Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“GAME FACE”— Two Underdogs

“Game Face”

Two Underdogs

Amos Lassen

Michiel Thomas’s “Game Face” presents honest opinions and interviews from athletes who feel held back  by feeling discrimination about their performance based on their personal lifestyle and sexuality.  They become determined and rise against the odds and show their peers and the LGBTQ community that they’re worthy contenders  and not just in their sport, but in society.

The film follows two underdogs: transgender Mixed Martial Arts fighter Fallon Fox and Terrence Clemens, an openly gay College basketball player.  Other than being athletes facing unfair judgement, Fox and Clemens prove themselves to be role models by always taking the high road.  Clemens’ criminal past gave him a wake-up call to self-improve, and Fox’s spirit is as unbreakable as her physical build.  

The film doesn’t go beyond being a typical recollection of inspiring underdog stories.  It is not as strong as other films on the topic but it certainly should be seen.

 In the wake of the high-profile coming out announcements of professional athletes like basketball player Jason Collins and football player Michael Sam “Game Face” could not be more topical. The documentary goes behind the headlines to share the intimate and emotional stories of two queer athletes of  Fallon Fox and Terrence Clemens.

Clemens bore the brunt of homophobia when an unfounded rumor spread about him having sex with a guy. He faced fear, just like all closeted queer people f: he was outcast by his teammates and friends. Meanwhile, Fox also experienced one of the worst outcomes of coming out: her parents rejected her when she announced she was transitioning from male to female.

When Fox is later outed in the media, it becomes clear that her biggest challenge is educating people. Misunderstanding, assumptions, and confusion about transgender athletes are everywhere and largely incorrect. Many assume that Fox has advantages as a “man” competing against women. Not only does Fox have to steel herself against boos from the crowd, but she also has to raise awareness about what being transgender really is.

The film follows Fox’s journey as she trains not only to compete but to persevere against criticism and media attention that distract from the sport. “I’m a fighter,” she says. “I never take the easy way out.”

Thomas skillfully interweaves the two stories to illuminate the similarities and differences in the challenges that the two athletes face. (Racial identity here is not addressed; both athletes are black.) What appears central to both of their stories is how they appear, initially, to be alone in their struggle to break new ground.

Hope, accordingly, comes in the form of support from straight allies and other queer athletes at Pride parades, awards events, and social networking. While LGBT acceptance and rights have made gains overall, coming out in sport remains a risk, as interviewee Jervon Wright relates how he lost his college basketball scholarship when he was seen kissing his boyfriend.

Although both athletes share the goal of simply being accepted like everyone else, the truth is that as pioneers nothing will ever be simple or like everyone else. Luckily, both of our subjects seem to be up for what is required of them in the hope that in the future, others will get the chance to live out their dreams.

With professional athletes coming out being an important story right now in the LGBT community, several documentaries chronicling the lives of these people are beginning to emerge. One of the latest is Michiel Thomas’s Game Face. The film tells the story of transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox and gay basketball player Terrence Clemens, two athletes sharing parallel struggles in their quest to find respect in the sports world.

There is much progress still to be made towards acceptance and understanding towards LGBT athletes in the sports world. Any documentary seeking to tell the stories of these people is a positive step in the right direction. This film finds two compelling narratives and presents them in such a manner that they have the ability to change people’s minds. Through honesty and integrity, and a little support from a famous gay athlete already blazing a trail, we follow Fallon and Terrence on a journey to self-acceptance and helping others by talking publicly about the challenges they have faced.

Transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox is  the first female fighter to be out publicly. By the time she begins her MMA training, she has already transitioned to being a woman but she fears that she will be found out. If her trainer, other athletes, and her gym find out, what will that mean? Will anyone want to fight her? Will the reputation of the gym be damaged? As she works her way up the ranks and starts building a name for herself, a day comes after a match where her secret comes out in the media. She receives some support but ultimately she is faced with a deluge of controversy, people saying she shouldn’t be allowed to compete, accusations of unfair advantages, confusion, fear, and mistruths being thrown in her direction. She does her best to not let the negativity affect her and wherever she goes she continues educate those around her who may not understand her situation. As the controversy grows, she is forced to focus on the fighting to prove that she is worthy of being there. The flip-flopping messages of support and hateful criticism she continues to receive demonstrate the need for her to continue being an activist outside of the ring. Progress still needs to be made, as she is still continually denied her license to fight in the UFC league. They don’t yet believe she qualifies to fight in the women’s league even though she meets the International Olympic Committee’s requirements for transgender athletes.

Terrence Owen longs to play basketball professionally. Coming out of high school, he did not have any luck finding college scholarships to play and ended up having a run-in with the law and being jailed for 10 months. Upon his release he finds a trainer that is supportive and non-judgmental. The trainer worked with Terrence to develop goals and used a contact of his to find him a scholarship at a small two-year college. His goal was to play at that school and then hopefully be scouted to play for a large 4-year college and go on to play professionally. Under all of this, he was struggling to keep the fact that he is gay a secret, fearing what revealing this would do to his scholarship and career chances. Over the next two years, he continues to feel like an outsider from the rest of the guys in the locker room and this burden is chipping away at him. Along the way, NBA player Jason Collins publicly came out as gay. Terrence saw this as a beacon of hope and reached out to Collins for advice, which he freely offered. Collins told him that no matter what, he had to be truthful to himself. When the team wins a championship that year, he is offered several scholarships to play at other schools.   At that point, he decides to finally tell his teammates, coach, and friends that he’s gay. When he finally comes out, he receives nothing but support, even from those he wasn’t expecting.

