Monthly Archives: September 2011

“Believer, Beware: First Person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith”— Thinking About Religion

Sharlet, Jeff and Peter Manseau. “Believer, Beware: First Person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith”, Beacon, 2011.

Thinking about Religion

Amos Lassen

Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau have a website, “Killing the Buddha.com” and this is the second book that is a collection of stories from their site. Thirty-five chapters show the diversity of the writers as they give their candid first person narratives. The entire range of religion is here from Orthodox Judaism to Zen Buddhism and even agnosticism. There is humor and there is pain and the selections are tied together by the struggles we have with religion.

Many are confused about religion and have no idea where to turn and for them this is a good book. In fact, it is a good book for everybody. Whether we accept it or not, religion play a big part in the world today and it can be either a wonderful or a terrible experience. Some of what you read here is irreverent but then sometimes religion loses sight of reverence. Overall we get the question of what will religion (faith) do for us if we ignore some of the limitations that it places on us.

The book is both sensitive and humorous and there is a lot to be gleaned from the pages. Many are confused by religion and it hurts to search for truth and not find it and here is a way to start a new search that will not leave you empty.

 

 

 

“The Letters of T.S. Eliot”— The Poet as an Anti-Semite

Eliot, Valerie and Hugh Haughton (editors). “The Letters of T.S. Eliot: Volume 1: 1898-1922, Revised Edition; Volume 2: 1923-1925, Yale University Press, 2011,

Checking the Rumors

Amos Lassen

As a graduate student in English, I took a course on T.S. Eliot mainly because I loved “The Wasteland”, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and his dramas. Then last week I read an article that claimed that Eliot hated Jews and I wanted to see if his letters proved that. Sadly, I have to report that he indeed was an Anti-Semite. In one letter he calls someone a “Jew merchant” and states that he “sick of doing business with Jew publishers”. His wife was even more vocal about the Jews as was his mother and this now has made me think about how I should feel about him. It is similar to the argument when the state of Israel refused to play the music of Wagner because he was a Nazi. I have not reached a decision yet and I may never.

Nevertheless I did scan most of the letters and some of them are quite fascinating, especially the one he wrote about other people. The first volume was published 25 years ago but has been revised for the addition of volume two. In fact more than 200 new letters have been added to volume one. There are also letters that were written to Eliot and we get an idea of who was around him. It is unfortunate that death for Eliot meant uncovering some things about him that changes the way people feel. I think it will be hard to separate the man from his art. For me, I know that this is true.

 

“MAKE THE YULETIDE GAY”— Coming Out at Christmas

“Make the Yuletide Gay”

Coming Out at Christmas

Amos Lassen

It was my original plan just to comment that Rob William’s wonderful DVD, “Make the Yuletide Gay” is being released on blu ray but before I did that, I sat down to watch the film again and then decided to write a completely new review.

Nathan is out and has quite a sense of gay pride but as Christmas nears he know that he will be spending them alone as his parents are off vacationing somewhere. He finally decides to go to his boyfriend’s parents’ house and arrives unannounced. Gunn, as he is called, is surprised to see him especially since his parents do not know that he is gay.

Gunn’s parents are a bit “odd” yet they are open minded and welcome Nathan into their home. Aside from directing, Williams also wrote the screenplay. The film stars Adamo Ruggiero as Nathan, Keith Jordan is Gunn, Derek Long is Sven, Gunn’s father and Kelly Keaton plays Anya, his mother (and she has some great lines). The script is wonderful and provides some wonderful laughs Williams cleverly brings coming out and Christmas together. He succeeds once again in bringing us a fun gay movie.

“PHANTOM IMAGES”—coming in November from Ariztical

Ariztical Entertainment New Release

Phantom Images

Phantom Images

  

 

Street Date: November 15, 2011
 

Starring: Rob Morretti, Steven Taylor, Elizay Pierre-Louis, Barron Myers, Samuel Encarnacion, Frank Holliday

 

Directed By: Matthew Doyle    

 

Watch the trailer!

“…it is not only welcome to the canon of gay film,

but also one that is badly needed.”

