Category Archives: Uncategorized

“WOMEN IN LOVE”— Friends and Lovers

“Women In Love”

Friends and Lovers

Amos Lassen

“Women in Love” is set in 1920s England, where free-spirited artist Gudrun (Glenda Jackson) and her schoolteacher sister Ursula (Jennie Linden) make the acquaintance of lifelong friends Gerald (Oliver Reed) and Rupert (Alan Bates). The foursome attends a picnic in honor of a pair of newlyweds, who put a damper on the activities by drowning in a nearby lake. Evidently unscathed by this tragedy, Gerald and Rupert participate in a nude wrestling match later that evening. Gerald marries Gudrun, Rupert weds Ursula, and the four go on a Swiss honeymoon. The holiday is marred by infidelity and sudden death, leaving Rupert to wonder aloud just what it is that makes men and women behave as they do.

From the opening scene, tracking the Brangwen sisters Gudrun (Glenda Jackson) and Ursula (Jennie Linden) as they leave their house and make their way through a perfectly recreated Nottinghamshire pit village, director Ken Russell takes a full-tilt approach to bringing D.H. Lawrence’s novel alive on screen in all its earthy, sensual and often ludicrously overblown glory.

The film is suffused with earthy carnality and uses Lawrence’s overwrought prose as license for flights of extravagant lyrical reverie: musical interludes, bizarre interpretive dance sequences, copious sex scenes, and the naked fireside wrestling match between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. Every emotion is amplified to the extreme. People don’t simply kiss in this film; they attack each other. They furiously rend clothes and claw at each other’s flesh, all while Russell’s camera barrels in close. Where Lawrence attempted to probe the complexities of modern sexual psychology, Russell is more interested in using the novel’s sexually charged characters as figures to be placed into a series of fevered tableaux.

The film explores the emotionally complex and sexually intense relationships of two free-spirited couples. Though the film preserves the novel’s post-World War I setting, its heady atmosphere of romantic exploration and existential restlessness comes straight out of the free-love movement of the’60s. As the two relationships develop in parallel, each character attempts to balance their thoughts and feelings with their animal urges. Earthiness, impulse, and spontaneity are counterpoised to rigidity, repression, and authority. Everything blurs together into a frenzy of outrageous emotions and hysterical behavior.

Larry Kramer’s screenplay articulates these ideas mostly via breathless arguments in which characters shout their sexual philosophies at each other, but Russell is too busy chasing ecstatic revelation to give any of these attitudes much consideration. Gerald elaborately compares eating a fig to cunnilingus. Rupert tears off his clothes and sprints through the forest, rubbing his naked body with pine trees and wheat. Gudrun taunts a herd of cattle with a strange dance and Gerald asks her, “Why are you behaving in this impossible, ridiculous fashion?” One is tempted to ask the same question of Russell.

But that would surely be pointless, because the impossible and the ridiculous are exactly what Russell is after here and in all of his films. The way the film handles the homoerotic charge between Rupert and Gerald conjures the burbling intensity of a desire that dare not speak its name. In a film chockfull of fervid sexuality, the duo’s buck-naked grappling session stands out for its rugged, plainspoken eroticism. The film suggests that the two men’s relationship problems fundamentally stem from a sublimated love for each other, one they can’t quite bring themselves to admit is sexual in nature. This aspect of the film was, of course, likely sharpened by Kramer, a playwright and vocal gay rights activist who would go on to found ACT UP, and whose script suggests that as free-spirited and unrepressed as these characters imagine themselves to be, they still don’t know who they really are.

With this film, audacious filmmaker Ken Russell came onto the international stage, drawing on the psychosexual radicalism of D.H. Lawrence’s classic novel to shatter taboos in his own time. Alan Bates and Oliver Reed’s naked wrestling scene is legendary. It has kept this film on the bestseller list for years and now the Criterion Collection brings us a positively gorgeous Blu ray re-mastered version.

