Monthly Archives: February 2017

“Inspired by Art: Fall of a Giant” by Uvi Poznansky— After Goliath

Poznansky, Uvi. “Inspired by Art: Fall of a Giant”, (“The David Chronicles Book 5”), ADS, 2017.

After Goliath

Amos Lassen

When Uvi Poznansky undertook her King David project, she really was determined to let all of us know as much about the king as possible and she has done w wonderful job. First she wrote books about David and now she is presenting us with the artwork that was inspired by the biblical story of the man whom God loved even with his flaws. In this volume, “Inspired by Art: Fall of a Giant” we see a is a collection of art throughout the ages based on the story of David. This volume focuses on what happened after David’s victory over Goliath. Here we have sculptures, paintings, etchings, and manuscript illustrations that inspired Poznansky to write “The David Chronicles”. It is easy to see how this collection was the basis for a semester-long course analyzing the contrasts in viewpoints around the biblical story.

Instead of arranging the art by era, style and artist, Poznansky chose to do so historically by event. We see works by Ghiberti, Guercino, Caravaggio, Filippo Lippi, Gustave Doré, Rembrandt, and Chagall, Mantegna, Giorgione, Gentilleeschi, Vouet, Spinelli and as well as others.

The book is beautifully designed however, it is only available on Kindle. I would love to have the same art bound in a coffee table kind of book. Below is a look at the books that make up the entire series.

The series The David Chronicles includes the following novels:

  • I: Rise to Power
  • II: A Peek at Bathsheba
  • III: The Edge of Revolt
  • I+II+III: The David Chronicles

In addition, it includes the collections of art that inspired writing the novels:

  • IV: Inspired by Art: Fighting Goliath 
  • V: Inspired by Art: Fall of a Giant 
  • VI: Inspired by Art: Rise to Power
  • VII: Inspired by Art: A Peek at Bathsheba 
  • VIII: Inspired by Art: The Edge of Revolt 

IX: Inspired by Art: The Last Concubine 

A Doctor’s Confession: One Gay Man’s Memoir of Addiction, Loss, Recovery, and Hope” by Michael Frederick— Triumph Over Addiction

Fredericks, Michael. “A Doctor’s Confession: One Gay Man’s Memoir of Addiction, Loss, Recovery, and Hope”, Lightheart Publications, 2016.

Triumph Over Addiction

Amos Lassen

Michael Fredericks felt guilty about his sexuality because of his Italian-Catholic upbringing and the sudden death of his mother. He found himself with several addictions including vodka, Valium, cocaine, sex just as we was preparing himself for a career in medicine. He shares his journey with us and steps along the way involved detox and rehab, the struggle to maintain sobriety, the serial trysts and boyfriends and the eventual rebuilding of his life. We feel his sincerity and energy in almost every sentence as he recovers.

The book is fiction so it tells us in the disclaimer and it reads like a memoir and the title uses the word “confession”. I later realized that the fiction comes in having changed the names of characters and places.

The first five chapters are about a young gay doctor’s struggles with sex, drug and alcohol addiction. We immediately sense that the narrator is, highly intelligent and a competent, caring and compassionate doctor. We are reminded that during the eighties and early nineties, there was no specific treatment available for HIV infection in AIDS patients. It was not until 1996 that effective combination antiretroviral therapy was used thus making HIV infection a medically manageable condition. Some may be shocked to learn that a

young emergency room doctor would have sex in his on-call room at the hospital as he was treating patients. He was also using drugs at that time and shares that several of his medical and nursing colleagues were doing the same. The stresses and strains that come from the major responsibilities put on young doctors are difficult to cope with and drugs have been easily available. When his drug (and alcohol addiction) was discovered by senior hospital doctors, the young doctor’s license to practice medicine was suspended for a few years. He also had to undergo a long drawn-out period of rehabilitation, first as an in-patient and later as a constantly monitored outpatient. He shares all the details and describes well how he went about reclaiming his life and finally recovering his medical license. His resilience, determination and willingness to continue on in the face of this is amazing. He also shares graphic descriptions of sexual relationships with many men throughout his medical student days and early hospital posts.

