Monthly Archives: June 2014

“PIZZA SHOP: THE MOVIE”— Raunchy and Irreverent Fun

pizza shop

“Pizza Shop: The Movie”

Raunchy and Irreverent Fun

Amos Lassen

I recently received a request from Cole O’Bart to review his film, “Pizza Shop”. He let me know in the request that the movie was indeed irreverent and off-color. It stars Robert Bielfelt, Cian Patrick O’Dowd and Brett Buzek as it tells the story of what happens in the life of a pizza deliveryman. We see the competition that occurs between  workers and how customers are treated. Pete (Robert Biefelt) has been with the shop a long time and we see him having to deal with a new deliveryman, Jason (Cian Patrick O’Dowd) and this begins a battle between them as to who will cone out on top and who will leave and find a new job somewhere else.

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Now I must admit that I was not prepared for what I was about to see and I had to keep reminding myself that it is all in fun and not to worry that I was having pizza for dinner. The film is strange and it will undoubtedly appeal to some people but certainly not to everyone unless we are sure that they like toilet humor and I mean that in every sense of the word, “toilet”. Here is a film that both makes you laugh and disgusts you and here you might just find out what happens between the time that a pizza leaves the restaurant and gets to the place where it was ordered.

I was reminded of a t-shirt I once saw a waiter wearing that said, “God Knows When You Don’t Tip” and when you watch this film you will understand exactly why I included that here.

There are some really good ideas here and this movie could have been so much better had the cast not been so wooden—you will not find any great performances here nor will you find a great plot (which I cannot describe except to say that you might worry before you order your next pizza). I can remember that as I was growing up, several friends who took jobs as waiters always seemed to have the desire to do something to a disrespectful customer’s food and that is the hint I give you about what happens here. I am sure that we have all noticed that those who order in seem to have a sense of entitlement that is lacking in those who are stuck preparing their meal (in this case, pizza). Not tipping is code for getting back at those who order and pay the exact amount. Here they are punished in ways that might cause you to stop ordering out.

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We have quite a cast of characters here and they include a 97-year-old stripper, a serial killer, and an affection starved, full bodied ebony Amazon with a taste for chocolate syrup and young men. But the real action comes with getting back at a regular customer who orders pizza delivered on a regular basis but never tips the guy who delivers it. There is another aspect here and that deals with the struggle to be on top—whether that means getting the most tips and/or being the best liked by fellow workers. There are a few very funny moments here and I believe the film could have been that much funnier had it not dealt so much with toilet humor. I could be saying that because I am so old and knowing that the youth of today will find this very funny.

“THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWARTZ”— Portrait of a Brilliant Mind

internets own boy poster

“The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz”

Portrait of a Brilliant Mind

Amos Lassen

Aaron Swartz was a brilliant guy—a programming prodigy and an information activist. He helped to develop the basic Internet protocol RSS and he was a co-founder of Reddit. He was all over the Internet but it was Swartz’s groundbreaking work in social justice and political organizing combined with his aggressive approach to information access that found him involved in a two-year legal nightmare. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26. His story touched a nerve with people far beyond the online communities in which he was a celebrity. This documentary is a personal story about what we lose when we are tone deaf about technology and its relationship to our civil liberties.

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He helped shape the digital landscape we all use today. Chronicling his pioneering efforts crusading for open access and free speech and the resulting legal nightmare and tragedy that ensued, “The Internet’s Own Boy” is a dynamic and moving portrait of a brilliant tech millionaire who renounced the values of Silicon Valley startup culture and used technology to tirelessly fight for social justice, no matter what the cost.

Gabriella Coleman, a cultural anthropologist, tells us that, “He contributed through his technical abilities, and yet it was not simply a technical matter to him.”

Technically Brian Knappenberger’s film is nothing special—he relies on a wide range of talking heads and Swartz’s old interviews via TV and web chats meshed with vintage photographs and archival footage, and its central character’s brief, turbulent, and radical existence is charted in concise chronological order. However, the film is far from a technical matter, fiercely promoting Swartz’s legacy and challenging us with the same questions its central subject was compelled to ask.

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Knappenberger follows Swartz”s from an inquisitive childhood to a technologically cognizant adolescence that remarkably found him helping to create RSS feeds and Creative Commons, two web-based conceptions specifically focusing on the Internet for its reservoir of knowledge. It was his quest for knowledge is that fuels the opinion that the World Wide Web should be a repository of information freely open to everyone. Yet, this also triggers his abruptly tragic downfall, prompting him to pirate research documents kept secured from ordinary citizens behind pay walls that would seem to violate privacy law. And while the illegality of his actions is made clear, the film also harshly critiques the punitive government investigation as merely making an “example” of him.