-Amos Lassen 

Confronted with the “Big C”, filmmaker Darwin King (Rob Moretti, Crutch, An Affirmative Act, and The Great Fight) prepares to rehearse his movie despite all funding being pulled – a grim reality he has kept secret from his cast. His mind awash in the noise of memory and morphine, he reflects on his own life through the characters in his script. The story is told with highly stylistic vignettes projected in the black void of his mind, bringing to life each of the characters he has created on paper. “Phantom Images” explores the new challenges confronting gay men – and the cultural changes that have made communication between generations more difficult.

 

DVD Features:

Behind the Scenes Interviews

Audio Commentary 

www.ariztical.com  

Ariztical Entertainment and Mirror Matter Movies present a MATTHEW DOYLE production

ROB MORETTI in “Phantom Images” also starring STEPHEN TAYLOR  ELIZAY PIERRE-LOUIS  BARRON MYERS SAMUEL ENCARNACION FRANK HOLLIDAY DANIEL GENALO NIKI RUBIN and MARC GRAISER Associate Producers STEPHEN TAYLOR MICHAEL GOODMAN CHARLES C. CASANO and RICHARD HYMES-ESPOSITO Executive Producer ROB MORETTI

Director of Photography TIMUR CIVAN  Written and Directed by MATTHEW DOYLE

Phantom Images Phantom Images
Phantom Images Phantom Images
Phantom Images Phantom Images
_________________________________________

 

“Phantom Images”

Filming and Life

Amos Lassen

 

In “Phantom Images”, Rob Moretti (“Crutch”. “An Affirmative Act”) is Darwin King, a filmmaker who has lost the funding for his next film but continues shooting it. The film will be his last as he is dying, living on morphine and raking his memory. The economy has caused his film to collapse and he is left with his memories as he reflects on his life and meditates on the project he will never finish.

Director Matthew Doyle gives us a new gay themed film which is different from the kind of films that we usually get. It is short on action but long on ideas and I suppose I would label this as a thinking person’s film. Doyle looks at several important themes—identity, desire, ageism, communication across generations.

Darwin King looks at the relationship between the characters of his non-film film. The movie is wordy as it should be when we consider that self-reflection brings back ideas that might be buried in memory. For Darwin King, his film triggers ideas from his past. There is really no plot and if there were it would not be fair to where the movie takes us. I have the feeling that this is a very personal film for both the director and for Moretti. We follow the narrative (something we do not usually get in gay film) which comes to us in short scenes that build to a look at Darwin King and even though we get his thoughts, I feel we still do not really get to know him. He remains an enigma for us to think about when the film is over. For me this is an intellectual approach to film which is welcome—it is not that often that we get a gay themed film that makes us think. The subtexts and themes play into the overall idea of what a life is about and how we react to the way we have lived when we realize that the end is not far away.

My own personal opinion on this film is that it is not only welcome to the canon of gay film but also one that it badly needed. Life is not all fun and frivolity and when we stop to think about what we did as we lived, we realize that. I must give a special shout out to Moretti who has matured beautifully into this role. It is easy to identify with his character yet not always pleasant to do so. For me, he came across as a kind of gay everyman whose life at the end is consumed by memory–perhaps as a way to escape the physical pain. I loved the film and found myself thinking about it for many hours. In some ways, I was reminded of Tennessee Williams’ powerful drama and memory play “The Glass Menagerie”. While the only thing the two share is memory, we see how much memory affects the way we live…and die. Could this bring about a change in gay cinema? We shall have to wait and see.

“THE SONS OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS”— Opening Soon in New York and Los Angeles


a documentary by Tim Wolff

Opens October 7th in New York at the Quad Cinema
and October 14th in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Sunset 5

AN AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS STORY


Mardi Gras, drag royalty and a glittering civil rights revolution–where else could these elements come together but in the city of New Orleans?  Interweaving archival footage with contemporary interviews, Tim Wolff’s documentary film The Sons of Tennessee Williams tells the story of New Orleans’ outrageous gay Mardi Gras over five decades and uncovers the history of the earliest civil rights for gay people in the U.S.

