Monthly Archives: July 2015

“TO NEW SHORES”— A Surprise from 1937

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“To New Shores” (“Zu neuen Ufern”)

A Surprise from 1937

Amos Lassen

“To New Shores” is quite a surprise—a film from 1937 directed by the wonderful Douglas Sirk (as Detlef Sierck that still holds its own. This is the movie that made Hollywood notice Sirk even though it would take him many years before he made his first American movie, “Hitler’s Madman” here. It is set in Victorian London around 1846, where a jeering theatre crowd brings together stage chanteuse Gloria Vane (Zarah Leander) and officer Albert Finsbury (Willy Birgel), on his way to Australia but not before forging a friend’s money order. By the time anyone discovered his deed, Albert was already gone. Gloria took the blame in order to save his honor—she was his lover but she paid a heavy price for this and was sent to the Aussie prison-workshop of Paramatta for her trouble. When she meets Albert again it was in Sydney and he was already involved with both a doctor’s wife and the governor’s daughter.

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Gloria waits for a husband to get her out of prison all the while still hoping to see her true love one more time. Sirk was fascinated by woman’s romantic anxieties and this German melodrama is traditional Sirk. Zarah Leander plays the cabaret singer in 1840’s London who takes the rap when her lover passes a bad check and gets deported to a prison in the new colony of Australia. There’s a great deal of music performed by Leander in the wrenchingly emotional style that turned her into an icon for German gay men much like Judy Garland was here in America.

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 It was not until Finsbury was gone that the forgery was discovered. Gloria’s part in the crime cost her 7 years in prison in Sidney. From prison she sends a note to Finsbury, asking for help, but he doesn’t answer. The settler Henry Hoyer falls in love with Gloria. As this is a chance for her to leave prison, she agrees, but runs away from him immediately. When she finds out that Finsbury is going to marry the Governor’s daughter, she is heartbroken. Finsbury finds her and wants to run away with her and so on as you can imagine.

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“At New Shores” brings together comedy, drama and musical but basically it was a vehicle for an eminent actress, the name that aroused certain ‘ill feelings’ even for monstrous Goebbels himself, Zarah Leander.

However, it is not the women who most suffers but Sir Albert, a noble man with good prospects in life. Birgel gives quite a performance of a character who had strong personal conflicts and was self-destructive. Even though we see him from Gloria’s pretentious perspective, he manages to have a vibrant personality. Leander’s music is melancholy and, like the man she loves, filled with contradictions. In one of her songs, she sings about standing in the rain drawing a clear metaphor to tormented states of mind and heart.

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This is an interesting film to see as well as an important work of art from the historical and dramatic standpoint. The hidden meaning within the name ‘Gloria’ along with the surprising and jubilant conclusion at the finale still lead the viewer towards the new shores of classical movie viewing and its interpretation. Leander was the queen of melodramatic suffering and no one did it like she did. Gloria Vane, as seen here, is a scandalous singer in Victorian times; even if she had not been (unfairly ) accused of forgery ,they would have had her performance censored anyway.

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There are all kinds of strange and crazy situations here: the show in London; the parade of the fiancées; the romantic suicide; the bride all in white, waiting for her groom and the final scene that you will have to see for yourself. 

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Sirk does not forget his sense of humor : while the males are looking for their spouses in Paramata ,one of them complains about heat while another one thinks young men are degenerate people for they do not appreciate heavy (or plump, if you will) women.

“I AM THE QUEEN”— A Beauty Pageant and a Way of Life

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“I AM THE QUEEN”

A Beauty Pageant and a Way of Life

Amos Lassen

“I Am the Queen” is a documentary film that looks at the transgender, youth beauty pageant. Contestants offer a glimpse of their lifestyle as they prepare to compete against each other. It follows Bianca, Julissa and Jolizza as they prepare for Paseo Borica, the pageant under the guidance of Ginger Valdez, an experienced transgender person from the neighborhood. They share stories of their transition, their family’s varying reactions, and how they find support from within the community. We see how family dynamics, cultural heritage, and personal identity all play a part in how the contestants face the daily struggle that comes from being true to themselves and who they are.

