Monthly Archives: May 2012

“THE INVISIBLES”– Documentary on LGBT Elders in France

The Invisibles

20 May, 2012 | By Mark Adams, chief film critic

Dir: Sebastien Lifshitz. France. 2012. 115mins

Sebastien Lifshitz’s leisurely engaging documentary about elderly openly gay and lesbians in France – or ‘invisibles’ as he calls them, claiming that aging homosexuals withdraw from their social lives as they get older – offers an intriguing glimpse into attitudes of old France as they talk about their experiences over the past 60 years.

The Invisibles weaves its gentle and leisurely story through recent French history.

The strength of The Invisibles (Les Invisibles) are the warm, generous and often joyous recollections of a series of men and woman who are pragmatic about the homophobia and aggression they faced but more interested in talking about the joy, happiness, love and sex they have experienced over their long lives. Running almost two hours, the film is likely to receive limited formal distribution, though likely to find invitations to GLBT festivals easy to come by.

Lifshitz the documentary-maker is a nicely passive presence in the film, though clearly the various men and women he tracked down over an extensive pre-production period are completely at ease and happy to discuss their lives. He tracked down a series of people – none linked – who were born between the wars, and simply asked them talk about their experiences as well as reveal what it is like to age and love for homosexuals over the age of 70.

The various interviewees – who are only ever identified by their first names – talk about their early sexual experiences and how they first came out; discuss the gay rights movement alongside the women’s rights protests; their relationships and partners and (in the film’s most moving and charming moments) dwell on how happy they have been over the years. A plethora of old photographs and film footage sit alongside the interviews.

White the fight for decriminalisation of homosexuality and equal rights plays a key part of the interviews, Lifshitz is perhaps more interested in how many of the interviewees have lived together openly for more than 30 years, and how while secrecy and discretion were commonplace there was also a good deal of tolerance across different social backgrounds.

The backdrops for the interviews also play an important part in the film, with Lifshitz using images of nature to symbolise a certain fulfilment. He also uses it to puncture the cliché that homosexuality was hidden away in France in the past, with strong use of images of an elderly French farmer who discusses his various lovers who would swim in a stream with him, and a lesbian couple who escaped to the countryside and ran a busy farm and were always supported and encouraged by other farmers in their community.

There is a strong sense, though, that it is a film that could have been much tighter, with some of the stories vaguely repetitive as The Invisibles weaves its gentle and leisurely story through recent French history.

The Mystery of Ruby Lode” by Scotty Cade— Something Left Behind

Cade, Scotty. “The Mystery of Ruby Lode”, Silver Publishing, 2012.

Something Left Behind…

Amos Lassen

I have been a fan of Scotty Cade since his first book and I am proud to say that I still am. He is a writer that takes us into his books and holds you there by introducing you to real characters with real emotions that have real loves. This book is a bit different that his others in that he moves into a new genre, leaving male/male romance behind and takes us into the lives of four friends who attempt to solve the mystery of Ruby Lode. Bowen McAlister, Cyrus Curran, Duff Gentry and Lockhart Dawson go to Boulder, Colorado to explore a gold mine that has been abandoned. As they travel to Ruby Lode, Duff, a psychic from birth senses that something is not quite right and he becomes more and more uneasy the closer they get.

We learn that something was left behind at Ruby Lode and whatever that is, it is foreboding and it makes the four know that it is there by preying on the guys’ weaknesses and insecurities. The secret it holds threatens ach of the men and their lives.

Because of the nature of the book, it is very hard to review without spoiling a terrific read. I could not stop reading and found myself glued to the book and to my seat and I can only tell you to read it to discover what I am talking about.

“The Twenty-Twenty Players: A Futuristic Account of the 2020 Presidential Election Year” by Jim Lynch— And Our President is…

Lynch, Jim. “The Twenty-Twenty Players: A Futuristic Account of the 2020 Presidential Election Year”, Jim Lynch, 2011.

And Our President is…..

