Monthly Archives: February 2016

“DANGEROUS MEN”— “The Holy Grail of Holy Fucking Shit”

dangerous men poster

“Dangerous Men”

“The Holy Grail of Holy Fucking Shit”

Amos Lassen

John Rad’s Dangerous Men has been called by many “The Holy Grail of Holy Fucking Shit” and right from the get-go, we can tell what kind of film this is. In the credits we see that it all John Rad. The same name appears over and over again and we sense that this is not only going to be an ego trip but one of the silliest movies ever made. We have “murderous bikers, robbers, vigilantes, rapists, and various other degenerates crossing paths in the most violent ways imaginable”. After the death of her fiancé, Mina (Melody Wiggins) sets out to get revenge by cleansing the streets of all sexual predators and craziness ensues. What is really crazy is that Rad and the cast lack any sense of human emotion and this results in some of the most unintentionally hilarious characters to ever be on the screen. Not one person has any sense of rationality and none behave behaves rationally, realistically, or even humanly. They go from untamable rage to complete solace in a matter of seconds. the cast is inept is an understatement. unbelievably inept. Every actor appears to be reading off of a teleprompter, and their physical performances are even worse.

dangerous men1

The horrible sound mixing gets progressively worse as the film goes on and on and on and some of the most astoundingly terrible noise is heard in the final act. As much as I hate to give a pan review, I must say that this is one of the worst movies I have ever seen both technically and acting wise. However, to be honest, I love lousy movies.

Because there is nothing redeeming in this movie, it is total entertainment. We never know what will happen next or where the action is going. There is a seemingly constant stream of characters that are ridiculously over-the-top so that it is impossible to be bored.

dangerous men2

John S. Rad was an Iranian filmmaker (born Jahangir Salehi Yeganehrad) who said that it took 26 years to complete “Dangerous Men” and I took that to mean that I could expect something special. It turns out that “special” is far from the correct word. I just learned that Rad died in 2007 and this is his only film and it was released in 2005 to a limited audience . Now the film has been revived and we just have to wait and see what the reception will be.

Because there is no sense to the plot, this is a very difficult film to review. In the very beginning, Daniel who is engaged to Mina, kills an assailant who attacked to two of them on a beach but then he is killed by the other as Mina watches in terror. Although narrowly avoiding what will be the first of many attempted sexual assaults, Mina has a taste for calculated vengeance that quite literally kicks in as soon as Daniel’s murderer attempts to stroll angrily off of the beach. In a matter of mere seconds, Mina is transformed from an inconsolable woman, an unaffected femme fatale as she runs after Daniel’s murderer and starts chatting him up and thanking him for freeing her from the dull life she would have had with her fiancé. Mina’s intent is ultimately to lull this killer into a false sense of security so that she may enact her revenge, but you would never be able to tell that just by watching the exchange between the two. With such we see the director’s distaste for rationality and subtleness. These propel the film.

From the moment that Mina stabs the biker in a hotel room with a knife she has hidden between her buttocks. Before you know it, the film has its own agenda of hypnotic incoherence that sets out to trash the minds of anyone who dares to sit through the entire film. It is non-stop amateur-hour insanity that is so curiously genuine in the way that it is done that the movie becomes an unbelievable and unforgettable experience. Rad slaps us cinematically in the face and we wait for more. While we are laughing, we understand that he is sincere in what he has thrown on the screen and he genuinely loves these characters and the world he has created.

dangrous men3

Technically, the movie is sloppily filmed, edited, and executed and it becomes a spectacle in and of itself. Knowing that Rad worked on this for a quarter of a century show us that just because someone loves movies does not mean that he/she can make one.

The movie will probably stay with you for days always confounding you and the viewer has the right to understand as he/she wants.