DVD Features include:

Two audio commentaries from 2003, one featuring director Ken Russell and the other screenwriter and producer Larry Kramer

Segments from a 2007 interview with Russell for the BAFTA Los Angeles Heritage Archive

A BRITISH PICTURE: PORTRAIT OF AN ENFANT TERRIBLE, Russell’s 1989 biopic on his own life and career

Interview from 1976 with actor Glenda Jackson

Interviews with Kramer and actors Alan Bates and Jennie Linden from the set

New interviews with director of photography Billy Williams and editor Michael Brad sell

SECOND BEST, a 1972 short film based on a D. H. Lawrence story, produced by and starring Bates

Trailer

PLUS: An essay by scholar Linda Ruth Williams

“AN ACT OF DEFIANCE”— Meet Bram Fischer

“An Act of Defiance”

Meet Bram Fischer

Amos Lassen

In apartheid-ruled South Africa, Bram Fischer, a renowned lawyer struggles to hide his secret affiliation to the nation’s chief resistance movement as he takes on defending a group of its arrested members, including its leader, Nelson Mandela.

On July 11, 1963 Nelson Mandela and other members of the African National Congress are arrested on a farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg and charged with sabotage and the evidence is overwhelming (blueprints for land mines, communist literature). The white South African lawyer Bram Fischer (Peter Paul Muller) is at first hesitant, but eventually decides to defend Mandela and the other accused. His restraint is not unfounded, because like Mandela he is against Apartheid and was often present at the same farm in Rivonia. Fischer must decide whether to choose for himself and his family or serve the public interest. The leaders of the resistance against the South African apartheid regime are caught red-handed and captured and tried in the so-called Rivonia process. Bram Fischer is their lawyer during this process and he, himself, is a member of the resistance group and only by chance was not in Rivonia at the time of the arrest.

Director Jean Van de Veldes rushes through the opening of his film and we never really get to know Mandela, Fischer and the others thus causing something of an apathetic feeling for what we see on the screen. This is especially true in the scenes with Fischer’s family. Proudly the film opens with the claim that it is true to the facts. That may well be true, but a film must above all bring history to life. Nobody wants to have a cold-blooded history lesson for two hours. History must feel lifelike on that big cinema screen and Bram Fischer ultimately does not. It does not help that the outcome of the lawsuit is general knowledge, so there is never any real tension. Van de Veldes film is extremely solid and honest, but in no way exceptional. Perhaps the filming of Mandela’s three-hour speech would have been a better idea?

Everyone knows of Nelson Mandela, but who knows the lawyer who saved him from the death penalty in 1963? Internationally Bram Fischer has been granted that recognition. Bram Fischer deserves a lot of admiration. He did not belong to the oppressed black part of the population but to the privileged white part. However, we learn that his father was a high judge and his grandfather was prime minister of Orange Free State. His wife Molly Krige (niece of Jan Smuts, general in the Boer War) came from prominent Afrikaner families. In 1995, Nelson Mandela expressed his admiration for Bram Fischer: “Fischer was one of the most prominent Afrikaner family, he gave up a life of privilege, rejected his heritage. , and was ostracized by his own people, showing a level of courage and sacrifice that was in a class by itself “.

Fischer was to a degree Jewish and this is fact that we need to know more about. The solidarity between the anti-apartheid fighters and the Communists was evident. According to the government of South Africa, the anti-apartheid fighters were manipulated by the Communists. In 1963 the cold war was still in full swing and both America and the Soviet Union tried to expand their sphere of influence, often making use of local contradictions. Although Bram Fischer has remained virtually unknown outside his homeland, his name deserves to be immortalized. In fact, without Bram Fischer, Nelson Mandela might never have achieved his hero status. Bram Fischer is not only known as a lawyer, but also as a civil rights activist. In the 1940s, he became the leader of the Communist Party SACP, which worked closely with the ANC. After the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, where thousands of black citizens demonstrated against the Passing Act, both organizations were banned and went underground with the fight against Apartheid and for the equality of the black majority.

