Monthly Archives: November 2013

“NASHVILLE”— A Classic Restored on Blu-ray/DVD

nashville

“Nashville”

A Classic Restored on Blu-ray/DVD

Amos Lassen

I am often asked if I have a favorite movie and that is a really difficult question as I have several, one of which is Robert Altman’s “Nashville”. “Nashville” is more than a movie and in it Robert Altman captured a time in history and an attitude while at the same time giving us a look at humans who strive for more. Altman made several excellent movies and “Nashville” is  considered by many to be his best. It is no surprise that Criterion has chosen it to be part of its blu ray stock since the company is noted for preserving the very best.“Nashville” is also a film about women and the roles they play in American culture. We have the reporter from the BBC, the singer who cannot sing, the fragile broken woman, the one next in line, the never-complaining and always present wife.The film is a metaphor for the political climate at the time it was made (1975). It was presented  with a cast that delivers incredible performances– Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Ronee Blakley, Henry Gibson, Shelley Duvall, Geraldine Chaplin, Karen Black, Ned Beatty, and more.  There are echoes of the Kennedy assassination as the movie reflects the spirits of the times and it ridicules Nashville and its love of country music.The plot of the film takes place over five days set against the Grand Ole Opry. The film ends at a rally for Hal Philip Walker who is a radical conservative that we never see but whose presence is felt throughout. There is a symbolic appearance at the end when we see a black limousine surrounded by men dressed darkly. We feel that it represents what is not good for this country. This is Altman’s view of this country’s future which is certainly different from what the founding fathers had in mind.“Nashville” is perhaps the seminal film of the 70s and has a solid fan base—so much so that I can risk saying that the Criterion edition will fly off of the shelves, especially if someone has seen the real poor DVD that exists now. Altman assembled 24 actors and then let them go their own ways in Nashville. Soon there were meetings between actors and “real people” and improvisation brought this movie into being. Altman looked at the nature of celebrity, political apathy and social unrest and we are given a look at the specificity of time and place. With this film, Altman redefined storytelling and narration..The film received Oscar  nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (2—Lily Tomlin and Ronee Blakely) and it won the Academy Award for best song with Keith Carradine’s song, “I’m Easy”. The actors were told to develop their own material and it certainly paid off. The film is loaded with music and is funny and tragic and it is just as important today as it was in 1975. The new bonus features include:

Audio commentary featuring director Robert Altman
New documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with actors Keith Carradine, Michael Murphy, Allan Nicholls, and Lily Tomlin; assistant director Alan Rudolph; and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury
Archival interviews with Altman
Behind-the-scenes footage
Demos of Carradine singing his songs from the film
Trailer
 A booklet featuring an essay by critic Molly Haskell.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvqsWgtzIVw

 

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“Wakefield Poole’s BIBLE”— Like We Have Never Seen It Before

bible

“Wakefield Poole’s BIBLE”

Like We Have Never Seen It Before

Amos Lassen

Not many of us will use the name Wakefield Poole and the Bible in the same breath. Poole has had several careers—a dance, a choreographer and an erotic film maker. Many were surprised to hear that he was planning to make a film out of the Bible. We began to wonder if the film would be sexual and if so, how. Poole did it and visually the film is gorgeous. He took several Bible stories—Adam and Eve, David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah and added a bit of sex and lots of nudity and while the basic idea of the stories are there, we see what we have never seen before much less thought of.

I cannot remember ever not having the words to review a film. I can say that the photography is stunning, that the characters exude a sense of beauty and that this is certainly not the Bible that I have been studying all of life. But then neither is this a novelty. We live in a world where freedom of expression is a basic right and I admire Wakefield Poole’s vision while I am just not sure that this film ever had to be made.

I urge you to see it and come to your own conclusions. Some will think it is pornographic even though we see no sex and others will acclaim it as the birth of a vision. The film features Georgina Spelvin, Gloria Grant and Bo White and it is finally available on video for all to see. It has several extra features which include:

  • Director’s Audio Commentary
  • Director’s Introduction
  • Interview With Actress Georgina Spelvin
  • Interview With Actress Gloria Grant
  • Screen Tests
  • Stills Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer

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“Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem” edited by Steven E. Aschheim— The Debate Continues

hannah in jerusalem

Aschheim, Steven E. (editor). “Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem”, University of California Press, 2001.

The Debate Continues

Amos Lassen

The debate over Hannah Arendt does not seem to be coming to an end any time soon. This collection of essays which contains 21 chapters is composed of papers from a conference on Arendt in Jerusalem in 1997, 22 years after the death of the political philosopher. We are reminded of her critique of Zionism which seemed to make null and void her early work in the movement and her extremely controversial views on the Eichmann trial. These made her a reviled person both in Israel and among Jews worldwide. Using the title of her work on the Eichmann trial, “Eichmann in Jerusalem”, “Arendt in Jerusalem” is a scholarly investigation of Arendt placing her where her ideas have been ignored. The contributors here reexamine the crucial aspects of both Arendt’s life and thoughts from different views. We get a look at crucial aspects of her life and thought; we learn of her complex identity as a German Jew, we read of her commitment to and critique of Zionism and the state of Israel; we examine her place in and her relationship to the intellectuals of the 20th century as well as read about her works on totalitarianism (including her classic study, “The Origins of Totalitarianism”), Nazism and the Eichmann trial; her connections to German culture (intimate and tense at the same time) and her redefinitions and reworking of political thought and philosophy as it was in the 20th century.

