Monthly Archives: July 2014

“My Queer Life” by Callen Harty— 30 Years of Activism

my queer life

Harty, Callen. “My Queer Life”, ADS, 2014.

30 Years of Activism

Amos Lassen

 “My Queer Life” is a selection of one activist’s writing over a 30-year period. This book follows his life as a gay man living in a straight world. The author is a well-known community activist in Wisconsin’s queer community. Here we have his speeches, poetry, essays, monologues, and journal notes on a variety of topics with the central theme of living an authentic queer life. Include is material from an early tentative coming out journal and a note to a speech delivered before more than a thousand people at a pride event. We have Facebook notes and blog entries about today’s issues as well selections from produced plays, published essays, and more. Everything focuses living life as an out and proud gay man.

The author writes of coming out in a conservative small town, of losing friends to the hate and violence perpetrated on gay men or on themselves in suicide, about getting sober, of surviving sexual abuse as a child at the hands of a relative. Harty writes thoughtfully about finding the best in himself and in others. The essays are brief but they say a lot.

“LILY IN THE GRINDER”— Sex, Death and Time

lily better

“Lily in the Grinder” 

Sex, Death and Time

Amos Lassen

 On Saturday, August 9 in Providence, Rhode Island, Michael Morganstern will premier is new film that already has people talking. I plan to be there to see it. I met Michael two years ago at the Boston LGBT Film Festival when he screened “Shabbat Dinner” which I totally loved. “Lily in the Grinder” will be

Oscar-qualifying with its world premier at the RHODE ISLAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.  “See the film that’s been called “One of the best uses of film I have ever seen” and “The closest thing I’ve experienced on film to dreaming.”

 “Lily in the Grinder” is “a kaleidoscopic, operatic exploration of sex, death, and time set to an original string quartet score.

 Ryan lives in Brooklyn and looks for a job, maybe in social media or something. He sits around the house, wanders New York City, and questions the point of his existence. Bridging experimental and narrative form, Lily is like attending a live string quartet concert that explodes into the visual field.

 The film flits to the future and past and back while an original score, written in the style of Béla Bartók, tells its own piece of the story.

 Draped in kaleidoscopic imagery and crackling with dark humor, Lily in the Grinder probes sex, death, and time. What if a human life is a static, four-dimensional entity that cannot be said to truly begin or end?” What if we already are everything we will ever be?

Tickets may be purchased at the venue.


“The Diverted Verdict” by Lance Solomon— A Personal Story

the diverted verdict

Solomon, Lance. “The Diverted Verdict”, Creative Space Publishing, 2014.

A Personal Story

Amos Lassen

This is a story that is so fantastic that I had to do some research to understand what really happened and honestly, I am still a bit shaken by what I learned. Lance Solomon lived in Corunna, Michigan, a small farming community. He comes from a middle-class family and his mother suffered from a Bipolar disorder. When she suddenly died, many questions arose and went unanswered. He and his mother were very close probably because his father worked long hours and what happened here occurred after he had retired from the automobile industry. Solomon was concerned about learning the truth about his mother’s death and he asked his father and siblings to make him the legal representative for the family. He had no idea how much this would change his life forever.

His mother’s death was ruled as suicide but when the answers to some of the unanswered questions would later come out brought about a wrongful death lawsuit, after contacting a wrongful death law firm, against a psychiatrist. The defendant brought out secrets introduced a new theory of her death. Solomon’s mother had been murdered. His mother’s death changed Lance’s life forever. When the murder theory was revealed, some family members tried to stop the lawsuit but were unable to. Murder has been just a theory but suddenly it became very real and the outcome of the jury trial surprised and divided the family.

Years passed and we move forward to 1999 at which time Lance told his family that he was gay and the family found his lifestyle to be unacceptable. Nonetheless, things were going good for him and he fell in love and was happy. But then strange events began and Solomon began to lose control as his life headed toward rock bottom. There were custody battles, lawsuits and governmental agencies. It was obvious that someone was pulling strings behind the scenes and new questions arose. Was it possible that his mother’s suicide/murder theory as well as his own destruction were part of some strange master plan? He exposed secrets that the family did not out in the open. It was now sixteen years after his mother’s death and it had never been solved. Today it is still unsolved. Solomon is now at work writing about the rest of the story and we shall just have to wait.

