Monthly Archives: March 2012

“HILDE’S JOURNEY”— An Interesting Adventure

“Hilde’s Journey”

An Interesting Adventure

Amos Lassen

We really have not heard much from Switzerland regarding making LGBT movies so I was quite surprised to see “Hilde’s Journey”. Co-written and directed by Christof Vorster, the story is about Mark Hilder or Hilde who has died of AIDS and his lover Steff has inherited his entire fortune. Hilde was the son of a wealthy family so his estate was quite considerable. Steff thinks that he finally will get the chance to do what he has always wanted—to start his own business. What he does not know is that in order to have the inheritance turned over to him, he must first face Hilde’s mother who is a staunch homophobe. As he prepares for this, he suddenly realizes that there are other problems. Rex, an ex-boyfriend of Hilde, suddenly appears. He is HIV negative and extremely handsome and sexy as well as headstrong and he is determined that Hilde’s last wish be carried out—to have his ashes scattered at sea. Of course, Hilde’s mother objects and Steff manages to make an arrangement with her—a small percentage of the inheritance and the urn with Hilde’s ashes in exchange for the total estate. Rex then steals the urn and this forces Steff to take a good look at himself and make decisions about what really matters.

There are several holes in the script but the film is interesting nonetheless. We have all heard of families that have forgotten their sons but who suddenly re-enter the picture when the son has died. This is a story about honor and its betrayal. The overriding theme is that love will hold us together regardless of the heavy choices we must make in life. Even with its flaws, the movie clearly presents the problems of legality of a partner’s rights and this makes this film important.

 

“KEY WEST: CITY OF COLORS”— Life in the Keys

“Key West: City of Colors”

Life in the Keys

Amos Lassen

This is not a new movie and I am not sure even if it is still available but if you can find a copy you will get a look at a city that instills pride and uplifts the spirit. Key West boasts many varied ethic groups, backgrounds and styles. The focus of the film is the city of Key West but more specifically we get a look at the largest rainbow flag ever created. The highlight of the film is the unfurling of our flag on Duval Street and seeing it span from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2003, Gilbert Baker, he originator of the Rainbow Flag, sewed a new one especially for Key West. It was 1¼ miles long, 16 feet wide and weighed 3 tons. It required a staff of 3000 volunteers to carry 17,000 linear yards of material. The sheer joy exhibited by those who carried the flag is exhilarating and quite contagious. The new flag had the original eight colors instead of the six we have today. Fuchsia and purple were discarded because of the difficulty in getting these colors.

The movie begins with an introduction to the city and the people. The residents tell us what makes Key West so special. It is a place where no one cares who sleeps with whom. There are representatives of all ethnic groups, all races and all sexualities who live together on a 2 by 4 mile island. As one resident said, “When you put people that close together, they tend to find ways to get along”. They certainly all got along for the 25th anniversary of the Rainbow Flag. Baker explains how he came to design the flag and he is a true inspiration. We learn how Key West became a Mecca to gay people and it really feels good to hear about a place where everyone gets along. It is beautiful to see straight people of color being gay friendly as well as seeing white people supporting racial diversity. The movie closes with this:

“I can choose to hate

or I can choose to love

and worse yet I can choose to fear.

Key West taught me that it has to be my choice”.

 

“GAY SEX IN THE 70’S”— “The Golden Age of Promiscuity”

“Gay Sex in the 70’s”

“The Golden Age of Promiscuity”

Amos Lassen

Ah, the 1970’s—what a time we had! This documentary by Joseph Lovett is a love song about “the golden age of promiscuity” where sex was everywhere and private lives were “discreet”. The 70’s were an exciting time for gay men and they abused the freedom they had. AIDS ended that and we came to our senses but only by the threat of death. However, do not be mistaken—there are no sordid steamy sex scenes here. Instead this is a movie about the Age of Aquarius for gay men. We did what and who we wanted and didn’t really care who the other person was. We were unabandoned and free and most important, we lost almost an entire generation of gay men because of this. AIDS was just around the corner. Our promiscuity was unbridled and we get here an in-depth look at how it was during the beginnings of gay liberation. The 70’s were a time when sex drove our lives and we had no fear and no shame!! Gay men were wild—from the bath houses to the piers to the trucks, sex was everywhere. It is almost incongruous that such a steamy topic can be so beautifully depicted in this documentary. It is laced with interviews with some of the guys who are still around and footage that we thought had been lost forever. Lovett takes us on a sexual romp of pre-AIDS New York. I watched it ongoing for those days on one hand and on the other; I rued the way we behaved. I laughed and I cried and I blushed with embarrassment but most of all, I asked myself why I ever left America as I did in the 70’s. I moved to Israel in the late 60’s and did not partake of the fun that was going on here but I am ALIVE to talk about it.

“200 AMERICAN”— Searching for Identity

“200 American”

Searching for Identity

Amos Lassen

One would think that we have no idea who we are with the number of films about the search for identity. Here two very different men—a rich entrepreneur and a poor young rent boy meet and share their lives for a period as they struggle with whom they really are.