Arendt’s reputation in Israel suffered the consequences of her controversial view but now she is being openly discussed, some in light of her warnings about what was to eventually come out of the Palestine/Israel conflict.

Arendt was a force in 20th century political philosophy and here scholars share multiple points of view as to how she was able to write about the issues which dominated that period of time. She relied on Nietzsche to come to many of her conclusions. Hans Mommsen who is an expert on German history and literature says in his essay, “Hannah Arendt’s Interpretation of the Holocaust as a Challenge to Human Existence” that she was prone to emphasize what she had already written in THE ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM when she went to Jerusalem for the Eichmann trial. It was there that she observed that claimed that the Nazi machinery of genocide turned criminal activities into regular and routine procedures that “suffocated” any moral principle or protest from either bystanders or perpetrators.  Mommsen claims that this is what was responsible for Arendt’s contempt for the court and trial of Eichmann.

Walter Laqueur states that “The animosity toward Jews as a group was of long standing, and it was by no means restricted to Israel and the Israelis. . . . Perhaps she had read too much anti-Semitic literature for her own good.” Walter Laqueur’s comments on Hannah Arendt as political commentator and “the greatest female philosopher of our time, perhaps of all times, which she might well be”  find “a fascinating discrepancy between Arendt the political philosopher and the poverty of her judgment concerning current politics.”. However, he says that she was often wrong and that “without being aware of it, Mrs. Arendt affects a tone of haughty superiority regarding things and men.”

The essays carefully examine her relationship with two other important philosophers, Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger. In 1946, the English translation of Jasper’s “The Question of German Guilt” stated that Germans did not embrace the idea of guilt and that Arendt’s husband complained, “despite all beauty and nobility, the guilt brochure of Jaspers is a damned and Hegelized, Christian-pietist-sanctimonious nationalizing bilge.” To this Arendt gave her own moral evaluation: “. . . it is not so certain that those who have lost their belief in Hell as a place of the hereafter may not be willing to be able to establish on earth exact imitations of what people used to believe about Hell.”  Peter Baehr in his essay here concludes that there is something strange about the mixture of issues involved in communication. “That some of the most profound forms of expression and dialogue do not conform to norms of transparency, `sincerity,’ and consistency may offend some philosophers. But it may also add weight to Arendt’s suspicion that philosophy and human experience are constantly at war.”

In the introduction to this collection, Steven Aschheim cites a letter Arendt wrote to Jaspers on April 13, 1961, in which she complained about Jerusalem: “Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew and looks Arabic. Some downright brutal types among them. They would follow any order.”

Susan Neiman says that Arendt was able to vividly mix ideas: “In other words, you don’t have to be a student of Heidegger to be ambivalent about philosophy. Arendt’s strongest expression of revulsion toward the subject occurs in discussing the intellectual embrace of Nazism: Precisely the capacity to use well-trained wit to provide interesting rationalizations of Nazism made philosophy permanently suspect. But in just the discussion in which, for these reasons, she most vehemently rejects her interviewer’s inclination to call her a philosopher, Arendt undercuts her own position. Defending her claim to have bid farewell to philosophy, she appeals to what she calls philosophy’s essential hostility to the political–from which she immediately excepts Kant. Later she would generalize to describe Kant as `so singularly free of all specifically philosophical vices’. Be that as it may, this is fairly respectable company to keep for one who insists she has said farewell to philosophy.”

Arendt feels that Heidegger is such a philosophical giant that she understands his leaving concrete politics and his move into a philosophical approach to rationalizing Nazism which has become such a major part of his reputation.

As we are all aware there has been no single study of the Holocaust that has gained the attention that did Arendt’s work about the Eichmann trial.

“Historians agree that the average ethnic German was not terrorized by the constant threat of deportation and death, as was even the most powerful Russian party member during Stalin’s rule in the mid 1930’s. Such doubts about the actual levels of threat experienced by the ethnic German population under National Socialism raise suspicions that the terror thesis–and with it, the comparative concept of totalitarianism–constitutes an apologetic for crimes committed under the Nazi regime. The terror thesis, it is argued, falsely presents the German population as passive sufferers, rather than willing participants in the murderous political cult of German nationalist supremacy.” So says Michael Halberstam in his essay comparing totalitarian systems.

 The most volatile issue that Arendt presented was without question her discussion of Jew vs. Jew and Jewish collaboration with the Nazis during the Holocaust. Arendt was criticized because she did not understand them as innocent victims only.”  Some saw this as a confusion of who was on trial: Eichmann or the Judenrate. The editor, Steven E. Aschheim, takes this further: “Indeed, in her treatment of the Judenrate, her apparent blurring of the almost sacrosanct distinction between perpetrators and victims seemed to violate fundamental sensibilities…Moreover, very early on, Arendt warned that the uniqueness of the atrocities could create a self-righteous cult of victimization, one that indeed has occurred”. We see this today in the absurd current competition in comparative victimization as a tool of identity politics.

 There are those today that still feel that no one has really examined Hannah Arendt’s moral failing in showing such insensitivity and coldness to victims of the Shoah in her book “Eichmann in Jerusalem”. Likewise they do not see that despite being one of the great political thinkers of the twentieth century, she failed her own conception of the ‘ dignity of man’ “One was in her reluctant and apologetic attitude toward her own Jewishness, and the second in her deference to the Nazi – sympathizing Heidegger”. It is immoral to see Arendt as totally correct in what she had to say.  She was not successful in the way she covered the Eichmann trial. She failed as a reporter and in moral judgment. The portrait that she gave us of Eichmann was that of a banal office-worker or clerk who was a pathetic and ineffectual nobody. Deborah Lipstadt whose recent book, “The Eichmann Trial” and other new evidence as to what Eichmann actually thought and said at the trail indeed show that he was a calculating monster whose aim was the total annihilation and extermination of the Jewish people. At his trial, he only cared about saving his own life and he therefore tried to present a totally different picture of himself.

