Monthly Archives: August 2012

“186 DOLLARS TO FREEDOM”— To Live or To Die in Peru

186 Dollars To Freedom”

To Live or to Die in Peru

Amos Lassen

 Wayne Montgomery was a young California surfer who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was living happily and enjoying the waves in Peru when he was framed on a drug charge and sent to prison in 1980. There he suffered indignities of every shape and kind and forced to deal with strange and dangerous inmates who had little regard for human life. Montgomery knew that he had to escape or he would die in a Peruvian prison and his story would never be told.

The film is based on a true story of a man having to grow up quickly in a world that was totally foreign to him. His life of happiness and fun changed totally when he was sent to El Sexto prison after having been framed on drug charges (cocaine trafficking). There he had to not only deal with the other inmates but with the prison guards who were totally corrupt and tried to extort money from his family. Montgomery refused to cooperate and he was literally forced to become an adult over night and that surfer boy mentality quickly fell away.

This is a story of truth at its most raw and we learn about it through a series of unforgettable characters. In 1980, Peru was governed by the military and life there both in and out of prison was a struggle for survival. This made it somewhat difficult to recreate the period because people in Peru, where the movie was filmed, did not want to be reminded of that terrible time. We can just imagine what the prisons were like then and here we see this on the screen. Not only were the inmates there for crime but for political purposes and bitterness ran rampant.

This is not an easy film to watch as it is filmed with gritty realism. To see a prison that is so horrible physically and so disgusting because of the people who are incarcerated as well as who work there is very hard but this is a slice of life that we must be made aware of. The prison is so central that it becomes a character itself and I could not help but be reminded of some of what I had seen in “Midnight Express” which had, before this film, become, in my mind, the ultimate prison film.

I must mention the brilliant performances that I am sure have remained within the people who played the roles. John Robinson as Wayne is brilliant and the rest of the cast including Michael DeLorenzo and Alex Meraz follow suit. Camilo Vila both directed and collaborated on the screenplay and he is to be commended on both.

It is not easy to forget something like this but it is easy to forget that not everyone leads the kind of lives that we do in democratic America. Our country may be far from perfect but when comparing it to Peru of 1980’s, we are living in a Garden of Eden. See the trailer at the film’s website:http://www.thecityofgardens.com/trailers.html

 

“HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE”— A Painful Reminder of a Time when Life was Too Short for Too Many

How to Survive a Plague”

Activism and Innovation—A Painful Reminder of a Time when Life was Too Short for Too Many

Amos Lassen

I first heard about “How to Survive a Plague” about a year ago and wrote that this was going to be a film to watch for and I just received word that it is going to be commercially released in September, 2012. The film is the story of two coalitions, ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and how activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. It is the tale of people who faced death, many HIV-positive young men, became radical and took on this country’s lawmakers and the medical establishment because they wanted to live. With little or no scientific training, they infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped to find and identify new drugs and took them from experimental trials to patients who needed them and did so in record time. David France was granted access to previously unseen film from the 1980’s and 90’s and as we see it, we find ourselves right in the middle of the controversial activity of these people. We hear and see their meetings, cry with them when they fail and cheer with them when they succeed and we watch as they become heroes.

These very same people went to war against the indifference of institutions that held the key to preserving life and they forced the world to pay attention to what they were doing and thereby reduced the number of people dying from AIDS. While this is not a new story, the film takes a new approach and uses a depressing story to show a time in history when hope seemed gone and when death seemed to be the answer.

It was in 1987 when ACT UP came to be in New York City. It was a group of activists within the gay community that was no longer willing to plead and beg for treatment options and the rights of patients. People were dying in large numbers and President Ronald Reagan was did not even use the word “AIDS” until that year. There was no national policy for care and prevention and there were not yet any medications. People were upset and very angry and hospitals and funeral homes did not want to deal with the sick and the dead and Senator Jesse Helms said that we were getting what we asked for.

Anger mounted fiercely when it was realized that there was no cure on the horizon and so the activists became their own advocates and Act Up began to use any means possible to shed light on what was going down. The mayor of New York, Ed Koch (who maybe believe to be the prime example of a man n the closet) and Cardinal O’Connor who opposed the use of condoms were held up to public ridicule and the activists actually wanted to be arrested in order to make their statements. Some went as far as entering medical and scientific research because they were fed up with the disinterest and lack of speed that the pharmaceutical companies took part in. It was not a good time but we can now look back and say how proud we are of those that stood up for our rights and our lives. They wanted to change the policies and they did so by using public pressure and then heading for the board rooms of academic institutions and corporations to let them know that they were here and they were not going to take any more slack.