 We are well aware of Knappenberger’s sympathy toward Swartz so consequently, the film has no interest in offering counterpoints to its own argument, though, to be fair, we’re told that most Swartz dissenters declined to be interviewed. And for all the justifiable anger his plight engenders, the primary combatant still comes through at a remove, less a fully formed person than a pariah, seeing him more for what he did than who he was, unable to discern the precise emotional entanglements that might have brought about his death. Knappenberger is less interested in what precisely led to his death than what his death meant. This isn’t investigative journalism, but urgent advocacy filmmaking. Swartz’s mantra declared that “everything you learn is provisional,” suggesting one’s belief system can be remodeled with new information. The film commiserates a loss, but also effectively appeals for enlightenment, asking us to hear and consider what Swartz championed, which is a worthy testament to this young man’s legacy.

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 Swartz was a charming and selfless information prodigy that strived to use his talent to make this a freer and better world for which he ended up paying for with his life. Aaron Swartz was born in Chicago, the middle son, of successful middle-class Jewish parents. Inquisitive from birth, he taught himself to read by the age of three and by the time he reached high school he had trouble with his  teachers because he felt that they taught him less than what he could learn from a book in “about an hour”. At 13 he won a competition for young people who created non-commercial websites for which the prize included a trip to M.I.T.  From then on, there was no looking back for him.

 He then played a major part in the development of the basic Internet protocol RSS and also co-founded Reddit which became the most popular social news website in the world. His work brought fame in the online communities and also wealth (when Reddit was sold) but this affable young man couldn’t have been less interested in either. What did excite him was social justice and political organizing that focused on working to free up inaccessible information online that he believed belonged in the public domain and should be available to all without charge.   It was what would prove to be his undoing in time.

 Without Swartz’s involvement it is most unlikely that the Stop Online Piracy Act would have been defeated in Congress, but when he set about copying almost 5 million academic articles from JSTOR (Journal Storage) Database at M.I.T. and it was here that events did not go his way. Swartz maintained that since these articles had been financed from public funds they should be freely available. When he was caught, JSTOR chose not press any charges but the Federal Government did and very aggressively pursued Swartz and indicted him with a total of 13 felonies. To its shame, M.I.T. just stood on sidelines and did nothing.

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 The beauty of this wonderful documentary of this extraordinary young man is that the director makes a concerted effort to show not only why the online community was in awe of his seemingly unlimited talent, but by including his very supportive and proud family and friends. In this way, he showed what an exceptionally nice person Swartz was too. This very unassuming man was magnanimous and both reserved and quiet but he seemed to blossom as more people called on him to help. He was a passionate thinker who used the same logical approach he employed when programming also in how tackled any social injustice he came across.

Why he took his own life is never really explained in the movie, but what is very clear from listening to all the evidence is that was a wasted life cut short. However his memory just doesn’t live on with his loved ones, and with the online community who are in awe of all his inventions and achievements, but also last year in Congress a Bill was introduced to finally reform the ambiguous and outdated Anti-Hacking Law that the Government used so mercilessly against him. The Bill is called Aaron’s Law, as well it should be.

Even if hackers like  Swartz are still a problem for us to reconcile in real life, “maybe it is in the movies, with their capacity to empathize with the outré, their ability to present difficult, morally prismatic antiheroes, that we can properly come to terms with them”. Today’s world has been shaped by complex agents of change like  Assange and Snowden and  we may need movies to help us comprehend our shades of gray.

“And God Save Judy Garland: A Gay Christian’s Journey” by Randy Eddy McCain— A Story “Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing”

and god saved judy garlandEddy-McCain, Randy. “And God Save Judy Garland: A Gay Christian’s Journey”, Neal TV, 2014.

A Story “Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing”

Amos Lassen

Have you noticed that everyone seems to have written a book lately? It seems to become the thing to do but we forget sometimes that there is a huge difference between writing a book and being author. To write a book today all you need is a story and a working knowledge of the English language and both of these are lacking in Randy Eddy-McCain. We have read his story many times by many different people and setting the story in Arkansas does not make it new. Also there seems to be no editing here.

“One year before the Little Rock Nine bravely endured threats of violence and death to integrate Central High School, Randy Eddy-McCain was born in Arkansas. He grew up in a conservative Assemblies of God church where he fell in love with Jesus as a little boy. As Randy got older, he felt called by God to go into the ministry, but he had what religion taught him was a problem. He was attracted to men, not women”. Does this not sound familiar?