Arendt also failed in the way she showed Jewish collaboration with the Nazis. Arendt was culturally arrogant and filled with contempt for the leaders of the Jewish councils in Europe. They had to deal with impossible tasks—they had to try to save a portion of the people while still having to deal with the Nazis who were determined to exterminate all Jews. It is here that we see Arendt’s failure in human sympathy. The irony that we see here and the pain that we feel shows Arendt’s total lack of moral judgment and therefore used none in her writing of “Eichmann in Jerusalem”. Looking at what we now know, we see her book as a shameful side of her history. Her concern in rehabilitating the image of her former professor and lover, Martin Heidegger who identified with the Nazi party and acted as one in the academic world that he lived in. We can easily see how these two failures of her moral judgment put a tremendous strain on her own reputation from which she was never able to recover.

 Arendt also showed contempt for Israeli prime minister, David Ben Gurion. She said that he was using the Eichmann trial as an arena to bring attention to Israel. She claimed that before Eichmann’s trial, the world was indifferent to the horrors of the Holocaust. The trial made humanity more aware of its own capacity to create evil and destruction.

Below is a list of the contributors to this collection and a bit about their backgrounds. We clearly see that what is here is the work of scholars and thinkers:

Steven E. Aschheim holds the Vigevani Chair of European Studies at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, where he teaches cultural and intellectual history. He is the author of Brothers and Strangers: The East European Jew in German and German-Jewish Consciousness, 1800-1923 (1982); The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany, 1890-1990 (1992); Culture and Catastrophe: German and Jewish Confrontations with National Socialism and Other Crises (1996); In Times of Crisis: Essays on European Culture, Germans, and Jews (2001); and Scholem, Arendt, and Klemperer: Intimate Chronicles in Turbulent Times (2001).

Peter Baehr teaches in the Department of Politics and Sociology, Lingnan University, Hong Kong. His publications include Caesar and the Fading of the Roman World (1998) and Founders, Classics, and Canons (2001). He is also the editor of The Portable Hannah Arendt (2000).

Richard J. Bernstein is the Vera List Professor of Philosophy and chair of the Department of Philosophy of the New School for Social Research. His recent books include Freud and the Legacy of Moses (1998); Hannah Arendt and the Jewish Question (1996); and The New Constellation: The Ethical-Political Horizons of Modernity/Postmodernity. He is currently a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, where he is working on a book dealing with the problem of evil.

Leora Bilsky is a senior lecturer on the Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University and has recently been a fellow at the program in Ethics and the Professions at Harvard University. Her main areas of interest are feminism, law and philosophy, political trials, and the Holocaust. In her work on political trials she has looked at the history of Israeli law and the legacy of the Holocaust and the work of Hannah Arendt. She is the editor of a special issue of Theoretical Inquiries in Law on “Judging and Judgment in the Shadow of the Holocaust” (2000). She is currently writing a book tentatively titled Political Trials: The Struggle over Israel’s Collective Identity, forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press.

Richard I. Cohen holds the Paulette and Claude Kelman Chair in French Jewry Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of The Burden of Conscience: French-Jewish Leadership during the Holocaust (1987) and Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe (1998). In addition, he is the editor of the diary of Raymond-Raoul Lambert, Carnet d’un témoin, 1940-1943 (1985) and The French Revolution and Its Historical Impact (1991, Hebrew) and coeditor of Art and Its Uses: The Visual Image and Modern Jewish Society (1991); From Court Jews to the Rothschilds: Art, Patronage, and Power, 1600-1800 (1996); and the Historical Society of Israel’s quarterly journal Zion (Hebrew).

Bernard Crick is emeritus professor of politics and honorary fellow of Birkbeck College, University of London, and of University College London. Among his books are In Defense of Politics (5th ed., 2000); Political Theory and Practice (1973); George Orwell: A Life (1980); Essays on Politics and Literature (1988); Political Thoughts and Polemics (1989); Essays on Citizenship (2000); and Crossing Borders (2001).

Michael Halberstam is author of Totalitarianism and the Modern Conception of Politics (1999). He taught philosophy at the University of South Carolina for four years. During his final year in the philosophy department he was a Mellon Fellow at Wesleyan University’s Center for the Humanities. He is currently completing a law degree at Stanford University.

Agnes Heller teaches philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York. A student of Georg Lukács and a Hungarian dissident, she is the recipient of the Hungarian Szechenyi National Prize and the Hannah Arendt Prize. She has received several honorary degrees and is the author of several dozen books. Among these are A Philosophy of History (1993); An Ethics of Personality (1996); A Theory of Modernity (1999); and The Time is Out of Joint: Shakespeare as Philosopher of History (2000).

Walter Laqueur is university professor emeritus at Georgetown University. He was director of the Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library in London from 1965 to 1991 and the founder and editor of the Journal of Contemporary History. He has been serving as chair of the International Research Council at CSIS Washington. Among his books on German, Russian, and Middle Eastern history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the most recent is Generation Exodus (2001).

Yaacov Lozowick is the director of the Yad Vashem Archives in Jerusalem. He is the author of Hitler’s Bureaucrats: The Nazi Security Police and the Banality of Evil (German, 2000, and Hebrew, 2001).