The book he is writing now , “Investigation 47” will pick up where this book ends. It deals with his rise and fall after being diagnosed HIV Positive then spiraling down and loosing everything. He tells of his battle to pick himself back up from being homeless and sexually abused by a group of men. This led to his being put in dangerous life threatening circumstances only to realize it was not just a personal struggle. He was being treated like a sexual servant and loosing his civil rights in the community. This led to suicide attempts but after he met a man with his own pre calculated plan to destroy him.

Solomon is correct in his thinking that someone behind the scenes was working against him. After reading this I was and still am unsure about what to believe. Solomon is not a writer but his story is interesting to the point that I could stop reading. I have no conclusions and I am sure that there are those who read this that indeed do have conclusions. I am just not sure what to think.

“Moab is My Washpot” by Stephen Fry— The Early Years

moab is my washpot

Fry, Stephen. “Moab Is My Washpot”, Soho Press, 2014.

The Early Years

Amos Lassen

I have heard so much about this memoir by Stephen Fry and am so lucky that one of my British friends sent me a copy. It is due to be released in the United States in November of this year. It is “funny, shocking, tender, delicious, sad, lyrical, bruisingly frank and addictively readable”. It tells us that Fry was sent to a boarding school 200 miles from home at the age of seven where he survived beatings, misery, love, ecstasy, carnal violation, expulsion, imprisonment, criminal conviction, probation and catastrophe. When he reached the age of eighteen, he was ready to try and face the world in which he had always felt a stranger.

Fry is a master of quick wit as well as shocking candor. Since his PBS television debut in the “Blackadder” series, the American profile of this multitalented writer, actor and comedian has grown steadily, especially in the wake of his title role in the film “Wilde”, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination, and his supporting role in “A Civil Action”. In his earlier biography of his adolescent years, “The Liar”, we were given a taste of his writing ability. Now he takes us back to the years before that period. He was one of the very few Cambridge University graduates to have been imprisoned prior to his freshman year and we certainly see that he is a brilliantly idiosyncratic character who continues to attract controversy, empathy and real devotion.

Fry is prone to moments of weakness. He disappeared in 1995 after walking out of the play he was a part of, contemplating suicide and eventually surfacing in Belgium. Even when he was young, he had issues with depression, and he had a habit of lying, cheating and stealing.  He even tells us about the period in his youth in which he stole a credit card and went on a criminal spending spree, eventually ending up in jail.

We learn some things about Fry that we probably never wanted to know—more happened to Fry in the first twenty years of his life than to most people by the age of their retirement, and it’s fascinating to read all about it in his own words. Fry writes with wit and wisdom, and it is fun to read about him in his own words. There are times we feel that we are actually at Stouts Hill Prep School with him. He makes us so comfortable that we feel we are reading what a good friend has written.

“Moab is my Washpot” sets you up perfectly for Fry’s later autobiography, “The Fry Chronicles”, which covers the later periods of his early life including his higher education and his meetings with some of the stars that he shaped a career with, including comedy partner Hugh Laurie. There are times that the book is a bit self-indulgent but that’s ok—like the rest of us, Fry is far from perfect. He suffered from anti-social behavior, his resentment of his father, his confused Judaism, his true feelings about his homosexuality, his relentless low esteem and self loathing .I imagine that this book was a form of therapy for him.

“The engaging Mr. Fry admits to lies, thievery, homosexuality, excessive cleverness, and other peccadilloes in this boarding-school adventure . . . An author in the long and honorable tradition of English Eccentrics, Theatrical Division, presents his coming-of-age story. With all the wit and Pythonesque antics, his book will entertain the Masterpiece Theatre crowd and others as well.”

Fry tried to commit suicide several times since his first attempt at age 18 (described with great sensitivity in the book) and this makes this book a bit disturbing. He suffers from a bipolar disorder but he does not say so here and I wish that he had. It might have clarified some of what I was unsure about. Even with all of his wit and charm, this is a chilling and sometimes confusing yet delightful read. That might sound contradictory until you read it yourself.

“Olivier” by Philip Ziegler— The Man and the Star


Ziegler, Philip. “Olivier, MacLehose Press. 2014.

The Man and the Star

Amos Lassen

 Philip Ziegler’s “Olivier” is an incredibly accessible and comprehensive portrait of this Hollywood superstar, Oscar-winning director, and the man who is considered  to be the greatest stage actor of the twentieth century. The era of Olivier was filled with great actors— Gielgud, Richardson, Guinness, Redgrave, Scofield,  Burton, O’Toole–but none could challenge Laurence Olivier’s range and power. By the 1940s he had achieved international stardom. His affair with Vivien Leigh led to a marriage as glamorous and as tragic as any in Hollywood history. He was as accomplished a director as he was a leading man: his three Shakespearian adaptations are among the most memorable ever filmed.

