Monthly Archives: February 2017

“SMALL TOWN RAGE: FIGHTING BACK IN THE DEEP SOUTH”— ACT UP Shreveport, Louisiana

“Small Town Rage: Fighting Back in the Deep South”

ACT UP Shreveport, Louisiana

Amos Lassen

“Small Town Rage: Fighting Back in the Deep South” is David Hylan and Raydra Hall’s documentary is that is a small town story, a local history lesson and a memorial to those who didn’t make it.” The documentary examine the work and influence of ACT UP Shreveport in the conservative Deep South. Being from the South and from Louisiana, I want to explain that what many consider to be the South is southern only by location. New Orleans, my hometown is not a Southern city as we imagine, say Natchez, Mississippi or Nashville, Tennessee to be. New Orleans is more of a seaboard city. Shreveport, on the other hand is a southern city that incorporates something of Texas and something of the south. In order to look at Shreveport, we must discard the southern stereotypes. When we think of activism, we tend to think of people who live in big cities and who hold demonstrations. To really understand this film we must forget what we know about activism and big cities and think about the stigma that many attach to LGBT life.

In the 1980s, when HIV was spreading unchecked across America, smaller places were affected as well as big cities. Suddenly there appeared to be communities that even many gay people had not known were there. Shreveport, Louisiana was a small town that , to fight back and fight AIDS.

Five members of the core group, Act Up Shreveport survived and this is their story. The film is structured around interviews with them, illustrated by photographs taken at the time, newspaper articles and archive footage. Naturally some of what we see is upsetting and now years later it is still a difficult topic. People lost many friends and met with prejudice encountered they tried to do something about it but do not worry, this is also an inspiring story about courageous people who never let their lack of numbers destroy the faith they had in their ability to bring about change.

The Shreveport group was inspired by Act Up in New York City, and by the various other chapters in the nations major cities. It began with just three members but quickly grew and used the idea that it was a book club in order to get meeting space – this was not the sort of town where people acknowledged the existence of gay people, let alone wanted to make contact with them at a time when rumors about AIDS ran rampant. There were some straight allies who were there from the very beginning and we certainly hear about them here.

“Small Town Rage” looks at the impact of AIDS across the community, beginning the stage at which gay men were mysteriously dying to that at which women, especially black women, were dying in large numbers without no one willing to say that they were suffering from the same disease. There’s a lot of focus on battles with the medical establishment, with the doctor who helped the group and he reminisces about the tricks he used to extract medicines from a system that was unwilling to help.

We also hear ethical questions about whether or not it’s ever ethical to out someone and the cost of doing so to the other people involved. Indeed, we see that big things can begin in small places.

“Charlatan: A Biography of MILO YIANNOPOULOS” by Lucas Goodwin— Why?

Goodwin, Lucas. “Charlatan: A Biography of MILO YIANNOPOULOS”, ADS , 2017.

Why?

Amos Lassen

When Milo Yiannopoulos suddenly appeared on the scene with his “Dangerous Faggot” tour, people naturally wondered who he is and why was he has risen so fast. Behind his outward appearance and outrageous act lies a murkier story. Some of those stories involve prostitution, bankruptcy and lawsuits. He has had failures, reinventions and burned along the way. We hear from people in London to LA who knew the man before he was considered to be “the internet’s most fabulous super villain”. Here we have the secrets he won’t tell from his real name to who gave him a push up in the media industry and who really cares? He is yesterday’s news now and I do not believe that he will be hearing about him again anytime soon. He might have been the self-appointed free speech but he blew that too.

Here is his history of pathological lying, unpaid debts, unstable behavior and dispassionate opportunism. Anyone who was shocked over Milo’s comments about underage sex is not familiar with his work and don’t realize that he is a media whore who relies on shock factor. Besides there is nothing here that can’t be read by googling.

 

“My Big Gay Life” by Brad Loekle— A Comedian’s Stories

Loekle, Brad. “My Big Gay Life”, Brad Loekle, 2016.

A Comedian’s Stories

Amos Lassen

Brad Loekle gives is an account of a life and while it is indeed about his sexuality it is also about the human experience. The conversational tone allow us to feel comfort until the mood changes every so often and we get stories of love and loss.

