Monthly Archives: June 2013

“WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME TOMORROW?”— Questioning Sexual Orientation

will you still love me tomorrw

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” (“Ming tian ji de ai shang wo”)

Questioning Sexual Orientation

Amos Lassen

Taiwanese-American director Arvin Chen brings us the story of a married man’s gay awakening as he and his wife discuss having another child. For nine years Wei-chung (Richie Jen) has been married to Feng (Mavis Fan). He has a steady job at an optical shop (and repressed homosexual desires). Feng takes care of their child, a son, Awan (Chang Wei-ning). Now there is news that there may be layoffs at work because of a merger and Feng starts to worry but she also worries that her husband might be cheating since he avoids the idea of having another child.

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While at an engagement party for his sister, Mandy (Kimi Hsia), Wei-chung meets wedding photographer Stephen (Lawrence Ko) who he knew during his “gay past”. Suddenly he begins to feel those “old gay cravings” again. He later responds to the advances of a gay customer, a flight attendant from Hong Kong named Thomas (Wong Ka-lok). Just at the same time, Mandy gets the pre-marriage nervous jitters and leaves her intended fiancé stranded in the supermarket and locks herself in to watch a Korean TV marathon.

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The film is an interesting approach to the metrosexual society of Taiwan. There is a large gay community there but there are rules to be followed. Wei-chung’s is attracted to Thomas and the facial exchanges between the two are wonderful. This is just a sweet romantic comedy and is a feel good film until the romantic and professional troubles come to a head. Then the film does some soul-searching and ends with nothing really resolved. Yet there are surprises along the way. The humor is quite believable and the actors are uniformly good.

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It is all about the uncertainties of romance and desire. When faced with demands, we tend to react just as Mandy did when she realizes that marriage will change her life or like Wei-chung did when he realizes his wife wants another child. With Wei-Chung it is much more interesting than comedic because of his gay urges. The Taiwan of the film is eccentric and the comedy is played for laughs. At the end we get quite a twist but it does not save the film that limps along and in which the gay characters come across as stereotypical.

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“The Forest Dark” by Jim Arnold— Struggles and Tests

the forest dark

Arnold, Jim. “The Forest Dark”, CreateSpace, 2013.

Struggles and Tests

Amos Lassen

I first read Jim Arnold when I got his book “Benediction” and loved it but wondered why he had not written anything else only to have that answered when I received a copy of “The Forest Dark”. I was quickly reminded of why I thought so much of his writing. Arnold is a wonderful story teller and creates characters that are relatable and they experience situations that any of us could go through. Here we are taken back to 1984 to the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. We first meet Eden von Eiff who becomes friendly with Noah Baldock and his boyfriend, Ronnie. Noah and Eden were total opposites—she was born into a class where grooming and proper etiquette come with the status. Noah was rough around the edges and sloppy in a casual sort of way. Eden was interning at Los Angeles public television thanks to her father and his ties and in repayment, she was expected to be the perfect daughter. However, she resented that he wanted to run for the vice-president of the country but she accepted his financial support. Noah, on the other hand, was the antithesis of conservatism—an openly gay male. It was Eden’s cosmopolitan outlook on life that attracted her to Noah even though she wished he was straight. Being a female, Eden began to feel like the third that makes a crowd but then she meets Ruben Acosta, a Cuban. What she did not know is that Noah also has eyeing Ruben and things really take off from there. Eden comes from a conservative family that is politically powerful so when she discovers that she is pregnant, she knows that her family will not take to her carrying the child of a non-American or even just being pregnant and not married. Noah has a solution for her. We then move forward twenty-five years and meet Eden and Noah again and they are now forced to deal with those choices they made back in 1984. Eden’s son Louis is now an adult and a social media star trying to break into reality television. Eden feels badly that she has not been part of her son’s life as he grew up and is now trying to change that but soon learns that it is hard to be a mother of someone who is already an adult.

Noah is now unemployed and not having an easy time with it and making it more difficult is Jivan, a strange friend, who seems to have a mysterious hold on him. It is not a good time for America with its crumbling economy and Noah and Eden are tested and learn that not everything is a necessity and what stands the test of time is what is important.

