Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“OUT HERE”— Queer Farmers

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“OUT HERE’”

Queer Farmers

Amos Lassen

“Out Here” explores what it means to be a modern-day queer farmer here in America. It is a full-length documentary that looks at the relationship between the growing community of queer farmers and the larger modern food production industry that sustains our country. It was in production for four years and now we finally have it. It asks the questions of what it means to be a queer farmer, if agriculture is a safe space for queer people, and if there are what relationships between food production and queerness.”

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Jonah Mossberg is a farmer and a gay man living in rural America. This is first film and he made it because of the lack of visibility his community, gay farmers, has had. His film could possibly bring what he has to say to other queer farmers thereby letting us know about a group within the LGBT community that until now we have not been aware of.

The photos of rural America are gorgeous and what we see and hear in this documentary fall somewhere in between telling stories and speaking from the heart. Mossberg wanted the film to tell the stories of diverse and different kinds of farmers and so we hear from urban and rural farmers, people of color, young people and older people. It is interesting that many queer farmers speak about their spiritual connections to the earth.

Then there are farmers who feel that there is a strong connection between gay people and the land—something that heterosexual people do not feel or sense. Today sexuality no longer is just for the purpose of reproduction yet some of our queer farmers feel the need to bring life to the world and this is seen through planting and the fermentation of food as well as the animals giving birth on the farm.

With the film came the creation of the queer farmer project and some feel that they do not want to be primarily labeled as queer because they feel it separates them from others and I suspect that one day we will no longer see such a label—we will be simply “people” or “farmers” without an additional descriptive term. Labels and names affect the way we go through life and since being gay or queer is only one aspect of who we are, some find the word to be too defining and constrictive. We also hear that the term “queer” does not define the way the farmers work.

We meet partners, Kay Grimm and Sue Spicer, explain that the name of their farm, Fruit Loop Acres, was chosen because of its many double-entendres: “We’re fruits!” They grow fruits, and they participate in a closed loop, using as many of their and neighbors’ products and byproducts as possible. Again, the cinematography is gorgeous and I find it fascinating watching others do the work that most of us have never thought to do.

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In the experience of his identity in his chosen profession, Mossberg says, “Farming is the first place where I don’t need to break down into my component parts.” Then there are those who speak about being outsiders in that they are both gay and farmers. (I am so reminded of the many years I spent on a kibbutz in Israel doing the kind of work that many gay people eschew and loving every minute of it).

It is the Mossberg’s dream that this project and film will bring notice to queer people in agriculture and inspire a national discussion about gender and sexuality as they are related to our food system.

 

 

“SEED MONEY: THE CHUCK HOLMES STORY”— The Changing Gay Male

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“SEED MONEY: THE CHUCK HOLMES STORY”

The Changing Gay Male

Amos Lassen

Chuck Holmes is a gay San Francisco pornographer who became a philanthropist. He was responsible for helping to change, shape and create a gay identity during the period that followed Stonewall. He was a founder of gay advocacy groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT Victory Fund but then discovered that his money was wanted and welcome but he was not.

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Holmes’s porn studio changed the way gay men looked. If you can remember back to the 1980s and 1990s, the in-man was preppy, smooth, blonde and self-assured. This what we saw in gay porn. Many say that Holmes was the gay Hugh Hefner. He was charming and suave, a businessman par excellence, his taste was impeccable and he loved the best. The word no was not one that he used and neither was it used on him. He wanted to give back to the gay community—after all, they had made him rich and as I stated before, his money was welcomed but his business was a liability. I wonder if HRC would still be begging as much as do they do had they taken his money.

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In 2002 when his name was installed over the San Francisco LGBT Center, people were outraged. The directors of the center called it insane even though they had accepted a million dollar bequest to the center that had fallen on bad times. They were afraid that the donation and the name on the center would cause right-wing allegations against the gay community and its obsession with sex. They did not understand the importance of what pornographers had given to the community.