Loekle jumps around but he is easy to follow and his storytelling is wonderful. Loekle uses humor as he writes of difficult times in his life and shows how humor can help people get through very dark times.

We get a look at the author’s life through stories and they particularly are for those who struggle with sexuality.

Loekle is inappropriate, hilarious, and honest. He is a gifted storyteller with a lot to share with us.

“Oscar Wilde Prefigured: Queer Fashioning and British Caricature, 1750-1900” by Dominick Janes— Expressing Who We Are

Janes, Dominic. “Oscar Wilde Prefigured: Queer Fashioning and British Caricature, 1750-1900”, University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Expressing Who We Are

Amos Lassen

In “Oscar Wilde Prefigured”, Dominic Janes takes us to the England of Oscar Wilde as he looks at how men who wanted to have sex with other men expressed themselves. We see that since the middle of the eighteenth century, they did do through clothing, style, and behavior and were labeled as sodomites by those around them. since the mid-eighteenth century. Although history credits Wilde with the term, we see that this had been going on look before he made his appearance. He is, however,

the pivot by which Georgian figures and twentieth-century camp stereotypes meet. Janes looks at what was regarded as dandyism and caricature and explores theater, fashion, and the popular press to show new dimensions of identity politics, gender performance, and queer culture.

We see a continuous yet varied tradition of representations of sodomy and effeminacy and we upset the argument that male homosexuality only gained public visibility in the late nineteenth century. Wilde has long been referred to as the “first” publicly gay man because it was held that “he set the standard for literary and iconographic representations of homosexual men in the twentieth century”. Here, however, Wilde is convincingly presented as the end point of this. As we are taken through the areas of effeminacy, homoeroticism, and sodomy, we realize that we have rethink these. “Queer self-fashioning predates Wilde and perhaps even influenced him through codes and behavior. For over hundred years before Wilde came onto the scene, stereotypes and caricatures shaped the way people saw gay men and how they behaved. Janes reveals the double-sided nature of late-Victorian homophobic humor as destructive and creative at the same time setting the stage for Wilde to enter.

 

“Before Pictures” by Douglas Crimp— A Story of a Life

Crimp, Douglas. “Before Pictures”, University of Chicago Press, 2016.

A Story of a Life

Amos Lassen

Douglas Crimp is an art critic whose work profoundly influenced a generation of artists. “Before Pictures” is the story of Crimp’s life as a young gay man and art critic in New York City during the late 1960s through the 1970s. Crimp participated in all aspects of what made the city so stimulating and he weaves his professional and personal life into the history of New York City at that time. He begins with his escape from his hometown in Idaho, and we quickly find Crimp writing criticism for “ArtNews” while he worked at the Guggenheim. At Chelsea Hotel Crimp helped “the down-on-his-luck couturier Charles James” organize his papers and he was a moviegoer until the art journal “October” was founded and where he was a central figure for many years. As he was developing his reputation as a critic, he also enjoyed the New York nightlife and this included drugs and late nights with the Warhol crowd at the Max’s Kansas City to discos. He casual sex with famous (and not-so-famous) men. As AIDS began to destroy the art and gay communities, Crimp eventually turned his attention to activism dedicated himself to rethinking AIDS. He here brings together biography and cultural history to give us a courageous account of an exceptional period in both Crimp’s life and the life of New York City. At the same time, this is a deeply personal and engaging way to get into important issues in contemporary art.

The book focuses on when Crimp curated a show called “Pictures”. He was a critic who was/is interested in how the arts merge into pop culture. He has a fascinating look at the disco era and the world of ballet. His memoir hits a lot of issues including his love for Manhattan. This is important gay cultural literature that gives us an insider’s view of the arts during the 1970s and through the 1980s.

“A Careful Heart” by Ralph Josiah Bardsley— Facing Life

Bardsley, Ralph Josiah. “A Careful Heart”, Bold Stokes Books. 2017.

