Monthly Archives: June 2013

“TOAD ROAD”— Life is Hell

toad road

Toad Road”

Life is Hell

Amos Lassen

Jason Banker’s “Toad Road” capitalizes on the word “hell”. Here is a film that deals with the concept of hell and tries to define it. Banker gives us his interpretation of hell and we get a whole new look. Set in an undisclosed countryside somewhere in the northern United States, a group of friends have fun using drugs and alcohol which causes them to have wild although mindless adventures. A new member of the group, Sara (Sara Anne Jones) is a sweet girl from the big city who likes James (James Alexander) and he reciprocates that feeling. Sara finds herself drawn into this drug involved world and loses her innocence and grows a bit too comfortable with the goings on. However what she does and sees is not enough and she looks for something more. She is just barely satisfies by the drugs and drink and she wants to do something more intense, something that will give her a more intense high. She sees the potential for this while cooking with James one evening when he speaks of Toad Road which is not far from where they are. What Toad Road is, we learn, is an eerily comprehensible path in the woods upon which are laid seven wooden gates, each leading a traveler on the road closer and closer to hell. Only they will know what awaits them in hell.

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The film is both a horror movie and a social drama. There is an eerie atmosphere and a sense of danger all through the film and this is what gives the film its strength. There is a mood that discomforts and this is done by the two disparate stories that support each other. It is more than just a film about hell—it looks at the lives of troubled youth who have no limits. Sara and James and their drugged up friends constantly push themselves forward to further limits and to more potent drugs with each party they have. It just so happens that they live close to the seven gates to hell. As Sara increases drug usage and the intensity of drugs, she begins experiencing otherworldly sessions. Her hallucinations are intense and assault her as well as the audience and we become part of the film as we watch. Sara does not have a pleasant time and we can assume that this might be due to her using drugs like this for the first time. Something is awry in her hallucinations and is this caused by her mind playing tricks or is what happens related to evil and mysterious forces in the woods that pull her toward the gates of hell?

Something else happens after the psychedelic hallucinations when Sara is compelled to walk along that road. James seems to think that it just might be fun but Sara is not attracted by the idea of fun. She wants to discover what is really there—we do not know if the drugs are playing with her mind or is there something else dragging her to hell. As the film balances drama, horror and mystery, so does the audience. Using the idea that drug addiction can lead to horror is a smart move and it works here because the director makes it work. There is the possibility that some may find to be a bit too surreal, too abstract and too vague but I found it to be excellent. It takes a while to get into it but once we do, we go on quite a trip.

We meet the group of friends who are actually a bit repulsive. They get together to do drugs and just hang out but there does not seem to be anything between them aside from self-destruction and vomiting. James and Sara have a “kind of” romance—he, the experienced one and she, the innocent. It seems a bit sweet but drugs hover over everything. In most movies like this, the innocent girl rescues the druggie boyfriend but not here—she joins him. In fact, Sara is the one who calls the shots.

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I am sure that the theme is more about the danger of drugs than it is about the horror elements in the film. Here the guy who has done it all and seen it all begins to think about a life not using with his girlfriend who wants to use. We are reminded about the nature of drug dependence and the horrors that are felt when something goes wrong. Banker gives is a realistic and depressing look at a world where partying takes precedence and what happens when drugs and urban legend collide.

 Davidson gives an impressive performance in a demanding role and Jones is just as good as Sara. Her character transitions into the drug culture of her group of friends very quickly, and it changes her from an innocent to a much harder soul very, very fast and she seems to be very much at home with the role. Director Jason Banker is also to be complimented on his excellent job of putting this film together with such realism. This is one of those films that takes a while to think about even after it is over. It questions reality and to me seems to be more of an experience than just a movie and that is a good thing.

 

“THE NEW BLACK”— Changing Attitudes

the new black

The New Black”

Changing Attitudes

Amos Lassen

When Proposition 8 was passed in California in 2008, many of the supporters of marriage equality blames the Black church leaders because they did not take same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue. Because of this there were even greater division between the LGBT movement and the Black community. It, in effect, was an oversimplification of the history of the African American attitude toward gay rights. “The New Black” shows how those attitudes have begun to change and here we get a look inside of the African American community and churches across the United States and how they react to same-sex equality.