What is so interesting about Olivier is that at the height of his fame, he took an administrator’s salary in order to become the founding Director of the National Theatre. In 2013 the theatre celebrates its fiftieth anniversary and had it not been for Olivier’s leadership it would never have achieved the status that it enjoys today. Off-stage, Olivier was the most extravagant of characters. He was generous, yet almost insanely jealous of those few contemporaries whom he deemed to be his rivals. He was charming but with a ferocious temper.

Author Ziegler had access to more than fifty hours of candid, unpublished interviews and he gives us Olivier’s true character. He was an icon and he lived the life of a celebrity but was also down to earth. First and foremost, Olivier was an actor—that’s what and who he was. He was a man with charm and class; dashing and seductive. Actress Rosemary Harris said of him, “I don’t know anybody who had more sex appeal. Everybody, what­ever sex you were, whether you were a cat, a dog or a mouse, you were in love with him.”

He was greatly admired by fellow actors and directors, also critics and, of course, audiences. Philip Ziegler was the man to write this bio of Sir Laurence. Ziegler has affection for the man but does not worship him, he writes wonderfully and he says  what he has to say without stretching it out;  he was able to decide what was important to include and what to throw out; he gave us the background in a way that it made it easier to read about the present and his sense of humor peeks at us all through the read. We get just enough about Olivier’s ancestry and his childhood. We learn that he was not an attractive child and this could have led to his love of costume and disguises. As a young man he did some acting at school and he was noticed and lauded by, visiting dignitaries. He began with small parts where he could get them and then joined the Birmingham Rep, where he met fellow actors Peggy Ashcroft and Ralph Richardson and it was there that he became a man and an actor. He worked tirelessly and it was not easy; it took him two years to learn how to move onstage, and another two to learn how to laugh. His friendship with Sir Ralph Richardson began at Birmingham and lasted as long as both men lived.

Ziegler gives us the complicated relationships that Olivier was involved in—some were friendship and some was based only on acquaintance and it is through these friendships that we get a history of the British theatre. “This involves countless friendships and enmities, apple polishing and backbiting among not only actors and directors, but also peers and politicians on theatrical boards, agent-producers like the mighty Binkie Beaumont, broadcast personalities and writers of all sorts: playwrights, critics, journalists, interviewers and what have you. Above all, there are liberal quotations from Olivier’s wives, children and anyone who knew him”.

In this biography, Olivier emerges as quite foul-mouthed but those that knew him, expected that from him as incongruent it is. Much about Olivier is revealed by his three marriages, all to actresses. (Ziegler mentions the rumors of homosexuality, but argues against them.) The first, to Jill Esmond, was almost a business deal. Two young actors teamed up for mutual support, for example traveling together to Hollywood. No lasting marriage, it was, however, a lasting friendship, although Olivier groused about the alimony: “She’s cost me £75,000 a coitus!” (Actually a saltier noun.) The middle, long marriage to Vivien Leigh began as Olivier’s probably only true passion, with the pair playing Romeo and Juliet both on and off the stage. But it eroded with the years, what with Vivien’s nervous breakdowns, a lengthy and flaunted affair with Peter Finch and the attrition of time. Olivier was also jealous of her winning an Oscar. He had a mature marriage to Joan Plowright and it was basically stable with Plowright giving him genuine support. But eventually this too went sour, largely through Olivier’s recklessness and jealousy when his career was falling short of hers.

Then there was Olivier’s relationship with the brilliant critic Kenneth Tynan, when Olivier, after much maneuvering with the board of directors, became head of the National Theater. He picked for his dramaturge the combative Tynan, who became as much headache as help. As Olivier declined in health, the book really becomes fascinating. Olivier’s triumphs include Richard III, Macbeth, Coriolanus, an almost scarily detailed Othello and the touchingly defiant, down-at-heel vaudevillian Archie Rice in John Osborne’s “The Entertainer.” There were also his films— “Wuthering Heights,” “Rebecca” and three Shakespearean adaptations.

The biography is full of wonderful anecdotes especially those about the rivalries with Richardson, Gielgud and Olivier’s successor at the National, Peter Hall. This is a wonder of a read about a wonder of a man.

