Category Archives: Uncategorized

American Epic: The First Time America Heard Itself” By Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty— The Pioneers and Artists of American Root Music

MacMahon, Bernard and Allison McGourty. “’”, Simon and Schuster, 2017.

The Pioneers and Artists of American Root Music

Amos Lassen

“American Epic” is the companion book to the groundbreaking PBS and BBC documentary series that celebrates the pioneers and artists of American roots music—blues, gospel, folk, Cajun, Appalachian, Hawaiian, Native American and without which there would be no jazz, rock, country R&B, or hip hop today.

Jack White, T. Bone Burnett, and Robert Redford have executive produced this special historical music project that explores the pivotal recording journeys of the early twentieth century, which for the first time made American music available to the world. It was also the first time America truly heard herself.

In the 1920s and 1930s, as radio was taking over the pop music business, record companies were forced to leave their studios in major cities and search for new styles and markets. They discovered a wealth of unexpected talent—farmers, laborers, and ethnic minorities playing styles that blended strands of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. These recordings form the base for modern music as we know it but during the Depression many record companies went out of business and more than ninety percent of the fragile 78 rpm were destroyed. Because of the continuing efforts of cultural detectives and record devotees, the stories of America’s earliest musicians can now finally be told.

Directors Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty, , spent years traveling around the US in search of recollections of those musical pioneers. Here is their fascinating account of how and what they found and we have new stories, never-before-seen photographs, and unearthed artwork. We also see contributions from many of the musicians who participated including Taj Mahal, Nas, Willie Nelson, and Steve Martin, plus a behind-the-scenes look at the incredible journey across America.

“American Epic” is an extraordinary testament to our country’s musical roots, the transformation of our culture, and the artists who gave us modern popular music.

 

“3 GENERATIONS”— Transitioning

“3 Generations”

Transitioning

Amos Lassen

“3 GENERATIONS” is the touching story of three generations of a family living under one roof in New York as they deal with teenager Ray’s (Elle Fanning) struggles with the body assigned to him at birth and his determination to start transitioning.

Ray’s single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), must track down Ray’s biological father (Tate Donovan) to get his legal consent to allow Ray’s transition. Dolly (Susan Sarandon), Ray’s lesbian grandmother is having a hard time accepting that she now has a grandson. Each character must each confront their own identities and learn to embrace change in order to ultimately find acceptance and understanding.

Co-writer and director Gaby Dellal looks at the troubles of guardianship over a combustible teenager to fuel most of the feature’s dramatic potential. At times “3 Generations” feels aimless and confuses core issues with behavioral messiness and performance indulgence. Dellal often seems like she doesn’t know what she wants to accomplish here and this affects the film throughout.

Ray was born Ramona and he has spent the majority of his life trying to be accepted as a boy. Now at 16 years old, Ray is looking to make a permanent transition to a male, requiring a consent form signature from her mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), to begin hormone treatments. Maggie is unsure about the finality of it all, and tries to accept Ray’s urgency, but she discovers a greater problem with the form she must fill out so that things can move forward. The form requires permission from Ray’s absentee father, Craig. Her ex, who’s moved on with a new family of his own and Maggie has to deal with difficult feelings of guilt and abandonment, trying to make peace with a man who doesn’t understand the essence of Ray’s needs. Overseeing the fight is Maggie’s mother, Dolly (Susan Sarandon), who’s also confronted with transition issues when partner Frances (Linda Emond) desires a change in their living arrangement, losing Maggie as a tenant.

Ray works very hard to be a teenage boy. Ray loves skateboarding around New York City, working on music and video projects that detail his inner life, and desiring companionship, all the while feeling like an outsider. He is about to move to a new school and this frustration guides most of the movie, thus causing Ray to be unrelenting in his need to get the consent form signed, and that shows itself in his bullying Maggie into submission. There’s a fine line between adolescent activity and mean-spirited behavior, and Dellal doesn’t seem to be aware of Ray’s somewhat ways, which often bring about major outbursts and arguments. That Ray needs to complete his journey is understood, but so is Maggie’s reluctance.

The story is a tug of war between Ray and Maggie, with the mother also forced to reopen old wounds when back in Craig’s presence, reuniting with a man she ended things badly with. It is also a tiptoeing approach to the physical realities of gender reassignment.

Maggie has raised Ray independently for years. bWhen we first meet Ray, he is in a doctor’s office being informed of the changes his body will undergo once he starts testosterone treatment. With him are mother Maggie, grandmother Dolly and Dolly’s longtime partner Dodo (Linda Emond). There is no doubt of the women’s support though each of them has some misgivings. Maggie is afraid of the implications of Ray’s decision and has serious misgivings about letting go of the girl she’s raised for almost 16 years.

Fanning conveys both Ray’s absolute confidence in embracing his true self as well as the panic that it might not happen at all. 

