Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Walkaway: A Novel” by Cory Doctorow— The End of Death

Doctorow, Cory. “Walkaway: A Novel”, Tor Books, 2017.

The End of Death

Amos Lassen

We meet a man of many names—Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza who his friends know as Hubert, Etc. We learn that he was too old to be at a Communist party. However he felt that there was nowhere where he could be after having seen the breakdown of society. Perhaps he could have found a place with the disaffected youth but then they tend to party all of the time. After he met a very rich heiress named Natalie who was trying to get away from her father, the two of them decided to simply walk away from society. Formal society held nothing for them.

They soon realized that the world is a dangerous place and that climate change has caused a great deal of damage, cities have been left behind as a result of industrial flight and predators are everywhere. There is a steady stream of those waling away from society and war is imminent. This is science fiction that hits very close to where we are today.

This is a story of revolution, love, and the end of death and now that anyone can, via the computer, get whatever he needs, there does not seem to be a reason who stick around. and now that anyone can manufacture food, clothing, shelter with equipment comparable to a computer printer, there seems to be little reason to stick around a world of rules and jobs. So, like hundreds of thousands of others in the mid-21st century, they simply walk away.

This is a multi-generation SF thriller about the changes of the next hundred years…and those who will live their consequences. Doctorow philosophizes about how the world that is coming might be in an age of makers, 3-D printers, mobile fabricators, and endless food sources, the book asks what life would be like. It seems that the rich have gotten richer and everyone else has walked away from society to live communally in “environmentally gutted rural areas and dead cities”. Hubert, Etc., his pal Seth and Natalie Redwater become friendly with a tech-savvy barkeep, Limpopo, who explains the precarious, money-less walkaway culture to them and says that what is there only works in practice. It’s a world where identity, sexuality, and perception are all fluid, guided by fiercely intellectual debates and the human collisions that draw people together and where all technology that exists. The walkaways discover a way to scan and preserve consciousness online. We ask the questions that if the body is gone, does perception remain? What threat might iconoclasts present to their capitalist overlords? A lot of the focus in on Natalie who is kidnapped by her father’s mercenaries. The story then becomes on of the “first days of a better nation” where immortality is the goal.

A truly visionary techno-thriller that not only depicts how we might live tomorrow, but asks why we don’t already. We get an implication of permanent decentralized storage.  Today, we are reminded that

if we don’t behave and go to work every day and what happens when  there is no more work.    It all begins at a communist party meeting where those who are there break into an abandoned factory, get high and dance. We see there that inequality is everywhere and there are only two groups of people, the super-rich and those who are out of work who have nothing to do. We get a look at walking away and leaving capitalist society. Communes are established in places where cities once had been. These communes are hi-tech, connected, moneyless economies. They 3d-print whatever they need.

We remember that cultures are made of people and we need to transform ourselves as individual people. The protagonists struggle and have no method, aside from introspection to overcome their situation.

This is the story of transforming one society into another better one. We are given a lot to think about and you might have to read this more than once to see where it is going.

 

 

 

 

 

“Bullies: A Friendship” by Alex Abramovich— An Unlikely Friendship

Abramovich, Alex. “Bullies: A Friendship”, Picador, 2017.

An Unlikely Friendship

Amos Lassen

“Bullies” is the story of a writer’s very unlikely friendship with his childhood bully, now the president of a motorcycle club in one of America’s most dangerous cities.

Once Alex Abramovich and Trevor Latham were mortal enemies. At elementary school on Long Island, the two were always after each other. As time passed and they matured into adults, they lost track of each other. Decades later, when they met again, Abramovich was a writer and Latham had become President of the East Bay Rats, a motorcycle club in Oakland.

In 2010, Abramovich moved to Oakland, California to enter Latham’s world of fight clubs, Heavy drinking and fights on the streets of the city. At the same time, Oakland was in the process of gentrification and Alex began to wonder how it was possible to live in a place filled with violence.

As Trevor and his gang, Alex explores issues of friendship, family, history, and destiny and shares what happens.

In the early 1980s, when he was in fourth grade, Alex was bullied by a boy named Trevor Latham. In 2006, Abramovich learned that Latham had become a bouncer and had started a motorcycle club, the East Bay Rats in Oakland. This intrigued him and he went to Oakland to meet Latham for the first time in more than 20 years.

