Monthly Archives: May 2013

“I DO”— Legal Equality and a Look at Humanity

i do

I Do

Legal Equality and a Look at Humanity

Amos Lassen

Jack Edwards (David W. Ross) is British and he lives in New York City as does his brother, Peter and wife, Mya (Alicia Witt). On the night that he meets Peter and Mya for dinner, he learns that they are going to be parents soon and Jack will be the “gay uncle”. That same night as they prepare to go home from dinner, Peter is killed by a passing automobile and the characters’ world immediately changes. Glenn Gaylord skillfully mixes tragedy, comedy, drama and intimacy to bring us a film filled with complications which cause people to act in ways they may never have considered. It is also a look at marriage equality which affects not only gay couples who wish to marry but everyone in the film to some degree. What I think is the beauty of this film is that it is not just about Jack and what he faces when his work visa expires but the anxieties many of us face almost daily. We could have had a very heavy movie about the lack of marriage equality in this country but instead we see how one man trying to figure his future out and how that concerns almost everyone in the film.

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When Jack is told that his visa will not be renewed, he marries his lesbian best friend so that he can stay in America. It doesn’t quite work out to the way he had things planned and when he meets the guy who is the love of his life, he is forced into making some very difficult choices. The film is wonderfully balanced between politics and humanity. The director’s own feelings about the policies of our government regarding same-sex marriage can be seen by the way Jack, the gay Brit, explores the possibilities of how to stay in America and so we also get a look at our government’s policy on immigration, to a degree.

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Jack has stayed around to help his sister-in-law raise Tara, his niece and I think it is fair to say that he was suffering from a sense of guilt. After all, he was there the night his brother was killed and to understand what I mean when I say a sense of guilt, you will understand once you see the film.

When his visa is not renewed, Jack marries his best friend, a lesbian named Ali (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) so that he can stay in this country with the only family he has now that his brother has joined his parents in death. Ali is what many refer to as a “lipstick lesbian” or as we learn in the film, a “gold star lesbian” and everything was going fine until we meet Mano Alfaro (Maurice Compte), a good looking and intelligent Spaniard who steals Jack’s heart. As he pursued Mano, Jack neglected his responsibilities to Ali and she gets a visit from Immigration when Jack is at Mano’s place. Of course it is only right to ask why did Jack not marry Mano from the get-go since same-sex marriage is legal in New York State.

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Gaylord shows us the complications that are caused by the lack of equality at the same time as we enjoy a well made film. We allow our emotions to be played with and we really have no idea how everything will end up. This is a strong film that while is about an issue of importance to the LGBT community, it can certainly cross over to all kinds of audiences. While much of the film is simple, it is not the kind of film that is easily forgotten.

Jack’s story pulls us in and we feel as if we are standing beside him as he tries to find happiness and love. The screenplay was also written by David Ross and it is passionate and important as it deals with love and its equality. While the overall premise is a justification for same-sex marriage, this is not handled as an issue to be shoved down our throats. Even though the film is pro gay marriage, we still are free to arrive at our own conclusions about it. I first saw it at the Boston LGBT Film Festival this year and was very impressed. Then I received a screener for review and was able to watch it slowly and replay parts and I am totally impressed by it. This is one film that will sit on my “Best” list for a very long time.

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“The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir” by William Friedkin— A Candid Look at Hollywood

the friedkin connection

Friedkin, William. “The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir”, Harper, 2013.

A Candid Look at Hollywood

Amos Lassen

William Friedkin has directed some of Hollywood’s major films—“The French Connection”, “The Exorcist” and two very special films for the gay community, “Cruising” and “The Boys in the Band”. Now in his memoir, Friedkin takes back to his youth in Chicago and then forward to his present life in Hollywood and he can really tell a story. He is a maverick and he was there when what was traditional storytelling was replaced by rebellion and alternative lifestyles and when filmmakers were paranoid because they felt like this country was a nervous breakdown about culture.

