Monthly Archives: May 2013

“The Gallery” by John Horne Burns— Gay in the Military,, 1944

the gallery

Burns, John Horne. “The Gallery”, NYRB Classics, 2004.

Gay in the Military, 1944

Amos Lassen

Since I had never heard of “The Gallery” before I read David Margolick’s new study of the author, “Dreadful”, I felt I should have a look at the book John Dos Passos called “The first book of real magnitude to come out of the last war.” It was published in 1947 and immediately became a best seller but the tale of its author and his early death at 36 caused the book to be neglected. The book is a look at the shock of war which caused ideals of some Americans to be gravely altered.

Set in Naples in 1944, the book is named for the Galleria Umberto, an arcade that was bombed out yet everyone comes there looking for food, sex, money and each other. This was one of the first books to deal with gays in the military and also with the feelings of those men and women that fought the war in which America emerged as a super power.

Aside from dealing with the gay issue, Burns reproduces the places he has been by describing the senses—the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the colors, the smells and the feels of the places he has been. He then uses these to show what the soldiers who were away from home felt when they were located in such places as Casablanca, Algiers and Naples which had become filled with disease and twisted thinking. This is a story that was part of the great war that shows us just how war, in general, can shatter minds and cities. This is one of those books that are impossible to put down and it is just as relevant today as it was when it was written.

Burns takes us right into occupied Italy in 1944 where Allied soldiers are stationed. The story revolves around the arcade, The Gallery, where soldiers and Italians come together and go to illicit bars, whore houses, restaurants and other places that cater to the wants of allied personnel. We see the dark side of the allied occupation and Burns does not hesitate to say what he considers the injustices to be. The narrator is the main character himself and I cannot help but wonder if he is Burns relating his own experiences. Burns also provides us with open portrayals of homosexuality which was illegal at the time. There were great dangers to being openly gay in the military.

Burns divided the book into nine portraits and eight promenades and the Gallery binds them together, even those that are set elsewhere. Five of the characters are American soldiers; there are two American clergymen (one Catholic, the other Baptist). There are three women—Louella, an American Red Cross worker, Momma, an Italian woman who runs a gay bar in the gallery and Guilia, a 19 year old resident of Naples. We become immediately aware of the differences between the Italians and the Americans and we also get Burns’s feeling of contempt for American spirituality. He says we were not told the truth about our country and that while we had riches, we had no soul.

I am still not sure if the book is a novel or not. It is written as a series of vignettes which Burns refers to as Promenades and they are held together by the gallery. It seems to me that most of the promenades deal with the author’s alter ego so this may indeed be autobiographical fiction but that we will never know since has Burns has been dead a good many years. There is also irony here in the way sexuality is treated and how it compares to death.

The physical setting of the book is squalid and seedy and while there are lyrical elements in the writer’s prose, it is a book about war. This was really Burns’s shot at fame but his star fell as quickly as it rose. His next book about a boy’s boarding school (the one at which he taught) was not something Americans were able to deal with back then. Burns was attacked by the very same critics who praised “The Gallery” and he left America and drank himself to death.

“Adam: The Male Figure in Art” by Edward Lucie-Smith— Images and Info

adam

Lucie-Smith, Edward. “Adam: The Male Figure in Art”, Rizzoli, 1998.

Images and Info

Amos Lassen

Adam” is a celebration of the male nude in every medium from the time when the male form was idealized in the statues of ancient Rome and Greece to the way the naked make is looked at today in Western society. We see the differing perspectives of DaVinci and Michelangelo to Robert Mapplethorpe and Bruce Weber. This is basically a history of the naked male form throughout the ages. The photographs are linked to perceptive text by Edward Lucie-Smith who provides a valuable insight into the complex social, political and sexual contexts thus providing a nice balance of images and information.

The text is minimal which is fine because the eye concentrates on the photographs. What we do get in the text is an explanation of the basic themes about the male nude. The images we see are varied and diverse and well represent each topic. This is, however, not the definitive study that some may hope to get and while there are better books, this is a nice edition at a fair price. The images are always interesting and can be visited time after time and not bore the reader. It is a fine introduction to the way various cultures have looked at the male body.

Lucie-Smith’s commentary is, though brief, witty and enthusiastic and overall, the book has a lot to offer those interested in the artistic reference of the male form. It probably should be updated as the 2000s are not represented.

 

“VARIAN’S WAR”— A Man of Courage

varian's war

Varian’s War”

A Man of Courage

Amos Lassen

Varian Fry (William Hurt) was a man of great courage who used everything he had to free thousands of Jewish artists and intellectuals from the Europe of the Nazis yet his story is not well known. He is the first American to be listed in the Righteous Among the Nations at Israel’s national and sacred Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. Some of those he rescued were such important people as Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, Max Ernst, Lion Feuchtwanger, Franz Werfel and Jacques Lipchitz. At great risk to himself, Fry also arranged secret passage for more than 2,000 people who would have otherwise been summarily executed or sent to die in concentration camps.