“LYLE”— The Perfect Mother-to-Be



The Perfect Mother-to-Be

Amos Lassen

Leah (Gaby Hoffmann) is a pregnant lesbian who is confronted by evil that is unspeakable and that brings out a primal terror that is almost impossible to shake. As we watch this film we are thrown into a nightmare as Leah begins to ask questions of her partner and anyone else who will listen.

The film centers on Leah and June (Ingrid Jungermann), a lesbian couple who move into a Brooklyn Brownstone with their toddler son, Lyle.
The inhabitants of the apartment complex all seem a bit strange, including the apartment manager Karen (Rebecca Street), who likes to pretend she’s pregnant even though she’s almost sixty years old. There’s also the smoking model (Kim Allen) who stands outside looking up into their window.  At first their lives seem status quo with June working by day while Leah stays home with their kid and gets the apartment ready for baby number two. But something is amiss. Leah was told no children have lived in the building before but she soon uncovers baby wallpaper that suggests that, indeed, there was a child in their apartment at one time. Also, little Lyle seems to be talking to strangers that no one else can see. Strange and creepy revelations lead to tragedy.


This is Steward Thorndike’s first directorial film and is something of an ode to another famous movie of the same kind, “Rosemary’s Baby”. However, Thorndike goes for something a little different, by looking at horror through the experiences of a lesbian couple. Anxiety is established early on and there is a great deal of talent in this film.

The girls’ landlord, Karen Trapp  is strange and actually lives in the apartment below them. But Leah and June, with their daughter Lyle in tow, already have a second baby on the way, which June seems disappointed to discover will be another girl. While June is off trying to hustle a larger income by discovering an artist that can generate a bonafide hit, Leah is left to unpack in their new place.

Right away things feel off. Lyle keeps talking and pointing at things that aren’t there, and the post-menopausal Karen keeps telling all the neighbors she’s pregnant, sporting a fake baby bump and making loud declarations in the hallway. When something tragic happens to Lyle, Leah begins to unravel, and discovers that more sinister powers have brought them to this apartment.

I was prepared to be scared witless and then I realized that I have seen other films like this. This allowed me to relax and to enjoy what I was watching. Landlord Trapp without any semblance of logic spells out the connection between the baby deaths in the building and how Satan would be irritated if he was promised first-born sons only to receive an endless stream of girl children.

There is also an interesting twist that sheds light on the masculine name of Lyle for Leah and June’s ill-fated first-born. Except, if Satan has no qualms about taking the progeny of lesbians, then what is the reason that he is so into the patriarchal primogeniture system?

So there is really nothing new here but the film is nonetheless unique. It is a great start for a new director. 

“Filthy Acquisitions” by Edmond Manning— Purchasing Art

filthy acquisitions

Manning, Edmond. “Filthy Acquisitions”, Wilde City Pres, 2014.

Purchasing Art

Amos Lassen

Keldon Thurman has a job buying art for a private investor and he hates it. The only thing that keeps him there is the money he makes. He has no real skills and no way to make money so he has become a prisoner to his own job. We meet him as he is dealing with acquisition number 5 that has proven to challenging and difficult. Irene Woullet, a wheelchair bound matron and her nurse/caretaker, Joshua Greene will not cooperate with him and it looks like we will not be able to land that deal. Keldon realizes that he just might have to play a bit with Greene hoping that this would give to persuade his boss. The problem is that Jason Greene is old fashioned and lives simply but he is good-looking. There is not much time and Keldon has only two dates with him and he must convince him quickly. What I did not mention earlier is that the art that Keldon is supposed to collect is art by serial killers.

Let me just stop and say that Edmond Manning writes wonderfully and this is the real beauty of this book. His boss, Catherine Maggiarra, wants the art of James Wayne Merrick but she is discrete about it and uses the name Mr. Mercer for her acquisitions. Likewise she demands discretion from Keldon and she will not allow him to ask questions about the art collection. On the same note, those selling the art are not allowed to talk about it for a year after it has been sold.

We know Keldon’s feelings about the job but the guy is not fit for anything. Before this job he had been a kept boy to two older men. This job provides a good salary and a chance for him to get out of debt.

Before each acquisition, he is briefed on what to expect and how to handle the deal. In  this newest case he learns that Woullet is terminally ill and is in debt because of her illness. Her daughter hired a male nurse to care for her. Keldon, for the first time, is to offer money  for the art and not just for the piece done by the serial killer but for Woullet’s entire collection. He does not understand why his boss wants to buy all of the art just in order to get that one piece.