There is a tongue-in-cheek feel to Arnold’s writing that makes it such a fun read. There is so much that I could write about the plot but to do so would spoil a wonderful reading experience. This is about a family-of-choice. Twenty-five years after Noah and Eden decided what they would do about Eden’s pregnancy and now the two friends want to reconcile the past. They question whether what they are going through can be attributed to middle-age or the terrible American economy or whether they have just not made the right choices but now they face tests that they could never have dreamed of and in the process learn what is really important in life.

This is the relevance of the book and everyone should be able to identify with something in it. The choices we make determine how we live our lives and the results of those choices can show up anytime and anywhere. Is it possible to feel young when you age? Can we still enjoy what we did when we younger or do we have to pay a price to do so?

Jim Arnold seems to be taking his place as a writer of social issues. In “Benediction” he wrote of a gay man dealing with prostate cancer and in “The Forest Dark” he deals with living with the choices made during youth. He shows us that our past never dies and will come back to bite us in ways. There is a bit of a mystery here that I have not included in this review and there are politics that I have deliberately not written of. These are yours to deal with– I just do not want to spoil your fun and the chance to read a book by a terrific writer.

“FREE FALL”— Not According to Plan

freefall

Free Fall”

Not According to Plan

Amos Lassen

Everything in Marc’s (Hanno Koffler) life seemed to be going according to plan. He had a good job and a promising career, his girlfriend was pregnant and his parents lent him the money to buy a duplex. But then he met Kay (Maz Riemelt) at the police training academy and everything changed. Marc and Kay began spending a lot of time together—jogging, talking and just being together and for the first time ever, Marc began to have feelings for another man. He was taken from the life that he knew well and he was excited and exhilarated about this new aspect of his life which quickly began spinning out of control. He was in a state of free fall. He realizes that he cannot make anyone happy including himself.

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Directed by Stephen Lacant, “Free Fall” is part of what is being referred to as the new wave of German cinema. Basically it is the story of a man who finds himself outside of society and experiencing what happens when his plans for a happy life fall apart and there are no ways to satisfy those one loves. Marc really only had one small problem— the shortness of breath he felt. It was not until Kay became close to him that Marc gave it to impulse and thereby caused his safe and predictable life to be put in danger. The two men began knowing each other by using drugs together and eventually the relationship became sexual. This bothered me a bit in the sense that there is something of an insinuation that drug usage is a characteristic of the gay community. Kay seems to be a stereotypical gay man—as he tempts Marc, he breaks down his guarded self-control and we see Marc’s heterosexuality crumble. It as if Marc’s manliness was a façade for who he really is and he simply needed a catalyst to bring his true sexuality forward. As he accepts himself for who he really is, Marc begins to relax and he sees that all that was familiar to him seems to be replaced by this “new” sexuality. His girlfriend, Bettina, senses something and becomes angry, Marc’s parents show extreme disappointment and his colleagues with whom he was quite friendly become mean and a bit dangerous. Marc is both liberated and disoriented as Lacant shows us the cost of living a life of truth. All of this works under the seemingly innocent theme of Kay encouraging Marc to become a better runner by breathing deeply and regularly instead of panting and gasping for breath. Marc does not see the metaphor here and deals with exhilaration, confusion, loss and self-discovery all at the same time.

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I began to think about what most parents tell their children when they are young—about how they should aspire to find a good job, the perfect mate, marry, have children and live happily ever after. We know that this is not what life is like; some of us realize this early while others are jolted by the revelation that they do not fit into this pattern for “success”. This is what happened to Marc and when he realized who he was, it was not at the best of times. Kay is the catalyst and we see this in his behavior that is really not fitting for a future policeman–lack of respect for authority and arbitrary rules; he titillates, as does his tendency to intrude on personal space. A secret romance ensues which is repressed. Marc is not comfortable at first and hates himself for what he is doing. He hides it from Bettina who is always suspicious.

An interesting aspect of the m/m relationship between Kay and Marc is that there is little emotion and the sex they have together is pedestrian and seems to be the result of hormonal urgings. Kay teaches Marc how to run—to run with life as well as to run in sports and that he must be honest regardless of the consequences and who is hurt in the process. Homosexuality comes across as the force that destroys the place and the perfection of the family. Kay is responsible for bringing “trouble” into Marc’s life by destroying his life plans. When the film begins we see a happy heterosexual couple and then we the changes that admitting to being homosexual bring.