Friedkin’s book is like his movies—full of action and surprises, suspense and humor. He puts his focus on character and craft and gives us a lot of personal detail. He is honest, often brutally so and one of the true master directors to come out of the 1970s which was a great decade in the history of filmmaking. In 1985, he gave is “To Live and Die in L.A.”, a masterpiece of energy; the highly criticized film “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection” are masterpieces unto themselves. Friedkin’s book follows his work and he knows what he writes about. He created his own success with films that have stood the test of time and while I did not get much about “Cruising” which is in my mind something of a classic, I did get a lot of other information.

Friedkin puts the emphasis here on his work and what went on behind the scenes. His book is a journey through happenings by chance and events that were not planned as he moved from living in a poor urban neighborhood to a city where dreams come true.

“EARLY FASSBINDER”— The Early Films

early fassbinder

Early Fassbinder”

The Early Films

Amos Lassen

Fassbinder’s films from 1961-1972 are now available in a new Criterion box set. The openly gay director, Rainer Fassbinder, has never “played by the rules” even when he was just starting out. His early films show the influence of the avant-garde theater group, Antitheater of which he was one of the founders in Munich. Each of the five films here is a look into Fassbinder’s mind when he was just in his 20s.

Love Is Colder Than Death
For his debut, Fassbinder fashioned an acerbic, unorthodox crime drama about a love triangle involving the small-time pimp Franz (played by Fassbinder himself), his gangster friend Bruno (Ulli Lommel), and Franz’s prostitute girlfriend, Joanna (future Fassbinder mainstay Hanna Schygulla).

Katzelmacher
Fassbinder‘s second film dramatizes the intolerance of a circle of financially and sexually frustrated friends when an immigrant laborer (again, played by Fassbinder) moves to their Munich neighborhood.

Gods of the Plague
Harry Baer, a Fassbinder discovery, plays a newly released ex-convict who slowly but surely makes his way back into the Munich criminal underworld.

The American Soldier
Fassbinder’s experimental noir is a subversive, self-reflexive gangster movie full of unexpected asides and stylistic flourishes, and featuring an audaciously bonkers final shot and memorable turns from many of the director’s rotating gallery of players.

Beware of a Holy Whore
In Fassbinder’s brazen depiction of the alternating currents of lethargy and mayhem inherent in moviemaking, a film crew deals with an aloof star (Eddie Constantine), an abusive director (Lou Castel) and a financially troubled production”.

Fassbinder has been regarded as the “enfant terrible” of German cinema because he has always his own man and his films have always been politically charged and experimental, confrontational and fascinating. He makes films about dysfunction and he attacks xenophobia. In these early films, we see his work that led him to become such a prolific and fine director.

“The Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives & Gay Identities– A Twentieth-Century History” by John Loughery— Looking at Gay Identity

other side better

Loughery, John. “The Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives & Gay Identities – A Twentieth-Century History”, Holt, 1999.

Looking at Gay Identity

Amos Lassen

Both classic ad new texts, hundreds of interviews, archival sources come together with the help of John Loughery to give us a narrative history that looks at the many different meanings of gay identity in this country. The concept of writing gay history is new beginning really in about 1976 when Jonathan Ned Katz published “Gay American History” and this was followed by works by Arthur Evans and Lillian Faderman. There were the foundations and the works that followed looked at politics and culture separately. The truth is that these two are interrelated in a complicated way that times can be contradictory.

John Loughery, using the works of historians such as Alan Berube, John D’Emilio and George Chauncey as well as Katz, looks at eighty years of gay history and life that bring culture and politics together and reaches important conclusions as to how certain issues were handled in the past. Here is a survey of eighty years of gay history that unites the political and the cultural. Loughery, therefore, is able to explain how the openly gay career of Tennessee Williams existed during the homophobia of the 1950s, or how the Supreme Court’s 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision (maintaining that same-sex couples do not have a right to engage in consensual sex in private) could be made at a time when gay arts and culture were flourishing in America. The author is much aware of the passage of anti-gay laws as of the plots of gay novels and developments in gay theater with allow him to give us a social history of gay America. He begins with the scandal that rocked Newport, Rhode Island in 1919 (you don’t know what that was? Here is a reason to read this book) and he ends it with a look at the 1990s. While the book mainly focuses on gay white urban men, it still is a good deal more analytical and inclusive than other histories of the same period.