In January 1959, during the height of anti-gay laws that criminalized public association for gay people in this country, a group of men in New Orleans decided to throw a Mardi Gras ball of their own. Mardi Gras organizations in New Orleans, called Krewes, are social clubs comprised of members who celebrate the annual Carnival season together. Every Krewe has their own festivities, including parties and parades, usually ending with a formal ball and the coronation of a King and Queen.

In 1962, the first all Gay Krewe was formed, called the Krewe of YUGA or “KY,” when they rented a school cafeteria in the notoriously conservative suburb of Jefferson Parish for their coronation  ball. Familiar with police raids, the krewe members knew that the ball would break laws. They made absolutely sure to be in full drag anyway. The police raided the building minutes before the crowning of Queen YUGA IV, alerted by private citizens of cross-dressing men entering the nursery school at night. Krewe members attempted to escape by running into the swamplands adjacent to the school, chased by officers with dogs and flashlights; many were betrayed by their glittering costumes. They were unceremoniously jailed, identified by name in the newspaper and eventually convicted for “disturbing the peace.”  

This event marked a significant change in Mardi Gras and gay history as the men quickly worked to secure the right to openly celebrate this important annual holiday, by asking for and receiving a charter from the state of Louisiana to exist with all the rights and privileges given all Carnival organizations, including tax exempt status. They worked with the traditions of Mardi Gras to move gay culture into a public setting by the mid-1960s. By 1969, there were four gay krewes holding yearly extravaganzas at civic venues across the city, making New Orleans the first place in the U. S. where gay and straight came together in large numbers to publicly celebrate gay culture. 

The Sons of Tennessee Williams is the result of 15 years of research through 120 hours of archival ball footage, still pictures and interviews from some 20 of the “SONS” themselves, ending with contemporary HD coverage of the Krewe of Armeinius 40th anniversary ball in 2008. We travel through the pathos of 1950s era persecution and arrest to the uncommon freedoms in the decades that followed as the gay krewes’ popularity and political power began to emerge.

A full decade before the Stonewall riots, these men, who are the embodiment of the archetypal “southern bachelor gentleman,” complete with the cast-iron fortitude, worked directly with the public to create an open, accepted gay cultural event. Soon, “society matrons begged for ball tickets from their hairdressers and everyone in New Orleans wanted to go to the ball, gay, straight, even the Mayor of the city!”

Director Tim Wolff says, “When I learned of the great history behind this culture and how it had begun ten years before the liberations caused by Stonewall, I was amazed that no none had heard of these accomplishments outside of New Orleans. There are no timelines of gay history that reflect these victories or this culture. These pioneers had risked everything to participate in the annual festivities of Mardi Gras. They accomplished primary civil rights without protest, without violence and in full drag. Please do whatever you can to promote this valuable history, that it might inspire others in the continuing pursuit of equality for all Americans.”

TIM WOLFF, Director / Writer/ Producer / Editor
Tim Wolff received his education from the California Institute of the Arts Directing for Theatre and Film program, studying closely with director Alexander Mackendrick and two-time Oscar winning documentarian Terry Sanders. In 1999, he began the first of four productions at HBO as producer. He produced two segments for the popular HBO documentary show Real Sex with Wigstock: The Movie filmmaker Barry Shils. The Sons of Tennessee Williams is his first feature documentary with Wolffhouse, Inc. His next project is a magical-realist musical comedy narrative feature, The Ballad of Yes and No.

“Every once in a while comes a documentary that you just know
should be required viewing. Such is the case with the amazingly informative
‘The Sons of Tennessee Williams.’ Extraordinary, moving and often amusing…
it should be seen by every LGBT American and all of our allies.”
– David Mixner, Live from Hell’s Kitchen

“A lively tribute to the historical importance of the homosexual community
to Louisiana’s most famous city.” – Moving Pictures International

“FOREVER PLAID”— Homage to the Fifties

“Forever Plaid”

Homage to the Fifties

Amos Lassen

In the 1950’s, the music scene was dominated by groups of men and boys who sang in close harmony and that is what “Forever Plaid”, the filmed version of the off-Broadway play is all about. We meet four high school friends who dream of recording an album but the dream was over when death took its course. They were on their way to see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show when their car hit a bus of Catholic school girls. The girls survived but our singers did not and our story begins with the Plaids returning from the afterlife to try once again to become famous.