He confesses himself that he is always wearing his emotions openly and in the Afterword the says that he wrote this “to help as many people as possible regain control of their lives and tap into their own limitless reserves.”

We gain insight into the lives that some gay men lead and become very involved in reading about the downward spiral of both drug and sex addiction. Because we also get the way the doctor followed steps to return to healthy living, this is an important read for those concerned about addiction. The focus is on both his healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Dr. Fredericks account of struggling with traditional Catholic/Italian values while being gay is a mesmerizing read. His fall into drugs and alcohol as a result and looking for acceptance is unforgettable and related with intimate details and we insights to what it is like to be a guilt ridden drug/alcohol addict whose only wants to be loved. He is very aware that he only one pill or one drink away from losing everything.


“Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond” by Sonia Shah— a Look at Contagion

Shah, Sonia. “Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond”, Picador, 2017.

A Look at Contagion

Amos Lassen

Experts around the world are bracing for a deadly, disruptive pandemic and Sonia Shah gives us a look at how to stop it. Over the past fifty years, more than three hundred infectious diseases have emerged or reemerged in new territories and experts around the world are bracing for a deadly, disruptive pandemic. Here we see how this can happen. Writer Shah draws parallels between cholera (one of the most deadly diseases in history) and the new diseases of today. We see cholera’s dramatic journey from harmless microbe to world-changing pandemic and then become of those pathogens that have followed cholera (from the MRSA bacterium to the never-before-seen killers “emerging from China’s wet markets, the surgical wards of New Delhi, the slums of Port-au-Prince, and the suburban backyards of the East Coast”). What makes this so gripping is that we cannot afford to ignore the future.

We would have to be blind not to know that there are indeed true existential threats on the horizon and these include climate change, nuclear holocaust, pandemics, and even rampant consumerism. The most immediate threat to civilization is contagious disease. In “Pandemic”, Sonia Shah surveys the past, the present and the future of infectious disease. This means illnesses that might kill tens or hundreds of millions of people with little warning and unpredictable consequences. She explains that “epidemics grow exponentially while our ability to respond proceeds linearly, at best.”

Because today we are so anxious to hear news, a lot of it has become alarmist reporting that warns us about hemorrhagic diseases such as Ebola. We are told that these will “break out” and kill millions. Shah patiently explains that much there are many common diseases that are far more likely to pose threats to us, specifically influenza and cholera. A series of unfortunate mutations in either one produce a disease that is not just contagious but fatal. Today, influenza kills only a small proportion of its victims and we see it as a nuisance and as a threat only to those who are most vulnerable. However, the “Spanish flu” (the H1N1 virus) that broke out in the final days of World War I infected about 500 million people and killed between 50 and 100 million. Epidemiologists today are afraid that H1N1 or one of the countless other varieties of influenza that is coming out of Southern China could put on a repeat performance or even worse than what we have seen. Likewise, Cholera poses a similar threat.

Shah writes of the role of Christianity has had in fostering infectious disease for more than a thousand years and history tells us that two thousand years ago the Romans piped clean drinking water to their cities through an elaborate system of aqueducts and made public baths available to one and all. They considered cleanliness to be a virtue. That all changed with the advent of Christianity. Unlike the Jews and Muslims, Christian clergy disdained personal hygiene and associated it with Roman polytheism and saw cleanliness as superstitious. It was common for Catholic priests and the Protestant pastors who succeeded them in some parts to discourage their flocks from bathing. For many centuries, the vast majority of people in Christian lands lived together with their animals in the filthiest of conditions. Disease was frequent and as people moved into cities, the diseases went with them. Doctors, then, attributed l disease to an imbalance in the four “humors” within the body and in external factors that exacerbated it. Nineteenth-century physicians who practiced medical “science” based on this belief “increased [cholera’s] death toll from 50 to 70 percent.” It wasn’t until we are preparing to enter the twentieth century that practicing physicians began to accept the role of microorganisms in causing disease. Yet, at the same time, progress toward improved sanitation and the availability of clean drinking water was slow. Construction of London’s sewer system was not prompted because public health officials understood that water used for drinking and washing was dangerously contaminated. They proposed the effort because it was essential to pipe all the smelly sewage into the Thames, the source of the city’s drinking water! Only in the twentieth century did it become common for municipalities to regard drinkable water as a necessity of life.

