Monthly Archives: February 2011

“Stallers”–Cruising the Square

Dementiuk, Mykola. “Stallers”, Sizzler Editions, 2011.

Cruising the Square

Amos Lassen

If you see the words “Times Square”, you can be pretty sure you are reading something by Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk and I must admit, I have become quite a fan of his writings. You know he must be good, he won a Lambda. Dementiuk tells the kinds of stories that pull in you in and hold you and it is fun to remember Times Square for what it once was—a sleazy place when instant sex and gratification was quickly found. There were empty hallways and buildings to be used for sex and in the 60’s were the time of the dirty movie houses and the stripper bars right in downtown New York just minutes from Broadway.

Such is the subject of this collection of stories and as you read you can almost smell the way the area smelled—stale sex, drugs and humanity that knew a better time Dementiuk tells it like it was in all of its candor and eroticism. There are not pretty stories but they are stories of the way it was and whether we like what was or not, it is part of our history and we should know about it. Times Square was dirty; filthy in fact not just in appearance but what went on there and Dementiuk holds nothing back His details, his characters, his plots are very real and he writes with honesty. He should not be missed.

“Half Life”–Needing to Connect

Krach, Aaron. “Half Life”, Alyson 2004

Needing to Connect

Amos Lassen

Aaron Krach’s “Half Life” is an emotional and moving novel as it tells the story of the last weeks of a gay teenager in high school in a Los Angles suburb. Adam Westman is young, gay and knows it—he has no real problem with his sexuality. His parents are divorced and he and his eleven year old sister live with his father. His father is a teacher who suffers from severe depression. His mother, now remarried, is head of a film production company and she does have much to do with her children until the death of her ex-husband when the children move in with her. Adam is quite cynical and self-reliant.

“Half Life” looks at Adam’s relationships—with family, with friends, with his boyfriend and one thing becomes very clear. What Adam needs is some form of human connection. When a strange and shocking tragedy forces both his family and several of his friends and a good-looking police officer into an uneasy relationship, the novel takes off.

Dysfunctional families have become quite popular in literature lately. This time we see how the family, which is anything but “regular”, pulls together and redefines itself.  Adam and Jeff, the police officer begin, to build a relationship under very odd circumstances but it is a wonderful study of the human condition and how the need for friends is so important.

Jeff is a good deal older than Adam. He is 38 and Adam is 17. We do not learn why Jeff pursues Adam—Jeff is closeted. When he becomes involved in the investigation of Adam’s father’s death, he discovers that he has “affection” for Adam. Jeff begins to “shower” Adam with affection ad Adam must come to terms with what love is at the same time that he is forced in dealing with the death of his father.

While the novel leaves a lot to desire grammatically, it makes up for that in the way that Krach deals with his characters. The book is a wonderful exercise in character study. Krach shows us what s going on in the minds and lives of urban kids who happen to be gay. As we follow Adam as he deals with his emotions about Jeff, we meet the supporting characters as they all pass a summer together and search for and find the answers to the challenges of life. While Adam and Jeff progress slowly, they and Adam’s friends learn of the value of friendship.

What I thought was going to be a coming of age story turned out to be just that as well as a story of young love. Adam seems to have been born melancholy and we watch him overcome his sadness. Through the dialog of the novel, we see the fears that our characters face and how they learn to become comfortable with themselves.

“The Age of Cities”–A Sublime Read

Grubisic, Brett Josef, “The Age of Cities”. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2006

A Sublime Read

Amos Lassen

The Age of Innocence returns in “The Age of Cities”, a wonderful new novel by Brett Josef Grubisic. When a manuscript is found in an old economics textbook, we are suddenly returned to a period in history when everything was quite different. The found document tells the story of a librarian from small town Canada who moves to the metropolis at the height of the Cold War in 1959. Having finally managed to escape the mentality of a small town, he is enraptured being able to be in a pace where he can be who he really is. He no longer has to hide his sexual identity and he is like a kid in a candy store. But of course it is not that easy. The new gay subculture that he finds himself a part of leads him to adventure that he never dreamed of and a crisis that he has trouble dealing with.

To say much more about the plot would be to give away the wonderful story. Grubisic has written a book which is quite literally perfect. Everything fits perfectly, the prose is exciting and literate, the detail is fascinating and most of all, the plot is quite simply amazing. The author shows great insight into the gay mind that I found it painful at times but what beautiful pain it was. The only problem I had was identifying with the Canadian backdrop.