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Directors Josue Pellot and Henrique Cirne Lima, chronicles the journey of young transgender Latinas as they prepare for the Cacique Pageant, a transgender pageant that is organized by VIDA/SIDA in Chicago’s own Humboldt Park. The film begins with the pageant and the contestants making their grand entrances as they are cheered on by the audience and supportive family members (Yes, you read that correctly—“family members).

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The film then looks at the origin of the pageant. We see that it which began as a way to create a space for a community that is the most marginalized in society. In the beginning of the film we watch as the teen contestants talk about their experiences coming out as transgender to their families. As the film moves forward, they become comfortable with the spotlight as they discuss their prospects of winning the pageant, their relationships with their families, their aspirations for the future, their dating trials, and their relationships with each other.

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Julissa is 20 years old and tells us that she has wanted hormones since she was 13. While her mother Lisa responded angrily at first and refused to speak to her daughter, she soon realized if Julissa didn’t get the support she needed at home, she would “find it in the streets, and that’s the worst.” Lisa went on to accept her daughter, accompany her to her doctor appointments, and began calling her Julissa instead of Jonathan. She is okay with the whole business aside for her concern as to her daughter’s safety since violence against transgender women is a major issue. Julissa tells us that it was the pageant that released the inner Julissa and allowed her to come out. Her relationship with her family is very special and there are family members who blame Lisa for Julissa’s gender identification. The fact that she is accepted by most reminds us of how many are not.

Jolizza, 19, a self-identified transsexual woman who was kicked out of her house when she told her mother she was transsexual. She shares that her mother, who is a lesbian, was accepting of having a gay child but not a transsexual one. Jolizza struggles to finish high School while working a part-time job and living on her own. Her sister is a tireless supporter, and Jolizza tells us about her relationship with “adopted” family members, people in the community who support her as a biological family should. The film only gives a brief glimpse of Jolizza’s family at the end and we really would like to know more. Jolizza takes us on a tour of her high school pointing out that she uses the girls’ bathroom and that people know better than to say anything because if they do they risk a fight with her. She also shares that the difficulty of being transsexual in a less than accepting world brings her to tears every night and this is quite different than the person we hear saying she would beat up anyone who tried to stop her using the girls’ bathroom.

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Bianca is a transgender teen struggling with a family who doesn’t accept her and she says that she “stays” with friends because of her home situation. Her instability in life is apparent and we see that in her journey towards the day of the pageant. The pageant itself struggles with instability as half of the contestants drop out, leaving only four to compete at the end, including Allan, a self-identified gay male who dresses in drag for the pageant.

There is a lot of humor in the film as we look at growing up and being themselves and there is also something to learn about what independent means for a young adult who is transgender. Both Julissa and Jolizza are moving and settling down in their own apartments. They are also making plans to go to college. We learn how the girls chose their names and we see the pressures that the pageant puts on them.

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Pageant coordinator and emcee Ginger Valdez is a dynamic and beautiful trans woman who came out at 14 in Puerto Rico during a time when it wasn’t legal. She tells us how she had been physically attacked by police for being transgender and she humorously shares what transgender women had to do back in the old days so that they would look like real women. Her stories show the contrasts between being transgender today and what it was like forty years ago. We also see Ginger preparing for one of her performances (and she shares some of her beauty secrets).

There is an interview with the 2007 pageant winner Jade, a transgender woman who is active in her community and who describes the struggles of transgender women, the importance of visibility and spreading awareness, and her commitment to breaking stereotypes.

The pageant comes at the end of the film—it is as if we have been preparing for it along with the contestants.  When the winner is announced we are overjoyed while at the same feeling a bit sad for the two who did not win but placed as runner ups. I find it interesting to think what people some thirty or forty years from now will think about the film. Will it still be insightful and will it just fall by the wayside because transgender people have come into their own?

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Until there is mainstream acceptance for trans-identified people in this country, this film will seem like something of a revelation. For them, their lives are normal and I love that we see pride flags and other symbols of the LGBT community only for a short time as if to say, “Above all, before you’re gay, straight, lesbian or American even, you have to be Puerto Rican” and the emphasis here is not on the name but on those who represent that name. We do see that these three young women do have problems. Jolizza says that just riding the bus is hard and that she goes home sad every night. Bianca is in the midst of a transient lifestyle so we do not learn very much about her.