Facing Life

Amos Lassen

An author whose books never disappoint and that I always look forward to is Ralph Josiah Bartley. In his newest, “A Careful Heart”, he introduces us to Travis Gaines and Stephen Davis, two best friends are very close can be. They came into this world less than a month apart and grew up together as neighbors in a small New Hampshire town. After college, they move to Boston together and are excited about the adventures and excitement that awaits them there. No sooner do they find their way around Boston then Travis meets and falls hard for Benson who is a senior executive at the financial services firm where he works. Benson seems to have it all— good looks, money and connections. Travis thinks that Benson is everything he could ever want at first but behind the outer façade is something very dark and that threatens to ruin the friendship of Stephen and Travis.

Beardsley writes to the emotions and once again he pulled me in on the first page with this beautiful story of friendship and brotherly love. We do not often find friendships like that of Travis and Stephen even though in some aspects the guys are total opposites. Over time they have really connected to each other and it helps that they had the support of their families. I love that they alternate as narrators and telling their story and I also love that we are with them as they grow and mature. Unlike other gay romances, we do not have sex scenes and I believe that if we had had them, they would have taken our attention away from the emotive elements of the story. The story is really about honesty and accepting ourselves for who we are and much love and friendship influences this. And yes, there are surprises just like we have come to expect from Bardsley. Good writing, an engaging plot and characters like people we know make this is a fine read.

 

 

“The Gay Preacher’s Wife: How My Gay Husband Deconstructed My Life and Reconstructed My Faith” by Lydia Meredith— A Personal Memoir

Meredith, Lydia. “The Gay Preacher’s Wife: How My Gay Husband Deconstructed My Life and Reconstructed My Faith”, Gallery Books/Karen Hunter Publishing, 2016.

A Personal Memoir

Amos Lassen

Lydia Meredith, a woman spent almost thirty years married to a preacher and then her husband, Dennis left her for another man. —only to have her husband leave her for a MAN —and how her life becomes a testimony of tolerance and a theology of love and acceptance. Here she speaks for the first time about how that revelation shattered her world and strengthened her faith. This incident changed her life, to say the least and she struggled to put her life in order as a result. She enrolled in theological study in order to find a way to put her family back together and learned that Jesus’ ministry and teachings were really about teaching tolerance and love for people who are considered and labeled as different.

In 2013, Eddie Long, then a Memphis pastor was arrested for sexual battery on a minor. He had been allegedly sexually abusing a sixteen-year-old member of his church for two years. The teen reported the abuse to adults in the church. Instead of turning the pastor in to the authorities, the parishioners only prayed for the pastor. This caused public outrage and we then understand that this denial was not new and had actually been going on for years. We became aware of the abuses like this in the Catholic Church and Vatican not only turned a ignored the pedophilia among its ranks and it also covered up the crimes and protected the perpetrator.

We just know more about the scandals because of social media and a twenty-four-hour news cycle that demands information and this is certainly better than when children were not listened to. Men in powerful positions felt that they could get away with anything and many did.

What is so amazing here is Lydia’s ability to forgive. Each chapter of this book is its own story.

When they were dating, Lydia has already realized that Dennis was not for her but she married him anyway and things were basically okay until the birth of their third son at which point she noticed changes in him but was not sure what these changes were. When she found gay porn and confronted Dennis, he claimed to be bisexual. She did not know that he had already been having sex with many men as she went into denial and avoidance until she could no longer do so. She left him. Lydia is quite a person. She is both outraged and outrageous (sometimes in the same paragraph) and I just wished there was not so much useless information here. Yet there is also a lot of drama and it is fascinating to read.

 

NEW LGBT FILMS TO BE SCREENED THIS YEAR, 2017

New LGBT Films to Be Screened This Year, 2017

Amos Lassen

 

Here is a list of some of the new films that we will be seeing this year on the festival circuit. I will post individual review as the films become available. I have already posted reviews of other new films (such as “Open”) and I am not including those on this list.

HANDSOME DEVIL, Director by John Butler, Ireland, 2017, 100 mins, Drama, 

In this film, Ned and Conor are forced to share a bedroom at their Irish boarding school. The loner and the star athlete at this rugby-crazed school form an unlikely friendship until it’s tested by the authorities. The two roommates, arbitrarily housed together, are very different high schoolers yet they share much more than a room and a school but the status of genuinely being outsiders who, ultimately, must learn to be true to themselves, the most important lesson of all, no matter what the consequences.

