Monthly Archives: May 2014

“Ice Fairy” by S.L. Danielson— Fulfilling a Dream

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Danielson, S.L. “Ice Fairy”, Romance First, 2014.

Fulfilling a Dream

Amos Lassen

All of us have dreams that we hope one day will be fulfilled. I have always wanted to be known as a great and fair reviewer and that is my dream—it is not easy to follow dreams; I know I have tried. Every step closer can be a step back. Such is not the case with Samuru (Sam) Ogawa. His dream is the be an Olympic skater. And everything seems to be going well for Sam until he crashes into Brett Zephyr, a hockey player and a known bully. Brett has a two track mind—one track is hockey and the other is his girlfriend who really is not very smart (but then she is with Brett and that sort of defines her). With Sam and Brett on the ice, we can only imagine the tenseness of the atmosphere and how wall are built up between the two. When the ice melts a little but and we think that some kind of understanding will ensue, there are others that build them back. As the atmosphere warms between the two, there are others who want to keep things the way there were before and are intent at keeping everything very cold. Everyone has some kind of opinion about Brett and Sam and as they become friends, families, friends and undisclosed secrets tend to wear down what they have begun to build up.

Sam and Brett might be opposites in many ways but that does not mean that they cannot find a way past that. I must admit that I was prepared for a story that was going to be sad so I was surprised when things actually came together and worked out. Too often we fear that which we do not know and we are not ready to give a chance to be otherwise. This is where Brett and Sam differ—they are willing to overlook the negative and concentrate on the positive. This is quite a credit to author Danielson. She created characters that care and because they care they are willing to take risks. After all, it is all about how we feel toward someone and not anyone else does. Because the boys are young and this is their first shot at love, in the beginning they behave with uncertainty and are hesitant to become involved with each other because of what others might think. We are with them as they mature and grow into each other.

When I first saw my copy of “Ice Fairy” I was ready to write it off—it is thick and I thought that this was going to be a formidable read but because it is written so well, I flew through the pages (and it helps that the print is quite large. This is a good read and one that will hold your interest through its many (and unnumbered pages).

Kvetching and Screaming: The Polemics, Public Spats & Private Denunciations Of Larry Kramer

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Kvetching and Screaming: The Polemics, Public Spats & Private Denunciations Of Larry Kramer

by ELLIOT RATZMAN on May 27, 2014 • 12:27 pm (From “HEEB” Magazine

 
 
[Editor’s Note: The following interview with Larry Kramer, conducted by Elliot Ratzman, first appeared in 2004 for Heeb’s 8th print issue. This past weekend HBO aired “The Normal Heart,” starring Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts, based on the Kramer’s play of same name. With renewed focus on Kramer and his work, we thought it appropriate to post Elliot’s  conversation with Larry for the first time online in its entirety]

*****

I was a college anti-war activist at Ohio University in 1991 when I discovered Larry Kramer’s book, Reports from the holocaust: The Story of an AIDS Activist. During the first few years of the AIDS epidemic, Kramer, a Brooklyn-born playwright, was the loudest and most persistent voice on behalf of gay men. He took on New York City Mayor Ed Koch and eventually President Reagan, demanding immediate action against a condition that would end up infecting more than 40 million people worldwide and killing millions. I bought 10 copies of the remaindered British Edition, a buck each in a used bookstore, and handed them out to my young activist comrades. Even straight lefties in Ohio had heard of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and the new style of social protest they invented. Their passion and pageantry inspired us and suggested that being an activist meant being committed to an urgent way of life that we aspired to as we religiously read The Nation in the rural Midwest.

Kramer is not without his activist critics who claim he is too gay-male focused, too ad hominem, and too much of a kvetcherlowering the quality of discourse by raising his voice to a shriek. Just during our interview, his laundry list of diss included PBS, Foucault, Michael Chabon, Ron Reagan, Jr., Kafka and the states of Idaho and Montana. Despite the anger of his rhetoric, his plays—whether satirizing the promiscuity and superficiality of the New York gay scene in Faggots or dramatizing the struggle of the early days of AIDS activism in his semi-autobiographical play, The Normal Heart—have always centered on the search for love.

Over the years, I have read countless interviews that Kramer has done about being gay in America, but have never heard him discuss being Jewish. Outfitted in his signature OshKosh-and-turtleneck combo in his apartment overlooking Washington Square Park in Manhattan, the king of identity politics takes a break from writing The American People––his mammoth chronicle of the hidden history of gay and lesbian Americans—to reluctantly discuss his Jewish identity with Heeb.

*****

So there’s this line in Brothers Karamazov: “All are responsible for everyone, and I more than all others.” That’s seems to be your slogan.

That I’m responsible? No, that we’re all responsible. I just think that being alive requires you to be responsible for a great many things. Most people aren’t. I can’t understand, I’ve given up trying to understand why. There are so few of us who fought for the drugs [the antiviral cocktails, which now allow people to live 20 years or more with HIV]. ACT UP is more responsible for getting these drugs out than anybody, and there were so few of us considering how many gay people there are. I never stop talking about it.

