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“INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS”— An Olive Signature Film

“Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”

An Olive Signature Film

Amos Lassen

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is sci-fi classic that uses the dangers over an alien invasion by pod-like creatures to steal earthlings’ souls as a parody about the McCarthy craziness that swept America in the 1950s and at the same times take a vigorous anti-Communist stand and make some statements decrying conformity. Don Siegel directed Daniel Mainwaring’s script that was based upon a three-part serial story written by Jack Finney for Colliers Magazine in 1954, and in 1955 was made into a full-length novel, The Body Snatchers. This B-picture was shot in 19 days for the low budget of about $420,000 and was filmed in glorious black and white. There is minimal use of special effects, and no blood or murders.

General practitioner Dr. Miles Binnell (Kevin McCarthy) is returning to his small hometown of Santa Mira from a medical convention in nearby San Francisco and notices a lot of strange things going on in town. Children do not recognize their parents, and husbands do not know their wives. His nurse, Sally (Jean Willes), complains patients have made appointments yet never appeared. Ex-girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) believes that the man claiming to be her uncle is an impostor. Miles is very concerned by these bizarre occurrences, but temporarily satisfied by reassuring rationalizations from the town psychiatrist (Larry Gates).

But when Miles gets a phone call from friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan) to come over and take a look at a strange mannequin-like figure without a humanoid face or fingerprints that suddenly appears on his pool table, he again becomes alarmed. He eventually reasons that this must be an invasion from outer space. He discovers that the town is being taken over by pods from outer space that are colonizing the earth and taking on human forms but without a soul or emotions. Their propagate t to take over the world. The problem is that one can’t tell who’s a person and who’s a pod. At a loss for what to do, paranoia and tension builds, as the enemy is viewed as all of us.

Bennell, at first, thinks his patients are suffering from paranoid delusions that their friends and relatives are impostors. The doppelgängers are entirely credible because they can answer detailed questions about their victim’s lives. But eventually he finds his friends and patients are in fact strangely altered and emotionless. He decides to investigate, but soon he and his girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) are the only humans left in their once idyllic town. Director Siegel keeps the movie taut and dynamic and creates one of the screen’s creepiest, thought-provoking fantasies.

Daniel Mainwaring’s screenplay mixes suspense and scares with a metaphor about the insidious danger within the Hollywood anti-communist witch-hunt of the shameful McCarthy era in America, which landed many liberals and left-wingers in peril, and some in jail, in the last 40s and early 50s.

The film has been remade three times, each time to less than stellar results. This is a sparse film that doesn’t feature a single second of dynamic camera work, cinematography or slyness in the script. It became a classic because of fear. Most people won’t be scared today while watching it and it is not presented as a horror film. There is fear in the allegorical leanings of the story as it relates to the Communist red scare of the 1950’s. But, more than that there is the constant sense of paranoia and the fear of being replaced or losing control of your own body.

“Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely” by Andrew Curran— A Biography

 

Curran, Andrew. “Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely”, Other Press, 2018.

A Biography

Amos Lassen

Andrew Curran brings us a new biography of one the philosophers who built the foundations of the modern world in “Diderot and the Art of Thinking”. Denis Diderot is credited with helping to bring the first comprehensive encyclopedia but this is only part of the man. Now we learn that Diderot’s personal writing was just that, personal, and that he left behind many writing that were never published and were discovered after his death. He wrote of natural selection long before Darwin, of the Oedipus complex long before Freud and of genetic manipulation long before the first animal was cloned. Certainly some of these were written during the period that he spent in jail after having been arrested in 1749 for his atheism. Diderot challenged all of the accepted

truths of his time including from the monarchy, the racial justification of the slave trade and the complications of human sexuality. He wrote about the dangers of absolute power and this led to Catherine the Great financial support and her invitation to St. Petersburg.

