Monthly Archives: March 2012

“The Marrying Kind” by Ken O’Neill— A Novel Look at Gay Marriage

O’Neill, Ken. “The Marrying Kind”. Bold Strokes Books, 2011.

A Novel Look at Gay Marriage

Amos Lassen

Adam Moore is a wedding planner who has used his entire life to planning weddings for others. However, he and his partner Steve cannot get married because of the federal law (which is finally changing). Adam decides that the time has come for a change and he organizes a boycott of the wedding industry. He and Steve ask all gay organists, hairdressers, caterers, and waiters, priests to leave the business and to stop attending weddings. We can imagine the comedy that follows and the anti-wedding movement becomes to hurt the guys’ relationship. Then Steve’s brother proposes to Adam’s sister and a decision must be made.

When the book was published last year it came out just at the right time but a lot has changed since then and I am not sure the book did not have anything to do with that. Not only is this a fun read but there is a strong lesson here and as we laugh, we become angry. It is a great read and highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

“This Way to the Acorns: Poems: The Tenth Anniversary Edition” by Raymond Luczak— Four Seasons, Four Sections

Luczak, Raymond. “This Way to the Acorns: Poems: The Tenth Anniversary Edition”, HandType Press, 2012.

Four Seasons, Four Sections

Amos Lassen

Before I even begin to review this book, let me say something about the author, Raymond Luczak. We have never met (aside from on Facebook) but Ray is my friend and he is my friend because he is so talented and has managed to rise above some difficult odds. When I sit down to read anything that he has written, I am comforted by the fact that as I read his life touches mine. The sheer beauty of his language always knocks me out. Ray loves nature and it shows in his poetry—especially in this volume that comes back to us in a tenth anniversary edition.

Here is the young poet as he meets nature and sees her bounties and beauties. But along with the beauties, Luzcak writes of the other not so beautiful aspects of nature and her power. There is style and grace here and every word is purposely and perfectly chosen.

These are poems that change with readings. At first reading we are taken by the beauty of the language and then as we read again and again all kinds of new thoughts come to mind. The poems are divided into the four seasons and in each season, Luczak reminds us of what goes on. His reaction becomes the reader’s reaction and using the state of acorns is sheer genius.

Metaphorically, Luczak creates beautiful scenes that are unforgettable and as I read I know I was being called back for a rereading and that does not happen often to me. I know that the next time I take Sophie, my Jack Russell Terrorist, out for a walk it will be a new experience for both us as I will be looking for the things that the poet writes about and when it rains or snows, I will have different experiences. Of course, we can never all feel the same about things we go through but we can understand more by listening to someone else. I am so glad that I have Raymond Luczak to listen to.

Today I took a walk around my house and saw trees and grass and mosquitoes in entirely different ways. I doubt I would have had I not read this book first. There is beauty in all we see and while we may have to look for it, it is there—and if you can’t find it, open a page of “This Way to the Acorns” and let Luczak show it to you. I am so looking forward to doing that on Boston Common next month.

“Silence Is a Four Letter Word: On Art and Deafness: The Tenth Anniversary Edition” by Raymond Luczak— Musings from a Master

Luczak, Raymond. “Silence Is a Four Letter Word: On Art and Deafness: The Tenth Anniversary Edition”, HandType Press, 2011.

Musings from a Master

Amos Lassen

Raymond Luczak is a poet, a playwright and a filmmaker and he also is a deaf gay male who is gay. In “Silence is a Four Letter Word”, he shares his thoughts with us and he calls deaf artists everywhere to come forward. He originally wrote this is 2002 and now ten years later, he goes back to this book which was so important to artists.

The book is constructed of short opinionated thoughts that came to him over the years. His goal was to make others shake their ideas and self-containments and even though deaf artists do not have the ability to hear, it was time for them to shake their chains and argue for their rightful places.