At the beginning the film struggles to find its footing. The setup and introduction to these two subjects is blunt and somewhat confusing. However, once we get to know them, the film is strongest when it finds the intimacy of its two subjects. Beneath all the controversy and hate is a fight common to most in the LGBT community. The impact is felt when we see the ripple effect these coming out stories are having on people.

Continuing to tell these stories is so very important. There are many educational strides still to be made and each one of these challenges people’s perceptions and attitudes. It is hoped that an individual’s outlook is changed for the better. Here is the power that cinema can have and why it’s important to keep pushing forward as we fight for equality and respect in sports.

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”— An Angry and Impressive Look at an Angry and Unimpressive Man

 

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”

An Angry and Impressive Look at an Angry and Unimpressive Man

Amos Lassen

“Where’s My Roy Cohn?” takes its title from a question that Donald Trump asked those around him when they failed to stop attorney general Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Then we take a trip back in time to Trump’s formative years followed by interviews and archival footage and we are off on a chronological tour of the critical events that followed. Director Matt Tyrnauer has a knack for pacing and gives us a documentary that gets more engrossing as it goes along; the most vital bits are reserved for the bitter end, when, even in death, Roy Cohn still refuses to admit defeat.

Roy Cohn was a corrupt lawyer, political dirty trickster, mafia associate and all around scumbag. He was a self-hating Jew who powered the engine of one of the worst anti-Semitic moments in American history, the demonization and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He was a closeted man who refused to publicly identify as gay even as he was dying of AIDS. He was famous for being a mean bastard.

Cohn was born in New York in 1927 was heir to a number of fortunes on his mother’s side. She was said to be so ugly that she had trouble finding a husband. Cohn’s father agreed to an arranged marriage so long as her powerful family made him a judge. This blatant, unfeeling corruption came to be a hallmark of Cohn’s life. He graduated from Columbia Law School at the age of 20 and quickly found himself as one of the leading “red-baiters”, rooting out communists in government positions and the U.S. Army for the good of democracy. He worked with Senator Joseph McCarthy whose last name is a now a synonym for political witch-hunting.

McCarthy and Cohn’s harassment of presumed communists and sympathizers has overshadowed a subsequent “lavender scare” in which the pair harassed and exposed homosexuals. (It is rumored that McCarthy, like Cohn, was also secretly gay as was FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, who encouraged these witch hunts.) A series of hearings in 1954 suggested that much of McCarthy’s pressure on the US army was led by Cohn’s desire to secure a better position for a man named G. David Schine, who was either Cohn’s boyfriend or someone he was infatuated with.

Cohn fueled himself off accusations and fighting. His strategy was always to deny then lie even louder. As a personal attorney he would win high-profile cases through the use of “deflection, misdirection and fear-mongering.” He had powerful friends and attracted wealthy clients in New York, most notably the heads of organized crime families and the young real estate mogul Donald J. Trump.

Tyrnauer’s film is a collection of talking heads (including and news clips. We see that despite a twenty year age difference between Trump and Cohn, Trump seems to have been nurtured by Cohn’s disgusting work, the two were close for many years. They first bonded over a shared love of denying African-Americans  their civil rights. This led to corruption and kickbacks during the erection of Trump Tower. Cohn loved to see his picture in the paper, and was known for his must-attend parties, so there are ample images in this documentary to make you sick.

This film is part of a forthcoming wave from film-makers who are trying to grapple with just how in the hell we got to where we are making this an important film. For many years, Donald Trump was a joke (and never a harmless one). The damage he’s currently doing makes us ashamed that we laughed at him especially as he strives to get the last laugh. “This film connects a direct line between Roy Cohn’s belligerent, boorish and obstructionist ways and our current, less eloquent nightmare.”  We now know “where’s my Roy Cohn?”— he is in the White House.

Tyrnauer exposes Cohn as a modern Machiavelli who influences our country today at the highest level. Cohn first came into the public eye as an assistant to J. Edgar Hoover and handled the prosecution of Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg, a Jewish couple  who were arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spying for Russia and securing Manhattan Project documents for the Russian government. Cohn was then a twenty-three-year-old fast-rising attorney and he claimed to have not only persuaded the presiding judge, Irving Kaufman, to impose the death penalty but also to have had said Judge Irving assigned the case. Cohn’s reward for the Rosenberg execution was an appointment as special counsel to Joseph McCarthy.

Tyrnauer provides compelling evidence that Cohn was responsible for much of McCarthy’s demagoguery and rise to power. Soon, however, Cohn would cause his own and McCarthy’s fall from grace. During the Army-McCarthy hearings, direct questioning it was revealed that Cohn had a “special relationship” with G. David Schine and pressured the U.S. Army to give Schine preferential treatment. Cohn would resign after he was humiliated and pummeled with homophobic comments during the televised hearings. He, then, claimed that everybody wanted him to stay on. According to those who worked with Cohn, this was not the case.

Cohn came to be the personification of the dark arts of 20th-century American politics. Cohn became a mover and shaker of dubious and odious means. He fluffed his persona despite inflicting financial losses on his clients and family. Trynauer reveals how Cohn, a deeply troubled master manipulator, has shaped our current political world. He continually and persistently defended himself by attacking his adversaries and using the press to generate sensational public sympathy for his plight.

It appears that his political clout came from his wide social circle of wealthy, influential friends. Cohn was known for throwing lavish parties and hobnobbed with almost every imaginable socialite of the day including then artist, Andy Warhol. Cohn became a New York power broker, mafia consigliere, white-collar criminal, and he mentor of Donald J. Trump who began his flamboyant rise first on Cohn’s shoulders and then his back. Eventually, Trump became the master of personal attacks, hyperbole, sensationalism, and using the press to get out in front of the story.