Randy hope to grow out of this “phase” he was in. He begged and prayed to Jesus to help him become straight but, of course, that did not happen. “Without an example of how a gay man could be a Christian, Randy moved back and forth between what seemed like two conflicting worlds. “As a Christian he tried not to be gay, and as a gay man, he tried to ignore how much he still loved Jesus and wanted to minister to people in need. Turmoil turned to peace when Randy was able to embrace both his faith and his sexuality”. He doesn’t tell us how he managed to make peace with himself and his god so I have to wonder why he even bothered to write this book.

We learn that a little over 20 years ago he was in a committed relationship with another man and that we was the openly gay minister of Open Door Community Church and I take that to mean that since he could not find a church to accept so he did the next best thing—he started his own. (Kind of like when we were children, if we did not like the game we were playing, we stopped participating and started our game; one we could win.

“Too many parents have hurt their children when they thought they were being faithful to their God. Too many LGBTQ kids have committed suicide because they were bullied and were taught that their sexuality made them an abomination to God. Too many men and women have left a faith tradition they really love because they were asked to leave until they could “stop” being gay”.  The blurb on the book says, “Randy Eddy-McCain’s life story demonstrates that a person’s faith in God can exist without being in conflict with his or her sexuality”. In a way it does just that but he really does not deal with the issues that brought him to that point. Is it that God did not give up on him or is that since he was not comfortable with that god so he looked for one he could find comfort with. (This, in effect, is selling out, is it not). If you not fit one place, make up your own space where you fit). To me it seems like moving from one closet to another.

We have all heard stories about those who are Christians and are able to make peace with that even when told that they do not fit—religion and sexuality are considered opposing ideas—or at least they once were. Times have changed almost everywhere except perhaps in Arkansas. I do not understand why Randy who could not find peace in his home state never thought about moving somewhere where he could be himself.

I found the writing here to be simple and at times almost insulting the reader because of the tone of the writer. It is as if he is talking down to us as he lauds himself as if to say “Look what I was able to do” and maybe if you try you will be able to do the same. After reading this I am sure I do not want to do anything that the writer tells us. We live in a big world where separatism today is no longer a necessity. (And what about that Judy Garland reference in the title?). I must say, however, that the book’s cover is quite interesting.

Putting Pride in Poetry: Five Stellar Collections from LGBT Poets By Nicholas DiSabatino

Putting Pride in Poetry: Five Stellar Collections from LGBT Poets

Posted: 27 Jun 2014 10:54 AM PDT

By Nicholas DiSabatino

J.D. McClatchy, Ben Klein, Stephen S. Mills, Essex Hemphill, and Adrienne Rich

J. D. McClatchy, Ben Klein, Stephen S. Mills, Essex Hemphill, and Adrienne Rich

I often feel that poetry gets the short end of the stick when celebrating LGBT literature. There are so many rich options that it can often be overwhelming to know where to begin. My first real brush with LGBT poetry was the Everyman’s Library Pocket Series anthology Love Speaks Its Name: Gay and Lesbian Love Poems, which gave me an introductory and historical look at the challenges and loves of LGBT poets within the last century. While thinking about books to recommend in honor of Pride this June, I wanted to offer some classic choices alongside brand new ones that might someday be part of the canon of celebrated LGBT poetry. These collections offer everything from lusty hookups to images of domestic bliss with a long-term partner to frustrations over the current state of LGBT rights. There’s even an image of gay icon “Little” Edie Beale of Grey Gardens. I hope you enjoy.

'Love Speaks Its Name: Gay and Lesbian Love Poems' edited by J.D. McClatchy1) Love Speaks Its Name: Gay and Lesbian Love Poems: As part of the Everyman’s Library Pocket Series, Love Speaks Its Name features a wonderful hodgepodge of poets ranging from Sappho, W. H. Auden, A. E. Housman, and Gertrude Stein, to James Baldwin, Frank O’Hara, Adrienne Rich, Federico Garcia Loca, Walt Whitman, and Joan Larkin. Divided into six sections (Longing, Looking, Loving, Ecstasy, Anxiety, and Aftermath), these poems are a wonderful introduction to LGBT history, and, as editor J. D. McClatchy says in the introduction, “because their desires have been deemed dangerous, and their lives made difficult, they place a unique value on true love.” Recommended: “Turning Forty in the 90’s” by Melvin Dixon, “Having a Coke With You” by Frank O’Hara, and “Breathing You In” by Joan Larkin.

