Monthly Archives: March 2015

“LARRY KRAMER IN LOVE AND ANGER”— Author, Activist, Playwright and Academy Award Winner

larry-kramer

“Larry Kramer in Love and Anger”

Author, Activist, Playwright and Academy Award Winner

Amos Lassen

Larry Kramer is a hero and a legend—an author, a screenwriter, a playwright, a gay activist and a man who believes in good. He is one of the most important and controversial figures in contemporary gay America, He shows his outrage and his grief and he inspired an entire generation that we might have lost to fight for their lives. Now he is 78 and he commands our attention and is revered and reviled by many. He is outspoken–some say that he is insanely enraged and he used his anger for the gay civil rights movement and also to stop the deaths from AIDS. His life is one of saying what he thinks without regard for whom it might hurt. He was a one-band man and we see that throughout this documentary. While AIDS was ravaging our community, Kramer condemned the promiscuity that once seemed to be a part of the way we lived. His book “Faggots” that was meant to be a satire of gay life was often (and still is) thought to be an act of self-hatred even though he meant it to be a reflection of our behavior at the time.

Director Jean Carlomusto shows us just how alone he was by interviewing Kramer’s co-workers and community members who now forget about how it was and regale Kramer for his bravery and fortitude at a time when the future looked bleak (or if we even had a future). Kramer saw “homosexuality as condemned by overt sexualisation.” We have to think about why gay men consistently are considered more promiscuous than heterosexuals? Why does the status quo accept a lifestyle encapsulated by, as Kramer spits, “asses and dicks”?

The film is really about looking at the original issues and the politics of sexuality—it is about us knowing who and where we are and how poorly we were treated as a community at the height of the AIDS plague (Kramer does not use the word epidemic—it was much worse than that, he says). The film reminds us that Kramer was at the forefront of trying to save lives as he battled his own HIV/AIDS diagnosis. I wish we could have seen a bit more of him.

The documentary was made with love and respect for Larry Kramer and it consists of photographs, public appearances, interviews and so on and we get to meet an iconic hero of our community. The film will be aired on HBO in June.

“TAKE ME TO THE RIVER”— A Long-Buried Family Secret

take me to the river

“Take Me to the River”

A Long-Buried Family Secret

Amos Lassen

Matt Sobel’s first feature is absolutely fascinating. It is the story of a gay teenager Ryder (Logan Miller) who is out to his free-thinking, California parents—but not to the backwater Nebraskan extended family he’s about to meet. He comes dress to the reunion wearing yellow wayfarers, a deep V-neck and red short shorts and we see immediately that he does not fit in with his redneck relatives, and especially not with his uncle (Josh Hamilton), the beady-eyed family patriarch who always seems upset about something.

During the picnic that turns highly dysfunctional, Molly (Ursula Parker), Ryder’s 9 year-old-cousin takes a liking to him and his drawings. The young girls of the family love Ryder. This just exacerbates the Nebraska family’s freakish perception of him. It is not long before Ryder finds himself the target of a witch-hunt and is exiled to an abandoned cottage on the family’s property. This is not clearly explored in the script so we do not know if Ryder did or did not molest her. As night falls Ryder goes to the rundown and remote guesthouse and when he awakens the next day he is thrown into something of a whirlpool of Kafkaesque misunderstandings and strange interactions with his family. His mother (Robin Weigert) who once doted on him now mysteriously uses a southern dialect and speaks about alfalfa against the sunset and using out-of-character idioms like “pop” for soda and “supper” for dinner. She seems to have lost sanity and her behavior is not human. We learn that there are long hidden family secrets afoot, but we do not learn what they are about. There is a sense of dread but we do not know why. Sobel has polarized his audience and when we reach the final third of the film there are more questions than answers.