We also see the role of contemporary trends in making the threat of epidemic disease greater than ever. Shah says that five of these trends include climate change, continuing urbanization, accessible global transportation, resistance to vaccines, and development on previously virgin lands, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and the Amazon. Because of these, an increasing number of unknown and unpredictable new tropical diseases are coming to be and moving into more and more crowded cities further and further north on the globe. At the same time, diseases previously thought conquered and done with (polio and measles) have re-appeared around the world.

Unfortunately, I have learned that this book has been discredited by several who maintain that Shah has written a piece of alarmist nonfiction and has not really checked her facts. There is not much originality here and after doing a bit of research myself, I see that the book contains errors, mis-statements, and oversights and while some are minor, the idea that a book like this could be published with erroneous information has its effect on the reader.

A book of this nature is timely but it must be a book where scientific accuracy the foremost attribute. When we read a number of errors, it makes us wonder about the research and the author’s credibility. I do not think that a reader would have to do such and I do not think that Shah tried to write an invalid book but she went into areas where she had no expertise and I suspect that she did not check with specialists in those fields.


“GOD’S OWN COUNTRY”— Two Men and a Passion

“God’s Own Country”

Two Men and Passion

Amos Lassen

Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) lives with his distant father and grandmother on a farm in rural Yorkshire where he unenthusiastically carries out his chores while spending his nights binge drinking and having anonymous sex. Not only does he not respect himself, neither does he respect the willing boys who submit to him. When asked by one of them if he would like to meet up for a drink another time, he is response that someone would ask such a thing.  

The farm needs help during the lambing season and it comes with Romanian worker Gheorghe (Alec Secăreanu). Johnny’s disapproval of the newcomer is mixed with curiosity, and even envy, as he watches Gheorghe’s getting along with the animals. The passion between the men begins with a battle for domination seems to be quite natural afterwards.

Director Francis Lee chose to shoot large parts of the film in sustained close-ups, this giving the audience a sense of immediate intimacy with the characters, even though it’s the ability to be emotionally intimate that holds Johnny back. Whether it’s the harshness of rural life on the farm or the casual way with which Johnny engages in sex, the frame remains unflinchingly in close-up. Lee’s movie largely goes past melodrama and irritating contrivances and is quite beautiful.

The film has solid and heartfelt performances as well as it deals with conflicts between working-class England and growing European Union immigration. O’Connor is wonderful as Johnny, a 24-year-old farmhand working in brutal isolation on the family estate in the Yorkshire Moors of northern England. As foaling season comes, his family farm, headed by Johnny’s hard-as-nails father Martin (Ian Hart), hires an extra worker in Romanian migrant Georghe, an outsider who unsettles Johnny in the routine that protects his own deep insecurities. We sense Johnny’s guilt of his own sexuality is seen in the casual sex in pub bathrooms with men who are intoxicated by nightly binge drinking. Lasting relationships are impossible and friendships have long gone. Johnny’s former schoolmates left for college long ago and Johnny is now a loner. When a one-night stand requests a date, Johnny looks at him like someone who is from a different planet. Johnny treats Gheorghe like dirt to compensate for his non-acceptance of who he is and taunts him with racial insults fueled that seem to come from his own self-hatred and not from outward disdain. Nonetheless, the chemistry between these two men is inescapable and their relationship grows almost imperceptibly. Their first night of sex, in an isolated barn where they find themselves cooped up for the night is almost animalistic and very, very erotic.

One morning Gheorghe asks Johnny if he is lonely on the farm especially because of the way he behaves. Johnny’s masculinity carries with it a sensitive homoerotic charge. It’s not that Johnny is unwilling to show his sexuality openly. An old school friend (Patsy Ferran) suggests that his sexuality is  common knowledge and she offers to introduce him to a male friend. We see that Johnny’s journey is one that will make him comfortable in his own skin.

