Monthly Archives: March 2013

“Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love” by David Talbot— Liberating San Francisco

season of the witch

Talbot, David. “Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love”, Free Press; Reprint edition, 2013.

Liberating San Francisco

Amos Lassen

Between the years of 1967 until 1982, San Francisco was liberated but it came at quite a price. Some called the city a “human carnival” with hippies, drag queens and activists representing the new and the establishment of the Old Catholic guard on the other side. Familiar names are Janis Joplin, Patty Hearst, Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and Bill Walsh. David Talbot, the man who began Salon Magazine gives us quite a look of what went on in the City of Love during that turbulent time but he also is a believer that the values of San Francisco changed the world. He looks at the transformation of the city in both its violence and its glory.

There was crime alongside of football shutdowns and a lot went on behind the scenes that locals probably do not know about. He does maintain that it was Dianne Feinstein who resurrected the city.

The book begins in 1932 with the story of district attorney Frank Egan who ordered a hit on a local woman and we see the corruption in the legal and justice system and the power of what is known in the South as the old boys’ club. Vince Hallinam who was Egan’s defense attorney, his wife, Vivian and their six sons actually are seen throughout the book and act as connecting links throughout the narrative.

We skip ahead fairly quickly into the 1960s, with mentions of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and the early flower children and the summer of love, including early narratives of musicians like Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, and the free-flowing drugs at the time.  We are reminded of Patty Hearst and the SLA, drug addicts, the Zebra killers, and mention of Anton LeVey, Susan Atkins and Charles Manson.  Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple are discussed at length especially how completely Jones fooled most of political San Francisco.

Politicians are described, including Joe Alioto, Art Agnos, and George Moscone. As the gay population grows in San Francisco, the well-loved Harvey Milk comes forward. Dan White’s assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone is detailed, as is Dianne Feinstein’s rise as a managerial mayor who is able to hold the splintered city together. The San Francisco 49ers are legendary and time is spent on their suddenly becoming serious contenders under Walsh and Montana.

The final part of the book describes the sudden terror of the AIDS epidemic (when no one knew what was happening), and the heroism and charity which arose during those times.

The book is informative, well written, informative, and entertaining. But it is a strange exercise to read, written by someone with a great deal of knowledge but not a native of the city. The story is told with great ease, but flawed because of bias and missing parts of history.  What was missing was that in the 60s, the city was dangerous and their seemed to be crime everywhere.

“The Liars’ Gospel: A Novel” by Naomi Alderman— Jesus from the Jews Who Knew Him Best

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Alderman, Naomi. “The Liars’ Gospel: A Novel”, Little, Brown and Company; Reprint edition, 2013.

Jesus from the Jews Who Knew Him Best

Amos Lassen

 Yehoshuah walked around Judea when the Roman’s occupied it and he orated, gave sermons and healed the sick. Naomi Alderman moves a year ahead and Yehoshuah is out and gives us stories from four different people. His mother mourns him, his friend Iehuda has lost his faith, the Temple High Priest tries to maintain a peaceful atmosphere and a rebel, Bar-Avo works to recreate the peace that is deteriorating. We find a time of political unrest, power-plays and tyranny. People are publicly protesting and dictators forcefully try to take them down and right in the middle of all of this is the death of Yehoshuah, an inconsequential preacher. Did a miracle happen or did someone lie? Naomi Alderman takes one of the oldest stories in history and makes it new.

If you have not realized it, Yehoshuah is the Hebrew name for Jesus and the first part of his story here is told by Miryam (Mary) who was not happily married to Yusef (Joseph) who left her. Miryam mourns her first-born son even though he had hurt her many times because of his lack of respect for his father—not Yusef but God. Her son’s family is now made up of his disciples. He left home without saying anything to his mother and refused to see her when she came to him. We see Yehoshuah as remote and mean, fierce and obsessed but with tremendous charisma that others see.

Iehuda (Judas) tells the second part of the story. He is now a jester in a Caesarea in a Roman mansion. The Crucifixion took place years before this and now he relates funny stories that denigrate Yehoshuah yet he remembers the spell that had been cast on him and how he came to be a disciple and for a while was Yehoshuah’s closet friend and the only person who could argue with him. He warned him not to believe the followers who took him to be the Messiah and then alarmed the Romans. Because of this, a distance grew between them and the other disciples began to hate him. Iehuda lost his faith in Yehoshuah and betrayed him. He feels no guilt and God speaks to him.