Could it be that people just do not know what to do? 

Horseshit! You don’t know what to do, you’re not supposed to know what to do, you’re just supposed to get up and do it and find out as you go along. We made it up as we went along. We didn’t know what we had to do, but we knew there was a problem. There were a lot of people dying, lot of people were scared. So everyone showed up and said, “I can do this…” People get scared because they feel that they don’t know beforehand what they’re going to do. You get a bunch of people in the room and say, “What’s the problem today?” Everyday there was a new problem with ACT UP and AIDS. You had to deal with another idiot today that wasn’t there yesterday. You have to deal with someone in the position today different than the person you spoke to yesterday––who seems to have disappeared––and you had to give them AIDS 101 all over again. But you have to be prepared to do that. And of course most people aren’t. It takes energy, it take time. I still don’t understand why there have been so few, I don’t think that what I did was so special. And I almost resent when people say, “Thank you for what you’re doing.” I’ve told this story quite often, my first response is to say, “Go fuck yourself, why don’t you do it too?’ I didn’t ask to do any of this!

Some of us like to think that there is a unique Jewish aspect to hell raising, being responsible. In your play the Normal Heart, Felix makes the claim that Ned excuses himself by claiming that “anger is some Jewish thing, from being a New York Jew.”

I don’t know, I’m a terrible Jew. I don’t believe in God.

Who does?

A lot of people I guess. Naomi Wolf’s essay, the introduction to The Tragedy of Today’s Gays, goes on about me and God, saying that he may not believe in Him, but he fights like he does.

Well, we can see you in the tradition of principled people who fight for justice. You’ve been called a prophet.

Someone calls me “Amos,” “Jeremiah.” someone calls me “Job.” I’m like the who’s who of the Bible. What does it all mean? It doesn’t get me anything at the supermarket.

kramer_pdf__page_2_of_3_It gives you a certain aura. To be a Jeremiah is to say you’re the person crying in the wilderness. You’re the person who calls Israel, in this context the gay community, back to what they should be doing. You rebuke them for their failures. It’s a good thing.

So what? It doesn’t work.

So what was it like, your life before prophethood?

I was a sissy as a kid. I was scared of my own shadow at Yale. I tried to commit suicide my freshman year. I had a lot of trouble with studying, Yale terrified me. Lot of trouble being gay.

Any trouble being Jewish?

I was never Jewish… I don’t know what tradition I come from. I read a lot, I don’t think I had anyone formative…maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Evelyn Waugh, who is a great stylist.

I didn’t believe in God, and most of my friends were not Jewish. At Yale, Hillel didn’t interest me. I was interested in things like theater, was in a singing group. I don’t feel like I belong to any tradition of anything. I feel I made myself. As far as I’m concerned, no one helped me. If I got any genes it was from my father who was a coward, and that terrified me, so I vowed not to be like that. And from my mother, who was bossy, and took care of people at the Red Cross. But I didn’t have great affection or attachment to either parents. I was very happy to get out of the house when it was time to go to Yale. My brother has probably been the biggest influence on my life. Because he was out there lost as much as I was, only he was better able to cope.

I went to the offices of the Larry Kramer Initiative at Yale; it was very nice. I hear you’re in a dispute with them over the future of Gay/Lesbian studies? 

I want them to teach gay history! I don’t want them to teach “queer theory.” I don’t want them to teach “gay studies” airy-fairy and all that stuff. I want them to teach that Abraham Lincoln was gay, I want them to investigate other people who were gay––George Washington, Lewis of Lewis and Clark. There are a lot of people out there who were gay, and we have to claim them, we have to reclaim our history. Why didn’t any one write that Lincoln was gay before this [C.A.] Tripp book [The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln]? The stuff was right there, he didn’t make it up.

Maybe we’ll find out some of these presidents were Jewish, that they lit Shabbos candles?

I don’t think that’s funny.

Sorry…I notice that the trajectory of your activism, your specific demands about reclaiming gay history, your analogy to the holocaust, all has a Jewish component to it. But isn’t your extended comparison of the AIDS crisis to the Holocaust too much? You’re not respecting the millions who died.

When I was growing up as a kid, my mother was always talking about how awful the Holocaust was, but I didn’t pay much attention to it till AIDS came along. The comparison was useful and convenient. I guess I knew that the analogy was probably going to make some Jews mad. When I called the book Reports from the holocaust, even though I insisted on a small “h,” oy did I get letters from Jews. “How dare you,” blah, blah, blah, and “You, a Jewish boy!”

kramer_pdf__page_1_of_3_But don’t you identify at all with other groups, beside gay men?

I identify a lot. I couldn’t tell you whose side I’d be on with this Israel/Palestine shit, they’re both meshugah. It’s not an issue that interests me. Larry Mass, a good friend who I started GMHC with [Gay Men’s Health Crisis], went crazy about this! “Why wasn’t I going out and yelling about antisemitism” he asked.