Using archival videotape that the participants, themselves, narrated, we get to meet and learn about the activists whose lives were actually on the line and who fought hard for the right to continue living. We know they were not all successful in staying alive themselves but what they did was ensure that others would have to face the same death sentence because of the inactivity of others. These are the true heroes and we must always remember them as such. This was our Holocaust and we shall never let it happen again. This film allows us to remember and it is a tribute to those we have lost and to those who fought so we would lose no more. This is a humane film that is beautifully edited and presented while still being a painful reminder when life was just too short for so many. It is “a major addition to the body of work chronicling the AIDS epidemic, this is a passionate account of the hard-won breakthrough in making HIV a manageable condition”.

France’s film is intensely emotionally affecting. Inspiring yet sobering at the same time, the remarkable archival footage captures an insider’s view of a community essentially under siege, forced to mobilize and fight for survival. There’s a palpable sense of loss here, with the expectation that the vast majority of the young men and women seen in the film are likely now dead – so much so that it comes as a shock when some of the survivors are featured in present-day interviews. This is a must-see for younger generations of gay men as a reminder of the battles that were fought by a now-lost generation of individuals to contain and address the AIDS epidemic in the face of official negligence”.

 

 

 

“Wow! Pow! & Persuasions” (“La Di Da Di Bloody Da!” Series #4 ) by Robin Anderson— They’re Back!!

Anderson, Robin. “Wow! Pow! & Persuasions” (“La Di Da Di Bloody Da!” Series #4 ), Silver Publishing, 2012.

They’re Back!!

Amos Lassen

I do not know how Robin Anderson does it. He constantly turns out books that are just fun to read and are either the products of a warped mind or a genius. He builds unforgettable characters that do unforgettable things in unforgettable situations. More than anything else though, he keeps us laughing and does so by combining the best aspects of LGBT life with some of the drollest prose I have ever read. (An example of Anderson’s wild imagination is that he likes my reviews and has even dedicated one of his books to me which does not mean, as some may think, that he will always get good reviews from me). I am patiently waiting to be able to say that he has written a real stinker but I do not see that happening.

We are back here with the outrageous “tranvestites of taste! not tackiness”, Miz Miranda Maracona and Miz Kookie Kombuis and they again have a mission. They travel the world getting into mischief at every stop and cause people to stop and stare. I wish I could share the plot with you but because this is something of a mystery, I must be careful that I give nothing away but I will give you a hint—they visit a restaurant cum den of iniquity named “The Purple Scrotum” but this is just one stop that includes the Arabian desert, the Far East, Singapore and Myanmar and they wreak havoc wherever they go. The “girls” will keep you on the edge of your seat…laughing and enjoying the wonderful prose (and some sexy scenes) that author Anderson gives us. Yes this is sequel number three bringing the girls together for the fourth time and I can only wonder if number five is not far behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man’s Odyssey” by Charles Rowan Beye— A Memoir

Beye, Charles Rowan. “My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man’s Odyssey”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

One of the books that is being spoken about even before publication is Charles Rowan Beye’s “My Husband and My Wives” and it looks like this is the book that is going to be big this year. The writer looks back at his life—over eighty years and tells about what it has been like dealing with sexuality from the time he discovered it at puberty. This was a time when being gay was not accepted by the society in which he lived yet this is what he knew about himself, Nevertheless, he tried to conform and married a woman which took him into a life that we was not ready for and although she fascinated him, he knew he made a mistake. The surprise is that when she died and he was alone, he married a second time and fathered four children and eventually became the grandfather of six. He still had his feelings for men and was erotically involved with them even while married. Finally, just four years ago, he married the man who has been his companion for the last twenty years.

This is the story of his journey from outcast to acceptance and Beye writes with honesty and grace as well as sharp wit. His story is not just his personal history but a history of how society has changed and how social mores have evolved over an eighty year period. Only someone who lived it could write this book and Beye, a retired professor of ancient Greek writes his story does just that and we get quite a read.

 

 

 

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“Chaser” by Rick R. Reed— What Really Matters

Reed, Rick R. “Chaser”, Dreamspinner Press, 2012.

What Really Matters

Amos Lassen

I was reminded today by an email that Rick Reed and I go back a long way. He was one of the first writers I reviewed when I started seriously reviewing LGBT books and movies some six years ago and if you follow my reviews, you know that I have reviewed many of his titles. It has been a while though so when he asked me to review his new book I was glad that he sent it because I was actually almost running on empty as the new batch of books I have been waiting for had not yet arrived so the timing was perfect. Aside from that, it is always a pleasure to read him. I am constantly amazed at his output and in that, he and I have a lot in common. We both seem to be constantly writing with the difference being that he writes novels and I write reviews.I am also always amazed by the diversity of subjects that he writes about and I was surprised to find a story of a chubby chaser as his new book.

