Category Archives: Uncategorized

“White Creek: A Fable” by Bart Yates— Family and Friendship

Yates, Bart. “White Creek: A Fable”, Culicidae Press, 2017.

Family and Friendship

Amos Lassen

It has been quite a while since we heard from Bart Yates but he is back now and as good as ever. This time he gives us a story of “family and friendship, regret and redemption” that is set on a remote Wyoming cattle ranch in the height of winter. The White Creek Ranch has belonged in Hap Cobb’s family for over a century and a half. Hap is eighty-two-years-old and the last of his family and he is not what we would call a nice guy. He lives in misery and has a sharp tongue. Aaron is his best friend and ranch hand and he refers to Hap as “a miserable old fart”. But Hap has his pluses— he is a fantastic cook and he has the finest and best-stocked private library in the state. He knows he is difficult and he is proud of his “’God-given ability’ to exasperate everyone he meets”. He inherited the big ranch house long ago from his grandfather but these days it is mostly empty aside him Aaron and himself. The two men have a good life together and stay busy. Hap often loses himself in thinking about how things once were and the realizes that his life is coming to an end.

Then during a surprise and sudden blizzard one January evening, however, he and Aaron open the door to find a young woman and a teenaged boy seeking shelter from the storm and everything began to change. The White Creek Ranch soon become a place of mystery and possibility. To find out what that means you will have to read the book and find that you are pulled into the story by Bart Yates’ wonderful prose and story telling. He has created characters that we care about and will remain with us long after closing the covers.

 

“FRAGMENTS OF LOVE”— Twisted and Erotic

“Fragments of Love”

Twisted and Erotic

Amos Lassen

Fernando Vallejo’s twisted and erotic “Fragments of Love” follows perfectionist composer Rodrigo’s (Jose Angel Bichir) new obsession with the mysterious Susana (Angelica Blandon). The two begin a torrid love affair as Susanna opens up and tells Rodrigo stories of sexual encounters with her past lovers. Rodrigo becomes both artistically inspired and romantically tormented by Susana’s stories but we see that they are the least of Susana’s dark secrets.

Their romance is passionate and it unites Susana and Rodrigo. They never seem to leave Susana’s apartment and while Rodrigo is reluctant to hear Susana’s stories at first, he soon becomes involved in helping her relive her sexual past. lovers live a boundless passion cocooned in Susana’s apartment. Every night, Susana opens up and tells Rodrigo a story about her sexual encounters with past lovers. Reluctant to hear the stories at first, Rodrigo will soon let go and together they will relive each and every one of Susana’s sensual memories.

The film is based on Colombian novelist Héctor Abad Faciolince’s novel “Fragments of Furtive Love” which in turn was inspired by “A Thousand and One Nights”. This is really a film about charged erotic tale of seduction and destruction. Rodrigo is a composer who is still grieving the loss of his wife who was also his muse. Since her death he has not been able to write music. Susana tries to help unlock his creative block by telling him about her past loves, in great and titillating detail. Her stories inspire the greatest pieces of his career and he is soon hooked on hearing them. For Susana, these stories have a purpose as well— they provide a shelter from the street violence of the outside world.

Rodrigo’s fascination leads him to blur the lines between fantasy and reality, and his obsession with Susana’s stories turns to jealousy that threatens to tear him and the lovers apart. Blandón and Bichir turn in amazing performances.

“GLAMOUR DOLLS”— Getting Into Show Business

“Glamour Dolls”

Getting into Show Business

Amos Lassen

John De Luca’s “Glamour Dolls” is the story of two male prostitutes who want to become professional actors and how they struggle to get into show business. Adam (Dominik Danielwicz) and Ben (De Luca) live together and are close friends that support each other. They to party. They have a good life and have lots of money that they have received from their clients. pockets full of money, money that comes from their clients. Ben’s sweetheart just moved in with them and doesn’t really get along with Adam. Larry (Laurence Christopher), their pimp, also has a cabaret show and after a problem with the two lead actors he is forced to find replacements as soon as possible. He offers the job to Adam and Ben and suddenly they are involved in this new world of underground theatre and are performing as drag queens. On their road to success, Adam and Ben meet many people from the media industry, journalists, actors, producers, rich and powerful people; and they learn everyone is after something. They also see how perverted and dangerous it can be to become involved in show business but also how tempting and rewarding it is. “Glamour Dolls” shows us just what show business is all about and while this is far from being a great movie, it is a lot of fun.