As a closeted homosexual, Cohn was at the forefront of “The Lavender Scare,” and convinced Dwight D. Eisenhower to ban all gay men from working in the federal government; when dying from AIDS-related complications several decades later, he insisted that he was suffering from liver cancer, and used his celebrity to provoke contempt for other victims of the growing plague.

Cohn had an unparalleled talent for making the worst of every bad situation. He always attacked and he never surrendered. Cohn was a byproduct of trying to outwrestle his own insecurities and lack of self-worth.

Cohn might have been a footnote in American history until the 2016 election. It was then that he became seen as a modern Machiavelli. That this delayed emergence of him as a figure of immortal, worldwide political importance is fascinating and sickening at the same time.

The film is a Must-See, given the times we’re living in. It’s no exaggeration to say that Trump learned everything he knows from Cohn. Every time we see him lie outrageously, every time you see him respond to an attack by attacking back with twice the force, we see    Roy Cohn’s legacy at work. And when Trump finally finds himself in court, as he inevitably will, they will never get him on anything. He’ll just use Cohn’s tactics to bury everyone involved in counter-lawsuits.

“THE GAY HISTORY OF SITGES” A Small Beach Town

“THE GAY HISTORY OF SITGES”

A Small Beach Town

Amos Lassen

Sitges is a small beach town about 40 miles south of Barcelona, Spain that has long been recognized as an international mecca for gay tourists.  The main day time attraction during the summer are the 17 sun soaked beaches that line the coast of this tiny Catalan town. Later on comes the nightlife of bars and restaurants (and cruising spots). make it the firm favorite with the LGBTQI crowd.

Brandon Jones, a Brit  settled in the town in 1985 with his partner Juan and has been the co-owner of Casablanca cocktail bar and art venues or the last 20 years.  This is his first attempt at filmmaking in which he delves into the intriguing question of how on earth did this sleepy fishing town become such a major gay destination.

He goes back over 100 years to trace the history through early artistic and gay pioneers who  ‘discovered’ the town and slowly help transform it. It is important to remember that the whole of Spain was controlled by the military dictator Franco for some 35 years until 1975.  Under that regime homosexuals were imprisoned,  but as Jones says, the local gay population could push the limits to what they could achieve more successful than those in Barcelona.

Sitges has had its fair share of oppression and homophobia and concerted efforts by Town Hall to try to stop its being a haven for gay tourists have been unsuccessful. They may have managed to make things tough in general, but  Jones talked to some of the old local colorful characters who looked back fondly at how the community found its place and voice.

Nowadays in this very diverse and tolerant town, there are still far more bears than lesbians, and there is a definite political edge to some of the partying.  Most of all though there is a sense of a community that has gone through so many changes, and that is now accepting of the fact that it will continue to have to do so to survive.   

Jones highlights the history in such a way Jones  to give hope at the end of the tunnel for people in less tolerant countries, showing them how a small Mediterranean village(and Spain!) in less than 100 years was able to overcome repressive laws and a dictatorship, to become a tolerant, all-inclusive place. We get fascinating insight to this  sleepy fishing village with an original population in 1900 has now grown into an internationally well respected gay resort.

Jones reminds us that “In the dark days of Franco’s dictatorship Sitges became an almost secret haven for gays who felt safe here although they still had to behave discreetly.” Apart from a dark period in the late 1990s when homophobic demonstrations left a local barman in a coma, Sitges has triumphed as a liberated, tolerant and diverse community. It is therefore surprising that the first LGBT association began in only 2001. The theory is that until recently most gay visitors were just that – visitors for a few days or weeks. But with a notable number of gay people buying properties and paying taxes, it was inevitable that social action groups would be formed, as Brandon did in 2011 as co-founder of Gay Sitges Link.

Sitges has always managed to avoid becoming a gay ghetto, the film tells us, and the newly formed associations are committed to integration within the wider community, while supporting events like World Aids Day. The film also makes it clear that it’s always been easier to be gay in Sitges than elsewhere in Catalan.

“THE SIGN FOR LOVE”— Deaf, Gay and Jewish

“The Sign for Love”

Deaf, Gay and Jewish (Israeli)

Amos Lassen

Filmmakers Elad Cohen and Iris Ben Moshe have a new documentary about being deaf, gay and Israeli. Elad was born deaf to a hearing family. After his mother’s tragic death and the breakdown of his family, he makes the most important decision of his life: to become a father.

Elad divides his time between hearing family members and a group of deaf friends. He’s closest to Yaeli, a deaf woman who wants a child. The two of them decide to not only have a child together but to share an apartment and raise the baby as a couple.

While Yaeli’s mother is supportive of her, Elad has many unresolved issues with members of his biological family. When lad was small, his mother told him that raising him was like raising three kids and from that day forward he has felt guilty about being deaf and he has tried hard to be like everyone else. After the tragic death of his mother and the breakdown of the family unit, he became even more alienated and decided that the best thing for him was a start a family of his own. This is a first person account of the life Eldad has created for himself and his attempt to finally have a family that he can be a part of. Parenthood seems to have healed his bitter feelings

“The Sign For Love” reveals some of the unanticipated complexities involved in relationships that will surprise viewers. It’s all about the need to love and to be loved and to heard and understood even when we cannot hear ourselves.

