Monthly Archives: February 2016

“The Life of David” by Robert Pinsky— Poet, Warrior and King

the life of david

Pinsky, Robert. “The Life of David”, (Jewish Encounters Series). Nextbooks, Schocken, 2005.

Poet, Warrior and King

Amos Lassen

Poet, warrior, and king, David still today continues to haunt our collective imagination because his flaws and inconsistencies make him a very approachable biblical hero. Robert Pinsky, former poet laureate of the United States, digs into the depths of David’s life and looks at “his triumphs and his failures, his charm and his cruelty, his divine destiny and his human humiliations”. He uses the biblical chronicle of David’s life as well as on the later commentaries and the Psalms that are traditionally considered to be David’s own words— Pinsky reweaves them into a wonderful and narrative and brings David to life.

Pinksy’s poetic language is beautifully appropriate to retell the life of the king who is traditionally accepted as the author of the poetic psalms, some of which are included in the narrative. Pinsky’s broad scope is reflected in his references to Greek literature, Shakespeare, Dante, Simone Weil, Talmudists and Robert Frost, among others. He acknowledges his indebtedness to Robert Alter, whose definitive book “The David Story” was published in 1999. Pinsky throws out the conventional image of David as a simple shepherd who slew Goliath and became Israel’s greatest king and instead shows David an adulterer, assassin and predator. Pinsky also gives us David’s stellar achievements thus presenting him as a complex character that should be seen in shades of gray.

In prose that is rich in metaphor, Pinsky looks at the peculiarities, paradoxes, and timeless significance of David’s often stunning and awesome story from his golden days as a handsome young man who took on King Saul as well as his wild years as a desert vigilante and his rise to the throne of Israel. David’s story is one of daring, desire, power, and survival. We also meet David’s women— Michal who he loved and hated and Bathsheba, mother of Solomon. As a boy, David out of nowhere and by courage and daring made himself king of the Israelite tribes, and established his court in Jerusalem. The story of David is one of the great literary and historical achievements that is detailed even though it took place some 3000 years ago.

He was a thug and a master politician who major goal was to defeat his enemies. He was unscrupulous and at one point he was a mercenary for a tribe at war with his own people. He raided and pillaged isolated groups of that tribe, and in order to cover up his treachery, slaughtered every single person in the isolated groups he warred against. He stole another man’s wife and had the husband murdered. He deposed a king and gave those family members to another tribe to be murdered. When one of his sons tried to depose him, he sent his men to fight the rebellious son and when the son was killed, he found a way to blame the henchman and not the son. He always had way.

David’s first wife saved his life at great risk to her own, yet David despised her. He refuses to let her live with a man who loved her but refused to give her children, When his son rebelled and drove David out of the city, he made a political point by sleeping with the women in David’s harem.

This book is organized in historical context. David was the first successful king of the Israelite, at a time when pastoral tribes all over the world were also becoming kingdoms and this explains why David’s census of the population aroused so much opposition because a census was a means of bureaucratic control over a loose confederation of nomads.

Pinsky wonderfully goes into the back story of the characters and not only gives us the major events in David’s life, he also comments on them. Additionally, he highlights difficulties in Scripture and problematical texts. Likewise, he shares facts that most of us are unaware of.

“Shylock is My Name” by Howard Jacobson— A Retelling of “The Merchant of Venice”


Jacobson, Howard. “Shylock Is My Name”, Hogarth Books, 2016.

A Retelling of “The Merchant of Venice”

Amos Lassen

Howard Jacobson’s clever and entertaining retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” gives substance to his reputation as one of the finest Jewish writers working today. This is the second in the Hogarth series of contemporary writers reimaging Shakespeare’s plays (The first was Jeanette Winterson’s “The Gap of Time” based on “The Winter’s Tale”). There is no doubt in my mind that Jacobson is well aware of the dangers of rewriting the man who is the greatest writer in the English language and that is why he is so careful in his approach to the original. He is also perhaps the best person to undertake Shylock since his last two books have dealt with the issue of Jewish identity. With Shylock being the most influential Jewish character in English literature, he needs someone who understands him not just as a person but as a Jew. He is a giant character who looms larger than the drama he is a part of and the dominates the drama on stage. In fact, he is so large that he takes on a life of his own and while he came from Shakespeare, he is not tied to him.

Jacobson, I believe, certainly is aware of the difficulties and the dangers of rewriting Shakespeare and he remains careful in how he approaches the original text. In his two latest published works, “The Finkler Question” and “J: A Novel”, Jacobson has dealt with the issue of Jewish identity and therefore he seems to be the right person for this undertaking with Shylock being perhaps the most influential Jewish character in English literature. Because he is ambiguous in “The Merchant of Venice”, he is also ambiguous in Jacobson’s story. He is a metaphor for how the gentile world sees as vices of Jews— greed, vengeance, legalistic to the letter of the law and does not hold well to mercy. When Portia reminds him with that wonderful line, “The quality of mercy is not strained, she presents Shylock with an expression of Christian ideals in which we see a Jew’s refusal to conform to Christian behavior.