“WOLF GUY”— Going Undercover

“Wolf Guy” (“Urufu gai: Moero ôkami-otoko”)

Going Undercover

Amos Lassen

“Wolf Guy” has been one of the rarest and most sought-after cult films produced by Japan’s Toei Studio. Until now it has never been released outside of Japan but now everyone is able to see this unclassifiable trip into phantasmagoric funk. Directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi it is one-of-a-kind and filled with violence, action, nudity, real surgical footage, and a psychedelic musical score that come together to create an unforgettable trip to the heights of Japanese cinematic weirdness.

Sonny Chiba stars as Akira Inugami, the only survivor of a clan of ancient werewolves. He depends on his supernatural powers to solve mysterious crimes. After a series of bloody killings perpetrated by an unseen force, Inugami uncovers a conspiracy involving a murdered cabaret singer, corrupt politicians, and a plot by the Japanese CIA to harvest his blood in order to steal his lycanthropic powers. At the same time, Inugami also discovers the truth behind his family heritage, and that he may not be the last of his kind.

When reporter Inugami sees a crazed man running through the streets screaming something about a curse and a tiger, and is suddenly torn to shreds by invisible claws, he takes the dead man’s story about the curse totally seriously. The coroner ruled the death a case of “Death by Spectral Slashing” and Inugami sets out to investigate. He learns that Miki, the singer for the band The Mugs, was raped, given syphilis, addicted to heroin and has some sort of power that allows her to attack people with her mind and tear them apart with an invisible tiger. She was raped by a gang. The rape was performed by a gang who were paid to do it by the band’s management company because Miki began to show an attitude problem. As it turns out, this could be much more serious than thought and perhaps the government is involved.

It just so happens that Inugami a descendant of a village of lycanthropes who were massacred by an angry mob. When there is a full moon, Inugami cannot be killed and he superhuman strength. However, his appearance remains unchanged. A sinister group wants to use both Miki as a brainwashed assassin and Inugami to help them create more lycan killers via his blood and organs. We do not learn this straight-out but rather we get this piece by-piece and have to piece it together ourselves. From this point the movie begins to jump around and introduce new characters.

Many will see that the movie does not seem to make much sense yet it captivates the audience. This could be because it is fast moving and constantly introduces new characters and plotlines. For me what makes it worth watching is the mix of genres, the gore and violence.

Special features include:

– High Definition digital transfer

– Original uncompressed mono audio

– New optional English subtitle translation

– New video interview with actor Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba

– New video interview with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi

– New video interview with producer Tatsu Yoshida

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Wes Benscoter

Those who are lucky enough to get one of the first pressing will also receive an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Patrick Macias and a history of Japanese monster movie mashups by Jasper Sharp.

“CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER”— In the Mayan Ruins

“Caltiki, the Immortal Monster” (“Caltiki il mostro immortale”)

In the Mayan Ruins

Amos Lassen

When archaeologists investigate some Mayan ruins, they come across a blob-like monster. They manage to destroy it with fire, but keep a sample. Just at the same time, a comet is due to pass close to the Earth and it is the same comet passed near the Earth at the time the Mayan civilization mysteriously collapsed. Writer Filippo Sanjust’s ambitious screenplay is filled with so many fascinating ideas that make it hard to look away from the screen. This is a story of Mayan legends, Earth-shaking comets, psycho killers and flesh-eating blobs with lots of gore and violence.

The movie has the look and feel of a typical US made B/W creature feature of the time period (1959) bit then you realize that the dialogue is dubbed and understand this is a foreign film.