Amos Lassen

It is January 2020 and John Struben, U.S.Senator is running for president. His wife, singer, Gina, convinced him that this is his calling. It was just too bad that she did not think about the effect terrorism would have on her family. This is the background for the novel which is made up of three inter-connected plots—the election, domestic terrorism and international terrorism. There is a broad cast of characters which includes “Presidential candidate Josh Struben and his wife, singer/activist Gina Struben; Chinese industrialist, Sun Feng; CIA Operative, Catherine Cauley; Islamic terrorist, Faraq Hussein; and Kenneth Brady, the bi-sexual host of the network news talk show, “The Brady Focus.” Other colorful supporting characters invigorate the plot that covers the 12 months of January through December 2020”. The major characters all go through major changes.

This non partisan political thriller is hard to put down even at 432 pages. The plot revolves around the presidential election of 2020 and is character driven. The author uses the themes of globalism, economics, political polarization and immigration and presents to us what he thinks the world will be like in 2020. While it is fiction, it could certainly be and this is what I think makes this such a fascinating read.

While the writing is not polished, neither is politics (although politicians might have us believe otherwise) and this adds to the story.

The plot moves quickly and is totally unpredictable thereby making this somewhat to review without giving something away but I will say that this is a book that you will not soon forget.

 

 

“Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma” by Barbara Will— The Strange Truth

Will, Barbara. “Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma”, (Gender and Culture Series), Columbia University Press, 2011.

The Strange Truth

Amos Lassen

All of a sudden it seems evident that Gertrude Stein, a lesbian and a Jew became involved in a very strange intellectual project which, in effect, saved her and Alice B. Toklas’s lives from death at the hands of Nazi Germany.

In 1941, Stein began translating the speeches of Marshal Phillipe Petain, head of state for the collaborationist Vichy government into English. She continued doing so until 1943 and she translated those speeches in which the Vichy policy barring “Jews and other foreign elements” from being public and calling for France to make peace and reconcile with the Nazis that were occupying the country.

When I was a graduate student, I concentrated on Stein and I felt it was quite natural to do so. After all we were both Jewish and gay and loved literature. However this discovery about the woman I so cherished has upset me greatly. Stein received protection from Bernard Fay, director of the Bibliotheque Natonale during the Vichy regime and he oversaw the repression of French freemasons. It was Fay who convinced Petain to leave Stein alone during the war and he then encouraged her to do the translations of Petain’s speeches so that Americans could read them.

The relationship between Fey and Stein was powerful especially since they shared many political and aesthetic ideas. They were both considered intellectuals and as we read we get a new look at modernism and fascism and we find ourselves questioning why so many in the intellectual community  moved in the direction of fascist thought.

Not only does the book provoke thought, it is gorgeously written that is a wonderful read. I found myself unable to close the covers once I began and this is somewhat rare when reading nonfiction. Yet the book is also quite disturbing—at least it was for me and it made me want to know more. Stein was famous for being Stein—her writing was never fully accepted by American intellectuals; she was something of a curiosity and I hope that this aspect of her life will not cause her to be disregarded. However, I must admit I was disheartened to learn this about her. Stein had some talent but she is actually more famous for who she knew than for what she wrote. Have I changed my opinion of her? —Yes, I have and I am not happy. The story is quite complex and Stein surrounded herself with the people that mattered—this time they happened to anti-Fascists yet at the same time, she relied on Fay, a facist, for protection. Stein was able to draw the best from him but in doing so; we see the worst of her.

There have been rumors about Stein’s dancing with fascism and here it is laid bare for all to see. I suppose most shocking for me is the photograph of Stein giving the Hitler salute and I had to wonder how a Jew and a lesbian could possibly do such a thing even for self-preservation. Will shows how Stein was a self-hating Jew who chose to become the friend of a royalist Roman Catholic. Was it just that they shared a number of values and interests which drew them together and they were not all political nor idealistic? I never doubted Stein’s genius as a thinker but I most definitely question the choices she made. She died of cancer before Fay was discredited and sent to prison for the very ideology he so championed and his life ended in disgrace. Stein did not have to see this.