A read like thus does not come along very often. It is always a pleasure to be able to so completely lose yourself in a novel that at the time you are reading, nothing else matters ans you are aso engrossed that you do not here the phone ring and you ignore the dog’s pleas to go out. Because of the way I feel about thi book, my review is very short in hopes that I have piqued the interest of some of you who will go out now and read it. Those of us that lived through that period will have our memories rekindled. For me it was an experience I will not soon forget.

“Greetings from the Gayborhood”–Remembering

Reuter, Donald F. “Greetings from the Gayborhood”,  Abrams Image, 2008.

Remembering

Amos Lassen

Remember when there were actual neighborhoods where gay people lived? There was the French Quarter in New Orleans, the Castro and New York City’s Greenwich Village among others. Donald Reuter looks at those “gayborhoods” all across America and gives us their stories through photographs, images from archives, nostalgia and some very naughty little anecdotes. He gives us looks at twelve different American cities and the neighborhoods where the gays lived and in some cases still live. The book is postcard-sized and it is  a little scrapbook which is a great souvenir of gay living.

“Gayborhoods” are enclaves that came into being because of shared interests—be they social, economic, political, moral, geographical or what have you. There was a time when we needed to be together because there was safety in numbers. Today the very same factors that brought about their creations are what are causing them to fall apart. “Gayborhoods” were where we went to celebrate our sexuality and be ourselves without having to answer to anyone. The “gayborhoods” became even more distinct with the white-flight to the suburbs and in some cases, downtown areas fell into our hands. This coupled with the fact that gay men know how to survive and we were able to make difficult situations better. We began to gentrify the slums and build our lives. It was between the 60’s and the 80’s that “gayborhoods” came into their own.

Some of the things to notice about “gayborhoods” is that they were usually located near to where the inhabitants worked and played and other points of interest like parks, universities and hospitals are nearby. Many times we are located “on the wrong side of the tracks” and the railroad served as a line of demarcation. Nothing was separated by great distance. For example in New Orleans, most of the gay bars are within walking distance of each other and the residences are nearby as well. We usually decorate our neighborhood so that other will know it is a “gayborhood”.

I love this book. It is just fun to read and look at. I must admit that the section on New Orleans made me misty. Remembering the My-Oh-My Club reminded me of those days in high school when everything was said in whispers and as I write this I am longing for coffee and beignets from Café du Monde. Little Rock, Arkansas is very, very different from the French Quarter and as wonderful as the memories are, I think we are probably better off by not being restricted to live in “gayborhoods”. They were great but we have come a long way yet we need to give Donald Reuter a thank you for taking the time to remind is when “the friends of Dorothy” lived behind their rainbow colored walls.

“The German Officer’s Boy”–Love Not War


Greene, Harlan. “The German Officer’s Boy”. University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.

Love Not War

Amos Lassen

If you are a regular reader then the name Harlan Greene should mean something to you. He made his mark with two classic novels, “Why We Never Danced the Charleston” and “What the Dead Remember”. He is a southern writer from Charleston  who has also authored several works of non fiction but this new book, “The German Officer’s Boy” is quite a change of pace. Greene himself is the son of Holocaust survivors so he has some insight as to what went on during the most infamous part of the history of the world.

November of 1938 is likely to remain a mystery in the history of what happened under the Nazi regime. Almost immediately after whatever happened that day actually occurred a night that went down in the annals of history took place. “Kristallnacht” or “The Night of Broken Glass” changed the course of what was the Third Reich and altered the lives of many. What happened after that night is what Greene has written about. It seems that Herschel Grynszpan a teenager who probably was not thinking lucidly murdered Ernst Vom Rath was the justification of the horrors that ensued. Greene has undertaken a unique job in this book in that he has chosen to both research and write about the Young Polish boy, Herschel and buck the historians who refused to accept to idea that the young man had been involved in a love relationship with the Nazi. As Greene looks at their lives and the situations in which they lived and tries to piece together not only the backgrounds of the men themselves but the entire backdrop that allowed something like this to happen. Greene attempts to bring logic to a period of history that seems to be totally senseless.