Ultimately, Abramovich moved there for several years and wrote this book about Oakland, the motorcycle club culture, masculinity, violence, and the meaning of family and friendship. The story is at times quite brutal especially in the parts about the fight nights that the Rats sponsored. The Rats lived in a section of town where there was almost no police presence and where there was a lot of crime. Other parts of the book funny and sensitive. The Rats considered Abramovich as their “embedded” journalist and referred to him as just that. He was not crazy about the name but he did get to know the Rats and their community.

Abramovich shares what he found when in Oakland. Trevor works as a bouncer in a bar including Trevor, his old enemy who now accepts him as a friend. Their childhood fighting not only did not influence their friendship but rather became the basis for camaraderie. Abramovich is invited into Trevor’s where anything could happen. Alex gives us a brief history of Oakland and describes it as dysfunctional. Trevor accepts this and uses it to explain himself— he does not see right or wrong; he has learned to live with what is. He loves to use chaos to confront chaos and Alex reports what he sees with no judgment and no resolution. Closure comes in the fact that Alex’s childhood bully has not changed his own perspective has. We see what happens when a group of men who do not fit into the system, they reject it.

“More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers” by Jonathan Lethem— A Life Spent in Books

Lethem, Jonathan. “More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers”, edited by Christopher Boucher, Melville House, 2017.

A Life Spent in Books

Amos Lassen

“More Alive and Less Lonely” is a collection of more than ten years of Jonathan Lethem’s finest writing on writing including new and previously unpublished material such as appreciations of forgotten writers and overlooked books, critical essays, and personal accounts of Lethem’s literary encounters and discoveries.  What is so interesting here is that Lethem writes with the same insight about the classics and modern literature. We read about Melville and Dickens on the same high level as say Pynchon and Philip K. Dick. We sense his love for all things literary. There is always something to be learned by reading Lethem. Not all of the essays are for everybody so it takes a bit to get to the ones that a specific person enjoys.

What is unique is how Lethem manages to win people over concerning authors that they may have not cared for before reading this. Lethem makes literature exciting. I found myself reading about writers that I have never considered reading before.

 

 

“Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London” by Lauren Elkin— Bending Gender

Elkin, Lauren. “Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London”, Farrar Strauss & Company, 2017.

Bending Gender

Amos Lassen

A flâneur is a masculine figure of privilege and leisure who strides the capitals of the world with abandon. We have read about and from them in the past but here it is the female or the flâneuse who is the center of a new book by cultural critic Lauren Elkin. Elkin gender bends here and sees the flâneuse as a “determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city and the liberating possibilities of a good walk.” Holly Golightly totally epitomized it in Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”; and Patti Smith did it in her own inimitable style in 1970s New York. Virginia Woolf did it before others.

“Flâneuse” is a bit of memoir and a bit of cultural history that takes us on a cosmopolitan journey that begins in New York, where Elkin grew up, and then transports us to Paris via Venice, Tokyo, and London, all cities in which she’s lived. We see the paths taken by nineteenth-century novelist George Sand, the Parisian artist Sophie Calle, the wartime correspondent Martha Gellhorn, and the writer Jean Rhys. We learn what urban settings have meant to women as we wander through literature, art, history, and film and see the relationship that women have with the city.

Even though we know that women walked cities, we do not think about that as particularly feminine and this is where writer Elkin corrects that and coins the term “flâneuse”. She celebrates women who dared and shares what she has learned about women who did this. She also ties that to her own adventures walking around cities. She also reminds us that even today “a woman still can’t walk in the city the way a man can.”

Elkin’s own story runs through the text and it ties the various other women together. We meet some fascinating characters here including the already mentioned George Sand, Virginia Woolf, Holly Golightly as well Jean Rhys, Sophie Calle, Agnès Varda, and Martha Gellhorn. Other cultural characters pay a visit and among them are Barthes, Rilke, Baudelaire, Hemingway, Derrida, Dickens, and numerous others.

We meet women who have built relationships with their cities by walking through them and making feminist statements as they do. Elkin’s own wanderings are filled with wonderful anecdotes. These women do not or did not wander without direction, they walked as challenges and to create something new that women could embrace.

We see woman as a suppressed intellectual in cultural history who by walking is able to redefine herself. This is really something of a meditation on what it means to be a woman and walk out in the world and it encourages women to walk their cities.