Caiaphas, the High Priest, tells part three of the story and we do not hear much about Yehoshuah. Caiaphas worries that his wife is unfaithful to him but he does remember a madman and his group of thugs who had damaged the tables in the courtyard of the Temple. Iehuda came to Caiaphas to tell him where Yehoshuah could be found and captured. When they brought him in, Yehoshuah condemned himself. Caiaphas wanted to spare him his fate but Pilate demanded that he be handed over to Rome to be executed (or so this story tells it). Perhaps things might have been different if Caiaphas had not been so worried about his wife’s infidelity.

Bar-Avo (Barabbas) tells the fourth part of the story. He has been a member of the Roman army since he was a teen and he becomes a recruiter and a leader of men. He is betrayed by someone he trusted and is captured by the Romans. The conversation between him and Pilate is wonderful writing. When Pilate offered to release one of his captives we see why Bar-Avo was chosen. He seemed to be something of a terrorist willing to murder innocent citizens because he knew the crowd will not blame him but will blame the Romans. Here Bar-Avo kills Ananus (Annas the Younger) and he collaborates with the Romans.

The epilogue is all Aldermen. She relates graphically the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and how the cult of Yehoshuah came into being. Yehoshuah stops being a representative of the Jews but the victim of Judaism which is to be revenged on the people. It is that story and borrowed stories from other religions which gave Yehoshuah the title of son of God and had him rise from the dead.

There have been many books that are takes on the life of Jesus and so it is difficult to say this novel is original. However, the story telling is magical—even if you do not believe what is written here, you will find yourself swept into the story.

Alderman has done extensive research to bring us this book and she uses what she has found to entertain and inform. Heavy issues are covered here—faith and the relation between religion and politics and she does so in a way that is light and easy to read. In the section on Miryam, Alderman shows us grief and anger and she does so beautifully. It is the balance of the gaining and the loss of faith and Alderman uses a light touch to tell us this. By emphasizing personal and very human perspectives on events, she is able to come at the story from a fresh perspective. She suggests that the story of Jesus that is read today is based on lies. I am sure that there are many who will find this story to be blasphemy and shun it but that is their loss. Alderman suggests that the Jesus story we have now is based on lies and filled with propaganda but she does use the physical construct for her story. This is not a narrative that is filled with messages but it is an exciting and entertaining read. God does okay here but it is the concept of organized religion that is taken to task. However, I must tell you that the sex scenes are quite graphic (sex scenes in a Jesus story?).

“Woof!: A Barking Mad Story of Goths, Gays and Students Gallivanting” by Andrew Hinkinson— Wild, Free and Mashed on E

woof

Hinkinson, Andrew S. “Woof!: A Barking Mad Story of Goths, Gays and Students Gallivanting”, CreateSpace, 2013.

Wild, Free and Mashed on E

Amos Lassen

Peter and his friends Derek, Kate, Sophia and Fatima are the center of this comedy set in 1992 in Manchester, England. They are students at the polytechnic institute and are putting on a play and the director thinks it is the worst play ever written. His cast consists of a gothic chain-smoking Diva, a guy who is never not stoned, a nymphomaniac polyamorous self-harmer and he is an Elaine Paige enthusiast. How could anything not be fabulous?

So we have a strange cast but before long, we feel like we know them. Peter is surrounded by some really strange friends and while he is the “straight” men (even though he is actually gay), he soon finds himself in very strange circumstances. It is hard not to love him and all of the characters and the novel is very, very funny yet it is also touching and sensitive. I laughed the entire time I read but I also felt for the characters.

“Memoirs of a Generation Screwed Jew” by David F. Friedman— A Commentary on Life

memoir

Friedman, David F. “Memoirs of a Generation Screwed Jew”, CreateSpace, 2013.

A Commentary on Life

Amos Lassen

I have often wondered if growing up Jewish is any different than just growing up because I have always thought it was. Reading this book reminded me a great deal of my own life even though my question was not really answered. This memoir is about coming-of-age during the Bush and Obama administrations and the recession of 2008 but it also is about the writer’s relatives (which represent so many Jewish families), depression, romances that did not work, careers in law and politics and experiences in Israel, South Korea and China.

We get a look at life in the 2000s and learn about times in New Orleans, New York and Chicago and read of some outrageous sexual liaisons. It is the comedy that is so typically Jewish that drew me to this book and when that is buffered by a look at social issues from homelessness to welfare and the sections on how much it costs to go to college and what happens in the workforce, we get quite a read.  Not only is this a commentary on American life, it also reflects Jewish-American value and the turbulence of growing up. Like so much in Jewish life, it is hilarious at time and brutally honest at others.