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Marc is a self-assured typical male, and a police officer. He lives with his pregnant girlfriend Bettina (Katharina Schuttler). They appear to have a genuine loving relationship. The story takes a turn when Marc attends a training course and meets a new colleague named Kay, a gay male. As Marc becomes sexually involved with Kay we see that he becomes unsure of himself and uncertain of his future.  He is conflicted as to whether he should remain with Bettina or pursue an uncertain future with Kay, the person he has grown to love.

Throughout the film, Marc remains in a dichotomous state–he is torn between two worlds. If he fails to choose what is acceptable, it would mean an end to his well-ordered world, total ostracism. Marc finds himself swept into a huge storm that throws him around and let him down in a new world where he tries to rest and be at peace. However, this does not work for him and he is forced into making a decision. The story is one of love and betrayal and Marc is left in the midst of an enigma.

Lacant is extremely effective in his exploration of the nuances of relationships. His style of storytelling is engaging and realistic, the film is expertly paced and the performances are excellent all around.

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“Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson” by Blake Bailey— Gay and an Addict in America

father and wilder

Bailey, Blake, “Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson”, Knopf, 2013.

Gay and an Addict in America

Amos Lassen

Charles Jackson was a closeted gay man and an addict and through his writing, we see what that meant and what one had to do with the other. His most famous novel, “The Lost Weekend” is the story of five days in the life of an alcoholic came out in 1944 and was a tremendous success. It was made into a successful film and brought Ray Milland the Oscar for best actor. Milland had been coached by Jackson and both the film and they were thinly veiled autobiographies of Jackson. Jackson and his brother, Fred (who was also gay) grew up in Newark, New Jersey and then lived in Europe where they met and partied with the aristocratic café society. Jackson worked in radio and in Hollywood, was published widely and lived at the famous Chelsea Hotel in New York City. He seemed to know everyone and counted Mary McCarthy, Thomas Mann, Judy Garland and Billy Wilder among his friends. He loved his family and his two daughters and was once the spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous but later he could not write without pills and alcohol. Here was an American novelist who wrestled with substance abuse, repressed homosexuality and social conformity. Aside from the success of “The Lost Weekend” about alcohol, Jackson’s other works dealt with child murder, nymphomania and homosexual desires. His life was one of benders on booze and pills, overdoses, DUIs, hospitalizations and debt which not only hurt him but also his family, his friends and his publishers.

Jackson broke down taboos about alcoholics and homosexuals long before others dared to do so and the Bailey suggests that we look back at Jackson to see the psychological depth of his writing. He was interesting in his contradictions—mainly by being a self-hating narcissist. He pursued gay sex at the same time that he wanted to be respectable, he loved and hate the small-town mentality of his childhood and his dependence on drugs is what allowed him to overcome writer’s block but at the same time had an effect on his prose. While his writing was uneven he still managed to produce narratives about celebrities and intellectuals.

Jackson’s story is compelling—a man who wrote a blockbuster and then faded into obscurity. His is a sad story—Jackson struggle with substance abuse but he found success…and then he lost it. Bailey has taken the facts of Jackson’s life and created a wonderfully readable book that seems to be headed for the Pulitzer Prize. It is Bailey’s ability to transform a fairly usual life into a fascinating book. When “The Lost Weekend” was published it was hailed as a masterpiece by the New York Times and the American Medical Association noted the novel’s influence in changing the perception of alcoholism from a moral failing to a treatable illness. Jackson was a fascinating figure who despite being devoted to his family left it to live with a man named Stanley Zednik at the legendary Hotel Chelsea, where he published a last best-seller before killing himself with Seconal in 1968.

Jackson’s story is told with great insight and this is a must-read for those interested in addiction, an emerging twentieth century subculture, and the literary life in general. We see how Jackson was able to fill what was left empty by his father and how this demonized him as a writer. He was able to use the precocity of youth in his writing and still knew that his best writing would mean that he would have to reveal his own most intimate truths but in doing, Jackson would show his vulnerability. Jackson had the intelligence and was objective to write about his failings. He had lived both in opulence and poverty; he had poor health but did not stop because of it and he kept his head high. We wonder how he survived living the life of anguish that he did. He lost his brother and sister when he was young; he lost a lung to tuberculosis when he was just 25 and he struggled with his sexual orientation through most of his life. Add to that his drug and alcohol addictions and things become even more complicated.