“UKRAINE ON FIRE”— Two Viktors

“UKRAINE ON FIRE”

Two Viktors

Amos Lassen

For many, many years, the Ukraine has been   Ukraine “at the center of a tug-of-war between larger powers vying to control it for geo-political advantage” and this is still happening today.

“Ukraine on Fire” is the story of two Viktors–Viktor Yanukovych, who barely won the presidency in 2004 due to loyal ethnic support in his country, and his opposition and Viktor Yushchenko, who was the candidate supported by the U.S.  The film investigates the U.S.-backed coup that led to the overthrow of Yanukovych and uncovers the Obama Administration players who pulled the strings.

Executive producer Oliver Stone gains Through the use of on-camera interviews with not only Yanukovych, but with Russian President Vladimir Putin, we begin to wonder whether what you’ve seen in the news is the truth or rather a campaign devised by Western superpowers to rule the world. 

This documentary is the closest thing we will have to what really happened and is still happening in the Ukraine. We clearly see that a coup ‘d’état that brought down the legally and democratically elected president resulted in a civil war. We see Stalin’s actions and learn about Ukrainian nationalist organizations. Throughout the film we see the influence of the US government and intelligence agencies on the lives of people in other countries. We clearly see how the media manipulated public opinion. Further, the film explains how the situation in Ukraine can affect anyone on Earth.

“THE TAISHO TRILOGY”— Supernatural and Drama from Sieijun Suzuki

“THE TAISHO TRILOGY”

Supernatural Drama from Seijun Suzuki

Amos Lassen

“The Taishu Trilogy” is made up of three cryptic supernatural dramas set during the liberal enlightenment of Japan’s Taisho Era (1912-26). 

“Zigeunerweisen” (1980), is the story of two intellectuals and former colleagues from a military academy who involve their wives in a series of dangerous sexual games. “Kageroza” (1981), is about a playwright who is attracted to a mysterious beauty who might be a ghost and “Yumeji” (1991) imagines the real-life painter-poet Takehisa Yumeji’s encounter with a beautiful widow with a dark past. These three films are considered to be

Suzuki’s masterpieces. He gives viewers a dramatic turn from more his familiar tales of cops, gangsters and youth by his surrealistic psychological puzzles that are both exotic and erotic. They also capture the pandemonium of a bygone age of decadence and excess, when Western ideas, fashions, technologies and art were everywhere in Japanese life.

They explore familiar surrealist themes such as death, sexuality and identity and they are fantastic and bizarre and filled with amazing imagery that compliments the twisted narratives. 

SPECIAL FEATURES include:

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

– Original stereo audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray)

– Optional English subtitles

– New introductions to each film by critic Tony Rayns

– Making-of featurette

– Vintage interview with Seijun Suzuki

– Limited edition packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Corey Brickley

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring writing on the films by critic Jasper Sharp and more.”

“Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation” edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman— On the Occupation

Chabon, Michael and Ayelet Waldman (editors). “Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation”, Harper Perennial, 2017.

On the Occupation

Amos Lassen

I find that talking about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is a sure way for me to get into an argument and so I try to avoid the issue as much as I can. Authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman along with the Israel non-governmental organization Breaking the Silence (former Israeli soldiers who served in the occupied territories)and other illustrious writers to tell stories of the people in the contested territories. This essays put a human face on the situation.

Contributors include Colum McCann, Jacqueline Woodson, Colm Toibin, Geraldine Brooks, Dave Eggers, Hari Kunzru, Raja Shehadeh, Mario Vargas Llosa, Assaf Gavron, and the editors Chabon and Waldman. What we read here gives us unique insight into the narratives behind what we hear about and provide us with a deeper understanding of how those who live in occupied territories deal with.

The topic is always a difficult one for me since I served in the Israel Defense Forces and I love Israel. We are quickly approaching the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War in June and it is also the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian territories. During the last five decades there has been a great deal of violence on both sides. Former Israeli soldiers formed an organization in 2004 that allowed them to speak about what they experienced in that war. The group met author and editor Waldman in 2014 and they shared a tour of Hebron and she, along with her husband Chabon realized that something must be done to change the situation. They chose to work on storytelling and thus provide a personal view of those who face the situation every day. It was then that they invited twenty-four writers from all over the world to go to the West Bank and Gaza and then share their memories of what they saw. The stories are fascinating and the run the gamut of opinions. What we read is not only enlightening but also moving, sensitive and often infuriating. Together, these stories stand witness to the human cost of the occupation

 

 

 

 

“BUTTMITZVAH”— Oy, Gay

“Buttmitzvah”

Oy Gay

Amos Lassen

London has a queer Jewish club night that puts “Oy Gay!” into the ancient teenage Jewish ritual, Bar Mitzvah. Josh Cole, the founder, says, “I am gay and have a strong Jewish identity. I wanted to bring both together. Also, I really wanted to capture the incredibly camp and joyous elements of a Bar Mitzvah and bring people together for something incredibly inclusive. Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs [for girls] have become very over-the-top events. It’s a lot like a wedding but with a lot of 13-year olds having the party of their lives”.