“REAL BOY”— A Coming of Age Story

realboyposter

“Real Boy”

A Coming of Age Story

Amos Lassen

real boy1“Real Boy” is the coming-of-age story of Bennett Wallace Gwizdalski, a transgender teenager on a journey to find his voice-as a musician, as a friend, as a son, and as a man. As he goes through young adulthood, he works to gain the love and support of his mother, who has deep misgivings about her child’s transition. Along the way, he forges a powerful friendship with his idol, Joe Stevens, a celebrated transgender musician who has his own demons to fight.

realboy2

We meet Bennett when he is a charismatic 19-year-old with dreams of musical stardom. The film follows Bennett through the first two years of his gender transition from female to male as he learns to deal with newfound sobriety and struggles to repair a strained relationship with his mother. He seeks support and mentorship from his musical hero transgender folk singer, Joe Stevens. We watch Bennett as he grows from a teen with problems into a young man who has confidence and as he changes, so do those who are close to him.

realboy3

Joe supports Bennett when his mother cannot but relapses into active addiction and shakes the foundation his relationship with Bennett. Eventually Bennett’s mother, Suzy, works through her shame and confusion to embrace and celebrate her son. And as Bennett matures and his relationships shift, he chronicles his process in his music and writes raw and catchy songs that we hear on the soundtrack.

reallboy4

While this is a film about a girl who becomes a boy but even more than that it is a film about a young person overcoming addiction and finding his voice — as a friend, a son, a musician, and a man.

“KIKI”— The Street and the Dance Floor

kiki poster

“KIKI”

The Street and the Dance Floor

Amos Lassen

“Kiki” is a documentary about New York vogueing that revisits the ballroom scene made famous by Jennie Livingston’s “Paris Is Burning,” which won the grand jury prize at Sundance in 1991. Directed by Sara Jordeno, “Kiki” brings together interviews with on-the-street and dance-floor scenes to create an exhilarating, multifaceted portrait of ballroom participants, a number of whom are L.G.B.T. activists. “Kiki” an ode to gay New York. This is Sara Jordenö’s film that she co-wrote with ballroom dancer and LGBTQ activist Twiggy Pucci Garcon about the next generation of Harlem ballroom dance.

kiki1Here is a film with attitude and lots of energy. We see bright and competitive dance contests that are contrasted with the sometimes painful and challenging personal environments that the film’s subjects are forced to deal with. This is a very special addition to the ongoing stories of marginalized queer and trans life in New York City.

Today, federal government funding backs the balls and houses of New York’s LGBTQ community. They serve as crucial networks for outreach and support of queer youth dealing with such major problems as HIV, teen suicide, inadequate health care, police brutality, and underemployment.

kiki1

Gia Marie Love, a trans woman who faces persistent discrimination and ongoing rejection tells us that her community is well aware of death. The film builds on the legacy of films and TV shows that showcase black and Latino LGBT characters and it reflects a sense of empowerment in the community. ”Kiki”, the title, is a nickname for the current ball scene. We see Garcon and best friend Chi Chi Mizrahi stage a dance on the site of the former Rockland Palace, a Harlem landmark that was once the venue for drag balls in the 1920s and early ’30s. The film rests on shaky ground simply because it will always be compared to “Paris Is Burning”. Livingstone’s film is a classic of the then new queer cinema and it became something of a cultural phenomenon. Of course there is also the possibility that the older film could cause many to want to see the newer.

kiki2

“Kiki” is about the communal strength that comes from embracing difference. Like Livingston, Jordenö is very interested in character. This community is made up of LGBTQ people of color in a city with a notoriously brutal police force, has a lot of problems. In the context of AIDS and HIV, the frequent rejection of society and family, hate crimes and everything else, the business of living is a full time job. The drag balls emphasize this holistic, artistic identity. We hear from someone that walking the is “telling a story.” It’s all about presenting oneself and saying “I am beautiful.” It is, in a sense, an art of living self-portraiture. The film is an assembly of portraits. This is most obvious in the case of Gia Marie Love, the woman at the thematic center of the film. She is a transgender woman, but Jordenö doesn’t build her into a linear narrative of transition. Instead, she first introduces Gia as an activist and artist and then later uses a series of moving portraits that chart her shifting public image. These shots that have become a staple of nonfiction cinema are a conscious and thematically motivated gesture in this film and it is full of similar portrait shots, the subject looking directly into the camera. Many aren’t even principle subjects. Their images further this interpretation of the Kiki world as a place of self-assurance. It is a community built upon the idea of individuality.

