this latest conference, this was rejected by mental health professionals, namely Jack Drescher, who has helped develop the American Psychiatric Association’s positions on sex and gender diagnoses, and Warren Throckmorton, a prominent former supporter of conversion therapy who now condemns it.

Quite expectedly, the rabbis present were uneasy. Dratch stated the he spoke only for himself and not for the Rabbinical Council of America while Goldin said that he had already been contacted by one or maybe two of his Orthodox colleagues who were at the conference. Goldin believes that being labeled causes fear and went on to state that by opening up for discussions like these could affect how rabbis are seen.

Work on this conference had actually been going on for two years. Psychologist Alan Slomowitz discovered two years ago that the only research being done in the Jewish community was done by groups which favor the gay movement and so he teamed up with Levovitz and fellow psychologist Allison Feit to plan the conference. Levovitz does not think that being gay or transgender is in conflict with religious Orthodox principles or that that should be a change in halacha. The rabbis present agreed with him that if” a gay person wants to be part of the Orthodox community or not, he or she should be supported and encouraged.” He went on to say that the Orthodox movement tries to be as inclusive as possible but there is the question as to how to go about this without approving the behavior. The idea is to “show love and show that people are fully part of the community.“ Obviously there is no one answer.

“The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother, and Me: An Aristocratic Family, a High-Society Scandal, and an Extraordinary Legacy” by Sofka Zinovieff— A Scandalous Ménage à Trois

the mad boy

Zinovieff, Sofka. “The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother, and Me: An Aristocratic Family, a High-Society Scandal, and an Extraordinary Legacy”, Harper, 2015.

A Scandalous Ménage à Trois

Amos Lassen

Here is a memoir about the decadent world of England’s upper classes. We meet the author’s grandparents who “lived and loved with abandon.” Robert Heber-Percy was a dashing young man who would rather have a drink than open a book. He became involved with Jennifer Fry, a gorgeous socialite famous for her style and charm. However, by the time Robert met and married Jennifer, he had already been involved with Gerald, Lord Berners for over ten years. Gerald was a bit heavy, odd and a good deal older than Robert but he was

a composer, writer and aesthete—a creative aristocrat who felt comfortable while in the company of the era’s best and brightest minds. He also owned one of Britain’s loveliest stately homes, Faringdon House, in Oxfordshire, which under his stewardship was regarded as a symbol of sybaritic beauty. Robert and Gerald were not what anyone would call a likely couple especially because they lived openly as gay men at a time that homosexuality was illegal in Britain. made an unlikely couple, especially because they lived together at Faringdon House when homosexuality was illegal. In 1942, a pregnant Jennifer moved into Faringdon in 1942, creating a interesting and formidable ménage à trois.

Sofka Zinovieff examines the mysteries of her grandparents and the third man in their marriage. That man, Gerald, was complex and talented and heir to a legendary house with walls that were lined with priceless art and whose gardens was romantically filled with doves. He entertained everyone from Igor Stravinsky to Gertrude Stein. The book looks at what brought Robert and Jennifer together under his roof, and why Jennifer stayed and married Robert.

Zinovieff brings together the complicated reality behind the scandals of revelry and sexuality. The story that we get here is defined by keen insight, deep affection and marvelous wit and it captures the decadence and indulgence of the age as it explores the many ways in which we have the capacity to love.

Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, Lord Berners, was the quintessential English eccentric throughout his life and his reputation has increased since his death. He loved art and music and displayed a considerable talent for both. His home was famed for its comfort, fine cuisine, and hospitality that was enjoyed by a who’s who of social and literary stars. He was known for his humor and practical jokes but he was also often depressed and had mood swings that sometimes lasted for long periods.

Berners’s emotional life was strange and mysterious. He never married and had had several long “friendships” with younger men. The most lasting of these was with Robert Heber-Percy who was the youngest son of a noble family. Robert was handsome but he had no direction and was extremely reckless. He is “The Mad Boy” of the title and he met Lord Berners in 1930. Despite a nearly 30-year age gap, they became close friends and companions. Robert moved into Faringdon House and remained there for the rest of his life acting as Berners’ companion, estate manager, and probable lover (because homosexuality was illegal in England then, both men were understandably reticent about that aspect of their relationship.) Even when Robert married the beautiful young socialite Jennifer Fry this curious arrangement continued, with Jennifer living and giving birth to a daughter at Faringdon House.

Sofka Zinovieff, the author, is the granddaughter of Robert and Jennifer, and this book is partly a biography of Lord Berners and her grandparents as well as a chronicle of the glamorous parade of writers, musicians, artists, and socialites who came to Faringdon House during its heyday. It is also, in part, the story of her own life as the literal heiress (Faringdon House is now hers) of these colorful people. This is a fascinating yet sad story because so many of the talented and creative people that we meet here struggled with depressions, personal tragedies and addictions and they went from lover to lover and we rarely happy.

Physically this is a gorgeous book. It is printed on glossy pages that are filled with photographs and illustrations. It is beautifully bound and even has a ribbon bookmark.

Sofka Zinovieff writes with authority, facts and humor, and illustrates it with family photos that enhance your reading pleasure. She was 25 and working on her doctoral thesis in Greece when Robert Heber-Percy (the former lover of Lord Berners and the “mad boy” of Zinovieff’s title) informed his granddaughter that he planned to alter his will. Six months later, in October 1987, Heber-Percy died and an apprehensive she inherited Faringdon. She told a friend that getting the house was like finding a very rich and eligible husband who had been picked out by someone else. We sense her affection for a man she never knew as she related the scandals and the devastation that went on in the characters’ lives. This a wonderful read and great fun as well.

“The Completely Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green” by Eric Orner— Fifteen Years of Ehan

ethan greene

Orner, Eric. “The Completely Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green”, (foreword by David Ebershoff), Northwest Pres, 2015.

Fifteen Years of Ethan

Amos Lassen

In 1990, Eric Orner’s comic strip “The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green”, debuted in 1990 and appeared in papers in a hundred cities across the US, Canada and the UK. Now, for the first time episode is here in one deluxe collection. There are also behind-the scenes stories and bonus strips, as well as a foreword by New York Times bestselling author David Ebershoff.

ethan green1

Ethan is kind of an every”gay”man and he lives the kind of life that most of us do. The strip originally ran for some three hundred episodes between 1989 -2005 and appeared in more than eighty publications. It also became a movie and it brought many gay men together.

This book contains almost all of the original strips with the exception of some of the early ones that have been lost. Sometimes the strip appeared out of sequence and that is one of the great things about this new volume. Everything is in the order it was supposed to appear in.

The strip is all about Ethan’s search for the perfect boyfriend. Along the way he has breakups and we get advice on “How to be Depressed and Broken Hearted” which is not always the best but it fun to read. Ethan is not the kind of guy who likes to be single and he seems to have many romantic encounters with all kinds of interesting men. When he has a relationship with an HIV-positive man, we learn about AIDS, when he has an affair with a drug dealer we learn about drugs and when he has sex with a green alien from outer space…

ethan green 2

Ethan’s lives a mostly “unfabulous” life, hence the title. Sometimes we forget that a boring life can also be a source for comedy and we see that in Ethan. Both the stories and the artwork are filled with details and sometimes we have to look for these. This is a wonderful addition to every gay man’s library and it is filled with emotions and men who we want to know and those we do not.