Luczak looks at what he calls “art” and why it is art and then looks at deafness and determines that deaf artists need to reconsider their work and begin to live differently. Luczak says this book is “a hodgepodge of notes on being a deaf artist” and he explains that he put his thoughts into book form so that others would not have to experience what he did. “Many hearing writers and artists equate deafness with silence of the worst kind—as if never hearing music is the worst thing that could possibly happen. It is a very selfish perspective. Never taking into account that many deaf people have led full and rich lives without ever feeling the need to experience music the way hearing people do”. He writes of Barbra Streisand as if he has heard her sing and he writes of poets who do not hear the rhythm of their lines:

His hope is that the book will be a guide for deaf people or for anyone who ever feels different who have the desire to create something. We must consider that whatever the problem is, it is our problem and we must deal with it. In thinking what art means to each and how it makes us better, we must also look at the contribution we make if we let ourselves indeed chose to have it see the light of day. Luczak goes on to say that art is part of the process of discovery and rediscovery and even if it does not make a dent in the world, it will always be something left behind by someone.

I applaud his sincerity and his passion but most of all I think it is the fact that he chooses to bring his ideas out for all to enjoy. You cannot close his book without learning something from it. The prose is gorgeous but it is the ideas that get one thinking.

 

 

“The Secret of the Golden Phallus: Male Erotic Alchemy for the 21st Century” by Bruce P. Grether— A Way to Transformation

Grether, Bruce P. “The Secret of the Golden Phallus: Male Erotic Alchemy for the 21st Century”, Lethe Press, 2012.

A Way to Transformation

Amos Lassen

How we see ourselves affects the way we live and that is a fact. The world is full of taboos and no no’s about male genitals and we must find a way to break away from those ideas. Eroticism has been in a world of its own; in its own category and while we might think of our bodies as temples, we do not often see a way to unite spirituality with eroticism. It has not always been this way and if we look into earlier societies, we see the worship of the penis to be tantamount and there was no shame associated with it. The male god has usually been supreme and ancient wisdom puts great respect on the penis. This book encourages each of us to embrace our penis and thereby enjoy eroticism as the focus of male identity.

We learn a new way of experiencing and exploring consciousness and to way to do this is through the penis. Knowing how to approach this is all here and using tantra, you may find just what you are looking for.

 

“Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits” by Jerry L. Wheeler— What’s For Dessert?

Wheeler, Jerry L. “Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits”, Lethe Press, 2012.

What’s For Dessert?

Amos Lassen

I must admit that I thought a great deal before I sat down to review this book. You see, Jerry Wheeler is also a reviewer and for whatever reason regards me as competition, something I do not understand. I have never felt the need to compete with other reviewers simply because my approach to reviewing is personal and unlike any others. For two consecutive years we have both attended the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival and again for whatever reason, we have never spoken and that does not come from me. I also have never understood why on his website “Out in Print” when he posts a review, he subtitles it “Only at Out in Print” and the book spoken of had already been reviewed by me and posted on my site in most cases several months before. Now getting that “out in print” and pushing those thoughts aside, I am going to give a more than fair review to his book nonetheless.

This is a book of erotic writings and most of you know that I do not really like erotica unless it has some literary qualities and/or value. Actually anyone can write smut if he has a little imagination but Wheeler has gone a step further. His erotica is excellently written and fun to read. I have heard it said that the stories are almost “aphrodisiacs” and I must agree. Using fruit as a symbol for sexual prowess, Wheeler uses the theme throughout the book and while sometime one has to pay for the result, it is the result that counts and is important.

I love the variety of stories here and the characters range from farmers to bears to musicians. There is a mystery to some of the stories and while all are sexy, some are funny, some are mysterious and all are fun. Now one thing that erotica must do is shock and here is where Wheeler shines. I have read several of his other stories but it is in this collection that he really comes of age. He tells us in his introduction that he has always been a fan of Edgar Allen Poe and we see that in his writing. While he is not yet a Poe, he is on the road and as prolific as he is, we may yet see that. There is a “Poe-ish” malevolence to the stories here and just about every theme that you can think of appears in this collection.