The film exposes the restructuring of the family unit experienced by pageant participants who are often distanced from their biological family but who find kinship among those facing similar experiences in the Puerto Rican transgender community and it is quite an experience to see.

“DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER’S WORLD— A Creator of the Macabre

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Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (“Dark Star: H.R.  Giger’s Welt”)

A Creator of the Macabre

Amos Lassen

Throughout his life, HR Giger’s world was one of the uncanny— “a dark universe on the brink of many an abyss”. This was what allowed him to keep his fears in check. Giger was a bearer of dark messages and in this film we learn about the man who was a controversial yet acclaimed painter, sculptor, architect and designer and Oscar winner. (‘Alien’).

Giger’s home is as close to a museum of the macabre than people want to get. Director Belinda Sallin tracks us through that museum that is his Zurich house and we see all kinds of monsters right there alongside his Oscar that he won for special effects in “Alien”. We also hear from some of those who collaborated with him and who have something to say about the “psycho-sexual, violent undertow of Giger’s startling images”. Not a great deal is said about Giger’s work and this is probably so that the creations that we see speak for themselves.

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What many will find surprising is that Giger seems to be very soft-spoken and humble— the opposite of what his creations represent. At his home, his work is everywhere—his drawings hang on the walls, his sculptures fill his backyard. His home is baroque in style and it is fascinating to see Giger there. The clutter that we see leads us to believe that Giger has already made peace with the darker side of humanity.

The film opens with a shot of the outside of Giger’s residence that is like something in a film about a haunted house. But then the camera pans on Zurich and we see that this documentary also includes the world around the man.

Giger does not get around easily and does not say much. A few months after this film was finished, he fell down the stairs of his home and died. Here we see him as a man who is warm but with a sense of dread. His friends and family loved him.

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His wife does most of the talking about the art in their home. Before watching this film all that I knew about Giger was that he won the Academy Award for “Alien”. I now see that his entire world was quite dark and that his artwork was based in his inner fears.

Director Sallin uses many interviews with Giger and those closest to him as well as archival footage to give us the life of the man. Giger shows us his skull collection and  Giger’s second wife Carmen talks about how he continually reinvested his earnings in his work, often just scraping by. Long time friend and assistant Tom, a musician and fan influenced by his boss’s work, is still finding things in file drawers (and speaks of the artist’s generosity in supporting his own early work).  Most amusingly, Tom’s ‘office mate’ is Giger’s mother-in-law, a spirited woman who keeps his books and is amused by people’s reactions to her famous son-in-law.

“George” by Alex Gino— Be Who You Are

george

Gino, Alex. “George”, Scholastic Press, 2015.

Be Who You Are

Amos Lassen

George has a secret and he knows that when people look at him, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl. (Sorry about the pronouns). George thinks that his secret will stay with him forever until his teacher at school announces that the class path that year is to “Charlotte’s Web” and George really wants the part of Charlotte. His/her teacher says that George cannot try out for the part because she is a boy. This pushes George and best friend, Kelly to formulate a plan so that George can play Charlotte and so everyone will know who she is.

What a wonderful surprise this is and written especially for middle school students. It is a delightful read with a strong message and it is just beautifully told with a lot of heart. George stole my heart and I am sure that others will also have stolen hearts while reading this.

“George” does things realistically as it looks at the issues that transgender youth face. George shows kids that being who you are and sharing your identity is possible and it can bring only good.
George’s transition between George and Melissa is heartwarming and wonderfully written about. The narrative brings about all kind of responses and everyone gets a chance to have their say.

As I sat down to write this I thought back to when I was in middle school. There were no transgender kinds there (or so we thought). To me that is the most fascinating thing about this whole subject. Up until just a few years ago the transgender child was not something we talked about except perhaps in whispers. We suddenly see acceptance of all kinds of children unless you are a fundamental Christian. The world is so much better informed that ever and now we are getting the stories that I wish we had been getting for the last hundred years.

What is it about George that makes him/her such a special kid? When he was home alone he would look in the mirror and see himself as Melissa but once his mother and brother were home he was George again. While George has no doubt she’s a girl, her family relates to her as they always have: as a boy. George hopes that if she can get the part of Charlotte, her mom will finally see her as a girl and be able to come to terms with the fact that George is transgender. George tries very hard to get the rest of the world to accept her as she is. There are children who already have a sense of their gender identity as early as three years old and what has been absent from children’s literature has been positive trans characters. In this book author Alex Gino has successfully conquered dealing with the pronouns (as you can see, I have not been so lucky).