Support came from the Soviet Union and Cuba, communist countries that wanted to assert their sphere of influence in the independence-seeking southern part of Africa. It is Bram Fischer’s job to protect the ten accused from the death penalty.

The film is on the one hand a courtroom drama and on the other hand a portrait of a lawyer who grows into a key figure in the anti-apartheid movement, but at the same time plays with fire because he is still actively involved in the underground resistance.

“THE CHURCH”— Home for the Ultimate Evil

“THE CHURCH”

Home for the Ultimate Evil

Amos Lassen

Teutonic Knights eradicate and bury an entire village because a cross-shaped stigmata is discovered on the bottom of a young girl’s foot. Director Michele Soavi’s use of cross imagery suggests the pervasiveness of the Christian threat to paganism. Once the village is buried and the site is branded with a huge cross, Soavi reveals the floor of a modern-day church. The camera travels backward from the church’s basement to its exterior and this chillingly suggests that a dormant holy-place-within-a-holy-place is waiting to be discovered.

Soavi subjects churchgoers to awesome hallucinations. In one scene, an old woman and her husband bang on a church bell. The next time the spectator sees the couple, the old woman is using her husband’s severed head to hit the bell. Soavi’s horror is terrifyingly suggestive, so much so that its difficult to determine what is real and what is the product of subconscious sexual desire and altered consciousness.

This supernatural gothic horror film was based on a story by Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini. The muddled narrative looks good and tells its dubious story with conviction, but drags when it becomes too talky trying to explain its ridiculous narrative. It opens in the 12th century during the Crusades. A military religious order of Germanic Knights Templar is dispatched to a village a priest (Gianfranci Degrassi) accuses of being Satanists. They are all massacred and buried in a pit in a mass grave. They keep the sinners underground, as an alchemist architect (John Richardson) is forced to build a gothic cathedral over the site to keep the evil spirits from the world. His reward for building a church that will keep out the evil spirits is that he’s slain and is the only one allowed to be buried in the church.

In modern times, a new librarian, Evan (Tomas Arana ), comes to the cathedral as a cataloger of its books and flirts with fresco restorer Lisa (Barbara Cupisti). When she locates a strange manuscript buried in the wall, Evan follows the clues in the manuscript down into the catacombs and opens a panel. He discovers the church’s dark secret and becomes possessed. Something he touched locks the one church door and unleashes the demons from below. This traps him inside the church with no way out.

When the Bishop (Feodor Chaliapin Jr.), who realizes what’s happening, commits suicide, it’s up to the young black priest, Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie), to try to save as many lives as he can before the newly possessed start killing all those in the church.

Soavi’s astonishing visual sense gives us some of the most breathtaking sweeping camera work we will ever see. The film has been restored to its original color palette and is a feast for the eyes.

“CURSE OF THE MAYANS”— Horror in the Yucatan

“CURSE OF THE MAYANS”

Horror in the Yucatan

Amos Lassen

Ever since I took an undergraduate course on Mayan history, I have found the Yucatan peninsula to be fascinating. One of the strange fact that cones with Mayan history is the prophesy that on December 21, 2012, the end-date of the 5,126-year cycle of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, there would be a cataclysmic, earth-shattering event.

As it turned out, however, according to this film, 2012 wasn’t the end, but the beginning. This is a chilling sci-fi thriller set in the dark jungles and unexplored areas of the Yucatan. The catch line of “There are some places that should never be discovered” rings true throughout the film.

 Set at present, American professor Dr. Alan Green (Steve Wilcox) discovers a manuscript that may hold the keys to the lost Mayan culture. After traveling to Mexico, he hires an expert team of cave divers, led by Danielle Noble (Carla Ortiz), to explore a submerged labyrinth of ruins left behind by the ancient civilization before their mysterious disappearance from the face of the earth.

When the team unwittingly stumbles upon an underwater prison and unintentionally frees the evil alien beings trapped within, they are forced to fight for their survival and prevent the extraterrestrial apocalypse predicted by the Mayans long ago.