Most of you know that aside from not being a big fan of erotica, I am also not a big fan of short fiction but this book could change my mind. Grab a copy and see if you feel the same.

 
 

“HOUSE OF BOYS”— A Gay Love Story Set In the Early Days of AIDS

“House of Boys”

A Gay Love Story Set In the Early Days of AIDS

Amos Lassen

Every once in a while a film comes along that knocks me over and while these are few and far between, they do exist and new distributor, Breaking Glass Pictures, has been lucky enough to have released several of them—“Into the Lion’s Den”, “Marathon” and now “House of Boys”. I was not prepared to like this film—the screener I had was grainy, the color was off and the audio was weak but before I knew I was totally engrossed in the story and found myself weeping openly at the end. I know there are many of you who feel that we have seen and heard enough about AIDS but I cannot emphasize enough the importance of what the disease did to us. Sure, we lost many valuable lives of many brilliant people but we also gained a togetherness that allowed us to become a powerful force socially, politically and economically. AIDS was (and still is) our Holocaust but we have not let it defeat us but we do have to remember how it was.

The film is a glamorous and colorful coming-of-age story that follows Frank (Layke Anderson), a high school student as he enters the gay world, a world of sex, drugs and music in Amsterdam of the early 80’s. He soon finds that his passion changes into a struggle of courage as he faces the AID crisis and watches it take away his true love in the most horrible of ways. Frank runs away from home (not because of any reason other than he wanted to be himself) and he enters a self-enclosed world of dancing, drugs, drinking and sex but he also finds true love. The film is an in-depth look at the Amsterdam scene as it fell to the threat of AIDS. The colors of the film show the fall of gay life as little by little, it succumbs to death. Here it was a mysterious disease known simply as the “gay cancer”. Director Claude Schlim tells a very personal story through the character of Frank in a very unhurried manner as he enters a dance club–cum-brothel. Schlim hangs onto the details of the boys and their eroticized lives and performances and the relationships between them. Frank immediately falls for Jake (Benn Nothover), his supposed “straight” roommate at the house and finally wins his heart but eventually loses him to the disease. The film is presented in three acts: the prologue shows Frank at home, Act I is his arrival in Amsterdam and his budding relationship with Frank and Act III is a deathwatch. There is an emotional honesty in the film which manages to blot out the dated style of the film.

The movie totally embraces the setting of 1984—we see Ronald Reagan on the television and we are privy to the consternation of the doctors as they are baffled but the large and increasing number of gay men with no T-cells. It is a time when everyone (but Frank) seems to want to be somewhere else.

Frank is happy to be dancing and getting dressed up as he falls for Jake, the star of the House of Boys. He is dismayed that Jake is saving the money he makes so that he and his girlfriend can run away but this is minor to Frank and he knows what he wants and intends to get it.

The movie starts of as a coming-of-age story but it ends very sadly. It is very open sexually yet it maintains an “old fashioned innocence” by giving us a look into the cheesy acts at the House of Boys which were the rule at the time. The story is told in a heavy-handed manner with a delightful soundtrack of rock music. The whole effect is one of nostalgia by showing us the highs and lows of coming out in the 80’s. The film is a wonderful contrast of the beauty of the young man with the physical reality of AIDS and the film is both campy and compelling.

It is almost like watching two films at one time. The coming-of-age story draws us in and then it is all changes when AIDS raises its ugly head and the beauty deteriorates as Jake falls victim to the virus and while these scenes are a bit uncomfortable, they are supremely important–we must never forget how the disease ravaged the beauty of our community. As the film ends, statistics of those lost to AIDS are flashed upon the screen. The performances are all excellent from seeing Stephen Fry as Dr. Marsh, a man seemingly broken by discovering that Jake has AIDS and Udo Keir as Madame, owner of the House of Boys and drag artist extraordinaire. Eleanor David is wonderful as Emma, the house mother of the boys but it is really the young cast that carries the movie.