This is so much more than an LGBTQ coming-out story, however. Now that we are becoming more and more aware of the trans community, that might change soon. George even tells us that in the last few years, gays and lesbians have achieved a certain amount of visibility and acceptance, while the trans* community is still far behind and by and large ignored and misunderstood. largely ignored and misunderstood. George’s mother even says that she can deal with having a gay child, she simply can’t accept her as “that kind of gay.” George’s coming out is a process that she must repeat until she is properly recognized. We feel the pain but we also know that tomorrow is going be better than today and so on.

“A WOLF AT THE DOOR”— A Child is Kidnapped

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“A Wolf at the Door” (“O Lobo atrás da Porta”)

A Child is Kidnapped

Amos Lassen

A child is kidnapped. The parents, Sylvia and Bernardo are at the police station as is, Bernardo’s lover and main suspect. Rosa, the main suspect and lover of Bernardo, give contradictory evidence. The three give contradictory stories which and as we watch what is gong on we are taken to some very dark places where desire, lies, evil and wickedness reside. “A Wolf at the Door” is based on real events. When Sylvia (Fabíula Nascimento) discovers her six-year-old daughter has been picked up at school by an unknown woman, police summon her husband Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz) to the station for questioning. There Bernardo confesses his extra-marital affair with the beautiful young Rosa (Leandra Leal), whom detectives believe to be involved in the kidnapping.

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The kidnapping is the final act in a vicious love-triangle storyline, which is then told backward through the police-station testimonies of the child’s parents and Rosa, the revengeful mistress who last picked up the little girl from school. Where the film shines is in its peripheral intentions—specifically, in the way it presents heterosexual gender relations in Brazil as a “volatile symbiosis between feminine hysteria and ruthless machismo”.

Kidnapping and abduction are the subject and debut feature film of Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Coimbra whose story tale is laced with tragic elements that make his film memorable. In fact, the kidnapping that seems to be the center of the film at first soon is upstaged by the love triangle. Coimbra chooses to show us that story by presenting it in reverse order and it plays to us as did the Greek tragedy it is loosely based upon. Saying any more than that will give away too much information and ruin the film for those who have not yet seen it.

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When Sylvia goes to pick up her daughter from school, she learns that the teacher received a call from Sylvia authorizing a neighbor to come collect the girl. We realize immediately that the child has been abducted, but by whom or for what is unclear since the family is poor. With the questioning by the police we learn that both parents are engaged in extra-marital affairs. Bernardo is convinced his ex-mistress Rosa is responsible, but she denies involvement until the school teacher identifies Rosa as the woman that retrieved the child. Rosa offers to tell the truth about her story and we then are taken on a journey differing perspectives.

Rosa’s affair with Bernardo was a way for her to leave her sad existence and it offers her not only sex but passion. However, he begins to withdraw and becomes abusive when she tells him that she is pregnant. Rosa’s begins a friendship with Bernardo’s wife and then we really see her as a woman in turmoil.

We might say that this is an examination of the dangers of adulterous relationships. The triangular nature of the relationship is not condemned on moral grounds but only because it sets up a desire for revenge that moves forward and backward with a surprising and tragic conclusion. The performances are excellent all around and they keep us guessing as to the motive of the kidnapping.

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It all begins at a train stop in Rio as Rosa flirts outrageously with Bernardo who appears to be a good deal older than her. There are some very erotic sex scenes between Rosa and Bernardo who insists that he loves his wife even while they are making love. When the affair goes on the rocks, Rosa’s desperation leads her to meet secretly with Bernardo’s wife Sylvia.

Looking back at the film, it really is homage to the theater of the Greeks and the tragic plays that they performed. who in an intricate plan involving a loudmouthed hooker, seeking to break up her lover’s marriage. If there is a message here, it undoubtedly is the dangers of cheating while married.

“Coup de Foudre” by Ken Kalfus— Looking at the News

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Kalfus, Ken. “Coup de Foudre”, Bloomsbury USA, 2015.