 

'Going Fast in Loose Directions' by Ben Kline2) Going Fast In Loose Directions by Ben Kline: This erotically-charged collection represents the 2014 gay Grindr-using, brunch-planning, H&M–wearing, white suburban hipster gay man. The poems are refreshingly raw with clever titles like, “The Getting Laid Strut,” “Jacob Makes a World with Psychic Urges, Gay Weddings, and Crossfit Dreams,” and “If the Moneyed White Gays Under the Velvet Ceiling Wrote Dating App Haiku.” An interesting collection for the millennial generation—but maybe don’t let your mother read it. Recommended: “Bodies Undiscovered,” “The Certainties,” and “Three Beats Per Line Makes a Fast Love Song.”

 

'He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices' by Stephen S. Mills3) He Do the Gay Man In Different Voices by Stephen S. Mills: Winner of the 2012 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, the collection features everything from correspondence to a gay porn star serving prison time, a chance meeting with the ghost of Little Edith Beale of Grey Gardens fame, musings on serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and ode to the young Iranian men hung for sodomy charges in July of 2005. Full of frustrations, lust, and general disappointments in our hetero-normative society, the poems are sharp, funny, and intimately touching. Recommended: “The Anatomy of a Hate Crime,” “The Ghost of Little Edie Beale Meets Me in a Gay Bar,” and “Sitting in My Cubical I Reconsider a Porn Career.”

 

'Ceremonies' by Essex Hemphill4) Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry by Essex Hemphill: This beautiful collection from 1992 perfectly embodies the anxiety of the gay community in the late 80s and early 90s around the AIDS crisis, and addresses the challenges of being gay in the African American community, while also striking a chord against the blatant racism Hemphill encounters from white LGBT artists. Recommended: “Object Lessons” and “Rights and Permissions.”

 

'The Dream of a Common Language' by Adrienne Rich5) The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich: Inside the collection are Rich’s famous Twenty-One Love Poems, showcasing her love for another woman. With lines like “You’ve kissed my hair / to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem, / I say, a poem I wanted to show someone,” we see not only the ups and downs of her relationship, but a discovery of her true selfhood.  Rich reminds us in XVII that “No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone,” yet we know through reading these poems that we’ve seen a love of hers unlike any other. Recommended: “III”, “ XII,” and “VI.”

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicholas DiSabatinoNicholas DiSabatino is a publicity assistant at Beacon Press. He received an MA in Publishing and Writing at Emerson College and a BA in English at Kent State University. In his spare time, he tries to balance life with a violin-playing fiancé and a black cat named Roxie. 

“All American” by Corbin Fisher— The Tenth Anniversary

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Fisher, Corbin. “All American”, Bruno Gmunder, 2014.  

Corbin Fisher Celebrates His Tenth Anniversary

In an industry where so many brands and companies seem to come and go, celebrating a 10th anniversary is quite the achievement. When Corbin Fisher began in a modest home basement in 2004, our focus was on making it through to the next month; while we certainly worked towards establishing something that would thrive and last, we were not so presumptuous to even think about where we might be 10 years down the line. Here we are, though – marking our first decade online, looking forward to our next, and both thrilled and humbled these years have been shared with so many incredible performers, fans, friends and partners.

Corbin Fisher has gone from being simply a video site to a destination at which an entire experi- ence – centered around our young, American college men – is offered. Our name has entered the lexicon – “He’s Corbin Fisher material” is known to mean someone is the kind of all-American, youthful, athletic guy you see on the pages of this book.

What began in a modest basement in America’s heartland ten years ago has become a brand recog- nized the world over, one that is synonymous with the beauty and raw sexuality of young American men.

The men of Corbin Fisher have filmed thousands of video episodes. They’ve journeyed around and across the United States, from the rolling hills of rural Missouri to the beaches of Florida; from the mountains and deserts of Nevada to the cities and coastal cliffs of California. They’ve traveled across the world—over a dozen countries on four continents—with our cameras there to capture them every step of the way.

The journeys our cameras capture most of all, though, are those of young men exploring their own sexuality and experimenting with one another. Countless college men have come to Corbin Fisher and discovered just how sensual, lustful, and intimate they are and can be; as they explore one ano- ther, they learn so very much about themselves.

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Cameron Frost has been working professionally as a photographer for over ten years, seven of which have been as the principal photographer for Corbin Fisher.

He started his career in Los Angeles at the age of nineteen and soon found himself photographing models, actors, and celebrities in New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Costa Rica, London, and Copenhagen. Over the years his client list has included Jesse McCartney, Paris Hilton, Hollywood Records, MTV, Disney, and Warner Brothers, among others. He has published several books and calendars, and his work has been featured in magazines such as DNA, Popstar, DU&ICH, Instinct, Elle and People.