As they do, they will, like the ladies here walk through cultural history, biography, literary criticism, urban topography and memoir. I cannot imagine any women who will not take up that challenge after reading this.

“Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem” by George Prochnik— Revisiting Gershom Scholem

Prochnik, George. “Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem”, Other Press, March 2017.

Revisiting Gershom Scholem

Amos Lassen

George Prochnik’s new book is a “Stranger in a Strange Land” is “a nonfiction Bildungsroman of one of the twentieth century’s most important humanist thinkers”. At the same time Prochnik shares his own story of his youth, marriage and spiritual quest in Jerusalem.

Gershom Scholem, was a prominent philosopher with a prominent reputation. He interpreted the inner world of the Cosmos and is noted for his exchanges with Hannah Arendt regarding the trial and guilt of Adolf Eichmann. The new philosophers went at each other with all they could. In today’s world, Scholem has not been given the reputation he should in the United States. Prochnik looks at Scholem’s upbringing in Berlin, and shares Scholem’s friendship with Walter Benjamin, the critic and philosopher”. Scholem was often frustrated with the bourgeois ideology of Germany during the First World War that led him to discover Judaism, Kabbalah and Zionism “as potent counter-forces to Europe’s suicidal nationalism”.

While living in Israel in the 1990s Prochnik questioned the stereotypical intellectual and theological constructs of Jerusalem and then rediscovered the city as a physical place that is filled with the “unruliness and fecundity of nature”. It is here that Prochnik suggests that a new form of ecological pluralism would grant legitimacy to the role once played by Kabbalah and Zionism in Jewish thought. He began to think about how Scholem would have made changes in the city. Scholem was such a complex thinker that he had difficulty reaching conclusions and he detested what he referred to as “traditional national Jewish theology” even though he spent his life in an effort “to revivify a vast corpus of religious ideas, partly to make Jews aware of their power to re-imagine and seize control of their destiny”. After the Enlightenment, the ideas of mysticism were discarded by many while Scholem loved the idea that by bringing Kabbalah out of the underground, he would be reintroducing an explosive element into the “spiritual and historical consciousness”. Scholem felt that normative Judaism would receive a transfusion by confronting its mystical and this could be salutary and even salvational for those who had separated themselves from religion. Scholem was “seeking to recover from the depths of institutionalized repression the demon- and-sex-rife netherworld of an entire culture”. He felt that this would give Judaism a new importance and a bit of the irrational.

“HAROLD AND JILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY”— Quite a Love Story

“Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story”

Quite a Couple

Amos Lassen

Harold and Lillian Michelson are two Hollywood personalities who found lasting love with each other. This documentary is a fascinating look at a couple that had something to do with hundreds of award-winning films throughout the decades.

Harold and Lillian met in Miami Beach in 1945. Harold was raised in a Jewish household and was a pilot in World War II. Lillian moved from one orphanage to another, never having a real family of her own. After marrying and moving to Hollywood, Harold found work at various movie studios as a storyboard artist throughout the first few years. His big break came when he worked alongside Alfred Hitchcock on “The Birds”. This was first time a big Hollywood director such as Hitchcock asked specifically for Harold. At just the same time, Lillian got heavily involved in of film research and quickly established herself as the go-to researcher in Hollywood. Together Harold and Lillian became a Hollywood power couple who fed off each other’s creativity as they gave each other unlimited love and support. Although their roles of storyboard artist and film researcher have largely gone without credit, Harold and Lillian played a vital and important role in the production of so many loved films over the last six decades.

The film is made up of illustrations, old footage and the narration of love letters that Harold and Lillian write to each other over the years they were together. We also have interviews with directors Danny DeVito, Francis Ford Coppola and Mel Brooks who give us a picture of two people that were as passionate about each other as they were about their work. The share an impressive filmography and we wonder why neither has received more acclaim. The role of storyboard artist and film researcher are ones that rarely get discussed yet are fascinating to learn about.