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Secrets and denial have serious consequences in “Take Me to the River” and even though this film is set in Nebraska, this familiar problem is certainly not limited to Cornhuskers or Midwesterners. There are some things that need to be discussed and explained openly, especially among family, no matter how uncomfortable or painful. Pretending everything is normal simply does not make the secret disappear. The longer these secrets are there and grow, the worse the eventual impact will be. Whether the motivation is self-preservation or to protect others, running away is never a viable solution.

Sobel’s leaves important details up to the viewer’s imagination, allowing us to come to our own conclusions. When the closing credits appear, it is still unclear as to what just happened, which is precisely how Ryder must feel as he drives away with his parents.

The film certainly presents a potent blend of puberty, sexuality and conservative values and the story represents a seminal moment in Ryder’s coming-of-age, which could be interpreted as a baptism into adulthood; though rather than being cleansed with water, Ryder ends up with mud on his chest.

Sobel’s observations have a personal edge– the film is shot partly on his own extended family’s Nebraskan property as it builds to a place of nightmarish psychosexual revelations. Ryder wants to proudly assert his sexual identity but his mother is more aware of her family’s conservatism and it is her preference for Ryder to conceal his sexuality for his own protection. The complicated bond between mother and her only son is a very compelling central element of the story that is touchingly and sensitively portrayed by Weigert’s intuitive performance.

The family dynamics are an interesting contrast of generational values, in part due to the ensemble cast. The movie deals in open secrets, implications, and unsettling histories; a sense of alienation haunts virtually every scene. The film is hypnotic even when not much happens. Sobel manages to penetrate Ryder’s interior state with constant focus. We watch, we observe and we go to the reunion that becomes an emotional disaster as the film presents a new perspective on family secrets.

 

“THE D TRAIN”— Class Reunion

the d train

“The D Train”

Class Reunion

Amos Lassen

With his 20th reunion looming, Dan feels his high school insecurities. In hope to prove he’s changed, he rekindles a friendship with the popular guy from his class and is left scrambling to protect more than just his reputation when a wild night takes an unexpected turn.

One of the new trends in film lately has been what are referred to as “bromances” but “The D Train” takes the theme to a whole new level. Dan Landsman (Black) is one of those guys who just tries too hard, and it really gets on the nerves of most people, especially those on the high school alumni committee who are having trouble rounding up people to attend the 20-year reunion. Dan keeps giving himself nicknames like D-Fresh, and is controlling with the high school reunion’s Facebook page password. Things like that atop the old gang from inviting him out for drinks. His wife (Kathryn Hahn) clearly feels sorry for him, because his lack of confidence and social life has turned him into a poor source of inspiration for their teenage son.

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But Landsman has a plan that will make him a hero in the eyes of his peers when he notices that former classmate Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) is in a Banana Boat suntan lotion commercial. Immediately thinking Lawless is a Hollywood hotshot, he believes if Lawless attends the reunion, it will get the rest of the class on board. Dan makes up a fake business deal to get his old-fashioned technological impaired boss Bill (Jeffrey Tambor) to let him go to California, just so he can convince Lawless to go to the reunion.

The real comedy starts with Bill accompanying Dan on the fake business trip at the last minute and we become immediately aware of just how poor and destructive of a plan D-Money has crafted. Black makes for the perfect ingratiating townie while Marsden steals the movie as just the right amount of Hollywood schnook. He is not really a successful actor— he lives in a dumpy one bedroom apartment and even though the fake plan that results in Lawless posing as an interested business partner is funny on its own, the surprising development of Dan and Lawless’ relationship is what takes movie so much fun.

After a night of partying in Los Angeles, which includes heavy drinking and some cocaine and weed, Dan crashes at Lawless’ place, where the two end the night with a surprising hook up, complete with an intense make out session. Let me be clear, it’s not the thought of two guys making out that brings a fit of laughter, but the best Marsden ripping open Black’s shirt, revealing his beer belly and kissing him passionately. The characters and actors themselves are totally mismatched on a number of levels; so seeing them in this romantic fashion is outrageous and funny as hell.