kiki3

This is defiance of the prejudices of society and we see that self-portraiture and pride can lead to being kicked out of a home or refused a job, but here it becomes an act of both empowerment and defiance. It also involves quite a bit of political activism. Jordenö includes a meeting of the Kiki Coalition, an organization of groups such as Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the Hetrick-Martin Institute and others that promote HIV/AIDS testing and education, transgender rights, ending LGBTQ homelessness, and other community issues. The Kiki scene still hangs out at the Chelsea Piers, but now the vogueing is mixed with talk of organizing for the reelection of President Obama. Related to his work fighting LGBTQ homelessness, Twiggy gets an invitation to the White House for a reception honoring LGBTQ activism. That is all new and would not have been possible before. The language has also changed. The discourses around sex work and transgender identity stand out in particular. Jordenö features a number of organized discussions, not just of political issues but also of personal ones. At one point Gia leads a conversation about the relationship between sex work and transgender identity, stressing that no one should judge someone else’s transition, no matter what path they’ve taken. Naturally this kind of political discourse does take some of the artistic fire out of “Kiki”. There are occasional moments of theatrical fantasy, but they don’t have quite the same thrill as in other recent documentaries.

“BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT”— Selling Sex

brothers of the night poster
“Brothers of the Night” (“Brüder der Nacht”)

Selling Sex

Amos Lassen

Director Patric Chiha’s “Brothers of the Night” tells the story of a group of young Bulgarian Roma men, who work as prostitutes in Vienna. They came to Vienna to find freedom and money and they sell their bodies because they have little else. The guys share a feeling of togetherness even if the nights are long and it is impossible to predict what they will bring. This is not the Vienna that we usually see. The guys have come there out of poverty and to make money to help their families. They hang out at a hustler bar called ‘Rüdiger’ in the working class Margareten district. They wait, smoke, drink, play pool, dance, show off, fool around like young bulls and they talk— about their families and prostitutes and among themselves they share stories about the sex work that they do— the ‘bizness’. They have to deal with culture clash and they find themselves on a tight wire between illusion and reality and their lives are transitory, deceptive, and fleeting.

brothers1The feel moves between documentary and dramatized scenes. The film makes no moral judgments as it looks at a tale of survival and the solidarity amongst the ostracized, marginalized outsiders.

The film opens with a long sequence that gives the setting of the film. We see the Wien River with ships moving against the industrial landscape and this suggests the roughness of what we are about to see. We hear the beauty of Mahler’s fifth symphony and it contrasts with the images we’re seeing. The lives of these hustlers should be painful and filled with memories of their families at home and their inability to make money any other way. Yet their camaraderie and the support they have for each other creates a space in which they can exist happily.

brothers2

The film is split in two style wise: half is a dramatization, half is documentary. The way the narrative moves backwards and forwards between styles really shows the seriousness of the subject matter. Interviews explain in shockingly apathetic terms what the characters go through, whilst the dramatization explores the emotional depth of their experiences.

The film comes across in a remarkably light-hearted manner, considering its narrative. The brotherhood shared by the young men creates a sharp juxtaposition from the grittiness and unpredictability of their lives. Most came to Austria to find work in an attempt to support their family. We hear from one who tells that even though his German is now perfect, he was fired from his first job because he did not know the language and began begging and prostituting himself shortly afterwards. No message of morality comes through this film and the conversations between the men about their work are given to us without judgment. No moral is needed here—this is simply a stark look at life and of people who have stumbled into something they’d never imagined themselves doing. They are able to get through it because of the bonds they’ve created, much like the rest of us.

brothers3

When the guys first arrive they can barely speak any German at all and find that, just like back home, there are no jobs for them.  They end up providing sexual services to the old gay men who hang out at the bar and the guys realize that they can earn a great deal more than at a legitimate job.