But isn’t there a sense that we Jews could…

See, I don’t consider myself a “we Jew.” I don’t identify first as a Jew. I self-identify as a gay person, which is more than most gay people do. Very few gay people identify first and foremost as a gay person, and that’s part of our problem. I don’t mind saying I’m Jewish, and of course I realize that I have certain sensibilities and responses that are more Jewish than gentile. And I prefer men who are circumcised.

The argument would go that Jews have enough power in the world that they don’t need to worry about these minor flare-ups of antisemitism.

Nobody has enough power. Period. I certainly don’t think the Jews have it now. You think you have power? Forget it?

Who does?
Right now, this cabal of right-wing Christians and industrialists and conservative right. They’re all different, but they’re together, united, and they have a lot of money. It’s real. People you’ve never heard of are more important than the president.

You were accused of moralizing during the AIDS crisis. You pushed for closing the bathhouses and a moratorium on promiscuity. 

There were a whole bunch of gay writers who were the enemy because they refuse to acknowledge what was going on, and encouraged it more and more. I got nothing but grief from all of them. They all still hate me. Foucault was big into glorifying S & M, which is fine, well, not fine, but it’s ok. But again we’re talking about safety now, and they all stuck to their guns for much too long. People like Edmund White and Felice Picano and people who to this day hate me because when they insisted that gays should be allowed to do whatever we want I said, “Cool it.” And indeed we should, but we should be allowed to do it with a condom only. So nobody makes distinctions. You know infections rates are up. They’re always up. People are writing about the glory of barebacking. Crazy. So yes I am a moralist, and proud of it. What’s wrong with being a moralist?

Do you think HIV is the issue we should be outraged about?

We should be outraged about everything! Whatever makes you mad. Take your pick.

So when we’re claiming that we want x, y, and z, is there any priority?

Of course there has to be priority for whatever your group is going to stand for. If you have too many things you’re fighting for, your mission is unclear. I’m not sure street stuff works anymore. Street stuff works only if you have a lot of people, or if you’re prepared to get arrested, which you should always be prepared to do. Or if you have a lot of chutzpah, and you’re prepared to stand with a single sign in front of somebody. That’s harder to do now. I don’t know what works anymore, that’s part of the problem. I definitely don’t think street stuff, pickets and so forth.

Well what recent efforts are you impressed with?

Well, ACT UP wrote the book, but you need a set of circumstances to bring that about. You need an incredibly committed, impassioned bunch of people who will do it everyday, because you can’t stop. You need to have people who are scared, frightened. Fear is what motivates activism most successfully. These guys were all afraid they were going to die; most of them in fact did. But they sort of knew it was coming. It gets you off your ass, you know. I don’t see frightened people any more, certainly not in the Jewish or Gay communities.

kramer_pdf__page_1_of_3_In the 1950s, the Jewish community was scared about the rise of the radical right in America. They organized groups…

So why is the right so entrenched now?

Well, that’s the thing, the Jewish community stopped being so vigilant. Got co-opted…

I don’t know where the Jews are, but they seem to be in pretty bad shape, but they don’t get dumped on as much as gays. They aren’t going to take a show off the air because there are two Jews in it. I think it’s a police state. I do not think gays are going to get anywhere. Period. We’re certainly not going to get anywhere if we don’t do anything, and we’re certainly not doing anything.

So what should command the attention of the gay community? Political action against the Right? And does this meaning putting health issues on the back burner? What is to be prioritized?

I wish you would stop with this prioritizing shit, you’re much too organized! There are so many issue that gays should pay attention to, that even just to make people aware of them they would make them go back in the closet. People should respond to things that make them angry. If you don’t know what you want to do, go look at  a few organizations, not that they are any good, but see if you can plug in, but don’t sit on your ass. I’m tired of telling people what to do. We are a pathetic lot, all of us, we human beings. We don’t know how to save our own skins. It’s a terrible thing to say, [makes a fist, grits his teeth] but I just fucking knew I would have never walked into a gas chamber! I just fucking know it! It really bugs people when I say something like that, because it’s condemning everybody who did. Anyway…

You sound like the Zionist condemning the sheepish Jews for sticking around Europe. 

You should be able to see it coming. Everyone is so…passive.

In you’re essays on evil, you wonder why liberals don’t want to use the word. 

The times have changed. Evil is a big word with me. George Bush is evil, drug companies are evil. I had a piece in The New York Times about that, calling them so. It’s evil to have something that can save lives and not give it to people who need it. They let me say it in the Times. But who read it? Does it change anything?

Words can open a new way of seeing the situation. 

I hope so, that’s nice that you say it, but I never see it and I’m wearing down now. Gays are probably in the worst position they’ve been since, I don’t know when. Every gain that we’ve made in the last 20 years is gone. And I don’t see anyone coming to get them back. We are so unbelievably unorganized and…cowardly. All of us, every gay person. And yet I love them so much.

You have a tragic sense of life––that people are corrupt, always frustrating their better natures. 

I just want people to stop killing each other. That’s what this is all about. We need to save ourselves. You’d think more people would want to do it.

You’d think. We’re working on it. Every generation has to work on it.

This generation sucks.

Is it better or worse than any other generation?

They sucked too. We’ve come this far and we’re nowhere.