A young good looker from Australia comes to America searching for his boyfriend who has come home to the United States. The two lovers had split and Ian, the Aussie, cannot find a job because of his visa status but he wants to stay so he can patch up the relationship with his ex. He finally finds a girl who is willing to marry him so that he can get citizenship for $10,000. In order to finance that, he turns to hustling where he meets a rich client who is mourning the end of his own relationship and who is smitten with him—so much so that he offers him a job in his high scale advertising agency at the salary of what it would have cost him for a full night of sex. Naturally problems ensue and crises emerge.

The cast includes Mark Ford, Justin Durishin, Spencer Aster and Anthony Ames, The cinematography of New York is spectacular and the actors all do fine. Each character develops his own distinct personality and the twists and turns of the plot make this a movie to see.

 

“God Hates Fags: The Rhetoric of Religious Violence” by Michael Cobb— How Religious Violence Works

Cobb, Michael. “God Hates Fags: The Rhetoric of Religious Violence”, NYU Press, 2006.

How Religious Violence Works

Amos Lassen

We are all aware of the religious violence that surrounds the lives of members of the LGBT community but we really do not know how it works—at least, we didn’t until now. Michael Cobb shows us how it comes to be and how it affects our daily lives.

None of us are likely ever to forget the brouhaha at the funeral of Matthew Shepard. In Arkansas we have been privy to a few really sick religious demonstrations and we all remember those disgusting placards like “God Hates Fags” and “Fags Die, God Laughs”. In Laramie, the mourners staged a protest against the protest by initiating “angel action” in which they wore seven foot high angel wings and created a barrier so that it was impossible to see the religious protestors.

Cobb explains that the discourse of religion has always been excessively anti-gay in the politics and culture of America. It seems as if this discourse is not only pervasive but very, very potent and has damaged our activism and our expression. The time that has been wasted battling it could surely have been better used in more productive areas. We have strategically attempted to respond against the protests especially in the area of literature and some of our greatest authors have rallied against it—Tennessee Williams, Stephen Crane and James Baldwin to name three. Yet somehow the religious right has managed to establish a rigorous campaign against us.

Cobb knows his subject well and he has used the most up to date research available as well as providing us with new and fresh perspectives in order to give us an exciting view of religion and religious texts and what they do to the gay community. This is a book for everybody who wants to understand the whole matter and it is intelligent, insightful and clear. It brings a topic that has been almost overlooked into the field of gay and lesbian studies.

“Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir” by Kevin Jennings— Coming of Age and Growing Up Gay

Jennings, Kevin. “Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir”, Beacon Press, 2006.

Coming of Age and Growing Up Gay

Amos Lassen

Kevin Jennings is the founder of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network and has been a fighter for non-discrimination in our country’s schools. With his book, he lets us into his life and shows us how he came to be where he is today. His father was a fundamentalist minister who died suddenly in the middle of Jennings’s eighth birthday party and his mother had to become the breadwinner of the family. Having been raised in a trailer park, Jennings escaped into the world of reading. School was a battle for him—he was fat, intelligent and liked boys. He finally escaped his childhood by winning a scholarship to Harvard where he could use his mind and not be shunned for his sexual feelings. Upon graduation he began to teach at some of the fine private schools in Boston and was loved by his students but caused nervous feelings among the administrations because of his desire to speak openly about his lifestyle.

The book speaks of the South—Jennings is from North Carolina — and of the evangelicalism and racism there. Jennings describes his mother as a “working class feminist” who was the first woman in North Carolina to gain a management position at McDonald’s. When he came out to her, even though she was perplexed, she founded a gay parents’ support group. It is when he writes about his mother that the book takes off. It is obvious how much he loves her and he allows that love to show through his writing.

This is a moving, literate memoir of an amazing man. His rise “from rags to riches” is related in such a way that the reader feels that he is growing with the author. This is the story of the determination of a woman to assure that her son gets the education that he wants and that she never had as well as her son’s attempts to break free from the constraints of the homophobic South, from the bullies that made him miserable and from the narrow minded people he encountered in his life. It is also the story of a teacher who made it his life goal to help the youth of America to be liberated and free. His story is a narrative that meets turns along the way and Jennings rides with them.

 

“FIRE ISLAND”— A Documentary

“Fire Island”

A Documentary

Amos Lassen

Bravo Television has produced some really interesting shows for our community. We, of course, remember “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Boy Meets Boy”. Another is “Fire Island” which was the forerunner of Bravo’s LGBT programming. Although the show is no longer being broadcast, it is available on DVD if you are lucky enough to find a copy. This was one of the early reality shows and was aired before television was saturated with reality.

The documentary follows the activities and relationships of two houses at the gay resort of Fire Island. One house is a group of women; the other is a group of men. Fire Island, off the coast of New York was once “the” place to be in the summer—either at the island itself, in Cherry Grove or the Pines. Fabulous parties, high jinks and anonymous sex were the rule and the stories that have emerged from the escapades there are almost legendary.  During the course of four episodes we are let into the lives of those who were there. We hear discussions of love, divorce, AIDS, coming out and infidelity. The characters are not actors; they are real regular people who let us peer into their lives but just on the surface. Several important issues are discussed but slightly and this is the problem I had with the film. I would have preferred a deeper discussion especially with regards to infidelity and coming out to family. However, regardless of how light this documentary is, I was riveted to it. It is not just the beautiful people that caused that but rather what they had to say.