It all starts with an archeological expedition into trying to find out what led to the extinction of the Mayan civilization. An ancient prophecy is uncovered with an underwater treasure in gold and a millions of years old creature that melts the flesh off of those it comes into contact with. The monster is destroyed by a gas explosion after an attack leaves one of the researchers deformed and a chunk of what was left is taken back to a lab for study where it’s learned radiation exposure not only makes the thing grow, but it can split itself into multiple monstrosities. While studying the Mayan prophecy, the scientists learn of a comet that passes the Earth every 1,352 years is coming again and threatens to enlarge the creature from exposure to its radioactive rays.

Blobular monsters were big in the movies of the 1950s. Caltiki, the title creature looks like a bunch of towels clumped together and dipped in oil. The pulsating mass devours its prey by dissolving the flesh right off the bones. What makes this monster stand out from other 50s creature features are some astonishingly gruesome flashes of gore that, while not unheard of in foreign territories of the time, was rare occasion for movies of this time in North America. 

Mario Bava was in charge of the photographic effects and the shots of the monster(s) are totally effective. as they are. Caltiki splits into multiple monsters and the shots of the various Caltiki’s maneuvering through a mansion trying to eat a wife and child are tense and fascinating. The last few minutes when the sole remaining, and enormous monster takes on the military and their flamethrowers is wonderfully exciting.

The movie claims that the mystery of the Mayans is one that may never be solved: why did they leave their homes after centuries of prosperity never to return and why did they let with their cities decay behind them? Perhaps this party of scientists will find the answer. They are led by Dr. John Fielding (John Merivale), whose wife is accompanying him on this expedition along with a group of researchers under his guidance. One of those researchers, Max Gunther (Gérard Herter), has designs on Fielding’s wife Ellen (Didi Perego) and nurses his feelings of jealousy towards the happy couple. This was not something that would erupt into anything major, but it does add a destructive Mayan deity into the mix, and…

This was the first film directed by Mario Bava, although here he simply receives a cinematographer credit, and then under a pseudonym. The film was actually started by Riccardo Freda, best known for his cult horror The Horrible Doctor Hitchcock and its sequel, but he gave way to the talents of Bava for whatever reason. An Italian production with both eyes on the American market wanted something as good as what was coming out of Hollywood at that time.

The film is set in Mexico and starts with an archeologist running through the jungle that is filled with Mayan ruins while in the distance a volcano erupts (also a good effect). A band of archeologists eventually stumble upon a temple in a cave overlooking an underground lake. One of the members of the expedition dives to the bottom, finding pre-Columbian gold and jewelry along with many skeletons.

Because of greed getting the better of the man, he unwisely takes a second dive and is semi-absorbed by Caltiki, “a Mayan divinity” that melts the man’s face into a goopy mess, exposing his skull, while Max nearly loses his arm to the immortal monster.

The bulk of the picture involves Max’s unstoppable physical and mental deterioration and Fielding’s efforts to contain the menace, which grows exponentially when exposed to even the tiniest amount of radiation. Mayan soothsayers have predicted that Caltiki will destroy the world when its “mate appears in the sky.” This turns out to be a comet that approaches earth’s orbit every 1,300 years or so, and that the radiation it showers into the atmosphere will provide Caltiki with an immense source of energy. Now presented here for the first time in a newly restored high definition transfer, Caltiki shines and terrifies like never before.

DVD BONUS FEATURES include:

– Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative

– Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)

– Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack

– New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark

– New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films

From Quatermass to Caltiki, a new discussion with author and critic Kim Newman on the influence of classic monster movies on Caltiki

Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master, an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa

The Genesis of Caltiki, an archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi

– Archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa

– Alternate opening titles for the US version

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys.

