Monthly Archives: November 2014

“Snapshots of Dangerous Women” by Peter Cohen— Candid Snapshots

snapshots of dangerous women

Cohen, Peter. “Snapshots of Dangerous Women”, Universe; Gift edition, 2015.

Candid Snapshots

Amos Lassen

Peter Cohen brings us vintage candid snapshots of women enjoying unconventional activities. For over twenty years, “Peter Cohen has been combing estate sales and flea markets collecting vernacular, or “found,” photography taken in the middle part of the twentieth century. In his collection are countless images of women of all ages in various unconventional activities for the time: there are women swigging booze out of a bottle, boxing, playing pick-up football, smoking, or shooting arrows or guns—incongruous and playful behavior, all the while often performed in lovely dresses. Snapshots of Dangerous Women collects many of these period photographs, showcasing women from the thirties, forties, and fifties who are equal parts badass and rebellious, and, above all, clearly having a lot of fun. This charming book makes the ideal gift for the bold and free-spirited women in our lives”.

The book will be available in March, 2015.

“Hollywood Gomorrah” by Skip E. Lowe— Old Hollywood: A Personal Look

hollywood

Lowe, Skip E. “Hollywood Gomorrah”, Create Space, 2014.

Old Hollywood: A Personal Look

Amos Lassen

Skip E. Lowe shares with us his memories of growing up in Hollywood as well as telling us about his world travels as an entertainer and mixing with A-listers. What we get is a lot of sex and a look at the stars when they are not in front of the cameras.

We follow Lowe’s adventures through the glory of early Hollywood, New York, Europe, multiple wars, decades of globetrotting, and non-stop sexual adventures. We read of his friends such as Paul Bowles, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams; we are with Lowe when he was buying produce for Marlon Brando, showered with James Dean, crashed with Barbara Hutton in Tangiers and cooked for Troy Donahue (just to give a few examples). Lowe partied, sheltered, and jumped in bed with the best of them. At times what we read is shocking while at times it is sensitive and painful.

This is a personal memoir and it is certainly not a collection of scandalous revelations. Lowe takes us through vaudeville to Viet Nam and back to Hollywood and we feel how he does about his experiences. He finds joy in life and we certainly do as well as we read.

“EASTERN BOYS”—- A Love Story and a Thriller

Eastern-Boys-Quad

“Eastern Boys”

A Love Story and a Thriller  

In Eastern Boys, Daniel cruises the Gare du Nord where Eastern European Boys hang out. One afternoon he plucks up his courage to speak to Marek, one of the boys and invites him to his home. However, next day when the doorbell rings, Daniel hasn’t the faintest idea that he has fallen into a trap. (Just a little teaser)

“IN THEIR ROOM”— Triptych of Intimate and Explicit Films from Travis Mathews

in their room

“In Their Room”

Triptych of Intimate and Explicit Films from Travis Mathews

Travis Mathews has gained a lot of attention for his film “I Want Your Love” and his collaboration with James Franco, Interior Leather Bar. However the first thing that put him on many people’s radar was his In The Room project, which started as a set of individual looks at gay men in San Francisco, filmed in their bedroom, before those were edited together into a single longer documentary.

The success o the film about San Francisco led to follow-ups, with the action moving to Berlin and then London. Although they’ve had plenty of acclaim and have screened at numerous film festivals, they still haven’t been seen by that many people. Now they have been brought together and will be released on DVD in the UK on December 8th and soon afterwards in the United States.

Each of the three films features footage of a variety of gay men in their rooms, talking about their lives, hopes and dreams, and also a lot about their relationship with sex and what they want in guys. It’s incredibly intimate and as Travis has become known for, some of it is extremely explicit.

“Peter Paul and Mary: Fifty Years in Music and Life” by Peter, Paul and Mary– A Beautiful Tribute to Beautiful People

peter paul and mary

Peter, Paul and Mary. “Peter Paul and Mary: Fifty Years in Music and Life”, Imagine/Peter Yarrow, 2014.

A Beautiful Tribute to Beautiful People

Amos Lassen

I have been waiting for this book to be published for a long time and it was well worth the wait. Here we get to see and read the intimate story of Peter, Paul, and Mary and their music, through their own words and with images that follow their fifty-years together. There are thousands of photographs which taken over the trio’s long career from the 1960s. They were one of the groups that reintroduced folk music to the world and they struggled with and fought for racial equality, social justice, and freedom. They were part of the 1963 March on Washington; they actively advocated the end of the Vietnam War, they sang to begin the anti-nuke movement. They sang with great conviction and they became the soundtrack of the lives of many. Here are Peter, Paul and Mary unmasked, as we have never seen them before.

Peter, Paul and Mary became stars of the 1960s folk music boom, and had enduring hits with their covers of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and songs of their own like “Puff the Magic Dragon.” We lost Mary in 2009.