The film also captures the period but because of that there will be some who will consider it to be dated and as if it were actually made during the period it depicts. (Funny that they never say that about gladiator movies that are indeed dated). Of course, the clichés are here especially regarding the early fears of AIDS and how those not exposed felt about it. Personally, I felt a certain Dickensian quality to the film. Frank is our David Copperfield who takes his time reaching adulthood but when he does, he becomes quite a man whose strength while taking care of his dying lover is amazing. That last cry of his went right through me and I can still hear it.

In my opinion, this is what movies are all about. Here is one that entertains and teaches. It will gain a very high place on my list of favorites simply because of what it does and does so well.

 

“The Enemy of the New Man: Homosexuality in Fascist Itally” by Lorenzo Benadusi— Homosexuality, Gender and Italian Morality during the Fascist Era in Italy

Benadusi, Lorenzo. “The Enemy of the New Man: Homosexuality in Fascist Italy”, (translated by Suzanne Dingee and Jennifer Pudney), University of Wisconsin Press. 2012.

Homosexuality, Gender and Italian Morality during the Fascist Era in Italy

Amos Lassen

We still know very little about life in Fascist Italy and even less (until now) about homosexuality during that period. Using archival information, Benadusi tells of sexual politics during the period and shows the complex relationships of sexuality, masculinity and Fascism. Keeping in mind that Italy is a Catholic country, he looks at connections between the Roman Catholic church and Italian traditionalism and nationalism. Catholic views on morality definitely determine Italian views and we see that Fascism denies that there were homosexuals in Fascist Italy (not even in the hypocritical Catholic church?). Benadusi does documents how homosexuality (which did not exist) was repressed and those who practiced it were thrown into prison. Furthermore he shows that homosexuality was named as the enemy of the “New Man”, the Fascist ideal of “a virile warrior and dominating husband vigorously devoted to the ‘political’ function of producing children for the Fascist state.”

Gender was regulated and regimented by the regime and together with the Church was part of the cultural and legal engineering of the concepts of male (masculinity) and female (femininity).  We learn of the tremendous amount of unpublished documents that exist as well as official letters, speeches, confessions (coerced), private letters, diaries, legal documents and official memos that both show and analyze how the orders that the regime issued attempted to “protect the integrity of the Italian race”. We also learn of Vatican documents that show how the Church dealt with those issues of homosexuality and those that related to it.

Mussolini attempted his totalitarian experiment by making and shaping the laws and cultural codes that were responsible for the regulation of gender and sexuality. We, therefore, get an enlightened look at the regulated sexual lives of Italians. The book is a monumental study replete with pictures and notes and is a wonderful look at a period of history that has been hidden for too long. I found it a pleasurable and educating read and plan to read it more carefully.

“Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica” edired by Sinclair Sexsmith— Getting what they Want

Sexsmith, Sinclair (editor). “Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica”, Cleis Press, 2012.

Getting what they Want

Amos Lassen

Cleis Press never disappoints in publishing classy anthologies of erotica and nothing seems sacred to them. In “Say Please” we get 23 BDSM stories from and about lesbians and these are very hot stories. I know very little about BDSM and even less about lesbian sex so I got quite an education here. Here girls get what they asked for and get put into place. There are stories of surrender and those of dominance and the place does not matter. It can be an alleyway or a bedroom but the sex is always very, very hot. There is even a story about a transgender butch and a genderqueer and it is explosive.

The authors included are Miriam Ziola Perez, Wendi Kali, Rachel Kramer Bussel (of course), Gigi Frost, BB Rydell, Amelia Thornton, Vie La Guerre, Sassafras Lowrey, Dusty Horn, Kiki DeLovely, Elaine Miller, Shwana Elizabeth, Sossity Chiricuzio, Meredith Guy, August InFlux, Marie See, D.L. King , Anna Watson, Dilo Keith, Alysia Angel, Xan West and Elizabeth Thorn. Sexsmith also gives us an introduction.