“GAY HOLLYWOOD DAD”— Quentin Lee, Father

“Gay Hollywood Dad”

Quentin Lee, Father

Amos Lassen

Originally planned as a web series with multiple episodes, this project was turned into a documentary feature debut, centered on the life of Quentin Lee, a queer director who built an independent film career for himself. Lee wanted to have a child since the age of twelve and, after years of feeling guilty, undecided or scared to take the plunge, he finally decides that the time has  to  come for him to become a single parent. With the kindness of a surrogate mother and an egg donor, Quentin’s biological son, Junyi Casper Lee, was born on June 6, 2016. Lee takes time off from his profession in order to be there for his baby. He comes up with the idea of offering his child a unique birthday present: a web series all about him and how he came into this world.

Casper is born with the help of Crystal, a woman from Parkersburg who loves horses and has become very close to Leen who is forced to reconsider many of his day-to-day choices and completely turns his life around after his son is finally born. He is also faced with the challenge of introducing Casper to his conservative family. Moreover, Quentin now has to adapt his busy schedule and chaotic career obligations to fit his child’s needs, bringing Casper along to most of his on-set endeavors, including the premiere of his latest film, “Unbidden”.

We see what Lee has on his plate as the film follows  a year in his life as he invents himself once more this time as a parent.” “Gay Hollywood Dad” is the result of  Lee’s desire to eliminate the stigma surrounding single parenthood, particularly in relation to the LGBTQ community. Lee plans on documenting Casper’s growth and development over the next few years so we have that to long forward to.

“ANTONIO LOPEZ 1970: SEX FASHION & DISCO”— Exhilarating and Outrageous Fashion History

“ANTONIO LOPEZ 1970: SEX FASHION & DISCO”

Exhilarating and Outrageous Fashion History

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker James Crump  gives us a time capsule of the decadent world of 1970s haute couture as seen through the eyes of Antonio Lopez, the dominant fashion illustrator of the time whose distinctive drawings made the pages of high fashion magazines. He is Puerto Rican native who was raised in the Bronx and became an arbiter of style and glamour who brought urban street elements to a postwar fashion world that wanted and needed change and diversity. Antonio’s discoveries include Grace Jones, Jessica Lange and Jerry Hall. His inner circle was made up of celebrated photographer Bill Cunningham and designers Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent. Here we get a vivid portrait of Antonio Lopez and the fashion world he helped to create.

Through the use of archival footage and stills of studio life in Carnegie Hall, infamous places such as Max’s Kansas City and Hotel Chelsea and original interviews with principal characters from the time, Crump takes us back to the swinging seventies when fashion designers and their entourages were on equal footing with rock stars. We have interviews with Lange, Pat Cleveland, Warhol superstars Donna Jordan, Jane Forth and Patti D’Arbanville, as well as revered fashion photographer Bill Cunningham in his last interview, and fashion world luminaries including Grace Coddington, Joan Juliet Buck, Michael Chow, Bob Colacello, Corey Tippin, and Paul Caranicas, among others. The film captures Lopez and his entourage, on their journey for beauty and pleasure before the end of the decade that was filled with drug use, addiction and sexual promiscuity.  Lopez was an extremely physical creator and he was kind, a term we do not usually hear in the world of fashion. We actually feel a sense of celebration when we watch.

The late great Bill Cunningham is seen here in his last on-camera interview. The New York Times photographer, who found Lopez and his art director and creative partner Juan Ramos an apartment in Carnegie Hall  talks about their close friendship while tears come to his eyes. Cunningham was the one who introduced Lopez to couturier Charles James (the inspiration for Daniel Day-Lewis’s character in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread”) and his obese beagle Sputnik. We learn from Pat Cleveland, what Lopez was like at Parsons in 1968 and what went on around the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Grace Coddington explains how much Antonio was influenced by people on the street and that drawing was his “narrative fantasy.” She calls him an “amazing stylist” who taught her a lot.

We learn about the no-eyebrow look and we hear about the competing tables at Max’s Kansas City, where Antonio, Juan, and their muses rivaled Andy Warhol’s corner in style and flair. Antonio adored selecting looks for his friends. Jessica Lange recalls her infatuation – “and when I say I had a crush on him, I mean it!” She remembers fondly how “he loved to dress me up and then we’d go out.” The gang moved from New York to Paris, continued the feast with Lagerfield  who was eager to soak up new inspiration while working at Chloé. The difference between the cities, was that the Americans throw parties for people, “the French give dinner parties against someone.” The fun doesn’t seem to end  until it does.

From Grace Jones to Jerry Hall, everyone admits to having fallen under Lopez’s spell. Antonio Lopez was one of the most influential people in the fashion world, although almost no one outside it has heard of him. And this documentary is designed to change that. It’s a lively, skillfully assembled portrait of a vibrant artist whose life and work made an indelible and tremendous mark not just within fashion circles but in pop culture as well.

Lopez was notorious for sleeping with both men and women, and he had an eye for outsiders who could become new icons in the industry. It’s fascinating to see him working with young women and blurring friendship and professionalism. And of course, there are darker corners in his story, as he struggled with dry creative spells and bristled against the games within the fashion world.

This material is put together with a snappy sense of pace, zooming through Lopez’ life while also looking at what was happening in the world at the time. We see this in the complex twists and turns of his longtime relationship with Ramos, as his creative outbursts parallel the free love movement. His death at age 44 in 1987 reflects the realities of America’s horrific AIDS epidemic (Ramos died eight years later). Crump brings out the emotionality of these events without indulging in sentimentality. Lopez was a revolutionary force in both the art and fashion worlds, bringing them together and pushing both of them forward. And the fact that the world lost him so young can’t help but raise the question of how he might have changed it even further had he beat AIDS and survived.