It is from this point that everyday’s really goes wild and even though the film does become silly in parts it is never slapstick and there are no cheap laughs. Sexual double entendres are used sparingly and to great effect, but honestly, what keeps the film on the rails is Marsden who never goes over-the-top, and keeps everyone else’s feet on the ground, even Black, who occasionally borders on taking his character to a caricature level of acting.

Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel make their directing debut from their own script. This is a comedy that is just fun.

“PERVERT PARK”— A Trailer-Home Community for Adults Only

pervert park

“Pervert Park”

A Trailer-Home Community for Adults Only

Amos Lassen

Scandinavian directors Frida and Lasse Barkfors take a look at Florida Justice Transition, an adults-only trailer-home community: a space designed for previously convicted sex offenders reintegrating into society, post-incarceration. “Pervert Park” traces the stories of a handful of people who live here and, according to Florida law, cannot take up residence within 1,000 feet of communal spaces where children normally congregate because of these offenses. “Pervert Park” tells us about these individuals’ respective, harrowing pasts. William Fuery, for instance, dually experienced physical, emotional and psychological abuse from his parents and sexual abuse from his female babysitter. After trauma and strife throughout his life, a subconsciously ingrained fetish from his abusive upbringing manifested itself between him and a minor, and Fuery now looks back at the culmination of his mistake with a social-anthropological lens. Tracy Hutchinson, similarly, was sexually abused by her father and did so unto her son. Contrastingly, Patrick Naughton—who raped a young girl—comes across as less of a product of a caustic environment and more of a case of severe self-esteem issues, as seen by his confession of previous anger toward women after a series of relationships that went awry. The film balances the graveness of this topic with humanizing the subjects of this documentary, who lament their offenses and solely blame themselves. Each Florida Justice Transition dweller’s story varies from the other to show the diversity of sex offenders. “Pervert Park” effectively portrays their circumstances and the complexity of this issue with these portraits.

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This is a sad tale of a close-knit community built on tragedy and trying to edge out an existence in the aftermath of their own making. There are 120 sex offenders living in a trailer park and they talk about how they came to such a desperate place through counseling sessions and communal healing. This group of convicted sex offenders must stay away from children, schools, bus stops and other places where they are seen as a threat to the public. While many grew up amidst abuse, others had no such excuses. The subjects explain themselves to the camera, telling us stories of pain that has been perpetuated throughout generations, how moments of stupidity echo through decades, the effects of sensory addiction, and various tales of entrapment.

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The film is uncomfortable to watch as it show us a portion of the United States population that is basically forgotten about when they’re not being singled out for how dangerous they may be. These people live at the margins (mostly for good reasons) and struggle to survive as society rejects them. Talking out what they have done and what effect it may have had on their victims is hard to hear the filmmakers wisely lay whatever the offenders have to say before us bare and unflinching. There is no end result to all of this except trying to talk about what happened and think about the line that can’t be uncrossed. Shame, guilt, and denial all swirl around to create a terrible cloud of torment that can’t be dissipated. The camera simply hovers, listens, follows their daily lives, and moves on after they haven’t any more to say. This direct approach is affecting and troubling.

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The film doesn’t ask anyone to forgive or forget but rather to consider the myriad of different contexts that these individuals come from and that the pain goes on without society enforcing it. While everyone here takes responsibility for his or her actions, they also have an uncomfortable tendency to rationalize their crimes. Many of the offenders interviewed were themselves molested as children. The hardest of the testimonies to see and hear comes from Tracy Hutchinson, a mother who, after having been raped by her father while still in the crib, spiraled downward into a series of unhealthy sexual relationships. In a devastating open interview, she describes how she got an abortion at age 11 and, years later, seduced her own son, who in turn molested a 3-year-old boy. “Pervert Park” won a special jury award at Sundance 2014.

