Monthly Archives: July 2012

“A Horse Named Sorrow” by Trebor Healey— Going Home

Healey, Trebor. “A Horse Named Sorrow”, Terrace Books, University of Wisconsin Press, 2012.

Going Home

Amos Lassen

When I hear that Trebor Healey has a new book out, I rush to read it as he is one of the authors that paints with words and always has a satisfying story to tell. This time he tells us of Seamus Blake and his meeting with Jimmy and in doing so he tells us of San Francisco in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Seamus is twenty-one and troubled and the opposite of Jimmy who is self-possessed and strong. Jimmy has just come west by bicycle from Buffalo, New York. Seamus feels that his life is about to change for the better by knowing Jimmy but this was at the height of the AIDS epidemic and Jimmy was soon gone, a victim of the disease. Before his death, Jimmy told Seamus, “Take me back the way I came” and Seamus was obligated to keep the promise he made.

Seamus gets on his bike and begins a journey with Jimmy’s ashes to take him home to Buffalo and hopefully to find a new life. On the way, he has adventures with “truck drivers, waitresses, college kids, farmers, ranchers, Marines, and other travelers” and what he learned from them helped him to see his own life differently as well as to view Jimmy’s death from a new perspective. He also meets a young Native American who was getting over his mother’s death and we soon realize that Healy is telling us something about life and death and the way we live. Seamus’s story and his grief evolve into a story of redemption and become universal.

Healey writes such glorious prose that is not but pleasure reading him and when that is combined with a beautiful story, we are swept away by words and taken away from the world in which we live. There is a wit here that borders on caustic yet the story is very sad and very sensitive. Bringing together politics and love, Healy gives us a story that makes us laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time.

The San Francisco of the novel is vivid and then the trip west becomes an experience that we rarely get n literature. There is a sense of mythology that is coupled with silences and as Seamus travels and we are with him, the beauty of the story unfolds. There is magic here and you do not want to miss being a part of it.

 

 

 

“How to Be Gay” by David Halperin— Learning to Be Gay

Halperin, David M. “How To Be Gay”, Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2012.

Learning to be Gay

Amos Lassen

Most of my gay friends will react to David Halperin’s new book, “How to be Gay”, by simply stating that they do not need a 500 plus page manual or do they need to put out more than $35 to know how to be gay. I am quite sure the consensus among them is that they not only know how to be gay but they are such experts that they actually teach courses about it. What they miss is that Halperin explains that “gay men must learn from one another in order to become who they are”. His book is an offshoot of a course of the same name that he taught at the University of Michigan that caused a great deal of talk from the right-wing politicians and from the gay press as well. What Halperin does is trace the way gay men are different from other men in regards to the social definition of style. While many in the larger society regard gay men as something of a stereotype (simplistic, irresponsible politically and suspect morally), what we see here—and this is so important—is that being gay is not just about sexual preference (but we already knew that—it is just everyone else who doesn’t). Much too often, we have been characterized by our sexual habits and there is so much than that in being gay.

Halperin is one of the pioneers in the field of gay studies and he has already written two controversial books—one about existential philosopher Michel Foucault and the other about what he calls gay shame. It is his contention that “the genius of gay culture resides in some of its most despised features: its aestheticism, snobbery, melodrama, adoration of glamour, caricatures of women, and obsession with mothers. The insights, impertinence, and unfazed critical intelligence displayed by gay culture, Halperin argues, have much to offer the heterosexual mainstream”. He looks at the names and titles that have been put on gay men—“macho, faggy, queeny, butch diva, opera-swilling, Broadway-loving, gourmet, sex-fascinated, beauty-appreciating, love-desiring, rough trade, high art, race- and class-inflected but not exclusive, generationally situated but not entirely, intellectual, open-hearted, politically minded, leather chaps! Mary!” and shows how these came to be a part of the gay community.