Bailey not only writes about Jackson but also about the times in which he lived. We read about the different ways that alcoholism treatment was handled and we see the Hollywood of the times. Jackson’s attraction to Judy Garland, for example, was somewhat characteristic of bisexual and homosexual men who were attracted to and seduced by her because of her vulnerability, her fragility and her androgyny.

This is a literary biography and as such, Bailey succeeds in telling us about Jackson. It was Jackson’s connection to his life that we learn most about. Jackson suffered his own lost weekends and had his own literary dreams and it was these that influenced his writing. His first novel was tremendously successful and Jackson never could match that and what is amazing is that he wrote it while sober. He ultimately took his own life—the pain he bore was unbearable but he left behind a literary heritage that while not great is often fused with genius.

 

“The Wall” by William Sutcliffe— A Modern Fable

the wall

Sutcliffe, William. “The Wall”, Walker, 2013

A Modern Fable

Amos Lassen

Joshua is a 13 year old boy who lives in the village of Amarias with his mother and his stepfather. In this town everything is brand new and the town is surrounded by a huge wall which is guarded by soldiers. The only way to cross the wall is via a checkpoint which is very heavily fortified. Joshua has been told that the wall is the only thing that protects him and the village from the enemy who is brutal and unforgiving. Joshua, like most kids, is curious and one day he finds a tunnel that goes under the wall and it is too tempting to resist. He has heard about the other side but he wants to see for himself and he is amazed at what he find when he goes through the tunnel. This story is obviously about the west bank of Israel and what a young boy finds when he ventures forth.

The tunnel that goes under the wall also divides the town. When Joshua uses the tunnel he discovers that the other side does not contain monsters like his stepfather has told him that he should be afraid of but instead there are real people there. Joshua sees a house that seems to have been taken down by bullets and he sees bullies pushing others around. But he also meets a girl who intrigues him. He can’t stay there; he must return to his “safe” village on the other side of the wall.

The short time he spent on the other side of the wall changes Joshua. He has gained knowledge and he begins to question everything his stepfather has told him about the people who live “there”. He knows what he has seen.

Quite simply this is a coming-of-age story that causes Joshua to re-examine the truths of childhood. It is a kind of rebellion against not only his stepfather but against his mother as well. She had been widowed when her first husband was killed defending Israel. Joshua pursues his secret looks at the world he has been told to stay away from and while this is a story, there is a lot of truth that we read about here. Sure, it is an allegory in which the writer does not use names but we recognize immediately that he has written about Israel’s West Bank.

This book deals with political complexities and is actually about the large issue of the Israeli fight to hold onto the land that was won in the Six Day War in 1967. Joshua and his father are on opposite sides when they come face-to-face to discuss what Joshua has seen. Joshua tells him that a fight like this cannot continue forever. There are very serious issues here that include those who believe in the sanctity of the sovereign Jewish state but who are now beginning to wonder if it is worth the cost that it will take to achieve it. When opinions are so hot and so fervent, we must consider if this is the time to deal with this idea. What will happen to the non-extremists and those who are not zealous or terrorists who try to live in peace and quiet on the land where they were born and raised?

I do not feel that the book is anti-Israel propaganda as some reviewers have claimed. The author is an English Jew and tries to show that being anti-settlement is not the same as being anti-Israel. We clearly see the differing sides here–not just the Israelis versus the Palestinians, but also the religious versus the secular, the diehard occupiers versus the reluctant conscripts. Using Joshua as a mouthpiece, Sutcliffe provides a lot of provocative food for thought.

 

“THE HAPPY SAD”— Two Couples Redefining Terms

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The Happy Sad”

Two Couples Redefining Terms

Amos Lassen

In ”The Happy Sad” we meet two couples who deal with the new norms of modern relationships. One of the couples is straight and white; the other is gay and black. These couples are creating these new norms as they redefine monogamy and explore sexual identity.

Annie (Sorel Carradine) is a teacher who thinks a lot about social mobility. Stan, her boyfriend does what she says. Annie wants to take a break from their relationship so she pretends to be dating Mandy (Cameron Scoggins), her co-worker. This breaks Stan’s heart and tries to get over her by seeing Marcus (Leroy McClain) who is involved in an open relationship with Aaron (Charlie Scoggins), his long-term boyfriend. Aaron an Marcus have been together for six years and now Marcus feels emotionally vulnerable with Stan who is having his first gay relationship and Marcus finds himself braking the one rule that he and Aaron share.