What’s the worst-case scenario?

It’s happening right now. Everything is being taken away from us. Bush is putting up wall after wall. The AIDS budget across the board has just been cut by 5 percent.

Well, you sure know how to put the good face on the situation.

One thing that Jews do is make jokes about it. Go ahead, make jokes right into the gas chamber! Laugh your way into the crematoria.

It’s a thing you do when you don’t have any power, or when you think you don’t have any power.

Make jokes? Doesn’t do a lot.

Well, ACT UP raised the bar not just for militancy, but for spectacle. There was a lot of humor there. And the aesthetics were really inspiring. I hate all the amateur hand-written signs of today’s left. ACT UP’s sophisticated signs were much better.

We had a lot of artists. We had a lot of talent then, and we mobilized and utilized it. There are a lot of other things we did besides that.  Meeting with drug companies…

The anti-globalization movement was inspired by ACT UP tactics. When I was starting out doing activism… 

You’re cute.

Well thank you! You’re making me blush. 

What, for calling you cute?

You were such a figure for me growing up in Ohio.

I’m always freaked when anyone knows who I am, especially you straight people.

Do people stop you on the street and say nice things?

New York is a fickle town, they don’t stop you on the street. A lot of maitre d’s are gay in New York, so every now and then I get a good table without a reservation. My mother was always afraid someone would shoot me. As I get older and say more awful things, I wonder if someone will do it.

Why do you wear all this turquoise?

I wear turquoise because when I was 22, I came to NY, I went to a fortune-teller and she said that I should always wear something turquoise, that it will look after you, will take care of you. So I always wear something. So when I got sick, I increased the ante and… this is nothing! I was really loaded for awhile. I never got sick.

Some studies claim prayer helps heal people. Maybe someone was sending you secular prayers?

Maybe they don’t conflict, science and superstition. But God is just superstition.

Also a reality for many. 

I don’t deny it, and I think it’s wonderful they have it, especially poor people who need it.

I think a lot of Jews don’t believe in God, but believe in Judaism.

I don’t know my way around the synagogue, or the prayers. So…

Who does? We go to synagogue to see our friends, or to focus, or to pick up. There are gay synagogues.

Hmm, gay synagogues, I’m sure they’re busy…. I guess that’s all valuable. I just think that I’m too much obsessed with time. I don’t like wasting it. There are specific things that have to be done, and we don’t have time to do it. In my case I have to finish a very long book before, my mind or my body or my liver gives out. I got another lease on life when I thought I wouldn’t, and I still have a lot of work to do.

Is all your energy from this new liver? Maybe kvetching is good for your health.

I have the liver of a 48-year-old man. Now it’s 51, so I feel 51, but I don’t know for how long. I feel a little guilty, because I was very lucky to get a liver. I wanted to be more of a transplant activist, I’ve done a little, but not nearly as much as I did for HIV. That’s another stupid situation in this country that need not be as bad as it is. Transplants, the availability of organs. I was very lucky. I came along at a time when they wanted people, literally wanted people, who were co-infected as I am with HIV and Hepatitis B to see if we would survive a liver transplant. Nobody wanted to go on this NIH study, basically because they’d afraid they’d die which indeed some of them did. But I was told I had only six months to live so I didn’t have anything to lose. And it worked spectacularly. So, that’s how I got my liver. People think I got it because I knew Tony Fauci or something like that. Ever wonder why other countries aren’t screaming about organ shortages like America is? They have “presumed consent.” In a country like Spain, a Catholic country, the organ shortage isn’t as bad as here because everyone is deemed a donor unless they register otherwise. So when you’re in the hospital, if the nurse or doctor sees the end is coming, they don’t wait for the parent or guardian, they see he’s kicking the bucket, they don’t wait, they go ahead and do it, and no one is protesting.

I have been lucky. Since the day all this started I never got sick. I never got an opportunistic infection, I never got AIDS, I’m still only HIV positive. I’ve never had to take the drugs, till I had the transplant when they wanted me to start taking it.

All those prayers.

All this turquoise

Maybe all the curses of bad people turn into prayers.

Really? Then I’m golden.

 

“A HORSE FOR SUMMER”— Finding Forgiveness and Love

a horse for summer

“A Horse for Summer”

Finding Forgiveness and Love

Amos Lassen

“When a family emergency forces a troubled teen to do the wrong thing for the right reason, a community discovers the meaning of forgiveness.” Kent (Dean Cain) and Teri (Terri Minton) Walsh and their daughter Sarah (Nicole Criss), 14, leave Los Angeles to try to live a more peaceful lifestyle in Arizona. The Walshes have dreamt of having a horse-boarding ranch and now they have their chance but unfortunately the state of the economy does not make it very easy. Kent unlike his wife and daughter does not find comfort in faith and tires to do what it takes while Teri and Sarah take refuge in the church and gain strength there.

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Everything changes, however, when Summer (Mandalynn Carlson), Kent’s niece comes to stay with the family since her mother, Ava, has been arrested has been sent to prison. Summer has not had an easy time of things. She ran away thinking that life on the street would be better than being sent somewhere. She then is rescued from a dangerous gang and ordered by the court to stay with relatives until her trial is over or be put in foster care.