BONUS FEATURES include:

  • Rare archival Footage
  • Bill Cunningham Interview Excerpts
  • Bonus Short Film –“You Can’t Do Everything at Once, But You Can Leave Everything at Once” (Directed by Marie-Elsa Sgualdo | Switzerland | 15 minutes) — A mesmerizing and fantastic tale of a young woman’s life constructed from a variety of archival footage. 

“FRANTZ FANON: BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASK”— A Portrait and Intriguing Subject

“FRANTZ FANON: BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASK”

A Portrait and Intriguing Subject

Amos Lassen

There are few modern voices that have had such a profound impact on Black identity and race theory as has Frantz Fanon, the subject of Isaac Julien’s intriguing portrait. This is an innovative film biography that explores the preeminent theorist of the twentieth century anti-colonial movement, and a man whom Jean-Paul Sartre recognized as the figure “through whose voice the Third World finds and speaks for itself.”  British actor Colin Salmon is Fanon and we see his life as an intellectual and poetic exploration of influence and legacy. Director Julien elegantly weaves together interviews with family members and friends, documentary footage, readings from Fanon’s work and dramatizations of crucial moments in the theorist’s life to bring us this gorgeous biopic of a man at the center of contemporary discussions around post-colonial identity. 

From his early years in Martinique (then a colony of France) to his professional life as a psychiatric doctor and revolutionary in Algeria during the war of independence with France, the brief life of Fanon is amazing to see. Frantz Fanon was the pre-eminent theorist of the anti-colonial movements of the 20th century. Fanon’s two major works, “Black Skin, White Masks” and “The Wretched of the Earth”, were pioneering studies of the psychological impact of racism on both colonized and colonizer. This innovative film biography restores Fanon to his rightful place at the center of contemporary discussions around post-colonial identity.

Isaac Julien integrates the facts of Fanon’s brief but remarkably eventful life with his long and tortuous inner journey weaving together interviews with family members and friends, documentary footage, readings from Fanon’s work and dramatizations of crucial moments in Fanon’s life. Cultural critics Stuart Hall and Françoise Verges position Fanon’s work in his own time and draw out its implications for our own.  Fanon received a conventional colonial education. When he went to France to fight in the Resistance and train as a psychiatrist, his assimilationist illusions were shattered by the gaze of metropolitan racism. Out of this experience came his first book  originally titled “An Essay for the Disalienation of Blacks.” Fanon here defined the colonial relationship as the psychological non-recognition of the subjectivity of the colonized. Soon after taking a position at a psychiatric hospital in Algeria, Fanon became involved in the bitter Algerian civil war, eventually leaving his post to become a full-time militant in the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). Out of this struggle, Fanon wrote his most influential book, The Wretched of the Earth, which is regarded as the “bible of the decolonization movement.”

Just as Algeria was winning its independence, Fanon died of leukemia. His writings continue to challenge us to liberate ourselves from all forms of psychological domination. The film is a provocative meditation on every level as it explores  fascinating, cutting-edge ideas on multiracial urban culture, the effects of diaspora and the intersection of racial difference and desire. The film  blurs the conventional distinction between documentary and fiction cinema, making this a work of rare intelligence and poetic force. It isn’t quite a documentary, and it isn’t a drama, though an actor plays the film’s subject. It’s a fact-filled dream, a meditation with a poetic texture on the life of a controversial black intellectual.

There are plenty of talking heads, true, including Fanon’s brother and son, but mainly academics and there are readings from Fanon’s work. But there are also tableaux that half challenge, half exclude the viewer and make it difficult to sit back and be informed. In Algeria, Fanon felt he had found the ideal conditions for a struggle of independence (he opposed “de-colonization”, the negotiation of withdrawal). He took great personal risks to harbor rebels, resigned from his French- funded position in protest, and aligned himself with the most radical factions. There were hints at latent homosexuality, which used to imply a dirty little secret, is nowadays seen as something different – a failure of nerve. Fanon was fascinated by the invisibility of the veiled woman, thanks to which she could for instance carry grenades in her handbag unsuspected, but he also saw her body language  as uncorrupted, part of nature rather than culture. He certainly ignored the depth and tenaciousness of Islam in Algeria.  

So Fanon was doctrinaire, hypocritical, self-deluding and short-sighted but his writings retain and demand respect for its subject, perhaps because he isn’t just talked about but represented. Colin Salmon embodies Fanon in the way he identifies some crucial issues.

Frantz Fanon saw homosexuality only in terms of a white man’s desire for a black man’s body, an alienated desiring gaze that could alienate its object. He reproaches his hero rather endearingly in the film by having Fanon announce that the Oedipus complex doesn’t exist in the Antilles, so there are no gay black men, while in the background two black men embrace against a background of flowers. The kissers break off their clinch long enough to direct at Fanon the same level gaze he has been fixing on the viewer, and then return to what they were doing.

BONUS FEATURES 

  • Between Two Worldsby Mark Nash (1992, 27 minutes) — The story of a young man, Graham (Jason Durr), who is undergoing treatment by a Czech psychoanalyst, Dr. Ludwig
  • Booklet with essays by filmmakers Isaac Julien and Mark Nash            

“LEAVING NEVERLAND”— Disturbing and Devastating

“Leaving Neverland”

Disturbing and Devastating

Amos Lassen

“Leaving Neverland” is documentary exposé that gives us devastatingly powerful and convincing testimony that Michael Jackson was guilty of child sexual abuse. Jackson was one of the most photographed celebrities who ever lived and in “Leaving Neverland” is a devastating four-hour documentary about Jackson, the serial predator that he really was and there are photographs of Jackson that are unlike any we have seen before. They are casually candid shots that were probably shot during the visits that Jackson to the modest boyhood homes of the two men the movie is about: Wade Robson and James Safechuck, both in their late 30s, each of whom describes, “with disarming eloquence and self-possession, how Jackson befriended them when they were children and then, for years (starting when they were 7 and 11 years old, respectively), sexually abused them. The film suggests that were other victims as well.