Curran has arranged this biography by theme and he gives us accurate descriptions of Diderot’s relationship with Rousseau, his feud with Voltaire, his marriage and affairs, as well as his positions on art, morality, and religion. What we really see here is how his character flaws and limitations are “part of his genius and his ability to break taboo, dogma, and convention.”

This is not the Diderot I learned about in university philosophy classes but the man who was one of the great thinkers of the eighteenth century. Above all else, we see the results of thinking freely at a time when very few did.

“QUEENS OF KINGS” on Revry

“QUEENS OF KINGS”

Leads with the Ladies:  Laverne Cox, Aquaria, Scarlet Envy, Miz Jade, Sandra Bernhard, Olivia d’Abo

Today, international queer streaming network, Revry, releases it’s most anticipated Original Series, “Queens of Kings: Season 3” featuring RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 Winner, Aquaria with following episodes including Scarlet Envy and Miz Jade.  Also on Friday, Laverne Cox sizzles up the screen on Revry in the multi-festival winner, feature film “Carl(a)”.  And check out the ever fabulous fireball Sandra Bernhard with Olivia d’Abo in the hysterical Emmy nominated series “Secs & Execs.”   All Free with Ads or without Per Subscription.

Revry is proud to announce the airing of it’s Revry Original Series, “Queens of Kings: Season 3” featuring RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 Winner, Aquaria, in it’s premiere episode on Friday Sept. 14th.  Following episodes include drag icons Scarlet Envy and Miz Jade.  Creators, Scarlet Envy and Miz Jade Available for Interviews or Exclusive Upcoming Clips Per Request.  Trailer Embed Links Below.

Drag culture has been around for years, but only recently with the success of shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race has this subculture achieved mainstream success. While this is an incredible accomplishment, the spotlight is often focused on a singular view of what drag can be.  Revry Original Series, “Queens of Kings” showcases a diverse variety of drag performers in the evolving Brooklyn drag scene; the series is a cavalcade of legendary Brooklyn drag performers who prove New York has remained the herald of drag culture.  Each episode focuses on the intricate duality of the performer and examines not only the art of their drag but also the compelling story of the person behind the makeup. Season 3 premieres on Revry.tv September 14, with RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 Winner, Aquaria, and new episodes premiering on Fridays.

“The diversity of drag in Brooklyn is incredible and exploration of drag/nightlife creatures is never ending. We have to make sure we remain inclusive and remember we are one HUGE dysfunctional family and that is ok. My Queens of Kings experience was nerve wrecking. I try to keep my pedestrian life and my drag life separate. Doing this show, I had to bare myself in BOTH walks of life. I work my ass off and I do it with a smile on my face. I hope people see that and get a lil glimpse of the day and life of a queer weirdo.” – Miz Jade

“We created Queens of Kings to not only showcase these unique performers and give viewers a peek into the artist behind the makeup, but also to highlight the diverse and ever-changing culture of Brooklyn drag. With the Season 3’s extended episodes, we are able to dive further into each performer’s background, their unique evolution, and the inspiration for their art. Drag fans wants to form an even deeper connection with queens they love and have only had the chance to see them online or on stage; Queens of Kings opens that window into the drag world.” – Evan Zampella, Creator of Queens of Kings

 “The future of drag is very promising right now. We’re seeing drag talent being embraced by more mainstream industries like fashion, theatre, politics, film and more.” – Kyle Burt, Producer of Queens of Kings

“Carl(a)”, starring “Orange is the New Black’s” Laverne Cox, and Joslyn DeFreece is the story of a trans woman struggling with rejection from her family and doubts from the man she loves while she raises money to complete her transition. Carla must choose between being true to herself or being someone she isn’t for someone else.  Streaming Friday, Sept. 14th on Revry.

The Emmy Nominated “Secs and EXECS” is set at Kathletics, a women’s wear company owned by Kath Fairchild (Sandra Bernhard). The series follows the chaos of four bosses and their assistants.  Co-starring Olivia d’Abo and Mindy Sterling.  Streaming Now on Revry.