She not only has to deal with rules and respect but now there is the issue of faith and this is all new to her. When the family expects her to help on the ranch, she bolts and runs away. Her behavior does not help the family situation that is already very tense. But Summer finds something in taking care of Bella, one of the horses on the ranch. The horse gives her a sense of responsibility—the horse needs her. But then Bella becomes ill and the family that is already having financial problems makes the decision to use the little of money that have to save Bella. Summer, however, does the wrong thing even though the reason was right and the entire community rallies behind her and she sees that people care about her.

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Summer did not plan on becoming attached to the horses but one horse, Bella, gave her what she longed for—a connection and a chance to shower attention on something else. The fact that Bella relied on her, made a difference in Summer’s life.

But all was not going well for the Walsh family—bills piled up and some of the clients who brought their horses to be boarded did not pay their bills and Kent even considers forgetting the family dream and moving back to the city and were it for an old friend wonderfully played by Sally Kirkland, he would have gone back to the corporate rat race. Both Sarah and Summer become aware of the financial problems and Summer, especially, is afraid that if the family moves she will sent to foster care. She wants to find money so the family can stay  and she takes Kent’s truck and she and Sarah take off in the middle of the night. Then Bella gets sick and Kent and Teri decide to use the little that is left to save the horse and Summer announces that she has found an envelope with money in it that came from Bella’s owner and she gives it to Kent.

Of course that is not what happened at all and Teri gets a call from the pastor that the church has been robbed and Kent thinks that is where Summer got the money. I have given way to much information about the plot so I am going to stop here but will tell you that the film has a happy ending but we could guess that from the title.

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This is one of those films that warms the heart and makes us feel good. Because we sense that everything will work out, we (or at least I) smiled throughout as I watched. There is something about a child being saving that makes us feel good. The cast is uniformly excellent—aside from those already named we have appearances from Christopher Atkins and Lee Meriwether among others. For a small independent film, this a large fine cast and reminds us that there are others ways to make wonderful films aside from the major studios.

I am never sure about films that use faith as a theme because they often come off as way too sweet. Here, that is not the case. Director Nancy Criss has done an amazing job with the film and everything works—from the music to the cinematography (of beautiful San Tan Valley of Arizona) to the plot. You might have to dry your eyes a couple of times but that is a good thing. When a film touches us, we know we have seen something worthwhile and “A Horse for Summer” is more than worthwhile. Make sure you look for it.

What’s Coming from Strand—-STRAND RELEASING 2014 LINE UP AS OF MAY 29, 2014

STRAND RELEASING 2014 LINE UP AS OF MAY 29, 2014

THE AMAZING CATFISH (Comedy/Drama) Directed by Claudia Sainte-Luce. THE AMAZING CATFISH is a heartwarming tale of two unique women who bond while recuperating in a hospital. Martha, a mother of four rambunctious and imaginative children, finds solace when she meets the younger woman, Claudia, and quickly the two build a strong relationship. When Martha invites Claudia to live with her family, Claudia unwittingly takes on the responsibility of becoming a surrogate mother to Martha’s children. Winner, International Critics’ Award, Toronto Film Festival; Winner, Jury Award, Locarno International Film Festival; Winner, Best Film, Baja International Film Festival; Nominated, New Directors Prize, San Francisco International Film Festival; Winner, Special Jury Award, Gijón International Film Festival; Winner, Grand Coral – Second Prize, Havana Film Festival. Opens in New York on Friday, June 13, 2014 at the Village East Cinema. Opens in Los Angeles on Friday, June 20, 2014 at Laemmle’s Noho 7 and Playhouse 7.

 

THE EMPTY HOURS (Drama) Directed by Aarón Fernández. On the desolated coast of Veracruz, 17 year-old Sebastián takes over running his uncle’s small and cozy rent-by-the hour motel. There he meets Miranda, a regular customer who comes to the motel to meet a lover who always keeps her waiting. As Sebastián and Miranda get to know each other, an ambiguous game of seduction begins between them. Official Selection: San Sebastián Film Festival. Opens in New York on Friday, July 11, 2014 at the Village East Cinema. Opens in Los Angeles on Friday, July 18, 2014 at Laemmle’s Noho 7 and Playhouse 7.

 

LILTING (Drama) Directed by Hong Khaou. Set in contemporary London, LILTING tells the story of a Cambodian-Chinese mother mourning the untimely death of her son. Her world is suddenly disrupted by the presence of a stranger. Though they don’t share a common language, a translator helps piece together the memories of a man they both loved. LILTING is a touching film about unlikely connections and the tragedies that bring us together even though we may be worlds apart. Official Selection: Sundance Film Festival. Opens Late Summer/Early Fall 2014.