The testimonies of Robson and Safechuck are overwhelmingly powerful and convincing. The two don’t just describe the sexual activities that Jackson subjected them to (oral sex, mutual masturbation, the viewing of porn), they describe, in abundantly articulate and deeply emotional detail, how the abuse took place within the context of what appeared (to them) to be a relationship of hypnotic warmth and trust.

Jackson became the kids’ “pals,” and he befriended their families, too. We see photos of him sitting around with them, looking relaxed and giving off a vibe that we are  not used to seeing. He was still the biggest celebrity on the planet, after all and this was a reality he used in the most manipulative way possible.

Jackson was considered to be “larger-than-life” and that’s what’s gripping and dismaying about “Leaving Neverland.” The filmmaker, Dan Reed, forces us to confront the reality that the greatest pop genius is a monster, beneath his talent. “Leaving Neverland” ia a kind of true-life horror movie that will leave you both shaken and liberated by its dark exposé.

Jackson met the two boys through show business. Wade Robson grew up in Brisbane, Australia, and during Jackson’s 1987 concerts there, a dance contest was held for children, the winner of whom would get to meet Jackson. Robson, who was five at the time, was officially too young to enter the contest, but they let him perform anyway. At about the same time, James Safechuck, then 10 years old, starred in one of Jackson’s Pepsi commercials  as the kid who pokes around Michael’s dressing room, and who then flashes a bedazzling smile when the star walks in on him. That moment in the commercial was actually the first time he’d ever seen Jackson in person.

Jackson seized on both boys, inviting them to perform with him on stage as one of a group of kiddie mascots, then visiting Safechuck at his family’s home in Simi Valley, Ca. His relationship with each boy was separate, but he would invite each one on what might be called play dates, and from there he’d spend time with them in his bedroom. For a while, the parents lurked close by, but after some gentle parental arm-twisting Jackson would get the kids to share his bed for the night. By the time he was inviting the families up to Neverland Ranch, that arrangement became the norm.

It is very difficult to understand how any sane parent would have gone along with this? That’s an obvious question, and one’s initial response is to say: It’s enraging, and unforgivable, that the parents allowed any of this to happen and they are certainly to blame. However, “Leaving Neverland” captures how the parents found themselves under the spell, and the Mob-like pushiness, of Michael’s celebrity. They thought he was creating opportunities for their children that might otherwise be taken away. And once inside their homes, he seemed to be a gentle soul and so they closed their eyes and enabled him to play with their children.

What happened behind those closed bedroom doors was hideous and criminal. But Robson and Safechuck describe, with great intimacy, the way it happened, and their feelings about it as kids, and that’s part of the revelation we see here. These children felt close to Michael Jackson, and to use their own words they felt a kind of love for him; they wanted to do what it took to please him. The movie captures one of the great evils of child abuse. Children sre usually raised to please adults and Michael Jackson wasn’t just any adult. The movie captures how he began to crowd out the boys’ parents, and to effectively replace them. He was that devious.

The sexual activities are described with total candor, and one’s inevitable response is to be appalled at Michael Jackson’s predatory sickness. He was a serial pedophile who came on as a protector of children. At the center of the movie, though, is a fact that is controversial and will remain that way— both Robson and Safechuck testified, during Jackson’s first criminal trial for child sexual abuse, that he was innocent  and that he’d never done a thing to them that was inappropriate.

The movie explains, quite believably, how this happened. Jackson, during the years of abuse would tell the two boys, repeatedly, that they couldn’t reveal any of what went on; if they did, Michael said, both he and the boys would go to jail for life. He struck a note of fear and diseased loyalty in them, so that they felt they couldn’t reveal it. The boys lied to their parents, to their future wives, and to the courtroom. “Leaving Neverland” reveals that this level of denial at all costs is, in fact, an intrinsic element of the horror of child sexual abuse. It always starts off as a terrible secret, and quite often remains so. The compulsion to cover it up — out of fear or shame, or both — is part of the insidious nature of it.

The second half of “Leaving Neverland” is mostly devoted to how Robson and Safechuck got in touch with their trauma and began to recover from it, something that only happened after Jackson’s death. It’s an essential part of the story, and part of why this is an important film. Yet there’s one element of “Leaving Neverland” that remains largely unexamined: what was happening in Michael Jackson himself. We are left to speculate as to what it was that made him a predator. I might then seem  that his untimely death, which resulted from his use of a sleep an aesthetic, (he was warned could kill him), may have grown out of the years he spent as an abuser. He died recklessly and unnecessarily, perhaps as an unconscious act of self-destruction. It may be the one true expression of the guilt he couldn’t let himself feel.

The two-part, four hour documentary was directed by Dan Reed and the synopsis reads: “Through gut-wrenching interviews with the now-adult men and their families, “Leaving Neverland” crafts a portrait of sustained exploitation and deception.” “A deeply emotional Wade Robson and James Safechuck received a standing ovation after the screening of “Leaving Neverland” at Sundance. This is a thorough, devastating, deeply credible piece of filmmaking.” I have to admit that I would not know that I was hearing Michael Jackson if he were on the radio. He became popular after I left this country and died before I came back so I know little about him but the rumors. I do think that “you’ll never listen to Michael Jackson the same way again. In fact, you may never listen to Michael Jackson again at all.

