Monthly Archives: August 2011

“Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone” by David B. Feinberg— Activism, AIDS and Life

Feinberg, David. “Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone”, Penguin, 1995.

Activism, AIDS and Life

Amos Lassen

David Feinberg’s nonfiction collection of essays about himself, AIDS and life is not a new release and in fact we have already lost Feinberg to AIDS but some reason I never posted my review. This is an important book about being gay and Jewish even though that is not its intention. Feinberg tells us that what he writes here is as close to the truth as he will ever write and he uses satire and wit, pathos and some black humor to tell us about his life with AIDS. His work is unsettling as he writes about living with AIDS and to use humor to tell about it does not always work—even in the humor we feel his anger at his life be cutting short. His autobiographical pieces are angry and tender at the same time and this is not so easy to do.

Feinberg is sarcastic and he explains that he would go crazy if he had to deal with AIDS as the disease is and I think we can understand that it is not easy to write about something that you know is taking your life. He describes his life with AIDS as his “decent into HIV hell”. For me this was not an away book to read and I suspect that anyone who lived through the epidemic will say the same. Yet it is important that we know what he says because he was not the only one feeling it. The book is so profoundly human that we cannot help but understand what he says and be affected by it. Feinberg wrote these essays with the object of offending others and he indeed does.

“City Falcon” by Feliz Faber— Something Different

Faber, Feliz. “City Falcon”, Dreamspinner Press, 2011.

Something Different

Amos Lassen

I was pleasantly surprised by Feliz Faber’s “City Falcon” especially when I began reading about a live falcon at JFK airport. When I met Mark Bowman, everything began to fall in place. Mark is a police officer and he meets Hunter Devereaux who is conducting a field experiment using falcons to clear the runways of birds that are problems for the planes landing and takng off. Mark is not at all impressed with Hunter’s arrogance even though he feels a physical attraction for the man. Mark, however, is in the closet and can’t follow what his instinct tells him. But as can be expected the two constantly cross paths and each time, Mark finds it harder to hide the way he feels. Mark finally gives in to himself and he and Hunter seem very happy except that Hunter is not willing to hide what they have and Mark is forced to make a decision or have one made for him.

The idea of using a falcon as a catalyst for the story is interesting and the emotional relationship that comes as a result of a falcon provides an exciting read. Mark, unfortunately, did not win me over easily and this shows Faber’s skill. Because Mark will not let himself be who he is bothered me. However, as the story moved on, I found that I actually began to feel differently.

On the other hand, because Mark and Hunter took their time getting to know each other, this allowed for their characters to be more fully developed. There were a few times I wanted to pull Mark to the side and give him a talking to (which is an interesting way to pull the reader into the plot). I think we have to understand that Mark’s character represents what others can do to a man who questions his sexuality and we are so glad when he finally accepts himself. I also feel that we sense how the author feels about the characters that she has created. We learn that Mark has not had a successful gay relationships and that could be what he is so apprehensive about being out.

E3verything comes together in the story—place, character and emotions and I must add that the descriptions are very well done whether they are of characters or places. All in all, this is a good read and you even learn a bit about falcons.

“When Love is Not Enough” by Wade Kelly— Sometimes Love is Just Not Enough

This book is written by a woman pretending to be a man.

Kelly, Wade. “When Love Is Not Enough”, Dreamspinner Press, 2011.

Sometimes Love is Just Not Enough

Amos Lassen

It is not often that I can say only good things about a first novel and when it happens I get as excited as the writer. Wade Kelly has written a first novel that he can be very proud of as he describes a relationship on the skids. We meet Jimmy Miller who feels he is forced to lead what he calls “a double life”. He seems to have been a victim of the circumstances around him—his parents were divorcing, school was a problem and he had to take care of Matt, his closeted best friend and protector. Jimmy had fallen in love— with a guy, Darian but it was so hard to lie about it that he took the easy way out and walked. He did not realize that he was also lying to himself. This is the story of six years that end because of deception and lies that cause Jimmy to lose his life because he is unable to decide what his priorities are (or is there something else?).

Granted that when a book starts like this, the reader knows that he is in for an emotional read. When Jimmy felt that he could no longer stand to live the life that he was living, he ended it and he left behind him a very hurt and angry best friend in Matt and a lover, Darian, who is torn to bits.

