Monthly Archives: October 2016

“WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE”— In the Peruvian Amazon

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“When Two Worlds Collide”

In the Peruvian Amazon

Amos Lassen

Directors Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel bring us a partisan look at the clash between indigenous Peruvian minorities and government interests bent on “opening up” protected tribal lands to multinational-corporation mining, drilling and clear-cutting. That conflict became contentious, with highly publicized strikes and violence in 2009. The film begins with scenes of the pollution left behind by industrial “progress” in Amazonian rainforest areas, that destroyed both the environment and the local residents’ traditional ways of life, “When Two Worlds Collide” begins with Peru’s then-president Alan Garcia’s 2007 invitation to foreign (especially American) companies to invest in Peru’s natural-resources riches. Most of those resources (steel, natural gas, oil, etc.) required extraction from constitutionally protected lands belonging to native peoples who have lived there long before the arrival of Europeans. Garcia and his allies managed to push through legislation that auctioned off such rights without consulting the occupants of those “communal lands” and it is no surprise that those occupants were irate.

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The principal figure here is Alberto Pizango, a leading advocate of Peruvian Indigenous Amazon self-determination who became chairman of AIDESEP (Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest), an umbrella group. He headed a hard-line stance that demanded the government not merely revise but wholly repeal laws passed without input from native groups so that related negotiations could begin anew.

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When that request was ignored, locals began blocking roads to industrial sites and gained control of two privatized facilities. As police and then military were sent in to disperse the protestors, violence broke out that resulted in injuries and fatal casualties on both sides. The footage that we see here is hair-raising footage here and puts us right in the middle of the June 2009 armed conflicts, shot by not only the filmmakers but also indigenous and uniformed state personnel as well.

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Pizango and company insisted the locals retaliated only after being fired upon but Garcia’s coalition and allied national media outlets painted the Indios as bloodthirsty “savages” who were mindlessly opposed to any economic progress on lands that belonged not just to them, but also to the entire populace. Ultimately Pizango was forced into (brief) Nicaraguan exile. While some concessions finally were won (and Garcia left office, at least for the time being), the documentary suggests the government has skirted around its own laws, selling mining and other rights to offshore concerns on native lands.

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Felipe Virgillio Bazan Caballero, a retired Lima police officer comes across as conciliatory toward indigenous interests even when his quest to discover what happened to his son (the lone cop unaccounted for after 2009’s mayhem in Bagua) ends in a horrific discovery. By contrast, the high-ranking political figures interviewed here seem to be too inclined toward inflammatory rhetoric as a means of justifying government putdowns of protests and commercial exploitation of rainforest lands. The film makes its case powerfully and the many parallel situations in which private commercial interests continue to loom over environmental ones worldwide makes that viewpoint seem valid.

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In July 28, 2006, Alan García was sworn in to office for his second term as the President of Peru, 16 years since his first stint ended with social unrest and severe hyperinflation. In 2007, he delivered a televised address in which he invited American entrepreneurs to invest in Peru. On June 5, 2009, García ordered Peruvian police and military personnel to forcibly prevent protestors from blocking the major road that is used for accessing the country’s fertile Bagua region causing many indigenous people and government troops to be killed in the ensuing riot, and many more would die in the violence that was the result of that initial clash. No political conflicts, indeed.

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This is all captured in “When Two Worlds Collide,” a strikingly present documentary debut that traces how the friction between a government and its people can metastasize into a dangerous state of insurgency.

“HOPEFUL ROMANTIC”— Love and Heartbreak Through Music

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“Hopeful Romantic”

Love and Heartbreak Through Music

Amos Lassen

Not long ago the short film “Hopeful Romantic” made its debut in LA with the cast and crew. It is an unusual fusion of music and the movies. Writer, star and creator of the short’s music, Matt Zarley, says that when he first started writing the music for this, he was deeply in love. His original plan was to write a simple little EP of love songs because he was so happy and wanted everyone to know it. But then a few weeks into the process, his relationship ended without warning and he was devastated. It was hard for him to find positive loving feelings at the time and he was suffering from a kind of writer’s block. As he was getting over it, he wrote “Constantly” and began to rethink the project and what was originally planned to be a five song EP of love songs suddenly took a turn. He decided to construct a narrative…a journey with music being the guide.