I loved reading this book because I could identify with so much of it and I thought to myself, “been there, done that”. It is the sensibility of the gay male that is the main focus here and it is through this that sexuality comes into being and it holds fast because of the way it expresses itself. What we gain from reading this is the ability to truly come out of the darkness into the light and talk about it. As far as I know this is the first time that a book covers this.

The book poses the question of whether there is a gay culture and if there is, where does it come from and what does it do. Halperin looks at gayness as a social form as it takes us through the complexities of what is considered to be gay culture today. Halperin forms his definition of being gay or gayness that does not totally rely of sexuality and he uses pop culture as a way to form that definition. He wants to know why gay men allow themselves to be codified and he relates what is going on in that culture to the tremendous changes with which we live. Maybe we really do need a 544 page book with which to learn about ourselves. I found those pages to move very quickly because as you read you will find yourself somewhere in it.

I wish I could explain how much I love this book and it led me to do something that I rarely do–I bought a copy. One of the advantages of being a reviewer is that I am sent a great many books so I rarely buy any. When a book speaks to me like this one does, I have no regrets about paying for it. I do not think that you will either.
 

 

 

“THE MATCHMAKER”— Lives Change

 THE MATCHMAKER” (“Pa’am Hayiti”)

Lives Change

Amos Lassen

 

“The Matchmaker” is one of the new films from Israel that deals with the Holocaust in a non-conventional way and because of its excellent acting, fine screenplay and sensitive plot won not only the Israeli “Oscar” but awards for best actor and best actress. The film will open in New York on August 17 and this is a film that you do not want to miss. Quite basically it is the story of a teenage boy who in 1968 goes to work for a male matchmaker, a Holocaust survivor, and both of their lives are changed forever. The film shows adolescent longing combined with fable and it mixes guilt and hope as it shows a side of Israeli society that we do not often see much less know of.

In 1968, Israel was coming of age after successfully emerging from the Six-Day War. Arik (Tuval Shafir), a teen growing up in Haifa, has dreams of becoming a war hero. His family had survived the Holocaust but as was the case with many, it was not spoken of. One day while playing ball with his friends, Arik meets Yankele Bride (Adir Miller), a matchmaker (a perfectly respectable profession in Israel), who had been a friend of his father when they were both youngsters in the “old country” and Arik takes a job as his assistant.

Haifa is a city divided into various sections (and I have lived in three of them) and Yankele ran his business in the lower city near the business district and the port. It is that part of Haifa where the sailors and prostitutes mingle with those who do not really fit into Israeli society and there is a lot of gambling and criminal activity there. Yankele feels that is his life’s mission to be a shadchan (matchmaker) and his specialty is what he calls “special people” because he feels that without love their lives are in danger. Arik is his detective and searches for potential matches and looking at the private lives and habits of candidates for marriage. During the evenings, Arik spends time with his best friend, Beni, and Beni’s beautiful cousin, Tamara (Neta Porat) who has come to Israel from America for the summer. She brings American culture to the boys and they learn of rock and roll and free love and before we know it, Arik and Tamara fall in love.

Meanwhile Yankele pines for Clara (Maja Dagan), another Holocaust survivor who has been ostracized because it is believes that she used her body so that she could survive the camps. We see that the film has several layers and this is what makes it so important. Written and directed by one of Israel’s leading directors, Avi Nesher,  we are taken into a world that many do not want to believe ever existed.

The major theme is a coming-of-age story and we watch Arik mature in two ways—checking out potential matches and learning about America from Tamara with whom he falls in love. We also become aware of the way that Holocaust survivors are treated in Israel, a country that owes part of its existence to the fact that those who survived had nowhere to go. Cultures clashed as eastern Europeans who were victims came to live with Israelis who had put their lives on the line to build an independent nation and while this theme is not always overt, we are always aware that it is there. The historic events are described in an accurate manner-no historical discrepancies and all described events had actually happened (including the story about the cinema run by a family of seven midgets – true story).