Looking at the News

Amos Lassen

Ken Kalfus’ new collection of short stories and a novella are fascinating literary fiction and invention. The novella entitled “Coup de Foudre” appeared recently in “Harper’s” is about David Leon Landau, a the president of an international lending institution and accused of sexually assaulting a housekeeper in a New York hotel. This obviously sounds familiar but Kalfus’ version of the story is quite funny and sad at the same time. It chronicles the events leading up to and following the man’s fateful encounter with a New York City housekeeping maid.

Kalfus doesn’t try to disguise the parallels — Landau, notorious for his many “sex parties,” stays at the Sofitel before he travels to Germany for a meeting with Angela Merkel — and he describes Landau’s sexual encounters in vivid detail. Landau is arrogant man who is proud that he can afford to buy expensive gifts for women that he likes but he is also a man who has no self-control in experiences with these women. He knows he has to do something about this but is not able to. He is a representation of those that hunger for power and then abuses it when he gets it.

“Mercury,” is about a 24-year-old elementary school teacher asserts his independence whenever he can. He loses his job when he asks Sammy, a second-grade student to deliver to the fifth grade teacher, another male. This is a compelling story of reckless behavior and a look of the lasting damage that the taunts of older kids and the indifference of their teachers can inflict upon a younger student. “Mr. Iraq” is about a journalist who even though he had once been a liberal, now supports the invasion of Iraq but now has to help his ill 81-year-old father, who had once been arrested for protesting the president (Bush) from outside of the White House. outside the Bush White House. “Laser” is about an eleventh grade science teacher who has had glaucoma surgery that did not succeed as hoped and planned. Kalfus writes here on the fact that there is no such thing as human infallibility and if a belief in science surpasses a belief in doctors.

In “The Moment They Were Waiting For,” a convicted murderer sitting on death row casts a spell granting the inhabitants of his city the foreknowledge of the dates they will die. In “v. The Large Hadron Collider,” a judge who might have been involved in an adulterous affair faces the decision as to whether or not throw out a nuisance lawsuit that raises the even fainter possibility that the entire Earth may be destroyed. Set in Hawaii the judge retires to his chambers to decide whether or not to issue an injunction to stop a particle accelerator, which the plaintiffs in the nuisance lawsuit claim destroy the earth. “The Un-” is a nostalgic story, especially for writers, of a young writer’s struggles as he tries “to surmount the colossal, heavily guarded wall that apparently separates writers who have been published from those who have not”.

There are fifteen very diverse stories and while I have only mentioned a few of them I can assure that there is something for everyone here. Reading them is a journey into people’s minds and the worlds within them.

“Heart Scarab”: “Taking Shield, Book 2” by Anna Butler—The Sequel to “Gyrfalcon”: ‘Taking Shield, Book 1”

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Butler, Anna. “Heart Scarab”: “Taking Shield, Book 2”, Wilde City Press, 2015.

The Sequel to “Gyrfalcon”: ‘Taking Shield, Book 1”

Amos Lassen

I am at a bit of a disadvantage in that this is the second volume in a series of which I did not read the first book. Yet that is also a kind of test for me—we’ll see if the book can stand alone. Captain Bennet is on

Telnos, a planet that is inhabited by religious fanatics and unregistered miners running illegal solactinium mines. Bennet knows that the planet is about to be taken over by the Maess and it is his job is to get out as many civilians as he can. There is a problem— the enemy arrives before the evacuation is complete. Having been part of fire fight, Bennet is left behind and presumed dead. Naturally his family has a hard time with this especially Joss, his long-term partner. Joss is lost, unhappy and remorseful and he knows that First Lieutenant Flynn has no official rights or business here.

I understand that in book one, “Gyrfalcon”, we had the story of Captain Bennet of Shield, and Lieutenant Flynn of Fleet. It picks up here in a universe that has existed for thousands of years ago and this planet has become the last refuge of humanity. It was from here that people spread all over the galaxy. As is necessary, there are three divisions of military involved, Infantry, Fleet, and Shield (an elite force that does dirty work that the other divisions behind the scenes).

