Monthly Archives: July 2012

“FOOTNOTE”— Father and Son

Footnote”

Father and Son

Amos Lassen

I have waited a long time to be able to see Joseph Cedar’s new movie “Footnotes” so when my copy came yesterday, I cleared my schedule and sat down to watch. After it was over, I found myself still sitting, unable to move and unable to think about anything else than what I had seen. I am constantly amazed at how far the Israel film has come. It the last several years, we have had some wonderful films come out of Israel and it seems to me that with each new release, the films keep getting better and better. “Footnote” was the film that Israel entered into Academy Award competition and the film was one of the five considered by the Academy and received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. Once you see this, you will see why.

The movie is a comedy about the relationship between father, Eliezer Skolnick (Shlomo Bar Aba) and his son, Uriel Skolnick portrayed wonderfully by Israel mega-star Lior Ashkenazi. (I reason I repeated the last name is because in Israel, many second generation Israelis change their last name to something in contemporary Hebrew to show their separation from “The Old Country” and as a sense of pride for being a citizen of the country). Both men are professors and both are eccentric, each in his own way yet both men are in the same field—Talmudic study. (The Talmud, for those of you who do not know, is a commentary of the Hebrew Bible of which there are two versions—the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud). The elder Skolnick is a purist who has never received recognition for his work while Uriel has continually received accolades and he seeks recognition.

One day, Eliezer receives a call from the Israel Prize Committee (the Israel Prize is the highest honor an Israeli citizen can receive and it is awarded ever year on Israel Independence Day) telling him that he is to be the recipient of the prize for his contribution to the scholarship of the country. When this happens we see a different Eliezer, a man who feels honored and his need for validation is exposed.

What I am writing now is NOT a spoiler. Uriel is thrilled by the news that is father is to be recognized but we learn a mistake was made. The committee that informed Eliezer that he was being awarded the prize calls Uriel to come in for a conference. It seems that the secretary made a mistake and the prize is not all meant for Eliezer but for Uriel. What happens next you will have to find out for yourself.

Everything about this film is excellent. Bar Aba and Ashkenazi turn in brilliant performances and the cinematography show us the beauty of Israel. The background music by Amit Pozansky is perfect and there is even a look at “Fiddler on the Roof” performed in Hebrew. The special features are excellent as well and include a featurette of “Behind the Scenes” and a talk with the director who explains how this movie came to be.

 

“TWISTED ROMANCE”— Love, Jealousy, Fear

Twisted Romance “

Love, Jealousy, Fear

Amos Lassen

We all know people who either or have been in relationships that should not have been and in “Twisted Romance”, director Jose Campusano shows us one such relationship and it does not make for comfortable viewing. That statement is not to be taken negatively because we learn from discomfort and many times uncomfortable situations carry a very strong message.

Roberto (Nehuen Zapata) is a brooding teenager who sees Raul (Oscar Genova) as a mystery. Anyone else would not have tolerated him for a moment but there is something in Raul that draws Roberto in. Raul believes in brutal sex and Roberto, instead of walking away from it especially when he sees how bad things are becoming, movies in with Raul who is in his fifties and he even introduces him to his mother and his sister. Roberto should have fallen in love with Cesar, a young man travelling through Argentina who falls for him after one night together. The problem is that Roberto is in love with Raul, a man involved in the illegal sale of guns and is violent and quite possibly guilty of murder.

The director certainly shows us the dark side of gay relationships and this is not something we usually see in the movies and certainly have not seen much of in the new queer cinema. Raul is depicted as a disgusting person and certainly not partner material. His wife had already left him and took their daughter with her. Roberto does not seem to understand the situation he is in and it is not until the end of the film that he sees Raul for who he really is.

What is interesting is that Campusano gives us a love scene between the two and it is quite bold especially due to the feelings that he makes us sense. We are not going to like Raul no matter what and no love scene could possibly change the way we feel about him. But he also does something else—he shows us the lives of those living in the poorer section of Buenos Aires and how they survive. The director filmed this with a hand held camera and then gives us a film about an unlikely and unhealthy relationship and involves Roberto’s mother and sister. There is both physical and sexual violence but we know from the title what we are going to see and yet we watch. To me, that says something about the nature and quality of the film.