brothers4

The rent boys are frank and open about the realities of their new lives. All of them are heterosexual and although some are more  cautious about how far they will go with their clients—most will receive oral sex but they refuse to give and they seem more disdainful of the fact that their clients are old rather than of their homosexuality that doesn’t seem to cause many of them much worry or bother.

brothers5

They all look out for each other with genuine concern. They are very much friends even though they may be competing for the same clients and they freely discuss their latest exploits and how much they made. Their aim is to get enough money to buy a house and a car to set themselves up back home in Bulgaria where, even though they are in their early 20’s , they have wives and children. The one who doesn’t is lectured by his friends on how much he must save up to buy a bride, even though they admit that their own marriages are far from happy.  One confesses that he had earned a great deal of money and then fell in love with a Austrian hooker who spent all of it and then left him when he was broke again.   It seems that they are all discovering how to be wild and free and irresponsible which is something that they had not been allowed to do back home.

“ART HO– USE”— Artists and Architecture

art house

“ART HO– USE”

Artists and Architecture

Amos Lassen

Photographer Don Freeman explores homes designed and lived in by notable American artists and reveals the inventiveness derived from the dialogue between each artist’s practice and the construction of their e homes. The homes we see range “from the romantic (Hudson River School painter Frederic Church’s Olana, framing views of the Catskills to echo his paintings), to the futuristic (Paolo Soleri’s silt-casted structure Cosanti growing out of his bell-making experiments in the Arizona desert), to the sublime (George Nakashima’s mid-century modern ode to the beauty and versatility of wood), what they all have in common is a fierce spirit of individual expression that deserves deeper examination in this age of architectural standardization”.

art1

Some artists don’t just create masterpieces, they also live in them. The film gives a unique architectural typology characterized by an aesthetic and a fierce spirit of individual expression.

art2

“Art House” traces the trajectory of the American artist-designed home from its 19th-century roots as it looks at houses created by 12 artists from diverse disciplines. We see the inventiveness derived from the dialogue between each artist’s practice and the construction of their handmade homes. Commentary from cultural critic Alastair Gordon and a haunting score aid in providing the spiritual dimension of the locations and argue the case that intuitive vision of artists can create great architecture.

art3

Each of the private domains featured is “imbued with the unique vision of its creator, and a physical embodiment of what it means to be an artist, to live an integrated life dedicated to art”. By and large, the artists were not architects. The fate of many of the houses in the film remains in the balance regarding conservation efforts that is tremendously expensive. Freeman notes, “It’s my hope that the dissemination of this film will bring awareness to these houses so that the public will support and experience them in person.”

art4

Art House is an artist’s attempt at historic preservation for a neglected architectural typology. As some of the photographs and video represent the last record of the house as created by the artist, the film is both a love song and a call for preservation.

art6

With limited narration about each artist from scholars, friends, and family, we can see how their artistic style and personal views are reflected in the homes that they built. The film is beautifully photographed and we see the artists as real people.

“STRANGE & FAMILIAR: ARCHITECTURE ON FOGO ISLAND” — Visions of Positive Change

strange and failiar

“STRANGE & FAMILIAR: ARCHITECTURE ON FOGO ISLAND”

Visions of Positive Change

Amos Lassen

Marcia Connelly and Katherine Knight”s “Strange and Familiar” we get a look at Fogo Island, a small community off of Newfoundland that is struggling to maintain its unique way of life as its cod fishing industry is failing. We become aware of architect Todd Saunders and social entrepreneur Zita Cobb’s vision for positive change that has resulted in the envisioning, designing and building of strikingly original architecture whose function is to be a catalyst for social change. Together with community and local workers, the people who live on the island work to bring change to the island.