Writer/director Daniel Raim gives us an affectionate account of the careers of Harold and Lillian Michelson. This is a celebration of a love story and their contribution to the world of cinema. They worked on milestone films including “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, “The Graduate”, “The Ten Commandments”, “Irma la Douce”, and “Scarface”, to name just a few, but audiences wouldn’t know it from the credits. Their work played an invaluable role in shaping the films that we see. Harold and Lillian tell their own story through intimate interviews. Harold, who died in 2007 discusses (in previously recorded footage) his love for Lillian and his passion for visualizing scripts onto storyboards. Lillian gives us present-day accounts of her whirlwind romance with Harold (his family actually forbade her to marry him because they felt she was too low class) and their rise as one of Hollywood’s behind-the-scenes power couples. They both speak about work in their early days in Hollywood when Harold scored a job at a studio by chance while Lillian was still working at a telephone company. Eventually, Lillian began working consistently while Harold got irregular gigs until she became pregnant and was fired (for being “an affront” to the public, as she remembers her boss saying to her). The couple talks about upon how that sudden and unfair move forced Harold to pursue work as a storyboard artist more aggressively. We see that the effort paid off and he became an in-demand talent for perfectly visualizing the words that screenwriters deliver in their scripts. The film also suggests that storyboard artists like Harold Michelson deserve much of the credit that directors receive for their aesthetics. Directors, we learn, often replicate the images that storyboard artists create and are esteemed as auteurs for their compositions.

Film, however, is a collaborative field and this documentary puts attention on the directors who appreciated Michelson’s contribution to their craft. “The Birds”, Hitchcock’s amazing film was a landmark for the couple, as Lillian recalls Hitchcock recruiting her efforts as a researcher to perfect the behavior and look of birds for the 1963 horror show. “The Birds” established a strong working relationship in which Lillian’s research fuelled Harold’s richly detailed storyboards.

Lillian shares an exhaustive range of stories as she remembers her work in the stacks of a library on a studio lot where she worked as a volunteer until she purchased the collection on a gamble and founded her own library. These stories show the ways in which minute details of research afford elements of realism are what enable audiences to suspend their disbelief and enter the film world.

As the film sweetly tells Harold and Lillian’s story and acknowledges their contribution to cinema, Raim also gives a round of applause to all the unsung talents—visual researchers, matte makers, scenic artists, and other craftspeople who contribute to the magic of movies. As the Michelsons share stories about their work, we become very aware of the passion on which the film industry survives.

BFI FLARE LONDON LGBT FILM FESTIVAL 2017

BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival— Full Lineup

The annual BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival opens with the world premiere of the timely Against The Law, about a court case that helped lead to the partial decriminalisation of homosexual sex in the UK 50 years ago. Now the rest of the lineup has been announced for the fest, which runs March 16th-26th. BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival unveiled its 31st edition’s full programme tonight. As announced last week, BFI Flare opens on the 16th March with the World Premiere of Fergus O’Brien’s BBC Production Against the Law at BFI Southbank. The Festival closes with the International Premiere of Jennifer Reeder’s Signature Move at BFI Southbank. One of the most significant and long standing film events in the world’s LGBT calendar, BFI Flare will present over 50 features, more than 100 shorts and a wide range of special events, guest appearances, discussions, workshops, club nights and much more. Tickets go on sale via bfi.org.uk/flare to BFI Patrons, Champions and Members from Monday 20 Feb and General Public on Monday 27 February.

Tricia Tuttle, BFI Deputy Head of Festivals said “If last year’s 30th Anniversary of the Festival was time for reflection on just how far we’ve come, many world events in the 12 months since have reminded us just how vital this event still is. And what a programme we have to offer this year – it’s vibrant, politically engaged, playful, stirring – and with a number of World, International and European Premieres on offer, BFI Flare is absolutely the place to see the best new LGBT cinema first.”

The Centrepiece Screening of the 2017 Festival is the European Premiere of Torrey Pines, a psychedelic stop-motion animation about a child grappling with gender identity and a schizophrenic mother. The film will be accompanied by a live score from director Clyde Petersen’s Queercore band, Your Heart Breaks. The year’s Special Presentations are both World Premieres: the new UK web series, Different for Girls, a smart, sassy, sexy multi-layered lesbian drama, directed by award-winning Festival alumni Campbell X and After Louie in which Alan Cumming plays a New York artist whose life is turned upside down by an encounter with a much younger man.