Cameron has also worked on the other side of the lens as a model and collaborated with several exceptionally talented artists: Greg Gorman, Howard Roffman, Richard Reinsdorf, Kai Feng, and Bradford Rogne. Much of his influence came from these artists, as well as Richard Avedon, Mike Ruiz, George Hurrell, Helmut Newton, David La Chapelle, and Mert & Marcus. Through his photo- graphy, Cameron has helped raise money for several charities, including the Trevor Project, Human Rights Campaign, and GLASS by donating framed prints and photo shoots for auction.

Cameron currently resides in Dallas with his French Bulldog, Milo. 

A Jewish Reading Guide for Pride Month

A Jewish Reading Guide for Pride Month

Rabbis, writers, and poets select essential LGBT titles for Jewish readers

By Wayne Hoffman|June 25, 2014 2:08 PM

When my Jewish- and gay-themed novel Sweet Like Sugar came out in 2011, I wrote a blog post for the Jewish Book Council listing other LGBT books I thought might be of particular interest to Jewish readers. I named about two dozen titles, ranging from novels to memoirs to nonfiction.

But that was just my opinion.

In honor of Pride month, I asked several other people who know Jewish LGBT literature (including some who wrote books I’d included in my blog post) to name three essential books that Tablet readers should know about. They could define “essential” however they wanted: most accessible, most overlooked, most influential, best written, etc. The only thing they couldn’t do was choose their own books.

Narrowing down the choices to just three titles is difficult. (My own, after much deliberation: Lev Raphael’s groundbreaking short story collection * Dancing on Tisha B’Av; Gad Beck’s remarkable Holocaust memoir * An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin; and David Feinberg’s searingly comic AIDS novel *(Eighty-Sixed.) Here’s what the other participants chose. If you have your own favorites, let us know in the comments.

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Rabbi David Dunn Bauer serves as director of social justice programming for Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City, is the founder of Queer Spiritual Counseling, and writes and teaches on queer theology and erotic spirituality.

*Angels in America by Tony Kushner. Kushner’s two-part epic play is the greatest work of American religious art to emerge from the second half of the 20th century.

Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community, *by Noach Dzmura. The essential, historic first anthology of essays by transgender Jewish voices.

Changing Lives, Making History: Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, The First 40 Years, by Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen. The powerful and beautifully written history to date of New York City’s extraordinary and influential LGBTQ synagogue. (Its publication date is September 2014, but it can be pre-ordered now.)

Joy Ladin is a poet and professor of English at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, as well as author of Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, a memoir.

*Let the Words: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach, by Yona Wallach (translated by Linda Stern Zisquit). During the 1960s and ’70s, when Israeli society was focused on conformity, Yona Wallach—often called Israel’s Rimbaud—wrote ecstatic, violent, sometimes hallucinatory poems that play with, intertwine, and overturn norms of gender and sexuality in order to expand the meaning of being human.

*Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose, by Adrienne Rich—in particular: “Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity,” “Yom Kippur 1984” (poem), and “The Genesis of ‘Yom Kippur 1984’”. A pioneering lesbian feminist poet and thinker, Rich also wrote probing, moving examinations of her complex relationship to Jewish identity. As the feminist movement came to reckon with the ethnic and historic identifications of women, Rich spoke openly of being “split at the root” between her Jewish and non-Jewish identifications.

*A Few Words in the Mother Tongue: Poems Selected and New (1971-1990), by Irena Klepfisz (translated by Adrienne Rich). Born in a DP camp at the end of WWII, Klepfisz came to the U.S. with her mother as a young child, and grew up in a socialist, secular, Yiddishist community in New York. Her groundbreaking lesbian feminist poetry and essays, many written when the U.S. feminist movement was openly hostile to Jews and the American Jewish establishment was openly hostile to Yiddish culture, interrogate and embrace all her conflicting identifications.

Jay Michaelson is the author of five books, including the bestselling God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality, and a weekly columnist for The Forward and the Daily Beast.

*Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone, by David Feinberg. Searing, angry rants from the depths of the AIDS crisis—and really good writing.

*Queering the Text: Biblical, Medieval, and Modern Jewish Stories, by Andrew Ramer. Inclusion is boring. Transformation is sexy. This is what LGBT Jewish writing should be: daring, creative, and provocative.

*A Queer and Pleasant Danger, by Kate Bornstein. Three or four amazing memoirs in one, tracking our trans Jewish heroine’s lives in Scientology, transition, and radical sexuality.

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Lillian Faderman is the author of the award-winning memoir Naked in the Promised Landand, most recently, My Mother’s Wars, in addition to several classics of lesbian history including Surpassing the Love of Men and Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers.

*Nice Jewish Girls, edited by Evelyn Torton Beck. This anthology, first published in 1982, was the first book I’d ever read that discussed being Jewish and being lesbian in the same breath. Groundbreaking.