The film takes the audience to barbecues, church meetings and campaign offices. We meet a diverse class of activists. Tonex is a gospel singer who suffered when he came-out and was excluded from his church community becoming an outcast. Reverend Delman Coates, a Baptist minister favors and champions same-sex marriage and Sharon Lettman-Hicks is the straight leader of the National Black Justice Coalition and has led Maryland’s 2012 campaign to gain LGBT marriage equality which she defines as “the unfinished business of Black people being free”. We see that there is respect for opposing perspectives and the film provides us with a new way of looking at the situation. Church teachings, traditions, social conscience and civil rights come together and even clash but we do now know what we have to work on.

 

 

 

 

“SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT”— A Sentimental Romance

ShakeItAllAbout

Shake It All About” (“En Kort en Lang”)

A Sentimental Romance

Amos Lassen

Jacob (Mads Mikkleson) is a spoiled young man who is used to getting whatever he wants. He and his lover, Jorgen (Troels Lyby) have been living together for several years and Jacob finally decides to ask Jorgen to marry him. Then Jacob falls in love with someone else—a girl!!! This is not just any girl but it is Caroline (Charlotte Munck) who just happens to be married to Jorgen’s brother Tom. Jacob’s life quickly changes from peaceful to complicated as he tries to decide if he wants to spend his life with Jorgen or Caroline and it seems that he wants them both. Caroline becomes pregnant by Jacob and things get even more complicated.

It all started when Jacob and Caroline shared a passionate kiss at Jacob’s birthday party. This makes Jacob begin to think about women. Jacob and Caroline embark on an affair that Jorgen learns about and loses an eye after crashing his car in a moment of jealous rage.

I suppose this is kind of a “fluff” film—there is not a whole lot in the plot yet it is very entertaining. We like the characters from the moment that we meet them. However I did find Jacob’s constant wavering between gay and straight to be a bit obnoxious. He does seem to be concerned about gender and it is the person and not the sexuality that he falls for. His relationship with Jorgen seems sincere even though their gay friends are a bit stereotypical.

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The film belongs to Troels Lyby (Jorgen) who turns in a wonderful performance incorporating humor and sadness and realism and indecision. We laugh with him one moment and cry with him the next. The film deals with serious issues—relationships, homosexuality and family and it does so with wit and with humor.

Jacob has been spoiled all of his life and that is so evident here. The film is filled with gay stereotypes as well as romantic clichés but because of the humor these can be overlooked.

The cinematography is beautiful especially in the shots of Copenhagen and we get a feel of Danish culture. See the film and forget any preconceived notions—all you have to do is sit back and enjoy.

“A Romantic Mann” by Jeff Mann—Sexy and Sensual Poetry

a romantic mann

Mann, Jeff. “A Romantic Mann”, Lethe Press, 2013.

Sexy and Sensual

Amos Lassen

Just as I was wondering why I had not seen any new gay poetry, I came across Jeff Mann’s new collection “A Romantic Mann”. I always look forward to something new from Mann and he never disappoints. His new book of poems mirrors his appearance. Mann is a big guy and bearish. His poetry is big, or should I say epic, in emotion and like its author sweet on the inside.

There is a sense of masculinity that combines with emotion and a sense of loss and I felt what I am sure the poet felt as he wrote. As we age and mature our values as well as outlooks change and I sense that Mann is writing about facing middle-age. I felt much the same that we feel here when we read. Of course, realizing that one is no longer young can be interpreted in two ways—either our youth is gone and we have lived good lives or that the best is yet to come. It is very difficult to look back and remember the good times and think that they are over. I believe that Mann and I share the thought that aging is bittersweet. It is through his poems that Mann looks back and remembers—not wistfully but showing that the time has come to move on.

