Monthly Archives: October 2014

“THE HO– USE ON GARIBALDI STREET”— Finding Eichmann

the hiuse on garibaldi street

“The House On Garibaldi Street”

Finding Eichmann

Amos Lassen

When the book of the same name as the movie written by Isser Harel came out, I was living in Israel and as I read it in Hebrew, I devoured and savored every word. Then it was made into a movie directed by Peter Collinson and starring Topol, Nick Mancuso, Martin Balsam, Leo McKern (as David Ben-Gurion), Charles Gray, John Cater, Edward Judd, Gareth Hunt and Alfred Burke as Adolph Eichmann. The movie is true to the book—it was made as a docudrama about Israel’s tracking down, capture and smuggling out of Argentina one of the architects of the Final Solution, SS Colonel Adolph Eichmann.

The film is straightforward, factual and well acted by one of a great casts of familiar faces. A tip was received by Israeli Intelligence about a man in Buenos Aires that could be ” Adolph Eichmann” one of the most involved in the mass genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Eichmann escaped and few clues were found where he was. The Mossad/ Israeli Intelligence looked in Argentina for Eichmann who had just moved to a new address. Using tips and clues they ended up at Garibaldi Street and set up surveillance. The man they were watching was indeed Adolf Eichmann. The team immediately set up three safe houses and a clever plot to take Eichmann back to Israel to stand trial after they successfully kidnapped him. But his lack of remorse and slanted Nazi views had the agents wanting to finish him off before a public trial in Jerusalem.

The truth is that I had expected so much more from the fine cast so I can only imagine that the producers felt that if the movie was to be timely it had to be made right away. Unfortunately that hurt the film.

“Dear Darwish’ by Morani Kornberg-Weiss— An Israeli Poet on Palestine

dear darwish

Kornberg-Weiss, Morani. “Dear Darwish”, BlazeVoxBooks, 2013.

An Israeli Poet on Palestine

Amos Lassen

Morani Kornberg Weiss bravely takes on writing poems about Palestine— history, land and literature. Kornberg-Weiss begins by an engagement with one of the most recognized voices in Palestinian literature, Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish once wrote, This is forgetfulness: that you remember the past / and not remember tomorrow in the story” and he wrote it as a warning. Now Kornberg-Weiss addresses the other in perfect awareness of history—that there may be no answer, no personal reconciliation. Nonetheless she continues into the past but not to settle accounts. Rather she wants us to understand what just might be the future. I believe she is trying to say that if both sides can read each other’s literature, it will not be that difficult to have peace. None of us can be silent any longer because silence will not protect us. Actual communication is a necessity yet there is so much to be careful of if and when we talk. “Listen to me and I will be able to understand myself” says the poet and as you understand who I am and I understand who you are, I will learn who you are to me, and who you are as an independent being. But how? Language is not always the answer and we must get through the failure to talk to each other.

 Kornberg-Weiss begins the hard work for us here in her book of poems, “Dear Darwish” beginning with our desires for conflict. Her poetry cuts through the many challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian history.

She cannot open what is right and what is wrong but she can tell is what they are. Her persona does so without intent and we see that what is fearful about freedom does not evolve from what one chooses. We must consider what following orders really means and see that responsibility, country, God and duty are not enough to blindly accept and use. We cannot hope for anything through one-way communication. Engaging with Palestinian poet Darwish might be just the way to see peace as a process. Darwish’s poems are hard to find there days because they give a voice to how citizens can be implicated by what is no longer easily dismissed as ‘outsider conflict.

Morani Kornberg-Weiss came across the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish by chance as a “voice from the other side” and it was as if Darwish, himself, spoke to her from a great distance away. Then she began to speak back. This is the result of that— a book of poems that is part reader-response, part self-interrogation, Kornberg-Weiss tries to avoid the rhetoric of political conflict and she goes to the places where Darwish’s language comes together with her and then separates. Sometimes she takes Darwish’s words as they are. Then there are own works as they stand-alone. In one of the sections she uses the liturgy of Yom Kippur and we see a fictional exchange between two poets.

“Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity” by Robert Beachy— Berlin and the Creation of Gay Identity

gay berlin

Beachy, Robert. “Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity”, Knopf, 2014.

Berlin and the Creation of Gay Identity

Amos Lassen

 In “Gay Berlin”, Robert Benchley gives us “an unprecedented examination of the ways in which the uninhibited urban sexuality, sexual experimentation, and medical advances of pre-Weimar Berlin created and molded our modern understanding of sexual orientation and gay identity”. As early as the 1850s, Berlin was known for its attitude toward “warm brothers” (a German slang term for homosexuals). Before the dawn of the twentieth century Berlin was home to scholars, activists and many in the medical profession. It was a place for education and it provided a wonderful learning ground for studying human sexual identities.

