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“THE BEST OF THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW”— 50 Years in the Making

“THE BEST OF THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW”

50 Years in the Making

Amos Lassen

I was out of the country when “The Carol Burnett shop aired on television so this special 6 disc collection is a wonderful gift for me (especially after having heard so much about the show but never having had the experience to see it). On October 3, Time Life is bringing us a wonderful 6-disc collection that has been 50 Years in the making. It includes

16 episodes of the show (12 of which are new-to-retail and 4 all-time classics), new specially-produced featurettes, a Brand-New Interview with Burnett, never-before-seen bloopers and more. Here are the very best moments of eleven years of television.

Carol Burnett and her wild and very funny cast came to television on September 11, 1967. This was a new variety series that brought together sketch comedy, singing and dancing and it stayed at the top for eleven years. No one really expected the show to run for as long as it did or to win so many awards. Some of the episodes included in this collection have not be seen since they were first aired on CBS while others are audience favorites such as “Mrs. Wiggins,” “Carol and Sis,” “The Oldest Man,” “The Family,” “As the Stomach Turns”. We also get some of the many movie and commercial spoofs. The list of guest stars reads like “Who’s Who” in show business— Ella Fitzgerald, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli, Steve Lawrence, Rock Hudson, Burt Reynolds, Jimmy Stewart, Rita Hayworth and Carl Reiner and more.

I especially love Burnett’s question-and-answer openers with the studio audiences mainly because we never knew what to expect. This is a wonderful anniversary gift from Burnett and company that will keep you laughing for hours and we need that now with what is going on in this country now. Certainly we would rather laugh than read a scary presidential tweet. The set also includes new bonus features: a new interview with Carol Burnett, specially produced featurettes: “11 Years of Laughter on The Carol Burnett Show” and “The End of 11 Years: Saying So Long” and never-before-seen bloopers. 

I understand that the release will have a set for everyone since it is being released not only as a six-disc set at $59.95 but also as a 4-disc collection ($39.95srp), available exclusively at Wal-Mart, and a DVD single ($12.95srp), available nationally at retail stores everywhere.

“The Taking of Peggy Martin” by Karen Glista—Seeking Truthh

Glista, Karen. “The Taking of Peggy Martin”, Independently Published. 2017.

Seeking Truth

Amos Lassen

Peggy Martin is a young nurse who works at Rusk, an institution for the criminally insane in East Texas. Her husband, Danny, was supposedly killed in a car accident but Peggy believes that he was murdered and that the murderer is Jasper Johnson killed her husband. When Peggy is summoned to a meeting with Jasper’s mother, Marabelle, she learns that she thinks that Danny was the illegitimate child of her dead husband, Charles. She is filled with doubt and is afraid that the Johnsons will betray her somehow and she feels herself losing control and going insane. In hopes of staying stable, Peggy throws herself completely into her work. She is soon dealing with a

schizophrenic in a straitjacket and by circumstance she finds out that he is Morgan Dubois. When Morgan was a child, he was found burrowed in the ground in the Piney Wood Thicket. Peggy also learns that there is a link between Morgan and her now dead husband as well as to what she is experiencing mentally.

Now if I were to stop writing tight now, I believe that most of you would think that this is an intriguing story and, believe me, it is. But no matter how intriguing a story might be, it must be told in prose that keeps us reading. Before this book, I had never heard of Karen Glista but I can say this—she knows how to write a story. It is not often I read a book in one sitting but that is what happened here. I do not think I even blinked after reading page one. I could, of course continue summarizing the plot but I won’t for fear that I might give away some of the secrets that are revealed.

It is important to remember that Peggy had been raised to care for people and that is about the only good thing that came out of her fundamentalist family upbringing. Unfortunately she had her own problems to deal with while she tried to help others. She soon began to question things that she had always accepted as fact. Because of so many strange happenings, Peggy finds herself on the brink and losing her sanity. Her work brings her even more questions. Since Peggy narrates the story in the first person, we tend to follow her thoughts and root for her. If you like mysteries and psychological thrillers, this is the book for you. If you don’t, read it anyway and perhaps open yourself to new genre. I have the feeling that there is more of the story to come and you want to be up-to-date for when that happens.