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Mandy is somewhat fragile and realize that she is a lesbian when he starts to develop feelings for Annie. By chance, the two couples meet and this forces them to re-evaluate their ideas about fidelity and relationships. Directed by Rodney Evans, the film deals with the important issues of sexual identity, monogamy and honesty.

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“KINK”— Behind the Doors

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Kink”

Behind the Doors

Amos Lassen

On the corner of Mission and 14th in San Francisco stands a brick building that resembles a fortress. “Kink” takes us behind the doors of the building known as the Armory to show us fetish porn that exists right next to businesses. Founded by Peter Acworth, Kink.com has been responsible for videos and websites that hardcore players use—the players that enjoy inescapable bondage, “shagging machines”, and utter debauchery of all kinds. He has built an empire and he sees his fetishes acted out in front of him at the Armory.

This film is both brutal and honest and has many take it all until you can no longer moments. We hear discussions of turn-ons, sex-positive feminists, safety during sex, extreme modes of sexual expression and so on and it is all provocative, painful and a bit poignant. Above all it is a titillating treat for viewers.

BDSM stands for bondage, discipline, dominance and sadomasochism. It has been seen as an aberration, a sub-genre of pornography that is for those who are morally deprived. Those that participate have been regarded as the lowest of the low but perhaps we are missing something here. Director Christina Voros documents the world of BDSM by going behind the scenes at Kink.com and instead of focusing on the acts she focuses on the actors. We hear their opinions and their personal stories and thereby get an interesting insight into the places that few are willing to go to and that even fewer are willing to admit that they have been. Volos lets the content and the creators speak for themselves and we quickly see that there is no agenda. This is a film that educates and tries to dislodge the deviant label attached to BDSM.

We learn of the safety taken while filming and how directors take care of their passive stars and show us that it is not the directors who control the action but the actors themselves. They decide what will happen once the camera starts to film.

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Even though the sexual acts are not the focus here, they are still shown to us as a way to juxtapose the actors with their dialogue. Volos does demystify the world of BDSM. We hear from employees of kink.com and they tells us that the workplace is happy, there is no manipulation and they only participate in what they enjoy.

James Franco is the producer of this documentary which tells the story of what is kinky at kink.com. I am sure that the real challenge here was finding a way to accurately document the inner workings of the world of pornography, without compromising the objectivity that such a film requires.  Brooklyn based Director Voros uses the “fly on the wall’ approach and lets the content and its producers speak for itself, “without any of the agenda fueled 3rd person commentary that has become ever so popular in documentaries these days”.

This film is extremely interesting although when it was over I felt like something was missing. We understand that the primary goal that the filmmakers had when making this was to both educate audiences, and to perhaps even break away the “deviant” label that is many times attached to BDSM.  For the most part they did just that.  The problem seems that the harder questions went unanswered or were avoided altogether. The film did not deal with the questions of what kind of pleasure is derived from these acts of BDSM. Is it really all about complete sexual freedom or is there something else? Do we have the right to do whatever we want with our own bodies so therefore it can be assumed that suicide and self-mutilation are acceptable. Is there any therapeutic value to BDSM and can it result in long term psychological and emotional damage? Is it ok to practice abuse in the bedroom and not have it carry over into daily life.

Kink produces movies for the 30 odd different sites they now operate and they cover the whole Bondage  and Sadomasochism spectrum from slave training, rope bondage, fem dominance, gay public sex, bondage gangbang, female domination, submissive women, lesbian bondage,  shemales, naked wrestling, pissing,  and sex machines etc.  And in this no holds barred documentary you get to witness several of the extreme films being made. We can only hope that the actors were indeed acting.

I must say that I had never seen a machine screw a woman while she hangs upside down but then neither have I seen most of what we see in this film. Voros sets out to reveal this clandestine world to the rest of us and she does– she introduces us to the directors and models of Kink.com and allows them the opportunity to speak thoughtfully and intelligently about the world of BDSM. We soon see that the people of Kink.com really love what they do, and their audience loves what they do too. No one gets hurt an Kink.com clears the air about their various safety measures — most importantly, there is always consent.

The point of kink is to expose BDSM to the rest of the world and this fits perfectly in producer James Franco’s personal agenda to convince Americans to be more open and honest about sex. If Franco’s high profile affiliation really does get more people to watch this film then he has done a good job.