 

“Pacific Rimming” by Tom Cardamone— Obsession

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Cardamone, Tom. “Pacific Rimming: A Novella” Chelsea Station Editions, 2013.

Obsession

Amos Lassen

Obsession is something we do not know much about—we do not know its cause yet we see its results. Tom Cardamone does not try to define obsession and we are thrown into his young man’s desires on the very first page of “Pacific Rimming” (and what a great title that is). We are in the New York of the 1990s and meet a guy whose goal seems to be how many men he can bed and how much drugs he can use. He is obsessed. He wants no intimacy, just raw sex, and only with Asian men. He tells us that “obsession is eternal, transcending but never transcendent, looping”.

Because I have read several writings by Cardamone (“The Lost Library”, “Green Thumb” and the Lammie finalist “Pumpkin Teeth”), I knew what to expect in the quality of his writing and I was not disappointed. He has captured the concept of obsession so well that we feel what the main character goes through. Many of us have known someone whose life seems to have consisted of bed hopping and little else and that person lives on these pages.

I have never experienced the club scene in New York City (except by reading) and here it is in all of its grittiness as well as its attraction. The rule is excess; the more the better and it is alarming to read about someone who lives like that. Cardamone gives us a throwback to the hedonistic novels of Larry Kramer (“Faggots”), Andrew Holleran (“Dancer from the Dance”) and reminded me of what Brad Gooch had to say about “The Golden Age of Promiscuity”. The club/bar scene was how we lived before the advent of modern technology. To meet someone whether for sex or friendship, it meant going to the bars and it was in the bars that anything could happen—scoring marijuana or any drug and finding a “trick” for the night. And there were those guys that were out every night. Like the main character here, going out became a way of life and it, like the drugs found, was addictive. It was in the bars where opposites met and many times went home together. People who dared not speak to each on the streets or in other settings did not speak to each other yet on bar turf, anything could happen.

 Unlike so many other books, there is no mention of gay marriage or AIDS and there is no political correctness. What we see here is the sordid side of gay life where one had sex for sex’s sake. Desire is a mysterious concept and I don’t know that we can really define it or what it entails. It is interesting that Cardamone writes beautifully about that side of gay life that is not beautiful. As Paul Russell says in his blurb about the book “we persist[ed] in doing all the abject, crazy, beautiful things we do.”  In Cardamone’s elaboration on the scene in the way that he candidly tells it.

“Fortunate Light” by David Bergman— Sexuality and Love

fortunate light

Bergman, David. “Fortunate Light”, A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013.

Sexuality and Love

Amos Lassen

The beauty of poetry is that it can go where other forms of literature cannot. With David Berman’s poems, we are taken back to time to confront so many memories with his poems leading us there. Berman looks sharply at life and tells us what he sees. I love reading poetry but I have a problem reviewing it because I take it so personally and in this collection, Bergman is both transcendent and transformative as he moves from tenderness to sexuality and back again. He has a sense of humor coupled with nostalgia and his poems make us smile as we take them in. They also cause us to think and reflect on our own lives and for me that is what literature is all about.

“ANIMALS”— Pol and Friend

animals

“Animals”

Pol and Friend

Amos Lassen

“Animals” is the film debut by young and talented director Marçal Forés. Genre wise it falls somewhere
between the romantic cruelty of Japanese manga and the introspective fantasy of a Donnie Darko. The film blurs the borders between everyday reality and fantasy in a coming-of-age story with an inevitable and emotional climax.

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Pol (Oriol Pal) is a teen who lives with his brother, Llorenc (Javier Beltran) who he hates and is in high school. . His best friend is his secret—Deerhoof, a teddy bear that plays a mean guitar and thinks and the two are together all the time and Deerhoof hears all of Pol’s best and worst moments. Ikari (Augustus Prew), an enigmatic student enters Pol’s life and he seems to be hiding something. Pol thinks he is fascinating and exciting and he is really attracted to Ikari’s dark side. As the two boys get to know each other a death occurs that cannot be explained and a series of strange events begin to occur. Life then becomes an adventure and soon takes over the boys’ lives.