I think we may forget that when the remnants of Nazi Germany came to Israel they did not leave the emotional scars they suffered behind and these scars played an important part in their assimilation into the culture of the country. Even today, they are not fully understood by those who did not experience the horrors that they witnessed and yet there were some who felt that the best way to erase the internal pain was to find love because it heals wounds.

Yankele also had some secret dealings going on alongside his matchmaking business and he comes across as quite a “shady” person. When Arik begins to work for him, he gets quite an education and much more than he ever bargained for in finding a summer job. The lead actors—Miller and Shafir are brilliant. Miller owns the screen and steals every scene his is in while Shafir as Arik gives us a beautiful portrait of a vulnerable youth who charms everyone he meets. The city of Haifa is also a character in the film and is portrayed as the bustling Mediterranean port city that it is, bustling with activity and vibrant. In Israel it is said that Haifa is for workers while Tel Aviv is for fun and Jerusalem is for prayer and we certainly see that here. The upper city of Haifa is lush and beautiful and a wonderful contrast for the lower city that is the seedy are where Yankele works. There is also wonderful contrast between Arik who lives in the beautiful upper city against Yankele who survives in the underbelly.

The story really reflects the life in Israel in the late 60s’ and early 70s’ showing the sad story of the Holocaust survivors, combined with the stories of those Jews who were born in Israel, and those who immigrated from other countries aside from Europe, or those who immigrated before WWII. This is shown in very delicately through the story of a young teenager and the matchmaker. The movie also raises some interesting moral issues that will leave you a lot to think about.

 

Looking back at what I have written, I realize that I might have made this film sound much heavier than it really is. There is a lot of humor here, and even some real comedy. The scenes in the downtown area have a certain charm, and bring to mind the atmosphere in  those old black and white noir movies even though this film is in gorgeous color.  It is the outstanding that most people will remember when they leave the theater.  Many feel that they have seen enough about the Holocaust but I urge you to see this film and I think you will get a look at it that you have not seen before.

 

I must once again mention Maja Dagan as Clara who will knock you out with her performance as a broken sparrow who is lost in her own misery. We do not often get performances of this caliber. Finally, “the film’s equilibrium, counterbalancing Arik’s confused teenage joy and Yankele’s melancholia, is a metaphor all its own”.

 

“Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz” by Cynthia Carr— An Amazing Read

Carr, Cynthia. “Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz”, Bloomsbury USA, 2012.

An Amazing Read

Amos Lassen

“Fire in the Belly” is a book you do not want to miss even with its 615 pages. It has to be one of the most rewarding books I have read in a very long time and I cannot praise it enough. Even if you have no idea who David Wojnarowicz was, you learn about the scene in New York’s East Village in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Let’s go back to 2010 when Washington’s National Portrait Gallery responded to protests from the Catholic League by censoring an excerpt of Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in the Belly”. We do not often hear of a work of art that can cause controversy like this and it is this incident around which that the biography of the artist revolves. Wojnarowicz was a major voice of his generation and it is so interesting to follow his life which he began as an orphan and then went on to years of selling his body on the streets of New York and died in 1992 from AIDS. He found fame in the East Village, a place where art was not the regular. He and others (Keith Haring, Nan Goldin, Jean-Michel Basquiat) brought a new definition to art at a time when art dealers were looking for something new. This brought about a culture war which evolved into the gentrification of the East Village that came about the same time as did the AIDS epidemic. Up until now his story has been untold and now we get a look at one of the most controversial artists of the time.

