Monthly Archives: September 2014

“Acting Out” by Scotty Cade— Coming Home

ActingOut

Cade, Scotty. “Acting Out”, Dreamspinner, 2014.

Coming Home

Amos Lassen

Scotty Cade is one of the authors I always look forward to reading and not just because we are both from New Orleans. Rather I enjoy him because he is such a good storyteller and his prose is always excellent and a pleasure to read.

In this new book, Cade introduces us to Elijah Preston who returns home after a long tour in Afghanistan with the Marines. When he gets back to the States, he has nothing and has quite a time eking out an existence. He is living, if that’s what it can be called, at a cheap motel in Quantico, Virginia and he has no prospects to make money. Experiencing a chance encounter with Royce Mackey at the local Wal-Mart gives him a ray of hope but when he learns what he will have to do, he wavers. Mackey owns a gay porn site that features men in the military and he would Elijah to be his next star. There is a bit of a problem in that Eli is straight.
However there is nothing else on the horizon so Eli who is both broke and desperate agrees to take Mackey up on his offer and soon finds himself in a new world, one that he had never thought about.

Hamish Turner is an old hand at gay porn and he teaches Eli everything he needs to know and in the process the two men become good friends and this makes that first scene much easier for Eli. Both men notice that there is something else there that neither had expected or even thought about and the connection they share is also based on mutual attraction. Both men are curious to see where this will take them and an off-screen relationship ensues. Everything seemed to be going well until some fan mail from one of Hamish’s admirers demands that the two men stop performing together or he will do something about it.

Cade has created two unforgettable characters with Elijah and Hamish and we immediately sense what was going on between them. The plot is one of those that I did not want to stop once I began reading. The meeting between the two main characters is hot as are their other “interactions”. I found this to be quite a change from Cade’s other books. When Cade writes about romance he is wonderful and adding sex here makes him all the more realistic. What could we have expected when a porn star meets a newbie and breaks him in? Hamish comes across as a sweetheart which kind of go goes against the image I had of him as a wild gay sex machine and Eli seems to be a bit confused as he enters an aspect of his life that he had never considered.

“THE MAN I AM”— Five Israeli Transgender Men

the man I am

“THE MAN I AM”

Five Israeli Transgender Men

Amos Lassen

“The Man I Am” is a documentary from Israel about five Israeli trans men who were born and raised female but now after quite a long

process of change, live their lives as men. The film explores their personal stories and issues, revealing the difficulties and confronting the conservative approach of Israeli society and Judaism whose restrictive values are often in opposition to the concept of transgender. The film provides the audience with an understanding of their unique world and helps in identifying with their strong aim of  “becoming who you really are against all odds”. “The Man I Am” is the first Israeli “trans” film that has been created with the Israeli transgender community. It was directed by Shiri Shahar and runs 44 minutes.

“FUCKING DIFFERENT TEL AVIV”— An Anthology of Short Films by Gays and Lesbians

FUCKING-DIFFERENT-TEL-AVIV- 

“FUCKING DIFFERENT TEL AVIV”

An Anthology of Short Films by Gays and Lesbians

Amos Lassen

 Yair Hochner, Avital Barak, Stephanie Abramovich, Galit Florentz, Elad Zakai, Eran Koblik Kedar, Ricardo Rojstaczer, Nir Ne’Eman, Hila Ben Baruch, Yossi Brauman, Sivan Levi, Eyal Bromberg, Anat Salomon, November Wanderin, Yasmin Max and Haga Ayad
have contributed short films to this 95 minute long compilation. This is he third edition of the conceptual series “Fucking Different” (the first one was shot in Berlin and the second one in New York) “Fucking Different Tel Aviv” is an anthology of shorts aiming to provide a crossover of diverse views of queer sexuality in contemporary Tel-Aviv, from the perspective of 12 gay and lesbian filmmakers.

As in the previous compilations, lesbian directors were asked to create short films depicting their ideas of gay male sexuality and eroticism, and in turn, gay filmmakers were to describe love and sex between women. The directors were free to choose the genre. The only set parameters included the film running time– 3 to 7 minutes –  and the final format: Mini-DV.
With an overall emphasis on story and character, plot and atmosphere, the collection presents a well-balanced medley of fictional, documentary, and experimental films revealing the key role politics and religion play in gay and lesbian sexualities in this part of the world. While such recurrent underlying themes could potentially reinforce stereotypes of queer life in Tel-Aviv today, the variety of approaches undermines any attempt to define a singular gay and/or lesbian Israeli sensibility and/or lifestyle.