There is a lot of horror here and director Joaquin Rodriguez pours it on in one of the scariest horror films I have seen in a long time. It was filmed on location at the sites of actual Mayan settlements.

“CHOKESLAM”— Going Home

“CHOKESLAM”

Going Home

Amos Lassen

Set in small-town Saskatchewan, Robert Cuffley’s “Chokeslam” is the story of 28-year-old Corey Swanson (Chris Marquette), a deli clerk whose high-school sweetheart turned heartbreaker, Sheena DeWilde (Amanda Crew), returns home for their 10-year reunion. Now Sheena moonlights as a pro wrestler under the name of Smasheena, she is everything Swanson is not. Swanson is still a hopelessly obsessed nerd who lives with his overbearing mother and sees Sheena’s homecoming as a chance to win her back by arranging her retirement match at a local venue.

Director Cuffley manages to elevate “Chokeslam” to being more than just a simple romantic-comedy by giving his actors space to perform. The low-budget wrestling scenes in a historic building showcase a small town with a great deal of charm, juxtaposed with the overwhelming awkwardness of a high school reunion. The viewer gains a sense of nostalgia and discomfort.

Corey lives in a small prairie town where everybody knows everybody else’s name and story. We really see this when Corey is robbed at work by Luke (Michael Eklund), whom Corey recognizes behind the ski mask (they went to the same high school). Then together they go Corey’s ten-year high school reunion, where Corey hopes to run into Sheena, his one-sided and mostly secret crush. Sheena, who channeled her hot temper into a successful wrestling career, comes to the reunion, where we learn that she rejected and subsequently fell out of contact with Corey after he proposed to her in front of the high school during a pep rally for one of Sheena’s matches.

Corey and Sheena hang out, and Sheena shares that she is on suspension from wrestling because of an angry outburst but it is about to end. She is not eager to return to the ring even though her boyfriend, Tab (Niall Matter) has arranged for Sheena to move to Japan to work that country’s wrestling circuit. Corey, thinks that Sheena has decided to retire and arranges for her to have her last fight at the local ring, managed by Patrick (ex-WWE wrestler Mick Foley). However, Corey didn’t ask Sheena and problems arise.

Yet the film’s premise–should not have taken more than a half-hour is stretched over the length of a feature film thus making it feel awkward at times. There are many scenes of Corey talking endlessly about his love of Sheena and I feel that it is kind of strange that he has been carrying a ten-year-old torch for a teenage sweetheart he lost touch with years before. Robert Cuffley’s basic approach works well when capturing Sheena’s fights in the ring and he is excellent at establishing post-secondary lifestyles, making it easy for audiences to believe the relationships within the characters’ world. This is, quite simply, a cute film.

QUEER GLOBAL STREAMING SERVICE, REVRY, “SHARES THE LOVE” WITH THE TREVOR PROJECT’S TREVORSPACE…+ FEBRUARY NEW RELEASES ON REVRY

Premiere queer digital network launches “#ShareTheLove” initiative to donate half of all yearly subscription fees to The Trevor Project’s TrevorSpace.

Revry, the premiere queer global digital entertainment network featuring originals, narrative and documentary films, digital series, shorts, podcasts, music and more…was thrilled to partner with The Trevor Project and broadcast last years TrevorLive 2017 honoring Tom Ford and Kristin Chenoweth. Now, Revry is doubling down on that relationship and its commitment to making a difference for queer youth through a joint “#ShareTheLove” initiative. Revry will donate half of all annual subscription fees in the months of February and March to The Trevor Project’s global initiative TrevorSpace.org.