 

“WHITE NIGHT”— Going Home

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White Night (“Baek Ya”)

Going Home

Amos Lassen

Won-Gyu is a Korean flight attendant who returns home to South Korea for the first time in two years. He meets his ex-boyfriend but there is nothing there and he goes out in search of a one-night stand. He meets Tae-Jun, a courier and both men do not expect more than a brief interlude. Instead it become a battle of control with Tae-Jun and Won-Gyu who we see as a damaged man looking for something aside from sex—he wants to punish those who drove him out of his country. This is one of those films in which not a whole lot happens yet it is very powerful. The silences in the film are stories in themselves and the film uses the Shakespearean method of monologue that says so much after we understand the meaning of what has been said.

Won-Gyu is waging a war with some of his own demons. What began as a cat and mouse game between the two men eventually shows us their fascination with each other. Each wants to control the attraction he has for the other because they are reluctant to let their true feelings shine. Dialogue is sparse and even though it takes a while to understand, we realize by the end of the film that Won-Gyu has come back to Korea with a definite purpose—to find the men who beat him severely in a hate crime and this is what make him leave his homeland.

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Both Won-Gyu and Tae-Jun are nuanced and complicated characters. We are with them during the course of one night and watch as they slowly discover who the other man is and we learn what drives them and how, even with their differences, develop some kind of bond. There is no happy ending and when the film is over the viewer is left saddened and bewildered.

The whole piece works so well because these two are both complicated and nuanced characters. We live the whole night almost in real time and are there step by step as we discover what drives them both and how, despite all their differences, and the fact they were total strangers when the night started, they develop an unique but unspoken bond. This is not a bad way to feel and when reflecting back on the film you will understand why I say that.

 The characters play with each other as they play with the viewer as each fights for control. When the dialogue is so sparse, every word becomes important and powerful but it is the non-verbal communication that shows the depth of the characters. We get to know them well and each has sympathetic and endearing qualities. Our sympathy bounces back and forth between the two as each shows us his vulnerability and dark side. Won-Gyu’s malice becomes little more than a cover-up for his pain and the fun-loving aspects of both characters becomes emotional carelessness.

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It is up to the viewer to understand what happens. About halfway into the film there is a burst of violence and action that comes out of nowhere but then everything quiets down and becomes placid.

Unlike many other films this is an interactive experience in which we, the viewers read between the lines as we spend the night with the characters. There is no romance but there is some kind of connection between the two men and between the two men and the viewer. We sense tragedy and this is obviously what director Leesong Hee-il wants us to feel. Obviously this is not a film for everyone but for movie lovers who know what to look for. It is a wonderful piece of filmmaking that raises cinema to an art.

 

“Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975” edited by Carol Brightman— Two Loyal Friends

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Brightman, Carol, (editor). “Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975”, Harvest Books, 1996.

Two Loyal Friends

 Amos Lassen

American author Mary McCarthy and Hannah Arendt, a philosopher who managed to get out of Nazi Germany met in New York City and became the closest and loyalist of friends over a 25 year period. “Between Friends” is their complete correspondence and these two intellectual women talk about everything and trade ideas about politics, literature, morality and they share gossip and small talk. The letters range from just musings to literary gossip. I remember how enamored I was with Arendt when she covered the Eichmann trial for the New Yorker Magazine and how upset I was when I read her “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”. But I am older and wiser now and find myself having a new respect for the woman who wrote the magnificent “The Origins of Totalitarianism”. I had actually put Arendt out of mind after the Eichmann trial and it was not until Margarethe von Trotta’s new film reawakened my interest in her. I also realize now and too late that one of my professors was the autobiographer of Mary McCarthy, Carol Gelderman, and I never had the chance to speak with her about McCarthy and Arendt.

 

Now some time after the trial is over and Eichmann is dead, many are going back and looking at Arendt differently. There is no question that she was one of the brilliant minds of the 20th century and whether we agree with her or not does not take that away from her. She has a whole new group of young Israeli supporters and I am glad to be back with her again and reading everything I can by her and about her.

 Mary McCarthy (1912-89) and Hannah Arendt (1906-75) shared a special friendship and their correspondence is fascinating. We see two very different personalities writing about things that are important as well as mundane or as Arendt might have said “banal”. We learn of their views about political, philosophical and literary figures and happenings of the day—Karl Jaspers, Robert Lowell, the Vietnam War, of course Adolf Eichmann, Richard Nixon, Watergate and this little surprise—after the death of Arendt’s husband, a very drunk and very gay W.H. Auden proposed marriage to her.