 Janet Malcolm first told us about this aspect of Stein’s life in articles in “The New Yorker” and later in her book, “Two Lives” but evidently it did not sink in. In fact it actually took the new Stein exhibit in San Francisco this year to bring the issue to public knowledge and quite naturally there has been outcry. Outcry or not, the book contains the proof and everything is documented in some 70 pages of footnotes.

Another interesting aspect we learn is that Fay was an anti-Semite and a homosexual and I cannot help but wonder if the likened sexuality is what originally brought the two together. That Stein was a self-hating Jew, I have already stated but I did not say that after her lover’s death, Toklas converted to Roman Catholicism.

 I also found it interesting that in one review I read by Jill Meyer, she referred to the relationship between Fay and Stein as “Stein’s ‘alleged’ collaboration with French Vichy officials during WW2, when she and her companion, Alice B Toklas, were living in France”. The very same reviewer said, “This review is also one of the few I’ve written without having quite finishing [sic] the book. I hope to return to it sometime, but not too soon”. Now wait just a second—how can one review a book and then give it five stars and then admit that she had not finished the book? Yet she also said that she may return to it one day but is in no hurry to do so and then give it five stars!!! This very same reviewer is one of the top 500 reviewers for Amazon so I suppose the above statement also speaks for the quality of Amazon reviewers. If she had finished the book and looked at the notes, she would have discovered that nothing is alleged and the facts are there. She further states that “Neither Stein nor Fay come across in Will’s book as anything but odious individuals, living completely unsympathetic lives both before and during WW2. (Stein died of uterine cancer in 1946; Fay, younger than Stein by 19 years, lived another 20 or so years)”.I cannot help but wonder what this reviewer was thinking—Stein and Fay came across as odious because they were. Did this reviewer forget that 6,000,000 Jews were lost to the world during the Nazi regime? Did she not know that a million homosexuals were put to death? The collaboration between Stein and Fay with the Vichy regme is so shocking that the word odious is nowhere near strong enough to describe it. Once again Amazon rewards stupidity while truth stares in its face.

“Butterfly Dream” by David Lara and Bud Gundy— Gay and Jewish in Hitler’s Germany

Lara, David and Bud Gundy. “Butterfly Dream”, Create Space, 2010.

Gay and Jewish in Hitler’s Germany

Amos Lassen

When he was just six years old, Banat Frantz learns that he is Jewish and this came at a time that such a thing was considered a crime against the state and the punishment in Nazi Germany was severe. Frantz had to learn survival skills as he and his family were forced out of their home and immigrated to Holland. They were soon to learn that they had not traveled enough and the Nazis were soon once again biting at their heels. The family was torn apart and they were forced into the Holocaust. It was then that Frantz realized that he was gay and in love with another young Jewish boy. Sent to Auschwitz, his life becomes one of unspeakable horror yet his spirit is strong and he dreams of beauty. From other inmates he is exposed to the beauty of art and he remains in survival mode.

I have often said that one does not enjoy reading a Holocaust story but Holocaust stories must be read so that we can never forget what happened during the darkest period of world history. We begin our journey with Frantz in 1933 and are with him for another 75 years. The main focus of the book is the period of the Holocaust and it is handled in great detail (for a work of fiction). It is interesting that no matter how much I read or see about the Holocaust, I am always shocked anew each time and this book is a shocker. I will never understand the cruelty and lack of humanity.

It is also amazing that this is the author’s first novel and he manages to write beautiful sensitive prose and what it does that makes it different from other Holocaust stories is both religion and sexuality are major issues. Now you may wonder why I have only mentioned one author when there are two listed. I learned that the story belongs to Bud Gundy but it is Dave Lara who actually put it on paper.

I cannot imagine how Frantz was able to deal with what he had to deal with and stay alive. We get an in-depth look at human nature as well as the human condition and this is certainly one of the most powerful books I have ever read. I began reading on the Boston subway and I know I got some strange looks from other passengers but I bet if they were reading the same book and I was merely a rider, they would get the same looks from me.