 

“THE BEAT HOTEL”— Paris, 1957

The Beat Hotel”

Paris, 1957

Amos Lassen

A cheap Paris hotel in the Latin Quarter in 1957 became a shelter for the new kind of artists who left American conformity and censorship. This same hotel became the center of the writing that characterized the Bear Generation and it was from there that some of the most important writings emerged. The hotel soon became known as the Beat Hotel. The new documentary by the same name and directed by Alan Govenar explores the place and the time.

When the obscenity trials that took place around the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” began to gain speed, Ginsberg and his lover, Peter Orlovsky, fled to Paris to a small hotel at 9 rue Git le Coeur and soon afterwards they were joined by William Burroughs, Ian Somerville and Brion Gysin. Madame Rachou ran the hotel that became “the place” where creativity and permissiveness ruled. It was there that Burroughs together with Gysin developed the writing method that came to be known as the “cut-up method”. It was here that Burroughs finished his novel, “Naked Lunch” and Ginsberg began his poem “Kaddish”. The Dream Machine was invented here by Somerville and Gysin and great poems were written by Gregory Corso and Harold Norse wrote the novella aptly named, “The Beat Hotel”.

The film looks at the years 1958-1963 when the fertility of the man was no place better housed than at the Beat Hotel. Here was “Bohemia working at its best”. Now all of those who were there are dead so we must depend on those who were around them to tell us how things were.

Although the filmmaker falls into a trap using actors to stand in for some of the literary legends, the film captures an organic essence of the residential hotel’s freewheeling atmosphere as fostered by its eccentric owner Madame Rachou”.

The film includes interviews with Beat historians Regina Weinreich and Oliver Harris, photographer Harold Chapman, former hotel residents, and other survivors and we get something of a narrative about those writers who were influential. The film “provides an airing of colorful remembrances about a time and place that made unburdened creativity possible to a particular group of artists. To the extent that modern creative types can only dream about such a wild and free experience, the film is an inspired musing of audacious ideas expressed by charmed personalities”. The hotel has been renovated and all that there is to show what went on there is a plaque that celebrates the important place in history that was once there.

 

“THE BOY NEXT DOOR”— Friendship

“The Boy Next Door”
Friendship
Amos Lassen

When Mark, a 25 year old hustler accidentally meets the young son of one of his clients, a friendship develops. The youngster tells Mark that he is looking for his father and this surprises Mark who wants nothing to do with the kid. It seems that both guys were to meet the same man at the same time and at the same place. Then Mark realizes that this accidental meeting may really be a good thing.
Gregor Schmidinger who brought us the wonderful short documentary “Homophobia” also directed this and the character he created with Mark as a hustler who suffers from anxiety attacks is certainly interesting. What we see here when the two meet is how friendship grows and then how these guys deal with their personal devils.
We learn of a father who cares more about himself than his son and we see that he definitely prefers the hustler over family. On the other hand, we have a short film with a great deal of heart as we watch this new friendship develop. It certainly gave me a lot to think about.

“THE BEATLES: THEIR GOLDEN AGE”— 1960-1970

The Beatles: Their Golden Age”

1960-1970

Amos Lassen

There is no question as to the influence The Beatles have had on the world and not just musically. We never tire of hearing about them and we always are ready to learn some more. I just find it hard to believe that half of the four man group is no longer with us.

It was in August, 1962 that Ringo Starr became a Beatle and replaced drummer Pete Best. At that time, we had not even begun to hear of the fab four and yet they went on to become the biggest act in entertainment history. Our lives were changed forever by the foursome and it is almost impossible to understand their meteoric rise.

This documentary directed by Lee Krantz is the story of The Beatles in their early years until they broke up in 1970. We see their world tours and we see clips from their movies as well as a wonderful section on the making of their first film, “A Hard Day’s Night”.

Some of the scenes in the film have been seen before but there is some rare footage here is well. One interesting clip is John Lennon reading his own poetry and another is seeing Paul McCartney lashing out at a reporter who publicized Paul’s LSD usage. We see George Harrison flirting with his wife, Patty Boyd and we see Ringo acting up with the other members of the group. What the film ultimately shows us is that side of The Beatles that we, the public, rarely saw. Yet we also see the famous scenes of the group that have come to characterize them such as John explaining why he said the four were bigger than Jesus. All I could think of as I watched were my personal memories of what went on in my life when The Beatles were the rage. “Ah, the memories…”. The film comes out just as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the group as we know them (August 18, 1962 or the day Ringo joined the band). We love them, yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

 

 