Faithful to the original project made in Berlin, “Fucking Different Tel-Aviv” addresses existing clichés of masculinity and femininity, intending to subvert them through exposure, scrutiny, or simply via recognition. A significant number of transgender artists and drag queens were cast, challenging not only some of the characters’, yet also the audience’s perceptions of gender.

Often witty and utterly sexy, this short film collection ultimately invites you to loosen up and re-examine traditional concepts of “masculine” and “feminine”. 

“THAT’S GILA, THAT’S ME”— My Friend Gila

that's Gila

“THAT’S GILA, THAT’S ME”

My Friend Gila

Amos Lassen

All of us have had people in our lives that we will never forget—Gila Goldstein is one of those in my life. I met Gila early on in the years I spent in Israel and when I spent time in Tel Aviv we had a standing meeting for coffee every afternoon at one of the café’s across from the Tel Aviv city hall very near where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. What I loved about meeting Gila was that nothing was sacred and we would sit and gossip about everyone and everything (unless Gila’s eyed discovered a good looking man—then she would say excuse me and disappear for about an hour and then return, her pockets filled with cash). But that was before she became famous in the movies.

 The film tells the fascinating life story of Gila Goldstein, one of the first Israeli transgender women and a Tel Aviv icon turned living legend. Gila was born as Avraham Goldstein in the 50′s in downtown Haifa.  She was  soccer player for Maccabi Haifa in her youth yet she always knew she was a woman. In her 20′s she moved to Tel Aviv and worked as a prostitute and exotic dancer. In 2003 she was proclaimed the community’s darling for her contribution and continued fight for social justice. The film, shot between 1997 and 2010, describes the world of a woman who is, despite many struggles, still happy, optimistic, and feeling forever young. The film brought back so many memories especially since I have not see Gila since 1989. It’s good to know she is still around.

Alon Weinstock directed this documentary that was released in 2010. 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fhJKNYjQ4g

“THE TOY SOLDIERS”— The Innocence of the Young

the toy soldiers

“The Toy Soldiers”

The Innocence of the Young

Amos Lassen

In just one evening a young man’s innocence is cast aside and a family comes apart. “The Toy Soldiers” is made up of five coming-of-age stories that show us the various stages of grief. There is the youthful mother who finds peace with the bottle. Her ex-husband’s abuse still haunts the children; a nineteen year-old drug addict, and his younger brother, a bullied closet homosexual. There’s the story of the dog and of a teen who offers sexual favors to gain acceptance, the challenged classmate who would do anything for her love, and the redhead beauty, haunted by a secret, tragic past. The lives of these characters and others change forever on this final evening right before The Toy Soldiers Roller Rink that is their hangout, closes its doors for the final time. This is an intense look at the real complexities that are faced by teens and their families. Even though it is set in the 1980s, the issues are relevant today.

Some of the descriptions of the film have included such words as startling, shocking, topical, innovative, controversial, and powerfully courageous.  We find ourselves in a California beach town littered with teen hangouts along a carnival pier. “The Toy Soldiers” takes place primarily in a roller rink/arcade and follows six principal characters whose lives intersect on the final day before their favorite hangout is torn down to be replaced by condos. For the characters, this is the only world they know.

The characters try to express themselves genuinely in a society that is busy trying to understand itself. 

”We see these gut-wrenching stories daily. We watch, we sigh, and then we forget, until we move on to the next You Tube video, where a teen girl gives her final statement before committing suicide in her bedroom. While this is not an easy film to watch, it is a rewarding.

“A Time of Confidences: Novel of Summer” by Jon W. Finson— Summer School in Boulder

a time of confidences

Finson, Jon W. “A Time of Confidences: Novel of Summer”, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; rev. edition, 2014.

Summer School in Boulder

Amos Lassen

Scott Van Met is off to Boulder, Colorado for the summer semester and he discovers the beauty of the place almost immediately. He also discovers David Stoltz who takes him hiking as introduces him to same sex love. We sense the love they feel for each other on every page as Scott is awakened to sexuality he was not aware of. As Scott loves, he learns a great deal about himself as well as about bigotry, hypocrisy, and class distinctions.