About Revry

Revry is the first global queer streaming network, available in 35 million homes in over 100 countries, with a uniquely curated selection of LGBTQ+ film, series, and originals along with the world’s largest queer libraries of groundbreaking podcasts, albums and music videos. Revry is available worldwide on seven OTT, mobile, and online platforms, and hosts the exclusive LGBTQ+ channels on Pluto TV and XUMO. Headquartered in Los Angeles, Revry is led by an inclusive team of queer, multi-ethnic and allied partners who bring decades of experience in the fields of tech, digital media, and LGBTQ+ advocacy.  Follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @REVRYTV. Go Online to: https://revry.tv

“The Long Path to Wisdom: Tales from Burma” by Jan-Philipp Sendker— Folk Tales and Stories

Sendker, Jan-Philipp. “The Long Path to Wisdom: Tales from Burma”, with Lorie Karnath and Jonathan Sendker, Other Press, 2018.

Folk Tales and Stories

Amos Lassen

Having lived in several cultures during my life thus far I can tell you that the best way to adapt and learn about a culture is through stories. Jan-Philipp Sendker tells us in “The Long Path to Wisdom: Tales from Burma” that folk tales and stories “can grant us a glimpse into the soul of a people.”

Sendker brings us a collection of Burmese folk stories that help us to understand the beauty and fabric of Burmese culture. The stories transcend time, ethnicity, religion, and geographic borders and shape the culture of Burma through humor and tragedy.

Sendker and his two writing colleagues collected the forty-eight stories during visits to Burma (now Myanmar) over the last twenty years. The stories are for adults and children alike and “incorporate tragic tales of lost children and lost love, of failed revenge and eternal suffering, but also of faith rewarded, justice, love, and happy ever after.” Sometimes the stories’ lessons are clear while others are subtler and some are simply funny. Many of the stories will be unfamiliar but story readers will recognize certain characteristics of all folk stories readers of folk stories and not just in the plots but also in the wisdom they strive to impart. Some of the examples are a story about a town that didn’t lie and there is a story about a monk who struggles between his faith and his family, a boy who has a philosophical argument with a tiger who wants to eat him and a sad story about love lost because of a mix-up. We immediately see that these stories actually mirror some of our stories. Monks play big parts in the stories and culture of Burma and there is a story about a monk’s clever revenge on a dishonest couple. We have a story about nature and a man who, upon seeing the reflection of the moon in his water barrel late one night, desperately tries to rescue it. Faith plays a big part in the culture of Burma and this could explain the respect that is given to monks and their roles in stories. Burma also has a history of “nats” or spirits or gods and they also show the importance of faith.

Author Sendker gives us a lot of background in his introduction and he explains that Burmese people take it absolutely for granted that the stars exert influence over human lives and that there are dates and days that bring luck and others that invite disaster. In fact, the date and time of Burma’s independence celebration in 1948 was determined by an astrologer, as was the overnight decision to switch the traffic direction from left to right in 1970. The nats in these stories are sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always powerful.

Sendker shares that he has observed in his visits to Burma that the people have embraced their newfound freedom wherever possible. I find it charming that the world of Burma we read about in the stories is foreign yet familiar.   As I read the stories, I was reminded of the Yiddish stories that I grew up with and for story from Burma there is a story just like in another culture. The importance of stories is not just that they entertain but they teach as well.

“TELEVISION’S LOST CLASSICS VOLUME ONE”— Classic Programs

“Television’s Lost Classics Volume One”

Classic Programs

Amos Lassen

“Televisions Lost Classics” is a special series of lost classic programs from the Golden Age of TV. The series has been restored by SabuCat Productions from the best archival film elements available in high definition, some of the programs have not been seen since they were originally broadcast. Volume One features 2 one-hour dramatic programs that feature John Cassavetes. I remember so well growing up in this golden age and it is great fun to revisit those shows that I had completely forgotten. The two programs here star top talent. We must remember that back in the 1950s when these originally aired that camera were big and bulky, lights on the set got very hot, music as live and microphones had to kept out of the frame. Performances were intense and we certainly see that with Cassavetes.