Michael R. Marrus is the Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor of Holocaust Studies and dean of the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. He is the author of The Politics of Assimilation: French Jews at the Time of the Dreyfus Affair (1971); Samuel The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century (1985); The Holocaust in History (1987); and; Bronfman: The Life and Times of Seagram’s Mr. Sam (1991). He is coauthor, with Robert O. Paxton, of Vichy France and the Jews (1981) and editor of The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, 1945-46: A Documentary History (1997).

Hans Mommsen studied history and German literature at the universities of Marburg and Tübingen and has taught at Harvard, Berkeley, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Georgetown University. He has published widely on the legacy of National Socialism and the Holocaust. In 1999-2000 he was the Senior Shapiro Scholar in Residence at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He is the author of The Rise and Fall of Weimar Democracy, Die Geschichte des Volkswagenwerks und seiner Arbeiter im Dritten Reich (with Manfred Grieger), and two collections of articles, Von Weimar to Auschwitz: Zur Geschichte Deutschlands in der Weltkriegsepoche (1999) and Alternative zu Hitler: Studien zur Geschichte des deutschen Widerstandes.

Gabriel Motzkin is director of the Institute of Arts and Letters and associate professor of history, philosophy, and German literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of Time and Transcendence: Secular History, the Catholic Reaction, and the Rediscovery of the Future (1992) and numerous articles on the philosophy of history.

Susan Neiman was professor of philosophy at Yale University and Tel Aviv University and is currently director of the Einstein Forum, Potsdam. She is the author of Slow Fire: Jewish Notes from Berlin; The Unity of Reason: Rereading Kant; and Evil in Modern Thought (forthcoming), as well as a number of essays.

Anson Rabinbach is professor of history and director of the Program in European Cultural Studies at Princeton University. He is also coeditor of New German Critique: An Interdisciplinary Journal of German Studies. His recent publications include In the Shadow of Catastrophe: German Intellectuals between Apocalypse and Enlightenment (1997).

Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin is a lecturer in the department of history at Ben-Gurion University. He studies both early-modern Christian-Jewish discourse and Zionist historical consciousness. Among his publications are Censorship, Hebraism and Modern Jewish Discourse: The Catholic Church and Hebrew Literature in the Sixteenth Century; Exile within Sovereignty (Hebrew); Orientalism, Jewish Studies, and Israeli Society (Hebrew); and Redemption, Colonialism, and the Nationalization of Jewish History. His book Binationalism and the Critique of Zionism is forthcoming in Hebrew and French.

Dana Villa teaches political theory at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Socratic Citizenship (2001); Politics, Philosophy, Terror: Essays on the Thought of Hannah Arendt (1999); and Arendt and Heidegger: the Fate of the Political (1996). He is also the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt (2000).

Annette Vowinckel holds a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Cultural Studies at Humboldt University, Berlin, where she is working on a book about Renaissance conceptions of man. She is the author of Hannah Arendt: Geschichte und Geschichtsbegriff (2001).

Liliane Weissberg is Joseph B. Glossberg Term Professor in the Humanities, professor of German and comparative literature, and chair of the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania. Her publications on German and American literature, literary theory, and German-Jewish cultural studies include Cultural Memory and the Construction of Identity (with Dan Ben-Amos, 1999) and Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race (with J. Gerald Kennedy, 2001). Her critical edition of Hannah Arendt’s Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess appeared in 1997.

Albrecht Wellmer has taught philosophy in Frankurt am Main, Toronto, New York, and Constance. Currently he holds the Chair of Aesthetics, Hermeneutics, and Sciences Humaines at the Free University of Berlin. His English publications include Critical Theory of Society (1971); The Persistence of Modernity: Essays on Aesthetics, Ethics, and Postmodernism (1991); Cultural-Political Interventions in the Unfinished Project of Enlightenment (coeditor, 1992); and Endgames: The Irreconcilable Nature of Modernity (1998).

Moshe Zimmermann is professor of German history and director of the Richard Koebner Center for German History at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He is the author of Wilhelm Marr: The Patriarch of Antisemitism (1986); Wende in Israel: Zwischen Nation and Religion (1996); Die deutschen Juden, 1914-1945 (Munich, 1997); and Deutsch Juedisch (2000). He is also the editor of the Hebrew volume The Third Reich: A Historical Evaluation (2000).

“RUSS MEYER’S FANNY HILL”— Finding her Way

fanny hill phantom gunslinger

“Russ Meyer’s Fanny Hill”

Finding Her Way

Amos Lassen

“Fanny Hill” seems to be as much a part of history as the French Revolution. Every generation finds the book and for many young men it is their introduction to sex. I bet there are also as many film versions of the book as there are published editions. I had never seen the Russ Meyer “Fanny” so I was surprised when there was a copy in today’s mail. Because it was a surprise I had no expectations and quite honestly I did not even know thw movie existed before today. I did not even look it up until I finished watching it and writing this review.

This “Fanny Hill” was released in 1968 and is in black and white but I miss say that the blu ray edition is gorgeous to watch—every scene is crystal clear.

We meet Fanny (Letitia Roman) after she has lost her parents and now she must find a way to live in London of the 18th century. She was very lucky to get a job as a chambermaid for a Mrs. Brown who has a large house filled with female relatives who rarely wear more than negligees and are very easy going. Fanny’s new mistress demands that Fanny meet various gentlemen alone especially if they show any interest in her. This is the story of the misadventures of the chaste Fanny is introduced into the bawdy life of a lady of the streets. She goes through several chases to bed and she seems to have no idea of what she is doing.