I have always found it interesting that the most famous speech in the play is when Shylock begins with “Hath not a Jew eyes?” undermines the way Shakespeare gives us a stereotype of a Jew that becomes allegorical in the way Judaism is seen. I have always loved the drama of “The Merchant of Venice” but I also been bewildered by Shakespeare’s decision to create the character and if there was some reason that prompted him to do so. As a graduate student in Shakespeare seminars, I had never heard this point approached. It is also fascinating that the drama is still relevant today. I must admit that I was not completely convinced that anyone could pull this and therefore I was apprehensive about reading this. I knew that I enjoyed Jacobson’s writing and so I was somewhat ecstatic to find out that “Shylock Is My Name” is profound and thoughtful, funny at times and very, very readable.

Shakespeare’s Shylock is an individual who is filled with humanity and he is realistic. He refuses to believe that the fact that he is Jewish in any make makes him differ from any of the Christian characters who use him as well as make him miserable. Shakespeare is masterful in the way that we identify with and are pathetic toward Shylock.

Howard Jacobson does not simply retell “The Merchant of Venice” and there is no doubt that he had an extremely difficult time changing the Shylock of the stage to Shylock, a character in a novel. When a character is on stage, we see him and he is defined as much by what he does not say as by what he does say. Shylock, on stage, is an individual and this marks him and ultimately becomes his fate. In a novel, we only see Shylock in our mind’s eye and therefore what we see is what we get from how the author portrays him. This means that Jacobson has to call the shots and tell is how he feels about himself, about Judaism, about gentiles and about justice. To state these right out would rob or lessen the power he might have. This is where Jacobson is clever. He retells the story in contemporary times yet he relies upon the way the people of Venice behaved when the original was written in the 16th century. We see Antonio transformed into D’Anton, an art collector whose sexual orientation is not clear. Portia’s becomes Plurabelle, a television talk show host living in a wealthy part of Cheshire and her wooer (Bassanio) is dull Barnaby. Representing Shylock is Simon Strulovich, a very rich philanthropist and collector of art who is really worried about his wild daughter, Beatrice. Ah, but Shylock is also present as Shylock who has managed to stay alive for four centuries and who meets Strulovich in a cemetery. So this Shylock picks up another attribute that people have tacked on to Jews, that they wander and Shylock has been wandering for quite some time. I did not mean to confuse by saying that there are two Shylocks so bear with it and see what this means. One thing about Jacobson is that he always ties loose ends up before the story ends. Just understand the difference between “representing” and “being”.

Shylock and Strulovich become friends and Strulovich’s life soon resembles Shylock’s and before we know we come to Jacobson’s “pound of flesh”, the circumcision of Beatrice’s dumb, football player boyfriend, Gratan. Strulovich demands that Gratan be circumcised if he wants to marry his daughter.

Having read other books by Jacobson, I was a bit concerned that he would use the drama as a way to bring in philosophical and political discussions as he explored the concepts of Jewish identity and anti-Semitism. Then I realized that these were only surface issues. The characters propel the story and they have been created with wonderful empathy especially since he was, in a sense, recreating characters that had already existed but in another form. This made the way he dealt with time and history difficult but being the master of language that he is, it all works out. I love how Jacobson toys with intellect something we do not get enough in the literature of today.

Looking back on what I have said here, I realize that “Shylock is my Name” is not really a reimagining of Shakespeare. It has long been debated as to whether the themes of the original are identity and anti-Semitism. I just can’t see the audiences of the time seeing it that way but that is what Jacobson writes about and I expected that. What I did not expect was the wonderful wit with what he has written. The fact that Shylock is Jewish should not matter to the story but it does. Strulovich is, no doubt, a Jew. Because of that he is an outsider and we really see this with Beatrice falls for Gratan who says that he loves Jewish women yet uses Nazi salutes. One of the biggest questions regarding the original is that it is considered to be a comedy and yet there are scholars who maintain it is a tragedy. Jacobson has not written but a very funny book and we see that the controversy is settled in his own mind.

In the original we are never really sure if Shakespeare’s Shylock was a vilification or was Shylock reacting to justify the anger he felt at being persecuted. Were we to approve of and identify with the anti-Semitism of the other actors or do we see how hypocritical they are?