2017 sees the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which decriminalised private homosexual acts in England and Wales. The Festival marks this anniversary in a number of ways:

  • Fifty Years of Queer History through the Moving Image and Beyond a unique afternoon of illustrated talks, screenings and storytelling with a wide range of historians, archivists and individuals who lived through the period.
  • The aforementioned Against the Law is the profoundly moving true story of Peter Wildeblood and the events that led to the creation of the Wolfenden Committee on sexual law reform.
  • BFI Flare will host the World Premiere of the politically charged Pride? (dir. Ashley Joiner), a provocative and intelligent documentary which details the history of the Pride celebrations.
  • As previously announced, the BFI is also marking the 50th anniversary with a new season of screenings and events in July and August. Gross Indecency will explore the pioneering – and sometimes problematic – depictions of LGBT life in British film and TV in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

In a global climate which sees many LGBT people struggle for basic human rights, BFI Flare also presents a selection of films and events which explore LGBT culture around the world. Highlights:

  • Out of Iraq (dirs. Eva Orner and Chris McKim) is an outstanding documentary about the forbidden relationship of two Iraqi young soldiers at the height of the Iraq war.
  • The Pearl of Africa (dir. Jonny von Wallström) follows the story of Cleopatra Kambugu, the first out transgender woman in Uganda.
  • Sridhar Rangayan, the Director of Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival will attend BFI Flare and take part in an event exploring LGBT film and television culture in India, as part of UK/India 2017.
  • LGBT film gets an international spotlight with the welcome return of fiveFilms4freedom, programmed in partnership with the British Council, which sees five LGBT short films from BFI Flare available online for free throughout the festival. Last year’s films were seen in more than 130 countries worldwide.

The Festival continues to develop new LGBT filmmaking talent with a third year of its Mentorship programme, working alongside BFI NETWORK and BAFTA:

  • BFI NETWORK@FLARE Mentorships in partnership with BAFTA offers emerging lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-identified filmmakers the opportunity to develop industry knowledge, professional connections, and a deeper understanding of the landscape for LGBT film. The program is structured around a professional relationship with a senior figure from the industry and engagement in a year of BFI Flare and BFI London Film Festival screenings, and a wide range of filmmaker-focused and social events and talks. Applications are open until 19 February.

The Festival opens with the World Premiere of Against the Law (directed by Fergus O’Brien and starring Daniel Mays, Mark Gatiss and Charlie Creed-Miles), a sensitive adaptation of Peter Wildeblood’s bestselling memoir, telling the story of his affair with a handsome serviceman and the subsequent court case which led to his imprisonment.

The Festival’s Closing Gala on Sunday 26th March is Signature Move, directed by BFI London Film Festival alumni Jennifer Reeder. The comedy drama stars Pakistani-Canadian actress, Fawzia Mirza, Bollywood star Shabana Azmi and Mexican-American Sari Sanchez, and is a cross-cultural romance about a lesbian living in Chicago with her recently widowed mother.

Special Presentations include Clyde Petersen’s return to the festival for the third time with a captivating semi-autobiographical animated musical Torrey Pines, which will feature a live score on the night. Alan Cumming gives a stand-out performance as a troubled survivor of the AIDS epidemic in Vincent Gagliostro’s passionate and inspirational After Louie. BFI Flare also screens the World Premiere of Different for Girls (dir. Campbell X), a sassy, sexy lesbian web series set in West London, starring Rachel Shelley (The L Word) and Guinevere Turner (American Psycho, Go Fish).

The Festival is further divided into sections: HEARTS, BODIES and MINDS. Highlights in the programme include:

HEARTS includes films about love, romance and friendship. Handsome Devil, directed by John Butler and starring Andrew Scott, is a witty Irish charmer which charts the unlikely friendship between an isolated gay teen and his hunky rugby playing roommate. Maura Anderson’s elegant and assured debut Heartland is a powerful examination of love and loss and tells the tale of Lauren, who is forced to return to live in rural Oklahoma following the death of her girlfriend. Dear Dad (dir. Tanuj Bhramar) is an India-set bittersweet father and son road movie. André Techine’s powerful and affecting Being 17 is the story two young boys in their last year of high school, co-written by Celine Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood). The pain and heartache of young love is laid bare in Monja Art’s hugely accomplished second feature Seventeen.