It was only natural that Matt and Darian sought each other out for solace and in their loss they found each other. However, the friendship they had was tested about what they each had had with Jimmy. Jimmy had kept a journal with his innermost thoughts written in it and the question that we ponder is if what is there is enough to make the tragedy easier to bear and perhaps bring two people who need each other together. Both Matt and Darian have a lot to learn and the major lesson is that it takes more than love to build something between two people. Fate always plays a part and learning to deal with fate is part of growing up. I am not going to tell you how the story ends but I will tell you that the book is an emotional experience especially when we learn why Jimmy did what he did.

Kelly has created some wonderful characters that allow us to enter their minds and share their emotions. We see the difficulty that we face in accepting ourselves and the difficulties that are faced in the process. Each of the characters is flawed in his own way but we can identify with them and they are endearing. Undoubtedly you will have a favorite and what I felt that even though love is not always enough, a little more love and tenderness might have gone a long way. Wade Kelly gives us something to think about and to weep over but the rewards of what he has written are worth every tear.

A Gay Jewish Reading List by Wayne Hoffman

A Gay Jewish Reading List

Earlier this week, Wayne Hoffman wrote about a funny thing and shared the meaning behind the names of a few of his characters. 

When I was first coming out 25 years ago, there were precious few books about being gay and Jewish. Thankfully, that’s not the case today. There are enough to fill whole bookcases. But will anyone who isn’t gay read them?

Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry says that non-gay people won’t read books with gay themes – with the notable exception of works by humorists, such as David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs, who play their lives for laughs. Straight people can’t relate seriously to gay life, the thinking goes; they don’t know from such things, and they don’t want to know.

Even if there’s a kernel of truth in that notion – and I fear, sadly, that there often is – straight Jewish readers in particular should be able to bridge this culture gap by choosing Jewish gay books: While some of the gay content might be unfamiliar, at least the Jewish content will provide a point of identification.

Where to start? Well, my own book, of course. (Here comes the plug.) Sweet Like Sugar includes characters representing a diverse array of Jewish practice, from secular to Orthodox, engaged to alienated. It’s a story of a young man named Benji Steiner, who’s rejected the Jewish traditions he grew up observing, searching for a place where he can still connect to his community. But it also follows Benji on his search for Mr. Right. If you’ve never read a book with gay characters and themes, I hope this’ll be your first.

But I also hope it won’t be your last. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of books on gay Jewish subjects. At the risk of leaving out many books and authors whose work is worth your time, here’s a brief list of GLBT books that non-gay Jewish readers will relate to. This list isn’t comprehensive, or representative of anything more than my own bookshelf, so feel free to add your own favorites.

Start with an anthology – it’ll give you a broad survey of what’s out there, and turn you on to authors whose work you’ll want to read more deeply. Nice Jewish Girls, a lesbian anthology edited by Evelyn Torton Beck, was the first of its kind, published in 1982. Twice Blessed, edited by Christie Balka and Andy Rose, came out a decade later, and includes dozens of personal and topical essays on everything from community to spirituality. Queer Jews, edited by David Shneer and Caryn Aviv, came out several years after Twice Blessed, and shows the continued evolution of thinking around GLBT issues for Jews. These three together provide a great historical background, as well as an introduction to some of the most important thinkers on these subjects.

Once you’ve got that foundation, check out a few more recent collections. Mentsh: On Being Jewish and Queer, edited by Angela Brown, features essays by some of the biggest GLBT literary names around. Found Tribe, edited by Lawrence Schimel, collects coming out stories from Jewish authors. And Balancing on the Mechitza, edited by Noach Dzmura, is the first Jewish anthology to focus specifically on transgender issues.

If you’ve got a particular area of Jewish interest, there’s probably a gay-themed book that’s right for you. If enjoy reading about Israel, check out Between Sodom and Eden, by Lee Walzer, about the (mostly positive) situation for gay Israelis. If you’re drawn to Holocaust tales, read Gad Beck’s An Underground Life, the true (and truly amazing) story of a gay Jew who survived the Holocaust in hiding in Berlin. If you’re invested in cultural politics, Jay Michaelson’s persuasive God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality comes out this fall. Prefer books about spirituality? The Choosing, by Andrea Myers, recounts the unusual personal journey that led her from a Lutheran upbringing to an adult life as an ordained rabbi – and out lesbian. If memoirs are your thing, here are three to start with: Lillian Faderman’s Naked in the Promised Land, Stanley Ely’s In Jewish Texas, and Lawrence Mass’s Confessions of a Jewish Wagnerite.