He also sees that this is not going to be easy to get the art and Woullet and Josh make it difficult for him. It takes careful maneuvering to get what he wants and in fact, so much more. This is quite a story and Manning has given us quite a character in Keldon. Here is a read you do not want to miss.

 I have deliberately not said all that I could but to do so would take away the fun of the reading experience.

“STUDLEBRITY”— Looks Make the Man



Looks Make the Man

Amos Lassen

I must admit that when I first heard about this film I had on idea what it was about or what the title means. Now I know and I felt awfully not catching it earlier. A Studlebrity is a guy who is famous for his looks. Studlebrities are online celebrities getting their seconds of fame based only upon their outward appearances. Let’s face it, we live in a world that is dominated by celebrity status and it seems that everyone can be a celebrity for whatever reason.


“Today there seems to be a new “social celebrity” every time we go online. We are inundated with guys famous for… well… we don’t really know”. Some of these “celebrities” have 10,000 followers on Twitter and when they post a carefully-posed half-naked shot on Instagram, they gain armies of followers that make them feel special when in actually the special they have is just what is visible. We all have heard the stories of how a handsome face and sculpted physique have helped pave the way to a charmed life (there may be more but that is all we about online). This film documentary is from Charlie David who goes a bit deeper into this new instant celebrity business.

Those of you who use social media and its websites know about the random pictures of the same guy coming across your computer screens. Many times you have no idea as to who they are but you realize that they are passed around for you to admire them. In the film we meet such half-undressed characters such as Mark & Ethan, Topher DiMaggio, Pablo Hernandez and Murray Swanby. We don’t know why these guys are famous and we really do not care. Each guy thinks that he is pretty and he knows that he is. More than that he wants to share every moment of his pretty life with you. Indeed he is a real person but he also becomes an illusion.

The film is a combination of archival video and photos from guys in conjunction with new original interview and photo-shoot style footage and this gives us “a layered look at this unique male mayhem.” We get a close look at boys who before becoming famous online just for being incredibly attractive were just regular guys. Here the guys open up about all their secret dreams and aspirations and talk about what they think of being watched.

“Bad Boy Billionaires: Small Town Romance Writer” by Ryan Field— Opposites

bad boy

Field, Ryan. “Bad Boy Billionaires: Small Town Romance Writer”, Ravenous Romance, 2014.


Amos Lassen

If you read my reviews then you know that I rarely have an unkind word to say about someone’s work. It has always been my mission to get people t read and to encourage LGBT writers but every once in a while I will get a book that is not even worth the paper (or in this case the electronic reproduction) that it is printed upon. There was a time when I enjoyed Ryan Field’s writing but unfortunately, this time the book just did not come together. I find this a bit surprising because Field is so proud of his work. With a bit more thought and better editing this might have passed as satisfactory but as it is now it is a major disappointment. Field has written an entire series on “Bad Boy Billionaires” but I am sure why and neither do I understand his reinforcement of gay stereotypes.

Here again is that same old, same old story of opposites attraction. Ethan is a stripper and what is referred to as a bad boy while Travis is a quiet writer with an academic background. The two met at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and neither knew that what began there would continue for two decades. We move forward ten years and find that Travis is a respected writer of LGBT fiction and is nominated for an award while Ethan writes short erotica for small presses. Suddenly Ethan gains fame for having written a gay romance but Travis thinks it is one of the worst books he has ever read. From this point the rest is totally predictable if you have seen any of the versions of “A Star is Born” although there is a “cute” at the end. Since the author is a writer himself, we cannot help but wonder if he is Ethan or Travis or even a combination of the two. However, I doubt that even Ethan would write something as mundane as this book.

“PARADISE CRUISE”— Ignoring the Past



Ignoring the Past



“PARADISE CRUISE”  has already won the Audience Award at the Paris Israeli Film Festival, Best Actor Award at both the Aubagne International Film Festival and CineramaBC Film Festival Brazil as well as the Best Screenplay Award. 

 Dora, a French tourist, returns to Israel to work on her art project spending most of her time photographing commemoration ceremonies and military funerals.  She meets Yossi, a rebellious young man just out of military service.  They fall in love although they have an unwritten agreement never to mention their lives before they met.However, the past haunts them and tests their love.