Johnny’s father is all heart and soul even with a hard edge towards his son. We see here a bit about class politics, the rural-urban divide, sexuality, and identity. It appears that Georghe’s European sensibilities may be what breaks Johnny free from his isolation. There will be those who will immediately see that what happens here is a metaphor to define the relationship that the English need now.

Of course we see the usual course of rustic repressions and romance following on the heels of a handsome stranger who comes to Yorkshire in the middle of nowhere. This is certainly a less sensationalized and strenuous version of homosexuality than we’re used to seeing rural Britain. Even with an impressively brooding silence between the leads, most of the visual cues underscore the narrative.

When Johnnie’s father was recently injured and left crippled, leaving sole responsibility for the farm and let crippled, the jobs on the farm feel to the son and his grandmother (Gemma Jones). This is why they had to get help in the person of Goerghe who was running from his own troubles and whose presence eventually forces Johnny to question some hard truths about who he is and what he wants. Both men’s tenderness is seen in the way they for the lives around them. Racial stereotypes concerning Ghoerghe’s nationality are smoothed over once their sexual relationship becomes loving and passionate.

The film ignores problematic tangents in order to lead us into the safe-net of a happy romantic ending. Director Lee also avoids over-sentimentality and goes for a message about the possibility of hope for a fulfilling, gay relationship set in the kinds of rural climes where ignorance, repression, and eventual tragedy usually reign rule.

There will be comparisons to Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” and there is a possibility for such comparisons. At first, Johnny takes great pleasure in putting Gheorghe in his place as he observes Gheorghe’s tireless and honest work ethic. Gheorghe soon grows impatient and demands they work alongside each other respectfully and in this we see stoicism rife with homoerotic tensions. Their relationship, was first infused with aggression, but soon changes into an enduring but embattled love. The film is distinctly British and that we see in the attitude toward the love that develops between these two men. There are several scenes in which Gheorghe interacts with the sheep and we see him as a nurturer. The same care that he uses with the animals is used when he and the tenderness with which he approaches the animals under his care is the same tenderness we see in him when he approaches Johnny. Without saying a word, Gheorghe manages to teach Johnny how to connect on an emotional level and soothes and comforts him in much the same way he comforts the sheep. This is unexpected and a bit unsettling at first yet it is powerfully emotive.

Unfortunately, the film’s final moments did not ring true for me. It feels almost like it was tacked on as an afterthought for the sake of greater viewer satisfaction and commercial success.



“Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371” by MK Czerwiec— Life on the AIDS Ward

Czerwiec, MK. “Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371” (Graphic Medicine), Penn State University Press, 2017

Life on the AIDS Ward

Amos Lassen

In 1994, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, MK Czerwiec had her first nursing job at Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. She was part of the care giving staff of HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371. In “Taking Turns” she takes us to life on the ward. We see the excellence in the treatment and care of patients, in Unit 371 that was a community for thousands of patients and families affected by HIV and AIDS and the people who cared for them. In this graphic novel Czerwiec brings together memories with the oral histories of patients, family members, and staff. We see life and death in the ward and the ways the unit affected and informed those who passed through it, and how, many look back on their time there today. When Czerwiec joined Unit 371 it was a pivotal time in the history of AIDS: deaths from AIDS peaked in the Midwest in 1995 and then fell drastically in the following years when antiretroviral protease inhibitors were used. This positive turn of events led to a decline in patient populations and, ultimately, to the closure of Unit 371. Czerwiec uses a restrained yet inviting drawing style and her narrative is carefully considered. She examines individual, institutional, and community responses to the AIDS epidemic—as well as the role that art can play in the grieving process.

This is a personal look that contains many voices and it provides a unique look at a unique care unit. It honestly reflects the suffering, grief, and hope among a community of medical professionals and patients at the heart of the epidemic. It was a time of tremendous loss but also of remarkable change. Through the lives and deaths of individual patients, written and drawn in documentary detail, we see the power dynamic between doctor and patient shift and since cure was not a possible option, we see a new definition of care. We see the philosophy and practices of a clinical unit dedicated to the care of people with AIDS in a particular place and historical moment through artist’s own experience as a nurse on the unit. There is a challenge set out here as well. When we are to be caregivers for someone who is leaving this world, how do we make what we do for them meaningful?