Here is a book filled with important information yet it so readable that it is hard to put down. You feel Carr’s love for her subject yet she is not afraid to criticize him and the artist comes across to us as if he is yet alive even though he has been dead for over 20 years. Carr met Wojnarowicz during the heyday of the art scene in the East Village of the 80’s right after she began her career with the Village Voice. “Carr’s detailed research into Wojnarowicz’s days and nights, friends and fall-outs, hook-ups, loves, losses, travels, homeless stretches, intimate connections…and eventual sickness and death is both heartbreaking and unflinchingly honest. Carr has managed to create not only an essential biography but required reading for anyone interested in the ‘80s art world.”—Christopher Bollen, Interview

Carr writes beautifully in crystal clear short sentences and even though the biography is written linearly, it never bores—the opposite, in fact—it made me want o know more. Wojnarowicz led a contradictory and complicated life and Carr handles everything with great style. This is not only a biography of the artist; it is a history of the 70’s and 80’s, the AIDS epidemic, the art scene and censorship. While the artist is at the center of the book and the focus is on him, this is the story of those of us who lived at the same time.

 “A compelling picture of a time in New York that has now completely vanished, when an existence devoted to art, on the margins, was still possible, and not necessarily something to be romanticized…. The picture of East Village culture that Carr offers—she covered it for years as a reporter for the Village Voice—
is alone worth the price of the book. Despite her friendship with Wojnarowicz in the last months of his life, Carr is willing to paint the artist in clear-eyed prose, balancing unflattering stories of drug use and success-induced paranoia with those of his trenchant and harrowing AIDS activism and defense of freedom of expression. (The intricate details of his battle with right-wing critics will, one hopes, provide fodder for today’s protestors.)”—Andrew Russeth, Modern Painters

“Thanks to Carr’s meticulous portrait, [Wojnarowicz’s] work again feels primal, magicked away from the bluster of whatever controversies it provoked. We come away from a book like this with a keen sense of life’s strangeness and haste, its abuses and beauty, its ultimately terrible vanishing.”—Jeremy Lybarger, The Brooklyn Rail

This is the intense story of a complex author during a devastating time.

 

“The Love of David and Jonathan: Ideology, Text, Reception” by James E.Harding— David and Jonathan—Lovers?

Harding, James E. “The Love of David and Jonathan: Ideology, Text, Reception”. Equinox, 2012.

David and Jonathan—Lovers?

Amos Lassen

How do we interperet the relationship between David and Jonathan? This has been question that has puzzled Biblical scholars and laymen alike and volumes have written about the two children of Israel. Put this together with that group of scholars who believe that David was not the an he has been credited with being or if he even ever existed, we have one great mystery. For me that is what Bible study is all about. Every time I sit down to study scripture, I come away with new ideas and new thing to think about. With the rise of the modern gay movement, there has been an outpouring of studies about David and Jonathan and everyone seems to hae something to say about them. Interpretations abound and this is because the texts of Samuel 1 and Samuel 2 are so ambiguous. Redactors and translators all have their own opinions and there is little unity about these writings. Add to the study the new queer theorists and historians, there is no end to the various theories of what went on between David and Jonathan.

Modern times bring us a look at the stories from three different points of view—scriptural, historical criticism and queer theory and politics. Harding argues that the reason for the ambiguity of the original text is due to the beauty of the story as a narrative and its influence on history and critical agendas. Below is the table of contents as it appears in the book:

Chapter 1: INTRODUCTION
Chapter 2: BATTLING FOR DAVID AND JONATHAN: SCRIPTURE, HISTORICAL CRITICISM, AND THE GAY AGENDA
Chapter 3: THE ROLE OF THE READER AND THE LIMITS OF INTERPRETATION
Chapter 4: DAVID AND JONATHAN BETWEEN ATHENS AND JERUSALEM
Chapter 5: CONCLUSION: THE INFLUENCE OF OSCAR WILDE ON 1&2 SAMUEL

Without question this an interesting and provocative read but be prepared, it will set you back $120. There is a lot of new information here and a rehash of what has already been said. Knowing we will never know what really went on back then, it is all the more interesting to speculate and Harding certainly gives us some new ideas to speculate about.