Zarley was soon writing about his own life experiences and it helped him heal. He realized that somewhere out there was someone for him and that everything happens for a reason. He understood that if he had not been so deeply in love and devastated as a result of it not working, this project surely wouldn’t have happened.

In the spring of 2013, Zarley wrote and recorded an optimistic anthem, “Something 4 Everybody” about keeping the faith and that there’s someone out there for each of us.  To promote the song, he produced a music video that depicted a modern day “Dating Game” like show with gay, lesbian, and straight contestant episodes. At the end of the video, it’s revealed who ends up with who with some unpredictable conclusions. He loved the message of that song and had thought that I’d like to expand upon it. He had been toying with the idea of writing a musical for a long time; and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to merge my 2 worlds of pop music and musical theatre into a cohesive one.

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The songs would service the piece and continue to move the story forward (that is of course the most important mission). He also wanted to write these songs so they could each stand on their own independently without the narrative framework. While  finishing up  the songs, he began to hone in on the specifics of this story and had the idea to have someone in the film depict a mentor like figure to me. That person should be someone that reaches beyond all boundaries and is beloved by everyone. The first choice was George Takei. He quickly signed on and it began to dawn on me that this dream project was actually becoming a reality. This is not really a music but simply a universal story about love….with music as its guide.

“STEFAN ZWEIG: FAREWELL TO EUROPE”— An Austrian Jewish Writer— Winning and Losing

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“Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe” (“Vor der Morgenroete”)

An Austrian Jewish Writer— Winning and Losing

Amos Lassen

‘With the exception of Thomas Mann, Stefan Zweig was the most -translated German-speaking writer of his time. However as he reached worldwide fame, he was driven into emigration. He went into deep depression as he saw the downfall even though he saw it coming early on. He went into exile in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, New York and Petrópolis which despite offering him safe refuge but he never again found find peace and was never able to replace his home. Zweig’s is the story of a refugee, of a man losing his home and his search for a new one. Not only is this the story of a great artist but it is also a film about a time in which Europe was coming apart.

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      As an Austrian Jew, Stefan Zweig,  (Josef Hader), a successful and renowned author decided to leave Europe  after Hitler’s rise to power and now lives in Brazil with his wife Lotte (Aenne Schwarz). However, the political situation in Europe follows him even into his exile, as people all seem to expect something of him (a statement, taking a position, financial/emotional help) and Zweig really doesn’t know how to handle this kind of pressure. He tries to move himself away and distance himself from everything but he fails to do so.

The film captures an awkward and uncomfortable atmosphere as it presents a World War II story from an unusual perspective. It also wonderfully communicate the oppressive feeling that Zweig must have felt while in his exile. The viewer senses the constant pressure on Zweig to speak up and it is very uncomfortable and we want him to say something to ease our discomfort. It is as if we are right there beside him. I read Zweig as a graduate student having only heard about him in passing before that. The film provides little background on him and this may make some uneasy or have the opposite effect that it had on me by making me go back and reread his writings.

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We see five scenes and an epilogue of his life with different people and sometimes it is not clear who these people but most of the time we get little to no context. I am sure that this meant to echo Zweig’s refusal to speak up. There is nothing didactic or too explanatory about Zweig. The filmmakers assume that audiences those who come to see a movie about him will be aware that he was the most-read German-language author of the 1920s. As if to emphasize that, director Maria Schrader doesn’t show him engaged in that most un-cinematic of activities: writing. Instead, she focuses on the author’s interactions with others (some purely ceremonial, others more intimate, all of them revealing) to help suggest something about both his character and his slowly decaying sense of place in a world where he is in exile might be safe. However, his mind keeps wanting to wander back to a place that he knows is being erased from the face of the earth.

The film is set between the mid-1930s and 1942 in various locales in the Americas. In the first and most stately sequence, Zweig attends an official banquet in Brazil and we begin to know him from the outside in. we get to know him but not know him personally.