As you read, you get a clearer understanding about the nature of BDSM and for me this alone makes this a worthwhile read. You may even want to try it.

 

“Cruising: Gay Erotic Stories” edited by Shane Allison— Wonderful Smut

Allison, Shane (editor). “Cruising: Gay Erotic Stories”, Cleis Press, 2012

Wonderful Smut

Amos Lassen

Do not misunderstand the meaning of my title, “Wonderful Smut”. This is indeed wonderful smut as we usually get in any book that has Shane Allison’s name on it.  There at sixteen very hot stories here by some of the best writers who are writing today and this is a credit to Allison who selected the stories and edited the collection.

It is not easy to write good erotica and here is some of the best with stories by Bob Vickery, Jeff Mann, Jonathan Asche, Rob Rosen, Mark Wildyr, Shaun Levin, Donald Peebles Jr., Aaron Travis, Gerald Wozek, Bearmuffin, Bob Masters, Chuck Willman, Daniel Curzon, Jeremy Andrews Windsor, Ryan Field, Gregory L. Norris and Allison.

I understand that several of the stories are based on actual experiences (Allison’s is) and there is great variety in the stories here with eroticism being the uniting link. I have often wondered how those who write erotica get ideas to write something new and while the answer to that is not here, there are several new twists on the classic theme of an meets boy, man has sex with boy, man and boy movie on and so forth and so on. However, there is not a boring moment whether the story is about a convenience store assignation or a really hot arresting officer or a very hot adventure in rest room (not much rest there) in a park. The stories provoke and ignite and public sex seems to be the rule for the day. This is an anthology that you do not want to miss.

 

“WTC VIEW”— An Amazing Film from Brian Sloan

“WTC View”

An Amazing Film from Brian Sloan

Amos Lassen

Brian Sloan wrote and directed the amazing “WTC View”, the story of young Eric (Michael Urie) who advertises in The Village Voice for a roommate. The ad runs on a day that will live in infamy for us, September 11, 2001. To the surprise of all, several possible roommates show up and as we follow their stories, we learn that Eric not only needs someone to share his place but for emotional balance as well. Of those that come to inquire about the apartment, are an array of characters. There is an hotelier, a student who is staying in New York because his teacher instills in him that New York needs him, a native New Yorker and a nice straight guy who is a liberal politician. How Eric decides who he will share his apartment with is just a small part of what this film is about. We get a look into the minds of New Yorkers who live in the vicinity of what was the World Trade Center and how they have come to terms with the national catastrophe. I was taken by the performances of the youthful cast who are held together by raw emotions and great love for the script. As each character comes into play it is like unwrapping a new gift.

Urie’s performance as Eric is a tour de force. He maintains a tight rein on his emotions and when he realizes that he can no longer handle the 9/11 situation, he shows the only weakness in his otherwise bravura performance. It is hard to imagine what goes through the mind of someone who was living in the shadow of the fallen towers and Urie portrays his role with class and distinction. He is someone to watch.

Something told me to go back and watch the movie again and I am so glad that I did. This is such an important film because it ties two impotent issues together. None of us will ever forget the emotions we experienced on 9/11 and Sloan handles this with wonderful sensitivity and it takes on different proportions on a second viewing of the film. I also found it amazing the way Urie handles Eric’s sexuality as if it is a non issue and he relates his gayness to his prospective roommates matter-of-factly with no apologies (but then this is set in New York where people are used to gay people—I can only imagine how it would be in Arkansas). He mentions that he is gay while showing the apartment and it just flows out of him as if he is just saying hello. Sloan gives us and New York a beautiful gift with this film—it is a love song to the city and it carries a big beautiful bow of understanding. It is a small movie with a big heart.

The DVD is loaded with special features—director’s commentary, a featurette on how the movie evolved from stage to screen, deleted scenes, interviews with cast members who express their personal feelings and what they felt on 9/11 and a photo gallery showing New York after the terrorist attack. As I sit here typing this review, the movie is still very much with me.