The first of the two programs here is “Crime in the Streets” from The Elgin Hour (the Elgin watch commercials are great fun) and was broadcast live on ABC on March 8, 1955. Directed by Sidney Lumet, it stars Robert Preston, John Cassavetes and Glenda Farrell. The second program is “No Right to Kill” and was originally part of the Climax! Series under the sponsorship of the Chrysler Corporation. It was based on “Crime and Punishment and broadcast on CBS on August 9, 1956 and also stars Cassavetes.

By watching these two programs, we see just how far we’ve come. I totally enjoyed the experience.

“THE GRIEF OF OTHERS”— The Isolating Nature of Grief

 

“The Grief Of Others”

The Isolating Nature of Grief

Amos Lassen

Patrick Wang’s “The Grief of Others” is based on the novel by Leah Hager Cohen in which a couple’s baby dies 57 hours after his birth and the parents try to return to their previous lives and struggle to regain a semblance of normalcy for themselves and their two children.

Ricky (Wendy Moniz) and John (Trevor St. John) face seemingly insurmountable grief that also gravely affects ten-year-old Biscuit (Oona Laurence) and thirteen-year-old Paul (Jeremy Shinder), who deal with the intensity of the situation in their own unique ways. By grieving independently, the four family members grow increasingly unaware of each other. In the midst of all of the tension, John’s estranged daughter from a previous relationship — Jess (Sonya Harum) comes back into his life with by an unplanned pregnancy and looking for a helping hand. Along with a kind outsider, Gordie (Mike Faist), Jess helps the Ryries family get out of their own heads and take notice of the world around them.

Wang uses this film to contemplate the [de]construction of family following a terrible and traumatic moment. He keeps his distance from his characters and gives us a profound look at human behavior. Using static wide-shots, we observe the Ryries throughout a clinically disconnected perspective. What we see, we see from a single vantage point thus further isolating the nature of grief and the stillness within the Ryries family. Conversations are softly spoken so when there are heated moments, they seem intense. We see a family’s fragile inner life sensitively and we see the isolation and distance between parents and children even while living together. Taken as a whole, we have many perceptive moments that are beautifully directed yet not easy to watch. Yet we reach a satisfying conclusion. I felt as if I was in mourning or the first ¾ of the film and I do not mean that to sound negative. Tragedy has always been part of the world of entertainment and a tragedy that is well done can bring many satisfactory feelings. Here is a tragedy that is beautifully done and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This could be a very depressing film but it is not—- it is simply a beautiful film that deals with a terrible event.

Wang is both a director and an observer and we observe what he observes in all of its detail. His own personal style is evident in every shot and I do not want to spoil the film by telling you what to look on. Once you find the rhythm, you will notice it yourselves. He cinematically shows us how to deal with adversity and misunderstanding and how to pick up the pieces of what seems broken and how this improves our world.

With “The Grief of Others” we have a new auteur; I felt this with his first film, “In the Family” but he cements it here.

“The Grief of Others” opens November 2 in New York and Los Angeles.

“Terms of Engagement: Stories of the Father and Son” by Paul Alan Ruben— A Short Story Collection

Ruben, Paul Alan. “Terms of Engagement: Stories of the Father and Son”, Larkin Books, 2018.

A Short Story Collection

Amos Lassen

There are some things than can be learned from reading and there are others that knowledge comes from hands-on experience. Nothing prepared me for what I would face in the classroom when I began teaching for the first time. All of the education courses I took as an undergrad and as a grad student did not prepare me for the experiences I met and even my student teaching experience did little for me to see the reality of having my own classroom. I think the same is true of parenting. Yes, books help but they are no substitute to the real thing. After all, a child is our most precious challenge probably because he is an extension of our own selves.