 

“SuburbaNights (Vignettes from Jasper Lane #3)” by Eric Arvin— Once Again to Jasper Lane

Arvin, Eric. “SuburbaNights (Vignettes from Jasper Lane #3)”, Dreamspinner Press, 2012.

Once Again to Jasper Lane

Amos Lassen

Eric Arvin brings us his third book in his Jasper Lane series and our wonderful cast of characters is back again to entertain us some more. It is Halloween and Cassie Bloom is getting ready while Becky expects a child as her father becomes even more overpowering. Our gay couple, Rick and James, is doing fine aside from James having discovered porn and becoming obsessed with it. A new drag cheerleading squad is being together by Terrence and, with the help of David; Cliff is in transition from porn star to bodybuilder. But there is also a lot more going on as we discover while reading Arvin’s new book. Personally, I love Eric Arvin’s writing and I have been reviewing him since his first book, “The Rest is Illusion”, came out about six years ago and I have watched his writing mature. He builds wonderful and unforgettable characters that become our friends and his plots are witty and wonderful.

Now a new family has moved to Jasper Lane and they are regarded as “odd” by the residents already there. There is consternation about the big cross that they erected on their front lawn. Then Cassie’s son, Jason, disappears and Nanna Hench now rides around on a scooter. Then Cliff also disappears and the neighborhood is put on alert. Everyone goes out looking for him. Before we know it, David is also missing while Cassie and Melinda have set out on a road trip to find Jason? Confused? Don’t be—nothing here is any more confusing than any episode on “As the Stomach Turns”.

Jasper Lane is out of control and the characters all seem to have lost their directions in life (if they ever had them) and Arvin works magic into his story. You would think that with such a large cast of characters, things would become confusing but the opposite is quite true. Combining frivolity with anger, insecurity and questions, we go on yet another outing with our friends to Jasper Lane.

The only problem I have is knowing that I will have to wait a while until Arvin pens another book. Arvin has become quite prolific and I always enjoy reading his work. I think you will as well.

“Lovers” by Daniel Arsand— Looking at Love

Arsand, Daniel. “Lovers”, Europa Editions, 2012.

Looking at Love

Amos Lassen

Daniel Arsand looks at love in its many forms in “Lovers”, a short book that resembles the writing of the Romantic period. It is set in 18th century France and opens with Sebastien Faure, a teen, who falls in love with Balthazar de Creon, a nobleman. Sebastien is a healer who saved Balthazar. Arsand gives us a look at male/male love at a time in history when it was illegal and the book is written in gorgeous, lush prose. We are taken into the world of our lovers when they live and love in bliss but, in effect, live in their own closet and separate from the rest of French society.

Because the prose is so gorgeous, it takes a little while to get into the book but once the reader does, he receives a rare treat. Sebastien feels sheer pleasure when he is with Balthazar and away from the poor surroundings in which he was raised. However, when Balthazar was summoned by the king of France, he refuses to go and with this he seals his fate and will have to pay the ultimate price because he did not show his loyalty to the crown. In loving Balthazar, Sebastien gains a sense of freedom and is able to express the way he feels by painting. When the time comes for Balthazar to accept the fate he has brought upon himself, both men realize the mistake that has been made. While we know that death is ultimately final, we can also see that love cannot always bring about life.

 

 

 

 

 

QFest Closes and Awards Given–see below

In a year that boasted 107 films, 17 sellouts, and record attendance of 25,000 individuals from as close as Philadelphia and as far as London, the 18th edition of Philadelphia’s QFest came to a close with the hilarious follow-up to TLA Releasing’s BearCity: BearCity2: The Proposal, starring Kathy Najimy, a rocking party at SugarHouse Casino, a jamming after-party at Bike Shop, and the announcement of this year’s Audience and Jury Awards. And the winners are…
2012 QFest Jury Award Winners
Best Short Film: Prora, directed by Stephane Riethauser

Best First Time Director: Negar Azarbayjani, director of Facing Mirrors

Best Documentary: Love Free or Die, directed by Macky Alston

Best Feature Film: Keep the Lights On, directed by Ira Sachs

Said Macky Alston of Love Free or Die, “We are thrilled and honored to have been awarded the best documentary at QFest. This is a critical year to lift up the stories of people like Bishop Robinson who call us all to stand for equality. We hope that this award will inspire people all over the country to screen Love Free or Die in their communities.”