“UP TO THE WORLD” (“Il Mondo Fino In Fondo”)— Keeping a Secret

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“UP TO THE WORLD” (“Il Mondo Fino In Fondo”)

Keeping a Secret

Amos Lassen

Now that Davide (Filippo Scicchitano) come home to Northern Italy from college, he is expected to join the family business just as older, Loris, brother had done. Loris is now 35 and he is stressed out from work and worried that his wife’s pregnancy will not go full term. Even though Loris and Davide are very much unalike pertaining to age, they do share a lot in common. However, Loris has no idea that Davide has a secret and has been holding it for years.

The two take a road trip together to Barcelona to watch the Champion Leagues Soccer Final and they have no idea that both their lives will change dramatically.

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Once the match was over, they met a young guy named Andy from Chile with whom Davide fell madly in love (at first site). Loris was busy watching some strippers and Davide left to be with Andy. Andy tells him that he is getting ready to return to Chile but he wants to visit the glazier in Patagonia first and Davide decides to go with and to use his brother’s credit card to do so. Loris had entrusted him to carry it. Davide is surprised when they arrive at the commune where Andy lives and he is introduced to his girlfriend, Ana. It is then that he realizes that he misunderstood what he thought were Andy’s signs of affection. Nevertheless he works with the commune.

Loris, back in Barcelona, finds Davide’s note and then he receives a call from his credit card company about some unusual charges. Loris learns that Davide is in Chile and so he flies there as well. He asks a cabdriver to help him find his brother and after a lot of running around he finds him. Meanwhile Andy has already left for Patagonia and Davide insists that they go after him because he feels that there are ulterior motive’s for Andy’s trip there and these could result in tragedy.

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What we see is the main themes of two brothers discovering and sharing who they are with each other. This happens as they deal with situations and people outside of their comfort zone and all far away from home. At one point an evolving Loris tells his younger brother who has now come out to him. It is impossible to predict what is going to happen next and the journey becomes one of discovery.This directing debut from Italian filmmaker Alessandro Lunardelli (who also co-wrote the script) is an unusual road movie that uses a stunning South American backdrop to tell the story of two siblings discovering and sharing their true identities with each other. This is directing debut from Italian filmmaker Alessandro Lunardelli (who also co-wrote the script)  and it is an unusual road movie that uses a stunning South American backdrop to tell the story of two siblings discovering and sharing their true identities with each other.

“WE ALWAYS LIE TO STRANGERS”— Branson, Missouri

we always lie to strangers

“WE ALWAYS LIE TO STRANGERS”

Branson, Missouri

Amos Lassen

If you have never been to Branson, this documentary will make you want to as soon as possible. While this is not a gay themed film, there is the story of Skip that is so real and important that I could not think of not including it among my reviews.

The film opens with us learning all kinds of information about Branson. There are just about 10000 people who actually live in the town but there are more than eight million visitors there. There are 150 shows in Branson and billions of dollars are spent there every year. All of the entertainment sticks to the same identical formula.  It is all family owned and wholesome; there is no profanity or nudity but there is a lot of singing and dancing with hundreds of costume changes.  Where there is not talent, there is energy and enthusiasm.

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 The film was shot over a five year period and while there are four storylines I an only going to write about one of them. Single gay dad Chip Holderman who gingerly puts one foot out of the closet to quickly jump back in and slamming the door shut tight.

we always lie1

 At the beginning of the documentary we learn that he is having a clandestine relationship with Ryan another singer/dancer who smiles and tells us that there is large gay community here, and then there is the Bible Belt.   Chip’s situation deteriorates quickly when his ex-wife reveals his sexual orientation to their two children in a very negative manner and their new stepfather rants and raves at him with the vilest homophobic taunts and threats. Then a couple of weeks later when Chip has his son over on a visit he notices bruises on the boy and reports this to Child Protection Agency who, with the Police, question the step-dad. No charges are made, but the God-fearing bully suddenly ‘forgives’ Chip for his homosexuality, and life gets back to normal. Chip then felt threatened about losing his shared custody, Chip dumps his boyfriend and goes totally back into the closet. Any more information would ruin the story for others but this is an interesting look at America.

“DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER’S WORLD”— GIGER’S LAST YEARS

dark star poster

Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s World

Giger’s Last Years

Amos Lassen

Surrealist artist H. R. Giger (1940–2014) created monsters that terrified audiences Ridley Scott’s Alien. He has influenced science fiction, horror, music, tattoos, album covers, fetish art and so on. Sci-fi, horror, music, album covers, tattoos and fetish art. His paintings are intricate and he has done some amazing sculptures. This documentary by Brenda Sallen looks at the end of Giger’s life and how much of him is in the art he made.

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Giger never had a problem feeling at home, even in places that most of us would not want to be, He was also happy to live among things that most of us fear. His world was the world of the strange and the unlikely. Some have referred to him as “the bearer of dark messages, charting our nightmares, drafting maps of our subconscious and molding our primal fears.” He was as acclaimed as he was controversial.

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We see interviews with him are quite short and many are with his personal and professional entourage.



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“DAY OF YOUTH”— Romance, Brain Damage and Life after College

day of youth

 “DAY OF YOUTH”

Romance, Brain Damage and Life after College

Amos Lassen

It is always fun to watch a movie filmed where you live because you recognize so many places. Director Jared Vincenti’s “Day of Youth” was filmed right here and as I watched, I found myself filled with Boston pride. The film premieres at the 2015 Boston LGBT Film Festival, just a short wait from now. Having seen an advance copy, I can tell you that it is well worth the wait.

Rhee (Alice Tully) wakes up in a hospital after a serious bike accident and well she is basically okay, she has no memory of the last three years of her life. Two of her exes, Aran (Joe Kidawsky) and Nat (Alex Sweeney) vie to win her back and now she has to decide whether she will choose a boyfriend or a girlfriend or neither and start something brand new. The film deals with what to do when one suddenly loses a past and have the freedom to start life all over again. In fact, Rhee is unable to find any great changes from what she is told has been her past and she is still unemployed and moving from boyfriend to girlfriend and back and forth over and over. She is still living at home with her father and while she wants to move forward, Nat and Aran take advantage the fact that she cannot remember her past and use that to try to get another chance with her. The time to make a decision about her life is coming with the New Year and all three characters have to deal with the situations they now find themselves in. While this is a comedy, we feel the angst of the characters as they begin to realize that the hopes that they have for themselves may never materialize. We really feel this with Rhee who returns to the world that is very much the same as the one she left with her accident. It’s a feeing that all too many college graduates share. I can honestly say that every so often, as I watched the film, that this is not a film at all but a look at the real world. Each and every one has experienced the same feelings we see here—we have all waited for that big break and while some get it, many do not. We spend so much of our lives waiting because we believe that when that big break comes, it will validate the years of our youth and give meaning to the lives we live in the present. Personally, I believe, that that what we are waiting really depends on how we wait and what we do during that period.

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All is not hopeless however and there is a message here. Life is not like we usually live it as young people and there is a big world out there where people work, succeed and live. None of us have to face a life of mediocrity misery and/or nothingness but it is our call and up to us to change courses we are on by a little bit rethinking, redoing and reinvention. We have seen it happen time and again and I reminded of two of the big news in the world of music—Madonna and Cher. When their careers begin to hit a slow point, they considered the options and came back even stronger than before.

Vincenti made “Day of Youth” on a tight and small budget. He listened to his friends as he was thinking about how to do this film but most important is that he knew he had a good idea and he was determined to see it through and he managed to get people to work on the film doing what they loved to do. When someone is doing something he relishes, commitments are not difficult to get.

Memory defines so much of what we do and we see this played out here. Rhee has lost her memory but Vincenti did not and even though the idea of the film came to him a few years ago, it continued to germinate in his mind until the time was right to act on it. Using the themes of nostalgia, the inability to move and change, Vincenti continued to develop his plot. Sure, he had to make changes because of finances but because he was willing to compromise and had a good team to work with, the film became a reality and we get to enjoy it. It isn’t perfect but first attempt is?