“FESTIVAL”— Folk Music at Newport

“Festival”

Folk Music at Newport

Amos Lassen

From 1963 to 1966, director Murray Lerner visited the annual Newport Folk Festival to document a thriving, idealistic folk music movement as it reached its peak as a popular phenomenon. Some of the performers he saw included Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Howlin’Wolf, Johnny Cash, the Staples Singers, Pete Seeger, Son House, and Peter, Paul and Mary. These artists went on to become legends. They are just a few of the singers who shared the stage at Newport and who offered a range of folk music that encompassed the blues, country, and gospel as well as its newer flirtations with rock ‘n’ roll.

The Criterion Collection has now remastered the gorgeous black and white photography. Lerner juxtaposes performances with snapshot interviews with artists and their fans from over four years of the festival and the film gives us an intimate record of a pivotal time in music and in American culture at large.

Most of the performances we see here are abbreviated, yet there is always enough of each act so that its flavor and appeal becomes apparent. The more famous names like Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul & Mary get a lot more coverage. We see how much and/or how little each has changed over the intervening years. Peter Yarrow was a trustee of the Newport Folk Music Festival and is often heard introducing acts and checking sound levels, moving microphones around and the like. We see that Joan Baez is clearly uncomfortable with her newfound popularity, while Dylan, (before his folk-rock phase) has little of the interaction the other performers seem to enjoy with their fans. The disparate styles of the period — traditional Depression-era folk, folk-rock, protest songs, blues, etc. — are given about equal coverage, and we sense that this very diversity played a role in the genre’s decline even while the film was being made. It’s fascinating to watch Theodore Bikel and Mississippi John Hurt on the same stage, despite being musically at odds. It is great fun watching acts less known to casual folk music fans. What we do not see is the pretentiousness that is often associated with folk protest songs. This is mostly a straightforward celebration of the music.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

– New, restored 2K digital transfer, approved by director Murray Lerner

-New reconstruction and remastering of the monaural soundtrack using the original concert and field recordings, approved by Lerner and presented uncompressed

– When We Played Newport, a new program featuring archival interviews with Lerner, music festival producer George Wein, and musicians Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Buffy Saint-Marie, Pete Seeger, and Peter Yarrow

– Editing Festival, a new program featuring Lerner, associate editor Alan Heim, and assistant editor Gordon Quinn

– Selection of complete outtake performances, including Clarence Ashley, Horton Barker, Johnny Cash, John Lee Hooker, and Odetta

– PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Amanda Petrusich and artist bios by folk music expert Mary Katherine Aldin

 

“ALL THE SINS OF SODOM”/“VIBRATIONS”— Two Erotic Classics

“ALL THE SINS OF SODOM”/“VIBRATIONS”

Two Erotic Classics

Amos Lassen

 A pioneer of sexploitation cinema, American film director and screenwriter Joseph W. Sarno’s (1921-2010) was a pioneer of sexploitation cinema. “All the Sins of Sodom” and “Vibrations’’ were shot back-to-back in 1968. “All the Sins” of Sodom” has long been considered one of Sarno’s most captivating films and was thought to be lost.

Preacher’s son Daryl Henning (Dan Machuen) makes a living shooting erotic photographs of young ladies for his eager female publisher Paula (Peggy Sarno). He falls for pretty young brunette Leslie (Maria Lease), and they quickly end up having an affair. After sex, Leslie poses for semi-nude photographs while Henning tells her how he never usually wants to see women again after sleeping with them, but feels smitten with her. She’s delighted, and poses some more. However, when Paula walks in on this, she shares her concerns that Henning’s infatuation with Leslie will distract him from his work.