Fry had been educated at Harvard and he was not Jewish—he was just a man who, on a trip to Europe while working as a foreign correspondent for the journal, The Living Age, saw the horror of the Nazis. Upon his return to America, he created the Emergency Rescue Committee for the purpose of setting up operations in France and this was only possible because of the personal intervention of First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt who succeeded in convincing the State Department to grant Fry a visa after they had refused to do so.

The film begins with Fry’s struggles to launch the rescue effort in the face of overt and blatant anti-Semitism and disinterest among the American public and government officials. In fact, we see a representative of the latter telling Fry that “the U.S. already has enough Jews living here.” Once Fry got to Marseille he was watched constantly and we clearly see this as a result of writer/director Lionel Chetwynd who took great pains to tell Fry’s story accurately and decisively, never succumbing to Hollywood convention or the notorious short attention spans of many modern moviegoers. The film is suspenseful and moving with little dialogue as was the way those who were there acted at the time. Fry was a man determined and his outward foppish exterior belied what he was doing. Fry died alone in 1967 on Connecticut and did not have the chance to enjoy the honors that were later heaped upon him, most of which he received posthumously. The film also honors his memory—he was an amazing man who did what he did out of love and never sought glory.

While in Berlin in 1938, Fry witnessed part of Kristallnacht and he stood in disbelief as the Nazis broke windows and assaulted both male and female Jews and this is the opening scene of the film.

The plot is fairly simple. It’s a great story, and it’s brought to life with William Hurt as Varian Fry, along with Julia Ormond as Miss Davenport, his assistant and a cast that includes Lynn Redgrave (fairly hilarious and impressive here as Alma Mahler), Matt Craven, Alan Arkin, Maury Chaykin and Remy Girard. Hurt’s mannerisms and halting line delivery serve him well in this role as the mild-mannered Mr. Fry. There are no great technical advances in the film and we don’t need them. This is story of a man and a look at just how pathetic the ‘neutral’ Americans could be and just how weak the French were.

“Love Rules” by Mark Abramson— “Beach Reading” is Back

love rules

Abramson, Mark. “Love Rules”, Lethe Press, 2013.

“Beach Reading” is Back

Amos Lassen

Just the other day I thought to myself that it has been awhile since we have had anything from Mark Abramson and his Beach Reading Mystery Series and here we are with a new book (which made me realize how much I have missed the series). Tim Snow is home alone while his boyfriend, Nick, is off traveling with his grandmother in Europe and he ponders gay life as we have it now. His best friend, Artie has been traveling a lot lately and like the rest of us, Tim knows that he is not getting any younger. There has been a series of robberies in the neighborhood and a sexy new cop is on patrol. Tim has to make a decision now that he finds not only the new cop to sexy and attractive but there is also the young Brit gymnast he has been chatting with on the internet.

It is so good to be back with this literary family, the Castro gang. But there have been changes—Aunt Ruth is still trying to be everyone’s mother but she also has to deal moving from San Francisco to Hillsborough. Tim and Nick also see their relationship in different ways and as we read about Tim, we are almost forced to look at ourselves and what we value.

I have been reading Abramson’s “Beach Reading” stories since the first volume and have fallen in love with them and I think that this is because his characters are so human. They deal with the same issues that we all do and have the same problems that we all have. Tim finds himself in a situation that is none too rare in our community and we think with him as he tries to work it out. One of the issues addressed here really pleased me and that is aging. When we are young, we think we will be young forever and then before we know it, our best years are gone. We live in a world that values youth which is fine as long as we are young. Instead of preparing ourselves for the inevitable, we relish the time we are in. Tim is faced with that difficult decision of whether he should follow his urges while he can or wait and stay true to the ma he loves. If you have not yet faced that situation, let me just tell you that you will. Look at what Tim decided and see if that fits you.

Now I am faced with the question as to how long will we have to wait for the next Tim Snow adventure? How ever long that is, it is always worth the wait.

 

 

 

 

“My 1980 and Other Essays” by Wayne Koestenbaum— The Personal Koestenbaum

my 1980s

Koestenbaum, Wayne. “My 1980 and Other Essays”, FSG Originals, 2013.