The very idea of a story about characters that are in a rut and not able to move onto the next part of their lives is a universal theme. It is fear that so often holds us back but I have always found that when speaking about something I fear alleviates the issue greatly. So many of us fear that which we do know—the disadvantaged, the disabled, the marginalized members of our society and the future—all aspects of the not knowing conundrum and we fear them. Consider how many people fear death and why and you get the answer that we fear death because we really know nothing about it. Now the film belongs to the larger populating and it is waiting to be judged on its own merits. I loved it and I am sure many others will but even more important than the film itself is that we have a new young director who is going to make waves in the existing film community and we need to help him do so. It is out duty to support young filmmakers if we want to see a future with films with no ideas and themes.

boston lgbt

“FOR A LOOK OR A TOUCH”— A New Opera About Gay Men in the Holocaust

for a look

“For a Look or a Touch”

A New Opera About Gay Men in the Holocaust

Amos Lassen

 The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is performing “For a Look or a Touch” and it is the Bay Area premiere of composer Jake Heggie’s Holocaust-themed choral opera. This is the Holocaust against gay men and women.

It will receive its American premiere on April 1 and 2 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco as part of a concert named “Passion” and the event is co-sponsored by the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Due to the nature of the plotline, this may not be for everyone. The libretto was written by Gene Scheer. This is the story of Gad Beck, an elderly German Jew who muses over his lost love, Manfred Lewin, a Jew who was killed in Auschwitz. The opera is based on true stories of gay German men who were rounded up, arrested and deported to the camps where they were murdered by the Nazis. They were forced to wear the pink triangle. It has been estimated that as many as 100,000 gays were murdered in the Holocaust but this has become an unspoken footnote in “history.”

Some historians estimate as many as 100,000 gays and lesbians were murdered in the Holocaust. But unlike the postwar outrage over the loss of 6 million European Jews, the persecution of gays and lesbians remained an unspoken historical footnote for years.

Some of those who were persecuted did speak out and Beck was one of them. He was able to find the dairy of Lewin and then he joined the underground and helped rescue other Jews and then helped them escape to what was then known as Palestine (Israel, today).

The story of Beck and Lewin are the core of the opera whose title refers to the law that gave German police the right to arrest gay men as just a look or a touch..


S.F. Gay Men’s Chorus performs “Passion,” 8 p.m. April 1-2 at Davies Symphony Hall,  201 Van Ness Ave., S.F. $25-$90. (415) 392-4400 or http://www.sfgmc.org

“Snidelines: Talking Trash to Power” by Susie Day, illustrated by Pia Marella— Personal Essays and Political Satire

trash to power

Day, Susie (author) and Pia Marella (illustrator). “Snidelines: Talking Trash to Power”, Abingdon Square Publishing Ltd., 2014.

Personal Essays and Political Satire

Amos Lassen

This is quite a collection of essays that provide  “a perverse moral clarity to an increasingly amoral world” by reporter Susie Day who brings us “fast-breaking faux news”. Her satire is strong and she says that we have to regain the energy in the media that we saw during the AIDS epidemic and the Vietnam War. Day’s goal is to bring us together as one people; she says that it is consumerism and social conformity that us changing us and she worries that marriage equality will do away with the “transgressions” that once were responsible for the outlaw spirit that once characterized the gay community. She wants to change the world and some of what she says is startling. They says that gay men know about opera but they are unaware of lesbian opera and she goes on to explain the plot of the lesbian opera “Sapphic Ring Cycle” and he irony is biting.

We sense Day’s love for human rights and the injuries of the past hurt her. She is a woman who needs a cause and some she has championed include prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and displaced Palestinians (however this is one that is very difficult to agree with). Day writes with a humor that is caustic and very funny, especially when we realize that we are laughing at ourselves.