The first pressing includes an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti

“ACCIDENTAL COURTESY: DARRYL DAVIS, RACE & AMERICA”— An Approach to Ending Racial Prejudice

“Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America”

An Approach to Ending Racial Prejudice

Amos Lassen

Daryl Davis is an accomplished musician whose music has been heard all over the world. Davis has quite an unusual hobby—he likes to meet and befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan. When many of these people eventually leave the Klan with Daryl’s support, Daryl keeps their robes and hoods and is building his collection piece-by-piece, story-by-story, and person-by-person. One day he hopes to open a museum of the Klan. I can imagine you had the same feeling I did when you read that sentence. Some will see this hobby as perverse and many will see it as dangerous.

David seeks out members of the KKK and other race-oriented hate groups, using personal friendship, generosity, historical argument and simple logic to challenge their prejudices. He does this on a one-to-one level and he believes that change can come even between seemingly irreconcilable people. In this film we get an entertaining and inspirational message of rapprochement.

Davis’ career is not the focus here (and we see him performing just a couple of times). He is a “boogie-woogie” pianist who, since the 1980s, has played with such classic “oldies” acts as Chuck Berry, the Platters, Bo Diddley, the Jordanaires, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Drifters. Today he headlines the Daryl Davis Band but probably is better known for his long association with the Klan and he has a busy lecturing schedule and considerable press coverage.

Born in Chicago but raised all over (his father was a diplomat), Davis seems to have been be oblivious to the notion of racism until he was 10 years old when he was chosen to carry the flag for an otherwise all-white Cub Scouts group in a parade. He did not understand why some parade goers threw trash at him.

As a young adult early in his music career, he briefly played with a country-western band, and when a complimentary audience member offered to buy him a drink, he noted that he’d never actually socialized with a black person before. It turned out that man was a Ku Klux Klan member, and when Davis asked him “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”, he had his first experience of breaking down another person’s racial prejudices simply by talking him out of them.

Since then, he’s developed relationships with some leaders of the KKK, neo-Nazi groups and other “white power” organizations. As he does this, he collects souvenirs and has a garage-full of ceremonial robes (complete with identity-hiding pointed hood) discarded by such friends who no longer hold their prejudicial beliefs (in large part thanks to him). His success is a testament to the wisdom of his belief that “preaching to the choir” accomplishes little as compared to facing somebody who disagrees with you and then figuring out a solution to do away with their fears. Davis has been successful in “converting” leadership of hate groups but we must say that not everyone is willing to jump on board. There are those with whom Davis has achieved long-term friendships and modified their racial views. However, sometimes they seem willing only to make a personal exception for him. Still, any progress is good. Spokespeople from the Southern Poverty Law Center see Davis’ efforts as well intentioned, but kinder and gentler than such people deserve.

The most hostile response he gets here, however, are from African-American Black Lives Matters activists in Baltimore, who angrily dismiss his mission as “a fetish” and a waste of time; time that could be better used improving the community. It is almost inevitable that those who think blacks (or gays, or Muslims, or whoever) are “the problem” don’t actually know and in many cases their biases are the products of inflammatory rhetoric and stereotypes.

This is director Matt Ornstein’s first feature and it is quite powerful. The only problem I found here is that the film really never gets into the subject matter and we all know that racism is a tremendous issue.

The film starts with starts with Davis mentioning who he is and then what he does and then we move to Lincoln Memorial and the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. stood during his “I Have a Dream” speech. From there we see Daryl going to a music store and also some video of the Klan and Daryl talking using CNN footage.

Halfway through the film, we learn that Davis is married to a white woman but we learn nothing esle about his personal life. We know his mission and when we get to it, the film focus on him talking to Klan members and debating (when the music isn’t playing for once). We get to see him in action and see some of his success stories. Then the film goes on and on with random scenes of them in Washington D. C. where he goes over the same spot MLK Jr. stood and talks about the black man who really designed the city. All of this is interesting but we already heard this at the beginning of the film.