In the previous book Bennet and Flynn had a short affair and then each went on his own way. Now Bennet and his Shield group has the job of evacuating illegal settlers from a remote planet that is threatened by an alien enemy, referred to simply as the Maess. They come under attack and as I said, Bennett was presumed dead. Here is where I can tell you that it is not necessary to read book one since this book uses flashback and narration to tell us what happened. Now we see people reacting to the death of their hero. Finally Shield was sent to the planet to rescue any survivors that might be there and Bennet is found to be alive and leading a group. Wounded, he had to spent time hospitalized. As he began to regain his health, he and Joss end their long time relationship and on poor terms. This opened the door for Flynn’s return.

I have to admit I had a hard time with the vocabulary and I found the story difficult to follow. Add to that the fact that is not the kind of fiction I enjoy reading and that lets you know that I cannot really be unbiased. I do not know who edited or proof read the text but it is obvious that neither was done carefully. The book is sloppy and poorly thrown together and there are numerous misuses of words and misspellings. (Hey, we live in an age of computers and grammar and spell check). I found the sex scenes poorly written and gratuitous. I certainly hope that there is no third volume. Author Butler has embarrassed herself enough with this one.

I usually choose not to give poor reviews but maybe this one will push the author to change her ways and try being a serious writer. I really had to force myself to finish this.

“The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust” by Lisa Moses Leff— Zosa Szajkowski, Historian

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Leff, Lisa Moses. “The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust”, (Oxford Series on History and Archives),) Oxford University Press, 2015.

Zosa Szajkowski, Historian

Amos Lassen

Once the Holocaust was over, Zosa Szajkowski, a Jewish historian, gathered up tens of thousands of documents from Nazi buildings in Berlin, and later, public archives and private synagogues in France, and moved them all, illicitly, to New York. We can only imagine what a task this was.

Lisa Moses Leff brings us Szajkowski’s story. He was born into a very poor family in Russian Poland, Szajkowski and he rose above that and had a career in Paris as a communist journalist. In the late 1930s, he saw the threats to the safety of the Jews in Europe and broke with the party and committed himself to defending his people in a new way, as a scholar associated with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

In 1941, he escaped from France and American army service and struggled to remake his life as a historian, living as a YIVO archivist in postwar New York. His scholarly output was tremendous nevertheless; he published many studies on French Jewish history that opened up new ways of thinking about Jewish emancipation, modernization, and the rise of modern anti-Semitism. While he was a scholar and recognized as such, what people did nit know was that there were documents that he stole and then later sold to American and Israeli research libraries, where they can be found today.

His story is part detective story and part analysis of the construction of history. It opens debates over the rightful ownership of contested Jewish archives and the powerful ideological, economic, and psychological forces that have made Jewish scholars care so deeply about preserving what they can of their past.

At the center here is Zosa Szajkowski, the immigrant-soldier-historian-thief. His tale is of a man’s desperate response to the cataclysms of the twentieth century. What we read here uncovers uncomfortable ambiguities in the archives, the very institutions entrusted with preserving our pasts. Author Leff gives us a creative view of the archive, of history and their interconnection.

Was Szajkowski a rescuer of all these documents and artifacts or was he a thief? Here it seems that he was both. As we read we must ask ourselves who owns the traces of the past and what does it mean when they are removed from their original context. The book is stunningly fascinating and beautifully written.. It leaves us with as many questions as it asks.

“The Making of Zombie Wars: A Novel” by Alekasander Hemon— Sex and Violence and Fun

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Hemon, Aleksandar. “The Making of Zombie Wars: A Novel”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

Sex and Violence and Fun

Amos Lassen

 Josh Levin is a young and aspiring screenwriter teaching English as a Second Language classes in Chicago. His laptop and his mind are full of ideas, but the only one to really matters to him and takes root is “Zombie Wars”. When he comes home to find his landlord, an unhinged army vet, rifling through his dirty laundry, he decides that the time has come to move in with his girlfriend, Kimmy. It’s domestic bliss at first, but Josh becomes involved with a student, a Bosnian woman named Ana, whose husband is jealous and violent. Disaster follows.

This is a quick and fun read but do not be misled by the title. It is really about Josh, a man with little motivation and the inability to speak out or break the rat race of his life. His girlfriend is just to good for him and his landlord was loaded with issues before Josh could finally break away. Josh wants to write a screenplay for a zombie movie and parts of his writing appears in between sections of the book on his life. To wit:

“Script idea #142: Aliens undercover as cabbies abduct the fiancée of the main character, who has to find a way to a remote planet to save her. Title: Love Trek.”