strange1

When Saunders released the first images that excited those who work in the world of architecture. Since then, Fogo Island has been documented in more than 80 international magazines and blogs. The striking buildings that we see are located in an equally dramatic natural setting of the landscape of Fogo Island. The combination of sophisticated design and wilderness backdrop gives a contemporary frame to an ancient landscape; one that includes the excitement of living on the edge in relation to nature and to modern design. The success of Todd Saunders’ designs shows Fogo Island as a geo-tourism destination and fulfills one of the goals of Zita Cobb, the Island born social entrepreneur. With her ‘arts-centric’ approach she has spearheaded the architectural commission and an international artists residency while enlisting the local support that has helped get these projects off the ground. The members of the Island community, some two thousand people have a lot at stake.

strange2With the death of the traditional cod industry, Fogo Island society must find new ways to generate its economy or die. The success of Cobb’s project depends on retaining what is special about the way of life on Fogo Island while, at the same time, redefining its place in the world. For Todd Saunders the Fogo Island commission is something of a homecoming. Saunders is based in Norway where his reputation has been established but he was born and raised in Gander, Newfoundland, just over two hours journey from Fogo Island. The Fogo Island project is therefore very personal for him and client satisfaction takes on a whole new meaning when the client, as in this case, includes friends and family. Newfoundland was a formative experience for Saunders as a person and as an architect. This deeply shared background sensitizes his awareness that each detail of the buildings he designs have to be scrupulously ‘right’ in the eyes of his most demanding critics; the citizens of Fogo Island.

strange3

The requirement of the project is that every aspect respect to the cultural traditions that inspire it.  The charm of rural Newfoundland outpost communities lies in the human scale of the buildings, and in what writer Chris Brooks describes as “the poetry of inhabiting a particular piece of geography over centuries, spoken in the language of village architecture.” We see  “proportion, modesty, honesty of materials and the sustainable balance between community and nature”.  For Zita Cobb the project has to “take the lived experience, take the land, take who we are, and do our very best to express it in a contemporary way.” For Saunders immediately signed on because there was no way that anybody “knew more about this place than I did as an architect”. His buildings pay respect his heritage while imbuing each structure with the spirit of the ‘new’ and finds a winning balance between the strange and familiar.

strange5

Beautifully photographed over all four seasons, this is a visual narrative that unfolds over time as the Fogo Island Inn is being constructed. Cobb’s belief in the tension of opposites as a positive force in human experience is reflected throughout the film.  The Inn is totally modern yet filled with textures inherited from the past. The idea of moving forward while reaching back is easily felt in the juxtaposition of old and new architecture. There are extensive interviews with Todd Saunders and Zita Cobb that provide intimate insight into the personalities and motivations behind the creation of the new and adventurous architecture. An extensive cast of local residents gives the real-world context in which the buildings exist.

“CLAUDE LANZMANN: SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH”— After Seven Years of Filming and Five Years of Editing

lanzmann

“Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah”

After Seven Years of Filming and Five Years of Editing

Amos Lassen

“Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah” is a gripping 40-minute film in which we get a memorable account of how making “Shoah”, his almost 10-hour documentary about the Holocaust, took Claude Lanzmann 12 years. He later said that “I made the film, but the film made me.”

Off-screen, Adam Benzine was known as a 32-year-old film journalist who had crossed the Atlantic from London, where he grew up, to Toronto to take a job at Realscreen magazine. Instead he will become known as man who made the film about Lanzmann

that tells the story of the veteran French director, and how creating a record of how the Nazis murdered six million Jews became the overwhelming and defining event of his life. It has already been thirty years since “Shoah” had its world premiere.

Seeing the Holocaust on screen gives two responses—either the viewer feels that he has seen too many films about or that we should make films on the subject. Lanzmann’s epic examination of the genocide—is the most harrowing, memorable, and brilliant film of them all. When we take into account the material that Lanzmann was dealing with we realize that this is a very significant film if not a work-of-art.