Mann writes with lyric beauty and is disciplined. His strong point in most everything he writes—prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction to use opposites and have them complement each other. Like myself, Mann is a son of the south and we sense his southern charm. He writes of the senses and I believe that is the most difficult thing to do. Ask yourself what friend chicken tastes like or how fresh coffee smells. We do not have the ability to explain those senses in words so we find other ways of doing so. When Mann writes about the senses, we feel what he describes.

The poet has situated these poems in four different sections or books and we soon sense his reason for doing this as he tells us his poems. Book one is where the poet introduces himself to us but not directly. We get an idea about him through the dichotomies he presents. He writes of men lusting after and loving each other physically and mentally and he writes off poetry. This is the most romantic of the four books. Book two consists of poems based upon musical compositions and again there is dichotomy; that of solitude and happiness. Book three concentrates on power; the power of others like Alan Turing and Mark Bingham as well as the poet’s own power to deal with hurt and revenge. It is homage to Mann’s root in Appalachia and his experiences as a faculty member at Virginia Tech. It is personal yet the poet steps back as he looks at his life and the influences that he has felt. Finally, book four again is an exercise in opposites and the expression of love and how we move forward after a devastating experience. Mann takes us to Europe with these poems. The beauty of poetry is that we experience in terms of our own lives so it would not surprise me to learn that others disagree with what I have written. But again, poetry is personal and we appreciate what we can identify with. My life is not so different than Mann’s and I identified with a lot of what he wrote and I suppose that is what makes this book so special to me.

 

“LIVING DOWNTREAM”— Speaking Out

concept 3c

“Living Downstream”

Speaking Out

Amos Lassen

Sandra Steingarber is an ecologist and cancer survivor and as we watch the film that follows her for one year. She travels across North America speaking out about cancer and it relation to the environment.

Steingarber received the news that she had cancer after a routine medical examination and even though she has managed to survive thus far, there is always the threat that cancer could return. She takes it upon herself to bring to the toxic chemicals that we live with and are in our environment. She follows the toxicants which are invisible as they move to some of the beautiful spots on this continent. We become aware of how they enter our bodies and what they do once inside as well as they may contribute to the formation of cancer. We hear from toxicology experts as those in cancer research as they speak of what they have found out and thereby show us the connection between a healthy environment and human health. Steingarber combines her personal journey with scientific exploration and reminds of the connection between health and the land we live on with its air and its waste.

Even with all we know about cancer, it remains an enigma. Steingarber’s story, cancer becomes quite personal even though we personally do not the woman who this film is about. She leads the argument about protecting ourselves by protecting our environment. Steingarber becomes the viewer’s friend by taking us with her on her personal journey which is powerful and inspiring. It is through her that we see how cancer is experienced, treated and most important, understood.

The special features on the DVD include five short documentaries and two audio commentaries.

 

 

 

 

“Generation Bullied 2.0: Prevention and Intervention Strategies for Our Most Vulnerable Students” by sj Miller, Leslie David Burns and Tara Star Johnson— Looking at Bullying

bullied

Miller, sj., Leslie David Burns, and Tara Star Johnson. Generation Bullied 2.0: Prevention and Intervention Strategies for Our Most Vulnerable Students, Peter Lang Publishing Inc, 2013.

Looking at Bullying

Amos Lassen

Bullying among our youth has always been a part of growing up but now it is taken very seriously as we realize more and more the harm it causes. With the advent of the internet we have become more aware of issues that we certainly know have always existed and we even get cyber-bullying. In all of its forms, it has become a major social problem that harms our youngsters, destroys self-esteem and self-confidence and has disastrous effects. It is not just the targets of bullying that suffer, we all do. It affects growth, learning and success and deprives both the bully and the bullied of environments of peaceful existence. Of late, we all have seen how bullying has become such a negative force in schools today with the result being that they have become not havens of education and social interaction but a place that many of our kids fear. Miller, Burns and Johnson look at bullying in great detail and provide strategies for once again making our schools safe by showing how we can build and work within the system to ensure that learning, safety and dignity for everyone is available.