*Writing a Jewish Life, by Lev Raphael. This memoir traces the moving struggle of a gay man learning how to practice Judaism after growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust.

Beyond the Pale, by Elana Dykewomon (nee Nachman). This wonderfully-researched novel is about what it might have been like to be a lesbian living on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century, during the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the Henry Street Settlement House, when “lesbian” was barely a concept.

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David Levithan is the author of more than a dozen young-adult books, including Boy Meets BoyTwo Boys Kissing, and (with Rachel Cohn) Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Never Mind the Goldbergs, by Matthue Roth. Roth single-handedly brings a queer Jewish vibe to YA [young-adult literature] in this book (and in his other book, Losers) about a whole bunch of kids—queer and nonqueer—trying to figure out not just who they want to be with, but who they want to be.

I Am J, by Cris Beam. At the heart of Beam’s powerful novel is J, a Puerto-Rican/Jewish boy who feels he was wrongly born in a girl’s body.

*Openly Straight, by Bill Konigsberg. Rafe Goldberg is tired of being seen as “the gay kid”—so when he goes off to boarding school, he decides to pass as straight…in much the same way an earlier generation might have tried to pass as non-Jewish. The laughs here are plentiful, but have a bigger point to them.

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Rabbi Debra Kolodny is the executive director of Nehirim, spiritual leader of P’nai Or in Portland, Oregon, and editor of Blessed Bi Spirit: Bisexual People of Faith, and has been a queer activist for over 30 years.

*God vs. Gay? by Jay Michaelson. Jay does a wonderful job unpacking the clobber texts in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures via improved translation as well as cultural/historical/theological contextualization, helping the reader embrace a religious view of love, welcome, and respect for LGBT people.

*Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community, by Noach Dzmura. Notable for its wonderful reflections on life as a transgender Jew from multiple voices.

Gone to Soldiers, by Marge Piercy. I’d recommend every book by Marge Piercy, as her blend of riveting story line, political polemic, wonderfully drawn characters and explicit queer content—frequently bisexual characters—draws me in every time. Gone to Soldiers is one of her most explicitly Jewish novels.

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Marjorie Ingall is a Life & Religion columnist for Tablet, where she writes about the best Jewish children’s books every year. She is also the author of The Field Guide to North American Males and the co-author of Hungry.

*The Purim Superhero, by Elisabeth Kushner, illustrated by Mike Byrne. A picture book with a non-didactic story about a boy who wants to be an alien for Purim even though all his friends are dressing as superheroes. One of his two dads draws gentle parallels with Esther’s choices about hiding and coming out as a Jew in the Purim story.

*Wide Awake, by David Levithan. A gay young-adult love story set against the election of the first gay Jewish president, pitting the Decents (with their policies of Denial Education) against the Jesus Revolutionaries (a new movement that actually follows Jesus’ teachings). It’s funny, fierce, wishful, and sweet.

Gravity, by Leanne Lieberman. A thoughtful, quirky, and moving young-adult novel about Ellie Gold, an Orthodox Jewish girl in Toronto in the ’80s who’s beginning to realize she’s gay. Just ignore the baffling, god-awful cover. (This author’s Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust was on my best books of 2013 list, and it too was nuanced and singular and had a terrible cover. Come on, Orca; there must be good book designers in Canada.)

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Daniel M. Jaffe is author of the new Torah-themed novel The Genealogy of Understanding, and of Jewish Gentle and Other Stories of Gay-Jewish Living.

*Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian or Gay and Jewish, edited by Christie Balka and Andy Rose. This was a ground-breaking anthology of autobiographical essays covering a broad range of LGB Jewish experience, and it inspired several other such anthologies afterward.

*Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose, by Adrienne Rich, edited by Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi. This Norton Critical Edition, which includes many of Rich’s writings on her lesbianism and Jewishness, captures the beauty, wisdom, and lyricism of one of the most insightful LGBT Jewish minds ever.

*Sacred Lips of the Bronx, by Douglas Sadownick. This is one of the few novels that boldly renders a man’s struggle to integrate his gayness and Jewishness in a multi-ethnic, highly sexualized milieu.

 Those marked with an asterisk have been reviewed at this site.

“FOR LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED?”— Gay Role-Reversal Film

 “For Love Is All You Need”?

Gay Role-Reversal  Film

The original short has 13 film festival awards, and – as a viral video – has been viewed (on various platforms) over 30 million times to date. Based on the premise of the reversed world – where social roles are inverted – gay is straight and straight is gay – the viewpoint allows viewers to ‘walk a mile; in another’s shoes.