The book is a novelization based upon fact. Greene goes back to when the German officer first met the boy and how that attraction so consumes him that he s hardly able to function. The enigmatic Grynszpan led a tragic life and Greene returns his life to us in an erotic and haunting manner. What it leads us to think about is the question as to whether a failed homosexual love affair was the catalyst of that dreadful night. It is somewhat frightening to read but the seeds are there to propose that such a thing actually did happen. Compassionate and original, this novel poses many questions and Harlan Greene has recreated a period in history by using one singular incident—one that has been pushed aside by historians. Is it indeed possible that World War II was caused by something like this? As one other reviewer stated “Tender and terrifying” best describes this book.

Greene deserves kudos for even attempting it and praise for having made it such a wonderfully readable book.

“KINGS OF PASTRY”–delicious

“Kings of Pastry”

Delicious

Amos Lassen

For me a meal is never really a meal without desert and right now since it is the Mardi Gras season, I am having different kinds of King Cake after every meal. As much as I love the New Orleans tradition, good King Cakes are hard to come by in Little Rock, Arkansas and if there is ever a time I feel homesick, it is this time of year when the parades roll down St. Charles Avenue and New Orleans becomes magical. However, everything changed today when I sat down to watch First Run Features’s new release, “Kings of Pastry” and I realize that no matter what kind of desert I may have, they are all mediocre with what we see in this film.

This is a documentary about the competition for Meilleurs Ouvriers de France which is the highest prize given by France for pastry (and my mouth is still watering as I write this). We watch sixteen chefs prepare the most beautiful pastry ever made (and I was happy with store-bought King Cake). The film is now just about baking but also about presentation and these beautiful baked items must make their way to the table and herein is the suspense. So the movie is both sweet and thrilling as we get a look at artistry of the oven and the chef and “triumph and tragedy and cream puffs”. I was a bit reminded of how worried several Jewish women get when their Passover sponge cakes fall but that is a very minor comparison.

D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus are masters of the documentary and here they work with master bakers to give us a fascinatingly interesting film. It is absolutely brilliant.

We meet Jacquy Pfeiffer who co-founded Chicago’s French Pastry School and he goes home to France for the contest. There is also Regis Lazard who dropped his prize sugar culture when he entered before and he is back to try again and there is also the chef (Philippe Rigollot) from the only restaurant (3 star) owned by a woman in France. They become engaged in very tight and taxing competition and there are master judges who will evaluate what they create. There is drama where you least expect it but I will not say anymore so as not to spoil your fun.

“Dancing with Tina” (the new edition)– Telling It Like It Is


Oldes, Terry. “Dancing with Tina”, 2007.

Telling It Like It Is

Amos Lassen

We have heard so much in the last few years about crystal meth and how it has negatively impacted the gay community. There have been two DVDs about it–”Meth” and “Rock Bottom” and we have heard first hand reports but nothing hits as hard as Terry Oldes’s “Dancing with Tina”. Oldes has written an inspiring memoir of struggles with not only crystal but with sexual identity and co-dependency and if nothing else opens your eyes about the dangers of crystal, this book will.

“Dancing with Tina” is graphic, honest and personal and is straight forward and it disturbs even with the wonderful humor and wit that it contains–but it is also inspirational and compelling. The amount of crystal usage in our community is alarming and we have to thank Oldes for giving us this brutally honest book.

In the introduction we learn that Oldes began writing this book as a way to look at himself and he holds nothing back–he tells us intimate details of his life which in some cases are not at all flattering but it is his honesty that pulls us into his story. It is frightening to learn about the thoughts of an addict and how one man’s addiction can influence the lives of others. What Oldes experienced, I hope will not be experienced by others–the loss of sanity, the time at the bottom, and the waste of a life. Oldes was able to leave that behind him before it was too late and he learned a great deal about the experience.

As I said, Oldes holds nothing back and reading it is to feel what he did but without the consequences. He gave me a look at a world that I do not want to be a part of ad after reading with “Dancing with Tina”; I am firmly convinced that such a thing will never happen. Oldes does not judge nor does he condemn–he offers ideas so that we can make our own decisions. What we have to watch for is that anyone can become an addict and we must remember what the consequences are. Oldes gives us an enlightening look by someone who has been there so that we will not fall into the same trap.