Lots of us prefer reading fiction. Sweet Like Sugar isn’t the only novel about gay and Jewish subjects. Two of my favorites are The Same Embrace by Michael Lowenthal (about twin brothers divided by religiosity and sexuality), and Faith for Beginners by Aaron Hamburger (about a mother and her gay son on a journey of surprising self-discovery in Israel). Other great family-focused novels include The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt (set in New York City) and Light Fell by Evan Fallenberg (set in Israel). Sarah Schulman has written daring and complex books – fiction and nonfiction – for decades; start with her novel Rat Bohemia, which will make you look at “family” in a new way, and then work your way through her other titles. T Cooper’s Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes, is one of the more unusual novels in recent years, combining an old-fashioned Jewish immigrant story with a modern-day gender-bending tale of troubled youth. Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues blazed a trail for other transgender stories almost 20 years ago, and remains a classic. There’s much more. When in doubt, pick up almost anything (fiction, nonfiction, essays, mysteries) Lev Raphael ever wrote – beginning with his short story collections Dancing on Tisha B’Av and Secret Anniversaries of the Heart.

Now I’m going to throw in someone who usually doesn’t make this kind of list: David Feinberg. His books – two novels and one collection of essays – aren’t “about” being Jewish in the way that many of the titles above are. But his stories are steeped in Jewish identity and culture, and focus on Jewish characters; if you think Woody Allen makes Jewish movies, you’ll understand why Feinberg’s books are Jewish, too. Sardonic yet earnest, enraged yet hilarious, Feinberg was also one of the finest chroniclers of the AIDS epidemic, until his death at age 37 in 1994. (I think of him as a cross between Larry Kramer and Paul Rudnick – a front-line activist, but always on the lookout for something to laugh about.) Follow his neurotic Jewish protagonist B.J. Rosenthal through Eighty-Sixed, Feinberg’s dazzling debut novel, which contrasts gay life in New York before the epidemic to a time when gay men started dying in droves. Follow B.J. again in the sequel Spontaneous Combustion, in which he continues his search for love and sex in what has become an unrecognizable war zone. Or pick up Queer and Loathing, Feinberg’s biting collection of nonfiction essays, published weeks after his death, to get a sense of just how horrible things became – yet how humor, coupled with resolve and anger, helped so many people endure and even resist for as long as they could. That’s something every Jew should be able to understand.

Wayne Hoffman is the author of Sweet Like Sugar and Hard, and the editor of What We Brought Back: Jewish Life After Birthright- Reflections by Alumni of Taglit-Birthright Israel Trips. He is currently touring as a part of the Jewish Book NETWORK. For more information on booking Wayne, please contact jbc@jewishbooks.org.

Vito Russo Documentary Makes The New York Film Festival

Vito Russo Documentary Makes The New York Film Festival—From Michael Musto, “The Village Voice”

“Vito”

 In the aftermath of Stonewall, a newly politicized Vito Russo found his voice as a gay activist and critic of LGBT representation in the media. He went on to write “The Celluloid Closet,” the first book to critique Hollywood’s portrayals of gays on screen. During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, Vito became a passionate advocate for justice via the newly formed ACT UP, before his death in 1990. This is his story—Vito Russo, founding father of the gay liberation movement, author of “The Celluloid Closet,” and vociferous AIDS activist in the 1980s.

Michael Musto says, ” I was honored to be a talking head in Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary about Vito (I respected the man–and besides, Vito was one of a handful of people who congratulated me when I got this job; everyone else must have been deeply jealous”. Now the film has been accepted and will be playing at the New York Film Festival, “an incredibly prestigious honor”.

 

“SCENES OF INQUIRY”— Four Short Films by Michael J. Saul

“Scenes of Inquiry”

Four Short Films by Michael J. Saul

Amos Lassen

One of the things that I love about experimental films is that they challenge the mind and that is exactly how I feel by this collection of four short films by Michael J. Saul. They are diverse and yet each has some relation to the others as we look at the theme of young love.

“Morning Dance” made me go back in memory and think about when I first loved and was it not an obsessive kind of love. The young are not aware of obsession and then before we know youth is gone and as reality and maturity set in, we tend to lament that loss of youth, of innocence and the lost of purity.