The feature film version has the support of GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) and From The Heart Productions – a charity and supporter of independent filmmakers for over 25 years. It also has top Hollywood casting director Mary Vernieu (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, Silver Linings Playbook) to cast the movie.

With the short, the flipping of the anti-LGBT bullying  script in Love Is All You Need? has proved to be a powerful teaching tool, with the film translated into  astonishing 15 languages in an effort to help spread its important message.

It’s the first time GLSEN has partnered with a production company, but they saw value in the short. The organisation’s Braden Lay-Michaels comments, “When we first saw the short film, ‘Love Is All You Need?’ GLSEN was drawn to this important project.  It has always been our mission to ensure that every student in every school is valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation gender identity or gender expression.”

While the short has been broadly welcomed, it has also ignited controversy in the small Florida town of Palatka, where a first year science teacher came under fire for screening the short to his ninth through 12 grade students. Both his contract and that of the school’s principle were not renewed. So it seems its message still has some places to go.

If you want to help fund the feature film version, head over to IndieGoGo. If you need more persuasion, look at the report below about the teacher who was essentially fired for showing the short.

“Little Reef and Other Stories” by Michael Carroll— The New Media and its People

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Carroll, Michael. “Little Reef and Other Stories”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.

The New Media and Its People

Amos Lassen

I guess it was about six months ago when the University of Wisconsin Press sent me information about a new collection of short stories by a new writer. One of the things I love about reviewing is getting the chance to read new writers and so a week later when the uncorrected proof of “Little Reef and Other Stories” by Michael Carroll arrived, I could not wait to sit down and start reading. The next thing I knew it was three o’clock in the morning and I was still reading and had no intention of going to bed until I finished the last story.

Carroll writes about characters who, as he puts it, stand “somewhere between being provincial and being cosmopolitan”. They are the products of a “media-soaked culture… B-listers—women and their gay friends”. Carroll looks at the irony of the America we live in—a country where gay marriage is acceptable in many of its states yet there is still homophobia, prejudice, religious fanaticism, poverty and the loss of hope. His characters react to this society with shock and they seem to have no memory of the past and no plans for the future— they seem lost and do not really care to be found. Their lives are far from ordered yet we see them facing life. They are representative of people we have known but can only remember if striving to do so—the kind of people who come into our lives and leave them with hardly a wave of the hand.

Yet  Carroll’s characters stay with us long after we close the covers of the book. Even the minor characters seem to be little more than insignificant individuals who gain significance because Carroll gives it to them. We sense that they are troubled and totally frustrated at the way their lives are going; their defeatist attitudes make us care about them and in that  we do get a sense of hope but not one that is encompassing. I realize that earlier I said that they were partly characterized by the loss of hope yet that is not totally correct. They carry with them a sense of hope but do not act on it. What is really unique is that we do not want to identify with them yet we do and all of us know or have known people who are very much like the ones Carroll writes about. We might even see ourselves in his pages.  If I have to pick one characteristic of this book that stands out for it it would have to be that Carroll writes with a cutting style and his dialogue is very, very real.

Lately, I have not been overly impressed with a lot that I have read and as I sit writing I try to think of the names of five books that have recently blown me away. So far the only book on that list is this one. Carroll departs from traditional story telling in his writing and so reading him is like having a new experience. Here is a book that makes us think about what we have read because Carroll makes us reflect on ourselves. While this is book about gay characters and seemingly written for gay readers, I think that anyone who wants to read good writing will find him/herself at home here.

I could say something about each of the twelve stories but that would spoil the surprise of what they have to offer. Just take my word for it and get a copy and lose yourself in it.

“The Formation of the Jewish Canon” by Timothy H. Lin— New Insight into the Hebrew Bible

the formation of the jewish canonLin, Timothy H. “The Formation of the Jewish Canon”, (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library), Yale University Press, 2013.

New Insight into the Hebrew Bible

Amos Lassen

With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we were given new insight into the Hebrew Bible (what some refer to as The Old Testament) before it became permanently fixed. Timothy Lin gives us a complete account of the formation of the canon in Ancient Judaism from the emergence of the Torah in the Persian period to the final acceptance of the list of twenty-two/twenty-four books in the rabbinic period. Lim uses the Hebrew Bible, the Scrolls, the Apocrypha, the Letter of Aristeas, the writings of Philo, Josephus, the New Testament, and Rabbinic literature as his primary evidence and he claims that throughout the post-exilic period up to around 100 C.E. there was no single official “canon” that was accepted by all Jews; rather, there existed a plurality of collections of scriptures that were authoritative for different communities.