It may not be much of a secret that Jackson acted inappropriately with a number of young boys, but there’s no way to prepare yourself for the sickening forensic details presented here. It’s one thing to be vaguely aware of the various allegations that were made against Jackson but it is something else to hear the horrifyingly testimony that spans the entire duration of the film  as two of Jackson’s most repeat victims bravely tell “how a universal icon seduced them away from their realities, splintered their families beyond all recognition, and leveraged their love for him into a disturbing litany of sexual acts.”

The film was made for no other reason than to dispel the rumors and exchange them with truth and in this case that truth is disgustingly ugly. Many of the rumors were silenced behind settlements, and none of which a jury was able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. In the wake of Reed’s film and the shattering interview footage that it shows us, there’s no longer a reasonable doubt. There’s no longer any doubt at all. The documentary’s two main subjects corroborate their separate accounts in all of the most tragic of ways and they do so with a degree of vulnerability with no place for skepticism.

This next paragraph is extremely graphic but I feel that it is necessary.

“Jackson was a man who convinced their most innocent relatives to bend over and spread their butt cheeks while he masturbated to the sight; who forced them to suck on his nipples while he serviced himself; who installed an elaborate system of alarm bells at the Neverland Ranch so that he would hear if anyone was going to walk in on an eight-year-old boy with the pop star’s penis inside his mouth. Penetration was a more complicated process, but one that got increasingly possible as the boys grew older. There was even a mock wedding ceremony at one point; the kid involved still can’t bear to look at the ring. The mothers chaperoned many of these vile trysts, oblivious to (or in denial about) what Jackson was doing to their sons behind closed doors. A teenage sibling even defended the pop star in court. She didn’t know any better but will still regret that decision until the day she dies.”

The first part of Reed’s film is hard to stomach, the second part of “Leaving Neverland” is more concerned with the two trials that put Jackson’s behavior in the public sphere, and the psychic fallout that the Robson and Safechuck families are still fighting to survive. The last 30 minutes are the most harrowing of all, as they focus on how Wade and Jimmy revealed the truth to their families — to their parents, siblings, and wives — and the effect that it had on everyone in their lives. It’s devastating to watch but very important to see. We allowed a young man to destroy the lives of children right in front of us as we bought his music and listened to him sing. What were we thinking?

The Neverland Ranch was a place where fantasies were protected from the forces of reality. It’s not easy to understand how “a living god” could be such a sick human being — Jackson was an iconic figure that played such a foundational role in so many of our lives.

On the surface, the film seems to have nothing more on its mind than setting the record straight. It skews closer to the archival than the artistic and the film transcends its basic functionality. We see the denial, the shame, the way that young minds are able to rationalize even the most insidious trauma until it explodes later when they are adults. These are the very same forces that allow powerful abusers to undermine the accusations against them and frighten their victims into silence. While “Leaving Neverland” is far from great cinema, it is a crucial document for a culture that still can’t see itself clearly in shadow of the King of Pop.

Because of Wade Robson and James Safechuck’s previous support of Michael Jackson and claims that he never molested them, his fans have asked the festival to pull the film while the Jackson estate has hit back at the project in a statement: “The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact.  The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred. They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations, which means the entire film hinges solely on the word of two perjurers.” Furthermore, they state that the filmmaker purposefully decided not to interview anyone else other than the two men and their families he “neglected fact checking so he could craft a narrative so blatantly one-sided that viewers never get anything close to a balanced portrait.”

Michael Jackson’s family members said Monday that they are “furious” that two men who accuse him of sexually abusing them as boys have received renewed attention because of a new documentary about them.

The family released this statement: “Michael always turned the other cheek, and we have always turned the other cheek when people have gone after members of our family — that is the Jackson way,” the statement said. “But we can’t just stand by while this public lynching goes on…. Michael is not here to defend himself, otherwise these allegations would not have been made.”

The Jackson statement calls the men “perjurers” because of this reversal, saying the family is “furious” that media outlets without evidence have chosen “to believe the word of two admitted liars over the word of hundreds of families and friends around the world who spent time with Michael.” The family insists that truth and evidence are on their side. “We are proud of what Michael Jackson stands for,” the statement said.

“THE AGGRESSIVES”— Exploring and Expanding the Definition of Sexual Orientation

“THE AGGRESSIVES”

Exploring and Expanding the Definition of Sexual Orientation

Amos Lassen

Daniel Peddle’s “The Aggressives” is an insightful exposé on the subculture of lesbian butches and their “femme” counterparts who fit somewhere on the line between gender definitions. Filmed over five years in New York City, those featured in “The Aggressives” share their dreams, secrets and deepest fears.

In this documentary about a subset of New York City lesbians, six New York women define themselves through their sensibilities and habits, and in so doing show us the many directions in which sexual orientation can take a person. Each woman is in the category called “aggressive,” but several modify the term further, reluctant to have their individual impulses listed under any label. Each woman has her own imaginative ways of telegraphing her butchness. Each woman declares her profound and hard-won peace with who she is, but many endure problems of fitting that peace with society. The women’s personal histories include poignant episodes of broken relationships, family strains and even incarceration.