Caden DeSarro likes his men with a “few extra pounds on them” and his world is turned upside down when he sees Kevin Dodge in the bathroom at the bar. Caden sees Kevin as physically perfect but he is so excited that nothing came out of his mouth the way he wanted and he missed his chance with the man of his dreams.

All was not lost and Caden runs into Kevin on the El and he thinks that fate is looking his way. He is invited to Kevin’s for what was probably meant to be little more than a quick sexual encounter but it became the relationship that he had always dreamed of. We, as gay men, know that things rarely work smoothly and when Caden comes back from a trip to care for his mother, Kevin has trimmed down and he no longer has the kind of body that turns Caden on. In fact, Kevin now looks like the kind of guy that Caden’s friend, Bobby, likes. As Caden hesitates about what to do, he leaves the door open for Bobby to walk in and…

Caden is an all around nice guy and good-looking to boot and this gave Kevin thought that perhaps Caden would not be interested in him. However the two guys actually like each other and if Caden had not been called home to care for his ill mother, everything would have been fine. But things changed when he returned and the physical Kevin that he loved had lost forty pounds and Caden was no longer sure how he felt about him (Such is the importance of physical appearance in a relationship). Now, of course, I am not going to tell you what happens so you will have to read the book and on that note I must say that you should want to read the book. Reed has consistently been a fine writer with a good story to tell. He shows us the difference between Caden and Bobby by showing us that Caden was not that concerned with the physical that many gay men put so much stock in and this is in contrast to Bobby who only likes “alpha” men. This has a lot to say about how the gay community regards beauty and Reed often chooses to write about men who do not fit the “norm” of what is expected.

Take interesting characters, a good plot that gives us something to think about and add a few really hot erotic sex scenes and we have a book that is hard to put down. Rick Reed does that and embellishes the story with beautiful prose and a touch of emotions. If you have never read Rick Reed you should and “Chaser” is a great place to start. If you are already a fan, this is one more way to make sure that you remain one.

 

 

 

“Only Make Believe” by Elliott Mackle— One Dead Diva

Mackle, Elliott. “Only Make Believe”, Lethe Press, 2012.

One Dead Diva

Amos Lassen

The Caloosa Club is a members-only establishment in Fort Myers, Florida and when a scandal erupts there, the very secret membership is quite alarmed. When a singer is found to be the victim of a beating and is near death, detective Bud Wright begins to investigate and discovers that the diva was not a lady at all and that there are several people that want her dead. The time is 1951 and gay people are not “exactly accepted” in the southern United States and anyone who took part in what was considered illicit activity was putting himself in a dangerous position. Dan was a veteran of World War II and he managed to dodge Japanese torpedoes and spent five days floating on a life raft as well as having survived the death of his Navy lover and now he feels like he is a great deal safer than he ever had been and has been experiencing a life of relative freedom as a gay man. He has been not only mixing drinks and dealing cards but he has been acting as something of a pimp and supplying escorts of both men and women but he soon discovers that all is gravy. He has a secret lover, Bud, who is a former twice-decorated Marine officer who is a great deal more conventional than Dan and he feels that each time the two men make love that they are breaking the law.

When the Caloosa becomes part of a homicide investigation and attention is suddenly thrown on the club and its patrons, everyone gets nervous and the pressure threatens Dan’s and Bud’s relationship and could very well rend it asunder. As the danger increases, Dan begins to realize that he could lose the man he loves; the man who provides him with peace and harmony in a world that has experienced a terrible war.

If you have read anything by Elliott Mackle then you are aware of his skill in being able to bring history together with gay culture and so you not only get a good story but a dose of history at the same time. Aside from that, he is fun to read. History, gay life and mystery are a powerful and delightful combination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Third You Die” by Scott Sherman— Kevin Connor Returns

Sherman, Scott. “Third You Die”, Kensington Books, 2011.

Kevin Connor Returns

Amos Lassen

Scott Sherman won the Lambda Literary Award for gay mystery in 2009 for his first book, “First You Fall” in his Kevin Connor series and we were introduced to a witty and inventive storyteller. Sherman followed this with “Second You Sin” and continued the adventures of former call boy and part-time detective in “Second You Fall” and we were left to wait for the next book. That wait is over and he is back in “Third You Die”.

Kevin has mellowed and settled into life with his boyfriend, a good-looking policeman and he is now the producer of his mother’s television talk show, “Sophie’s Voice”. Everything was going fine until the body of gay porn star and former TV guest is found dead and floating in New York City’s East River after he announced on the show that he was ready to tell all about what goes on in the gay porn industry. Kevin then decides that even though he has retired from the skin trade that it was time to return to find out who was responsible for the death of porn’s most successful star.