Upon being notified that Keep the Lights On was a festival winner, director Ira Sachs shared: ”QFest has supported my work since I started making movies, and without audiences like those at the festival, I’m certain I wouldn’t be making films like this one. My hope is that Keep the Lights On encourages open conversation, and that as individuals we continue to walk out of the closets we construct for ourselves, and to live our lives honestly, transparently, and with all the lights on.”

2012 QFest Audience Award Winners
Best Short Film: Tsuyako, directed by Mitsyo Miyazaki

Best Documentary:TRANS, directed by Chris Arnold

Best Comedic Film:Let My People Go!,directed by Mikael Buch

Best Feature Film: Cloudburst, directed by Thom Fitzgerald

In her absence, Nancy Gerstman, co-president of Zeitgeist Films, distributor of Let My People Go!, gave her thanks to “..the audience in Philadelphia for appreciating Mikael Buch’s terrific comedy. We agree that it’s hard not to be swept away by its charm!”

And Thom Fitzgerald of Cloudburst said, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to have an audience for Cloudburst. The audience are the very people for whom I made the movie, and we are so appreciative. Olympia, Brenda and Ryan are equally thrilled. My thanks to QFest and the QFest team for working to make that happen, for my film, and all of the films the festival brought to the Philadelphia public.”

As filmmakers and filmgoers say goodbye to 12 days of incredible LGBT cinema, QFest excitedly turns its attention to next year’s dates: the 19th edition of Philadelphia’s QFest will take place July 11-July 22, 2013.

“Love in the Loire” by David Leddick— The Return of Hugo

Leddick, David. “Love in the Loire”, White Lake Press, 2011.

The Return of Hugo

Amos Lassen

“Love in the Loire” is something of a sequel to two books that David Leddick wrote in the past, “My Worst Date” an “Never Eat In” but you do not have to have read either of these books to enjoy this new one. Hugo Bianchi, as a teen from Miami Beach has had a love affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Now he is older and wiser—he in his early twenties and we meet him at a summer theater in the Loire area of France. He meets Heather and Graham who have come to France to leave their sordid pasts behind.

The village of Cornichons is the setting and it is a place for Broadway stars to mix with the locals and the want-to-bes. As we can expect, Hugo is in high demand and is pursued as he gets a chance to both find love and a theater career. Leddick is a clever writer and he knows his theater (and romance and sex). This is a fun read with unforgettable characters and written in clear, precise and witty prose.

 

 

 

 

 

“I Don’t Kiss” by David Leddick— From One Summer…

Leddick, David. “I Don’t Kiss”, White Lake Press, 2012.

 From One Summer…

Amos Lassen

The big city can be really special to someone who has never been to one. When a teenage boy from the Midwest goes to live with his Aunt Marie and Uncle Anchor, he experiences a life that he had never dreamt of. He meets an array of people and finds himself being pursued by an older man and experiencing suburban life as well in Quaker Colony, New York. He soon meets an Army veteran who has just returned to the area that is the home of the rich and the famous. His experiences are what propel him to become a stage actor-singer-dancer and he soon finds that his new career takes him wherever he wants to go. But wherever he is, his Army man is not and he misses him and makes up his mind to find him.

If you have never read David Leddick, you should and this is a really good place to start. Set in 1946, this book gives you an idea how it was once but there are other things here as well. This is a story of sexual awakening that has humor and sex and wonderfully drawn characters. I suppose you could also call this a coming-of age-story and our unnamed main character comes-of-age over and over again.