Did Shakespeare mean to vilify Shylock or was he justifying his rage at his persecution? Did he mean for us to identify with, and approve of the anti-Semitic players or to expose the hypocrisy of their actions? While Jacobson does not answer these questions, he gives us a great deal more to think about. For me, that is the purpose of literature. Portia as Plurabelle is vulgar and this probably stems from her sense of entitlement. We really see this in the game of “Jewepithets” that she plays with D’Anton. I am not sure how to take this—is it Jewish paranoia to know games liked are played in the gentile world? This presents quite a picture of non-Jewish England. Granted, this not the core of the book and the real center of the story is the debates between Shylock and Strulovich.

Jacobson’s Shylock knows that he cannot change his past but neither can we close the door on it. What he can do is speak to Strulovich and encourage him not to live as he did. Pity is a major issue and we see that pity does not change justice.


“TOMCAT”— Andreas, Stefan and Moses

“Tomcat” (“Kater”)

Andreas, Stefan and Moses

Amos Lassen

Andreas and Stefan lead a happy and passionate life. Together with their beloved tomcat Moses, They live in a beautiful old house in the vineyards of Vienna with their beloved tomcat named Moses. Stefan is a musician and Andreas is a scheduler for the same orchestra and they have a great group of friends. Their life was quiet and filled with music, friends, naked breakfasts and lovely parties in the garden. Their lives were idyllic. Then a snake entered their world as if it is an omen of things to come. The guys dispose of it and then, suddenly, an unexpected and inexplicable outburst of violence suddenly shakes up the relationship and everything is called into question.

This is a still, actorly, meditative film of meaningful silences with lingering long-shots and occasional over-the-top histrionics. We see and feel the pain is ultimately real as is the anger. We all have raw, unruly emotions swirling inside us. How do we react? Do we push them down or let them out? Do we try to deal with them or do we allow them to rule us? These are the questions that the film looks at.


Klaus Händl directed this sensuous and delicate look at gay love that is torn asunder by a moment of violence. The opening titles of rehearsal room paintings of naked men and dancing ladies with its slashed musical accompaniment show us that moods can turn on a dime. Naked and blissfully in love, Stefan and Andreas exist in a an Eden of plenty from which they harvest plums and redcurrants and turn them into conserves for their friends. They live there with their tomcat Moses (so named as a foundling from the pound), but their paradise is soon lost when Moses brings in a frozen snake. Their expulsion of the snake comes in the form of a moment of violence, which drives a wedge of anger, guilt and disgust between them. Beautifully filmed and deliciously acted, Händl hovers over every turn and every emotion, occasionally wallowing in moments that could have been shorter. But with an exciting array of potential developments (domestic violence, the human propensity for cruelty, or a curious metaphor for homosexual infidelity), the film is a frustratingly linear experience whose success (or failure) depends on how one feels about house pets. Ultimately it’s a simple (if delicately told) story of crisis and reconciliation. The performances are dazzlingly intimate from Lukas Turtur and Philipp Hochmair and there are haunting moments and unexpected surprises making this an enjoyably sensuous tale of paradise regained.

An inexplicable violent impulse shatters the connubial bliss of a Viennese gay couple in Austrian actor-turned-director Handl Klaus’ second feature. Moses, the handsome cat is described by a dinner guest as “the pasha of the house” and it’s true he not only rules his domain, he also owns every scene. Sleeping, yawning, stretching, licking his paws or prowling the garden for prey, he’s the very picture of contentment and a delight to watch. But idyllic situations rarely remain undisturbed for long in European films and this one is shattered by a sudden, unfathomable act of violence that calls into question everything one of the cat’s owners feels for and thinks he knows about the other.

Director Handl beautifully crafted his film on a technical level, filling the widescreen canvas with images of startling clarity, drenched in soft natural light. It sometimes feels slow and demands patience.

The film is very frank regarding sex and nudity and these serve to illustrate the relaxed physicality of Andreas and Stefan’s relationship. They seem to spend all their time at home naked, getting it on to Miles Davis or just holding each other’s penises like cute pets. They’re in equal harmony with the natural world, picking berries and plums for the table from their garden or mushrooms from the woods. They even try to share their connubial bliss by helping to loosen up Lorenz (Thomas Stipsits), the shy clarinetist, who’s in a much more guarded relationship with Russian bassoonist Vladimir (Manuel Ripley).

After a half-hour of this domestic paradise, conflict is expected and it comes when Stefan is sitting naked at the table and idly petting Moses. A sudden move from the cat makes him react with an uncontrolled violent impulse. Afterwards, he can neither explain nor understand it, and Andreas can’t bear to look at or talk to him, let alone share his bed. We know the relationship is broken because they both start wearing underwear. Also, the source music (the film has no score) shifts from sexy Ravel to Schubert, Bach and Janacek. And in one of several blunt visual metaphors, even nature turns on them when Stefan falls from a ladder while picking plums.