FAIR HAVEN, Directed by Kerstin Karlhuber, USA, 2016, 93 mins, Drama,

After a long stay in an intense ex-gay conversion therapy retreat, a young piano prodigy returns home to his family’s apple farm in a small town, his emotionally distant father, and a former boyfriend. Will boy love be rekindled or the future play out differently?

FLATBUSH LUCK, Directed by Casper Andreas, USA, 2016, 99 mins, Comedy, Crime,

This caper is all about being down on your luck one minute and up on it the next. Of course, a little cheating never hurts until you’re caught. Fun turns to crime, even murder, as a sexy would-be hot shot finds out all kinds of secrets that change the dynamic of his life, his values and his relationships.

A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW, Directed by Sampson McCormick, USA, 2016, 58 mins, Documentary, Comedy, 

It’s “two for one” when out, African-American comedian, writer and activist performs live and on-stage for one-night only with his standup routine prior to the screening of the documentary about being all these things and still managing on making a living and a career in show business. Sampson’s toughest act to follow is his own but he’s daring enough to take his chances in entertaining you live and then on screen.

OPPORTUNITY, Directed by Mohit Goswami, India, 2017, 73 mins, Drama, 

Two friends, now one an out gay urbane, professional and the other a small town fellow with rustic charms, recollect upon some forgotten memories from a distant past. Together, they revisit the roads not taken; and, the lines between the past and the present get blurred. Set in Mumbai, the romantic drama is a contemporary study on understanding of one’s identity, missed opportunities, and personal choices.

THE UNTOLD TALES OF ARMISTEAD MAUPIN, Directed by Jennifer M. Kroot, USA, 2017, 93 mins, Documentary, 

If anyone knows how to tell a tale it’s Armistead Maupin with his ground-breaking Tales Of The City, first in books, then brought to television screens, this documentary offers up a lot of behind the scenes of the renowned author’s journey from intolerant conservative to beloved writer known for his outrageous wit and open heart with interviews with Sir Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis, Amy Tan, and Neil Gaiman and more.

WELCOME TO DEAD HOTEL, Directed by Li Bin, China, 2016, 94 mins, Drama, 

“China’s first gay fantasy film, an absurd film noir,” and calling it, “a salute to the American film maker Quentin Tarantino,” the love triangle of a fellow soldier and a fiancé vie for the officer’s attention and affection in a totally improvised film without any script during the shooting. All scenes and actors’ lines are all dependent upon director’s on-site guidance, The result is something that pushes the boundaries of traditional film making.

 

THE LAVENDER SCARE, Directed by Josh Howard, Jill Landes, USA, 2016,  80 mins, Documentary,

No one will “Like Ike” (President Dwight S. Eisenhower) after seeing this film! The timeliness of its subject couldn’t be greater than right at this moment in our nation’s history. The witch hunt that the federal government pursued of LGBTQ professionals within their own ranks is dark and chilling. That it happened at all is both instructive and a warning of what is possible when power runs amuck..

SEARCH ENGINES, Directed by Russell Brown, USA, 2016, 101 mins, Drama, Comedy, 

It’s time to share the Thanksgiving Day dinner with family and friends but getting everyone to mix and mingle is challenging when so many are addicted to their cell phones. A power outage causes everyone to have to “communicate” in real time and space that’s when the tragedy and the comedy come into play. Stars Connie Stevens and Joyle Fisher.

SUICIDE KALE, Directed by Carly Usdin, Canada, 2016, 78 mins, Drama, Comedy, 

A group of lesbians are enjoying a Saturday afternoon cookout when an anonymous suicide note is found in their midst. Their friends and partners are all wondering “who wrote it?” Dark and comedic, the answer will surprise and delight even the smartest of would-be “detectives”! The fantasy is part of the film’s charm embedded though with an important message.

APRICOT GROVES, Directed by Pouria Heidary Oureh, Armenia/Iran, 2016, 82 mins, Drama, 

Aram, the Iranian Armenian youth who has immigrated to the US in childhood returns to Armenia for the first time to propose to an Armenian girlfriend Narbeh who he met and lived with stateside. Narbeh sees many cultural, religious, and national differences on their day trip together. But harder obstacles are ahead and twists and turns on the road to life.