While Benzine was deciding which clips to use in his documentary, he decided to use what many consider to be the signature sequence of the film, when Lanzmann interviews Abraham Bomba, a barber in Tel Aviv, about his memories of cutting the hair of people who were about to be exterminated at Treblinka. The man goes on to describe another barber who finds himself cutting the hair of his own wife and daughter before they are sent to the gas chambers. Lanzmann looks almost cruel in making the barber reveal his anecdote, but Benzine gets him to discuss why he felt it so important for the story to be revealed. “His tears were as precious as blood to me,” Lanzmann says. Lanzmann believes that the conversations that he filmed with survivors had him live a life of bereavement. As he worked on the film he has said that he felt like a cold-war spy and he relates that when he tracked down a Nazi officer who agreed to let them into his home, he and his crew carried a bag in with them, which contained a hidden camera and microphone. The Nazi’s wife became suspicious, and asked him to open the bag. When he refused, an argument broke out and several men showed up at the door, suspicious of the film crew. They rushed out into the street and were chased for several blocks when Lanzmann and one other crewmember were beaten. Lanzmann’s injuries were so serious he spent a month recuperating in a hospital.

Getting access to Lanzmann required Benzine to adopt his own spy tactics. He met up with the director at a British film festival that was screening “Shoah” and Lanzmann was personable but made it clear he was busy. Contacting a friend who worked in programming at the BBC, Benzine suggested they screen Lanzmann’s work for the film’s thirtieth anniversary. His friend loved the idea, so Benzine followed up and thought about making his own documentary about Lanzmann to be shone with it. He was told that there would be no pay but

Benzine wasn’t bothered by this and simply asked for a letter confirming the documentary on BBC letterhead that he then sent to Lanzmann. The official seal of the respected British broadcaster led to a yes from Lanzmann’s office, and Benzine proceeded with two full years of intense research. This involved watching all of Lanzmann films, going over his files and digitizing hundreds of hours of unseen outtakes of “Shoah” at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Benzine is honest about Lanzmann’s reputation as a difficult person (the director kept lying to his backers how much time and money would be needed to finish the film). Legendary filmmaker Marcel Ophuls describes Lanzmann as a “megalomaniac” early in the documentary. But Benzine, who spent $50,000 of his own money on the project, says he feels “quite defensive” about the man behind “Shoah”. This film is about “the making of Claude—or the unmaking of Claude, as it were. Obviously, people appreciate “Shoah”, but I’m not sure they know the toll it took on him. Frankly, only a ‘difficult’ person could have survived the process.”

In the film Lanzmann, describes a moment halfway through the 12-year marathon required to complete it when he went for a dip in the Mediterranean Sea. As the coastline of Israel receded, the director’s arms became quite tired and he realized he wouldn’t make it back. Just as he reconciled himself to drowning, a stronger swimmer came to his aid and helped Lanzmann back to shore. “I wasn’t happy I was saved,” Lanzmann recalled, realizing he would have to go on with the Herculean task of finishing his 1985 film. The near-death experience is one of the more dramatic recollections in the 40-minute film, in which Lanzmann discusses the seven years of filming and five years of editing required to produce “Shoah.”

“Making the film was total war against everything and everybody,” Lanzmann recalls in “Spectres.” “I was proud of what I had achieved, but it didn’t relieve me of my anguish.” “Spectres of the Holocaust,” which Benzine wrote, produced and directed, is filled with dramatic moments. “Having created such an important historical record, Lanzmann himself has become a historical subject, and there are distinct parallels between the interview techniques he describes using and he gentle way he is prompted to push his own boundaries.”

Having created such an important historical record, Lanzmann himself has become a historical subject, and there are distinct parallels between the interview techniques he describes using and he gentle way he is prompted to push his own boundaries. This short documentary is a mixture of anecdote and reflections, parts of the later clearly being difficult for its subject, who recalls how the process of making “Shoah” changed him: to confront others with truth about what happened in he camps, he had first to face it himself, and to spend years immersed in it, sometimes watching the same harrowing footage over and over again.

“THE TRIAL OF SIR ROGER CASEMENT”— When is a Man a Traitor

Sir_Roger_Casement_(6188264610)

“The Trial of Sir Roger Casement”

When Is a Man a Traitor?