 

AB– USE OF WEAKNESS (Drama) Directed by Catherine Breillat (Romance, Fat Girl, Bluebeard). After a stroke leaves filmmaker Maud (Isabelle Huppert, I Heart Huckabees, My Worst Nightmare, Amour) hemiplegic, she faces inevitable solitude. Bedridden, but determined to pursue her latest film project, she sees Vilko (Kool Shen), a con man who swindles celebrities, on a TV talk show. Interested in him for her new film, the two meet and soon Maud falls victim to his manipulative charm. Official Selection: Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, COLCOA French Film Festival. Opens in New York on Friday, August 15, 2014 at The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Theatre. Opens in Los Angeles on Friday, August 22, 2014 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre. 

 

WETLANDS (Comedy/Drama) Directed by David Wnendt (Combat Girls). Eighteen year-old Helen Memel (Carla Juri) likes to skateboard, masturbate with vegetables and thinks that body hygiene is greatly overrated. Struggling with her parents’ divorce, she spends her time experimenting and breaking one social taboo after the other with her best friend, Corinna (Marlen Kruse). When a shaving accident lands her in the hospital, she sees it as a way to reconcile her parents and forms an unlikely bond with her male nurse, Robin (Christoph Letkowski). WETLANDS is an unapologetically vulgar coming-of-age tale about divorce, first love and anal fissures. Official Selection: Sundance Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival, SXSW. Opens in New York on Friday, September 5, 2014. Opens in Los Angeles TBD. 

 

THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS (Thriller) Directed by Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani (Amer, The ABCs of Death segment). In this homage to the masters of classic Italian Giallo horror, Dan returns home to find his wife is missing. With no signs of struggle or break-in and with no help from the police, Dan’s search for answers leads him down a psychosexual rabbit hole. THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS is a bloody and taut thriller that invites the audience to revel in the sadomasochistic eroticism of the directing duo’s ultra-saturated color scheme. Official Selection: Locarno International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, New Directors/New Films, AFI Fest. Opens Fall 2014.

 

THE WAY HE LOOKS (Drama) Directed by Daniel Ribeiro. Leonardo is a blind teenager with an overprotective mother yearning for his independence. After deciding to study abroad to the disappointment of his best friend, Giovana, the arrival of a new student at school makes Leonardo rethink his plans. Winner, Teddy Award, Berlin International Film Festival. Official Selection: Cannes Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, Frameline Film Festival. Opens Fall 2014. 

“BELOVED/FRIEND”— Desires that Fall

beloved

“Beloved/Friend”

Desires That Fall

Amos Lassen

A gay, fiftyish medieval-lit professor, Jaume (Josep Maria Pou) discovers he has a terminal illness and decides to tie up loose ends: this means confessing to his colleague and best friend that he was in love with him for years and entrusting his mysterious final essay to David (David Selvas), the brilliant bad-boy student and part-time hustler whom he now adores. Through a web of unconvincingly rendered coincidences, psychosexual turmoil mounts: It turns out that the student has impregnated the best friend’s daughter.

Ventura Pons  directed and wrote the screenplay and he is a provocateur who works without a net; the scenes that feel most unmoored are often the most revelatory. In the film, everyone is pining for something that can’t be had. David, who also puts in time as a hustler, seems to be looking for love in all the wrong places. Jaume is shocked when he dials for a sweaty treat and his student appears at his door, ready to be unwrapped. “This is why you have such a nice apartment,” the shocked Jaume says of David’s unusual work-study arrangement. David also seems to be looking for a father figure. His own father killed himself while in prison because of a drug deal gone bad.

Fanny (Rosa Maria Sarda), Alba’s mother, spins anecdotes about her days as a pleasure-seeking radical. The pregnant Alba wants David to commit to her and their baby, though she’s considering an abortion.

Pere wants David to disappear from the face of the earth. No one here seems to have much of a future, not even the young. Jaume is wistful and lost, he wants so much. He wants to shake David from his hedonism so he will help raise Alba’s baby. He wants Pere to recognize how close they were to a relationship when they were younger. He is dying and now that he nears the end of his life he has fallen in love with another man he cannot have: David.

What Jaume wants for himself and everyone else is salvation. This element and the thwarted desires that everyone talks about in the film show us the respect and love that Ventura Pons had for the great American playwright Tennessee Williams. While he tries to imitate his style, he is a bit off. This film is very intense because we are dealing with emotions and the interactions of people who are related to each other either by circumstance or by blood.

How the end changes the beginning is clearly illustrated in the film, as are notions about the passage of time and sex, age, lust and love. The film is disturbing in the way of thought and emotion, not in the way of deed.

“REMEMBERING THE ARTIST”— Robert De Niro’s Gay Father

remembering the artist

“Remembering the Artist”

Robert de Niro’s Gay Father

Amos Lassen

 At the Sundance Film Frstival, Robert de Niro debuted a documentary about his father. However what few people realized until then was that his dad was gay. The actor’s father and mother divorced shortly after he was born, as Robert De Niro Sr. had realized his sexuality.

Now the doc, “Remembering The Artist”, is coming up to its first airing on HBO, so De Niro sat down with Out Magazine for an interview about his father and to pay him the tribute he is due. Speaking of the documentary, the actor says that while documenting his dad’s legacy was important to him, it wasn’t originally going to be for public consumption. “I felt I had to. I felt obligated. It was my responsibility to make a documentary about him,” he says. “It was not intended to be on HBO. It was just something I wanted to do.”