In nine short stories, Paul Rubens shares intimate information bout father and sons and how each desires to understand the other. Fathers and sons crave validation from each other and we see here how that validation comes about… or, doesn’t. These are not sweet stories; they are, rather, stories of the engagement of fathers and sons at times when collision and not collusion seems to take over. Each side seeks to repair the damage dome by the other side and what is so interesting is that there is always some kind of damage, some point from which to start building a relationship. At least, I believe that is true today when so many fathers and sons were born in America and away from the ideas of the old countries. I know I could never have had the kind of relationship that I read about here with my father; he just did not have the skills to make it work. But time and fathers change as we see here. I found my heart broken more than once in these stories of real fathers and sons. I believe that we live at a time in which we ca actually define in concrete terms what is a father and what is a son.

Of course, I wondered before I read this whether it is possible to use fiction as a guide to parenting but then I realized we have been using the Bible as a guide for living for hundreds of years and much of it is fiction. Next I asked myself if there are “terms of engagement for how to conduct a war or make peace”  and the answer to that comes in reading the stories here.  Parenting requires consciousness and dealing with challenges. I have noticed that the area between father and son has narrowed compared to what it was when I was a child. I see fathers and sons who are friends and who share intimacies, something that I could never have done. But this can also be a problem as we read here. Before a father can raise his son, he must raise himself to become an adult father and grown-up human being.

Because the stories here are fiction, I believe that it is important to stress that fiction often mirrors society and there is always some truth in fiction. I also believe that we must consider the father as hero, role model, and source of masculine identity and the son’s profound identification with his father.

Rubens sees father and son as “intimate enemies” and he explores the themes in his stories that have led to that. There is a lot here and I found myself returning to some of the stories several times because there is so much here to think about and to me, at least, that is a sign of good writing.

“Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The True Story Behind Degas’s Masterpiece” by Camille Laurens— The Girl Behind the Statue

Laurens, Camille. “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The True Story Behind Degas’s Masterpiece”, translated by Willard Wood, Other Press, 2018.

The Girl Behind the Statue

Amos Lassen

 

Even though she is famous throughout the world, how many know her name? We know only that she was fourteen, and the work that she did was grueling work at an age when children today are in school. In the 1880s, she danced at the Paris Opera but what is often a dream for young girls now wasn’t a dream for her. She was fired after several years of hard work because the director had had enough of her repeated absences. She had been working another job or two, because the few pennies the Opera paid weren’t enough to keep her and her family fed. She was a model who posed for painters or sculptors and among them was Edgar Degas.

Camille Laurens uses historical material and her own love of ballet and personal experience to bring us a portrait of Marie van Goethem and the world of the artists’ models themselves and what makes this so special is that it is often overlooked in the history of art. We get not only fascinating insights into the young woman, but also learn about the master behind the famous sculpture. We journey into the slums, the famous Opera House, and Degas’s art studio in nineteenth-century Paris and we are taken into historical records to uncover what happened to Marie van Goethem. As I said, we learn about the model and the artist and we also see that there was a time when women who were born into a life of suffering were considered unimportant and then forgotten.

Lauren gives us an intense look at the abuses of child labor in Paris in the 1880s. It was out of this that Degas found his model. Along with that, the story recreates the sights, sounds, and smells of the nineteenth-century art world.

 “The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” debuted at the Salon des Indépendants in 1881 and was met with mixed reviews. Visitors didn’t know what to make of this sculpture. Perhaps most shocking was that Degas was portraying one of the “little rats” or poor girls who were made to spend most of their time in exhausting, endless dance lessons at the Opera House and were preyed upon by wealthy men. Like the others, Marie van Goethem took side jobs as an artist’s model to earn a bit more money, including several jobs for Degas. This was challenging world of the poor.