SMALL TOWN RAGE, Directed by David Hylan, Raydra Hall, USA, 2016, 141 mins, Documentary, 

This is NOT a documentary about injustice surrounding an epidemic in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco. It IS a documentary about injustice surrounding an epidemic in Small Town America: Shreveport, Louisiana. Expertly narrated by Lance Bass, the brave men and women of ACT UP Shreveport tell their stories of rage against that injustice, which may not have made them popular, but lead to necessary changes in their Small Town and in America.

 SOMETHING LIKE SUMMER, Directed by David Berry, USA, 2017, 111 mins, Drama, Musical, 

This romantic musical is so original that it can easily be dubbed “a gay La La Land.” Its freshness in its approach in dealing with youthful identity, feeling comfortable in one’s own skin, and, finally, early adulthood is as heartfelt, truthful and engaging as the original songs and music that underscore the story of young love, gained, then lost, and later regained, but not before a wide range of emotions have been experienced, felt, accepted and understood.  Love discovered is not without its hardships and heartache and the young gay men go through many challenges and are even struck by tragedy before they defy the odds and look towards their future.

“THIS IS EVERYTHING: GIGI GORGEOUS”— Testing Love

“This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous”

Testing  Love

Amos Lassen

.In 2008, Gregory Lazzarato, a young, nationally ranked Canadian diver, walked away from diving and began a YouTube channel focused on makeup tutorials. He would never allow himself to be intimidated by bullies either online or in school. Lazzarato became the fierce, outspoken Gregory Gorgeous, amassing a loyal following who found strength and inspiration from his public coming out as a gay male.

Despite this success, there was a secret that was revealed in a December 2013 video titled “I Am Transgender.” Motivated by the death of her mother, the YouTube star took on the new name Gigi Gorgeous. Gigi had the support of her father and brothers and now gives us a candid look at her transition. Two-time Academy Award–winning director Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County U.S.A”., 1976; “American Dream”, 1990) shines a spotlight on her subject’s uplifting, empowering message of self-acceptance and Gigi becomes a self-assured, happy and, gorgeous young woman.

Gender transition processes are of interest to those going through them. However we have seen this portrayed in so many nonfiction and narrative forms that we now question if this is as compelling to everyone else.

Documentarian Barbara Kopple thinks it is and profiles Gigi Gorgeous who began attracting a following and is a celebrity and an LGBTQ role model with the very simple message of “Be Yourself”. This glossy documentary fails to show conflict or depth in a personality who should be very interesting.

Gigi Gorgeous , by Daniel Bergeron. Indiewire. 2017. Must be licensed through Getty Contour. No PR/No Release on file

Transgender rights are a major social-justice issue today but Gigi Gorgeous is not a particularly articulate spokesperson, nor does she seem to have experienced any real problems aside from trolls on the Internet. She’s a transgender celebrity and a self-made princess primarily interested in being glamorous, and with the means to get there first-class. It’s easy to see why people in more challenging circumstances might see that image as encouraging, something to aspire to — but such individuals would be much more interesting than Gigi.

Greg Lazzarato was born in 1994 in Toronto, a middle child and an extrovert at an early age. His mother died of leukemia in 2012. Gregg was a competitive high-diver and might have made it to the Olympics if he hadn’t walked away from it. Identity issues were already taking precedence and he expressed there in makeup tutorials that he began posting on YouTube at age 14. Naturally he got his share of homophobic insults but these videos won a fast-growing following and it did not take long before “Gregory Gorgeous” attracted a manager and was making money from product endorsements. He came-out online as gay (but not seen in this film), and later as transgender and others saw him as an inspiration for some fans.

The gender transition began after an announcement in late 2013, with various surgical and other procedures following. Her father David was supportive. We see Gigi doing some modeling, but mostly she is just a professional celebrity and loves buying lingerie and really aspires to be a mainstream commodity.