We have recently experienced a period in history in which several lives have been cut short as a result of bullying; now we have reached the point that we can no longer sit back and let this continue. We have paid a tremendous price in reaching this point and the authors do not want us to ever go through this again. They provide a wonderful and in-depth analysis of what is wrong with the current anti-bullying practices and shows us the inadequacies in them. We see that this is not an issue that can be dealt with on individual bases and we see that, as Hillary Clinton, has said, “It takes a village” of all of us working together to find ways that our children’s lives are no longer in danger. Stereotyping and other negative behaviors have become not only evident but are reinforced and continue in today’s schools in a variety of ways. We are given narratives of those who are bullied and they are bullied daily in the schools of this country. The focus here is on the more common targets of bullies— gender, sexual orientation, race, physical appearance, disabilities (both physical and mental) and cyber-abuse. There are no simple solutions and none are given. Instead we learn how to empower us by giving us ways to raise social justice thereby preventing bullying from becoming a part of the way our kids have to deal with while at school and/or as part of society.

Bullying has become an epidemic in this country. The book not only explains the causes of bullying and ways to combat it but it does so while it issues a call to action. The book consists of writings by scholars and those who give analysis and sights about bullying. In this way we see the various forms that bullying takes and how it overlaps; we read of students’ experiences and we see what is being done and can be done within our school systems to make him inclusive and safe. No child should ever be afraid to go to school.

The stories that we read here should be a wake-up call. Yet we must never lose sight of the fact that bullying is an issue in not just the schools but it has permeated society at every level. The schools have provided a place for bullying to grow from seed to plant but that plant extends it branches to almost every level of society. As our bullied students leave school and enter society and the workplace they bring with them the scars of having been bullied. Likewise the bullies take what they have done and transfer it to other locations.

Diversity gives us a place where bullying can begin and although great strides have been made in terms of acceptance of “the other”, our youth still has to deal individually and as a member of a group with who he/she is. If we remember how it was when we were growing up we are reminded that is not easy. In many schools today students are harassed about gender and sexual identity and in too many of these schools, nothing is done about it. This is what must come to an end and not just in schools, but also in the larger society. All of us have obligations to stop this and the way to do so is a kind of transformation ridding the schools of all the opinions about sexual orientation, gender, race and so on—eliminating any of the processes to provide fodder to allowing bullying to exist.

As a former secondary school teacher and college instructor, I have seen bullying all my life and as a gay man I have been the object of it many times yet I have learned to deal with it and this is what we want everyone to be able to do—but rather than deal with it, we want to eliminate it altogether.

We hear from the bullied and the bully in every chapter here and the writers consider the effects of bullying on both. For me the strong points of the book are the definition of key terms that are associated with bullying, the information that we are given about those groups that are the targeted by bullies and the information of what is happening legislatively about the issue. On each of these we are given the facts and then strategies are provided for both prevention and intervention. We must be ready to become more aware and sensitive to bullying and this book is an ideal place to start. Since cyber-bullying is relatively new, we must find ways to educate ourselves about it and how to deal with it.

Stating the issue plainly and simply—bullying affects every area of our lives. It is society that must he held accountable just as those individuals who are the bullies. While this text is written by scholars, it is accessible and readable for all. It challenges us to bring about change and provides hope for us all that in the future bullying will cease being part of the way we live.

 

 

 

Remembering Stonewall!!!!

“It’s the Stonewall riots that became the symbolic riots which inaugurated what we call the modern gay rights movement.”

On June 28, 1969 a police raid at The Stonewall Inn sparked a riot of resistance among the gay community of New York City. The rioting and demonstrating would continue for several days and its impact would carry on far after that, giving rise to a gay rights revolution.

In this new video, Martin Duberman, author of STONEWALL, recounts the events of that day and talks about the symbolic signifiunifying night.

 

 YouTube or Open Road Media.

“Your Queer Career” by Riley Folds III— Being Who You Are

your queer career

Folds III, Riley. “Your Queer Career”, Magnus Books, 2013.

Being Who You Are

Amos Lassen

It is so important to be empowered when entering the workforce these days especially if one is an out and open member of the LGBT community. The workplace can be quite intimidating for the members of our community and it is necessary to understand and be prepared to face the challenges that await us. This means having the tools and the resources to make the right decisions which are critical to career development and life in general. Here is a book that will help prepare you for success.