“SEAT IN SHADOW”— Unhinged

“Seat in Shadow”


Amos Lassen

Henry Coombes, acclaimed artist-filmmaker has created Albert, an eccentric, aging painter who doubles as an unconventional, Jung-inspired psychotherapist. When Albert’s friend asks him to counsel her lethargic grandson Ben, who has been having ongoing boyfriend problems that are making him depressed, their subsequent therapy sessions reveal as much about Albert as they do about the troubled young man. This debut feature film is a witty, perceptive study of social mores, sexual excess and the bizarre, symbiotic relationship between doctor and patient; teacher and pupil; artist and muse.

Henry Coombes is an eccentric and original artist. He works in Scotland and has produced an eclectic body of work ranging through both painting and film. “Seat in a Shadow” is not only his first feature film, it is totally “unhinged” and goes against all of the trends of filmed representations of his city and very probably the queerest film ever made in Scotland. When he first moved to Scotland, Coombes was struck by the Bohemian subculture that has long flourished, somewhat underground there and he celebrates just that in the film. The film follows the relationship between a depressed young gay man who is sent by his grandmother to seek help at from an eccentric old homosexual hippie amateur painter and psychoanalyst, David Sillars, who co-wrote the script (and also steals the show).

Sillars says that he is ‘unconventional, but not unethical. This can be questioned when he takes all of his patient’s MDMA to protect him from the drug’s effect or tries to prevent him seeing his boyfriend because he’s jealous. This makes us wonder just who is being helper here. “Seat in Shadow” was filmed in a space of two weeks on a low budget, and these facts restrain it. It is too short and rough. A bit more length might have helped this.

The sessions between the therapist and morose, gay Ben (Jonathan Leslie) take place in Albert’s disheveled apartment which is dominated by a large cheese plant named Priscilla, and who Albert talks too when he has smoked a joint or two or taken ecstasy that he confiscated from Ben. Ben is dealing with a case of unrequited love with a local DJ who seems to want to break up with him after every time they have sex.  Albert’s problem is that despite his lofty even though he comes across as an intellectual, he is jealous of his boyfriend. over-intellectualized statements, he is in fact really jealous of his boyfriend.

Much of the second half of the film takes place when they are all high on something other than just life, and here Coombs has the chance to let his imagination run wild with some very vivid dream-like sequences. The two leads make their acting debuts and sadly we see that clearly and while Sillars is enthusiastic in his role as the older man, Livingstone’s as Ben really is quite a poor showing.

We winder if Albert and his unconventional methods will just cause Ben a lot of unnecessary hassle that he’d rather avoid. The film looks at sexuality, communication, self-doubt, and more as it uses every scene to connect inner space and outer space cerebrally. The script is filled with fun lines and exchanges, and the camerawork moves between impressive imagery, such as a houseplant turned into a jungle terrain, or a jar of dirty water, being used to clean paintbrushes that we see depicted as something like a micro-universe in turmoil.

Other people appear throughout the movie, yes, but by and large that central relationship is what is important as Albert tries to help Ben and himself. The therapist is a work in progress who has the self-awareness to dissect and deal with his flaws and is more interesting than the patient. Whether he’s reacting to some cutting insults with a tired grin, or heading into a disco with a large plant to dance with, Albert is always the main reason to keep watching.

The film is funny and smart throughout even with the artificiality in the main performances and this is what causes the film not be as good as it could be. It’s hard to know if the performance problems come from Sillars, Leslie and the other actors or if director Coombes needs to work on his methods of instructing cast members.

Much like the character of Albert, this is an incisive, rough, flawed piece of work but it is very much worth seeing. This is an emotional look at artist and muse, a close-up look at alienation, and an uplifting expose of life and love of gay experience. That’s not to say that Coombs’ debut is a specifically “gay” film since it looks at the network of anxieties which plague one young man, but its ultimate message is about the complications of the human heart and mind.