Henning argues that Leslie is his muse and that she has the perfect face his shoot about the Princess of Babylonia and Sodom. This doesn’t impress Paula who arranges for Joyce (Sue Akers) to pop round Henning’s apartment that evening and applying for the job as the princess. Henning is not interested but takes pity on her and lets her stay at the studio while Leslie continues to visit for photo and sex sessions. Events gradually escalate as Henning grows increasingly dissatisfied with Leslie’s posing, often berating her for not managing to be “evil” enough. Even his lovemaking to her becomes distracted by his lack of artistic fulfillment.

Paula sees Joyce as an obvious solution and Henning resists initially, even though he is taken by Joyce’s naked frame when spying on her as she changes clothes. A tryst with Joyce seems inevitable. When he finally realizes that she is the face of ‘evil’ he is looking for, Paula changes her tune and warns him away from her. But by this time, Henning is enraptured with Joyce and intent on capturing her, both on his camera and in his bed. We do not see most of the outrageous sins we can think of. However, we do get lots of extramarital sex and some light lesbianism. Sarno avoids overt nudity for much of the running time. Even so, the sex scenes are sensual and erotic. The photo shoots are sexy, aesthetic and the highpoints of the film.

Thematically, the script alludes heavily towards Biblical references throughout, fleshing out what is ultimately a tragedy that warns against the temptations of the flesh. The tone of the film is surprisingly dark and the film is a bleak tale without much prospect of a happy ending. The tight, intelligent script and committed performances are what holds our interest.

In “Vibrations”, aspiring writer Barbara (Marianne Prevost) moves to Manhattan to jump-start her career and sex life, but ends up typing manuscripts.  Alone at night, she listens to her sexy neighbor as she entertains herself and her friends with the aid of her vibrator.  When Barbara’s extroverted sister, Julie (Maria Lease), comes to town, Barbara is forced to confront her repressed sexual desires.  During the night, Julie hears a lot of moaning coming from next door. She sneaks into the room for a wild romp and tries to encourage sexually frustrated Barbara to join her. 



It seems that Barbara’s next door neighbor Georgia (Rita Bennett) is a bisexual libertine who stages small-scale orgies in her apartment. Barbara, at the same time, finds herself attracted to Park (Dan Machuen), another aspiring writer who has hired her to type up his stories. But before Barbara can get her romance with Park off the ground, Julia seduces him and leads Barbara into Georgia’s circle of revelry.

The film starts off promisingly with an intense lust/hate relationship between two sisters and their fascination with the sex cult next door. However, after the initial activities begin, we get a lot of repetition. The uncredited cast is attractive and frequently nude, but only the repressed “good girl” sister comes close to a natural performance, sharply contrasting with her sexually voracious sister. Sarno’s statement here is about sex as a freeing ideal rather than a corrupting concept. Julia sees nothing wrong with expressing her physical needs while Barbara has something of a predilection toward perversion. But once she let’s go and discovers the original joys of sex, she’s finally able to stand on her own two feet, and become the strong, independent career gal she claimed she was. The movie closes with Julia tied to the bedposts and Georgia satisfying her with a vibrator.

Bonus Features include an interview with Joseph Sarno, commentary by film historian Tim Lucas and Joe’s wife, Peggy Steffans-Sarno and a booklet featuring liner notes from Tim Lucas.

“THE MIDWIFE”— An Unlikely Friendship

“THE MIDWIFE”

An Unlikely Friendship

Amos Lassen

Director Martin Provost’s “The Midwife” is a bittersweet drama about the unlikely friendship that develops between Claire (Catherine Frot), a talented and tightly wound midwife, and Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve), the estranged, free-spirited mistress of Claire’s late father. Although they are total opposites in almost every way, the two come to rely on each other as they cope with the unusual circumstance that brings them together.

Béatrice was Claire’s late father’s free-spirited mistress from decades ago, who resurfaces in Claire’s life to announce that she has brain cancer. This is a film about gaining the wisdom that comes from forgiveness and the acceptance of both the past and the future.