The title of the book comes from the name of a 1970s theater company and in itself tells us that the theme is the story of the silence that learns how to be heard when gay men begin to speak about their lives. The author uses many men’s voices some of which we may not be so familiar with such as Alain Locke who wrote during the Harlem Renaissance, Harry Stack Sullivan, a gay psychiatrist, John Boswell, a historian and then others that are better done such as Harvey Milk and Mart Crowley. He looks at the military and WWII, gay bars and baths, literature, Freudianism, the gay press and bookstores, transvestism, homophile (later gay liberation) societies, Stonewall, and gay rights bills. He is not always successful in bringing together all of the material but he does give us a new look at our history (which unfortunately is a bit dated now considering that the book came out in 1999 and so much has been discovered since then. We do, nevertheless, see how communities of gay men have changed over time as have gay identities and we do have a shared past.

The section on gay rights activists is fascinating as is the way the terror of McCarthyism is presented. History is given to us as it should be—with a sense of emotion and humor and through a compelling narrative that makes us all the richer. Voice is given to those who have had none for a very long time and we most definitely see here that the issues of the gay community will never disappear. Let us hope that the silence written about here will forever stay on the other side.

“LOOSE CANNONS”— Telling the Family

loose cannons

Loose Cannons” (“Mine vaganti”)

Telling the Family?

Amos Lassen

I am almost always entertained by films from Ferran Ozpetek and in “Loose Cannons” we see he still has a few surprises up his sleeve. This is the story of Tommaso Cantone (Ricardo Scamarcio) who, with his brother Antonio (Alessandro Preziosi) is about to take over his father’s pasta business. Tommaso is living in Rome which would mean that he would have to return to Lecce in southern Italy. He is a writer now and determined to live his own life. He tells Antonio that he plans to come out to his family at an important family occasion that evening. His brother double-crosses him and announces, before Tommaso himself has the chance, that he is gay and this seems to be the most serious case of filial disloyalty in this family. What ensues appears to be great comedy with tableware breaking and looks of disbelief but then, Vincenzo, the father, after banishing his son, suffers a heart attack. This compels Tommaso to stay in the closet for his father’s health and well-being and take over the factory. Now he has to pretend to be the straight and obliging son as his parents are ashamed of Antonio’s homosexuality.

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Father Vincenzo is sure that he has become an object of ridicule in the town and cries to his mistress. Mother Stefania (Lunetta Savino) seeks her own revenge and uses insults freely. While there are some rude and crass remarks made about homosexuality, there is nothing really offensive here. In the second half of the film, Tommaso’s boyfriend, Marco (Carmine Recano) comes to town with three very gay friends who have the ability to ruin everything for Tommaso.

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Tommaso is extremely good looking and he manages to remain calm during all of the craziness around him. We actually see his family as he sees it—his parents dote and are overbearing and other members are a bit strange and we readily see why he moved to Rome.

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The film is a bit confusing at first but as soon as things get moving, after Antonio’s announcement, things settle down. Family secrets are exposed and we realize that the film deals with living life on one’s own terms and not as others tell one to do. This is handled through the use of emotion, drama and humor. We also realize that the real power in the family belongs to Tommaso’s grandmother (Ilaria Occhini) and she knows all. However, it is Scamarcio as Tommaso who owns this film. His face shows almost every possible emotion. We are uplifted by what we see and this is difficult to do when we see that each characters has a secret—unrequited love, betrayal, unfulfilled ambition, alcoholism, a death wish, etc. It is a fun way to learn about Italian traditions and sexuality.

 

 

 

 

“Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns” by David Margolick— A Little Known Figure in Gay History

dreadful

Margolick, David. “Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns”, Othe“Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns”r Press, 2013.