Coombs wants to make something visually bold but really understands that without the characters or soul to back it, there’s nothing to pull us in. One of the profound pleasures of “Seat in Shadow” is getting to know its main characters and watching them move around each other yet remaining separated because of inexperience. There are moments when Ben comes across as petulant and moody and as an unattractive character so that we do not bond with him, but through careful honest dialogue with  Albert, the film takes us into a series of sit-down chats. If anything, Coombs wants to give as much time to the muse as he does the artist and is not interested in backing up generalizations about millennials. He makes us sit down and understand that everything we do is caused by something done to us. Even Ben’s filthy-mouthed grandmother (Marcella McIntosh ) doesn’t feel  like a bully and her own frustrations appearing to come from a place of love.

This is an intimately drawn psychodrama. Coombs’ choice of sets is perfect for the story, and his choice to really delve into the urban domesticity of Glasgow gives the film a cozy feel, whilst managing to slowly push us into fantasy. Albert’s mental health issues slip through as surreal visuals, some of them haunting and others just plain odd. Each visual unveils something and we go into quiet secret places from Albert’s apartment to a seedy club down a back alley. These places provide opportunities for human experiences, and all of them can be transformed by mood and activity. In the end Albert’s ability to transform his surroundings by using his imagination and a bit of work make us smile in the same way that Coombs’ charm and flare transform what could have been a depressingly dull drama into something much more fun.

“S&M SALLY”— Domination/Submission

“S&M Sally”


Amos Lassen

When Jamie (Michelle Ehlen) learns that her girlfriend Jill (Jen McPherson) has spent time exploring BDSM, she feels insecure and suggests that they start going to underground clubs. Jamie assumes she will take the dominant role in their escapades, with Jill as her submissive, but Jill has some different ideas of her own. The overall theme of the film has to do with being taken out of one’s comfort zones by one’s own insecurities.

This is actually the third film in the “Butch Jamie” trilogy and it concentrates on Jill who has had quite a kinky past. As I said, Jamie is the butch in a traditional butch/femme relationship who assumes that she will play the dominant role as the two begin their journey through BDSM but Jill has something else in mind.

We go on an entertaining and kinky romp journey that includes flogging, electric play, fire play, and life in the dungeon snack room and it is total entertainment. This is because of the actors who are great fun together and clearly understand the screenplay. McPherson is wonderful and an absolute riot as Jill. She is filled with sensuality and kink and shows both humanity and affection. Ehlen is a woman whose idea of dominance is frequent usage of the word “bitch” and she can’t disguise she’s a closet submissive longing for a relationship into which she can truly surrender.


The film’s goal, it seems is to portray BDSM in a realistic yet accessible way that appeals to those in the kink community and those for whom it has remained a source of curiosity and intrigue and it does so beautifully. There is also a polyamory subplot. Lola (Shaela Cook), David (Scott Keiji Takeda) and Sebastian (Adrian Gonzalez occasionally awkwardly explore the addition if another person to their sexual escapades.

What I really enjoyed here is the realistic dialogue and it is incredibly sweet for a movie about BDSM. Learning to surrender what we have to go in search of new things is never easy but often necessary to keep a relationship fresh. One cannot help liking this movie about two people trying to stay in a relationship. Ehlen does a fine job with her directing. We see how the sex life of some couples can change throughout their relationship and how the idea of the role one plays in a relationship may not be the one that is expected. While this is a film about women, all genders can certainly enjoy it.

DVD Bonus Features include: Behind the Scenes, Outtakes, Dungeon Tour, Music Video “Black Lipstick Kiss”.

“MULTIPLE MANIACS”— Going Back in Time

“Multiple Maniacs”

Going Back in Time

Amos Lassen

In 1970, John Waters released “Multiple Maniacs” which now has been remastered and rereleased as part of the Criterion Collection. It stars Divine as the main attraction in a freak show called the Cavalcade of Perversion. The barker tells us that the Cavalcade also includes a “puke eater” and “two actual queers kissing each other like lovers on the lips,” the barker exclaims. Some of the film’s funniest moments occur when customers, fresh from Middle America, gawk at the sights and show their disapproval.