There is not a whole lot that happens in “The Midwife”, yet there’s never a dull moment, thanks to the opposing yet equally wonderful performances by the two Catherines in the lead. Frot plays Claire whose mundane day-to-day is disrupted when a figure from her past comes back into her life in the person of Deneuve’s Béatrice who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor and who now wants to make things right. However, it’s too little, too late. Claire’s father was stricken with depression when Béatrice left him and committed suicide many years ago. Claire’s polite demeanor, worn down with resentment, resurfaces with Béatrice’s return. Deneuve gives the firecracker performance to Frot’s more understated one, as a woman who remains stubborn until her dying day and who refuses to give up the good things in life. Even when her health is deteriorating, Béatrice continues to eat red meat with red wine. It all builds to a turning point when Claire and Béatrice find common ground and start to enjoy each other’s company. The shift comes with subtle behavior.

Deneuve is an actress who became famous for being icy and beautiful, and now some fifty years later, we see her as a matter-of-fact and down-to-earth woman who had act circles around others. At 73, she opens up and challenges herself.

Beatrice has a lust for adventure, as well as for alcohol, cigarettes and red meat, and her life has been a series of romantic liaisons. She knows how to have a good time, and Claire does not, and the easiest formulation would have been to have Beatrice’s influence result in a blossoming of Claire’s spirit. Beatrice is no wise woman. She is impulsive, needy and something of a mess. She has been improvising her way through life and now has nothing to show for it but a few rings and some ribald stories. Frot is superb, giving us a full sense of Claire’s inner life despite the reticence of the character’s outward manner. The key is the passion that Claire invests in her work. Frot tells us that this is a woman of feeling, so that when Claire does start to thaw, we see that it was always there.

“Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites who Fought for Women’s Right to Vote” by Johanna Neuman— Turning a Feminist Cause into a Fashionable Revolution

Neuman, Johanna. “Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites who Fought for Women’s Right to Vote”, NYU Press, 2017.

Turning a Feminist Cause into a Fashionable Revolution

Amos Lassen

 Over two hundred of New York’s most glamorous socialites joined the suffrage movement in the early twentieth century. Their names read like who’s who-—Astor, Belmont, Rockefeller, Tiffany, Vanderbilt, Whitney and so on and these names carry great public value. These women were the darlings of the media of their day because of the extravagance of their costume balls and the beauty and their couture clothes. Their social registers were filled with political power because of these women and they were able to turn the female vote into a fashionable cause.

Even though critics dismissed them as “bored socialites” who looked upon suffrage as they would like at fashions on the fashion runway, they were at the epicenter of the great reforms of the Progressive Era.  They championed education for women, women pursuing careers, and they advocated for the end of marriage. They were part of the great changes in New York City. 

Writer Johanna Neuman shows us rightful place in the story of women’s suffrage.  Knowing that there was a need for popular approval for any social change, these socialites used their wealth, power, social connections and style to bring mainstream interest and in doing so they were able to diffuse resistance to the cause and helped to push women’s suffrage.

These are not the women we think of as leaders in the fight for women’s right to vote, but they were and they got there by using their wardrobes and their homes as a way to get there and promote an ideology.

 

“Campus Confidential: How College Works, or Doesn’t, for Professors, Parents, and Students” by Jacques Berlinerblau— An Examination

Berlinerblau, Jacques. “Campus Confidential: How College Works, or Doesn’t, for Professors, Parents, and Students”, Melville House, 2017.

An Examination

Amos Lassen

Having spent most of my adult life as an academic, I have drawn conclusions that I have rarely shared with others in my profession although I am sure that there are those who think they way I do and was therefore not surprised at some of the things that Georgetown University professor Jacques Berlinerblau has to say in “ Campus Confidential”.