The Personal Koestenbaum

Amos Lassen

Wayne Koestenbaum takes us into his life by allowing us to share some of his intellectualism and personal heroes. While his writing is mainstream so that we can all enjoy what he has to say, he cannot easily hide his academic side. He manages to unite this with his quick wit and his elegant prose. He looks at the major cultural figures that have in some way influenced his life whether they be literary, artistic or just icons. As he tells us about such luminaries such as Andy Warhol, Diane Arbus, Brigitte Bardot, Cary Grant and others, he is personal in style. There is something very creative in what he writes and we feel his hunger for the cultural and his love of experience. This is a Koestenbaum that is accessible by all and to all—and is a rewarding read. For those of us who experienced the 1980’s, it is a guilty pleasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Maxine Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante” by Monica Nolan—“You Can’t Go Home Again”

marie

Nolan, Monica. “Maxine Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante”, Kensington, 2013.

You Can’t Go Home Again

Amos Lassen

Maxine Mainwaring has been living quite the gay life (at her parents’ expense) and everything was going fine until she was caught in the Ladies Room at the Daughters of American Pioneers yearly luncheon with another female. They were doing something else instead of powdering their noses. (Do women still do that? —powder their noses, I mean?). Her parents order her to come home or pay for everything herself.

Now Maxine was a debutante but she had already come out to many of the girls around town and she earned the name the “dilettante debutante” on her own. Now she is faced with the situation of having to earn his own pay. During one summer, she had to find out and she had the help of some old friends and some new ones. Monica Nolan gives us quite a cast of characters here. We meet Stella who is an aspiring writer who can deal with actions as well as words; Lon is a loner who knows more than she lets on; Velma is a dry cleaning worker who has a lot of dirty laundry to talk about; Kathy is an FBI agent who sees Maxie as a “person of interest” and there is Pamela, a businesswoman who knows pleasure.

What’s a girl to do with such available fun but take part in it and Maxine does. It is not often that we get lesbian camp that is so well written and so much fun to read. Remembering “Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary” and “Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher”, we know we are ready for some more fun from the pen of Monica Nolan who adds another iconic lesbian to her gallery of fun women.

 

“Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World” by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl— A Personal and Intellectual Look at Hannah Arendt

hannah arendt for love of the world

Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. “Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World”, Second Edition”, Yale University Press, 1982, updated 2004.

A Personal and Intellectual Look at Hannah Arendt

Amos Lassen

With the release of the new motion picture “Hannah Arendt”, the political philosopher is back in the news and people are hungry to know about her. This is a new edition of the previously published biography of Arendt and contains a new preface which gives an account of writings by and about Arendt since the original biography was published in 1982. Here we get a new assessment of Arendt’s life and accomplishments. Arendt’s life was one of drama in which she was the star and we get the whole life story from pre-Nazi Germany to the United States where she found fame and fortune. We also are made aware of the influences that shaped her political awareness.

This book has come to be regarded as the classic study of one of the brilliant minds of our time. The emphasis is on Arendt’s life and not on her thought. Nevertheless, we learn of her upbringing which certainly had its influence on her as well as of her flight from Europe. This is not a book that reduces thought because of biography; it unites the two and celebrates the life of a great thinker whose motivation was her love of the world. We sense the author’s love for her subject—she had studied with her and we especially see this in the way she explains how Arendt thought. We certainly see this in the way Arendt’s idea of evil changed from “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, her first major work to “Eichmann in Jerusalem”. Only someone who know Hannah Arendt could explain that the way it is done here.

Arendt thought that the best way to bring about radical and democratic change was via a council system and she had hoped that this would happen. She saw revolution as a way to form an effective government. Revolution, she felt, generates large efforts to organize and these can be used to create larger governmental bodies without losing democratic participation. We are also made aware that Arendt had political concerns that caused her to become more philosophical. So now you may ask—if we learn this from the biography, why did I say the focus is on the person and not her thought? The answer is simple—they are inseparable. I still see Arendt as a women sitting and thinking and thinking and sitting, influenced by the life she led and the life she was to lead.

We learn here of how involved Arendt was in the Jewish community during the time she was in Paris during the late 30s. She was truly dedicated to her work and this makes the controversy that arose out of her coverage of the Eichmann trial that much more painful to see. However, in defending Arendt, Young-Bruehl missed the way Arendt wrote about the victims of Nazism. She, without realizing it and without intending to do, Arendt seemed to implicate the victims in the evil that was their suffering.

In writing her classic “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, Arendt understood the connection between the Nazi’s totalitarian terror as compared to that of the Soviet’s. Her second husband, Heinrich Blucher, had instructed her in revolutionary radical thought and was instrumental in her education along with her own classical philosophical training and concern for the real meaning of political action. The first half of this biography deals with her life which led up to publishing this book and it also has more of her personal history. We learn of the role her mother played in her life (her father died when she was just seven years old) and we see her develop a strong personality and independence. We read of her studies and her affair with her professor, Martin Heidegger, her romances, her two marriages and we read of the climate in Germany leading to the Nazi takeover. Arendt lived a life full of valuable friendships but here is also something I would have liked to have learned more about. We do not get an analysis of her relationships. Heidegger, especially, who was a Nazi, maintained a relationship with Jewish Arendt but what do we really know about it? Arendt’s second husband, an intellectual could have caught some of the political errors his wife made but did not. We also are left in the dark as to why her later writings are her weakest. I could not help but wonder if that was a result of the controversy about the Eichmann book.