Your Queer Career” teaches you how to get a perspective that includes what you will do in your career in terms of your sexual orientation. Here is information on LGBT-inclusive employers, as well as ways to deal with discrimination that is based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It shows us how to find LGBT companies, whether the resume should include sexual orientation, how to deal with discrimination in the workplace. As a LGBT employee as any other employee, one must do all he can—his/her best—to achieve the highest success level. Riley Folds III in an expert and we are lucky to have his book to make our lives richer.

“Stranger from Abroad: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness” by Daniel Maier-Katzkin— Giants of Thought

stranger from abroad

Maier-Katkin, Daniel. “Stranger from Abroad: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness”, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.

Giants of Thought

Amos Lassen

Martin Heidegger sought to make the relation between man’s existence and death noble. He was one of the leading German philosophers of his time but he also sought personal advancement and was the most prominent intellectual German to become a member of the Nazi party. Hannah Arendt was his student and his lover. Her goal was to enable a decent society of human beings in relation to one another. The two separated on ideological grounds and years later Arendt looked at Heidegger and found in his past behavior a way to look at Nazism that was to influence her and her writings. This in turn influenced her expression, “The Banality of Evil”—the concept by which she became known by and is still considered to be highly controversial while being profoundly influential still to this very day.

In 1969 Arendt went on the radio and gave a talk called “Martin Heidegger is Eighty Years Old” and it was a celebration of the man who had been her inspiration as both a student and a lover. She talked about how Heidegger had changed the way that philosophy was viewed by students—philosophy was not just an academic study but people had become used to looking at passion as the opposite of reason and of mind and life. She emphasized that passionate thinking brings life and thought together. Both thinkers, Heidegger and Arendt brought passion to thought in their own personal relationship just as does Daniel Maier-Katkin does in his study of the two great minds. Heidegger most definitely influenced Arendt’s work. The author merges personal lives with philosophical thinking in this book. Arendt when she first met Heidegger was an impressionable eighteen years old while he was thirty-five and married to Elfride, an anti-Semite. Nevertheless the two quickly became romantically involved. Heidegger cooled down towards Arendt and she left her university to study somewhere else, swearing that she would never love another man. She eventually married a man she did not love and that relationship ended. She divorced him and then married Heinrich Blucher and even with the differences between them, it was a successful relationship.

As the Nazis came to power, Arendt left Germany and became a person without a country for fifteen years. She was able to secure American citizenship in 1952. Heidegger became deeply involved in the Nazi party in 1933 and stayed with the party through 1934 and never recanted about his affiliation with Nazism. Arendt went on to have a brilliant career in the United States. In 1950 Arendt returned to Europe and met Karl Jaspers, a philosopher she admired deeply and who had resisted the Nazis. After hesitating for a while, Arendt sent Heidegger a note and the two revived their friendship but non-sexually. They continued to exchange letters through the mid-1950s when another long period of silence came between them. In 1967, they once again began to communicate and this lasted until 1975 when Arendt died.

This book is about the themes of redemption and forgiveness. Arendt had to deal with the way Heidegger deceitfully treated her as a young woman as well as with his embrace of Nazism. Arendt felt passionate about him and she regarded him as a genius of a thinker. Maier-Katkin maintains that this can be understood as a natural development of her reflections of him and how a man who was so greatly gifted could become part of such a horrible ideology as Nazism. As she looked at evil, she saw it as commonplace and she came to regard it as banal. She also thought of love, forgiveness and human rights and realized these were not privileges of any single nationality or group.

The author does some very informed readings and explanations of Arendt’s work and in doing so he explains how Heidegger influenced what she wrote. We likewise get some excellent discussions of some of Heidegger’s difficult thoughts and a wonderful look at Heidegger’s changes after World War II and we even sense a bit of his disenchantment with the Nazi party. (As an undergraduate philosophy student we did not spend much time on Heidegger as his ties to the Nazis put him out of favor—it was not until much later and due to my interest in Arendt that I began to read him myself and I found his thought to be quite problematic. This book managed to help me better understand some of what I read. For that alone, for me, it is a worthwhile and educative read).