There is “a huge gap between rhetoric and reality, between the “sanctimony, hypocrisy and doublespeak” of academic leaders and the way colleges operate in reality and statements like this are what makes this book come to life for so many of us. Berlinerblau sees himself as a contrarian who deviates “from the tenured professoriate to give aspiring students and their parents the lowdown on how their dream schools actually work.”

We read about professors being underpaid, marginalized and over-reviewed yet the success of education depends on them. Something has happened to teaching in this world of industry and the time has come for it to be redeemed.

Berlinerblau has seen it all. He began teaching at a community college, and has been everything from a abused adjunct to an assistant professor to a coddled administrator. He knows what is going on in the world of higher education today. He does not see a bright future.

There is a gap between how professors are trained, what they aspire to and for what they are rewarded. Then there is the for, and the day-to-day work of teaching undergraduates and graduates. Like Berlinerblau I have been an adjunct professor, a graduate and undergraduate professor and an administrator and have seen students come to schools attracted by the faculty only to be shocked to learn that said faculty really wants nothing to do with them. I saw this myself as a student.. Instead, Education, today, will likely be guided by part-time teachers and graduate students, who are paid a few thousand dollars a course. However, “While teaching undergraduates is normally a very large part of a professor’s job, success in our field is correlated with a professor’s ability to avoid teaching undergraduates.”

Graduate training emphasizes research as opposed to teaching. We have lost the golden age “when devoted professors cared selflessly for their students and were rewarded and respected in return. The publish-or-perish aspect of the research university is nothing new. Sigmund Freud said that teaching is one of the “impossible professions” of which we one can be sure “beforehand of achieving unsatisfying results” whose intimate rewards are too closely “associated with other kinds of caring labor for it to command prestige on its own”.

The wholesale acceptance of business norms by many academic institutions, has recently changed and this has resulted, among other things, in the willingness to charge students ever-higher tuitions while driving labor costs down, and in the adoption of a star system. There have been various attempts to challenge these norms.

Toward the end of the book, Berlinerblau writes about “thoughtfulness” as the quality that good teachers most want to encourage in their students..

“The Blue Spong and the Flight from Mediocrity” by St. Sukie de la Croix— Chicago, 1924.

De la Croix, St. Sukie. “The Blue Spong and the Flight from Mediocrity”, Lethe Press, 2017.

Chicago, 1924

Amos Lassen

Something strange is happening with Charlotte and Maude, the Clam sisters and it has to do with one of them getting the bird (or does it?). Set in 1929 in Chicago, one of the sisters bought a blue spong, a very rare bird, from a dealer of songbirds and this changes their lives and also the lives of those that work for them.

I have not reviewed St. Sukie de la Croix is several years now and this is not the kind of book I expected from him (but do not understand that as a negative comment). I expected to read Chicago gay history as I did in his earlier book. “Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall”. Yet when the book arrived, I could see that it was something completely different and is historical fantasy that shows what goes on in some “heteronormative, misogynistic, repressive lives” and the follies that accompany them.

The sisters are exposed to a flying koan that provokes them “to cast off their commonplace mores, their staid lives, for something altogether bold and ribald”. Forget any comic books you have ever read before when you read this. This is a graphic novel without the graphics and historical characters take on new personas here that will astound and shock you. You might just wonder what drug you took before reading this until you realize that this is a recipe for a joyous life that is filled with unpredictability.

I am rarely at a loss for words bit this time I must say that I have absolutely no idea how to describe this book. It has an irreverence (that I always find to be fun) and the descriptions of societal scared cows such as religion and sex will most likely surprise most readers. It is a short book that is a quick read but I did find myself immediately reading it a second time just to make sure I caught everything.