Divine’s character, Lady Divine, is determined to kill her boyfriend (David Lochary); Mink Stole turns up in a memorably raunchy scene; and the giant lobster rapes Lady Divine, completing her tumble over the edge of sanity. Waters has said the film was his reaction to the peace-and-love ethos, and it’s certainly as ugly and dark as can be. The restoration is quite good, considering that the film was stored in a closet and then an attic for years. Once again we see John Waters’ determination to push the boundaries of perceived decency and still today “Multiple Maniacs” is shocking. When it was first released it played at grimy midnight movie houses and they were the perfect places for a movie with its guerrilla style and transgressive content. Long considered lost, it was restored last year.

“’Multiple Maniacs” is a barnstorming swirl of rough and ready provocation” that is totally confrontational”. The central narrative of Lady Divine plotting to kill her philandering man Mr. David is fairly incidental and in reality just gives a bare-boned skeleton for Waters to film a series of increasingly surreal sequences built around social taboos and religious preoccupations and rebels against a wide range of the social mores of the period. The film opens with a carnival like freak show.

Violence and mayhem tear down what were presiding notions of peace and love. We immediately sense Waters’ fervor through clunky line delivery and awkward pacing hardly. More than forty-five years after it introduces Baltimore’s underground scene and it sure to shock many. Treachery, perversion and murder in the criminal underworld come together and there are actually some comic moments of genius.

Divine plays the manager of Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions, a traveling show that lures in punters with the promise that they will get to see all those disgusting things they love to be shocked by up real close and in the flesh. As the audience shows their loathing for the performers, they make their own hideousness a spectacle for the viewer.

Most of the film follows a revenge narrative as our fearsome anti-heroine as Divine discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her and vows to murder him. Stopping off along the way for a sexual encounter in a church with Mink Stole (a scene which both satirizes and outclasses the pornography of the time) and she becomes angrier at every turn, as it is revealed that she has a long history of committing gratuitous acts of violence. This is the first aggressive character Divine played and there’s a rawness to it that hints at years of frustration finally unleashed.

There is a good deal of sexual violence, including an encounter with a lobster. Although the story is trashy and the characters never intended to be realistic, both Divine and Stole turn in committed performances that feel utterly sincere. The script, though crude, is often laugh out loud funny and illustrates Waters’ keen observational ability. Some of the supporting performances really are terrible and the pacing is all over the place, but nonetheless it’s still surprisingly watchable.

The politics of personal sexual preference underscore nearly every scene. While events grow increasingly outlandish and unhinged, the film understands that the “freak show” has moved from the circus tent to the suburbs, with curious suburbanites hoping to gawk not at the genetic mutations on display but at the behaviors of a post-sexual liberation that are not socially acceptable.

The film does not stick to a narrative and fuses art film and grindhouse with misfits, thieves, murderers, schemers, and rapists. They’re presented in no uncertain terms as antisocial, irreverent people, yet there’s no pretense of the documentary realism here.

And yet, it would be untrue to claim that the film has no sense of either moral compass or its characters’ relationship with elements from the real world. Waters implies that art cannot make rigid sense of these issues, for doing so, especially in a socially directive manner. It is quite an experience.

“THE SLIPPERS”— What Happened to Dorothy’s Red Shoes?

“The Slippers”

What Happened to Dorothy’s Red Shoes?

Amos Lassen

Did you ever wonder what happened to Dorothy’s red slippers after she cane home from Oz? Canadian filmmaker Morgan White looks at just that in this documentary.

The stories involve from Kent Warner was the enterprising costumier took the shoes from the MGM Studio Lot in the 1970’s when no-one was looking to collectors who bought and sold them in the name of art and love, when it was clear that what they cared most about was making an enormous fortune out of them. The first surprise that White uncovers is the fact that there are multiple pairs of the red slippers (and this makes perfect sense since the Director Victor Fleming took many takes involving them. One pair is safe in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington where they are the most popular exhibit there. The other pairs (and no-one knows to this day exactly how many there are) began being auctioned off when MGM Studios was taken over by Wall Street Bankers who couldn’t wait to rapidly dispose of all the props and costumes which they thought had little or no value.