That severe accident scares Andreas into breaking his silence and lowering his walls. But the healing process is long and complicated, with the trauma resurfacing in their lives at intervals without warning. The central issue, even after Stefan has ostensibly been forgiven, is Andreas’ anxiety over whether or not he’ll ever again be able to have sex with his partner. Will he be able to accept this terrifying, unknowable part of the man he loves?

Handl puts all the pieces in place for a consideration of the lasting impact on a happy union of impulse control disorder and the inescapable fears it sparks of repeat behavior. We get a dramatically inert eternity of Stefan and Andreas mourning what they had and may have lost forever, a pain not just internalized but one that shakes their bodies. Hochmair and Turner could not be more fully committed to their roles but they cannot provide the insight the film needs.

“SUCKER”— Dreams Destroyed



Dreams Destroyed

Amos Lassen

When Chinese-Australian teenager Lawrence (John Luc) fails his high-school exams because of cheating, he destroyed his dreams of a medical degree and is sent to the country for the summer. There, he meets a conman, the Professor, and his cynical daughter Sarah, and learns that even the sneakiest scam can’t conjure up love. Even with the mess he is in, Lawrence does not give up on furthering his education and he becomes the protégé of a very seasoned conman (Timothy Spall) and he begins an odyssey of a road trip to learn “the art of swindling”. Going with him and the professor is the Professor’s daughter, Sarah (Lily Sullivan). They set out to pull off the biggest scam ever, but Lawrence is soon forced to make a choice between love, life and lies.



“Sucker” is an Australian comedy that is based on the Lawrence Lelung stage show of the same name. It’s a take on a classic con tale about a simple scam movie and while it is by no means a greet movie, it id not a terrible one either. It has some fun moments and likable characters but it’s a mess.

Timothy Spall as the professor is just unlikable and I would have liked to know some more about his past. Lily Sullivan is quite good as Sarah and John Luc as Lawrence gives over enthusiastic performance and he is at times quite endearing. However, he is no actor and we see that clearly.


The movie was co-written by Lawrence Leung, an Australian comedian, writer and director from Melbourne who actually wrote the part for himself but he is now too old to play it. Ben Chessell directed and co-wrote with Leung.

Sucker centers on Lawrence who got caught cheating on his medical exams and this means automatic failure and of course, shames him and his parents. As punishment for his actions, his father sends him off to live with his Uncle Sam (Yang Li), who sounds an awful lot like am Arnold Schwarzenegger type guy. While helping his uncle at his chess club, he meets “The Professor” who is very drunk and very vocal. He challenges the club members to a match, all together but what they do not know is that he’s playing them against one another. Lawrence catches on and now wants to learn more from him about the con game. After tricking his uncle into thinking he’s off to do some medical studies, Lawrence joins the Professor and his daughter Sarah as they go from town to town cheating gullible folks of their earnings. While Lawrence is learning a bit about the con game, he attempts a con of his own, which was a bust. However, he’s really learning more about life and love, including his feelings for Sarah. We see that Sarah isn’t happy with her life and really wants a way out. The moment arrives when the trio enters a high-stakes poker game that could be the big score for The Professor and a way for Lawrence to pay back his parents for the money they spent on his education. In the end, Lawrence walks away with a valuable lesson in life and love.



I understood that this was a comedy and I was ready for some laughs that did not come. I smiled several times and chuckled one or twice but there were no real laughs. I am not familiar with John Luc who I understand is a sensation on YouTube as MyChonny, a naive young Asian teenager. Perhaps that influenced how I saw the film.


There are some cheesy moments in “Sucker” but largely the good outweighs the bad. The film does have an emotional level, it’s not just scam after scam or I was not into the romance between Lawrence and Sarah do actually invest an interest in the romance between Lawrence and Sarah and that could be that she is also a con artist. We wonder if she really feels something for Lawrence or is it another scam. With The Professor we are also never quite sure who he is. The back story of his broken heart adds another element to his character but I am just not convinced that he can be trusted.

This is a nice way to spend a couple of hours as long as there are no great expectations.

“FINDING GASTÓN”— A National Hero

finding gaston


A National Hero

Amos Lassen

Even with all of the chefs all over the world, there is only one who is considered to be a national hero. Here we meet chef Gaston Acurio and follow him in a journey to find out the stories, the inspirations and the dreams behind the man and how he is on mission to change his country with food. I doubt that many of us have had the experience of tasting Peruvian cuisine and the power that it has. Gaston is largely credited with creating and popularizing Peruvian cuisine and shares his stories, the inspirations and the dreams that have inspired him to take his cuisine outside the kitchen and make it part of a mission to change his country with his food.