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We see him making a thank you speech in the beginning of the film and he admits that he has made more friends in Brazil in a couple of days than in years at home, and this is both a happy and a sad thought— he’s been in exile in Britain and then the Americas since 1934.

We then look at how Zweig feels about the Nazi terrors in Europe when he is at an international writers conference in 1936 Buenos Aires. He is eHhhhhhh asked to denounce the Nazi regime but refuses to do so and causes many to be shocked. In a washroom, he offhandedly explains that denouncing something while knowing there’s no risk of possible change as a result is useless. Zweig was a man who carefully considered not only the meaning but also the value and possible consequences of words.

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There is an extraordinary moment in the film when Zweig watches a burning sugarcane field, which viewers can see reflected in the window and this is an evocation of what was happening in his beloved Europe, which was also going up in flames. Zweig knew that it was actually being destroyed in his absence and this is what prompted Zweig and his wife to take their own lives in their home in Petropolis, Brazil, in 1942. By juxtaposing melancholy and lightness at the same segment, director Schrader manages to give us an incredible look at Zweig.     

Josef Hader’s portrayal of author Stefan Zweig brilliant but more brilliant than him is the correlation between what happened in Europe then and what is happening today. By looking at the life of Zweig, our views on the issues become both abstract and more concrete. By abstract, we see that these mass migrations have always been a tragic part of human history and concrete because the viewer is able to identify with refugees in a completely different way.

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Zweig’s former home in Petropolis, north of Rio de Janeiro, is now a museum. After his suicide in 1942 , Thomas Mann who was also in exile, struggled to understand his death. A decade after Zweig’s suicide, Mann confessed that he now felt differently. Mann said he understood how deeply Zweig was rooted in his homeland, how his entire existence depended on that connection. It “shamed him to not want to go on living in a world full of hate, hostile isolation and brutal fear that still surrounds us today.”

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Zweig was able to escape the war but was haunted by it. He was warmly welcomed in Brazil and his existence wasn’t threatened there. The horror of the his loss of a homeland stayed with him and plagued him the rest of his life.

“Make Art Not War: Political Protest Posters from the Twentieth Century” edited by Ralph Young— Dissent and Protest

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Young. Ralph, editor. “Make Art Not War: Political Protest Posters from the Twentieth Century”, NYU Press, 2016.

Dissent and Protest

Amos Lassen

Through the ages artists have used there talents to express dissent and to protest against injustice and immorality. Without a doubt, two of the most recognizable of such images are Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” with its very strong antiwar message and Lorraine Schneider’s mass produced “War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.” 

As the face of many political movements, posters are necessary and essential for recruitment, spreading propaganda, and sustaining morale.  They are disseminated by governments, political parties, labor unions and other organizations and these political posters transcend time and cover the entire spectrum of political affiliations and philosophies. 

Ralph Young brings us a wonderfully visceral collection of posters that represent the progressive protest movements of the twentieth Century:  labor, civil rights, the Vietnam War, LGBT rights, feminism and other minority rights. He drew on the celebrated collection in the Tamiment Library’s Poster and Broadside Collection at New York University and his new poster collection, “Make Art Not War” is aesthetically pleasing to the eye as well as food for thought and a reflection of the twentieth century’s cultural, social and political history.

Young gives us a century’s fierce dissent and unyielding opposition to hate, sexism, war, fascism, homophobia, and racism.   American dissent movements have given us a rich visual legacy that is brought to life by historian Ralph Young’s His general narrative and commentary. He shares the stories behind the posters and makes those stories relevant for us today. The posters are a sampling of the art and design of dissent and each poster can lead to discussion and debate. By combining the  aesthetic with the political, we see how the arts and culture have informed and protested social injustices and wars. We see powerful statements and we learn that which we never ever learned at school.

“Ten Myths About Israel: by Ilan Pappe— Dangerous Debate Material

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Pappe, Ilan. “Ten Myths about Israel”, Verso Books, 2017.