“STONY ISLAND”— Chicago’s South Side

“Stony Island”

Chicago’s South Side

Amos Lassen

Richie Bloom (Richie Davis) is the only white kid on his block on Chicago’s south side. He brings his friend Kevin (Edward Stoney Robinson) into a rhythm and blues band. They are mentored by sax legend Percy (Gene Daddy G Barge) and they form a group that practices in a funeral home and they eventually have a wonderful smash debut.

What is fascinating is that this is not a new movie—it was filmed in 1978 but it has been unavailable for a long time. “A galaxy of music and film characters appear in “Stony Island”: Chicago saxophone legend Gene Barge, Rae Dawn Chong, Dennis Franz, the late great jazz poet Oscar Brown Jr., Chess session guitarist Phil Upchurch and future Bangles star Susanna Hoffs, who plays “Farm Girl Lucie.” Her mother, Tamara Hoffs wrote and produced “Stony Island,” with Chicago native Davis, who went on to direct the Oscar-nominated “The Fugitive,” “Above the Law” and “The Guardian.” Davis and cast members will appear for Q&A sessions after the screenings”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyXVPJWQz0U

Stony Island Avenue is a landmark of the south side of Chicago.  It is also musically legendary and that is the background of the film.  It is a love letter to the area and the rhythm and blues scene of the 1970’s as well as the entire decade. The film is almost a time capsule of the period.

The ploy is simple: Richie and Kevin want to start a band, so they do. No one stands in their way or tells them no. They want to play live, so they go to a club owner and ask to play at the club. The owner says yes, and they do. They play well, and the audience enjoys it. That’s pretty much how this whole movie goes. And you know what? That’s fine. Maybe I’m just getting old and stressed out, but sometimes it’s just, well… nice to watch nice people be good at things and get what they want. Misery for misery’s sake doesn’t always have to be the default setting of High Art.”

The south side of Chicago is also a character in the film as it is so integral to what goes on. While the photography is a bit grainy, we are still enthralled with what we see.

“Goodbye to Soho” by Clayton Littlewood”— Pimping Soho

Littlewood, Clayton. “Goodbye to Soho”, DWB Press. 2012.

Pimping Soho

Amos Lassen

There are some books that make you say “WOW” and then there are those that cause you to “WOW” on every page. Clayton Littlewood has that ability. I was wowed by his first book, “Dirty White Boy: Tales of Soho” and I remember when I read it I thought to myself that he is going to have to do something really special to top it. He did just that in “Goodbye to Soho”.

There are few places as wild as Soho with its population of drag queens, hustlers, gangsters, hookers, etc., etc. and Littlewood hits us with it hard. He also hits us with a wonderful sardonic humor. The characters are truly bizarre and Soho is characterized by a sleaziness that is all her own and that seems to match the characters.

Littlewood began his foray into the Soho tales by blogging about what he saw from his Dirty White Boys clothing store. It later became a newspaper column that earned him a cult following and prompted him to publish a book. Now some four years after the publication f the first we get a second volume and the Soho that he gives us becomes one of the characters in the book.

Reminiscent of Charles Dickens to a degree with many strange and eccentric characters, we are given a tour of Soho in living color.

One of the things that the gay community prides itself on is its diversity, something we see a lot of here. I understand that the characters are based upon real people which gives the book a non-fiction feel yet some of the things that happen must be fiction (or not?). It is written as a series of vignettes that are tied together by locale and that gives us an idea of what it is to live in Soho. There were times I felt like a peeping time (alright, a peeping Amos) as I read because I saw what others do not get a chance to see.

I am now a fan of Littlewood (the writer) and am anxiously waiting to see what else is coming for and by him. I just hope we do not have to wait under four years for something by him.

“Calendar Boys” by Zachary Logan— Monthly Relief

Zachary, Logan.”Calendar Boys”, Bold Strokes Books, 2012.