“Script idea #185: Teenager discovers his girlfriend’s beloved grandfather was a guard in a Nazi death camp. The boy’s grandparents are survivors, but he’s tantalizingly close to achieving deflowerment, so when a Nazi hunter arrives in town in pursuit of Grandpa, he has to distract him long enough to get laid. A riotous Holocaust comedy. Title: The Righteous Love.”

“Script idea #196: Rock star high out of his mind freaks out during a show, runs offstage, and is lost in streets crowded with his hallucinations. The teenage fan who finds him keeps the rock star for himself for the night. Mishaps and adventures follow. This one could be a musical: Singin’ in the Brain.”

I first read Aleksandar Hemon’s essay collection, “The Book of My Lives” last year and loved it. This, however, is something completely different. It is a dark comedy about lack of ambition and the consequences of desire that is unchecked and likely to remain that way.

The movie script that Josh has been developing will probably always be in development. The main character is Major Klopstock who is in gruesome mortal combat with an onslaught of undead foes. In other words, he is a slacker. Josh also has a tenuous relationship with his father, Bernie, suffering with prostate and who left his wife for a younger woman.

It is amazing that Josh has been able to maintain a relationship with Kimiko, a Japanese-American child psychologist who just happens to be his “beautiful Zen mistress”. What she sees in him is indeed a mystery. The same is true of his student Ana, a married emigre from Bosnia with whom he has some fun.

We have fun also reading the author’s wonderful madcap humor but to take it seriously is to find fault which I certainly do not want to do.

The prose shines throughout and there are some sentences that made me sit back and which I found reading over and over again because of the wonderful structure and the sheer beauty of the language. There are sentences that take your breath away for how radically they bend the English language. I do not think that this is a book for everyone especially since it is so dark and cynical. But it is also the story of a slacker trying to overcome writer’s block and it is wonderfully funny. There is nothing refined or nuanced in the book and it is a powerful and smart piece of writing.

“PRICK UP YOUR EARS”— Now on Blu Ray—What a Way to Go

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“PRICK UP YOUR EARS”

What a Way to Go

Amos Lassen

“Prick Up Your Ears” is a gem of a movie. It tells the true story of English playwright Joe Orton and his homosexual relationship with his talented but not so successful partner, Kenneth Halliwell. It is a solid drama and most amazing is that it is some forty years old.

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Joe Orton was a daring and rebellious writer. Told through flashbacks, Orton’s literary agent, played wonderful by the incomparable Vanessa Redgrave, relates her memories and reads entries from Orton’s diary, beginning and ending with his horrible murder.

Born into the lower class, Orton (Gary Oldman) teamed up with an ambitious writer, Halliwell (Alfred Molina) at the Royal Academy of Drama in England,. They collaborated for years and when Orton broke out on his own, fame bit him on the neck. His plays include “loot” and “What the Butler Saw” and the charmed the critics and the public with his black comedies. At the same time he was living in a homosexual relationship which, back then, was illegal. He was also extremely sexually adventurous. The competition between he and hi s lover heightened and Halliwell dejected, feeling rejected, and very jealous hammered Orton to death in 1967 and took his own life immediately afterwards.

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It was not only success and talent that brought Orton fame. His personal charisma and luck also helped. The two men, who seemed to be talented equally were split apart when one of the pair became an award winning playwright and the other had no luck whatsoever.

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Orton’s death in 1976 caused quite a stir not only by the way he dies but by the fact that the nature of his relationship with Halliwell was revealed to the public. It was Halliwell that seduced Orton when they were students and it was Halliwell who was more imaginative but a bit disturbed. After the two had begun their relationship each spent half a year in prison for defacing library books and while there Orton‘s agent discovered his talent and guided him to success while Halliwell stayed behind in the shadows of his lover.

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The acting in the movie is far above anything else dealing with homosexuality at the period in which it was made. In many cases, it is far above what we see today. The script is brilliant and it is very sad that the movie did not get the exposure it deserved. At times it is very raw and the death of Orton is shocking as we watch it from beginning to end. As is typical of so many British movies, it is literate and beautifully acted and photographed. Were it to be re-released today, I am sure it would find its rightful audiences and acting prizes would be handed out to the entire cast.