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The film not only explores the relationship between Pol and Deerhoof and what happens when he tries to move into the adult world. What is so interesting is that the movie works while the idea of a boy and his stuffed animal seems ridiculous. The relationship between boy and bear is sweet and Deerhoof is wonderful and he really breathes life into the film. We know immediately that this is not a regular film or a straightforward narrative. It is, however, a beautiful and surreal film which captures the uncertainty, the beauty and the pain of adolescence.

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Pol is a confused teen and a complex character. He does not really know what he wants or expects from life. He can’t seem to leave childhood. Then his world becomes even more complicated when Ikari arrives at school and Pol is drawn is drawn to him even though he represents the dangers of adulthood. Pol is naïve, moody and reflective and Oriol as Pol is wonderful.

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Undoubtedly the film will be compared to “Donnie Darko” and that does not harm this movie in any way. For me, the part of the film that I really loved was an exploration of the consequences of the decisions of adults on the lives of teens especially regarding what information adults choose to disclose and what not.

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I do not think you can see this film without talking about it afterwards. There do not seem to be many answers and that is a positive for me. Visually the film is a feast for the eyes as it explores Pol’s problematic and emotional life. Marcal Fores gives us a fascinating time at the movies.

“BROADWAY DAMAGE”— Finding Love

broadway damage

“Broadway Damage”

Finding Love

Amos Lassen

Marc (Michael Shawn Lucas) is a handsome struggling actor who would love to be in love. His best friend, Robert (Aaron Williams) is secretly in love with him but Marc falls in love with David (Hugh Panaro), a studio musician who is not serious and not ready to settle down with anyone. Cynthia (Mara Hobel), Marc’s best girl pal, also loves Marc but knows she will never have him.

Marc has no trouble attracting men but Robert has no such luck. Marc is only attracted to men who are “10’s” and dreams about a break on Broadway; Robert dreams of Marc and Cynthia stalks her boss because she knows she can’t have Marc and thinks that she might stand a chance with someone else (but she really has nothing going for her). Sexy neighbor David enters the picture; the harsh realities of life, love and career test their incorrigible optimism in this gay romantic comedy classic.

There are times when this romantic comedy is quite funny but I am not sure it will please many people unless they are those who loved those old Doris Day and whoever comedies. This is what I call a fluff film but that does not mean it is a bad film or a flop but it does not touch serious issues like AIDS, homophobia and coming-out. It is quite simply a fun movie and never tries to be more than that.

The characters do seem to be too into themselves however. Writer/director Vincent Mignatti wrote them like that and that is too bad. Perhaps the film would have been so much better had they not been so self-absorbed. There is a lot of whining going on and I wonder why such characters deserve a happy ending.

“OUT FOR THE LONG RUN”— Openly Gay

out for the long run

“Out for the Long Run”

Openly  Gay

Amos Lassen

We have heard so much lately about bullying that we seem to have forgotten that there are some young gay and women are doing just fine and are comfortable with their sexuality. They show that there is hope. In this film, we meet some athletes who are openly gay high school and college students. Their world may not be certain but they are willing to enter it with their sense of pride as to who they are. The film is a compilation of film that was shot over a year and the students’ own video diaries.

These young men and women are part of a generation of courage. They do not hide even though high schools and locker rooms can be very homophobic and yet schools are changing and a new safe atmosphere is coming into its own. However this is not true for all schools. They know that a social stigma is possible at any moment. The film also brings us “openly gay professional and collegiate athletes help round out the picture of what these amazing young men and women are up against physically and emotionally as they excel in their chosen sports”.  You cannot help feeling good watching this film.

“EVERLASTING JOY (THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF BARUCH SPINOZA AS REPORTED BY HIS VIGILANT NEIGHBORS)”— A Comic Fantasy

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“Everlasting Joy (The Life and Adventures of Baruch Spinoza as Reported by his Vigilant Neighbors)”

A Comic Fantasy

Amos Lassen

Bernard (Baruch) Spinoza gained fame when he was excommunicated from his Dutch Jewish community because he had a different view of God than the traditional one (although I am not quite sure what that means). This film brings Spinoza to Tel Aviv where unrequited love causes him to stay in his home and search for the secret of human happiness. He meets Clara and he negotiates with France, dies and the Messiah even comes to see what is going on and then he leaves—but not before he is introduced to the modern city of Tel Aviv and Israeli society. The film is directed by Yigal Bursztyn and in Hebrew is known as “Osher Lelo Gvul”.

Life in modern Israel is portrayed in a humorous way and when simple minded descendant of Spinoza lives it, he also translates and comments on it.