We meet Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German activist described by some as the first openly gay man and we learn of the world of Berlin’s vast homosexual subcultures, of a major sex scandal that enraptured the daily newspapers and shook the court of Emperor William II and of some of the very first sex reassignment surgeries. Some of these have been long forgotten but now Robert Beachy uncovers the long-forgotten events and characters and we see that they continue to shape and influence the way we think of sexuality today.

We might subtitle this book as a look at forgotten firsts and these include the work of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, who was the first to claim (in 1896) that same-sex desire is an immutable, a biologically determined characteristic. Hirschfeld is the founder of the Institute for Sexual Science. Though raided and closed down by the Nazis in 1933, the institute served as, among other things, “a veritable incubator for the science of tran-sexuality,” scene of one of the world’s first sex reassignment surgeries. This is a fascinating, surprising, and informative read and a welcome addition to the LGBT canon as we look at Berlin and this book as a foundational cultural examination of human sexuality.

“Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus” by Rachel Lee Smith— A Photographic Essay

speaking out

Smith, Rachel Lee. “Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus”, PM Press, 2014.

A Photographic Essay

Amos Lassen

Rachel Lee Smith brings us a photographic essay of LGBTQ youth as they speak openly of who they are. They share their experiences through handwritten text and imagery. The stories were gathered over a ten-year period and the book evolved from a project on gallery walls. We see the perspectives of a diverse group of young people, ages 14–24, identifying as queer (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning). Here are portraits minus judgments or stereotypes. This was achieved by eliminating environmental influence with a stark white backdrop that acts as a blank canvas, where each subject’s personal thoughts are handwritten onto the final photographic print. There are more than 65 portraits and, the book “provides rare insight into the passions, confusions, prejudices, joys, and sorrows felt by queer youth” and at the same time it gives a voice to an underserved group of people that are rarely heard and often silenced. Using the image and first person narratives, we get a new kind of outlet that shows support, create a dialogue, and helps those who struggle. Candace Gingrich wrote the foreward and Graeme Taylor  gives the afterword.

 Here is what others are saying:

“These are portraits of a revolution. Photographer Rachelle Lee Smith gives lesbian and gay youth an outlet to speak for themselves. Simple, yet powerful photos of queer youth speak reams.”  —Advocate

Speaking OUT gives voices to queer youth, one snapshot at a time.” —Marcie Bianco, mic.com

“THE DISGUSTINGS”— Two Gay Guys Who Hate Everything

the disgustings

“The Disgustings”

Two Gay Guys Who Hate Everything

There’s a stereotype of bitchy gay people who tear everyone around them down just to make themselves feel better and try to get people to ignore their own deficiencies. Unfortunately it’s a stereotype that many of us are well aware is grounded in some truth, usually coming from the more myopic and insecure wing of the gay community (and many more of us on certain occasions).

Now there is a new short film that takes on and skewers the trash talkers, “The Disgustings”. It stars  Drew Droege and writer/director/star Jordan Firstman.  Firstman explains, “I had been friends with Drew since I moved to L.A. and we’ve been in so many situations where we’ve seen the true definition of garbage people saying and doing horrible things. I think we have a power where we just attract crazy people. So I decided to write about it. And to be honest — sometimes we were the horrible people. Not all the time, but sometimes. So I wrote it as an homage to the crazies and an apology on behalf of the worst parts of my personality.”

“Out in the Dark” by Patrick Modiano— Two Drifters in Love

out in the dark

Modiano, Patrick. “Out of the Dark” ( “Du Plus Loin De L’Oubli” ), Jordan Stump (Translator), University of Nebraska Press, 1998).
Two Drifters in Love
Amos Lassen

Evidently the University of Nebraska Press knew something way ahead of time when they published “Out of the Dark” in 1998 by Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature. This is a moody, expertly rendered tale of a love affair between two drifters.

The novel begins in 1995 and then flashes back some thirty years to a time when the narrator abandoned his studies and sold off old art books to get by. He meets and gets to know Gérard Van Bever and Jacqueline, a young, mysterious couple who seem to live off roulette winnings. He falls in love with Jacqueline and they run off to England together. They share a few sad, aimless months but then she disappears. Fifteen years later, in Paris, they meet again. Their reunion recalls the haunting inaccessibility of the past. They spend a few hours together, and the next day, Jacqueline, now married, disappears again. Almost fifteen years after that, he sees her yet again, this time from a distance but he chooses not to bridge it.