We also get a look at German intellectual life as well as intellectualism in the United States after the War. After all it was here in America that Arendt made her home and became a member of the intellectual community and at a time that intellectualism was based just upon intellectual output and intellectuals were not regarded as celebrities but as thinkers. It seems to me that this book was written to respond to the critics of Hannah Arendt who felt that her early romance with Heidegger had large influence on her later writings. Personally I find that idea to be ridiculous and anyone who has spent any time reading Arendt knows that is far from the truth. We certainly see with her “Eichmann in Jerusalem” that Arendt is her own person and she answers only to herself.

The book is the story of a relationship between two very special and extraordinary people as well as the story of friendship and forgiveness. In its broadest sense it tells the story of a relationship yet it also informs us about the political lessons that can be learned from the mind of Hannah Arendt and from her reconciliation with Martin Heidegger. As Arendt neared the end of her life and spent time thinking about thinking, willing and judging, we cannot help but see that she was indeed close to her mentor’s thoughts and methods while she still worked through her own questions. Heidegger remained a companion and a presence in the way she thought. The reconciliation brought peace, understanding and “human warmth” into a world which is often hostile, cold and confusing. Arendt saw the reconciliation as love which is, after all, the basis and “foundation of humanity”.

As I sit here with the closed book in front of me, I find myself drifting back to passages I read and I am certain that when Hannah Arendt walked among us we were blessed to be in the presence of a great mind, of the mind of a women who was not afraid to speak out in a man’s world, a woman who held on to her convictions and paid a tremendous price for doing so.

I cannot leave this review without saying that for a book that is so clear on issues that created tremendous disagreements in the world of intellectuals, this is a rare accomplishment. Scholars tend to shy away from saying what only fools would dare to say regardless if these are true thoughts. Hannah Arendt dared to say in “Eichmann in Jerusalem” what she thought and was condemned for it. She revealed the staggering and awful truth about how people just let issues slide into oblivion without addressing them. When she wrote, she let her personal feelings lead her to tell people that it is fine to be friends, to even be lovers with someone who does not think the way you do. It is also fine to say what you think and to back it up—something that most of us will never dare to do.

“TURNING”— Touring with the Band

turning

Turning”

Touring with the Band

Amos Lassen

In 2006 Anthony and the Johnsons along with Charles Atlas took “Turning”, their collaborative performance piece on tour to major European cities. The film shows us several musical selections from the concerts and we see that Anthony Hegarty handpicked individual women including some transsexuals to appear on stage during the songs. We meet these women through interviews and from backstage footage. The performance piece was praised wherever it was performed. What we see is a moving yet oblique look at issues of gender-identity.

As a performance piece “Turning” is a conventional band concern which showcases Anthony’s unconventional voice and a revolving platform filled with women and transsexuals wearing costumes from extravagance to macabre. We have just enough song performance to make it seem like a concert but there are also camera cuts from the stage to the interviews that Anthony conducted with the models.

One model talks of a childhood in which she believed she was the only girl in the world who was attracted to girls; others, who started life as boys, recall times before and after they realized there might be a place for them in the world. Those with performance-art backgrounds allude to transgressive art shows; a fashion designer from Okinawa breaks down while describing the circle of artsy Japanese immigrants she knew in New York in 1980 — a clique destroyed over the coming decade by AIDS”

There is no narration or on screen titles so we never know the names of the models. However, we are aware that what Anthony is doing is championing womanhood in all of its forms. The songs do the explaining for us.

We go to London, Rome, Madrid and Paris and get glimpses of airports, hotels, buses and rehearsals. Onstage the Johnsons perform Mr. Hegarty’s agreeably lush, intimate and often melancholy piano-based songs, accompanied by a string section. Behind the musicians is a screen where beautiful Charles Atlas montages are seen with the focus on 13 women, transsexuals, who rotate on an apparatus that is at stage right. Anthony Hegarty speaks of the “Transsexual Manifesto”, an article that appeared in Paris’ Le Monde about the show.