BODIES features stories of sex, identity and transformation. The diverse selection of films includes the Interbank LGBT Forum Special Screening of Nathan Adloff’s winning gay teen movie Miles. Park Chan Wook’s ravishing The Handmaiden, inspired by Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, sees a woman hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, secretly involved in a plot to defraud her. Marcelo Caetano’s Body Electric follows a handsome young man enjoying casual encounters in contemporary Brazil. Created by an entirely female crew, Below Her Mouth (dir. April Mullen) is a no holds-barred depiction of what happens in the first few days of two women falling in love. Dante Alencastre’s documentary Raising Zoey follows a strong family who demonstrate how open mindedness and love can pave the way for a joyful transition for their 13-year-old Zoey. In FTWTF: Female to What the Fuck (dirs. Katharina Lampert, Cordula Thym), several trans-identified people openly discuss the intricacies of transitioning. Timothy Greenfield Sanders returns to BFI Flare with The Trans List, in which some of the world’s most prominent transpeople, including Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox, tell their stories.

MINDS features reflections on art, politics and community. Morgan White chronicles the world’s most recognisable pair of shoes with The Slippers, a documentary about Dorothy’s iconic ruby footwear in The Wizard of Oz, which features appearances from the late Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. Waiting for B (dir. Paulo Cesar Toldeo) is a kitschy, light-hearted and thoroughly camp portrayal of pop culture, mega fandom and the adoration of Beyoncé.  Mark Kenneth Woods’ Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things sensitively observes the complexities of LGBT life in Canada’s remote Arctic Inuit population. Last Man Standing (dir. Erin Brethauer) is a beautifully made documentary charting the life of eight long-term survivors who live with AIDS. Led by Laverne Cox, Jaqueline Gares’ Free Cece documents the case of Cece McDonald, a transwoman imprisoned in a male facility.

BFI Flare also includes a wide range of events, talks and debates.

SEXIT: What the Fuck is Happening with UK Porn Laws? debates the recent anti-porn laws which disproportionally target queer businesses, performers and portrayals of alternative sexualities. This event will question this new wave of censorship with a panel of filmmakers, organisers and activists on the front line of the debate.

Zorian Clayton, in his first year as a BFI Flare programmer, will present A Romp Through Classic-Camp a lecture exploring the arch queer aesthetic in cinema that has been enjoyed from the margins to the mainstream. This will be complemented by screenings of camp classics; Mommie Dearest, Barbarella, a sing-a-long Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and an exclusive presentation of Can’t Stop the Music at the BFI IMAX.

Celebrated out lesbian film and TV director Jamie Babbit, returns to the Festival to discuss a body of work celebrating strong female-focussed stories. More than 15 years after her glorious and defiant teen romance But I’m a Cheerleader, Babbit continues to bring a delightfully queer eye to features like The Quiet, Itty Bitty Titty Committee and Addicted to Fresno and TV works including United States of Tara, The L Word, Girls and Looking.

Surprising Ancestors: Cinema’s Forgotten Queers sees Brian Robinson uncover hidden queer gems from cinema’s silent era. This illustrated lecture will feature a complete screening of What’s the World Coming To? (dir. Richard Wallace, 1926), a newly restored Hal Roach comedy set 100 years in the future where butch women rule the world and effeminate men stay at home and read fashion magazines.

With Queering Love: Queering Hormones BFI Flare screens a collection of artists’ films which examine love through the filters of biomedical science, culture and politics. These films were funded by Wellcome Trust, delivered by BFI and no.w.here, in collaboration with King’s College London.

In The Queer Frontier: LGBT web series and beyond Emma Smart steps us through the best LGBT work online, revealing just how much of a game-changer the internet has been for creating more varied representation and better accessibility in LGBT media.

BFI Flare joins forces with interactive theatre company Clay & Diamonds for Orlando: The Queer Element, an education event which uses Sally Potter’s film and Virginia Woolf’s text to allow audiences to step inside a world that breaks apart traditional boundaries between science and art and explore notions of gender and sex from the Elizabethans through to 2017.

Following the thrills and spills of the BFI Flare Film Quiz last year, Michael Blyth leads the challenge again, inviting you to put your queer knowledge to the test with the Big Gay Film Quiz

We see the return of the hugely popular BFI Flare Club Nights (Fri 17, Sat 18, Thur 23, Fri 24, Sat 25) at Benugo Lounge and Riverfront with our favourite DJ’s including: Pink Glove, Club Kali, Maricumbia! Sadie Lee and Jonathan Kemp, BBZ and Unskinny Bop for the BFI Flare Closing Night Party.