They played a very important role in building the gay rights movement. Michael Stabile, the film’s director tells us that he discovered, while working on the film, that or community owes a great deal to porn barons who risked their lives in order that we are able to live ours. In the 1950s the government of this country saw no difference in homosexual rights, manifestos, dirty pictures and gay erotica. All were against the law and using the postal service for distribution could and did bring prison sentences.

Pornographers provided an advantage to the liberation movement—they knew the legality of the restrictions and they had money to fight obscenity battles. Chuck Holmes was especially helpful to those who lived outside of the major urban centers. Because Falcon was such a well-established studio, he had a very wide reach and he was quite vocal about creating imagery that would make gay men feel proud of their sexuality. For many closeted customers in small towns across the country, those Falcon films brought gay life to them and for many they were as important as the “It Gets Better” videos of today. Pornographers also contributed in many other ways—they gave directly to the liberation movement, they lend resources, they educated audiences about Safer Sex during the AIDS epidemic and gave their mailing lists to new and struggling organizations such as HRC to whom Holmes gave a great deal and later sat on its board of directors.

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As the liberation movement became more mainstream, pornographers became less and less welcomed. Checks were actually returned. Holmes kept his business in the closet even though he was a tireless worker for our rights. Even when he died, his name and money were considered to be stigmas. Michael Stabile, the director of this film says that the reason he chose to make this film was to give Holmes and the others the recognition that they deserve. He says that this has not been an easy film to make. Some people still see this a shameful mark against us and that it will hurt us politically. However, if sexuality is a source of embarrassment and we hide our history to keep good relations with our critics, then we have not yet hardly achieved the freedoms that we think are ours.

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Appearing in the film are some very familiar names—John Waters, Jeff Stryker, Holly Woodlawn, Jake Spears, Chi Chi La Rue, Zak Spears, Jim Bentley, John Rutherford to name just a few.

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“MADAME PHUNG’S LAST JOURNEY”— Theater and Life

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“Madame Phung’s Last Journey”

Theater and Life

Amos Lassen

We live in a world where it is sometimes hard to tell where theatre begins and real life ends. “A green truck drives through the night. In the morning, a marquee-like structure is erected and, in the evening, in the half-light of small lamps, wigs begin to move up and down, the New Year songs fall silent for the sale of tombola tickets. Madame Phung and her troupe of transvestite singers travel around Viet Nam, arousing the fascination and hostility of the local authorities and inhabitants.” 
Nguyen Thi Tham gives us more than just a simple chronicle of the picturesque. 
The troupe’s leader is managing to survive in society where the life of a homosexual is “wretched”. 
During casual discussions set against picaresque events from the past, the portraits of the leader and her costume lady challenge sexual identity and societal norms. We see the troupe as living the typical carnival existence— putting in long hours, setting up the stage, tearing everything down again, exhorting the marks to buy raffle tickets and play games, putting on a show. But the people we see here are not ordinary hard-drinking, hard-living fairground workers.

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Founded in 2004, the Bich Phung troupe of fairground workers was named after their chief, Mrs. Phung. It has 35 members who come from various cities and provinces. Most of them are transgender women who are poorly educated, destitute, and without any family or profession. In this documentary their lives are recounted as they continually move from performance in different locations in Vietnam. Their fairground attractions include a lottery, a miniature train ride, an inflatable house, a merry-go-round, balloons and darts, and a shotgun aimed at members while they perform songs and sketches. We are with the troupe for a years they travel the remote southern regions and central highlands of Vietnam. We meet the Madam, a former monk who left monastic life because “I saw beautiful fags praying, and felt like running away,” Phung is a sharp businesswoman who got her start as a singer, and saved her money in the form of gold bars she would bury in the ground. Now she is almost a mother to her largely transgender troupe – yelling at them when they drink or fight too much, warning them to stay out of trouble, and dealing with local police and occasionally hostile locals when necessary.