The prose here is gorgeous and the descriptions make the reader feel that he is right there in the pages of the novel. The mountains become a metaphor for what the boys feel for each other. This is not just a novel to read but also to savor. I found it difficult to believe that this is Jon Finson’s first novel because of the wonderful way the story unfolds and I can only hope that we will be hearing more from him.

“Here Comes Petrowski, but Where Is Riff?” by Michael Schae— Being True to Oneself

pet

Schae, Monte. “Here Comes Petrowski, but Where Is Riff?”, Wheatmark, 2010.

Being True to Oneself

Amos Lassen

Riff Petrowski knows that he is attracted to other men but he believes that he is straight. But the, Sam Guymon, a handsome guy comes into his life and he helps Riff to accept himself and get over the way he was raised. The problem is that even though Riff can do this, the outside world is not willing to leave the new couple alone to explore their feelings for each other. Then a woman that Riff works with tells him that she is pregnant and one of Riff’s students accuses him of sexual assault. This results in a brutal attack by the police. to a brutal attack by two police officers. The story looks at a guy who learns to accept himself and Riff proves that love outweighs bigotry.

Writer Schae looks at the issues that gay people have to deal with in this country. Even though one of our characters was raised in a home where he is encouraged and accepted, we still see the evil of homophobia and oppression.  

The book is sweet and we look at the important issues of sex, tenderness, mystery, drama, legal and psychological issues as we work our way to an unexpected resolution. The plot is well thought out and even with the twists and turns, we still learn something here.

There is a lot of sexually explicit sex this is a great read for anyone who would like to  understand sexuality. The story is related through the eyes of Riff Petrowski, as he and Sam begin a relationship. The story contrasts the lives of two men with very different family backgrounds. We see what these two men face as they interact with others “first as acquaintances, then as husbands, including family, friends, acquaintances and foes”. The result is a heart-warming story that tears at our hearts. 

“Our Lives Together: Two Men in Love” by Alvin Granowsky— Living Together

our lives together

Granowsky, Alvin. “Our Lives Together: Two Men in Love”, iUniverse, 2014.

Living Together

Amos Lassen

Glen and Keith have been together for four years and their relationship is strong as is their love for each other. But them, Katie Collins returns to their small town outside of Dallas. Her marriage is falling apart and she is pregnant. It is possible that Glen is the father of her child because she went through a treatment at a fertility clinic. Keith does not believe this and he believes that she had sex with Glen and is now hurt and furious. He thinks the reason that Katie has come is to take Glen from him.

Gentry Phillips is the handsome 18-year-old son of a Southern Baptist minister who is in love with his best friend. He is distraught that he is gay because he thinks that being gay is an abomination and that he will have to face God for judgment. He asks Glen, his teacher, for help and this puts Glen as a target for the wrath of Gentry’s father. It just so happens that Katie’s aunt is a strong supporter of Reverend Phillips, Gentry’s father who is violently homophobic. Of course she is upset that Katie has named Glen as the father of her child. Here is the story of a gay couple in small town southern America.

Granowsky has written a beautiful story about living in a place like this where everyone is in each other’s business. As if it is not enough that the characters are beautifully drawn, they are enmeshed in the plot with the themes of love, jealousy, mentoring, bigotry, conservative religious beliefs and courage.

We are all aware of the problems of religion and homosexuality so I cannot say that there is anything new here. However, because the story is so well written, the book is another to add the shelf about gay marriage and lack of acceptance.

“Hotel Pens” by Geoffrey Knight— Relearning to Love

 hotel pens

Knight, Geoffrey. “Hotel Pens”, Wilde City Press, 2014.

Relearning to Love

Amos Lassen

Joe Jordan is a travel writer who has not been to New York to his home ever since he and his boyfriend split. He has just kept traveling staying in hotels and collecting pens. He gets a new assignment that takes him to New York. He is to write an article entitled “5 Ways to Rediscover New York” and he finds that being back is quite difficult. But then he meets Claude Desjardins, a gay romance translator staying in his hotel and with whom he shared an evening of sexual pleasure. He takes Joe on a treasure hunt allover Manhattan and writes clues on Joe’s skin with pens from hotels. who, after a night of near passion, leads Joe on a treasure hunt through Manhattan, writing clues on Joe’s skin using hotel pens. Does this sound silly?—well hold on and I promise you will be glad you did.