Amos Lassen

Sir Roger Casement was once a national hero in Britain, Sir Roger Casement. He was an Irishman, is tried for treason during the First World War.

To this day the name of Roger Casement is a sore spot between England and the republic of Eire. He was executed by hanging for high treason in 1917 for his part in the events leading to the Easter Rebellion of the preceding year. The leaders of that Rebellion knew that they had a good chance being killed by Casement’s story has a different aspect to it. He was (up to 1914) a national hero to the British public because of activities in Africa and South America that made him an international figure. Casement became a member of the British Diplomatic Corps. In the early 1900s he was assigned to the then Belgium Congo, and with Edmund Morel had exposed the cruelty and atrocities practiced on the population there by King Leopold II of Belgium in exploiting the fabulous mineral wealth of that colony for that monarch’s personal profit. This resulting scandal led to the King to surrender possession of it to his nation. After Casement left the Congo, he was sent to South America, and found similar atrocities to report from his new station. As a result of this fine work of bringing this material to the world’s attention, Casement was knighted.

Keeping this in mind, you can understand the degree of anger felt in England towards Sir Roger to this day. Casement identified himself with Ireland, not England. When World War I broke out, Casement headed for Wilhelmine Germany and offered his services there to the Germans in return for their assistance in freeing Ireland. They agreed. Casement was supposed to play a key role in the Easter Rebellion, when he was to deliver a large shipload (the first of many promised) to the rebels. But the delivery was botched up, and Casement captured.

What happened afterward remains a subject of controversy and anger. The British Government was determined to punish Casement (who lost his knighthood) In preparing their case against him, the Government was aware of his popularity due to his humanitarian work. Casement was an international figure. So many began to argue for his being given special treatment. People like George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edmund Morel, Gilbert Chesterton, were insisting that Casement was not a simple rebel but a man who may have done his “evil” actions due to mental problems. The new Lloyd George government had replaced the less able Asquith regime in a real palace coup in November 1916. David Lloyd George did not believe in half-way measures, and wanted to set up Casement as an example.

A weapon turned up – one that still leaves an unpleasant taste to this day. Casement, like us all, had his secret side. In his case he was a homosexual. His diary fell into the hands of Scotland Yard chief Sir Basil Thompson and it showed the he was “a pervert”. Soon copies of the more salacious sections of the diary were being read all over London. Popular support for Casement collapsed and the result was a conviction for treason and he hanged at Pentonville Prison in 1917.

In the 1960s, at the demands of the government of Ireland, Casement’s body was dug out of the prison graveyard and returned to his nation. It is in a more fitting memorial there today as a national hero.

“SUITED”— Bindel & Keep

suited poster

“Suited”

Bindel & Keep

Amos Lassen

Jason Benjamin’s “Suited” is a look at Brooklyn-based tailoring outfit Bindle & Keep that tailors suits for those outside of the gender binary. For transgender people tailored clothing is not a luxury but it many cases a necessity and an affirmation of identity — a release from the unwelcoming cisgendered conventions of retail clothing. We meet six contrasting clients through the measuring and fitting process and hear personal testimonies making this quite a film. It will begin airing on HBO this summer.

suited1

The business was founded in 2011 by Daniel Friedman, a straight cis former architect who turned to tailoring with the initial intent of making clothing for the Wall Street crowd but this changed when the met transmasculine Rae Tutera, who joined his business as an apprentice before persuading him of the commercial potential in a high-end couturier for the trans and genderqueer community.