The film becomes the most interesting when Davis talks to some young people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement in Baltimore and they start to question his goals are with his experiment, and whether it helps the cause of African Americans. They talk about wanting black institutions and helping out African Americans as a group and do not really care about Davis’ mission. This brings up an interesting debate that becomes more aggressive on both sides, until Daryl calls one man ignorant since he dropped out of college. Here the conversation ends and the leader of Black Lives Matter becomes very agitated with him and tells him off. This is interesting because we get into a debate about what is really helpful in dealing with racism. Most of us see the Klan and racism as bad so Davis’ mission, while good in concept, may not be really productive or even worthwhile. Daryl, who appears to be willing to listen and politely debate with white supremacists, becomes more aggressive and unwilling to listen in this moment.

While this is not a well-edited or well-organized documentary its very thought-provoking and timely and we can overlook its weak points. content compensates for those deficiencies. Davis has managed to become friends with members of the KKK and refuses to treat opposing groups of people as his enemy. We see the power of the spoken word over the power of the sword. While we now that hatred begets hatred and that anger begets anger, this is truly reinforced here. Seeing Davis sitting down at a Baltimore restaurant with African American activists from Black Lives Matters says so much about the uphill battle Davis has when it comes to opening the door for open-minded conversations about race. We see Davis as a man who is warm, charismatic and a critical thinker. We need more like him.

“Athenian Blues” by Pol Koutsakis— A New Detective Series

Koutsakis, Pol. “Athenian Blues’, Bitter Lemon, 2017.

A New Detective Series

Amos Lassen

Stratos Gazis has been hired by an actress to do a hit on her husband but what she does not know is that Gazis was already in working for her husband who wants to know who wants his wife killed. unbeknownst to her is that her husband has hired him to find out who wants to kill his wife. It also just so happens that Gazis’ best friend is a top cop and both she and Gazis are in love with the same woman.

Pol Koutsakis makes his English-language debut with this crime novel and his first to feature Stratos Gazis, a virtuous hit man who claims to kill only people who deserve it. When supermodel Aliki Stylianou hires Stratos to kill her jealous husband, a celebrity super-lawyer Vassilis Stathopoulos, because she is afraid that he will murder her. Aliki says that during their three-year marriage, Vassilis has beaten her on a regular basis and sent her twice to the hospital with fractures. When Stratos finally meets Vassilis, the lawyer offers to employ Stratos to protect his deluded wife from an unknown killer. We can see already see that is going be a convoluted plot but it all comes together and makes sense. With the help his three best friends, (one of whom is homicide detective Costas Dragas), Stratos tries to maneuver the lies and delusions in this case when people who are not directly involved with what it happening begin dying violently, while people who should be on the periphery of the case start dying violently. We see that Stratos’ view of life has been shaped, to a degree, by American noir films. This puts me at a bit of disadvantage in summarizing the book in that I could reveal something about the story. What I can say is that moral ambiguity plays a large part in what happens here.

Set in Athens, Greece today we meet the very cool professional hit man right away. The situation he finds himself is awkward since he has been hired by both husband and wife of the same family. There is also a subplot dealing with Gazis and his best friend being in love with the same woman, Maria, and Teri, a transgender friend has also just found love. I suspect we will be having more transgender characters now that they have become so visible and left the closet behind. At the same time, Greece and especially Athens are in the midst of financial crises.

Here is a novel with as many plot-twists as dead people. Gazis does not consider himself to be a hit man and he hates being called a contract killer. He is, as he says, a “conscientious fixer”. The problems that he fixes, however, as rarely spoken of aloud but he can fix what many others cannot and there are those who are willing to pay high prices for his services. mentioned in whispers. That very few can fix. Because of the economic crisis going on in Greece, life in Athens is harder to deal with than usual especially since Gazis a strict moral code and is about to become involved in what will be, in all probability, the highest profile case of his career. As he and his three friends get to work they learn that truth is relative. He finds that truth in broken lovers and broken families.

He is caught between the most beloved lawyer in Greece who is known as “the guardian of the poor,” and his actress wife and the most beautiful desirable woman in the country. The fact that are married to each other is a complication as is that they are both in need of his services. More than that I cannot say except to be prepared to turn pages as quickly as possible.

“Stork Mountain” by Miroslav Penkov— Going Home

Penkov, Miroslav. “Stork Mountain”, Picador, 2017.