I remember my father telling me when I was much younger that all through life we strive for excellence but make peace with mediocrity. That was not good enough for the Clam sisters and in order to avoid that mediocrity, one of them buys the Blue Spong and we meet some of the most bizarre characters ever. The allegory is great and the twists and turns that the novel takes are a delight. The only word that I can find to use to describe the prose is elegant and while it took me a while to realize what I was reading, with that came the realization that this is one of the most rewarding books I have read in a long time. Mediocrity is just, so well, mediocre and if you want to avoid it here is a way to do so. I am in awe of St. Sukie de la Croix’s writing and I believe that all who read this will feel the same way.

 

“THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR”— A Mystery

“The Suspicious Death Of A Minor”

A Mystery

Amos Lassen

Paolo Germi (Claudio Cassinelli) is undercover cop on the trail of a Milanese criminal outfit following the brutal murder of Marisa (Patrizia Castaldi), an underage prostitute. But a killer-for-hire is also on the prowl and killing witnesses before they have a chance to talk.

Sergio Martino’s 1975 film belongs more to the crime and action subgenre than any other. Germi is aided by his streetwise assistant Giannino (Adolfo Caruso). They discover that the prostitute who was executed in order to cover up a wide-ranging underground ring of white slavery and teen exploitation. Tensions mount, as Germi realizes he’ll need to expose the circle of corruption even as others continue to die at the hands of the increasingly desperate killer.

 

Germi soon uncovers, after the death of the next victim a friend of Marisa’s that there was a third girl, and that they were all forced into prostitution. The first murder is the most violent murder of the film and the victim is killed with a blade. There are only a couple more deaths in the rest of the film and there are rather tame and nearly bloodless.

Sergio Martino delivers stylish set pieces that are offset by quirky moments such as a man nearly getting hit by a car and landing on his head or a bicyclist having his bike chopped in half by a speeding by car. There are two standout action sequences. The first takes place on a roller coaster when a hit man tries to kill Detective Paolo Germi on a roller coaster because he is getting to close to the truth. The other is actually a continuation of the roller coaster shoot out. The pacing of the film keeps things moving at a rapid pace ad there is rarely an opportunity to catch ones breath while watching this film. To say anymore would ruin the viewing experience for those who have yet to see the film.

Bonus Materials include:

  • Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
  • English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
  • New interviews with director Sergio Martino and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon

“Halfway: A Memoir” by Tom Macher— Seeking Hope

Macher, Tom. “Halfway: A Memoir”, Scribner, 2018.

Seeking Hope

Amos Lassen

We have had many books about overcoming addiction so if there is to be one more, it really has to be something special like Tom Macher’s “Halfway”. I rarely read something that affects me as deeply as this did and I have had a hard time moving on because it is so filled my thoughts and is quite different from the novels and biographies that I usually read. This is Macher’s raw and brutal truth about his search for hope, community and recovery as he lives in halfway houses and boys’ homes.

When he entered his teens, he felt that he was living in a world where there was no place for him. He came from a broken family but was no longer with it like his father had been, absent. Additionally his father was dealing with his own AIDS diagnosis. Macher felt the only place where he could feel at home was in the world of alcohol and it was there that he escaped the painful loneliness of his reality.

He was kicked out of school only to have his mother thrown him out of the house and he was sent toa boys’ home in Montana, and later to a halfway house in small town Louisiana. It was in Louisiana that he came into contact with a community of young men struggling to survive. These men were“outcasts and thieves, liars and ex-cons, men seeking redemption, men running from the past”. As Macher moves further away from boyhood and becomes sober, these men become his salvation even though they are themselves broken and near gone.

Having never been an alcoholic, I know nothing about attaining sobriety other than what I read and I have learned that it is often aligned with suicide and death. I have also learned that recovery often comes from the bonds of those who suffer. Macher introduces the characters he meets along the way, (including a former child actor, a young teen struggling with schizophrenia, a tough-love addiction counselor, a sex-addicted social worker and Matt O, who became Macher’s loyal friend and support. The prose is raw, alarming, “disarming, frenetic, and subversive” but above all it is brutally honest as we read about the world of down-and-out recovering alcoholics. This is a story of how, in their darkest hour, men can create the bonds that form a family.