A live klezmer band is on hand to accompany some traditional chair dancing. One very lucky person will even be chosen as “Buttmitzvah” boy or girl, hoisted onto a chair and presented with a ‘mildly inappropriate’ version of the Bar Mitzvah speech to read aloud.

“Buttmitzvah” is possibly also the first night to combine bagels, Barbara Streisand (or someone who looks a lot like her) and drag kings dancing to Hava Nagila.  The club is open to all and when publicized it invited ‘Jews & Non-Jews, Chosen Ones & Unchosen Ones, Boys, Chicks & Boychiks, plus all those clever enough to have transcended gender’. 

“Buttmitzvah” is a queer Jewish extravaganza and the ultimate coming of age party, combining live music, comedy, theatre, drag and chair dancing.  There is delicious kosher-style catering, a sexy shofar competition, mass chair dancing, and an exclusive round of Have I Got Jews For You. A team of professional matchmakers THE YENTAS are there to make your romantic dreams come true, and their resident Rabbis who sooth spiritual woes with Torah inspired wisdom.

For young gays like me who grew up Jewish in traditional communities, it’s easy to end up compartmentalizing each aspect of one’s self. There’s little to no crossover between the gay and the Jew.

I have always felt that the best part of being Jewish is the sense of community, and the same can be said for being gay—but these rarely come together. “Buttmitzvah” means to change that.


”AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism”— A New Exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York


”AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism”

A New Exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York

“AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism” is a compelling examination of how artists and activists have expanded the idea of caretaking and family and navigated the political stakes of domestic life in the face of the HIV/AIDS crisis, from the early 1980s to the present. From the earliest diagnoses, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has spurred New Yorkers to create new forms of social support, identify new legal battles, and express themselves in new artistic terrain. The exhibition places paintings, photography, and film alongside archival objects from activist groups and support programs to uncover the private stories of HIV and AIDS and reconsider caretaking, community building, and making art as acts of resistance.

AIDS at Home focuses especially on the time period from 1981, when the first AIDS cases were diagnosed, to the mid-1990s, when legal and medical breakthroughs reshaped the experiences of people living with HIV/AIDS. At the same time, the exhibition aims to connect this history to contemporary artistic and political responses, to provide greater awareness of the ways HIV/AIDS continues to impact the lives of people today. Re-centering the history of HIV/AIDS in New York with a focus of home, housing, and family reveals an essential but under-examined framework for understanding the social, emotional, and political impact of HIV/AIDS as it played out both in private and public.

AIDS at Home includes work by more than 20 artists—well-known, emerging, and newly discovered—including David Wojnarowicz, Nan Goldin, Kia LaBeija, Hunter Reynolds, Hugh Steers, Luna Luis Ortiz, Lori Grinker, Avram Finkelstein, Susan Kuklin, L.J. Roberts, and Chloe Dzubilo, as well as many activist and support organizations.

 Museum of the City of New York   

1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd St.

AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism is sponsored by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Todd DeGarmo, Louis Wiley, Jr., Devashish Jain and Marc-Antoine Denechand, Dr. Andrew Solomon and Mr. John Habich Solomon, Mike Syers, Ralph Furlo, Peter Lease, Steven Stack, Alexis Unger, Jonathan Chan, Sari David, and Rosa C. Bautista.

 About the Museum of the City of New York

Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. The Museum connects the past, present, and future of New York City, and serves the people of the city as well as visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections. To connect with the Museum on social media, follow us on Instagram and Twitter at @MuseumofCityNY and visit our Facebook page at Facebook.com/MuseumofCityNY. For more information please visit www.mcny.org.

“The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures” by Carla Hayden— A Tribute to the Written Word

Hayden, Carla. “The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures”, Chronicle Books, 2017.

A Tribute to the Written Word

Amos Lassen

The Library of Congress brings us a beautiful coffee table book with more than 200 full-color images of original catalog cards, first edition book covers, and photographs from the library’s magnificent archives making this a visual celebration of the rarely seen treasures in the library along with the catalog system that has kept it organized for hundreds of years. Some of what you find here includes a Shakespeare, First Folio, a first edition of “The Scarlet Letter”, W. E. B. Du Bois’ “The Souls of Black Folk”, “The Cat in the Hat”, “Little Women”, a first edition of “Huckleberry Finn” with a hand-written note from Mark Twain, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” and so much more.