Dangerous Debate Material

Amos Lassen

Some consider Ilan Pappe as a prominent Israeli dissident while others consider him to be a dangerous radical and it is no surprise that he lives in exile. Without question, he is controversial and he is sure to cause even more controversy with this book. Here he presents us with what he claims are the ten most contested ideas concerning the origins and identity of the contemporary state of Israel. He claims to explode the myths that justify the rights of the Israeli state and pay attention to the word “claims”. He sees the following to be myths:

  • Was Palestine an empty land at the time of the Balfour Declaration?
  • Were the Jews a people without a land?
  • Is there no difference between Zionism and Judaism?
  • Is Zionism not a colonial project of occupation?
  • Did the Palestinians leave their homeland voluntarily in 1948?
  • Was the June 1967 War a war of ‘no choice’?
  • Is Israel the only democracy in the Middle East?
  • Were the failed Oslo negotiations of 1992 the PLO’s fault?
  • Was it a question of national security to bomb Gaza?
  • Is the Two States Solution still achievable?      

Written for the general reader, this book will prompt debate. I find this book to be an embarrassment to intelligence and the debate that comes out of it will be ridiculous and unnecessary. Because we live in a world with freedom of the press, anyone can write a book but that does not mean that every book written has a value. Pappe claims to be one of the few Israeli students of the conflict who write about the Palestinian side with real knowledge and empathy but I see no knowledge or empathy here. What I see are lies and misunderstandings—there is no bravery and there are no principles here. If that was true, Pappe would not be living in exile but facing his detractors on a daily basis. Exile is simply another word for hiding here. Yes, he is eloquent but eloquence based on incorrect ideas is not eloquence. One cannot hide cancer on the inside by dressing expensively on the outside. There is nothing brave about a coward who cannot face those who disagree with him.

While this is written for lay reader, it undoubtedly will cause debate and even if there is an ounce of truth in what he says, I have no doubt that he will be tossed aside as a rabble-rouser who has no place voicing his hateful opinions. Verso books has continually published pro-Palestinian propaganda and remember the definition of propaganda. “Propaganda is information of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote and/or publicize a particular political cause or point of view”.

“OUT RUN’— Trans in the Phillipines

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“Out Run”

Trans in the Philippines

Amos Lassen

The leaders of the world’s only LGBT political party wage a historic quest to elect a trans woman to the Philippine Congress. In this film by S. Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons, we see the party mobilizing working-class transgender hairdressers and beauty queens. The party has to face the harsh, transphobic climate of the Philippines, three transgender hairdressers and beauty queens are trying to make history by running for office as candidates of the Ladlad party, the world’s first LGBT political party. The political hopefuls make themselves visible in the battle for rights and acceptance and follows the party as it tries to bring its voters out of the shadows to fight for representation by winning three seats in the Philippine Congress and their chances of success are pretty good. If every member of the LGBT community gave them their vote, they can actually win those seats.

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They did not include same-sex marriage in their campaign but they probably should have. However, The Philippines is a Catholic country. As a result, they decimated because they did not pay enough attention to the important issues. The time has come for LGBT issues to be addressed and the film does.

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The film does the best it can given the bad situation it would have been so much better had the party won and if the party had carefully thought about the issues.

Nonetheless, the cinematography is beautiful.

“Elizabeth Daleiden on Trial” by Ron Fritsch— Charged with Murder

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Fritsch, Ron. “Elizabeth Daleiden on Trial”, Ron Fritsch, 2016.

Charged with Murder

Amos Lassen

“Elizabeth Daleiden on Trial” is an LGBTQ courtroom thriller set in the late 1970s in which a politically ambitious state’s attorney charges Elizabeth Daleiden with the murders of her father and two elderly neighbors in the 1950s. Her trial could have exposed the Illinois farming community’s darkest secrets.

In the late 1970’s, Jonah Neumeyer, a young gay lawyer in Chicago, returned to the small farm town he grew up in, Revere, Illinois, to get answers about a horrific event that occurred twenty years earlier. Jonah and his grandmother had witnessed a fire that burnt a house down with the occupants, two elderly men, still inside. Neumeyer believed the only person who could provide the best answers to what exactly happened was Elizabeth Daleiden, the nearest neighbor to the burning house and the woman who inherited the farm that the men owned. What he did not know was that by visiting Elizabeth, he would stir up the past and attract the attention of several notable people. These included Olivia Daleiden, former mother-in-law to Elizabeth Daleiden, and Tanner Howland, a state’s attorney with political ambitions.