Since then, the company has grown even larger than the doc implies: It now employs a team of tailors in the Big Apple and Washington, D.C. and has a nationwide client base. Each of the film’s case studies is introduced via the website appointment form that brings them to Bindle & Keep for the first time and it outlines their essential dilemmas in a section headed “The More We Know.”  The first client that we met is Appalachian-born transgender male nurse looking for a wedding suit for his impending marriage to fiancée Joanna: His is the narrative in which the film most extensively invests and we follow not just the wedding preparations, but a medical procedure important to his personal self-realization as a man. 

suited2

We hear supportive testimonies from Matteson’s  straight-laced family. Everett Arthur, an African-American law student from Atlanta is next and we see that he faces both parental and professional discrimination for his decision to live as a man. He wants and needs a courtroom-ready suit. There are four other customers that gender-nonconforming cabbie Melissa Plait, who wants to see out her 40th birthday party in pinstriped suit; transgender adolescent Aidan Star Jones, who wants suitably masculine attire for his upcoming bar mitzvah; and attorney Jillian T. Weiss who needs a suit Then there is Lena Durham’s younger sibling Grace who lives with an androgynous identity and wants a “dark wool suit … to run around in.

What I  wish we were able to see is some of the tailors’ own art and craft and to learn about the suits’ unique shaping and construction.“Suited” is a compassionate study of personal transformation from the inside out and perfect and present what has already been made. Transitioning is mainly about having one’s body brought into line with a person’s true identity and one of the issues is that trans men and women see that traditional gender specific clothes do not suit them and their new lives. When Rae Tutera transitioned from Rachel, he approached Daniel Friedman about making him a custom suit.  Rae was so very impressed with it that he asked Daniel to take him on as an apprentice tailor to learn the trade, and he never left.

suited3

Now some five years later, Daniel who is a straight man and Rae have garnered quite a reputation and a group of customers. Rae and Daniel have developed a deep understanding that they need to know exactly what their clients hope to achieve with their new clothes, and when we see their customers joyous faces, we realize that they are doing a wonderful and needed job.

“Bernie” by Ted Rall— A New Graphic Biography

bernie

Rall, Ted. “Bernie”, Seven Stories Press, 2016.

A New Graphic Biography

Amos Lassen

I have always been fascinated by books that come out during election season. As many of us realize, this is Bernie Sanders’s moment and to understand Bernie, it is a good idea to have a look at Ted Rall’s new graphic biography of the man that has already landed on three bestseller lists: the “New York Times”, the “Boston Globe”, and the “San Francisco Chronicle”. It is a clearly written assessment of how the Democratic Party has begun its move to the right.

Rall takes us back to McGovern’s loss to Nixon in 1972 and to the Occupy movement, showing readers exactly how the American public was ready to embrace a socialist calling for a political revolution. This is an “illuminating, clear-headed, straight-shooting argument on why American voters should support and elect Senator Bernie Sanders to president”.

The book begins with a mini-course in contemporary American government and economics that traces the Democratic Party’s persistent movement to the right over the past several decades. Rall maintains that Sanders is the only candidate whose passions and commitments favor the American people rather than corporations or big government. While this is a graphic book, we see that each page is half text and half caricature style illustration. This is a format that provides a lot of information in an easy way to understand. For Sanders supporters there is plenty of solid political ammunition and it appeals to politically minded readers. It is so much more than a campaign biography in that it traces the decline and possible resurgence of liberalism within the Democratic Party and is an effectively partisan look at a “strong voice from the left to counter the Democrats’ rightward shift.” It argues why Bernie Sanders is where he is politically and why there is again a restoration of liberalism to a Democratic Party that has not been there since the McGovern campaign. It is important to note that a large part of the book is not about Bernie at all but rather a history of the rightward drifting of the Democratic Party over the decades. We do also get a lot about Bernie’s childhood and career.

This can also serve as a guidebook to the Bernie Sanders campaign — and the uncompromising candidate behind it in that it is insightful as well as being totally accessible. We learn of Bernie’s early life and what made it possible for a Jewish socialist to rally voters and become a real presidential contender. I am not sure that we were able to say that just two months ago.

We all must make ourselves aware that democracy is a fragile and to survive, the ordinary citizens must be able to earn a decent living.

“Bernie” is a quick read that is sympathetic to its subject with an accurate take on political developments. is largely accurate. We naturally assume that political progressives will favor this book and indeed there is a compelling case for progressivism here. People who are not on the political left might just find themselves reconsidering how they feel about progressive politics.