“The Trevor Project is honored to be ‘Sharing The Love’ with Revry these next two months,” said The Trevor Project’s Chief Growth Officer, Calvin Stowell. “Revry’s commitment to help support TrevorSpace.org, the largest LGBTQ safe space online, will help us continue growing that platform so that every young LGBTQ person in the world has an outlet where they can safely be their true selves. It is clear Revry is an innovator in sharing queer digital media globally – and that kind of outreach with our stories helps bring not only more awareness, but further acceptance to places where our queer brethren need it the most. We are grateful to have the support of Revry’s initiative to donate funds to TrevorSpace.org so that we can continue our mission to reach and save the lives of our LGBTQ family internationally.”

Revry’s CEO, Damian Pelliccione, wants to make sure that queer youth around the world not only see themselves represented through stories and music, but have an opportunity to receive vital support when they are at their most fragile. “TrevorSpace is one of our communities greatest global ‘first responders’ and nothing is more important than letting our youth know they are loved and have a safe space to be themselves no matter what culture they live in. We have to share what we have, and I hope that people of all generations will join us to ‘Share The Love’ these next two months with this win-win initiative – getting fabulous, international queer content while creating a safe place and resource for our younger generations.”

#ShareTheLove today simply by signing up for an annual subscription to Revry HERE!

The mission of The Trevor Project is to end suicide among gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people. Unlike the Trevor Lifeline, TrevorText, or TrevorChat, TrevorSpace is not a crisis intervention tool, but rather an international social media site giving LGBTQ youth from all over the world a safe place to connect with each other and find support among their peers. LGBTQ youth ages 13 through 24 and their friends and allies can create personal profiles and connect with other young people, as well as find resources within their communities. TrevorSpace is carefully monitored by administrators designated by The Trevor Project to ensure all content is age appropriate, youth-friendly and factual. This ensures the site provides the safest space possible for its young members, and that TrevorSpace remains a safe space for all LGBTQ people.

February New Releases on Revry

The Gay Husbands of San Francisco – February 14th (Original Series) The Gay Husbands of San Francisco takes a no-filter, hilarious look at the contemporary gay scene as it chronicles the lives and loves of six multi-ethnic gay men in the City by the Bay. Link: Gay Husbands of San Francisco

In the Dollhouse with Lina – February 16th (Original Series) In the Dollhouse with Lina is a Weekly Talk Show. Think pop culture, fashion and throwbacks. “Laugh-In” meets “Madame’s Place” dazzled with “Bewitched” and sparkles of “I Dream of Jeannie” all inside a type of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” and a lot of New York sass with the infectious Lina, hosting within her DollHouse surrounded by her very own collection. Every week the mystery guest is revealed that day by Magical 8 Ball…so you never know who’s going to pop in! Guests include Whoopi Goldberg, Carson Kressley, Candis Cayne, Sherry Vine, Lady Bunny, Justin Vivian Bond, Bevy Smith and Shequida.

Butch and the Bear (Podcast) Butch and the Bear is a new comedy podcast starring AB Cassidy and Daniel Franzese (Mean Girls) with guests including: Amy Landecker, Heather Matarazzo, Drew Droege, Jonathan Bennett, Jessica Buttafuoco, Charlie Craig, Trey Pearson. Link: Butch and the Bear

Dead for Filth (Podcast) From the ooky spooky mind of horror personality and screenwriter, Michael Varrati, comes Dead For Filth, for all things queer horror and beyond. Dead For Filth will bring you the best queer & horror icons out of the closet and into the night to talk about the genre they love. Notable guests include Jeffrey Reddick (wrote Final Destination), Darren Stein (dir. Jawbreaker), Thomas Dekker (actor, lots), Jeffrey Schwarz (Doc. Dir.), and Veronica Cartwright (Act. Alien, Body Snatchers, The Birds). Link: Dead for Filth

UnBEARable (Podcast) Big Dipper and Meatball have joined forces to bring you unBEARable! Listen every week as they talk bear culture, sex, snacks, and have in depth interviews with special guests including: Willam, Cubrina Bearly, George Unda, Rakeem Cunningham, Drew Droege, Jaymes Mansfield, Jeff Leavell, Nabor Arias, Vander Von Odd. Link: unBEARable