Fanny discovers what she is doing only when a young man in drag rescues her from a life of prostitution, pulls her away from the man she is with and marries her.

Fanny comes across as quite simple and incapable of understanding the double entendres that come her way. Miriam Hopkins plays the madam of the house and she does not teach Fanny much preferring to have her find her own way.

Roman as Fanny is fresh and has a wonderful body but so do the other girls in the film. So what if it is not the classic that was written by John Cleland? Sometimes we just have to have fun at the movies and we do not always want to be challenged to think about what we see here. There is no need here to do anything but to sit back and enjoy the film. Those of you who know Russ Meyer as a master of erotica might be a bit disappointed. I also thought when I saw his name that I would be in for something resembling porn but it did not happen although there are those that will argue that with me. We, in 2013, have come to expect erotica and I do suppose that for the 60’s, this was a bit wild. However by today’s standards it is pretty tame.

Fanny is so naïve that she had no idea that the woman who took her in was a Madame and she actually thought that she was going to work in a hat shop. She really never learns the truth and she somehow manages to avoid her clients.

The dialogue is silly but the subject matter and the costumes keep us watching

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Inane dialogue in this Russ Meyer burlesque farce/love story….but the naughty subject matter and low cut dresses were probably enough to keep the viewing public interested. Our innocent little Italian-born star, Leticia Roman plays Fanny Hill, who is looking for work, and ends up boarding in a house full of “female cousins”. Roman had made GI Blues, along with 8 other films prior to this one. The fast carnival-type music, the hair-dos, and the costumes tip us off that this will be an odd period piece. Mrs. Brown (Miriam Hopkins) takes Fanny in, and claims that the residents and the visitors are all related, which adds another weird dimension to the plot. Try to catch the new lyrics to “London Bridge is Falling Down” as they frolic at the king’s palace….Later, Fanny meets the dashing sailor “Charles”, and when separated, Fanny is devastated. This 1964 version is one hour 45 minutes, and goes on way too long. The 1968 subtitled Swedish version remake is actually easier to watch, since it’s in color, only 91 minutes, and has a more cohesive script. So it is not a great film but it is fun. Director Albert Zugsmith teamed with Russ Meyer to make this movie and it contains some of Zugsmith’s slapstick and satire which mixes well with Meyer’s good looking and well developed women. It comes to us on DVD from Vinegar Syndrome (who just added me to their reviewers’ list) and the DVD/Blu ray combo has these extras:

+ 3 Disc Combo (1 Blu-ray (BD-50) & 2 DVDs) | Region Free | 1.85:1 AR | DTS-HD Master Audio
+ Restored in 2K from 35mm original camera negative
+ “The Zugsmith Connection” featurette with FANNY HILL star Ulli Lomell
+ Interview with film historian Eric Schaefer + Reversible cover art for “THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER”.

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Dirk Vanden Republished— A Pioneer of Gay Erotica

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Dirk Vanden Republished

A Pioneer of Gay Erotica

Amos Lassen

Gay Pioneer Dirk Vanden has begun his own press and his reprinting several of his books through his own Gay New World company. Vanden is a pioneer of gay erotica. He originally wrote hi books between 1969 and 1973 and they were widely received and read. Now at 77, Vanden who survived the tumultuous periods of GLBT history tells me that some of his books are available on the web and through major booksellers.

all together

 “All Together” or “The All Trilogy” contains three novels: “I Want it All”, “All the Way” and “All is Well”. All three began as pulp novels and reading them shows just how far we have come. Some of you probably remember how difficult it was once was to find gay stories and many books were hidden behind the cash register and had to be requested. The way gays were treated back then made it even more difficult to get them because to request a title was, in essence, the same as outing oneself to get something to read but as if that was not enough. The stories were depressing and there few happy gay books back then. Vanden did away with depressing stories and he wrote about gay men who had friends and/or were in relationships with other men. His characters accepted themselves and while they have conflict, they ended up happy and this was revolutionary when we consider what he wrote.

While many consider these books to be pornographic in nature, they are actually so much more than that. In essence the stories are coming out stories which are complex in nature. If we look at them sociologically, we get a look at gay culture in the 1960s on the West coast. It was a time of “hippiedom” and before the AIDS epidemic changed sex habits. 

Each story is told in first person and characters from all three stories appear in each and comment events is the thread that holds them together although each stands on its own. Because these stories are about that period in our history when free love ruled and drug use was popular, these two themes are found in the stories. It was a time when we felt we knew it all.

“We were illegal, immoral perverts in those days and anything we could do to our heads to keep from thinking how terrible we were just to have sex with each other and how even more terrible we were to write about it. As a result, I tried marijuana, mescaline and LSD and discovered that they “opened doors in my mind.”” He assured me that: Drug use in Gay bars in the 60s and 70s was as common as beer and cigarettes, and, of course, like nicotine, and alcohol, the drugs were addictive.” Sex was rampant yet homosexuality was illegal in most of the country.

In each story, a guy who considered himself to be straight sees that he is much happier being gay and this was during a time when it was dangerous to be out. Those who were gay had to deal with police raids, rejected by friends and family and defamed by organized religion. Vanden tells us that gay men were both bewildered and pleasant. It was a time when we had two faces—one for family and employment and another for meeting possible sex partners. Cruising was almost a full time profession and moods changed in the process.