Today there is a growing tendency to taste food from all over the world and lately food from Peru has gained popularity. It all began at home in Peru with Gaston and director Patricia Perez shows us how his passion has spread all over the world. Gaston is greatly enthusiastic and he has garnered the support of indigenous farmers and fishermen.

finding gaston1

Acurio began his restaurant career in Lima, serving up French cuisine with his German wife, Astrid, but he did not feel fulfilled and he began thinking about the richness of his country’s gastronomic offerings. These thoughts gave birth to “Astrid y Gaston” that soon was finding itself on lists of the world’s top dining establishments. He now has franchises all over the world and because of his wonderful personality, he changed Peru from the country that was famous for Machu Picchu to a place that is famous for its food and he has become the unofficial ambassador of Peru. Director Perez has filmed him films him traveling the country, sampling regional fare and praising local quinoa farmers practicing traditional crop-raising techniques. We see him speaking with fishermen whose methods of catching fish are unique.


Gaston nurtures the talent of others and he teaches children in school about the riches of Peru and in doing so, he encourages a new generation of future chefs. Talking heads speak about Gaston’s impact on his country and that he has raised its profile and brought about a sense of Peruvian pride. Looking at the shots of the food makes one’s water and the stomach hungry.


It should be no surprise that the film has already won awards in San Sebastián, Spain, New York City, Washington D.C., and Berlin. We not only become enlightened about the food of Peru but also about the country itself and the citizens that grow the crops, catch the fish and farm the meat.

The director gravitated toward Gastón as the subject for a film and she was surprised that no one had yet made a movie about him. Gaston is an important part of the story of what Peru has become and he is a very public figure in Peru. Her idea was to talk about the real things that Gaston works on and the people around him.


The idea was to tell the story of all these other characters that are really relevant to the gastronomic chain through Gaston. She thought this would be a way for those who did not know of him to learn., but that people might not be aware of.

Some people in Peru think that Gastón is a chef that has a restaurant, but as the filming took place over three years, we see that he does so much else. It is important for Peruvians to see that Gaston (and other chefs) try to improve life in their country.

“NIGHTS WITH THEODORE”— Young Love in Paris

nights with theodore poster

“Nights with Théodore” (“Je suis une ville endormie”)

Young Love in Paris

Amos Lassen

 Sebastien Betbeder’s “Nights with Theodore” is a sweet look at young love in the magical city of Paris. Anna (Agathe Bonitzer) meets Theodore (Pio Marmaï) at a party and they impulsively climb the fence and enter the nearby city park with a public garden in northeastern Paris. At the sun rises, they each goes their separate ways but are drawn back to the park following night and they fall in love under the park’s spell. They begin nightly explorations of the park’s mysteries and gradually realize they may not be the only ones drawn to this magical place.  

The movie brings together romantic idealism and environmental psychology. It opens with a kaleidoscopic observation of the nooks and crannies of the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and by voiceover we hear about its historical and mythological elements. As we watch, we are immersed into the park and the story. The two new lovers exchange very brief life stories: Anna is an art history student and Theodore is an editor for magazines and book publishers. Jumping into the park, they create their own romantic adventure and consummate their curious connection.


It is wonderful to watch them as they share intense looks instead of conversations. When they awaken under the same tree in the park, they wander and observe families, lively picnics, and people practicing Tai Chi. Before their time together, they exchange phone numbers at the nearest Metro stop.

Director Betbeder maintains a bit of mysticism about the couple and the way the park informs their behaviors even when they’re outside of it. Following their first night of intrigue, acquaintance and lovemaking, Theodore feels light-headed, leading the viewer to wonder if he gains his life force from his meetings in the park or if he’s just an asthmatic.

Without a day having elapsed, Theodore and Anna decide to meet up again and this time they find an abandoned pavilion with dusty furniture that they use to create their own love nest. This is the impetus for multiple consecutive days spent together in the park, and nights in the pavilion, complete with signifiers along champagne and candles. They effectively give up on their daily existence for their nightly stays in this oasis among urbanity. The concept of a park creating an isolated fairytale wonderland for youthful romance is lovely and there are pleasures to be found within the short but sweet feature. Betbeder plays with form using archival footage and a brief segment with a talking-head psychologist who recounts an anecdote about a man who suffered from depression when he moved out of Paris and was deprived of his daily walk through the Buttes Chaumont.

The tone of the film is driven by the throbbing indie-rock soundtrack that includes the Antlers, Beach House, and Betbeder relies on the music more than visuals. He hints at a pernicious spirit brewing within the park and the couple’s nascent relationship. External forces away at the lovers’ happiness: a sister’s disapproval, the presence of others in the park, and times Theodore spends in the park when Anna isn’t present. There is a moment when Anna sneaks off to use the park as her restroom and discovers another man. She returns to Theodore in the pavilion and announces the startling-to-her, and obvious to the audience, revelation that they are not alone. Gradually the park’s “specialness” fades as mysterious inhabitants, such as visiting cultish mystics and a multilingual writer who occupies the grotto come into the once special place and Theodore and Anna must surrender to their naïve possession of it. Anna sees that Theodore’s temperament changes and by the end, the audience wants to return to the bless that was just as much as the couple does.