The plot is simple but the songs are wonderful and make you remember an era of songs like “Three Coins in a Fountain” and “Heart and Soul”.

Granted the set-up is a bit silly and the plot soon falls away as the music takes over and the chemistry between the guys is amazing. This is just good entertainment and it really is not a movie but a film of a stage play. The transfer to disc could have been better bit again it is the music and if you just sit there and let it take you away; you will have a good time.

 

“Skull Buggery” by Robin Anderson— Mayhem, Macabre and Misadventure

Anderson, Robin. “Skull Buggery”, Robin Anderson, 2011.

Mayhem, Macabre and Misadventure

Amos Lassen

Those of you who read my reviews know that I have a special affinity for the writings of Robin Anderson and that I review everything he writes. I have made it my goal to see that other people are able to gain the enjoyment from his writing that I do. You can imagine my surprise when I opened his newest book, “Skull Buggery” and saw that he dedicated to me and this is one of the highest honors I have ever received. I have only “met” Robin via emails that I send him after I post a review of something he has written so this really came as a surprise. Quite naturally I am going to give this book a brilliant review but that would have happened anyway as Anderson has a special skill of writing books that not only draw me in but that usually make me laugh as I read and to me that is really something.

Our main characters here are Dick Turpin and his partner, Ned Rust who ride together as Skelton (Skull) Asquit and Andy (Anaconda) Miller. This boyhood game became one they played as adults but the stakes were completely different. Now the “game” includes “intrigue, amiability, avarice and betrayals” that tests friendship and revenge enters the picture. (So you say, what is funny about this?—Hold on!!).

Misadventures consisting of outrageous happenings begin to occur and thinks just get wild (as often happens with Robin Anderson). We enter the world of high fashion and big money as we travel around the world from the Orient to the Caribbean to Venice and we eat fantastic food that turns out to be more than it appears and the fun begins.

With a cast of unforgettable characters that include Lavina (Labby), Chan (Panda Bear), Desmond (Desdemona), Teddy (Beddy), Gloriosa Gonada, Charlie, Big Dirk Du Toit and the glamorous wannabe Loadsa and many more, we go on a trip of hilarious happenings and you do not want to miss this.

“CARLOS”— Putting a Face on Terror

“Carlos”

Putting a Face on Terror

Amos Lassen

Criterion brings us “Carlos”, the mini-series about Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, Venezuelan revolutionary, who founded a worldwide terrorist organization. Known as Carlos the Jackal was the most notorious terrorist before Osama Bin Laden. He was carefully aligned with the Palestinian/anti-Zionist cause for equality and justice and espoused the concepts of Che Guevara. He was driven by his own ego and lusted for power, fame and notoriety. We see him as complex, a mercenary who was ambitious and very cold. He used people to get what he wanted and was convincing when he spoke but above all else he was charismatic even when he was killing.

The DVD ( blu ray) runs almost six hours and it not just a biography of the man but it is a serious look at terrorism. Carlos was merely a puppet and he knew that. Several countries protected him until what he knew was exhausted and then those that hired him betrayed him and was put into prison in France where he is serving a life sentence.

The film is quite bold with full frontal male nudity and a lot of cursing so this is not a movie you will see on television and probably not in a movie house (unless you see the three hour censored version). This is a compelling film and the time flies as you watch it and we get to see a different side of Carlos—his intelligence and daring but we all see his conceit and his cruelty. It also looks at the causes that drew Carlos in and how this man came to be the face of terror. It is a compilation of acts of heroic madness.

Edgar Ramirez as Carlos gives a performance that is absolutely brilliant. Through his performance we are able to gain an understanding of the man and we see how his ego dominates him. Directed by Olivier Assayas, the film is an objective look at the man who was able to hold much of the world at bay as he waged his terror and if you want to know about the nature of terror, this is a film not to be missed. Combine that with the wonderful presentation by Criterion and you have a film that you can watch again and again.  The blu ray version contains everything and although the time passes quickly as you watch, I, personally, was worn out when it was over. To me that is a sign of a worthwhile experience and I recommend it to everyone.