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We meet Phung at a critical moment in her life. She is 40-years-old and she thinks about the onset of ageing and is concerned with changing bad karma to good and is worried about what will happen to her troupe once she is gone. This is quite a look at the troupe–from changing rooms, to on-stage performances, to time spent in tour buses, filmmaker Tham Nguyen Thi has developed a remarkable rapport with the performers. They share to him openly about their fears, expose their vulnerabilities, and talk about the challenges of being gay in Vietnam. This includes employment discrimination and dealing with audiences who might just as easily throw rocks at the performers as try to hit on them during the show. We go behind-the-scenes to get a look at life in a rarely seen community, the group struggles to earn a living with their lottery, mini train ride, merry-go-round and powers of seduction in the face of poverty, hostility and violence.

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The film is a poignant look at a mostly unglamorous life, featuring the struggles of the head troubadour Phung, a former monk who fell in love with another monk and embarked on this particular brand of migrant work. The troupe and Phung struggle to earn a living Amid ups and downs, hostility and discrimination.madame4

 

 

 

“OWNING OUR FAITH”— Catholic and Gay

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“OWNING OUR FAITH”

Catholic and Gay

Amos Lassen

There’s still a long way to go before Catholicism catches up on sexuality and gender issues. A new short film from filmmaker Michael Tomae gives us a look at LGBT Catholics and their allies who share their stories and desires to see a more welcoming church not just for the LGBT community but also for everyone.

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We see and hear of the unique gifts that our community can give to the Church. Our community wants the Church to understand that God works. Change in the Church will “strengthen families, encourage the acceptance of LGBT people, foster an inclusive community, and promote an open and accepting dialogue among Catholics across the world. Most of all, we want everyone to know they are loved and not alone.”

“COMPARED TO WHAT?: THE IMPROBABLE JOURNEY OF BARNEY FRANK”— The First Openly Gay Congressman

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“Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank”

The First Openly Gay Congressman

Amos Lassen

This new documentary that covers forty years of Barney Frank’s political career is a personal portrait of the United States’ first openly gay congressman. Directors Michael Chandler and Sheila Canavan were given total access to Frank and his husband, Jim Ready and they let nothing get by them from what are mundane household chores to filling out marriage forms and Frank’s and Ready’s wedding reception.

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We have, it seems, always known that Frank is cantankerous and it is fun to watch him speak to his husband in a non-cantankerous way. We also see him interacting with others and discussing his personal life and his career. This is a Frank most of us have never seen. Frank knew he was gay when he was just 13 years old just around the same time he became interested in politics. However, he did not think that as gay man that he would ever have a political career.

Nonetheless, he ran for the Massachusetts House of Representatives anyway and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980, winning 52 per cent of the vote. He served for the next 32 years, winning every subsequent election by a wide margin. He remained in the closet in those early years for fear of exposure. After serving in Congress for seven years, Barney Frank came out but only when his sexuality was revealed in a book that one of his colleagues penned.

By watching archival films, we see the high and lows of Frank’s career included the scandal in 1989 when we learned that he had a sexual relationship with his live-in aide and driver and was accused of allowing him to run a prostitution ring out of his home. Frank was cleared of that charge, but was reprimanded by Congress for several minor offenses. Frank has a sharp and acerbic wit and we certainly see that throughout this film. There is a good deal about the years he spent on the House Financial Services Committee including the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis in which he was criticized by conservatives for his support of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and his role in the creation of the 2010 Dodd-Frank bill.

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The film features interviews with some of Frank’s many friends but where the film really shines is when it focuses on Frank’s personal life. He is candid in his discussions of his sexuality. This is “a very personal story of how a gay man with political aspirations was able to both find success in government service in the pursuit of a better country for all, while also finding love and happiness in a world that for most of his life, was set up for gay men to fail.” 

Even after his 1989 scandal, Frank was re-elected and that was because many respected him in that he responded to the issue candidly and honestly. One of the great ironies here is that the then Republican Representative Larry Craig of Idaho, who led the charge to get Frank censured and removed from office, was arrested for soliciting sex in a men’s restroom at the Minneapolis airport in 2007 ending his own congressional career. And have we heard a word about or from Craig since then? Frank tells us that closeted gay Republicans largely avoided him. He threatened them twice— the first time was in 1989 when Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich and Lee Atwater, tried to stop the election of Democrat Tom Foley as Speaker of the House by planting rumors he was gay (Foley was married to a woman from 1968 until his death in 2013).  Frank told several closeted Republican congressmen as well as closeted Republican staffers and aides that he would out them if they continued their whisper campaign. It worked and that tactic, at least in regards to Foley, was ended.  Then there was 1994, after President Clinton’s attempt to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military openly ended with the very problematic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Frank pushed for the federal government to lift the ban on gay people having security clearance. When closeted gay Republicans pushed against this, Frank informed them he would “have to report them all” since many of them were gay and had security clearance themselves, something that was technically in violation of the law. I love that Frank said, there is a right to privacy but not to hypocrisy.” This was not just an off the cuff comment; it is something he has kept at throughout his career.

When elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1972 he introduced the very first gay rights bill in the Commonwealth, and consistently fought for equal rights, marching in Boston’s Gay Pride parade that same year.  Yet, in 2007, was criticized when one version of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act  (ENDA) died in committee because it included protections based on gender identity so he introduced a non-transgender inclusive version of the bill. His speech about it had a great deal to do with its passage but this was considered a betrayal by those who supported transgender rights. He claimed that he could only get 200 of the required 218 to get a bill passed and those included 7 Republican votes and with the help of a member of the GOP who has a transgender child.

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In 2012, Barney Frank made history by becoming the first sitting congressmen to marry someone of the same-sex. He says that the future for LGBT rights looks great and that soon marriage equality will be in every state. He looks back and remembers that when he introduced a gay rights bill the reaction was negative says “But as gays and lesbians come out and people hear our stories they change their minds. When the issue of transgender rights surfaced, it was the same negative reaction. “All people thought about was men cutting off their penises.” But now transgender people are telling their own stories, and being heard. The journey is still a journey but it is a lot easier now because Frank dared to what so many others feared. The film is a sensitive and moving portrait of a man who dared to stand up for himself and for what he believed in and in the process, he made it easier for so many others.

“DANIEL’S WORLD”— Student, Writer, Pedophile

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“Daniel’s World” (“Danieluv svet”)

Student, Writer, Pedophile

Amos Lassen

Daniel is a writer, a student and a gay male who is open about his sexuality. He is also in love and a pedophile. His story is one of forbidden love and how he deals with it. Pedophilia is one of the most taboo subjects in society today and we become defensive, angry and upset when we hear about man/boy love. We have to wonder how can be so unnatural yet also exist in today’s world? Director Veronika Liskova gives us the story of a man who is “normal” even with he way he loves and feels.

This documentary follows 25-year-old Daniel in his everyday life and routine. We watch him doing regular things like preparing a cup of tea and visiting his brother and as he does these things, there is a voiceover of Daniel trying to explain his love for a pre-pubescent boy. He makes it very clear that he wishes to only be friends and that he never acts on his sexual desires. He seeks solace and support from his friends, (who are also pedophiles), on how to cope with his sexuality and not put others in danger. The film attempts to show that there is a difference between a child lover and a child molester. The film is brave and honest as it explores the struggle for acceptance in a society that does not see the difference between love and molestation.

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“Daniel’s World” is a brave and honest exploration of pedophilia and the collage of pre-pubescent boys that hangs on Daniel’s wall is upsetting and it acts as a constant reminder of how forbidden and grotesque this attraction is. We see a shot of Daniel and his friends standing outside the gates of a children’s playground and this is the image we are most familiar with. As the documentary moves forward we are asked if we should condemn the men we see because they were born with this desire (if, indeed, they were). We get a look at pedophiles in ways that we have never seen before—we see and hear no stories of child abuse and/or excuses. Here there is just Daniel and his friends searching for an identity while most people feel that they do not deserve one.

Daniel is Czech literature student and while he has no problem with his sexuality, he also has coping mechanisms that help him deal with it. He makes sure that his urges do not cause negative and/or abusive consequences. Daniel is not an active abuser – he wishes no harm on children, does not desire to be sexually active with them, and does not look at child pornography on the Internet. He and his pedophile friends post on discussion forums talking about how to cope with their sexuality without endangering others. While the tone of this film is be non-judgmental that doesn’t mean that certain things we see here do not have a sinister undertone. The film cannot help but carry such a sinister edge. The pictures of the young boys hanging on Daniel’s war is disconcerting as we feel their eyes follow us as we look at it but it is detachable and Daniel can take it down when he has visitors. We see that when the plumber comes to Daniel’s home, the pictures are gone and noticeably so. This shows that this aspect of Daniel’s life is hidden.