The film is a romantic love affair anyway that gets sidetracked by an nocturnal obsession with a Paris park. When Anna’s older sister Suzanne (Sarah Le Picard) learns of this, she Anna to abandon it and she persuades Théodore to go to a family beach house to take a break, but he has an asthma attack once there and insists he must get back to the park. When they return to the Buttes-Chaumont Théodore becomes more possessive, there is a clash with the kooky writer that turns violent and Anna runs away never to return to the park or to see Theodore ever again.

Early into the film, there’s a short interview with a psychiatrist indeed specialized in environmental psychology (Dr. Emmanuel Siety) who describes how this park can have a positive power as a place and speaks of f a man who lived near the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and walked through it every day on the way to work. When his work transferred him to the city of Nantes he fell into a depression and became so incapacitated he was confined to a wheelchair. The psychologist recommended his resettling back in his old neighborhood and, monitoring his daily returns to the park, says they gradually brought him back to health. There is also the suggestion that there is something occult and hidden in a cave and contains enormous life-giving energy. But it’s also true that the park above all belongs to the public, and to the many activities that take place there in the daytime, especially during the summertime when this story takes place.

“A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain” by Christina Crosby— A Brilliant Mind in a Broken Body

a body, undone

Crosby, Christina. “A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain”, (Sexual Cultures), NYU Press, 2016.

A Brilliant Mind in a Broken Body

Amos Lassen

On October 2003 Christina Crosby was trying to add miles to her hopeful achievement of riding one thousand miles for her bicycle riding season. Her life was good; her job as a senior professor of English was secure and she had just fifty-years-old.

In the early evening on October 1, 2003, Christina Crosby was three miles into a seventeen-mile bicycle ride, intent on reaching her goal of 1,000 miles for the riding season. Suddenly she caught a branch in her bicycle’s spokes and in that moment, her life changed forever. She was thrown off the bike onto the pavement and as her chin took the force of the blow, her head snapped back and she was paralyzed. In her new book, “Body Undone”, Crosby shares what she went through including disorientation, neurological pain, paralysis and the dead feeling that her body became. It was just like that—-one minute she was riding her bicycle and the next minute she was on the ground paralyzed for the rest of her life. Crosby takes us into he life and she does so as we might expect an academic to do. She uses critical feminist ideas and queer theory and gorgeous prose as he writes about having been a tomboy back in the 1050s in rural Pennsylvania. From there we move ahead to the 70s and radical feminism and gay liberation. Crosby still teaches, albeit part-time, at Wesleyan University and she has written two scholarly books. We totally feel her pain (as much as we possibly can) as she gives us a memoir about her accident and how her life changed at that point. She tells that she does not remember when the twig became stuck in the spokes and that caused her jaw and several vertebrae to break. She writes about the long and painful rehab and about her friends and her lover/partner, Janet.

We learn that her brother Jeff suffered from multiple sclerosis and who died some years after her accident and she notes the cruelty that two siblings would both become quadriplegic. Crosby discussed her sexuality and how and when she became aware that she was gay and that she had a love for sex and had issues with alcohol. She loved being physical and academic. However all of this takes a backseat to her constant pain and her will and determination to find a new way to live. She has great affection for home care professionals and remarks on how much we depend upon them and how little we pay them.

Crosby’s love for her career is seen in the poetry she uses and how she feels about George Eliot as her emotional take over about where her life has gone. There is no sentimentality here as she makes us aware of the grief and the sense of loss she feels but she also looks at the beauty and fragility of the human body. I found this to be so much more than just a memoir; it is also a meditation on “disability, metaphor, gender, sex, and love”.

As emotionally difficult this book is to read, it is also compelling and hard to put down. It is quite transformational and it is filled with Crosby’s ethical commitments in which we see her commitment to language, culture, literature and so on. I doubt that anyone will be able to read this with dry eyes.