Monthly Relief

Amos Lassen

All of us have done it—look at those monthly pin ups that come regularly in magazines and that take a twist in this very clever book. Cleverly arranged month by month, we get the stories behind the pictures (that we do not see) and each of them is well written. I quote from the back cover since it is so well done.

“Over the years, boys grew up sneaking peeks at the Calendar Girls when their fathers brought the family car in for service, while others saw them in Dad’s garage working on projects around the house. But now it’s man’s turn to be the object of desire. Hot young men caught each month, a man a month, who could want anything else?

‘Calendar Boys’ celebrates each month with a unique story. January’s “Pucking Prince Charming” finds a fairy tale with a happy ending in the hockey rink. While St. Valentine’s Day Massacre gangsters help a couple find lost gold and love in “The Grandfather.” March Madness comes in like a lamb, but goes out like a lion when a silly bet forces a player into “Taking It For The Team.” Zombies come out with April showers in “Jay Of The Dead.” The hot, humid, dog days of summer sees the “Lumber Jack Off,” while fall horrors wait at a haunted frat house with a “Halloween Hard On,” but the year isn’t complete until “Santa’s Big Package” arrives.

Four special seasons fill out the year, adding extra action and a lot more hot men. You have to love the Calendar Boys, each and every day of the year”…

Sure, it is fluff but it is fun fluff and there is nothing wrong with just sitting back and enjoying a book. This is the perfect beach read and if you do not go to the beach that is also fine. Just read it somewhere.

“The Marrying Kind” by Ken O’Neill— A Sensitively Funny Novel

O’Neill, Ken. “The Marrying Kind”, Bold Strokes Books, 2012.

A Sensitively Funny Novel

Amos Lassen

I suppose the fact that gay marriage is so much in the news these days; we can only expect a slew of books on the subject. Even more interesting is that fiction writers are writing about it but let me tell you that someone is going to have to do something really magnificent to unseat Ken O’Neill and his sensitive and very funny look at the issue.

Adam Moore is a wedding planner and his partner, Steven Worth, is a bit worried about him. Adam has been having some very strange dreams about the Bush family and “Gone with the Wind”. Then quite suddenly Adam decides that he can no longer work with straight marriages until he is allowed to legally marry Steven who has , as a reporter for “The Gay New York Times” opened a call to boycott by any of the gay population that provide some kind of wedding service (from flowers to caterers to musicians).

If we take a look at this and think about it, it is quite easy to see how the entire marriage industry could be crippled without LGBT input and businesses. As serious as this could be, O’Neill writes with great humor and you cannot help but laugh as you read (and that’s a good thing). But we are also hit in the face with the seriousness of the matter and both humor and seriousness are wonderfully balanced by the writer.

Let’s face it—marriage equality is not a humorous issue yet O’Neill finds humor in it. He deals with the complicated issues involved with marriage and then finds the humor. In effect, the book is more about love and we see here that it is perfectly okay to laugh about it.

It is not often that we get a book that makes us laugh all the way through and I must admit that I have not had this much fun with a book in a very long time. Even though it s set some five years ago in 2007, it is still totally relevant.

Now there is a touch of conflict here—just as the boycott begins, Adam’s sister and Steven’s brother announce that they are getting married… to each other. They want Adam to plan their wedding but if he does, he will break the boycott. This takes us into a wonderful discussion of marriage and its components and O’Neill handles it all with style. This is his first novel and if this is a sign of what is to come then we have a new literary hero to welcome to the canon of LGBT literature. The novel so rises above the level of fluff that it leaves a trail behind it and I think that O’Neill must enter this for a 2012 Lambda Award.

Narrated by Steven, we get great insight into the characters which are so delightfully rendered. Steven and Adam are so real, I could have sworn they were sitting across from me as I read. An author who can create characters that come across as friends is an author to watch.

Ken O’Neill has quite a hit with this funny and sweet look at love, relationships, family and marriage and you do not want to miss it by any means. RUN, don’t walk, to get a copy.