With serious accusations, Elizabeth soon found accused of being a part in the deaths of the two men and she was indicted. She faced not only imprisonment, but also loss of the farm that had been in her family for generations.

Jonah believed that Elizabeth was innocent and he felt guilty for bringing the case up again and so he offered to help Elizabeth and her son, Eli, with their farming duties while Elizabeth and her lawyer prepared for trial. At just the same time, people gossiped and information was discovered about two other mysterious deaths in Elizabeth’s past, those of her father and husband, causing people to speculate if she been involved in those as well.

During the trial, secrets came to light and testimony was heard that pointed to Elizabeth’s guilt of all the deaths, and all she could do to stay out of jail was to take the stand and testify in the hopes that the jury would believe what she had to say about those deaths and how they happened.

As time passed, key characters are introduced and what seemed to be a typical crime drama soon became more complex and deals with homophobia and small-town mentality. Olivia Daleiden, a nasty and vengeful woman accused Elizabeth of murdering not only the two men, but also Elizabeth’s father in 1950. The state’s attorney, Tanner Howland, sensed the potential for a big-trial victory that would better his hopes for a political career and got indictments. The ensuing trial uncovered back-stories in which everyone in Revere seemed to have connections with everyone else. The trial became author Ron Fritsch’s way to examine small-town prejudices, especially those regarding gays and lesbians.

It is obvious that Elizabeth knew more about all of the deaths than she let on. Jonah had a lot of questions to ask about Henry and Titus’s death because he was present when their home burned down and took their lives. He remembered that people making comments that the men died because they were “queer.” He regretted bringing this kind of drama into Elizabeth and her son Eli’s and so he helped them on the farm thus giving him the chance to develop a relationship with Eli.

Elizabeth quickly discovered who was loyal who is out to get her. She realized that she would have to convince the jury of her innocence based mainly upon her testimony. She assured Jonah that the fire was an accident.

Olive claimed that she could prove that Elizabeth committed four murders. Thus began an election-year trial against the daughter-in-law Olivia Daleiden who she had hated since she lived with her only son, Daniel, before they got married. Even though circumstantial evidence would convict Elizabeth Daleiden, she and Violet, her lawyer, decided to let everyone tell their story in court. The sympathetic judge, allowed Elizabeth to testify and here Eli and Jonah learn the secrets of those who love. Fritsch skillfully builds tension and suspense, key components of a mystery and the book is a real page-turner.

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“Unhinged” by Rick R. Reed— Just in Time for Halloween

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Reed, Rick R. “Unhinged: A Collection of Gay Horror”, Wilde City Press, 2016.

Just in Time for Halloween

Amos Lassen

We do not usually think of horror and romance at the same time yet in this new collection of six short stories by Rick R. Reed, we see that this is indeed possible. Reed takes us on a dark trip into a world where the fantasy and reality come together.

 “Echoes” is a story about a couple who is moving into a new apartment not knowing that there is a ghost in residence already. All that ghost wants is to have a chance to finally be put to rest.

In “How I Met My Man”, the LGBT community is attacked by a killer who has no boundaries. An uninvited guy came into Stephen’s home while he was not there- and returned the same night when he was. The story plays on the idea that there is someone in the house with you.

“The Man From Milwaukee” is a short, short story about the fragility of human nature and the ease there is in manipulating it.

Of course, we have a story with a vampire— “Sluggo Snares A Vampire” is about not knowing whom we are peaking with online. During the day, Sluggo works at a bank but at night, he becomes Sir Raven and when he invites a guest into his home one night, he discovers that his guest is a vampire.

The closet remains a popular theme in gay stories in “The Ghost” we meet two men who are having a sexual affair while one of them is still in the closet. Neither guy had any idea that he would fall in love and it takes a ghost to explain to them what love is all about.

Oliver’s husband was murdered and he senses his lover is still with him in “Incubus” and we see here that true love lasts eve after death.