  1. Your Puny, Vulnerable Self 3
    2. The Event as It Was Told Me 13
    3. Bewilderment 18
    4. Falling into Hell 22
    5. Caring at the Cash Nexus 35
    6. Lost in Space 44
    7. Masculine, Feminine, or Fourth of July 53
  2. Time Held Me Green and Dying 63
    9. Jefferson Clark Crosby 74
    10. Violence and the Sacred 84
    11. Bowels Lead 103
    12. I’m Your Physical Lover 117
    13. Supply and Demand 130
    14. Shameless Hussy, Babe D., Moxie Doxie 139
  3. Anabaptist Reformations 153
    16. Pretty, Witty, and Gay 171
    17. The Horror! The Horror! 184
    18. Living On 198 Acknowledgments 203
    Notes 209
    About the Author 213

“3 ERAS of GAY SEX in 3 MINUTES”— “The History and Power of Gay Sex, Fetish & Cruising”



“The History and Power of Gay Sex, Fetish & Cruising”

Amos Lassen

This three-minute film from Leo Herrera celebrates three eras of sex in three minutes. For something with such a provocative title, this is not hardcore (although the soundtrack is pretty steamy at times)’ It takes us through three different situations and allows the sex to come forward through style and mood.

It also suggests things have become increasingly fetishized, and goes from glances and backrooms off the 50s, to full-on BDSM of today.

“Leo Herrera, a NYC-based visual artist, filmmaker, writer and advocate with a focus on cataloging and presenting gay history, today announced his latest work “3 ERAS of GAY SEX in 3 Minutes” an original piece illustrating 3 generations of gay sex in three-minutes, featuring Pre-Stonewall cruising; 1970’s/80’s Leather BDS&M; and Present Day App usage, filmed in NYC and San Francisco.

‘Instead of presenting gay history as sexless or focusing solely on AIDS, the film celebrates Gay Communication in its most sensual form, through the glances, codes and technological breakthroughs that have allowed gay sex and gay communities to flourish through generations of oppression.

‘Taking us on a time machine into archetypes of Gay Sex and the unspoken communication methods of these communities, “3 ERAS of GAY SEX in 3 Minutes” informs us and a wider audience, of the rich sexual history of the modern gay male; the symbolism and power of our once ‘secret’ encounters; and a glimpse into the infrastructure of deviant gay communities that are the foundations for the modern gay civil rights movement.”

“DIRTY BOOKS”— The Big Story

dirty books


The Big Story

Amos Lassen

Sometimes authority can be a pain in the ass especially when you are a high school student. I remember how much I resented being told what to do and that was one of the reasons I decided to have a career in education so that I would not do all of the things that authority figures did me and my gang when we were in school. If you think about, you probably had similar thoughts like, “When I have children, I am not going to do to them what my parents did to me” and then you become a parent and… guess what? You suddenly realize that you have become a copy of your dad. (Ah, the innocence of youth).


Here we are at Prichard High School where we meet student David Burroughs (Noah Bailey)  who has been told by his principal, Dr. Bradley (Timothy J. Cox) that a decision has been made regarding the school newspaper. The paper will be discontinued and replaced by a blog. As the person in charge of running the paper, David does not take this well but he knows that he cannot fight it. He decides to take matters into his own hands and begins to formulate a plan to save the paper. He knows that he needs support in this and so he looks for trusty people and with the paper’s sports writer, Charlotte (Ansley Berg) and his best friend, Owens (Isaiah Lapierre), David comes up with a scheme (notice the word “scheme” as opposed to “plan) to create a story that will be so exciting and amazing within the school that it will allow the paper to survive and continue to be published. that it alone will be the key to allowing the paper to survive and prevent its replacement by an online substitute. David had not considered that someone might check on the story and discover it is a sham and of course, no one is talking about planting a fake story. Owens tells David that unless he can make a story that people will be able to see some proof that it happened, it won’t do any good. up that “people can see” that the paper cannot be saved. David listens to him carefully and begins inventing stories. Of course, a little bit of a dirty mind helps and David cuts pictures out of magazines that feature nudity and plants them in library books and then he exposes the story to the student body.

Suddenly both the library and the school paper become very popular but unfortunately for David he is at the point of no return. One false story leads to another that leads to another and for David it becomes difficult to remember all that he has done but he knows that it feels good to have popularity. In a very short sixteen minutes (which is a good hour less than it has taken me to write this), first time director and co-screenplay writer (with Ian Everhart), Zachary Lapierre gives us a story that looks at the meaning of being a popular high school student and rebelling against authority. I really believe that the reason the film succeeds is because of its simple theme and that it is something all of us have had to deal with at sometime.


The acting is excellent all around but I want to mention that Timothy J. Cox is very good as the principal as he has been in the several films that I have seen him in lately. We see something interesting about the media here and that is that it is not always the news that draws us in; sometimes it is the reporter who is dishing it out.

The technical aspects of the film are also excellent and I am constantly amazed by the power of short film.

“MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES”— Relating to Mapplethorpe

ma poster

“Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures”

Relating to Mapplethorpe

Amos Lassen

“Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” is an examination of the life and work of the revered and controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.