Modiano looks at themes of love and loss in this novel. Set in Paris and London, the story unfolds in simple dreamlike sequences. The narrator looks back at himself and Jacqueline and concludes: “We had no real qualities, except the one that youth gives to everyone for a very brief time, like a vague promise that will never be kept.” This is the story of life lived within a dream, and there is a motionless quality, as if Paris and London are not quite real. The unlived lives, the dreams of escape, the use of drugs, the constant appearance and disappearance of people without explanation, the spare symbolic imagery have become staples of Modiano. This is his fourteenth book and those who read him regularly recognize the themes immediately. The author’s lucid prose carries the reader into his hermetic world that is smoothly translated by Jordan Stump, the narrative offers an accessible introduction to Modiano’s work. The novel is poignant, strange, delicate, melancholy, and sadly hilarious. At times it is almost elegiac in tone.

“THE END OF CRUISING”— Finding Each Other

the end of cruising


”The End of Cruising”

Finding Each Other

Amos Lassen

Let me start off my saying that I am a huge Todd Verow fan even when he makes gritty and realistic movies. I think that is because he dares to go where others will not. This new documentary is typical Verow—bold and graphic and it is meant only for mature viewers.Today we live in an age of technology that has changed the way we meet each other or shall I say, cruise each other. In fact I am not sure that the word cruising even exists anymore. I remember the good old days in New Orleans when people cruised each other on the street and it was not strange at all to meet someone while mailing a letter or just strolling down the street.

the end of cruising2

“The End of Cruising” is a stimulating anthology documentary of 22 short films that celebrate the pleasures gay men had finding places for anonymous sexual activity. Eloquent voice-over narrators tells their stories longingly and with fond memories of how the simple act of cruising played such an important part in the way they grew sexually. They reflect on the experience of having private sex in public places – from furtive, but knowing glances on the street to anonymous assignations in toilets, parks and on beaches. Verow’s films are always intense and that is why he has never been shy about showing and celebrating transgressive sexuality—we have seen it before in some of his other films.

Today if someone wants to have sex all he has to do is log on to the Internet, connect to a site and there it is. The bar scene has died quickly but it was once very different. In this film, Verow remembers a time when cruising areas provided instant gratification. There were public toilets, woods, highway rest areas, parks and cruising could be subtle or wild. Verow has taken the testimonies, most of which are anonymous and gives them to us in voiceovers by different narrators. This is quite a cinematic experience and very exciting and I am sure we will all remember how it once was.

the end of cruising1

It is a bygone time but memories will come back to us and no doubt this will be nostalgic for many. We have now won the right to be who we are but Todd Verow tells us that “When you win something, we always lose another.” In most Western countries, gays can now live their sexuality freely, without having to hide. They can live their love, consider getting married, or just have sex while online for just a few moments. Now instead of seeing people face to face we exchange electronic photos and impersonality reigns.

end of cruising 4

“The End of Cruising” reminds us that all is not necessarily great. In the old days we risked being arrested and having our names in the newspaper. So there was a price to pay as well. We get here a whirlwind ride through a time that was and probably never will be again so it is definitely worth remembering.

“Boy At the Screen Door” by Bruce Spang— Meditations on Life

boy at the screen door

Spang, Bruce. “Boy At the Screen Door” , Moon Pie Press, 2014.

Meditations on Life

Amos Lassen

The beauty of men together is the theme of “Boy at the Screen Door”, a collection of poetry by Bruce Spang. It is also a celebration of love and how it affects our lives. I do not know the author or anything about him but I sense that he is passionate about life and love as well as to understand. I read a lot of poetry and I have remarked several times in the recent past that we seem to be in a new period in which gay poetry is making a comeback. Just this past week I attended a reading by three new gay poets who had a great deal to say about how we live so I was fully prepared to undertake this book. However, what I was not prepared for was how much it knocked me flat.
The beauty of poetry is that we can say in it what we cannot say in prose because we are allowed to show emotions in poetry. I was taken back to the days of my youth and the infatuations that were part of me. Youth dares to question and to feel new experiences that as we get older become more foreign to us. We take being human for granted and it is only when we reach a level of maturation that we allow ourselves to think about what it means to be a man and to be human.

“I am trying to make up my mind

 

when the priest nudges me and says

“I’m not much for miracles, but I do

like watching those who are.””