We see that there is something for everyone here in this diverse collection that waves between romance and horror.

 

“One-Man Show: The Life and Art of Bernard Perlin” by Michael Schreiber— Jewish Artist and Sexual Renegade

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Schreiber, Michael. “One-Man Show: The Life and Art of Bernard Perlin”, Bruno Gmunder , 2016.

Jewish Artist and Sexual Renegade

Amos Lassen

Bernard Perlin (1918-2014) was an important and extraordinary figure in twentieth century American art history. Not only was he an acclaimed artist and sexual renegade who reveled in pushing social, political, and artistic boundaries but his works appeared regularly in the magazines of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. His art is part of the collections of the Rockefellers, the Whitneys, Andy Warhol and the Astors and it hangs in the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Tate Modern. Among his portrait clients were well-known literary, artistic, theatrical, political, and high society figures. Even though he had been rejected for military service because of his homosexuality (he openly shared that with the draft board), Perlin served as a government propaganda artist and war artist-correspondent and he produced many now-iconic images of World War II. Bernard Perlin was a proclaimed atheist he was a Jewish artist who privately kept the Jewish holidays as well as some traditions. He was raised entrenched in Judaism but disavowed it as an adult. When I broached the subject with author Michael Schreiber, he mentioned that as he thought about this aspect of Perlin’s life, one of Perlin’s paintings is hanging above his desk entitled “Succoth” that he painted in 1962 and then revisited that theme in 1990. Perlin loved to cook and he often included Jewish traditions in what he prepared. When he was already in his 90’s, he shared with Schreiber over and over that he wanted to learn Yiddish.

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Beginning in 1930s, he painted scenes of underground gay bars and nude studies of street hustlers, among other aspects of his active and dedicated gay life.

Perlin’s social life included the upper echelon of the New York gay scene, “the cufflink crowd” and among his friends were George Platt Lynes, Lincoln Kirstein, Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler, Paul Cadmus, Jared French, George Tooker, Pavel Tchelitchew, Truman Capote, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Jerome Robbins. Other friends reads like a list of Who’s Who; Vincent Price, Clifton Webb, Ben Shahn, Samuel Barber, Gian Carlo Menotti, Aaron Copland, Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy, Martha Gellhorn, Betsy Drake, Muriel Rukeyser, Carson McCullers, Philip Johnson, and E.M. Forster. Perlin found himself at home in the gay underworlds of New York and Rome, where he was sexually precocious and it is said that he competed with the likes of Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams as he cruised young men on Rome’s Spanish Steps. In Paris he went to jail because of public indecency just as he had done in the States. In 2009, when he turned 90, he legally married, Edward Newell, his partner of 55 years and this was quite an emotional and political statement.

The subjects of his paintings changed in the 30s when he began to paint scenes of gay bars, nude male hustlers and portraits of himself and other men who were openly gay. This was a time when gay men did not acknowledge their homosexuality openly and we see that Perlin tried to gain recognition for himself and others as gay people by showing that it was just “another part of the variety of normal human experience and expression”.

Bernard Perlin’s youth was filled with Yiddishkeit and with the traditions of Eastern European Jewry. He was the son of Russian and Yiddish speaking immigrants and his family was religiously observant. He had his Bar Mitzvah and regularly attended his synagogue but after his move to New York he stopped practicing and became interested only in the cultural heritage of Judaism, especially Yiddish. Even with his self-proclaimed atheism, he kept some of the Jewish traditions and continued to light a yahrzeit candle on the anniversary of his mother’s death. He prepared matzo ball soup, gefilte fish and kugel on the major holidays and his life was filled with the Yiddish concept of the Jewish spark. However, it is important to know that his sense of his own Jewishness was not always positive. He had several incidents of anti-Semitism both here and abroad. He seemed to be able to deal with the traumas that these experiences dealt him.