*A note: There is also a three hour version which I have not seen and I do not see how they could have cut this. Every moment is important.

“The Unreal Life of Sergey Vladimirovitch Nabokov” by Paul Russell— The Gay Brother

Russell, Paul. “The Unreal Life of Sergey Vladimirovitch Nabokov”, Cleis Press, 2011.

The Gay Brother

Amos Lassen

I know that when I read a Paul Russell book that I am going to enjoy the experience so I eagerly looking forward to “The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov” and entering a world that I knew little about. Sergey is the younger brother of famed Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov and a virtual unknown but this book will change that. Russell has created the brother and his unreal life and we do not really know what is real and what is not. Was he really the lost Nabokov and why is he such compelling reading? The answer to the second part of that question is in the skill of the writer.

One of the things that make this such a fascinating read is the detail with which Russell writes. Sergey is a teen when we meet him and his sensitivity causes an issue between him and his father. He is also attracted to members of his own sex and he is bullied for that by a school buddy who shares both sex and abuse with him. Sergey is confused on one hand and happy on the other. His first full sexual experience was with a soldier and he ponders it long afterwards. His personality comes across as a combination of youthful joy missed with carnal enjoyment and his sexual experiences began way to mark his life. He became totally changed but then he had to flee Russia because of the revolution and start all over somewhere else.

He and his brother are sent to Cambridge, England to the university and then the family came but later moved to Berlin. Sergey adjusts fine but his brother had a hard time as he felt his Russian heritage slipping away. Here begins a split between the two brothers and we begin to see Vladimir as cold with no emotion and a man who wants nothing of his brother’s life.

Sergey moves to Paris and enters the world of the literary salons and he begins to life or an expatriate. He also discovers opium and a great deal of sexual diversity. He finds a bit of happiness in a short affair but basically this is a book about an unfulfilled life. Both of the Nabokovs went through trying times—the family was spread thin, they lost their home country and they were forced to deal with war and death as well as addiction and same sex love. This is hard for anyone to deal with and for the boys it was terror. No wonder Sergey’s life seems unreal.

Russell is a master storyteller as well as a wonderful writer. If you have read anything else by him, you know what I mean (“Sea of Tranquility”, “The Salt Point”). Every word is perfectly chosen and every sentence advances the plot. If I had to pick one word to describe this, it would be “beautiful”. When a book affects me like this then I know it is more than a book, it is a total experience and there are not many like that around. It oozes melancholia and grace and I mean that in the most positive of ways.

We don’t get many books from Russell but when we do, we have cause to celebrate. Let us hope that there are more Paul Russell celebrations coming. Sergey’s life, combined with a plot out of Russell’s imagination based upon that life is a perfect way to spend some time and I recommend that you do so.

“Blue” by Russ Gregory— Murder in Austin

Gregory, Russ. “Blue”, Bold Strokes Books, 2011.

Murder in Austin

Amos Lassen

“Blue” is the first book I have read by Russ Gregory and I must say that it definitely will not be my last. There is nothing like a good mystery to hold my interest and when a book grabs me on the very first page, then I know I am in for a good read.

We first meet Ruth Brookes who is 103 years old and living in a nursing home. We learn that she knows something about unsolved murders that have been taking place in Austin and gay men are being killed. Whatever it is that she knows, it is very important and now that the murders are happening more often, it is absolutely necessary to find out what she knows.

Matt Bell had been shot at and immediately afterwards he shut himself off from the world and he has decided that the time has come to re-enter society. Just a he does, he meets Thatcher and soon the killings begin again. Both men have issues to deal with and at the same time, gay men in Austin are being killed off.

Now I could go on and tell you about the plot but that would not be fair. Murder mysteries are not meant to be spoiled by reviewers so I am not going to say any more about the plot, I will say that the characters are wonderfully drawn and Gregory really thought the plot out (which does not mean that you can predict what will happen). I see a wonderful addition to gay literature (or any literature) in Russ Gregory and if you are a smart reader, I suggest you get a copy of “Blue”. I have a feeling we will be hearing a great deal more from him.

Gregory has a very interesting perspective and he uses plot lines that cut each other and then meet before the story is over and I love that.