Almost as good as the movie itself are the extras. These include “Invasion of the Pines”, two extended interviews and a featurette on gay marriage. One of the characters summed up his summer at Fire Island with a poem:

“Once upon a summertime

on an island by the sea,

A bunch of boys

would pass the time

getting tan and going to tea.

They came from every walk of life

by train and boat and ferry,

They kissed each other on the cheek

and called each other Mary”.

“WHEN DO WE EAT?”— A Rollicking Comedy

“When Do We Eat?”

A Rollicking Comedy

Amos Lassen

It is almost Passover once again and time for my review of one of the funniest movies ever made, “When Do We Eat”, a phrase every Jew who has ever been to a Seder knows. For those of you who do not know what a Seder is, let me explain. The Seder is the traditional meal we have at Passover that commemorates the Israelites leaving Egypt and wandering in the desert for 40 years. Each year, at Passover, we sit down to remember (and remember and remember) those times. This is not a short affair and is usually a family tradition. Like all family traditions, it moreover than not………………well, you can imagine the rest and if anyone says anything during the Seder, it is usually the question, “When do we eat”?

Salvador Litvak has filmed a Seder that goes awry in every possible way. Ira (Michael Lerner), the father, prides himself on being able to conduct the fastest Seder— the meal usually lasts from 3 to 5 hours, hence the title of the movie. Zeke (Ben Friedman), his son, manages to slop him a dose of Ecstasy at the beginning of the meal because he wants his dad to experience Passover in a new light. Peg (Lesley Ann Warren), his mother has invited a special guest, Rafi, an ex-Israeli soldier to join them and fulfills the law that there must be one guest at the table.

One of the daughters, Jennifer, is an out lesbian who brings her black lover to Seder. Another daughter, Nikki, is a prostitute masquerading as a “sex worker” and Ethan, another son, has found God and returns to his Orthodox roots but slips and “schtups” his first cousin Vanessa, a Hollywood publicist. Then there is Lionel, another son, who has been pretending to be autistic and there is a grandfather who refuses to let go of his past. When this group sits down together, it makes fireworks on the fourth of July look pale. This is a Seder no one will forget.

I am quite sure that none of us have ever had to endure the dynamics of a family like this and in that, I would say we are quite lucky. During the course of the Seder, truths are exposed and the family ends up as a happy group of people. They get to see the insides of each other and walls are torn down and true feelings come out. Even if you laugh throughout the film, there is a string possibility that you will shed tears at the end.

The DVD has plenty extras and bonus features. What I love is that this is a film you can watch over and over again and I is always fresh. In fact it is a regular film at my temple and the same people come to see it every year.

“STRANGE FRUIT: THE BEATLES APPLE RECORDS”— The Apple Empire

“Strange Fruit: The Beatles Apple Records”

The Apple Empire

Amos Lassen

When we think of Apple today, we think of Macintosh computers. However there was a time that the word “apple” belonged to the Beatles. In 1968, they opened the doors of Apple to musicians, writers, artists inventors etc. Unfortunately not too much came out of Apple aside from their own music. That music is still with us today.

This DVD is the story of how a record label came into being under

 

“extraordinary circumstances produced extraordinary records and was operated under extraordinary guidelines”.  

The DVD includes interviews with the former director of the label, Tony Bramwell, “members of Badfinger, The Iveys and Elephant’s Memory, Jackie Lomax, Brute Force and David Peel, plus musician and Beatles expert Chris Ingham, author and journalist Mark Paytress and Apple biographer Stefan Granados”. There is also archival footage of the artists and this is a fascinating look at a time that was. Apple was a name to be reckoned with and an important part of music history.

 

 

“Saving Jane Austen” by Daniel Curzon— Jane Austen Lives

Curzon, Daniel. “Saving Jane Austen”, IGNA Books, 200.

Jane Austen Lives

Amos Lassen

I love the way Daniel Curzon writes but even more than that, I love the way he is ready to venture into every genre and write about whatever he chooses to write about. He has been a writer who has been chronicling our history (indirectly) for many years and I always look forward to reading something new from him.

In this book he tackles Jane Austen who has been the source of several parodies lately and he does so with style. Here Austen did not die in 1817 as we all have been told. Her head had been preserved at a Cryonics facility in Zurich and now she has been revived and returns to England to write a new novel. However, her peace of mind is threatened from outside the Austen house. Her care-giver, Hans-Axl, a neo-Nazi is a threat as are the Muslim fundamentalists living next door to her, AIDS is ravaging her country, libertarianism is running wild, and the paparazzi pursue her. Her only friends are a lesbian,   a rare book dealer in America and her acquaintances on the internet.

The story is not a narrative but told in emails and the shift between Regency England and modern times is beautifully handled. This is quite an epic book coming in at 479 pages but each is interesting and it is a fun read.