Returning to this country from war-torn Europe, he looked for a safe place and decided on the lower East side and he felt that there he would have that sense of Yiddishkeit that he so loved. In my own mind, I cannot divorce Judaism from the art of Perlin and even though it is not a primary theme running throughout all of his art, to me it is definitely there.

orthodosx-boysInterestingly enough, is that perhaps his most famous painting totally reflects his Jewishness. In 1948, when he had turned 30, he painted “Orthodox Boys” which today hangs in the Tate in London. He did this painting when he was trying to establish himself as a serious easel painter after having been mentored by Jewish painter, Ben Shahn. This was painted after he began his period of capturing gay bars and hustlers on canvas and it is an indication that his religion was important to him in his own way. There is a sense of anxiety in the painting of two Jewish adolescents (or Yeshiva Buchers) are having a conversation at the Canal Street subway stop near a kiosk. Behind them is a wall covered in graffiti which serves, I understand, as a “conceptual chalkboard” on which Perlin shared aspects of his life including professional contacts, love affairs, family relationships and artistic influences. Perlin painted it when he was living on the lower East Side and it shows the aspirations and anxieties of the Jews in post-war New York. “Orthodox Boys” is when Perlin began to define himself as a mature painter. His plan was to capture the street life of New York after the war. In the painting perspective is collapsed and we sense constriction with the two boys and there is also a feeling of tremulousness. When Perlin returned to the States after the war, he found anti-Semitism here. The two boys look very Jewish with their kipot on their heads and they seem to be looking around to see if it is dangerous where they are. There is a “sinister specter” that is not the result of a bully but of recent history, one that produced the Holocaust. As they wait for the train, we cannot help but be reminded that the Jews of Europe were taken to the their deaths in train cars. There are swastikas scratched into the wall and these show something about the insecurity of Jewish life. The fascination here is that these clearly Jewish boys are there in plain sight standing in front of a wall where the graffiti tells a different story about Jews in America. Also on the wall are Jewish names as something about Perlin’s family and yet there is a feeling of trepidation from looking at the boys.

As I sit and stare at the print of the painting I find so much more there. One of the students is carrying a book with the word “sefer” on it and in it is written in Hebrew, “Why, my son, did you come late”. Just looking at and reading what is written on the wall is in itself an undertaking that says so much about the artist and his religion but that I will leave to you to discover yourselves. That wall was the threshold of Perlin’s more mature period and it is interesting that he could not escape his Jewish roots. We see three major ideas here— Jews, trains and a wall of names. It is indeed fascinating that we see here an evocation of Nazi Germany’s genocidal anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Holocaust and it really comes down to what was it to be Jewish in America after the war. Here was a Jewish gay artist using an unpopular art style to depict his sensitivity to the issues of power and vulnerability and at a time when people were not ready to deal with the horrors of that period.

I am not sure how to classify this painting in terms of the feelings it unleashes. It is not hopeful and we see fear and anxiety in it. The boys appear to be frozen and yet they are solid and physical yet they hold their ground. Are they indeed symbols of resolute Jewish endurance?” We see them isolated and alone in an ominous location and they are worried and still. We realize that the painting opens up two conversations—one is of course Perlin’s own Judaism and the other is how spaces are marked and defined by individuals and communities.

Michael Schreiber’s wonderful coffee table book is much more than just a book to put on your coffee table— it is to be read and savored and pored over. It is the story of Perlin’s life, his friends and his lovers and contains interviews with Perlin himself, excerpts from his still unpublished memoirs and photos of his public and private art, some that have never been seen before. For me, the book is a treasure chest that can be looked at and reread again and again. It is Schreiber’s knowledge of and love for Bernard Perlin that makes this book what it is—a wonderful adventure into the world of art and the sexual activities of a period now lost to us forever.

Schreiber is the curator for the estate of Bernard Perlin and has organized several exhibitions of the artist’s work as well as the online gallery. It is very obvious that he listened to every word that Perlin spoke and hung on to them carefully making him an authority on the artist. In fact, Perlin gave Schreiber the rights to write his story and what a story that is. Each of the 270 pages in “One-Man Show” is a work of art. I understand that Schreiber sat with and recorded Perlin’s stories that he shared towards the end of his life. Yet in the book, it is not Schreiber but Perlin who speaks and as he does we truly get a sense of the man.