The poems are about life and reading them takes us to life and Spang takes us through all of the emotions we experience from love to remorse, from sensitivity to hurt, from negative to affirmative and he does so in great style. I suppose I could give examples of all of this but I would rather that you have a look for yourself.

I came upon this book by accident when reading a magazine and I was feeling like I needed some poetry in my life before the winter locks us in for a few months. I want to be able to remember when we could go and enjoy life without bundling up against the elements. Spang is a poet who can take us from amusement to solemnity, from sadness to joy by using his carefully selected words. For me, sheer relaxation is sitting down with a volume of good poems and that is what I got here. There is something about the lyricism of poetry (even when it is a dirge or a lament that just makes me feel good) and that is what Spang has done for me today.

“BIG GAY LOVE”— Looking For and Finding Love

big gay love

“Big Gay Love”

Looking for and Finding Love

Amos Lassen

Bob seems to have it all—a good job, great friends and he is getting ready to buy his first home. He has one problem though and that is that he is chubby. Everyone loves him but no one desires him and he feels the devastating effect of today’s physique-obsessed culture. When he does fine “true love” in Andy, a chef, he has doubts that the relationship is really real. After all, he has been living insecurely for a long time and it has gotten the best of him. He wants to have the kind of body that everyone wants and even considers surgery but he knows he wants something more than a change in physical appearance.

Now I must admit that this is a really cute idea for a movie and writer/director knows what he wants to say but is not sure how to do that. The end result is enjoyable but it could have been so much more. It starts fine but loses traction along the way.

Most of the problem here is Bob (Jonathan Lisecki), a nice, friendly, self-deprecating party planner who is convinced that with his chubby physique and average looks, that he’ll never find what he calls his “big gay love.” That is, however, until handsome chef and promising author Andy (Nicholas Brendon) shows interest, and we are off on a cinematic adventure.

Andy and Bob must get through some weak and contrived obstacles early on in their relationship. Director Le presses on with a series of scenes that largely involve Bob’s subsequent pity party. Bob considers liposuction, his friends Chase (Phong Truong) and Aidan (Todd Stroik) are no help and neither is his annoying but spirited mother, Betty (Ann Walker). Then, almost surprise, there is a dream sequence that leads to reality that convoluted.

The main problem that I had with the film was that I did not see Bob as the ugly and fat guy that he thinks he is and Andy is not the Apollo that we are supposed to think that he is. But then that just might be what the director is trying to say. I suppose that this is the story of an overweight gay man learning to love himself through being loved. The director added some complications and obstacles unfortunately with no subtlety. However, the characters’ dialogue narrates it all. I was hooping that things would turn better but they didn’t and the pity is that there is so much potential here. Nonetheless, as it is, it is fun but like I said could have been so much more.

“NOT ANOTHER CELEBRITY MOVIE”—- A New Kind of Spoof

not another celebrity movie

“Not Another Celebrity Movie”

A New Kind of Spoof

Amos Lassen

Director Emilio Ferrari brings us a new kind of spoof film with what I understand is the largest celebrity cast for a movie made on the smallest production budget ever filmed. The cast portrays the biggest icons in show business, themselves.

The film parodies “Oceans 11” with a celebrity look-alike cast. Charlie Sheen hires Brad Pitt, George Clooney and eight other celebrities to kidnap Justin Bieber while he is doing a concert in Las Vegas. Charlie Sheen who is down on his luck has been living with porn stars since his affair with Paris Hilton (who?) fell apart and he has been replaced by Ashton Kutcher on his television show. Johnny Depp brings him new drug to try but instead of feeling the effect, Sheen suddenly realizes that he is obsessed with Justin Bieber. (Now this is sick). What makes this interesting is that Sheen has only seen Bieber on television but somehow he thinks that the bieb is his illegitimate son. He tries to get to him but Bieb’s manager, Usher, puts a restraining order on him and, in affect, forces Sheen to give up—but Sheen is too clever for that.

He “hears about Bieber ‘s upcoming concert at the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Things get complicated when Charlie and the team realize Paris Hilton is dating Usher and the Beiber is not actually performing on stage but inside the casino vault with an hologram displaying his every move on stage. Charlie turns to Oceans 11 heroes Brad Pitt and George Clooney and along with their help, hires a team including Lady Gaga, Robert DeNiro, Tom Cruise, Mark Zuckerberg, Angelina Jolie, Kanye West and finally Donald Trump , to pull off an elaborate heist to kidnap Bieber”. (Are you still following this?)

The movie was filmed on location in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and it is a very funny film that features over twenty celebrity look-alikes in “the roles of their lifetimes”.