“THE TEMPEST”— Derek Jarman Takes on Shakespeare

“The Tempest”
Derek Jarman Takes on Shakespeare
Amos Lassen

Before I say something about the way Derek Jarman interprets Shakespeare, let me give you a short summary of what “The Tempest” is about.
“Prospero, a potent magician, lives on a desolate isle with his virginal daughter, Miranda. He’s in exile, banished from his duchy by his usurping brother and the King of Naples. Providence brings these enemies near; aided by his vassal the spirit Ariel, Prospero conjures a tempest to wreck the Italian ship. The king’s son, thinking all others are lost, becomes Prospero’s prisoner, falling in love with Miranda and she with him. Prospero’s brother and the king wander the island, as do a drunken cook and sailor, who conspire with Caliban, Prospero’s beastly slave, to murder Prospero. Prospero wants reason to triumph, Ariel wants his freedom, Miranda [wants] a husband; the sailors [just] want to dance”.
Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is a play with themes of freedom, temperance, repentance, and forgiveness. The basic difference between Shakespeare’s play and Derek Jarman’s film is the time difference between the two men. They are separated by four hundred years of time, culture and theatrics. Jarman is loyal to the play linguistically and the dialog is a bit difficult to understand at times but the play is basically all here and what the understanding of language lacks is made up for by brilliant cinematography and the performances of the actors. Of course there are Shakespeare loyalists who will be offended by this film because it is not in sync with the original but there are also those who enjoy Shakespearean adaptations.
Some see the film as a gay fantasy filled with camp costumes, a nude Ferdinand and sexual tension between Ariel and Prospero and as a finale, we get an octet of sailors dancing. This is a film of images, some fantastic and some very dark (Ariel as he is pulled to a nude to help her perform her duties on earth).Others see it as a retelling of the original as a dream of vengeance that while it may worry purists will satisfy those of us who are open-minded and free thinkers. The film takes us to places we have never been. Shakespeare wrote plays of ideas and those ideas are related to us in rich and beautiful language and the characters arise of this. “The Tempest” is full of ideas. Jarman forsakes the ideas and goes to the characters. In doing so, some of the beauty of the play is lost and only the obvious is emphasized.
 The photography and staging are beautiful and this is a difficult piece to stage but Jarman showed that by using film, he could overcome those difficulties. Jarman’s production is a punk symphony performed by an able cast—Heathcote Williams as Prospero, Toyah Willcox as Miranda, and Karl Johnson as Ariel. Then there are  the bits that are added and that fit in well, especially Elisabeth Welch’s appearance singing “Stormy Weather”. There is comedy given to us by Ken Campbell and Christopher Biggins as the shipwrecked drunks finding themselves on Prospero’s enchanted island, with Jack Birkett as a creepy Caliban.
Much of the film is unexpected and it is inventive and everything comes wrapped in a sense of queer consciousness. He took liberties with the original text. He  relocated the main body of the work from the shores of a remote island to a candle-lit abbey style mansion yet he managed to keep the original intact. The story of how Prospero, the right Duke of Milan as usurped by his brother Antonio with the support of Alonso, the King of Naples, wreaks revenge by commanding Ariel, a powerful spirit to raise a tempestuous storm to shipwreck those who conspired against him, only for Prospero’s daughter Miranda to fall in love with Ferdinand, son of his sworn enemy, the King of Naples is all there.
This version may be offbeat but it startles the eyes with its costumes, its sets, its lighting and the way Jarman presents the characters. Writing about it really does no justice—the film demands to be seen.

“POSITIVE YOUTH”— AIDS and the Young

Positive Youth”

AIDS and the Young

Amos Lassen

Sometimes I think that we in the gay community have forgotten about AIDS. I am not saying that we have forgotten about those people that we have loved and lost to the terrible disease. I think that we have forgotten that there is no cure and AIDS is still a horrible menace that takes lives every day. While it has moved out of our community that does not mean that it is over or that we can be lax about it. Charlie David, the actor who made himself a name with films such as “Dante’s Cove”, “Judas Kiss” and others reminds us in his documentary about young people and AIDS that the disease is very much still with us. In 1981, AIDS killed but today this is not true. There is still no cure but such advances have been made in both science and medicine, that people are now able to not only live with the disease bit they can actually have a life of quality.