Carefully examining the literary sources and historical circumstances which ultimately led to the emergence and acceptance of authoritarian scriptures in ancient Judaism, Lim formulates a theory that “the majority canon that posits that the Pharisaic canon became the canon of Rabbinic Judaism in the centuries after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple”.

The book’s focus is on the canonical debates that have been important to both the Jewish and Christian communities. These are important to biblical scholarship and importantly so to biblical scholars. We are now able to see that the Hebrew Bible is much more than the result of an adoption of texts that are considered universally holy. What actually happened did so in “fits and starts” and there were competing agendas.

What this means to the contemporary Jew is a key to the theological understanding of scripture. The texts that we have today were written by men who were inspired by the Divine which in a sense means that they could have been written by God but this is a bit difficult for a thinking man to accept. What about the textual, historical and archeological evidence? As a kid who was raised as an Orthodox Jew, I was taught to believe that God gave the entire Torah to Moses on Sinai. If this is not the case, we must admit that something about Judaism is lost in the process of not accepting this. I do not believe that we are forced into accepting Judaic law—it is our choice but now we see that the view of the traditional Jew is not far from the historical and scholarly Jew. The choice now becomes one of how to be religious—we have one side that admits the truth and the other that denies even with the evidence.  

Growing up Orthodox in New Orleans was not a question for me—it was a given. We regarded Reform Jews as gentiles and we even referred to the very wealthy reform Temple Sinai as “Our Lady of St. Charles Avenue”. But since I hate being labeled and I am now what they call a reform Jew who belongs to Temple Sinai in Brookline, Massachusetts (which is a long way from New Orleans and their Temple Sinai), I prefer to call myself just a Jew. I am observant and active in my Temple and I now feel that the importance of Jewish practice (religious) is separate from the myths and the stories that Judaism carries with it. The Torah is meant to be studied and interpreted and there is no denial to its existence even if it is an invention of a group of Jews somewhere, sometime. We acknowledge that God and truth go hand in hand but we must also accept what the evidence gives us.

“MONDO HOMO”— French Gay Porn In the ‘70s

mondo better poster

“MONDO HOMO”

French Gay Porn In the ‘70s

Amos Lassen

Try to remember back to the 1970s when most of the gay porn available to us was imported from France; when there were no condoms and no shaved trimmed pubes. “Mondo Homo” is a documentary filled with nostalgia and takes us back to some wonderfully artistic films and some very filthy ones. Obviously they were made by horny directors who take a simple visit to the doctor and make it wildly erotic.

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We saw fantasies of all sorts starring men of all nationalities, sizes and colors. It was the imaginations of the filmmakers that made porn what it was and now these same people reflect on their productions and what was then known as underground cinema. The productions were crude and carried tiles such as “Young Prey for Bad Boys” and “Hand Balling” (no more discreet than say “Shaving Ryan’s Privates” or “Forrest Rump”). And we the viewers where so glad to see our sexuality on the big screen. The porn provocateurs took their cues from the masters of the “Nouvelle Vague” as they shot outdoors and on locations. They adheres to the motto of La Belle France, “liberty, equality, and fraternity” and indeed help to kick off the gay liberation movement while introducing audiences to water sports, facials, and fisting (in a scene rejected by censors as “an affront to human decency”). 
This is both  a fascinating look back at an important chapter in gay porn history and a total turn-on with its archival clips of “orgiastic writhing among big bears, leather daddies, and tender hooligans”.

mondo homo

Between 1975 and 1983 a new kind of film could be seen in French cinema— homegrown gay pornography. They were essentially the work of three production companies: Les films de La Troika (Norbert Terry), AMT Productions (Anne-Marie Tensi) and Les Films du Vertbois (principally Jacques Scandelari). The genre met an untimely end with the advent of video, the last being made in 1983 ‘Mon ami, mon amour (My friend, my lover)’. The films were shot in 16mm and most of them were passed and given certificates by the CNC (National Cinema Centre). They were screened in a small number of Parisian cinemas dedicated to gay pornographic film—- Le Dragon, La Marotte and Le Hollywood Boulevard as well as several in the provinces. Sexy, sexual and oftentimes very explicit, “Mondo Homo” shows the progression of pornography as it builds from soft-core to fetish. An interesting history lesson here is told by many men who are still around to tell us how it was.  For people into history, the filmmakers uncovered a lot of early scenes from film archives and this certainly is a great way to see some of the roots of pornography, much of which crossed over to the United States.

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“Mondo Homo” is the result of five years of painstaking research and investigation. It features extensive interviews with the directors and actors illustrated by numerous extracts from their films. This is an opportunity to discover the hitherto forgotten yet memorable story of the pioneers of French gay cinema.

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