Both women were intellectuals and at a time that there were not many female intellectuals. They shared personal and professional concerns and they critique each other’s works.

If there is a problem with the book it is that it is not balanced. There is much more McCarthy than Arendt but then Arendt was much more intellectual than McCarthy.

McCarthy writes more frequently about the most intimate questions in her life (mainly her marriages). Arendt does not provide such personal information. She does write about her devotion to her husband and a separate unit of the book begins after he dies in 1970. They were very much in love and she only lasted another five years after his death. During that time she relied on McCarthy and her friendship. When the two women are apart they seem to really miss each other and remain especially loyal intellectually with each woman giving high praise to the other. They defend each other against many criticisms made against them. But there is something else— this strong loyalty also would seem to bring with it a certain intellectual dishonesty. When Arendt is under fire for her ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ neither she nor McCarthy show any real understanding of the criticism that is launched at Arendt especially by Gershom Scholem who had been her close friend. When McCarthy is criticized by other authors, Arendt sees it as little more than envy.

Politically there is a lack of balance in intellectual discussions and Arendt is always the more profound of the two. There is really no critical give and take with many of the letters having to do with McCarthy’s marriage to her third and last husband, Anthony West, the American diplomat. There is a great deal exchanged about the previous husband who refuses at first to give a divorce and Arendt plays the role of loyal helper to her friend in pushing for the divorce. “Again there is much gossip about mutual friends Dwight Macdonald, Robert Lowell, Nicola Chiaromente, Natalie Sarraute and intellectual acquaintances they both seem not to like very much i.e. Alfred Kazin, Norman Podhoretz”. Arendt says nothing about her relationship with her mentor and former lover, Martin Heidegger. Arendt was the key person in rehabilitating Heidegger after the War, when it is now well established that he was a full participant in the “Nazification” of the German universities. The editor, Carol Brightman also alleges that Arendt had once had an affair with Harold Rosenberg, the critic and this has not seen the light of day elsewhere. “This charge is raised in a note with no confirmation or refutation of it in any of the letters. And this when the notes which come after each letter identifying various people mentioned in them are useful”.

 The feeling comes that both Arendt and McCarthy wanted to be friends just for the purpose of complimenting and helping each other which is noble to a degree. But that Arendt intellectualism that I love so much is simply not here. Nowhere in these letters do we experience the wonderful writing that both of these women were capable of.

Contextual notes are placed at the beginning of the correspondence or at the end, with the exception of explanatory terms found in brackets within the letters, a practice that is both helpful and distracting.

Of course this review is merely my opinion and I am not an Arendt scholar so I think only fair to show you what another reviewer said:

What a wonderful collection of letters! It’s such a privilege to be able to see inside the relationship of these two brilliant women. To read what they were thinking about, how they were thinking about things — it’s truly very exciting. They were so different from one another, yet you can feel how necessary their friendship was to them. It’s very inspiring”.

 

“Monarch Season” by Mario Lopez-Cordero— Telling It like It Is

monarch season

Lopez-Cordero, Mario. “Monarch Season”, Magnus Books, 2013.

Telling It like It Is

Amos Lassen

Monarch Season” is one of those books that pulls you in with the very first word and does let go even when the read is over. I do not believe that I can praise it more than that. The dialogues, the descriptions, the characters are all wonderful and the book is just what you need for a quick summer read while getting that tan.

Devin Santos is very lucky—he seems to have it all. His boyfriend is successful in a career of finance, his house is gorgeous and he has a closet full of liquor. However, Devin is jaded. He smokes too much pot and is too content to look good on the outside while having not a whole lot on the inside. He considers success as it relates to linen sheets from Italy and contemporary art but he is also aware that something is missing in his life. He also begins to understand that his relationship with his banker boyfriend, Charlie, is shaky. His best friend, Jude, has a date with Frank, one of the guys from Devin’s neighborhood who has been pursuing Devin for a long time and Devin realizes that the time has come to re-evaluate who he is and what having everything really means.

The novel is full of social intrigues and they are all enticing. Be prepared to forget everything else you had planned to do before you started reading. The prose and the plot complement each other and we feel what the characters feel—especially Devin as he tries to deal with his own definition of happiness which does not compare to the new one he has found.