“Dominus” is about a young teen found dead in the pool o mhos backyard after a confrontation between he and his father about the teen’s sexuality. His loss of innocence is reflected in his loss of life.

“Hover” is a bit more difficult to describe as it deals with the paranormal. We see a teen vampire in his self-imposed exile as his mother helps capture his victims. That satisfaction of desires makes him whole yet he is in a world where he does not belong.

Youthful love letters that are both beautiful and sad are the theme of “Don’t Read Now” and all of us have had some experience in passing notes that are not to be read “now”. These notes contain our secrets that we write about but we do not want the face of the person who gets the note as he reads.

The artistic qualities of the movies is high and they are all set to a musical score by Steven M. Miller that indeed heightens what we see, However, if you are expecting films with  cut and dry themes, this may not be for you. To watch these films, you must let yourself go to where they take you.

 

“Magic Fingers: An Avondale Story” by Etienne— Overcoming Insecurity

Etienne. “Magic Fingers: An Avondale Story”, Dreamspinner Press, 2011.

Overcoming Insecurity

Amos Lassen

It is always a good day when there is something new by Etienne to read. I admire the man who late in life decided to try his hand at writing and who has not stopped. (I really admire almost anyone who allows me to review their book).

This is a bit different than the other books by Etienne that I have read. It is the story of David Majors who has returned home after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is going to school on the G.I. Bill and he is doing well academically. David is what we might call a “hunk”. He is fit and tall and handsome but underneath his good looking exterior, David has battle scars and he is insecure. He meets Kevin Boxer who is also a former army man and on that first night, Kevin shows David what being desired is all about and penetrates his vulnerability and slowly helps him become the man he wants to be. What David discovers as the two begin to build a life together is that Kevin has some scars of his own to deal with.

What is interesting is that Kevin and David did not know each other in the service because they were in different units and at different times. It is pure coincidence that they both came back to go to college and they both lived near each other but went to different schools and then met at a gay bar. I really wish I had been given more information about the characters because I really wanted to know them and for the first time, Etienne did not give me that option. There is a little something else in this story that I am not telling you because I feel to do so would be to insert a spoiler in my review.

Etienne does write about the treatment of gays in the military and about coming out to family and about relationships but this is not my favorite of his books. Something seemed to be missing and hopefully it will turn up in his next book.

“Bounty of Love” by Scotty Cade— Love, Alaskan Style

Cade, Scotty. “Bounty of Love”, Dreamspinner Press, 2011.

Love, Alaskan Style

Amos Lassen

I love it when a writer that I champion keeps getting better and better. I remember reading Cade’s first book and thinking that this is a writer that is going to be very big one day and then I saw his writing mature through his second and third books. Now with “Bounty of Love”, we have the matured and excellent storytelling of Scotty Cade who gives us a wonderful story that is beautifully written.

On the night before Zander Walsh was to marry Darren, he and his future husband and his parents were shot when they came home and mangled a robbery in progress. When Zander awakens from a coma that he had been in for three weeks, he learns that he is the only survivor and what had been a dream of a life suddenly shattered.

FBI agent Jake Elliot is sent in to investigate the case and he ultimately finds the murderer who then managed to escape and after half a year of searching for him both Zander and Jake realize that something is not quite right. They also see that something has developed between them that cannot be denied or overlooked. As they continue looking for the killer once again, they learn that the fatal night when so much changed Zander’s life was something more than an interrupted robbery and that perhaps the truth is being hidden by politics and business.

Cade shows the transition of a festive event to one of death in a way that he immediately pulls the reader in. Zander’s life has been turned around and he feels that he wants to be dead like the others. Then the will to live returns to him and it is fairly obvious that Jake had something to do with that. Of course the question arises to what happened that night and was it really just a robbery that went bad?  There are many questions without answers. Cade also manages to turn sorrow into joy for Zander who had lost the will to live and contrary to what Neely Meadows has to say about the quality of the writing, Cade’s exposition of the change in Zander is beautiful to read. (And I do not believe that I saw the use of “WTF” in the text in the way it was overused in Meadow’s review).