It was a time of change and no one really understood what that change would be. We sensed that we were on a journey and even though we knew from where we set out but had no idea of where we were going. There is a lot of sex in the books but there is also romance.

The first book, “I Want it All” I about Warren Miller who sees his friend Bill and several other men planning to castrate a man who put the moves on him. Warren suggests rape instead with everyone participating. When Warren sees the guy, Brad, he feels like he has discovered his twin. Warren, it seems, has repressed his sexuality and seeing that Brad was about to have serious trouble for revealing his, Warren comes out. It is the group of his own friends who want to take care of Brad and this alarms Warren. Then we find Warren and Brad together in a motel where they are trying to deal with what just happened. Brad then leaves Warren. Warren believes to learn about himself and he sets out to find Brad again but eventually winds up exploring gay life. He becomes involved in the pleasures of gay sex. We must remember here that sex is just that and this was a time of promiscuity and it was quite alright to have as much sex with as many partners as possible. Today we see what went on in this story as a bit extreme. It is interesting that there is a bit of romance and a happy ending. I love the beginning of the book:

“This book is about me – Warren Miller – and all of the things that happened to me after I discovered – one night in a dark back alley – after twenty-seven years of thinking that I was ‘normal’ – that I could get turned on by the sight of another man’s naked body! … – I didn’t get all hung-up with guilt and try to kill myself – I didn’t decide I’d been ‘born queer’ and had to make the best of it…. When it happened, I accepted it. Once I’d thought about it, I realized it was nowhere near as bad as I’d heard, and so I decided to find out as much as I could about this ‘new me’ I’d discovered. And that’s exactly what I did…. [I]f just one guy reads my story, about what happened to me when I found out about myself – and about people and the crazy things they think and do – if it helps just that one guy to understand himself better, if it helps him live with himself and the rest of the world, then it really doesn’t matter how many snobs and prudes and Puritans get upset by it, does it? I mean, that’s how I feel about it….
I’d learned something that night: It was dangerous business, getting too close to another man – because it might open some new doors in your head that you didn’t want opened. [That night] some doors had been opened for both Bill and me, but Bill was slamming his closed again…. As for my own doors, I wasn’t at all sure they could ever be closed again, even if I wanted them to be.”

“All the Way” (or book 2) is about Bill Thorne who reacts to a scream he hears outside his window and it stunned him. He went out looking for where it came from and he eventually found parts of a shirt. Bill was Warren’s best friend who was struggling to reconcile the feeling he had for other men. Because I spent so much time on describing the first story let me just say that this story continues with Warren and his relationship to Bill.

“All is Well” (book 3) is a bit different than the other two in that much of the action takes place in Bob’s head. (Bob is Robert Thorne, Bill’s older brother). Bob is a Mormon minister and therefore religion was always there as he grew. It is through this tie with religion that we get Vanden’s personal views and the sense of guilt and narrowness on the life of Bob (Vanden incidentally grew up a Mormon and therefore knows what he is talking about. Bob remains constantly depressed because of the constrictions of the Mormon church. He cannot reconcile his feelings for other men with the teachings of the church. We see this when a note comes in the male saying in very childish language which is full of misspellings:

YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. YOR A WIKID AND TERIBEL MAN. YOU HURT PEEPLE. YOR WIFE HATES YOR GUTS AND THE GIRLS AND YOR SUN ALSO. BUT I HATE YOR MORE. YOU DESERV TO DIE AND IF GOD DONT GIT YOU I WIL.
PS. YOR SUN IS A QUEER IF YOU DONT NO THAT ALL READY. IF YOU THING I AM FOOLING ASK JERRY ASHBY. SO HA HA. THE JOKE IS ON YOU.
SINED YOU NO WHO”.

Robert had met a guy named Chuck and something went down between them. Chuck is a kind of savior to Robert and introduces him to the wonders of nature and of being a friend. Bob had to look within himself to find out how to solve the situation that he is in while confronting his fears at the same time. He admits to having created his own problems. What he did not know was that his meeting Chuck would bring something new into his life which saves him. This is the story of a Mormon father dealing with his life as he faces new and repressed sexual desires. In it we see the changing culture of the time and is a wonderful look at father and son.

Looking at the trilogy as a whole, we see Dirk Vanden as a man who is not afraid to try something new. The prose is excellent and the stories pull the reader in from the start. We see the three worlds of the three different stories coming together to make a solid read although each story can stand on its own. We sense throughout that a world of change is coming and this I must credit to Vanden’s writing. What we really get is a look at the past as we discover who we are. These stories are very real and if you lived through the period you know exactly what I am saying here.

all of me

Another new reprint is “All of Me” (“Can You Take All of Me?”). This is a mystery/thriller about a guy names Rick Vernor, a real estate broker who gets a letter telling him that he is an abomination and that he is the next person to die for his sins—he once wrote “dirty books”. He learns that at least two others have received the same kinds of notes but no one knows who he is. When the police investigate a murder, they discover a page from Rick’s novel was attached to the dead man’s family jewels. This is a suspenseful, tense, powerful, provocative mystery. There are just a few characters and there are no leads to who might be doing this.

  As the murderer gets closer, the plot expands to include two sexy police officers who find a connection between those who have been killed. As the story moves forward, we see Vanden speak of his own personal ideas and religion become a major issue. It seems that this is a well-disguised personal story about Vanden himself.

Sometimes we do not want to be reminded how it once was especially those who fathers would constantly harp on how they walked 15 miles with holes in tier shoes and terrible weather to get to school. We are reminded of how things once were and we are lucky to have Vanden lead us through the period.