We go back to  the summer of 1999 and sunset on the Piers at the West Side Highway across from Christopher Street in lower Manhattan. There we meet Kisha who introduces us to what seems to be a group of gay boys but are real girls who call themselves “Aggressives” and ranged in masculinity from pretty tomboys like Kisha to the blatantly butch. It was a haunting vision of androgyny, seemingly stripped of device and pretense. By passing as boys and enjoying all the freedom associated with their young male urban counterparts, they transcended “lesbianism” and create a new place in society’s gender tapestry. There is something authentic, sincere and original about the Aggressive style and presence. In this intimate portrait of six very different young mainly Black lesbians from New York, we see stress placed on their masculine sides  and identification with the term “aggressive”.  They wear the pants and yet what really defines these women from just being called bull or butch dyke is never really explained, but each of the interviewees is determined to take control of how they are perceived.

Kisha is striking in appearance and  works as a part-time messenger in masculine attire and as a freelance femme model. Rjaj was on the Ricki Lake Show talking about how she is perceived, and now loves the fact that she is stopped still today on the street by fans. She prefers to dress her bulky frame in gentlemen’s attire to impress her latest feminine girlfriend. Marquise joined the Army because it gives her a college education that she couldn’t get otherwise. Once in the service, she realized that maybe she was not cut out to be quite so macho. 

All of the women are unapologetic about their masculine physical appearance and each one has explicit and set rules about who does what in bed.  The women are a dramatic and highly mercurial group. While each woman has her own view of what it is to be an Aggressive, they all agree that she is a strong, dominating personality that was “born that way”. For these women, their aggressiveness plays strongly in their relationships. Peddle went so far as to also interview and their mothers, fathers, friends and many lovers. 

By becoming close to each of the six women, director Peddle was able to gain access into their personal lives and his subjects reveal their most intimate of secrets, dreams and aspirations, as well as, the struggles and obstacles of their lives. 

 

Marquise carefully masks signals of her sex. She does biting exercises to keep her jaw line firm. She adopts baggy clothes and a close-cropped hairstyle. She uses tape and bandages to flatten her chest because femininity is decidedly not her thing. Her girlfriend, however, knows her truth intimately, and admires Marquise’s thuggish disguise. Other women find love just as easily, and it is for us to decide if the bond exists because of, or despite, the costumes. Rjaj favors men’s suits in her daily life. She seems most empowered when showing off her ability to pass as a man in celebratory drag balls, where she wins applause and trophies for striding around in construction-worker gear and with a cinder block she balances on her shoulder.

Peddle follows young Octavia to prison and we learn more about how power dynamics and sex acts take place within these relationships, and such descriptions will challenge even those who don’t consider themselves prim.

Watching this film, we learn about identity and the comfort these women have obviously found in learning to be their unusual, unfettered selves. All of the Aggressives have unique stories and have their own unique personalities which is way more interesting to learn about than elaborating solely on how they express or don’t express themselves sexually or what (specific) gender orientation they subscribe too. These are things that are prone to change with time as they mature and evolve.

In reality, the world is a stage upon which we all act our individual parts yet we still come together to create our lives and how we live. And we all do this in our own ways as do the aggressives. We must learn to enjoy who we are like these women obviously do.

“JONATHAN AGASSI SAVED MY LIFE”— Up Close and Personal with Gay Porn Star from Israel

“JONATHAN AGASSI SAVED MY LIFE” Up Close and Personal with Gay Porn Star from Israel Amos Lassen Jonathan Agassi is one of the world’s most successful gay porn stars who built his fame and success on a global taboo that pleases millions. ”Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life” is an intimate look at the world of porn and escorting and at a unique relationship between a mother and son, who courageously redefine familiar family concepts. In essence, this is a film about a lonely person who seeks love and meaning, but is condemned to a destructive lifestyle, understanding that the extreme fantasies he chases are not necessarily his own.
Tomer Heymann who directed this new documentary says that the title says it all. Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life” was eight years in the making. Tomer Heymann first discovered the titular Agassi by chance in Tel Aviv. Tomer was struck by his looks and charm but completely unaware  that he was a well-known individual. His friends told him that he was crazy because he didn’t know that Agassi was a hugely famous porn star.
Heymann set out to discover more about him with the idea  to turning his life story into a film. Agassi was living in Berlin and Heymann arranged to meet him in a hotel and it was strange because Agassi thought Heymann was trying to have sex with him. Agassi had seen a couple of the Heymann brothers’ films, but his initial reaction was that he had no interest in starring in his own, particularly for any monetary reasons.
He had received an offer of ils500,000 [$140,000] to be in the Israeli version of Big Brother [which he turned down], but he said he wasn’t interested in money. Heymann told him we wouldn’t pay him one shekel because it was our principal to never pay anything to documentary characters. Agassi struck a deal with the director that if he could convince his mother, who he insisted would never speak about Agassi’s life as an escort and porn star, to appear in the documentary, he would consent to the project. He gave Heymann his mother’s number and they met for a coffee. It took time to convince her she told him that she trusted him to do the film.
The director filmed across a period of eight years, following Agassi’s wild life as a global porn star. Jonathan Agassi is a symbol for this generation,” says Heymann. “He is young, gay and has the freedom and the luck to have any fantasies he wants without being in the closet.” As they worked, Heymann discovered the story of Agassi’s early life. “Jonathan Agassi was born with a very Hebrew name, Elkana Yonatan Langer, he was feminine and had a very tough childhood in one of the suburbs of Tel Aviv,” the filmmaker explains. “His father left him a year after he was born. He changed his name and built a strong character for himself. He met his father for the first time once he was living in Berlin as a porn star.”
The film is comprised entirely of original footage shot by Tomer and was funded by the Heymann brothers themselves with Israeli broadcaster Channel 8 (which will broadcast a four-part episodic version of the film), HOT, Makor Foundation and Mifal Hapais. The Heymann brothers have produced two versions of “Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life”. One contains uncensored X-rated footage and one doesn’t.