If we count the years correctly this year would have been their 54th year together. As friends and as performers they were very close and they never did a thing as a trio that all three didn’t agree on. We finally agreed on this book. Mary in absentia, mostly, “though much of her writings contributed to the text, as well as our recollections of conversations and attitudes.”

 The book opens with a preface that is made on two-page spread and what follows is history of group told by numerous (I mean hundreds) of photos from their beginnings in Greenwich Village. In the end there are four pages reserved for each group member, useful index and page on which credits are written. This book is a treasure and reading it made me feel like I was in the room with them. I could not ask for more than that.

“Rebels Rebel: AIDS, Art and Activism in New York, 1979-1989” by Tommaso Speretta— Art and AIDS

rebels

Speretta, Tommaso. “Rebels Rebel: AIDS, Art and Activism in New York, 1979-1989”, AsaMER, 2014.

Art and AIDS

Amos Lassen

Tommaso Speretta takes a good look at the history of AIDS activism undertaken by various artistic collectives in New York between 1979 and 1989. These include “Gran Fury (who scandalized the 1990 Venice Biennale with their billboards juxtaposing the pope and his anti-contraception stance with a two-foot high penis), the Silence = Death Project (who appropriated and inverted the Nazis’ pink triangle), Gang and DIVA TV. The collectives addressed concrete social problems by using unconventional media, and by doing this they helped shift the public and political perception of the AIDS crisis.” This book is very important to the history of the LGBT movement and we have here a great deal of material and many different perspectives on one of the most tragic period in American history.

Here is a look at where art overlaps activism and sociopolitical and art-historical views and the reflections that we gained then and now once again are important to understanding gay American life.

The collectives created radical art that called for and, in effect, demanded social change in New York City during the period from 1979 to 1989.demanding social change in New York 1979-1989. These collectives used language and techniques gleaned from the advertising agencies of Madison Avenue.

Some of their campaigns became very famous – just think about Act Up’s “SILENCE = DEATH” posters. A lot of the artwork was thought to be lost but this book has most of them. There were, for example, a deck of Aids-themed playing cards that addressed twenty-four areas of government inaction around the pandemic, with one showing a collection of alarm clocks alongside the text “U.S. Spends more in 5 hours on Defense than 5 years on Healthcare.” There was a subway poster by Richard Deagle that has a portrait of then New York City mayor Ed Koch with the words “10,000 New York City Aids Deaths, How’m I Doin?”. There was also a magazine ad by GRAN FURY from 1989 that shows a scientist working in a laboratory with this despicable quote from a pharmaceutical executive, “One million [people with Aids] isn’t a market that’s exciting. Sure it’s growing but it’s no asthma.” This book is a celebration of the power of such work, with its bold and straightforward graphic design and its important role of informing the public and changing popular opinion, as well as shaming government into doing its job.

The history of the anti-AIDS activist movements in 1980s America is one that many know little or nothing of especially outside of this country. The younger generations of gay men still do not know the stories and they need to. We are not told here how to see art as activism but rather we can give critical reflections on the role that artists and the art world system have had in the past during periods of political and cultural instability and to investigate their historical echoes and cultural legacy. We now know how much influence they had. The collectives used here (ACT UP, Gran Fury and Group Material) do not trace a comprehensive history of activist art, rather they are examples that can lead us “to identify, examine and reappraise the artistic inventions and interventions of activist art collectives that helped reformulate society’s priorities and demands”.

The focus here is on activist art as a potent manifestation of public art, through which artists and art practice can shape and change society. Group Material and Gran Fury’s struggled with questioning art’s capacity for rebellion, subversion and social dynamism, and to reach out to a wider audience that exists beyond the circles of just connoisseurs of art. connoisseurs. Activism has been used to organize communities and we see here that it can come from the world of art.

“Blackmail, My Love” by Katie Gilmartin— A Murder, a Mystery and a Secret History

blackmail my love

Gilmartin, Katie. “Blackmail, My Love”, Cleis Press, 2014.

 A Murder, a Mystery and a Secret History

Amos Lassen

Katie Gilmartin takes us to San Francisco in 1951 where we learn that Josie O’Conner’s gay brother, Jimmy, is missing. Jimmy is a private detective who was investigating a blackmail ring that had targeted the LGBT community. Some of his friends maintain that just before he disappeared he became a rat and informed the cops about the bar community’s “nascent resistance” to raids, graft and brutality. Josie is determined to clear her brother’s name, get justice for the large number of dead and stop the blackmailers. She sets out to do so.

As she works, Josie meets a chanteuse who runs a lesbian bar and a madam with red hair with whom she becomes intimate who happens to run a brothel from the police personnel department.. She also manages to team up and conspire with the star of Finocchio’s, a real dive bar tat is so bad that soldiers are not allowed to go there.