A Little Known Figure in Gay History

Amos Lassen

I consider myself a well read person but I had never heard of John Horne Burns before I saw the upcoming announcement about this book. I even asked members of my book club here in Boston and no one had ever heard of him and he went to school in the Boston area. In fact Burns was educated at the very best schools—Andover and Harvard but spent the final days of his short life depressed and drunk. The book looks at the way Burns dealt with American life—he was “morally ambivalent’ regarding soldiers who were stationed with him in Naples, Italy. He lived from 1916-1953.

As a writer, Burns used his dark experiences in life to be the subject of what he wrote. His first novel, “The Gallery” was published in 1947 and was based upon his life during World War II and was acclaimed by critics as an “unflinching” look at gay life in the military. It sold half a million copies upon publication and then faded into obscurity as did Burns.

Burns was a smart man who worked in military intelligence during his service days and had once taught at the prestigious Loomis School in Connecticut. However when his name dropped from the radar so did he and he spent his life with the bottle and severe bouts of depression. Burns seems to have put himself on a collision course in a world that he felt was indifferent. Yet his writing was so good that Gore Vidal considered him to be a rival. He indeed was a writer but one who hated himself.

As we read of Burns’ life, we also see a dark history of American intellectual and literary culture and we learn what it meant and what is was like to be either literary or intellectual or both.

Burns was both smart and cynical, gay man who looked for and found his soul in America after the Great War. But the soul that Burns found was soon destroyed by excess, by alcohol, by being hated for his homosexuality and by his own vindictiveness. His age was one of conformity but he refused to conform. While the book deals with what it was to be gay in America during mid-twentieth century, it also looks at the results of sudden fame and the temptations Europe had for unsatisfied Americans. Burns was a loner who was not liked by many and this weighed on him and was in part responsible for his self-destructiveness. It was not just liquor that brought about his demise; social pressures also had a great deal to do with it.

Margolick brings Burns back to life in a way that makes me want to go back and have another look at him. I cannot help wondering why I have not heard about him until now. I was very lucky to find a copy of “The Gallery” yesterday and sat down and read that all the while thinking to myself that it was a fascinating study of gay life in the military and that had people known about it; perhaps we might not have to endure the embarrassment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. It is important to realize that when “The Gallery” was published there were very few gay books anywhere and if, as he said, Gore Vidal felt that Burns was a rival, then we can surely see his importance. The problem here is that without an audience, the importance of one’s work is almost worthless. I hope that “Dreadful” will bring Burns the audience he deserves. The real relevance of Burns is that he was and did what he did when he did it. We must never forget that we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. Here is one who might have slipped by had David Margolick not given us this book.

 

“Cruising for Bad Boys” edited by Mickey Erlach— Getting in On in the Open

cruising for bad boys

Erlach, Mickey (editor). “Cruising for Bad Boys”, Starbooks, 2009.

Getting in On in the Open

Amos Lassen

I understand that this is the third erotic anthology that Mickey Erlach has edited and that it is a bit different in that it takes us outdoors for good, hot sexual fun.The anthology contains selections from both established and lesser know writers includingAmanda Young, Barry Lowe, Christopher Pierce, David C. Muller, David Holly, Derrick Della Giorgia, Jamie Freeman, Jay Starre, Martin Delacroix, Owen Keehnen, Rob Rosen, Ryan Field, Stephen Osborne, and Xan West. There is one big surprise and that is the bonus of Mykol Dementiuk’s novella, “My Father’s Semen” which is about a young man who goes in search of his biological father and is forced into hustling on the streets of New York in order to stay alive. If you have read Dementiuk, you know that he writes of the grittiness of New York and those that work the streets. The novella is set in the 1980s just when we were beginning to learn more and more about AIDS and the epidemic that was to rob us of so many wonderful men. We see a New York that few know about and those that do don’t talk about it. We need to be reminded that life was not so easy as it is today.

 

“HANNAH ARENDT” opens today in New York and soon in other cities

STARTS TODAY AT FILM FORUM–ON TWO SCREENS!