Yet even with the above, this is a book that breathes life into its subject by telling us about the life within the woman and allowing us access to some of her poetry. There are some wonderful moments that made me smile and also caused me to look at Arendt as a person and not just a figure.

“PORTRAIT OF JASON”— A Day with Jason

jasonposterbetter

PORTRAIT OF JASON”

A Day with Jason

Amos Lassen

Jason Holiday (nee Aaron Payne) is a hustler, a houseboy and a wannabe cabaret performer. He is gay and Black and came out when being homosexual was illegal in most of this country. He was willing to do whatever he could get paid for.

jason1

Shirley Clarke, the filmmaker, turned the camera on him while he talked about himself in her apartment. The film was to take as long as there was film in the camera which was reloaded several times. We see Jason’s “self-invented public personality” as he just sits and talks about himself. He discusses sex quite explicitly and he does the same with drugs. Clarke had Jason filmed for some twelve hours and then she edited the film and used the most interesting material to form a portrait of the man.

jason2

The film was made in 1967 and it is fair to say that most Americans back then had never heard a gay man speak so openly about his sexuality. He is actually very funny and engaging and we realize the indignities he suffers as both black and gay. We sense his vulnerability. Clarke gives us not only a look at an odd personality but also a look at what it meant to be a double minority when the film was made. Jason seems to have been meant to be a showman since his life is one big performance. The film has now been restored to give us a look at a time when being gay was not spoken of openly. What is so interesting is that we are aware that Jason knows that the film will still be around once he longer is.

jason3

 

“Oscar Wilde and the Murder at Reading Goal” by Gyles Bandreth— An Oscar Wilde Mystery

oscar wilde

Bandreth, Gyles. “Oscar Wilde and the Murder at Reading Goal”, Touchstone Books, 2013.

 An Oscar Wilde Mystery

 Amos Lassen

Oscar Wilde spent two years imprisoned at Reading Gaol and when he was released he went to France. As he shared a drink with a stranger, he told him about how cruelly he has been treated while doing time. He had been in solitary confinement, had no reading material, was bad food, and was not allowed to have anything to write with and all of his incoming mail was censored. What was amazing was that he had lost none of his powers as a detective so that when the warden of the prison and the chaplain were mysteriously murdered, the governor turned to him to solve the case. At least he did not have to do hard labor while working on this.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was a dear friend of Wilde, had taught him to use his mind to think logically and rationally and this is what helped him to be able to solve crimes.

The book also focuses on his life in prison as well as the crime and many of the facts given are accurate. Against his will, he traded the good life he had lived for the horrors of prison but he eventually was able to balance his suffering and pain and evolution is beautifully handled here.

His life in prison is really what the book is about and the mystery really takes a back seat to it. In fact, he spends so much time talking about his ordeal while incarcerated, I forgot about the case until he solved it. He did spend a great deal of time thinking about the deaths but he really had nothing else to do. The book is more about Wilde in prison than it is about Wilde, the detective. But that is fine with him and I found this to be an engrossing and enjoyable read.

 

 

 

 

 

“Beach Bums: Gay Erotic Fiction” edited by Neil Plakcy— It’s Hot in the Sun and Between the Pages

beach bums

Plakcy, Neil (editor). “Beach Bums: Gay Erotic Fiction”, Cleis Press, 2013.

It’s Hot in the Sun and Between the Pages

Amos Lassen

There is something about being on the beach and in the sun surrounded by other men in bathing suits that sends temperatures rising very quickly. Sixteen stories about men in the sun comprise “Beach Bums”. Cleis Press has consistently brought us anthologies of some of the best erotica around and this joins the growing number of anthologies of hot stories.

We have authors such is Rob Rosen, Logan Zachary, David Holly, Shane Allison, Jay Starre, the editor, himself and ten others taking us from Massachusetts to Venice beach and we meet some very hot men. Each story stands alone but when taken together, you will find the temperature rising and the area when you are sitting and reading to be as hot as walking on hot sand.

I always have a bit of trouble reviewing anthologies like this because of the number of entries. I could, of course, write something about each one but that takes away from actually reading the selections yourselves. One of the things that Cleis does so well is to make sure that an outstanding writer edits and makes the selections for these books and with Neil Plakcy you are already assured of getting the best. Whether these men come together to swim, to tan or just to have wild sex, you can’t go wrong as each story is a gem. There is, indeed, something for everyone.