Author Archives: Amos

“SHED MY SKIN”— A Somewhat Relevant and Relatable Coming Out Story

“Shed My Skin” (“Aus der Haut”)

A Somewhat Relevant and Relatable Coming Out Story

Amos Lassen

Sometimes I am surprised when I read reviews of films I have already reviewed to discover that I wonder if I had really seen a movie. The reviews that I had read of “Shed My Skin” have been biting and cruel and I am not sure I understand why. I found it to be a sweet movie with something to say and yes, it is far from perfect but certainly not alone in that. Basically it is the story of adolescent Milan who realizes discovers his own suspected homosexuality at the age of 17 and the consequences for him and his family. He understands why he has been so down and rebellious.

While drunk, Milan wrecks his father’s car and his parents imagine the worst. They are relieved to find out he’s ‘just’ gay: not a problem for modern, well-adjusted parents like them. Or is it?

In many places in the film, the reactions of the actors are so incredibly irrational and exaggerated that I could not help but wonder what message the film should convey. The film does not shrink against the offensive approach to the issue of homosexuality. Even today it is still a taboo when it comes to processing in movies. Nevertheless, it largely dispenses with clichés. The video image is clear, the camera work is aimed fully at the “third-person-view”.

I found the film to be is worth seeing, but some character traits appear attached and not logically concluding at scenes before and behind on. The characters show little emotions and coincidences are brought partly demanded, resulting chain reactions are not fully settled and the final leaves many questions unanswered. The intention of the filmmakers is recognizable, but they still seem to have not sufficiently dealt with the complex topic. The film adheres to long on trifles and loses direction. It does promote tolerance, but is not able to cope with the full range of “other” sexuality.

“VIVA L’ITALIA”— Garibaldi: A Life

“Viva l’Italia”

Garibaldi—A Life

Amos Lassen

Roberto Rossellini’s ”Viva l’Italia” is a documentary made to celebrate the centenary of Italy. The Italian government commissioned Rossellini to make a biopic of Giuseppe Garibaldi would follow his exploits with ‘the Thousand’ and their role in the country’s unification. Rossellini approached the film by presenting the main character in neo-realist mode, as though making a documentary. This is the first North American home video release of “Viva l’Italia”.

An orchestral preamble concluding with a skirmish against a cobalt blue sky fades to where we see Garibaldi (Renzo Ricci) a middle-aged, ginger-bearded, rheumatic who is serenely determined. He squats by the meadow to savor some local bread and as the Redshirts charge uphill, the camera takes a paradoxically distant and urgent view of the clashing brigades. This is a study in long shots that takes us to the Calabrese coast where we see the regiment stationed on the opposite beachfront. We then follow an officer into town where there or clandestine meetings and round-ups. A shepherdess (Giovanna Ralli) sacrifices herself, “a trampled body beneath the steamroller of history.” The film is a vision of reconstruction from a director who witnessed the nation’s fall.

About one and a half hours into the film, a singer meets Garibaldi and expresses his joy by saying that, “Before all these rare beauties, I came here, and tonight I want to sing many songs. Songs without preparations, written as they came, without style, or pretension… Songs which make the heart speak.”

The camera constantly zooms in and out of the war scenes telling the story of battle with extraordinary precision, and beauty and the film is a story of extended liberation. It is both visually inspiring and beautiful to watch. The film empathizes with history, and its characters and we understand the formation of nation-states. Rossellini allows determinism, understands the forces that drive history, but also embraces the human beings who drove it.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS include:

Brand new 2K restoration from the original negative

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Original Italian mono soundtracks with optional English subtitles

“Garibaldi”, an alternate shorter cut of the film originally prepared for the US market

Brand-new interview with Roberto Rossellini’s assistant on the film, Ruggero Deodato, recorded exclusively for this release

”I Am Garibaldi”, a brand-new visual essay by Tag Gallagher, author of The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini: His Life and Films

Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by filmmaker and critic Michael Pattison

“THE WITCHES”— An Anthology

“The Witches”

An Anthology

Amos Lassen

“The Witches” is essentially a vanity project with five different stories designed to show off the range of actress Silvana Mangano, the Miss Italia contest winner who went on to marry Dino De Laurentis in 1949 and became something of a star. The film became a instant curiosity piece because of Clint Eastwood’s participation. Each story stars Silvana Mangano and the results are hit-and-miss, with some moments of interest but there is little depth and cohesion in any of the five stories. There is really no theme that connects the stories which makes it impossible to review the film as a whole. As if that is not enough, the title “The Witches” only really is for the first story and only as the name of a song.

 “The Witch Burnt Alive”

Luchino Visconti directed the first story, which is the longest of the five, taking approximately a third of the film’s running length.  Mangano plays a superstar actress and model who travels to a mountain resort, only to find the well-to-do inhabitants have prejudices and preconceived notions about her based on her public persona.  The women are all jealous and the men all want to sleep with her, but all Mangano wants is to be left alone. This is a satire about the realities of being famous. 

“Community Spirit”

Mauro Bolognini directed this visual gag that features Mangano offering to take an injured man to a hospital, driving him at breakneck speed throughout the city, but not stopping at locations where he might find aid.

“The Earth Seen from the Moon”

Pier Paolo Pasolini directed the most artistic and memorable of the five films.  Reminiscent in style to “Don Quixote”, a recently widowed father and his son travel around the country in search of a new wife and mother, and after a long period, they discover the literally speechless Mangano.  She brings joy into their lives, but they are poor, and in order to find a better life for themselves, they concoct a scheme to try to make some quick cash.  The story is contrived but the outlandish performances, artwork, and costumes does evoke great charm and likeability.  Although she plays mute, this is probably the most appealing of Mangano’s five performances,.

“The Sicilian”

Franco Rossi directs the fourth and shortest piece. It is a straight-forward revenge story that comes and goes before it ever has a chance of becoming interesting.  It’s violent, and, for me, the least satisfying of the five stories.

“A Night Like Any Other”

Clint Eastwood’s appearance is clearly the biggest attraction here and it is an enjoyable departure from his normal roles, playing a comedic romantic lead.  Director Vittorio de Sica does a great job with the story that blends the mundane and fantasy in a visually satisfying way.  The story is about a bored housewife who tries in vain to get her husband to realize that he is not as romantic as he used to be.  The scene is interspersed with comedic romance sequences revolving around the couple’s past romantic interludes, and dreams of how their lives should be. 

“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