In this documentary, Charlie David looks at four different people who are HIV positive. There is a straight 18 year old woman, a member of First Nations who lives in rural and poor America. We meet a 25 year old white gay male who lives in urban America, a 23 year old religious African American and a club kid who is 27. What these people have in common is AIDS and we hear from each of them as to how they deal with the reality of living with the disease and how each of them has the ability to change opinions about AIDS.

This is a very important film and what we see here is inspirational. We must remain aware and vigilant so that we can arrest as much of the disease as powerful and give hope to those who have it. Most important is that it s never too late to learn about AIDS and we must never ever forget. Living with HIV/AIDS is living and we never want to consider the alternative again.

 

“My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan” by Seth Rudetsky— A Funny and Human Novel

Rudetsky, Seth. “My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan”, Ember, 2012.

A Funny and Human Novel

Amos Lassen

If you have ever read Seth Rudetsky, you know that he is a very witty writer and now he turns his humor on his first young adult novel. And there is plenty of humor in this book.

Justin is a sophomore in high school and he has two specific goals: first, to get a date with straight Chuck, the hottest boy in the school and second, to not only sit at the “in” table in the cafeteria but to be its king. There is a problem, however—Justin is short and chubby and has very curly black hair and he likes Broadway show music, plays the violin and sings in the chorus. He has two friends, Spencer, who is into Eastern religions and Mary Ann who does not believe in shaving her armpits. Just to make things a little worse, Chuck is dating one of Justin’s friends, Becky who sings in the chorus with him. Now we all know that determination can cause change and Justin in determined and has a plan. Becky’s father does not like Chuck so Justin suggests that Justin pick Becky up because her dad loves him and then later they will meet up with Chuck. Justin thinks this will secure him a place as Chuck’s friend.

Rudetsky gives us a very funny read yet it is also very serious. Justin, like all of us, just wants to be popular and how he goes about this, we get a look at a youngster who does not fit in.

Justin has moxie and nerve and once he gets an idea, he runs with it. The humor is sarcastic but then we are dealing with a gay teenager who is trying to find his way through high school. The depiction of the friendship between Justin and Spencer is written realistically and the two share some really clever inside jokes.

It is so easy to identify with the characters and the fact that this book has such a universal theme makes it important. It may be written for young adults but we can all enjoy it.

“I AM WOMAN NOW”— The Older Woman

I Am a Woman Now”

The Older Woman

Amos Lassen

If ageism is a problem in the gay community and we know that it is, we can just imagine how it affects members of the trans community. Director Michiel van Erp takes a look at a group of trans women who are in their seventies. April, Colette, Jean, Marie-Pierre and Corrine had their sexual reassignment surgeries some fifty years ago and they talk about their lives in some really wonderful places. The women are charming and witty and what we see here is a new perspective on the way trans people live. This group is, from what I understand, the first generation of transsexuals who during the 1950’s and ‘60’s underwent surgery in Casablanca (and remember that Morocco is a Muslim country). They all went to the same doctor and now look back at their lives. You can imagine some of the questions that people have and you will learn whether they feel like complete woman and whether they feel like they hopes and dreams have been fulfilled.

What is interesting here is the talk about their doctor who they refer to as “miracle man”. Georges Burou asked no questions and there were no preconditions. What was important was the ability to pay for the operations. We see the women long after their dreams came into being and what happens during that period between the realizations of who they are to the reality of how they live.

 

 

“Growing Up Gay: From Left Out to Coming Out” by Funny Gay Males— Still Very Funny

Funny Gay Males. “Growing Up Gay: From Left Out to Coming Out”, Hyperion Books, 1995.

Still Very Funny

Amos Lassen

There are some books that can be read over and over and “Growing Up Gay” is one of those. Its humor is not only wonderful but here it is seven years after publication and I still laugh every time I read it. Today was one of those dreary New England days and a laugh was needed so I picked it up again

The book is a collection of anecdotes and statements by the once very popular gay comedy group, Funny Gay Males. Now we all know that a stereotype is little more than a commonly held lie and here is where the writers start. They challenge some of the stereotypes and accept others and even with this we get a very positive picture of gay life. Perhaps the book would have even been better named had the title been, Growing Up Different. There are no explanations to why someone grows up different, instead the writers just have fun with it.

What is really interesting is that there is a lot to be learned from the book and the content is universal and because of this I would say that not only is it about growing up gay but it is also about differences. After reading this, I predict you will find a new sense of pride and as you do, you will be laughing. Each and every one of us is somewhere in that book and that is what makes it so charming.