Kiss & Tell Radio (Podcast) Kiss & Tell Networks unites the community by tackling social topics through LGBT art, media, and events. Originally created as an LGBT dating and relationship panel in 2015, Kiss & Tell is designed to open the door and create a platform for unspoken yet necessary conversations and freely discuss topics the LGBT community experience. Many times, we see a division in our community, although we share the same acronym. From dating, character building, social and personal acceptance, to mental and physical health, Kiss & Tell encourages everyone to live in their truth with notable guests Sampson, Angelica Ross, Harris Twins. Link: Kiss & Tell Radio

Shook (Podcast) Social activist and influencer, Ashlee Marie Preston hosts Shook, a lively weekly podcast where she discusses the pressing issues of the day with weekly guests including a Safe Spaces segment where listeners can call in and ask questions they may be too embarrassed to ask in real life. Listeners also get a taste of what Ashlee is known for best in Snatched in 60 Seconds, where each episode Ashlee selects an internet troll and snatches their wig the way only Ashlee can.

30 Something, Black, & Gay (Podcast) A weekly Podcast hosted by a Barber, a Chef, and a Makeup Artist. Each week the Co-Hosts; Haji, Mikey, and Jay give their commentary on the week’s hottest topics and debate culture, society, and ultimately life from the perspective of black and gay thirty something’s living in LA. 30 Something, Black, & Gay is a delightful dose of insight and wit w/ a double shot of p-e-t-t-y!

About Revry
Revry is the premiere queer digital media network for the inclusive 21st century LGBTQ+ community. As the first-ever global queer streaming service, Revry offers its members a uniquely curated selection of domestic and international entertainment that includes iconic narrative and documentary films, cutting-edge series, groundbreaking podcasts, music albums and videos, and originals. Revry is available worldwide on seven OTT, mobile, and online platforms, and hosts an exclusive linear channel on Pluto TV. 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 queer advocacy. Follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @REVRYTV. Go Online to: www.Revry.com.

About The Trevor Project
The Trevor Project is the leading and only accredited national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people under the age of 25. The Trevor Project offers a suite of crisis intervention and suicide prevention programs, including TrevorLifeline, TrevorText, and TrevorChat as well as a peer-to-peer social network support for LGBTQ young people under the age of 25, TrevorSpace. Trevor also offers an education program with resources for youth-serving adults and organizations, a legislative advocacy department fighting for pro-LGBTQ legislation and against anti-LGBTQ rhetoric/policy positions, and conducts research to discover the most effective means to help young LGBTQ people in crisis and end suicide. If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, our Trevor Lifeline crisis counselors are available 24/7/365 at 866.488.7386. www.TheTrevorProject.org

“COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS: THE FUNKY DRUMMER EDITION”— Sampling and Remixing

“Copyright Criminals: The Funky Drummer Edition”

Sampling and Remixing

Amos Lassen

“Copyright Criminals” is a documentary that explores the impact that sampling and remixing on modern musicians, veteran performers, and anyone who has listened to contemporary pop hits in the past 20 years. The film has an intricately layered soundtrack and visual montages that keep viewers moving in their seats and “The Funky Drummer Edition” includes the original documentary, plus featurettes spotlighting Public Enemy’s Chuck D, James Brown Band drummer Clyde Stubblefield, and Cee-Lo Green along with the amazing video remix skills of Eclectic Method and more. Copyright Criminals showcases many of hip-hop music s founding figures like Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Digital Underground along with emerging hip-hop artists from record labels Definitive Jux, Rhymesayers, Ninja Tune, and more. We get an in-depth look at artists who have been sampled and see that artists find ever more inventive ways to insert old influences into new material.

“When lawyers and record companies got involved, what was once referred to as a “borrowed melody” became a “copyright infringement.” The question is if one can own a sound?” Directors Benjamin Franzen and Kembrew McLeod show the complexities of sampling artistically and politically, legally and philosophically. Comprised of split screens, overlapping and overlaid sounds, an assemblage of images and noise, the film stages its argument even as it makes it and fromboth sides of the hotly debated issue.