Much of “This Is Everything” consists of YouTube, home-movie, broadcast, and other preexisting footage and the original footage doesn’t go any deeper into Gigi’s personality so I can only think that there is really nothing newsworthy there. However, there is on scene shown under the closing credits when Gigi was detained at the airport and refused entry to Dubai last August because the United Arab Emirates classifies transgender persons as an illegal “imitation” of gender. We do see Gigi Gorgeous as a human-rights spokeswoman. She is the champion only of herself.

“SANTA AND ANDRES”— In Castro’s Cuba

“Santa and Andrés”

In Castro’s Cuba

Amos Lassen

Cuban filmmaker Carlos Lechuga’s odd-couple political drama, “Santa and Andres” looks at the emotional effects of life under Fidel.

A novelist under house arrest and his house guard are the odd couple at the heart of the film that is a rural drama about two supposed enemies who find they have more in common than either could have thought. The film is low-key and respectful look at on an idea that could too easily have become melodramatic. The story is about two unwilling outsiders struggling to live a life that the system has stolen from them.

In 1983, Andres (Eduardo Martínez) is living in a run-down hillside hut, having been banished there by the Cuban authorities as punishment for his counter-revolutionary views. Santa (Lola Amores) has been sent by local party representative Jesus (George Abreu) to watch over Andres while a “peace forum” takes place nearby. This is a situation that is very strange. At night, Andres spends his time writing a book that he keeps hidden in the toilet (cue jokes about “smashing the cistern”) and having sex with a mute local kid (Cesar Dominguez), who he pretends to Santa is his nephew. We learn that Santa and Jesus once had a brief fling, but after Jesus let her know that that they were not anywhere, Santa’s attitude to Andres changes. Then after the writer is beaten up by his lover, Santa tends to his wounds, saves his life, and after that, their relationship begins to change in interesting and thought-provoking ways. Granted the situation is absurd yet the movie shows how politics gets into people’s heads and damages the relationships between them, even when they are far away from the political center: Even in this remote location, everyone lives according to party lines. We also see the progress that Cuban independent cinema has made of late. Lechuga’s screenplay keeps the focus on the quiet human drama as both characters struggle internally with the system’s effects on them. We see that the system reflected here brutish, thoughtlessly automated, somewhat pathetic and clearly in decline, one from which any noble ideals it may once have had.

Andres is a deeply troubled man whose life has been taken from him. He is a double victim of his culture being both homosexual and a counter-revolutionary. His real life is lived in hiding, and the haunted expression in his eyes lets us really see that. Martinez plays him as a ghost of a man who is already hardened when we meet him here.

Santa is a country girl with little understanding about how she got into this position in the first place, and whose only understanding of Andres’ situation is that he’s written books that Jesus doesn’t like. In a system that sees her as little more than a means to a political end, we see that she is lonely and driven by a powerful need for companionship. When Santa sheds her uniform she also sheds her stern expression. Letting down her hair and wearing a red dress, she becomes both magnificent and pathetic.

Music plays a crucial role throughout— Cuban jazz is heard from Andres’ radio cassette player and it is completely at odds with the rural silence. Indeed, music throughout brings a passion and sensitivity to a world that has largely been stripped of these qualities.

Prisoner and guard make an odd couple, and initially are very hostile to each other. Because Santa is a loyal member of the  party, we understand how Andres feels.  Andres has nighttime visits from a young mute man (Cesar Domínguez) who hustles what he can from Andrés after they have sex. Santa comes across him early one morning and Andrés tries to pass him off as  his nephew, but on her return visit when she discovers that Andrés has been beaten and in need of hospitalization and this makes her realize that there is no nephew.

Santa and Andrés are a pair of loners who have both suffered under the repressive regime, although she would never admit it. Their loneliness brings them closer together, and even though it is not on the intimate footing that Santa so badly wants, she becomes close enough to him to abandon her party loyalty when suddenly he is again in deep trouble again with the authorities. Even having robbed of his life and living in constant fear does not deter his the spirit of man who is determined to find a way to be true to himself on every level. Santa is a docile loyal party member who starts to realize the possibility of actually finding some companionship to make her happy.

Director Lechuga has his two protagonists gradually bloom in their roles as the story progresses.  If we try to compare this story to what is going on today in Cuba, we understand that not much has changed. In fact, this film has been banned on the island.