In the award-winning Hannah Arendt, the sublime Barbara Sukowa reteams with director Margarethe von Trotta (VisionRosa Luxemburg) for a brilliant new biopic of the influential German-Jewish philosopher and political theorist. Arendt’s reporting on the 1961 trial of ex-Nazi Adolf Eichmann in The New Yorker—controversial both for her portrayal of Eichmann and the Jewish councils—introduced her now-famous concept of the “Banality of Evil.” Using footage from the actual Eichmann trial and weaving a narrative that spans three countries, von Trotta beautifully turns the often invisible passion for thought into immersive, dramatic cinema. An Official Selection at the Toronto International and New York Jewish Film Festivals, Hannah Arendt also co-stars Klaus Pohl as philosopher Martin Heidegger, Nicolas Woodeson as New Yorker editor William Shawn, and two-time Oscar Nominee Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) as novelist Mary McCarthy.

READ AN ARTICLE ON THE FILM IN THE SUNDAY NEW YORK TIMES

Writer and director Margarethe von Trotta, actresses Barbara Sukowa and Janet McTeer, and co-writer Pamela Katz after the 6:30 and 7:45 shows on Wednesday May 29 SOLD OUT

Margarethe von Trotta, Barbara Sukowa and Pamela Katz after the 6:30 and 7:45 shows on Friday May 31

Margarethe von Trotta after the 7:45 show on Saturday June 1



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A ZEITGEIST FILMS RELEASE

“Vanished Years” by Rupert Everett— One of a Kind

Vanished-Years

Everett, Rupert. “Vanished Years”, Little Brown Book Group, 2012.

One of a Kind

Amos Lassen

Vanished Years” is the second volume of Rupert Everett’s autobiography which began with “Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins” and it proves that he is one of a kind. Here are brand new stories about amazing meetings, portraits of friends and enemies and rivals and a look at how it is to be part of the circus that comes with being a celebrity. I suppose we can say that Everett is a gossip and he says what he wants because he can and he writes with style.

In his first book, Everett wrote about finding fame at the age of 25 when he first appeared in “Another Country” and how he was able to manage the stardom he found. That is the focus of this book but more specifically on the last ten years when he became a “mature superstar” who is known for his charity work, his excellent journalistic endeavors and his appearances on American television. Written in an interesting chronological manner but digression is key here as often happens when remembering. He does not only tell stories but he adds humanity to every word he writes; as much at home with telling about failure as about success. He seems to know everyone and indeed has something to say. Reading this put a smile on my page and showed me that Rupert Everett is much more than just another handsome man.

 

“BASHMENT”— JJ and the Ilford Illmanics

bashment

Bashment”

JJ and the Ilford Illmanics

Amos Lassen

 JJ (Joel Dommett) is new to the London music scene and he is also on the verge of a very big career. His specialty is urban outlaw rap and he has mastered the skills, can really write songs and possesses the determination he needs to become a star. There are just two problems—he is white and he is gay. He just does not fit the image that the world of hip-hop and raga is known for. Nonetheless he goes on stage at the Finals of Urban Slam and has his boyfriend, Orlando, with him. He has an idea about what to expect but did not anticipate having trouble with the ghetto rappers, Ilford Illmanics. There was a gay bashing but the three thugs that make up the Illmanics claim that JJ provoked them. Even though Orlando was beaten so badly that he was put into a state of permanent brain damage, they received a very light sentence. As the date for their release nears, the public defender and JJ and Orlando examine the group’s homophobic lyrics to decide if perhaps the music is what made them commit the crime.

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Directed by Ricky Beadle-Blair, the film hits hard. He adapted the film from his stage play and it went on to win best actor and best supporting actor awards at the British Independent Film Awards in 2012. This is an urban drama that hits hard as it looks at the issues of race, sexuality and music.

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We don’t get a lot of LGBT films with a strong message and Beadle-Blair dares to deal with issues that are thought about but rarely spoken of openly. His film will undoubtedly cause debate and make people think (which is always a good thing). In the film, lives were changed as each person deals with the way he sees sexuality, class and race. You will not want the film to end and when it does you are ready to see it again and again.