 

“Prodigals: Stories” by Greg Jackson— Searching for Meaning

Jackson, Greg. “Prodigals: Stories”, Picador, 2017.

Searching for Meaning

Amos Lassen

Greg Jackson’s debut collection of short stories take us into the world of educated and stimulated people who are stuck within their privileged consciousness. They seek transcendence through art, drugs, role-playing, and material goods but these are only temporary cushions of modern life. What eludes them is love. They struggle with cynicism and long for something to believe in. No two stories are alike and each is a treat.

I had a hard time deciding how I felt about the characters. I wanted to like some of them despite their unlikeable facades and beneath what they outwardly project is a sense of compassion. They face their lives as they live them but with imagination as to how those lives could have been. Jackson immerses himself in them as they come of age and all that goes with that. Taken as a whole, we get a good look at postmodernism but the real reward here is the gorgeous prose.

We read about a filmmaker who escapes New York, a lawyer in the throes of divorce who seeks refuge at her seaside cottage where he finds a vagrant girl living in it, a banker who realizes his when he comes under the influence of two strange sisters, a group of friends in the California desert for one last bacchanal, and a journalist visiting the French country home of a former tennis star. The characters are aspirers and strivers, misfits and children of privilege on a quest for meaning and authenticity in lives that have been spoiled by self-knowledge and are haunted by spiritual longing. We see the degradations of contemporary life. They confront the spiritual emptiness of contemporary life

Jackson gets to the core of life through his characters n he presents them top us with humor and grace. We become very aware of the nuances of adult consciousness as we read about our generation’s internal crises. Both the writing and the plot are filled with observation and sympathy and totally entertain.

 

“The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary” by Seyyed Hossein Nasr et. al.— Accessible and Accurate

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Caner Karacay Dagli, et al. “The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary”, Harper One, 2015.

Accessible and Accurate

Amos Lassen

In preparation for a course I will be teaching next fall comparing stories from the Hebrew bible and the Quran, I began a search for an accessible and accurate translation of the Quran. I wanted something similar to the Jewish Study Bible (Oxford). To my dismay this is the one fault of the Jewish Study Bible— it does not include the original Hebrew text. Oxford University Press does offer a wonderful English translation of the Quran but I wanted more than just a translation. I discovered that Harper One has “The Study Quran” and it includes the Arabic translation as well as analyses the theological, metaphysical, historical, and geographical teachings and backgrounds, extensive study notes, special introductions by experts in the field. It is edited by a top modern Islamic scholar who is respected in both the West and the Islamic world. These features were important to me since I had up until now only read the Quran when I needed an explanation of something and the only knowledge I had of Islam came from several Muslim friends here and in Israel. I was going to be teaching this class to some very educated people and I wanted to make sure I would have access to the information I needed.

This edition of the Quran draws from a wide range of traditional Islamic commentaries, including Sunni and Shia sources, and from legal, theological, and mystical texts. “The Study Quran” provides information conveys the enduring spiritual power of the Quran and offers a thorough scholarly understanding of this holy text.

There are essays by 15 contributors, maps, useful notes and annotations in an easy-to-read two-column format, a timeline of historical events, and helpful indices. It is easy to explore the deeper spiritual meaning of the Quran, examine the grammar of difficult sections, and explore legal and ritual teachings, ethics, theology, sacred history, and the importance of various passages in Muslim life.

With an introduction by its general editor, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, we get nearly 2,000-pages and continuous discussion of the entire Quran that gives a comprehensive picture of how this sacred work has been read by Muslims for so many years. Perhaps by breaking it down as I have done below, you can get a better idea of what this wonderful book offers.

It includes:

A new English translation of the Quran that is accurate, accessible, and reliable in how it renders this sacred text.

A wide-ranging verse-by-verse commentary that brings together the most respected and distinguished traditions of metaphysical, spiritual, theological, and legal interpretation of the Quran within Islam

A helpful introduction to each su¯rah that provides an overview and background of its teachings, essays by fifteen internationally renowned scholars on how to read and understand the Quran and its role in shaping Islamic civilization. It is presented in a beautiful two-color, two-column design that presents the sacred text and commentary in the spirit of traditional Quran manuscripts, maps, a time line of historical events, comprehensive indexes, and other features to aid reading.