Double DVD Includes:

Copyright Criminals Documentary

The Art of Sampling With Cee-Lo Green (New Featurette)

The Funky Drummer in the Studio with Chuck D (New Featurette)

Eclectic Method Uncut Audio-Visual Remixes (15 Videos)

Fair Use Explained: Four Featurettes by the Center for Social Media

Extended Interviews with Chuck D, De La Soul, and Clyde Stubblefield

Music Player Featuring 15+ Songs from Copyright Criminals Soundtrack by El-P and RJD2

and more.

“THE PARIS OPERA”— Behind The Scenes

“THE PARIS OPERA”

Behind The Scenes

Amos Lassen

The documentary, “The Paris Opera” gives us a candid look behind the scenes of one of the world’s foremost performing arts institutions. Over the course of one tumultuous season, director Jean-Stéphane Bron has multiple storylines that include ballet and opera rehearsals, strike negotiations, last minute crises and ticket disputes and through them we see the dedication of the talented personnel run the institution.

 Set in the fall of 2015, director Stéphane Lissner is putting the finishing touches to his first press conference.  Backstage, artists and crew diligently prepare to raise the curtain on a new season with Schönberg’s opera, “Moses and Aaron.”  However, the announcement of a strike and arrival of a 2000-pound bull in a supporting role cause complications. As the season progresses, more and more characters appear, playing out a human comedy in the manner of a documentary Opera.  We meet young Russian singer, Mikhail Tymoshenko, who begins at the Opera’s Academy; he will cross paths with Bryn Terfel, one of the greatest voices of his time.  Choreographer Benjamin Millepied leaves to take over as director of ballet at Palais Garnier.  Then there was the terrorist attack at The Bataclan that plunged the andcity into mourning, the company understood that the show must go on. 

The film is a  fascinating glimpse at some of the behind-the-scenes action during the 2015-2016 season. There were some greatly acclaimed premieres and revivals but there were also more complex issues such as strikes. The Opera has two homes, the historic Opera Garnier and the ultramodern Opera Bastille. We see new director Lissner juggling all his functions from welcoming President Hollande to a performance, stamping opera selections for the season, instructing his negotiators on the strike, and even demanding that they lower ticket prices.

Lissner is just one of the key players here and I must day that I has a bit of trouble following at first because the film is not presented chronologically and there is very little narration. But even with this there are some wonderful scenes here notably those with Terfel and Tymoshenko.

The emphasis here is on the performers and not the performances and this means that the very brief glimpses we see of the operas and ballets are usually from wings.  On the other hand, the cameras focus on some elementary children being taught wind instruments who did not seem to be too happy about the experience.

“The Paris Opera” is even more fascinating to view because we do not see what we typically see in documentaries. It acts as a metaphor for our society in its entirety: a society of contradictions, injustice and, most importantly, compromise. What exactly does The Paris Opera say about our society? 

In the two and a half years it took to produce the film, Bron developed an interest in what went on behind the scenes there and he tried to capture those intimate moments that we don’t always see.

We see the shortness of breath of the dancers as they leave the stage and the somewhat discourteous disagreements between the costume designers as they argue over the sweating performers. Each level of society is portrayed as one of many tiny pieces of a giant puzzle of The Paris Opera.

BONUS FEATURES include:

  • Commentary by director Jean-Stéphane Bron  
  • Interview with director Jean-Stéphane Bro
  • Bonus Short Film:  Les Indes galantes (Directed by Clément Cogitore, France. French w/English subtitles, 6 minutes) — An inspired reinterpretation of Rameau’s opera-ballet via Krump dancing on the Bastille Opera stage.

“Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August” by Oliver Hilmes— The Olympics as Told by Those Who Witnessed the Games

Hilmes, Oliver. “Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August”, translated by Jefferson Chase, Other Press, 2018.