As his investigation gets under-way, Kevin discovers that there are several possible people who wanted the actor dead—the porn director whose exploitation of the man could have been the result of his sexual desires for him; the bartender boyfriend who sold his body as well as drinks and the co-star who had abandoned the actor for a new sugar daddy. Sherman takes us into the porn industry and we learn some of the secrets of it as Kevin Connor comes face to face with death. The plot like the industry it investigates is totally twisted as are the people involved in it but it is Sherman’s skill s a writer that guides us through and we become very aware as to why he is a prize-winning writer.

 

 

 

 

 

“Freud’s Sister” by Goce Smilevski— Freud and his Sister

Smilevski, Goce. “Freud’s Sister: A Novel”, translated by Christina E. Kramer, Penguin, 2012.

Freud and his Sister

Amos Lassen

A new question about Freud has caused a great deal of controversy and it concerns whether or not he was responsible for his sister’s death in Terezinstadt concentration camp. We now have learned that when the Nazis began to close in on Vienna in 1938, Freud was granted an exit visa and allowed to take people with him. He took his doctor, his maids, his dog and his wife’s sister but he did not provide for any of his own four sisters who were sent to Terezin and his brother went to London. Now Goce Smilevski who gave his wonderful novel about Spinoza looks back at history and Adolfina Freud who was considered to be the “sweetest and best” (Freud’s words) of his sisters, a woman who was sensitive and intelligent yet ignored by his mother. She never married and spent her life witnessing the genius of her brother and involved in the Viennese art scene. She was unlike other women and had aspirations that other women did not.

Adolfina was close to her brother when they were young and actually fell on love with one of his students. She spent a period of time in an Austrian psychiatric hospital and dreamt of living in Venice and having a family but instead she was lost to history. As he did with Spinoza, Smilevski bases his book on actual events and brings us another novel of ideas that captures the reader on the first page and gives a new look at one of the major thinkers of our time. The book is so powerful and important that it is being published in twenty-three countries. This is a novel that haunts the reader and it is hard to forget.

This is more than a novel it is a discourse on “sanity and perception” and a provocative story of family. It is extremely insightful as it examines family, madness and the role of woman at the turn of the previous century. It is a story filled with emotion and it is a wrestling match with the truth. What the book has to say is startling, relentless and sad to the point of heartbreak. The author looks at the relationship between creation and destruction and the differences of fate for males and females.

Adolfina was a woman who was cursed and marginalized by her own family, her country and her culture and she was doomed to death by her own brother. Her own existence was earthly and painful in contrast to the triumphs of her brother and her tragedy was the tragedy of women of the period. I believe that this is a book that will be talked about and discussed and may very well change the minds of people who have been so impressed by Sigmund Freud.

While I said that this is a novel ideas, I did not mean to say that the layman cannot enjoy this book. It is written in a style that beckons the reader to investigate the story and this is not something that we usually find in modern novels.

 

 

 

“Gay Identity, New Storytelling and the Media” by Christopher Pullen— The New Storytelling

Pullen, Christopher. “Gay Identity, New Storytelling and the Media”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

The New Storytelling

Amos Lassen

Christopher Pullen explores how LGBT identity in the media looks at gay identity through storytelling in this new critical study. He gives us case studies from cinema, television and the new online technologies and focuses on narrative and how these narratives are presented by producers, performer and writers. We see how the concept of identity is challenged and the way in which the new freedom is incorporated. Now that media has become the major way of expression, this is an important look at the new discipline of queer studies regarding the way we see who we are. Popular culture replaces the historical approach to unmasking identity and how this identifies relates to it.

 

 

 

“The Routledge Queer Studies Reader” edited by Donald E. Hall and Annamarie Jagose— A Comprehensive Resource

Hall, Donald E. and Annamarie Jagose, editors. “The Routledge Queer Studies Reader”, Routledge, 2012.

A Comprehensive Resource

Amos Lassen

When you need a book that has something about everything queer look to “The Routledge Queer Studies Reader”. A comprehensive resource for students, scholars and individuals who are interesred in this interdisciplinary field. The book gives background on the emergence and development of Queer Studies as a field of scholarship and it provides critical essays along with the modern scholarship in the field.

The book contains individual introductory notes that situate each work within its historical, disciplinary and theoretical contexts; essays grouped by key subject areas including Genealogies, Sex, Temporalities, Kinship, Affect, Bodies, and Borders and writings by major figures including Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, David M. Halperin, Jos Esteban Mu oz, Elizabeth Grosz, David Eng, Judith Halberstam and Sara Ahmed.

This is a great starting point as well as one for continuance and while I personally am not wild about anthologies of this nature, this is one of the best. “The Routledge Queer Studies Reader” is a field-defining volume and presents an illuminating guide for established scholars and also those new to Queer Studies”.