Once again Cade has created characters that are real to life and he even adds some new ones here. I totally enjoyed the step backwards in time as it fleshed out the other books as well. Sure I can quibble about the use of I Phones but that is so minor that it is not even deserving of a mention although some of the reviewers felt it was and that is why I added the sentence. We have to all relax and realize that we are reading fiction and for me there are only two rules for fiction—that the story be good and the writing be just as good. Cade does that again here and I am looking forward to whatever else comes out of his mind.

“L.A. ZOMBIE ” (softcore)— Bad Boy LaBruce

“L.A. Zombie (Softcore)”

Bad Boy LaBruce

Amos Lassen

There are two versions of Bruce LaBruce’ “L.A. Zombie” and I have reviewed the hardcore version elsewhere on my site. This is my review of the softcore version from Strand Releasing. However, there are some explicit sex scenes in this version as well.

Bruce LaBruce is the Canadian bad boy of cinema and he will make a film about whatever he wants. “L.A. Zombie” is “a sexual analysis of contemporary gay culture”. Francoise Sagat, international porn star (famous for his tattooed hair) stars as an alien creature, a zombie as he comes from the sea and tries to understand Los Angeles, his new home. His acquaintance with the city begins with his being picked up on the road by a surfer driving a truck and an accident soon took place resulting in the death of the surfer and the zombie having sex with him. (There is a lot of blood in the film—so much of it that I felt I needed a mop nearby). The zombie leaves the accident and soon finds himself in the city among the homeless of Los Angeles. At this point it is not clear if he is indeed a zombie or just someone who is schizophrenic and suffering from delusions. He seems to be some kind of savior as he begins his quest to find some dead men and bring them back to “life”.

LaBruce has dealt with zombies and porn since the early 1990’s and has even played a zombie on screen. He made the film “Otto or, Up with Dead People”, a sexually explicit film that made its way on the festival circuit. While touring with this film, LaBruce announced that he thought that zombie porn was the wave of the future and this is his contribution to the new genre.

Below is my review of the hardcore version.

L.A. Zombie”

Bruce LaBruce Directs Porn

Amos Lassen

I have always loved Bruce LaBruce’s films mainly because he pushes the envelope as far as he can and on “L.A. Zombie” he went all the way. If you are a LaBruce fan you should have seen this coming as his films of late have become more and more raw and sensational. This film borders on the insane—there is a lot going on here. Now understand please that I am in no way panning this film—the opposite—I loved it. I loved it because it is different and it is bold (and very bloody).

Francois Sagat stars as either a homeless man who is mentally deficient or as an alien zombie, we never know and it is never explained. He wanders the streets of Los Angeles looking for the newly dead so that he can have sex with them and if he enters them with his massive equipment, they will return to life. Some of our favorite porn stars make appearances here—Wolf Hudson, Matthew Rush, Eddie Diaz, Adam Killian, Erik Rhodes, Francesco D’Macho and there is a scene in which several of them are massacred having an orgy in blood.

There is hardly any dialog and it is the music that the performers act against. The make-up is fantastic and the movie is a total experience. However there are many who will be offended by what they see here and I who can watch almost anything had to stop watching in some places during the first viewing. After all, it is just a movie and we live at a time when anything goes and “anything went” in the making of “L.A. Zombie”. It is a cinematic, erotic happening in which there are no boundaries.

 

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“MAN AT BATH”—- When Love is Gone

“Man at Bath” (“Homme au bain”)

When Love is Gone

Amos Lassen

Director Christophe gives us hi homage and letter to Francoise Sagat, a gay porn star. Starting with a scene of male rape between Emmanuel (Sagat) and Omar (Dustin Segura Suarez), a filmmaker is overtaken by Emmanuel, his boyfriend as he is getting ready to leave for New York. This is how their relationship ended but it also the beginning of their understanding as to how each can live without the other.

Omar had reached the point that he was no longer happy in his relationship with Emmanuel so the fact that Emmanuel is leaving for New York for a promotional tour came just at the right time. Both men do whatever it takes to let the other know that the relationship is over. The usual reaction to an ended relationship is resentment and we certainly see that here.

With the title of “Man at Bath” we can expect to see a lot of bare skin and that we do. The nudity I not gratuitous and it advance the plot—we do see a succession of different men and women that attempt to prove to Emmanuel and Omar that there is nothing left and the relationship is over.

Emmanuel does appear sad at times and we see that there is a vulnerability to him. It is interesting to see Sagat take on an acting role (even if he is nude). This is a strange film and obviously not for everyone. I personally enjoyed it.