The Olympics as Told by Those Who Witnessed the Games

Amos Lassen

In “Berlin 1936” we are taken back to the sixteen days of the Olympiad, describing the events in Berlin through the eyes of a select cast of characters (Nazi leaders and foreign diplomats, sportsmen and journalists, writers and socialites, nightclub owners and jazz musicians) We also read of the lives of ordinary Berliners like the woman who steps in front of a train, the transsexual waiting for the Gestapo’s knock on the door, and the Jewish boy fearing for his future and hoping that Germany loses on the playing field. We get a look at the vibrant and diverse life in Berlin in the 1920s and 30s and this is what the Nazis wanted to destroy.

We are present at the venues of athletic competition and far from them as well and we meet the men and women who do not win medals but who deserve empathetic attention. Above it all is the menacing presence of Hitler who deviously staged the Games to deceive a global audience who had no idea of the evil he was about to put on the world.

We read of each day of the Olympics through a wide cast of characters and are pulled into the story as Nazi oppression and brutality hover over everything. In effect this is the diary of the transitional days of Berlin, “from bohemian superpower, to Goebbels-inspired new social media center for the gangsters of the Nazi party.”

During these sixteen days in the summer of 1936 we get a panorama in which “the everyday and banal interacts with the special and extraordinary in often surprising and insightful ways.”

The 1936 Olympic Games, held in Berlin are charted by both official figures and statistics and by ordinary people who witnessed part of it. There is great diversity to the spectators and they include

the Chair of the International Olympic Committee, composer Richard Strauss’ wife Pauline, the American author Tom Wolfe, and Austria’s Ambassador to Germany. There are also extracts from the diaries of high-ranking Nazi officers, and Jews who were already beginning to see what an enormous threat Hitler was to their freedom. Hilmes brilliantly shows how ordinary lives played out against the pomp and circumstance of the Olympic spectacle.

We’ve all heard how furious Hitler was when Jesse Owens, a black man, continued to capture gold medal after gold medal, but it’s the events outside the Olympic stadium that are the real actions of this book including “the building of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, increasing German armament in Spain, elaborate parties hosted by Nazi leaders which cost as much as 320,000 German Reichmarks, Hitler’s continued ignoring of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the family of the United States Ambassador to Germany, the fancy clubs and the fears of the minorities.”

“You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History” by Howard Zinn— Personal Stories

Zinn, Howard. “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History”, Beacon Press, 2017.

Personal Stories

Amos Lassen

Howard Zinn shares his personal stories about more than thirty years of fighting for social change, from teaching at Spelman College to recent protests against war. Zinn has led a remarkable life as teacher, writer, and social activist. The title of this book was taken from his advice to students about his take on American history and current events and is a powerful testament to that life. He begins with his 1956 acceptance of a teaching post at Atlanta’s Spelman College, a school for black women that would soon be caught up in the civil rights movement. Zinn, who had already been radicalized on the streets of Brooklyn as a teenager, soon found himself caught up along with his students (but was kicked out in 1963 for “insubordination.” He moved to Boston University, where he became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, and would prove a constant thorn in the side of university president John Silber throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Zinn writes in plain language about moral urgency and with a fine sense of humor. He knew that the FBI was watching him constantly during the war era, and stated “I have grown to depend on them for accurate reports on my speeches.” We read of when he realized, years after WWII, that he had dropped napalm bombs on German troops; a meeting in a college classroom with the sister and parents of one of the victims of the Kent State massacre; Selma, Alabama, police beating blacks attempting to register to vote while federal agents stand by and do nothing. Zinn saw how to find a substitute for war in human ingenuity, imagination, courage, sacrifice, patience as the central issue of our time.

Zinn believes that activism and education are inextricable, and his memoir illuminates a well-engaged life. He advised SNCC in Selma, Alabama and volunteered to fight the Nazis but, after Hiroshima, he developed a skeptical pacifism. If Zinn at times seems to be a bit Pollyannish, he’s also inspirational, arguing that, because much has changed in history, “We can be surprised again. Indeed, we can do the surprising.”