The book contains over 200 images of old library cards (often handwritten), wonderful vintage oak cabinets that once held the cards, frontispieces of first editions a copy of the astoundingly titled American Cookery, Or the Art of Dressing Viants, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and all kinds of CAKES, from the Imperial PLUMB to Plain CAKE, Adapted to this Country, And All Grades of Life by Amelia Simmons, An American Orphan (Hudson & Goodwin, 1796), which just reading the title is enough for me.

“The Card Catalog” traces the history of libraries and their organization strategies, starting from the papyrus scrolls in the Library of Alexandria, through playing cards with notes on the back used by librarians during the French Revolution to standardized handwritten card systems in a penmanship system designed in the 1800s by Thomas Edison and New York State Library Director Melvil Dewey, dictating the size and slant of lettering and the amount of spacing, insuring that all cards would look the same in every library), to typewritten cards toward the end of the 19th century, to digital listings in the mid-20th century. These changes were all intended to improve organization and retrieval methods—which are essential, especially at a place like the Library of Congress, which holds more than 165 million items.

By the 1960s, the Library of Congress’s catalog consisted of over nine million cards. Jewish computer programmer Henriette D. Avram, who didn’t even have a college degree yet single-handedly developed a file format that makes information discoverable.

“The Card Catalog’ tells the story of Thomas Johnston, an artist who saved a ton of Harvard’s Widener Library cards from a landfill. He was “fascinated by the idea of a large number of similarly sized and shaped things, as repeated components, and that each one was a unique contribution of an individual… As artifacts, they continue to be exciting to look through, to realize the creative activity, research and information that each card represents, and further, how each card has played a role in advancing knowledge.”

 

“Target Omega” by Peter Kirsanow— Meet Michael Garin

Kirsanow, Peter. “Target Omega: A Thriller”, Dutton, 2017.

Meet Michael Garin

Amos Lassen

Michael Garin is a member of an elite, highly secretive counter-WMD unit and has just successfully foiled a terrorist takeover of an overseas nuclear weapons facility. His team is now back at home and safe and the members are readjusting to civilian life. Then, one by one, these American heroes are systematically assassinated on U.S. soil. The only survivor is their unit leader, Michael Garin.

 This is a thriller that pits Garin against international intelligence operatives as well as against his own government who now believe that he is responsible for the death of his team. Garin holds the key to saving the world from Armageddon but he must stay alive in order to use it.

Garin’s unit was created for the sole purpose of preventing weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists and rogue regimes. Their covert, surgical strikes have eliminated grave threats so the rest of America can sleep without fear, but that all changes.

Garin is the sole survivor and chief suspect of the attacks and then finds himself on the run from Iranian intelligence operatives bent on tracking and killing him. Even the American government appears to have turned against him, sending a lethal sniper from the vaunted Delta Force to eliminate the threat they think he’s become. His fight to survive becomes part of a larger conspiracy that is coming into existence as the world watches. There is a

conspiracy planning a catastrophic attack that has been precipitated by growing tensions in the Middle East that, if successful, will shift the balance of power and do away the United States as we know it.

This is obviously the start of a new series in which Garin will be the hero. The plot moves fast and so does Garin, a man who is willing to risk everything to stop the villains and exact revenge in the most brutal but just ways. Terrific first novel for Peter Kirsanow. I found myself sitting on the edge of my chair and turning pages as quickly as possible.

“TO BE ALONE”— A Meditation on Grief

“To Be Alone”

A Meditation on Grief

Amos Lassen

When “To Be Alone” opens, we see a man (Timothy J. Cox) sitting alone in his house and we have a sense that he is in some kind of pain. He reads his Bible and watches church programs on television. We then jumps up and with his Bible in hand and a collection of tools goes outside. He begins to build something (we are not sure what) and when he finishes , he goes back inside, prepares dinner for himself and his wife and then lies on the couch and stays awake. We now understand that the man’s wife had recently died and he is having a very difficult time dealing with his memories and the loss of the person that he obviously still loves.

There is no dialogue in the film and the only voices that we hear come from the answering machine and the television. Director Matthew Mahler presents us with a meditation on grief and religious guilt. William is and we are not sure whether or not he does this to show his faith or if he has been manipulated by television evangelists. Listening to his answering machine, Williams hears his pastor call to ask why he and his wife were not at church. Then the local sheriff calls him to let him know that he is coming over. It is then that we begin to understand what William is dealing with. He does not have control of his emotional state and the two phone calls shake him back into reality. As William, Cox turns in a stunning performance of a man lost in grief.

You may wonder why you would want to see a film that is sounds so depressing but let me just ay that this is a film that both gives the viewer something to think about and it also entertains. I am not going to say how it entertains because I want you to find a way to see it. There are surprises in the less than 13-minute short film and perhaps the film, at first, seems to be somber bit it is not just Cox’s dynamic performance that pulls you in.