The relationship between Schreiber and Perlin began with a simple fan letter, Perlin invited Schreiber to his Connecticut home and they sat and talked until three in the morning developing a bond of trust and mutual respect. During the next three years the friendship grew and strengthened and Schreiber was given permission to record and transcribe their chats. This was to become the biography and the book that we have and it is colorful and uncensored and a wonderful read. “One-Man Show: The Life and Art of Bernard Perlin” is a chronicle of Perlin’s life and of his friends and of his lovers as well as of his work and it all comes together through the chats, the unpublished memoir and the plates of his public and private art. There is just so much to say about this book and Bernard Perlin so I am planning on two more reviews— one dealing with the sexual aspect of his life and the other about his Judaism. I feel very lucky that I have found in one man, two of my favorite subjects that also happen to he the two aspects of my personality that best and truly define me.

Birth is a beginning, death is an ending and between these two comes life and its journey. We all begin the same and we all end the same but what happens in life depends on us. We are so lucky to have Michael Schreiber share Bernard Perlin’s life with us. I must say that I consider myself to be an erudite man who is in touch with his culture but I had never heard of Bernard Perlin until Schreiber told me about his book and since it arrived, it has become part of me. I have had friends come over just to talk about one page or one painting and it is almost as if I am apologizing for my former lack of knowledge. This is only part of the story. I have concentrated on the Jewish aspects of Perlin’s life. As a asexual renegade and an active gay male, there is a whole other story that I will eventually write about as well.

“SHARED ROOMS”— Three Holiday Stories Revisited

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“Shared Rooms”

Three  Holiday Stories Revisited

Amos Lassen

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Director Rob Williams in his new film “Shared Rooms” once again takes us to the Christmas holiday season. This time we look at the meaning of home and family as experienced through three interrelated stories of gay men finding connections during the holiday week that falls between Christmas and New Year’s Day. One story is about a married male couple, Laslo (Christopher Grant Person) and his husband Cal (Alex Manley Wilson) , who worried that all their gay friends are not only becoming dads but  obsessive parents. Then they open their front door to find they suddenly have a ‘child’ of their own. Cal’s teenage nephew Zeke (Ryan Weldon) whose mother threw him out when she learned he was gay came his gay uncle looking for refuge. They learn so much more about the meaning of family.

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Dylan (rRobert Werner)  arrives home unexpectedly from his a business trip to discover that  Julian ( Daniel Lipshutz) ), his roommate, has rented his room out online and now they have no other alternative than to sleep with each other while the handsome, sexy and mysterious traveler named Frank (David Vaughn) is there. Dylan has infatuated with Julian ever since he moved in two years ago, but has been too frightened to do anything about it and now does not know how to react as he lies next to him in bed.

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Sid (Justin Xavier Smith)  and Gray (Alexander Neil Miller)  are not really into the holidays and after meeting online and spending the time together and naked.  What begins as “a quickie” becomes much more than that as the two learn that they have more in common than just being naked. They realize that they agree on a great deal that only makes the spark between them glow brighter. They were already having a bit of trouble restraining themselves but now their bond together strengthens.

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I have a confession to make— I am a huge Rob Williams and Guest House Films fan. One of the first LGBT films that I reviewed was Williams’ first, “Long-Term Relationship” and that was even before it had been released. I have seen the maturity of the films change and have watched Rob become a highly respected director who has helped to set new standards for telling our stories. While “Shared Rooms” falls a few minutes short of being a full feature, it has all of the qualities of a feature films and is in effect one.s4

I love the way the three stories come together at the end and I admire the way that the film deals with complex emotions that are uniquely ours. This could easily have become a film that became lost in the emotional issues that it deals with but Williams, by keeping it light, gives us a reason to smile when the film is over. It was not that long ago when LGBT films ended in ways that left us depressed but that has all changed now. We certainly see that in Williams’ films. He leaves us smiling and optimistic.

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We also see the importance of family here in the three stories and family has been a major issue for gay people for a long time. Our characters create family from what they have and this is something that so many of us have had to do. Even with personal and other challenges, the characters in “Shared Rooms” end up with a sense of family and belonging and that is such an important theme in how we live.