Going Home

Amos Lassen

“Stork Mountain” is the story of a young Bulgarian immigrant who, in an attempt to escape his mediocre life in America, returns to Bulgaria. He retraces the steps of his estranged grandfather who was a man who suddenly and inexplicably cut all contact with the family three years earlier. The young man gets to the border of Bulgaria and Turkey, high up in the Strandja Mountains. It is a place of pagan mysteries and black storks. It is here that each spring men and women, possessed by Christian saints, dance barefoot across live coals in search of rebirth. It is also here that the boy reunites with his grandfather and falls in love with an unobtainable Muslim girl. Our young man, who remains unnamed, is a young American graduate student who finds himself embroiled in mystery and intrigue when he meets his Grandpa, the local imam, his rebellious daughter and discovers that in the past, the village was a place for fire walkers of mixed Bulgarian and Greek origin. He wonders why the Christian half of the village lie empty and the Muslim is full. Something in the past must have led to the end of the fire dance and the exodus of the Christians and he wonders how his grandfather was involved. He wants to understand why his grandfather bough the old rundown houses in the village and why the imam wants to see them. Then there is the question of the young Muslim girls exhibiting a mania for the now defunct fire dance.

Our young man’s grandfather was once the village schoolmaster. He was sent there by the communists to counter the Muslim traditions of the mountain people.

This is a literary novel that charms the reader as it merges personal and political. As we go back in time we ask ourselves important questions but especially if we must not only relive the past and keep it always with us. The political, the mystical, the historical and the spiritual all come together in the story that is so much more than a coming-of-age love story. This is also a study of borders: those imposed by governments and maps and those that are self-constructed.

 

“A QUIET PASSION”— Poet Emily Dickinson

“A QUIET PASSION”

Poet Emily Dickinson

Amos Lassen 

Terence Davies’s “A Quiet Passion” is the story of American poet Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) from her early days as a young schoolgirl to her later years as a reclusive, unrecognized artist. From the very beginning we become aware of Dickinson’s deep attachment to her close-knit family and the manners, mores and spiritual convictions of the time when she lived and struggled with her poetry. Cynthia Nixon personifies the wit, intellectual independence and pathos of the poet whose genius only came to be recognized after her death.

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts was not publicly recognized during her lifetime. Her first volume of works was published in 1890 after her death and after her family discovered forty hardbound volumes containing nearly 1,800 poems.  

The “Belle of Amherst” as she came to be known was a woman who found nothing in New England society and looked inward instead of engaging in family activities. Yet she wants her family to approve of her and her poetry. Her father (Keith Carradine) worries about her desire to rebel and that could well be because he saw in her the continuation of his own modest progressivism. We see this as indicated by the quiet approval he gives to his children’s mocking his silly sister (Annette Badland), his acceptance of Emily’s rejection of a religious education, and his accepting and indulging in Emily’s desire to write late at night. When we see at night there is something romantic there but even more than that it is an evocation showing how these early, idealistic moments are contrasted by the pale colors that we see after her father’s death. We also see that once mourning is over, there is a period of green and brightness as if to signify ecstasy bout physically and spiritually that had been denied to Emily that populate the period after her father’s death. He breaks that mourning with an impressionistic interlude that opens upon a green bower, then Emily bathed in firelight in something like the physical/spiritual ecstasy that would be denied her and caused her to fear and not like herself. that she perhaps denied herself for fear and self-loathing–all her life. Emily finds deliverance only with a deeper metaphysical implosion.

Dickinson as an artist in a constant state of immolation and intoxicated with possibilities and limitations. While poetry has the power to deliver feelings of sublimity, but it cannot sustain the physical body. As time takes Emily’s family, she retreats more completely into her writing.. When she learns that her brother (Duncan Duff) is having an affair with a married woman, she discovers the piety she once rejected. Dickinson’s character is involved in verbose introspection.