“THE TAQWACORES”–Challenging Faith: Muslims and Punks

“The Taqwacores”

Challenging Faith—Muslims and Punk

Amos Lassen

Most of us do not think of Muslims as punk rockers. Eyad Zahra, director of “The Taqwacores”, shows us that we are wrong in this very interesting film. It is about a Muslim punk (fictitious) named Yusef (Bobby Naderi), an engineering student in Buffalo, New York and he is totally naïve son of Pakistani parents. Yusef decides to move off campus and into a house that is full of other Muslims who do not necessarily agree with the tenets of their religion. They say their prayers during the day but party when the sun goes down. Yusef’s housemates introduce him to Taqwacore, a hardcore Muslim punk band on the West Coast and it begins to exert influence on the house and this causes Yusef to doubt his faith like the others. The band challenges the Muslim religion in the United States of today.

The movie follows Yusef over a year of his life and while this is a comedy, it is somewhat dark as it looks at faith and life. Jehangir (Dominic Rains) is one of Yusef’s housemate’s advocates a different kind of religion which is esoteric, inclusive and party friendly while another housemate Umar (Nav Mann) is a fundamentalist Muslim who is at odds with this approach. Having taught several Muslims here, I know what an important part religion plays in their lives and this kind of argument is all too common. All of the characters in the film have a strange idea of what punk music is and they only thing that they seem to have in common is their definition of what punk music is and their behavior is crude. They fall right into the mold of the American punks and this is a bit unnerving.

Director Eyad Zahra gives us a film that just looks dirty and that questions basic Muslim ideas about faith and sex, parents and family. When the movie ends, it just ends and nothing has been resolved. I had a very hard time relating to the characters in the film on issues aside from their anger about the constraints of their religion. Even so, the movie makes us want to watch and this something like watching MTV’s “The Real World”. The actors all do their jobs well but to me it was a bit upsetting to dislike the characters. I am used to rooting for the hero and here I just keep thinking that these guys need to get a grip on their lives. The movie moves along well and holds the interest of the viewer and we see that what these young Muslims experience is much the same that all youngsters experience as they become aware of the world. There is something very amateurish about the movie but I think that is one of the things that makes it so interesting. I kind of felt that the film was shooting its middle finger at me and saying that if I did not enjoy the experience, it was just too damned bad. Like that finger, the movie is very much in your face.

trailer:

“Carmo, Hit the Road”—Now This is a Road Movie

“Carmo: Hit the Road”

Now This is a Road Movie

Amos Lassen

If you thought that “Pulp Fiction” was the ultimate road film then you have seen nothing yet. Carmo is a lonely woman living in a Brazilian border town and she has dreams of getting way. She sees her chance when Marco comes to town and despite that fact that he is a low-life and wheelchair bound, she uses him as a ticket out of town by helping him move smuggled goods out of town. What starts as a trip turns into a chase when bandits pursue them and go after them through jungles only to be followed by the police. What makes things even stranger is that Carmo and Marco become involved in a strange love affair and as they run, they discover their identities.

There is a very strange charm to this movie and we find ourselves hoping that the police do not succeed in catching the lovers. Marco and Carmo are two of the most intriguing characters ever see on film and there is not a dull moment in the film. It is not just a road movie—it is so much more—it is a comedy and a chase film, a quest of identity, a character study, a satire on religion and a look at family. Needless to say, almost, is that there is something for everyone. I love a movie that keeps you guessing and there are times that you will be sitting on the edge of your seat. There are other times that you will be holding your sides while laughing very hard. Murilo Pasta wrote and directed this amazing film and he is someone to watch.

“THE FRENCH ART OF SEDUCTION”– France sizzles

“The French Art of Seduction”

France Sizzles

Amos Lassen

First Run Features has gone a bit French on us and I love it. A new set of four DVDs show us how the French work, seductively.

“La Vie Promise” stars the great Isabelle Huppert as Sylvia, a jaded whore who tries to rebuild her relationship with her estranged daughter. They go to the north of France and Sylvia does not want her daughter to do what she has done while trying to relive the good part of her past life.

“La Desenchantee” stars Judith Godreche whose boyfriend challenges her to date the ugliest troll she can find and this is a test as to how she feels about him. As simple as the plot is, this is an amazingly beautiful film.

“La Petite Lili” stars beautiful Ludivine Sagnier who plays the muse of a young filmmaker as he makes a modern adaptation of “The Seagull” by Chekov. What we see is a Chekov like we have never seen before that is beautiful in its sensuousness.

“Seaside” takes place at what was once a very fashionable seaside resort where bored Marie lives. She wants fun and action in her life—her boyfriend bores her—and so she looks for excitement everywhere.