Morgan did wonderful research and was able to follow some of the pairs through the years as they keep re-appearing at auctions. One pair owned by a collector was loaned to the tiny Judy Garland Museum in her home town of Grand Rapids and were be stolen and thought to have been thrown into a local lake.

White shows the red slippers as part of the wholesale destruction of the old glamorous Hollywood when very few people tried to save things just for the sake of history and with no other thoughts about them. Debbie Reynolds single-handedly began a crusade to buy as many of the costumes from  Hollywood’s classic movies with the hope that she would establish a Museum to house them. She invested herself and all her money and failed since she became victim to collectors who took advantage of her good nature and ripped her off.

Morgan has some interesting interviews with an odd assortment of collectors who range from merely eccentric to shady, and even though the film becomes repetitive at times, it is still great fun to watch.

“THE PEARL OF AFRICA”— A Struggle for Love

“The Pearl of Africa”

A Struggle for Love

Amos Lassen

Director Jonny von Wallström’s first full-length documentary is the story of Cleopatra Kambugu, a transgender woman living in Uganda who is forced to leave her country after a bill is passed making her gender identity punishable by life in prison or even execution.  “The Pearl of Africa” follows Cleo as she leaves Uganda for Thailand and sex reassignment surgery. Cleo and Nelson, her long-term partner give voice-over narration emphasizing the cultural and linguistic diversity of Uganda in a way that juxtaposes the countries rejection of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations.

What makes this such an important film is that it goes beyond Cleo’s struggle and shows something that is so often left out of transgender people’s stories: the possibility for love and acceptance.  In one of the film’s most moving scenes, Nelson reflects on the way that he has grown as a person through his relationship with Cleo and his involvement in the Ugandan transgender community.  The affection and support that they give each other despite the danger that their relationship poses to them both, gives a welcome note of optimism that we do not often see on film.

Cleo and Nelson are in a long-term relationship and share bond that seems inseparable. Cleo is a transgender woman in Uganda is considered guilty of a sin punishable by imprisonment or death. Nelson is her stoic companion who wants to accompany her to Thailand for gender confirmation surgery. The two work hard to try to figure out how to remain together underneath a bigoted regime and avoid scorn and hatred from family and friends.

Director von Wallström bravely accompanies his subjects as they embrace life in the face of tremendous hatred from their community. His camera goes with Cleo and Nelson in many intimate spots and we see the closeness of their relationship and that they are comfortable sharing their story with others. The film also explores Uganda in a way that is far from stereotypical, without relying on obvious images and third-world tropes. Having already seen the documentary “God Loves Uganda” a I was ready to be upset once again with the subject matter and indeed the film does not shy away from showing the violence inflicted on gay citizens. However, these tense moments are just a tiny bit of the film. This is about Cleo and Nelson’s romance and is a sensitive character study about people loving each other.

Cleo was biologically born male, but already in her early years begins wearing female clothes and identifying as a woman. She found the support of her lifelong partner and mother and, against all odds, lived a relatively hassle free life in her home country. But then the local tabloid Red Pepper decide to “denounce” and “gay-shame” her thus forcing Cleopatra into hiding. The real power in the film comes when Cleo wakes up after surgery and begins her steps towards recovery. After a painful intervention, she moves with her partner to Kenya, where she now fights to return to her home nation and to be recognized as the first transsexual woman in the country’s history.

Uganda actively and consistently persecutes LGBT people unlike China where there is often tacit acceptance and complicity as long as the homosexual marries a partner of the opposite sex and lives a dual life. Such possibility does not exist in Uganda, where the mere suspicion of homosexuality is often a trigger for social convulsion. There are many homophobic countries in the world, particularly in Africa and Asia. However, many of them are more accepting of transgender and transsexual people. In Iran the government even pays for sex-assignment surgery. In Albania, some women are encouraged to live as transsexuals. Uganda, however, is so deeply prejudiced that they do not even bother to make the distinction. To most people in the country, LGBT people are all “gay” and do not deserve a place in society. Many believe that they shouldn’t even be allowed to live.

This is a bold and touching picture of a truly unparalleled personal story of love and fight against prejudice. It should serve as inspiration for LGBT people living in the 79 countries that still criminalize homosexuality.