The film is an excellent biopic and it is also a good stab at literary criticism as well. The thrust of its narrative is moored by death and loss and Emily’s being always alone. The structure of the film is as tightly adhered to as Dickinson’s work. Her 1800 pieces, after all, are a better autobiography than most if one knows how to read and understand them.

Davies works in the areas spaces between what’s being said and what is meant. He operates where interpretation happens and at the end when Emily dies and her casket is carried away (we watch it go from above and hear her two most-repeated poems read by Nixon over the images), there is the sense that the most cruel irony of Dickinson’s life is that she found fame posthumously through the careful excavation of her crippling loneliness and agoraphobia. This is a film about writers, how their discovery is in eternal conflict with their desire for discovery. We see creation as an act of yearning.

Terence Davies allowed himself to make this film as self-deprecating. Davies and Dickinson both achieve a profound understanding of the almost symbiotic relationship between agony and ecstasy, in life and in art.

Emily Dickinson as we see her here is marked from the beginning by her defiance— her teenage defense of the sovereignty of her soul against a stern seminary lecturer leads to the first of many debates. Her ideas and opinions are given eloquent expression throughout Davies’ script and it allows Dickinson ample opportunity to confront the Puritanism of her day alongside the concurrent marginalization of women.

The assuredness that Dickinson demonstrates in Davies’ dialogue is a perfect counterpoint in her poetry, which reveals her vulnerability and uncertainty. Dickinson refuses to betray anyone or anything in public. As in her life, Dickinson’s poetry becomes an ever-present part of the film, whether woven into conversational chat or part of sublime set pieces. In Davies’ hands, it becomes “the poetry of the everyday”.

We see that the objects of Dickinson’s quiet passions are many and include her family, her friends, her writing, her ideals, and the dream of consummate love, which she ultimately foregoes. But, throughout the film, it becomes clear that her greatest passion is for honesty. This was at a time when women had little more to aspire to than politeness and Emily consistently wages war with her opinions, maintaining her beliefs against the intolerance of polite society.

From the very opening scene, in which a stern, shrew-faced schoolmistress addresses her matriculating pupils, including the young Dickinson on the importance of faith and the perils of nonconformity we see this. Only the first 20 minutes or so depict Emily’s youth, and they may surprise in that they are light-hearted. Young Dickenson exchanges opinions on life and art – and the place of women in a patriarchal society with a friend. We move forward into her later years, where her lack of recognition as a poet, her growing loneliness and her frustrations regarding gender inequality and creative integrity take her into reclusiveness and an ever more loudly voiced bitterness. There is also death and disease, ready to play their part in the steady crushing of Emily’s former happiness.

 

Dickinson’s verse, is heard in voiceover so that it serves almost as a commentary on the narrative and Davies steadily darkens the mood until the later scenes become painful. The film is not only a compelling and very affecting portrait of the poet as an ageing woman, but also as an entirely fresh variation on the themes that Davies used in his earliest work.

The film quickly moves from delightful and witty banter to a despair and misery from which there is no escape. As Emily becomes more of a recluse, so does the film become reclusive. Cynthia Nixon who puts in a tremendous, emotional and gut-wrenching performance.

Dickinson’s legacy is made up of 1800 poems she left, that she left and of which only ten were published during her lifetime. She did not leave any commentaries to interpret her work, but left them for us to understand and explain. One interpretation of her life and work is provided by this film.

“A Quiet Passion” will open in New York on April 14, and at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles on April 21.

“Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond” by Sonia Shah— a Look at Contagion

Shah, Sonia. “Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond”, Picador, 2017.

A Look at Contagion

Amos Lassen

Experts around the world are bracing for a deadly, disruptive pandemic and Sonia Shah gives us a look at how to stop it. Over the past fifty years, more than three hundred infectious diseases have emerged or reemerged in new territories and experts around the world are bracing for a deadly, disruptive pandemic. Here we see how this can happen. Writer Shah draws parallels between cholera (one of the most deadly diseases in history) and the new diseases of today. We see cholera’s dramatic journey from harmless microbe to world-changing pandemic and then become of those pathogens that have followed cholera (from the MRSA bacterium to the never-before-seen killers “emerging from China’s wet markets, the surgical wards of New Delhi, the slums of Port-au-Prince, and the suburban backyards of the East Coast”). What makes this so gripping is that we cannot afford to ignore the future.