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“The City of Palaces” by Michael Nava— A Story of Mexico

the city of palaces

Nava, Michael. “The City of Palaces”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.

A Story of Mexico

Amos Lassen

“The City of Palaces” is a historical novel that is seen through the eyes of Jose, a nine year old boy who is in love with David who is older than him. This is storytelling at its best. Before the revolution, Mexico was governed by an elite that modeled itself on European aristocracy and wealth and white purity. At the same time, the majority of Mexicans were either Indian or mixed Indian and Spanish (mestizo). They were not allowed to vote and were very poor. Don Porfino Diaz ruled Mexico and he was ruthless whose official motto was “progress and order” but he preferred his unofficial motto, “bread or the stick”. He assumed the presidency in 1876 and held on to the position through ruthlessness, terror and benevolence once in a while.

Our story opens in a jail in Mexico City where Miguel Sarmiento, an idealistic young doctor who has come home to Mexico from Europe and suffers guilt because of something he did ten years ago meets Alicia Gavilan, the daughter of an aristocratic family but whose looks are marred because of the smallpox she suffered as a child. Alicia has devoted her life to working with the poor of the city. They fall in love even though their views on religion separate them and marry and have a son, Jose. It is Jose who tells us the story of what happened in Mexico when the old order collapsed.

The story is set in Mexico City which was populated by a half-million people and set in a valley which was surrounded by volcanoes and built on the ruins of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan which had been conquered by the Spanish in 1519 and for the following three hundred years remained the jewel in the crown of the Spanish empire. Because of the beautiful buildings, it was known as the city of palaces. As time passed, the city moved forward to the modern age but only in part. The inner city had electricity and automobiles while on the outskirts, people lived in squalor. Sewerage, like electricity was for the rich and so there was a terrible odor to the place. It was also a place of extremes especially in wealth and social class.

Our tale begins as the story of two people—Miguel who is lost in his own guilt and Alicia who had been living a life of solitude before meeting Miguel. Their son, Jose, was beautiful to gaze upon but was a lonely boy. He tells us the story of when tradition clashed with modernity and his story is actually a series of stories about such characters as Alicia’s mother who represented the old aristocracy and Don Porfiro Diaz who wanted a modern Mexico. We see this in Alicia’s brother-in-law who got rich from shady dealings. We meet Francisco Madero, the idealist who was able to overthrow Diaz with help from Miguel but who quickly learned that overthrowing the leader does not mean success in overthrowing the system. We meet Luis, Miguel’s cousin who is run out of the country because he is a homosexual but was able to return years later and be who he was. Faith and reason come together although not always peacefully and it is the story of the people of Mexico—epic in scope and a delight to read.

Michael Nava writes with great style especially when he describes Jose as he realizes that he is in love with David. He watches him play the piano and he sees a softness in him and realizes that he wants to be with all of the time. I especially love the construction of the novel which I believe to be unique. Nava uses the syntax of the Spanish but for the English text and he throws in Spanish words occasionally to remind us that his characters live in a different period than the present.

I understand that this is the first in a quartet of novels. This volume centers on the Mexican revolution and the years preceding it. We read of the near genocide of the Yaqui Indians, emigration to America’s borderlands. The story goes from Mexico City to Douglas, Arizona, to Hollywood. This is a love story and a historical look at Mexico. As Chris Bram says, “I fell in love with these people and did not want to say goodbye to them” but we won’t have to yet because there are three more books coming. The only negative is that the book will not be available until April, 2014 but you want to add it to your to read list now.

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“What You Own” by A.M. Arthur— Staying Open

what you own

Arthur, A.M. “What You Own”, Dreamspinner Press, 2013.

Staying Open

Amos Lassen

Paige Community College is special for Ryan Sanders who teachers musical theatre thee to high risk students. It is like a home for him and a place for solace and comfort while he goes through a rough period in his life. However, now the school is facing a financial crisis and it needs money to continue operations and Ryan is reading to do whatever it takes to keep it open. He is even ready to approach Langley-Quartermaine Financial Services and ask for a donation.

Adam Langley (yes, his father is the Langley of Langley-Quartermaine) plans to finish an internship at his father’s business, finish his college education so that he can get the trust fund promised to him. However, more important  and through than anything else is to find Ryan who had been his best friend in high school and make peace with him and beg his forgiveness. He believes that if Ryan forgives him, he will find the courage to let his father know that he is gay.

However, this plan is foiled when Ryan comes to the office almost a year before the plan gets underway. Adam, however, decides to get involved with raising money for the school and through this Ryan and Adam reconnect when both realize that neither knows the whole truth of what happened that night three years ago when their friendship was torn asunder. It is never too late to correct the past and sometimes it takes a lot of nerve to correct something. Our two guys are examples of that. Arthur has created two wonderful characters that are able to rise above what has happened to them.

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“On Archimedes Street” by Jefferson Parrish— Across the River in New Orleans

on archimedes street

Parrish, Jefferson. “On Archimedes Street”, Dreamspinner Press, 2013.

Across the River in New Orleans

Amos Lassen

When I opened the package that contained this book, I stepped back seeing the name Jefferson Parrish. Being originally from New Orleans, I knew that this has to be a nom de plume. For those of you who do not know, the state of Louisiana is not made up of counties but parishes. New Orleans is in Orleans Parish while most of the suburbs that surround the city are in Jefferson Parish.