These “little rats” of the Opera led deeply paradoxical lives – spending half their time in beautiful sets, the other half living in hovels. They were admired and revered onstage, but dismissed in real life aside from being treated as sexual objects while they were still little girls afraid of their power over men, yet powerless to improve their own lives. Critics still are not sure what Degas intended when he showcased one of these ‘little rats’ to the world and did not know if he meant to expose the hypocrisy and racism of the time, or if he was just presenting an image of a lower-class girl who deserved her status? Many questioned what he meant by changing Marie’s features, and why did the wax sculpture was filled with random objects like drinking cups and paintbrushes. We get both answers and questions in this lovely little book.

“THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL”— A Special Special

“THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL”

A Special Special

Amos Lassen

 To celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Carol Burnett Show, CBS honored the comedy series with “The Carol Burnett Show 50th Anniversary Special”, which aired to 15.4 million viewers on Sunday, December 3, 2017.  Nominated for an Emmy® Award for Outstanding Variety Special, the one-night event, which was filmed at the series’ original soundstage at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, features Burnett, original cast members Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner, costume designer Bob Mackie, and a slew of special guests, including Jon Batiste, Beth Behrs, Jim Carrey, Kristin Chenoweth, Stephen Colbert, Harry Connick Jr., Kaley Cuoco, Bill Hader, Steve Lawrence, Jay Leno, Jane Lynch, Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Amy Poehler, Tracee Ellis Ross, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short and more! 

Now, home audiences can join the party and laugh along with Carol and her famous friends, as they revisit the show’s most hilarious clips, catch up with cast members, and enjoy brand-new musical performances!

Highlights include:

 The most uproarious clips from the landmark series, including “Went With The Wind,” “The Dentist,” “Tudball & Wiggins” and “The Family”

  • Carol does a bit of her beloved Q&A with the star-studded 50th Anniversary audience including questions from Pat Boone and Tom Selleck!
  • Carol’s guests try out her famous Tarzan yell – Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Tracee Ellis Ross all give it a go, but a late, video entry wins the day – Steve Carell!
  • Jim Carrey’s 10-year-old self re-enacts receiving a reply to his Carol Burnett Show fan letter
  • Stephen Colbert, Steve Lawrence, Bernadette Peters, Kristin Chenoweth and Carol all come together for a brand-new musical number
  • And Harry Connick, Jr. and Carol close out the night with an emotional performance of the show’s theme song – “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together” 

BONUS FEATURES 

  • Exclusive new bonus features including red-carpet footage, backstage interviews, and anniversary wishes from Carol’s friends and fans

A tribute booklet with production photos, notes from Carol’s guests, and a special message from Carol herself! 

“The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others” by Tali Sharot— How We Influence Others

Sharot,Tali. “The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others”, Picador, 2018.

How We Influence Others

Amos Lassen

Neuroscientist Tali Sharot presents a research-based inquiry into how we influence those around us, and how understanding the brain can help us change minds for the better. We are given a look at the nature of influence and it is so important since we are all aware that we have a responsibility to affect others in so many ways. However, doing so takes skill and many of what we consider to be instincts are ineffective. This is simply because these are not compatible with how minds function.

Sharot explains how to avoid these pitfalls, and how it becomes stressful when we attempt to change beliefs and actions. Emotion plays a critical role in influence and the weakness of data and the power of curiosity are also important. Sharot makes us totally aware of the complex power of influence, good and bad.

Sharot demonstrates the failings of the human mind to learn from our mistakes while providing a practical series of lessons to overcome those habits. Sharot balances accessibility scientific research as she increases awareness of “the pitfalls of human reasoning, and how to overcome them.” We see that what we believed about influence is incorrect and now we learn the right ways to influence. Everyday, we miss opportunities to influence others because it’s so difficult to shift the attitudes and actions of others.

Sharot isolates factors central to influence and we see that the “smarter a person is, the greater his or her ability to rationalize and reinterpret discordant information, and the greater the polarizing boomerang effect is likely to be.” Emotion tends to overpower reason when it comes to human decision-making.