We would have to be blind not to know that there are indeed true existential threats on the horizon and these include climate change, nuclear holocaust, pandemics, and even rampant consumerism. The most immediate threat to civilization is contagious disease. In “Pandemic”, Sonia Shah surveys the past, the present and the future of infectious disease. This means illnesses that might kill tens or hundreds of millions of people with little warning and unpredictable consequences. She explains that “epidemics grow exponentially while our ability to respond proceeds linearly, at best.”

Because today we are so anxious to hear news, a lot of it has become alarmist reporting that warns us about hemorrhagic diseases such as Ebola. We are told that these will “break out” and kill millions. Shah patiently explains that much there are many common diseases that are far more likely to pose threats to us, specifically influenza and cholera. A series of unfortunate mutations in either one produce a disease that is not just contagious but fatal. Today, influenza kills only a small proportion of its victims and we see it as a nuisance and as a threat only to those who are most vulnerable. However, the “Spanish flu” (the H1N1 virus) that broke out in the final days of World War I infected about 500 million people and killed between 50 and 100 million. Epidemiologists today are afraid that H1N1 or one of the countless other varieties of influenza that is coming out of Southern China could put on a repeat performance or even worse than what we have seen. Likewise, Cholera poses a similar threat.

Shah writes of the role of Christianity has had in fostering infectious disease for more than a thousand years and history tells us that two thousand years ago the Romans piped clean drinking water to their cities through an elaborate system of aqueducts and made public baths available to one and all. They considered cleanliness to be a virtue. That all changed with the advent of Christianity. Unlike the Jews and Muslims, Christian clergy disdained personal hygiene and associated it with Roman polytheism and saw cleanliness as superstitious. It was common for Catholic priests and the Protestant pastors who succeeded them in some parts to discourage their flocks from bathing. For many centuries, the vast majority of people in Christian lands lived together with their animals in the filthiest of conditions. Disease was frequent and as people moved into cities, the diseases went with them. Doctors, then, attributed l disease to an imbalance in the four “humors” within the body and in external factors that exacerbated it. Nineteenth-century physicians who practiced medical “science” based on this belief “increased [cholera’s] death toll from 50 to 70 percent.” It wasn’t until we are preparing to enter the twentieth century that practicing physicians began to accept the role of microorganisms in causing disease. Yet, at the same time, progress toward improved sanitation and the availability of clean drinking water was slow. Construction of London’s sewer system was not prompted because public health officials understood that water used for drinking and washing was dangerously contaminated. They proposed the effort because it was essential to pipe all the smelly sewage into the Thames, the source of the city’s drinking water! Only in the twentieth century did it become common for municipalities to regard drinkable water as a necessity of life.

We also see the role of contemporary trends in making the threat of epidemic disease greater than ever. Shah says that five of these trends include climate change, continuing urbanization, accessible global transportation, resistance to vaccines, and development on previously virgin lands, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and the Amazon. Because of these, an increasing number of unknown and unpredictable new tropical diseases are coming to be and moving into more and more crowded cities further and further north on the globe. At the same time, diseases previously thought conquered and done with (polio and measles) have re-appeared around the world.

Unfortunately, I have learned that this book has been discredited by several who maintain that Shah has written a piece of alarmist nonfiction and has not really checked her facts. There is not much originality here and after doing a bit of research myself, I see that the book contains errors, mis-statements, and oversights and while some are minor, the idea that a book like this could be published with erroneous information has its effect on the reader.

A book of this nature is timely but it must be a book where scientific accuracy the foremost attribute. When we read a number of errors, it makes us wonder about the research and the author’s credibility. I do not think that a reader would have to do such and I do not think that Shah tried to write an invalid book but she went into areas where she had no expertise and I suspect that she did not check with specialists in those fields.