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The film carries an unpleasant, sinister edge to it. In addition, Daniel’s wall mural depicting the faces of children is also disconcerting, their eyes seemingly following us around the room. This is an important visual motif for the interviews with Daniel in his room, especially as the mural is detachable – when a plumber comes round, it is noticeably absent from the wall, revealing the hidden life that he is forced to live.
Then there is Daniel’s relationship with his friend Misa’s son. He makes it clear that he only wants to be friendly with the boy yet he obsesses over him and wants to see him again and again. It is clear that Líšková is using the documentary to explore where the line is drawn between fantasy and reality, as well as the overarching theme of whether we can condemn Daniel for the way that he is. Because this is a taboo subject that is rarely talked about, the answer is certainly not cut and dry nor black and white. At times we are shocked at how open Daniel is about his sexuality and to the nature of responses he receives. We see when he meets with an organizer of the Prague Pride parade; he is met with understanding and interest rather than outright condemnation. Nevertheless, to expect such replies from the wider community is unlikely ever to happen.

There is no ‘voice of God ‘narration or other means of communicating a directorial point of view here and this works to the strength of the documentary. Instead of that, we are asked to consider our own position towards Daniel’s life, and to confront a topic in a manner rarely met in such terms. Daniel says that “the main thing is that people do talk about it”, and with such an ambitious project, it is likely that people will.

Up till now, this film was met with an overwhelmingly positive response at film festivals where attendees are issued scorecards at the screening and invited to rate the film in a similar way. The audience reaction thus far is sure to provoke further discussion on the subject of identity.

 

“NASTY BABY” and LGBT Other Prize Winners at The Berlin Film Festival

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“Nasty Baby” and LGBT Other Prize Winners at The Berlin Film Festival

There are lots of film festivals that give awards to LGBT-themed films, but there’s no doubt that one of the most important is the Teddy Award, handed out each year at the Berlin International Film Festival. It has a good history of picking great movies, including Ira Sachs’ excellent Keep The Lights On, Marco Berger’s Absent, Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right and John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig And The Angry Inch, along with last year’s winner, the wonderful The Way He Looks.

Now this year’s Teddys have been given out, with Sebastian Silva’s Nasty Baby taking the Best Feature prize. The movie stars Silva, alongside Kristen Wiig and Tunde Adebimpe, and centres on ‘Freddy, an artist whose desire for a baby has become something of an obsession.’ Freddy’s boyfriend is happy to have a child, and their friend Polly (Wiig) agrees to carry it, but the growing obsession may lead them to take a life. It’s described as a savagely satirical portrait of a group of presumptuous and self-absorbed bohemians.

The Best Documentary prize went to Aldo Garay’s El hombre nuevo (The New Man), about a trans* woman who was born in Nicaragua but raised in Uruguay, who returns to rediscover her home country. The Jury Prize meanwhile was handed to Stories Of Our Lives, an anthology of five short films about LGBT life in Kenya.

Here’s the full list of 2015 winners:

Best feature film: “Nasty Baby” – Sebastián Silva
Best documentary: “El Hombre Nuevo” – Aldo Garay
Best short film: San Cristobal – Omar Zúñiga “Hidalgo”
Jury award: Stories of Our Lives – Jim Chuchu
Special award: Udo Kier

“THE DICKUMENTARY—The Penis

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“The Dickumentary”

The Penis

Amos Lassen

Let’s talk about the penis. Ten years ago you would never heard someone mention penis aloud and neither would we see films about it but now the penis has come out of the closet and the word has become as common as tuna fish salad. Every man has a penis but no one wanted to talk about it overtly. Yes “cultures have worshipped it and circumcised it. Men have sought ways to make it larger. Gay men certainly spend a lot of time thinking about it.” But now there are least ten films about the penis. This one spans fourteen countries and features interviews with more than 40 experts. “The Dickumentary” tries to answer some of the greatest questions about the penis, some of which we were too embarrassed to ask about. Then there are these questions—“What happened to Jesus’ foreskin? Why do Hindus worship Shiva’s lingam? Does size really matter?” So as we sit down to watch the documentary, we are ready to learn what we do not know about one of the most thought about yet not spoken about part of male human anatomy. We might not publicly admit it yet we are curious. The penis has been with us since time began as a biological structure.