Despite his desire to make the documentary, he says “We were not the type of father and son who played baseball together, as you can surmise, But we had a connection. I wasn’t with him a lot, because my mother and he were separated and divorced… He was absent in some ways. (But) he was very loving. He adored me… as I do my kids.”

As for his father’s sexuality, de Niro adds, “Yeah, he probably was [conflicted about his homosexuality], being from that generation, especially from a small town upstate. I was not aware, much, of it. I wish we had spoken about it much more. My mother didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age.

“Again, for my kids, I want them to stop and take a moment and realize that you sometimes have to do things now instead of later, because later may be 20 years from now — and that’s too late.”

Although de Niro has starred in several movies about LGBT characters (such as Flawless), he’s never played gay himself. When asked whether his own past played into that fact, he says, “No, they weren’t offered to me. If they had been offered to me by a good director, that’s something I would have considered.”

De Niro Sr. was a successful figurative painter whose work is included in many important collections of American art. However he had trouble with gallery owners and fell out of favor when his art didn’t adapt to the emergence and popularity of pop art in the 1960s. The documentary covers this, as well as revealing more about De Niro Jr’.s upbringing and relationship with his dad.

“Sex, Gender and the Sacred: Reconfiguring Religion in Gender History” edited by Joanna deGroot and Sue Morgan— Religion and Gender

sex gender and the sacred

deGroot, Joanna and Sue Morgan (editors). “Sex, Gender and the Sacred: Reconfiguring Religion in Gender History”, (Gender and History Special Issues), Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.

 Religion and Gender

Amos Lassen

“Sex, Gender and the Sacred” is a multi-faith, multi-disciplinary collection of essays that explore the interlocking narratives of religion and gender encompassing 4,000 years of history.  There are readings that cover 4000 years of gender history as well as new research in religion and gender across diverse cultures, periods, and religious traditions. There is significant potential for comparative studies here and we get the original theories and concepts that deal with gender, religion, and sexuality. What is new here are innovative interpretations of the connections between visual, verbal, and material aspects of particular religious traditions.

The readings reflect the societal intersection of sexuality and religion from ancient Mesopotamia to Renaissance Milan, from Song China to post-revolutionary Mexico, from medieval Ireland to modern Spain and Cuba, and from early modern England to contemporary India. There are sections on transnational dimensions of religious belief, the importance of embodiment and sexuality to spiritual subjectivity, and the politicization of faith. The are writings on diverse periods, geographies, and various communities.

The essays are written by experts in gender history, religion and related fields and they  assess how religious ideas and representations have shaped both the personal , spiritual and social formations of men and women through various case studies, including Chinese and European art and iconography, same-sex desire, Indo-Islamic encounters with the British raj, cross-cultural transmissions of African and Cuban rituals, and more. This is a scholarly and thought-provoking work that gives new insights into the issues between sexuality and religion throughout gender history.

“Playing by the Book” by S. Chris Shirley— Maturing

playing by the book

Shirley, S. Chris. “Playing by the Book”, Riverdale Avenue Books, 2014.

Maturing

Amos Lassen

Jake Powell was the editor of his high school newspaper in Alabama and when he graduated he moved north to go to Columbia University as part of its prestigious summer journalism program, However, his father, a fundamentalist Christian preacher, sensed trouble. In New York City, Jake  discovered things about himself that he had never thought about before. He realizes that he feels something for Sam, a Jewish classmate of his and he understands that what he had to hide at home is now coming out.

Jake’s father has tried to make Jake like himself. He takes everything the Bible says as absolute truth and in fact, Jake has promised his father that if he received a sign from God, he would follow his father and become a preacher. He will only be at Columbia for a few short weeks during the summer.

The story is about how Jake was transformed while he was at Columbia where he was encouraged to ask questions. Over and over, Jake sees that there are no “right” answers or else there are many different answers to life’s big questions. He learns to accept and honor differences in others and, most importantly, in himself. This new acceptance is not easy for him; neither is reconciling the acceptance with his strong faith.

As a character, Jake has issues that many of us have had to deal with.Writer Shirley writes about important issues— coming out, the role of religion, and family dynamics and does so in a way that makes for a compelling read. This is a young adult novel that speaks to everyone especially those who have struggled to come to grips with who we are and those who have confronted the expectations of what others want us to be. Through Jake, we see how it is possible to integrate sexuality with beliefs. Aside from Jake’s coming to terms with his sexuality and faith, he also learns to accept himself.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY”— Five Birthdays

happy birthday

“Happy Birthday”

Five Birthdays

Amos Lassen

Five people all share the same birthday— Jim (Benjamin Patrick), a gay, overweight telemarketer (for a weight loss program) faces his self esteem issues; Ron (John Frazier),  a minister who preaches about conversion but practices watching gay porn whenever he can; Javed (Devashish Saxena),  living in the US with a gay porn actor faces deportation as a Pakistani and condemnation from his Islamic family; Kelly (Michelle E. Michael), a young lesbian weathers a breakup with her lover and considers an earlier unrequited love and Tracy(Ethel Lung), an Asian lesbian who goes back in the closet when her mother visits.