Archimedes Street is just across the river from New Orleans and it is there that people live in an “insulated bubble” among oak trees that are centuries old. It is also here that we find professors Honoria Abbott and Rita Simmons, neighbors and matriarchs of the neighborhood. They long to make matches between men and together they formulate a plan to bring two of Honoria’s male students, Dutch and Flip together. They set things in motion is to find them an apartment in Rita’s house and then for them to be roommates.

Dutch is a rich narcissist who is very attracted to Flip, a good looking transfer student. Flip is sure of himself but he does not know how to deal with Flip’s arrogance and brilliance. What many people do not understand about writing about New Orleans is that the city has so many of its own unique traditions that it is difficult to write about them. Yet Jefferson Parrish succeeds beautifully in doing so. He captures the flavor and even the smells of the city and the gay underground of Archimedes Street is wonderfully shown here. To make sure that non-New Orleanians know what he is talking about, he provides us early on with a glossary of New Orleans terms which really had me laughing and make me remember walking on the banquette to the cordner and crossing the street to the nootral groun’. He also includes some wonderful New Orleans “receipts” for cooking. What great fun and a fun read.

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“The Little Things” by Jay Northcote— Changes

the little things

Northcote, Jay. “The Little Things”, Dreamspinner Press, 2013.

Changes

Amos Lassen

Joel is a lucky guy. He has a beautiful three-year old daughter, Evie; he has a wonderful relationship with Evie’s mother, Claire, and a great boyfriend in Dan. But his life changes one night when he becomes Evie’s full-time parent and this has a terrible effect on his relationship with Dan. He then meets Liam and both men are attracted to each other. While Liam comes on very strong and is open about the way he feels about Joel, Joel is a bit more cautious because he wants to protect himself and Evie from hurt.

In the past, Joel suffered the death of his mother when he was young and he became a father at a young age. He and his father did not get along. These had strong influences on him and he had to go through life making choices and he is very lucky that he usually made the right ones.

The characters propel the story forward and they are all wonderfully drawn especially Joel. He pulls us in so much that when he feels pain, so do we. While at college and struggling with his sexuality, he had sex with Claire and Evie was the result. They raised her together even though they were not a couple. When Claire was killed in an automobile accident, Joel became her only parent. This made him realize that his relationship with Dan was not working. When they brought Claire to the hospital, Joel met Liam. This is classified as a romance but it is so much more than that. It is actually more of a character study of Joel. He might be one who grieves a lot but he is a survivor.

The story begins slowly and it starts with Joel and Evie then moves to Joel and Dan and finally to Joel and Liam. Liam after taking a back seat to Dan for some 40% of the book becomes important later when we see him as a sweet and generous guy. It is interesting that he does see Evie as a threat to his affections for Joel. He and Joel have their problems as well as their joy.

This is an enjoyable read not only for the plot but also for the style in which it is written.

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“Bottoms Up” by Etienne— Living and Loving

bottoms up

Etienne. “Bottoms Up”, Dreamspinner Press, 2013.

Living and Loving

Amos Lassen

I have been following Etienne and his writing since his first Avondale story and now with “Bottoms Up”, I see is starting a new series within a series. This is volume one in the new “About a Bottoms” series which is also listed as an Avondale story. We meet nurse Chris Bottoms who lives up to his last name; he is a bottom. As a boy, he was abused by his stepfather and this caused him to enjoy bottoming and he has stayed with it. He had been stationed at sea but he is reassigned to Jacksonville, Florida and soon after he discovers that he has cancer.

However colon cancer and surgery that was misdirected has taken the pleasure from him and there will be no more prostate massage. Just as this was going on, Chris’s best friend, Mickey, takes a position that relocates him to Jacksonville. Chris and Mickey had been roommates in college and they have stayed friends and buddies for sex, ever since. Now Chris takes that friendship to a whole new place and both men’s feelings are released and they move in together.

Everything is good with them even though they cannot participate in the kind of sex that both like so much. Chris now has to deal with his body that does not work the way it used to and he is constantly tested. He has to become adjusted to who he is now and to realize that there is more to him than just being a bottom. Here we get a picture of how things in life can change us and Chris has to deal with that. Obviously this was not easy for him and I would have loved to know what he was thinking as he began this new journey. We do get a taste but I really wanted more—perhaps that is yet to come in future volumes.

The descriptions of Jacksonville are wonderful and I could actually see and almost feel the city as I read. What we learn is that Mickey has always carried a torch for Chris but he doesn’t know how to act on it. Chris calls Mickey to tell him about his cancer and Mickey goes to him. It took cancer to make both guys realize that life is too short to not act on desires. In fact, it was the way Mickey approached what was going on with Chris that was a reason for their sealing their romance. Mickey understood Chris’s pain and was able to get past his body that was mutilated in surgery as well as ignoring the limitations that cancer would put on their sex lives. He wanted Chris, the man, the partner and the lover.

Their life together began with a malpractice suit and they both knew that there more challenges yet to come. Both men need emotional strength as well as psychological strength for what they have to face. Etienne deals wonderfully with presenting the trials and tribulations of having cancer while not going into the pain and the fear except for on the surface. Therefore instead of being depressing the book is quite uplifting. Since the book only covers the beginning of the relationship, we can kind of guess what is coming in books that follow. What we really see is that life does not stop after surgery. We see the realities without all of the details of the pain and the physical changes. I grew to love both Chris and Mickey and am so happy that they found each other. Etienne may not be an author for everyone but you can rest assured that I will sing his praises whenever I have the chance. He dares to go where other will not and he puts pen to paper to write about some of the aspects of life that we do not often read of.

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