“The Study Quran” is a scholarly yet accessible resource where it is easy to explore how Muslims have interpreted the Quran through the centuries to the present day. Not only is this a great invaluable resource for scholars and students of all backgrounds, it is also a resource for Muslims who want to deepen their understanding of their own tradition especially now in this time of confusion about the Quran and Islam is so prevalent.

We see how the Quran has been understood by Muslims through the centuries and I understand that this it the first time that scholars and students of all backgrounds have a clear and reliable resource in English for exploring the history of interpretation for any passage in the Quran.

In today’s world and especially since 9/11, people in the West are studying the Koran and because of that there have misinterpretations and misunderstandings. Sometimes these become validated and instead of going back to the source there are those adhering to misconceptions. I have never been ashamed to say that I do not know something when wrong and like to know that there is a place where I can check myself.

This edition will do much to enlighten and inform the reading strategies of those who want to understand the Holy Writ of Islam, especially as it relates to the beliefs and practices of Muslims. The editors show the diversity and depth of the exegetical ideas that have been brought to the Quran. For me, this book is a wonderful resource with its careful and detailed explanation of the alphabet, its outstanding introduction to the text and short introductions for each sura and its fascinating essays from editors and scholars, connections and citations to hadith, and index and relevant maps.

Many translations omit the symbolic meaning inherent in the Quran and look only at the obvious meaning. By exploring the inner, deeper meanings in many of the verses, the spirit awakens and the message becomes universal. The message is essentially the same in all religions and such works can help people in all walks of life. The English translation of the Quran is eloquent and elegant and the inclusion of diverse commentaries allows it to say something to everyone. We read commentaries of legalists, theologians, philologists and spiritual authorities or saints. No single commentary on the Quran, even a commentary that brings diverse levels of Islamic references and commentaries to its own commentary, can be fully complete especially when we consider the amount of wisdom there is here. Like the Jewish Study Bible that has been updated once already, the Study Quran is an ongoing contribution to the field, which deserves critical appraisals everyone— academic, non-academic, Muslims and seekers or believers of other faiths and traditions of wisdom.

There are other valuable translations of the Quran, and works of commentary but what makes this edition so special is the spectrum of pre-modern commentaries and those that continue that tradition into the modern period.

Dr. Nasr in a rather lengthy introduction outlines the nature, dimensions, and the meaning of the Quran to Muslims. It is only then that we get a translation and running commentary.

Like any “study” text, this edition will be revised and reconsidered but that will not harm the intention that each verse has various meanings of depths, and thus challenges any Muslim perspective that promotes one interpretation over others.

 

 

“You Belong to Me” by Colin Harrison— An Urban Thriller

Harrison, Colin. “You Belong to Me: A Novel”, Sarah Crichton Books, 2017.

An Urban Thriller

Amos Lassen

Paul Reeves is a successful immigration lawyer however his real love and passion is collecting old maps of New York that are tangible records of the city’s rich history in an increasingly digital world. While at an auction one afternoon with his neighbor Jennifer Mehraz, the beautiful young wife of Ahmed, an Iranian financier-lawyer, a handsome man in soldier fatigues appears takes Jennifer away. It seems that this soldier is long-lost lover from Jennifer’s rural Pennsylvania past and that sets off a series of alarming events. Those who are close to Jennifer try to figure out who he is and how the two are connected. Jennifer’s high-powered and possessive husband wants this intrusion to his marriage go away forever.

Just at the same time one of the rarest maps goes on sale suddenly and unexpectedly but even before Paul could make any kind of deal, it was taken by another buyer thus sending Paul on a quest to learn who the mysterious buyer is. He is determined that this map will be his.

This is one that will keep you guessing and turning pages and because it is an intricate mystery/thriller there is not much I can say without giving something away. Let it suffice to say that the exciting characters, sexual energy, edgy street mood and intrigue that have come to characterize Harrison’s books are here once again and in abundance. This time there are two stories running at the same time. We do learn the identity of the soldier that whisked Jennifer away— he is Bill, a former Army major and one of Jennifer’s former lovers who has come from Texas to take her away. The story of Paul’s passion for maps and the story of Jennifer play on each other throughout and when they come together…