What we see here is the universality of the human experience regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race and appearance. This is the first feature length film by Yen Tan who took us by storm this year with his new film, “Pit Stop”. Tan was so determined to make this film that he financed it himself with his personal savings and help from his parents and his partner. It went on to win the Grand Jury Prize for Best Gay Feature in Philadelphia, and the New Director’s Showcase in Portland, Oregon.

This might sound like something of a gay soap opera but Tan avoids cliché throughout his film. The script features believable dialogue and recognizable situations, and everything is interesting because of unusual camera framing and good editing. “He and his director of photography, Jack Burroughs, often choose to shoot the scenes from a distance with a stationary camera (as opposed to the jittery hand-held effects favored by many young directors). His compositions are interesting without drawing too much attention to themselves”. Tan also understands the potential power of intercutting separate stories with a common theme.

We see actors of diverse cultural backgrounds, languages, and body types and while the film did not achieve the emotional resonance that Tan was trying for he nevertheless should be very proud of this film.

We meet five very unhappy faces shot in stark black 
and white looking very depressed. These are folks of various ethnicities and varied weights, none of whom are smiling. What’s surprising though is that you eventually get involved, and you do start caring about each of these dispirited souls.

Cutting from one angst-filled moment to another, the film is an honest exploration of what it is to be gay and have something important on your mind.

The movie is beautifully shot by Jack Burroughs with a fine score by Steve Whitehouse and wise editing by Jay Wesson but it is Tan’s simple screenplay with his 
unobtrusive direction that show the most promise for future success. He’s gotten quite fine performances from an unknown cast and he gives us a fine film.

“GRIND”— A Short Musical Film about “Grinding”

grind

“Grind”

A Short Musical Film about “Grinding”

Amos Lassen

In English we seem to have a word for everything so I am adding “grinding” to our vocabulary. I never thought about it before I saw Zachary Halley’s new musical short film, “Grind”. If I did not have a smart phone, I would have no idea what the word “grind” means in modern English usage but I know now it is nowhere near the original use and not even related to the bumps and grinds of dancing. “Grind” is about the smart phone app “Grindr” and how we connect (hook up) to each other in our modern age of technology. Therefore I proposed that the word “grinding” signify the usage of “Grindr”. For example; “what are you doing tonight?”—“I am staying home and grinding”.

But I am not here to talk about “grind” the app. I am here to tell you about “Grind” the wonderful new film with music by Derek Gregor and lyrics by Selda Sahin.

grind1

“Grind looks at the ways we connect in today’s multi screened hook up culture and asks, “Do you REALLY know who you’re talking to?” (and do we really want to know?). I never much thought about it before but there is a certain kind of behavior that is used when “grinding”. (Everything new has its own set of rules and we learn them by using them either correctly or incorrectly). You would think that on the phone, it would be easy just to hang up on someone you are interested in but in this crazy world there are no secrets and sooner or later everything comes together. We live in a time of instant knowledge and instant gratification.

Here we meet Vincent (Anthony Rapp) who is in his late 30s and shares his apartment with Thane (Pasha Pellosie). Vincent is charming on the phone but has a rough time with face-to-face meetings. He is witty and sharp while hiding behind his keyboard and Grindr is perfect for him until a meeting takes place. His friend Thane comes from small town America and is experiencing freedom to be himself for the first time . He is good-looking (an underwear model, no less) but he lacks smarts and usually comes across as dumb. He wants more than just a hook-up and so Vincent begins to ghostwrite his chats and as he does both Vincent and Thane uncover truths about themselves. Vincent’s best friend, Autumn (Claire Coffee), is intrigued with the gay hook-up culture that offers easily accessible sex with the simple exchange of a few texts.  

Since he cannot express himself and his friend Vincent can, the two come together using Thane’s photos and Vincent’s banter. (In effect Vincent is the grinder but Thane is the grindee although for someone else).

Everything is fine with this plan—Thane meets the kind of men he has lusted after—clever guys that never took him seriously and who believe that it was Thane chatting with them even when he wasn’t. Vincent, however, who is uncomfortable in his own skin realizes that he comes across as witty and smart on Grindr. We soon see that both Thane and Vincent have created a Grindr monster.

If you have visited an internet chat room you know the feeling you get—that perhaps you will get lucky. Yet who knew that went on with Thane and Vincent would go so far (and for that you will have to see the film). “Grind” also shows the dangerous side of hook-up culture.

 I would have never though that a phone app like Grindr would be the source for a musical but here it is and it is very, very good, well acted and well produced (and the music is great). There is also a large supporting cast that is excellent all around– Ravi Roth, Matt Shingledecker, Joshua Cruz, Eric Michael Krop and Jennifer Babiak .

”Grind” explores “the emotional vulnerability and danger involved in connecting with others in the irreversibly intrusive world we sign on to willingly”. You do not want to miss “Grind”, so check your local festivals to see when you can see it.