“You can do it as a hobby, but what are you ever going to do with art?” Mapplethorpe’s father chided him. He never understood the desire of his mischievous, provocative artistically inclined son. Little did he know that Robert would go on to become famous for his stylish black and white photography that were often challenging in their brazen explicit sexuality. The film is bookended by a public trial at which time an outraged senator yelled, “Look at the pictures” referring to this “known homosexual”. That is just the intention of this film by filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. They present the photographer’s work to the audience and allow them to decide for themselves whether they appreciate Mapplethorpe’s combative aesthetic, or whether they agree with the grumblings of conservative offence and that what Mapplethorpe produced was not art and is, in effect, “ugly, degrading, obscene”. Even those providing commentary are conflicted with two of the artist’s models suggest his compositions have no hidden philosophical musings while there were those who saw the devil and God in the work. These claim that Mapplethorpe himself said that he wanted “to see the devil in all of us.” No one can deny that his photos are incredibly striking.


Mapplethorpe never shied away from pornography; yes the camera lingers equally on a curator snapping on a rubber glove as she handles a Polaroid exhibition invitation that is a picture of Mapplethorpe’s penis or even his membership card for the grimy Mine Shaft club where he found lovers and models. The still shots are interspersed with archival footage, audio from recorded conversations and talking heads with various people that knew him well. We hear from siblings to lovers and models and admirers who share humorous anecdotes as well as reflection on the artist’s ambition and vanity.


The movie begins with what was a retrospective of his work at Getty and LACMA and this is ultimately a chronological retelling of Mapplethorpe’s story. Along with that we an immediate indication of his lasting appeal that is emphasized by subsequent footage from auctions and the court case which followed his death from AIDS in 1989. Artistic merit is a subjective thing, of course, but this documentary also tells the fascinating story of the artist while allowing his work to speak for itself.


Whether you’re an avid follower of Robert Mapplethorpe career or just now hearing about him, this documentary is a comprehensive look at his controversial oeuvre. This is a meticulously researched film that chronicles Mapplethorpe’s upbringing as a devout Catholic in rural New York, his young adulthood years renting out a small room in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel with Patti Smith and his eventual death after contracting AIDS. Interviews with Mapplethorpe’s family, models and lovers slowly give us a picture of a man who was loaded with artistic genius yet who sacrificed personal relationships in the name of his art.


I see the purpose of this documentary is to mine through Mapplethorpe’s body of work and this is where the film is the strongest. Despite the graphic nature of Mapplethorpe’s portfolio, we see clearly that he had an uncanny knack for capturing the unorthodox beauty of his subjects—even those dressed in latex bondage gear.


Despite the exhaustive catalogue of Mapplethorpe’s photographs that are on display throughout the film, the documentary doesn’t really succeed in humanizing its subject. It’s easy to say that Mapplethorpe’s work speaks for the artist, but we learn that Mapplethorpe was a self-centered perfectionist who threw a tantrum when his brother’s name appeared on an exhibition invitation before his own. It was not to really relate to the artist or the e dynamics surrounding Robert’s relationship with his younger brother Edward Mapplethorpe. It hurt to see how Edward’s hero worship of his older brother was met with derision and manipulation.


I also would have liked to have seen more than just fifteen of the film’s 108 minutes dedicated to the lawsuits that conservative watchdog groups levied against the museums that featured Mapplethorpe’s final exhibition. We are challenged to reevaluate our own boundaries about what art can be and had there been a bit more exploration into the national controversy as a result of his work, it would have been easier to do so.


The documentary is snappy, confidently explicit overview of the photographer’s work and it deals quite openly with Mapplethorpe’s ruthless ambition and personality. Born to English and Irish parents in Queens, New York, he took on the ritual and symbolism of his Catholic upbringing early on and used it to create some of the most sexually provocative artwork of its time. Bailey and Barbato trace his life from childhood to college to his relationship with Patti Smith and his time as a resident in the legendary Chelsea Hotel where he came out, and where he found fame and fortune before dying of AIDS complications. The name “Robert Mapplethorpe” didn’t become a familiar one for many until after his death, when his final exhibition “The Perfect Moment” became the center of a culture war fight over obscenity, arts funding, and sexuality. Notoriously bigoted Senator Jesse Helms led the charge by challenging his colleagues to, as I said before, “look at the pictures.” “To look at the pictures,” reminds us to consider the artistry of the man. The screen is filled with his work, from his innocuous and striking flower photos to his inventive portraiture to the often shockingly graphic depictions of sex acts, S&M, and the like. The film contextualizes the work to his biography, especially that he grew up in a rigorous Catholic family, for instance, and that influence is certainly present in his imagery and compositions.


As an introduction to the man and his work, this is excellent— the filmmakers wanted to tell his story in his words, rather than make it a re-examination of one particular person’s perspective and it tries to humanize an artist who’d been demonized, but not by ignoring his own demons. There is still the question as to whether or not Mapplethorpe sold out and there are many, many opinions on that.