The two men actually met at the hotel’s front desk and both men take a hotel pen. Then they meet in the elevator. After Claude wrote a message on Joe’s stomach, everything begins to move quickly. As Claude writes messages on Joe, he sets out to not only explore the city but also to explore Claude. Both Joe and Claude are dealing with the loss of relationships.

I must admit that I have never read a m/m romance novel about pens before but I am certainly glad that I read this one. Everything about the book is near perfect. It is beautifully written , has an excellent plot and the characters are well drawn. We sense Joe’s loneliness at the beginning of the novel and we also feel that he will not have an easy time writing this assignment.

Claude is a romantic Frenchman and in him Joe finds what he thought he might never have again. When Joe learns that Claude is waiting for a guy named Henri to arrive, he is convinced that Claude has a lover. At this point I have to stop telling anything about the plot because I would give too much away. Geoff Knight goes in a different direction with this story. He writes this story as if it is a melodrama and I truly enjoyed every word.

We also get something of a tour of NYC. Claude helps Joe find the places that he needs to write about for his article and we even get to some of the romantic places there. There is also something erotic about writing on the body with stolen pens.

Claude teaches Joe about love and about himself while New York City functions as a backdrop. I would even go as far as to say that the city is actually one of the characters in the story. It is Claude who helps Joe to both rediscover who he is and what New York is.

“The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books” by Nafisi Azar— The Importance of Fiction

the republic of imagination

Nafisi, Azar. “The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books”, Viking, 2014.

The Importance of Fiction

Amos Lassen

Azar Nafisi (“Reading Lolita in Tehran”) met an Iranian immigrant at the signing of one of her books and he told her that “Americans could never appreciate their own literature the way that oppressed Iranians would” and she set out to prove him wrong, Nafisi set out to prove him wrong. In the process she found that Americans are obsessed with the acquisition of things rather than ideas.  As she wrote here she brought memoir and polemic together and created a place known as the “Republic on Imagination” which is a place “where the villains are conformity and orthodoxy and the only passport to entry is a free mind and a willingness to dream”. She tells us how, as a young girl, she discovered American fiction and using four of her favorite novels—Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt and Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Azar reminds us of the crucial role that literature has played in the past. In these four novels she looks at themes  that include everything from the humanities to violence. She criticizes the newly created Common Core Curriculum and how it looks at the purpose of education. Nafisi looks at literary escapism through her favorite American novels. She brings her own personal views to the table and does so with wit and style.

The text is divided into three sections and what we get here is a personal exploration of the American character through its literature. Actually I felt that the book is actually about a look at what it means to the writer to be an American. We see this through her relationship with books as well as her relationship to others expressed through literature.

At its heart, the book is about what it means for Ms. Nafisi to be an American, as discussed through her relation to books, and her relationships with others as expressed through books.

Nafisi takes on the American education system and issues with Common Core standards and acknowledges that the Common Core is a product of the Race to the Top program. In the first and third sections we get a look at her personal view of life. She then shows us how each of her favorite books is connected to memories she has of people who are no longer alive. These people are those she discussed books with.

Nafisi wonderfully explains why reading and literature should be powerful. As an avid reader, I am well aware that literature can change lives and I was instantly reminded here of how Nafisi to Iranian students. They learned that literature liberates  both the hearts and the minds just as it does here in America. The concept of the Republic of Imagination is a magical place that we can go to when we need to escape the reality of chores and routines. It is a democratic place with no boundaries,  and where there are no limitations based on race and/or sexuality, ethnicity, nationality. To enter one must be curious and empathetic. It is there that we see that using the imagination is not a frivolous activity but rather an escape from the dullness we find in life. There is nothing without imagination and if we do not dream than we produce no art. In a world minus art there is really nothing.

Nafisi is a brilliant writer and we are so lucky that she shares her ideas with us. Literature is subversive in that it comes from the imagination and challenges the way things are. Her argument is that we need to reread certain American novels and in doing so become creative and engaging. I would like to believe that I already am since my life is one of books.