“DUANE MICHALS: THE MAN WHO INVENTED HIMSELF”— Philosopher, Photographer, Artist

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“Duane Michals: The Man Who Invented Himself”

Philosopher, Photographer, Artist

Amos Lassen

Camille Guichard’s documentary about the celebrated American photographer and artist Duane Michals looks at “an important person who played a major role in the evolution of both photography and conceptual art.” The film explores his life and his work that has been seen all over the world and now we get new and layered meanings of his art by listening to him in this film. The DVD comes to us from Alive Mind Cinema on January 13, 2015 and in addition to the documentary, it includes a stills gallery and trailer for the film.

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Michals is eighty years old and is regarded as one of the American masters of photography. He creates brilliant portraits and has photographed people such as filmmakers Pier Paolo Pasolini and Roman Polanski and artists such as Rene Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico. Michals is also a natural-born storyteller who incorporates hand-written texts to his images thus adding another dimension of meaning to his work. His work has been exhibited around the world, and today resides in the permanent collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, among many others. The film follows the artist around his favorite locations and explores his use of universal themes such as work, love, desire, death and immortality.
There are three important places for Michals as we see in the film—Pittsburgh, the home of the steel industry and the city of his childhood, New York the place that was so vital to his creative sensibilities (where he lives with his partner, Fred) and Vermont for contact with nature and its changing seasons, and the derelict hotel where he works. These places bring out the artist’s imagination, humor and emotion.

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We also learn from him about his sexuality, his desires and his feelings about an afterlife. While these subjects could be quite heavy, Michals speaks about with humor and jest. In fact, it seems the only time we see him being serious is when he is working.

I suppose the most accurate description of Michals is that he is an American photographer who has made his mark in contemporary photography with his sequences, series of photos that tell a story, sometimes incorporating handwritten texts. He has been able to find the balance between gravity and humor in his work and he uses that in his work.

“PRIVATE DICKS: MEN EXPOSED”— The Naked Truth

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“Private Dicks: Men Exposed”

The Naked Truth

Amos Lassen

Men think about their penises a lot and some of us even think with our penises. However, most men never talk about their penises but directors Meema Spadola & Thom Powers change that with this new film in which we hear men honestly talk about “their most prized possessions”.

The film looks at young and old, straight and gay, large and small, virgin and porn star, from all walks of life and as it does it explores the naked truth about how men feel about their penises. Several of the men appear naked and give personal revelations that are honest, humorous and often poignant as they frankly discuss puberty, power, impotence, circumcision, sexuality, myths and perceptions, growing old, and, of course, size. Throughout the film there are clips from vintage sex education films and humorous cartoons. The film provides an opportunity for both interviewees and audience to begin an honest conversation about masculinity, power, vulnerability, sex and love-all seen through the lens of a man’s relationship to his penis.

Among the 25 men interviewed for the documentary are:

Gordon, 73, a retired professor who tells of getting syphilis and gonorrhea as a sailor during WWII, and reflects on the decline in libido and prostate troubles that accompany aging.

“Lexington Steele,” 28, an adult film actor who recalls how he first realized during his college years that his 11-1/2 inch erection “might be of some interest,” and discusses the literal ups and downs of a porn star on set.

Boris, 57, an advertising director, paralyzed from the mid-torso down since age 17, who talks about sex as a paraplegic.

Jesse Sheidlower, slang dictionary editor at Random House, and editor of The F Word, explains the etymology of penis-related slang words and offers some rare historical slang. And there are many others. This is just a fun film to watch that educates as we do.