While this is essentially a mystery it is a bit more than that. We learn of the San Francisco that once was and we see that Gilmartin brings fiction and nonfiction together here. Some of the locations were once real and I am sure that west coast people will recognize what is being written about. To give you an idea of what you are in for when you read this is just to give you a look at some of the cast of characters. We have a troubled private eye on an urgent and personal mission, glamorous dames and drag queens and brutal corrupt cops to name just a few.

The prose is gorgeous and the book is a linguistic pleasure. We are back at San Francisco’s Tenderloin District where we find corrupt blackmailers, rough cops, intrepid gays and this is set before the Stonewall riots. Reading this is like taking a vacation in a different time. To make the book even more interesting and exciting, the author has provided illustrations as she resurrects our history.

“Immaculate Blue” by Paul Russell— Advance Notice about Four People

immaculate blue

Russell, Paul. “Immaculate Blue: A Novel”, Cleis Press, 2014.

Advance Notice about Four People

Amos Lassen

Paul Russell is a wonderful writer—his prose sings. In “Immaculate Blue”, his newest novel, we follow the lives of four people—Anatole, Leigh, Chris, and Lydia. We are with them as they deal with their intermingled and unwinding desires. The novel is set in upstate New York and it is so interesting to read about a place that is not regularly featured n the gay canon. The characters have a lot on their plates (from loss to hope to humor to sadness to union and to alienation). Russell wrote about these characters in “The Salt Point” and now we are back to them some twenty years later. Now he follows their lives and some of them have not heard from each other and also lost their ways. The novel moves, shocks and shakes the reader and we see that personal and political come together in ways we could not expect.

“Out There: An Anthology of Scottish LGBT Writing” edited by Zoe Strachan— A Look at Gay Scotland

out there

Strachan, Zoe (editor). “Out There: An Anthology of Scottish LGBT Writing”, Freight Books, 2014.

 A Look at Gay Scotland

Amos Lassen

Here in the United States we really know nothing of gay life in other places and Scotland is one of those places. I do not recall ever reading anything about gay Scotland but now we do have this wonderful anthology of Scottish writers. There are twenty-four selections here and together they give us a peek at twenty-first century Scottish gay life. The selections are by Scotland’s leading and emerging gay writers. “The collection includes the likes of Ali Smith, whose The Accidental was nominated for the Man Booker and Orange Prizes, and winner of Whitbread Novel of the Year; Louise Welsh, whose The Cutting Room was nominated for the Orange Prize and won the Creasey Dagger; Jackie Kay, winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize and shortlisted for PEN/Ackerley and Costa prizes; Ronald Frame, author of Havisham; Toni Davidson, author of Scar Culture; and many exciting new voices.”

There is something here for everyone—there are pieces that provoke, make us think, move us and give us insight.

“Behind God’s Back” by Harri Nykanen— Book Two of the Ariel Kafka Series

 Unknown

Nykanen, Harri. “Behind God’s Back”, translated by Kristian London, Bitter Lemon Press, 2014.

Book Two of the Ariel Kafka Series

Amos Lassen

Ariel Kafka is a Jewish police inspector from Finland and is the hero of this mystery series. Kafka is a pursuer of truth and he has to deal with international intrigue and high-level corruption. The book follows Ariel Kafka’s pursuit of the truth regarding the murder of a fellow Jew. I find it very interesting that there are Jews in Finland and I am sure that there are many other readers who are also surprised by this literary tidbit. Making this book all the more interesting is the look at the Helsinki’s Jewish community in Finland. In fact, the Jewish community actually becomes a character in the story.

Kafka is one of the two Jewish cops in Helsinki and he is a lieutenant in the Violent Crime Unit. He identifies himself as a policeman first, then a Finn, and lastly a Jew. Kafka is something like the twice a year Jews that we are familiar with and I sue that as something of a metaphor for the non-observant Jews all over the world.

Kafka is so dedicated to his career that he is actually willing t put his life on the line for it. This is probably also the reason that he never married—his career comes before anything else. (I would love to see how he dealt with the Fergusson case in St. Louis). As he begins his investigation of the murder of a Jewish businessman, He realizes that it is surrounded by very dark happenings— Neo-Nazi violence, intergenerational intrigue and shady loans. He uses predictable lines of investigation and these lead him to some totally unpredictable culprits. But then a second killing happens closer to home, and the Finnish Security Police come knocking. We learn that the Mossad from Israel also has something to do with the dark occurrences in Helsinki and before long Kafka must deal with the greatest intelligence organization in the world.

By bringing together Finland, a mystery and a Jew, we get a whole other look at the country. We see professional responsibility clash with Jewish themes and we get the benefit for an exciting and well-written novel.