Monthly Archives: March 2017

“Caught Inside” by Jamie Deacon— Changing Paths

Deacon, Jamie. “Caught Inside”, Beaten Track Publishing, 2016

Changing Paths

Amos Lassen

Luke Savage is seventeen-years-old and a very clever guy who thinks that he has his life figured out but that changes when he meets Theo. He had planned on having a fun summer with his girlfriend Zara at her family’s holiday cottage in Cornwall. In his mind’s eye, he saw himself on the beach and surfing. Love was the farthest thing from his thoughts and he is really not interested in love and he was totally unprepared for the way he reacted to Theo, Zara’s cousin who is an undergrad at Oxford and Zara’s best friend. He finds himself feeling desire and has him questioning everything about his life as he discovers that he does not really know himself. He and Theo develop a fragile relationship and Luke makes sure that no one finds out about it. However…

This is a very clever coming-of-age story with characters who are lovable. Jamie Deacon has written a wonderful story with very real characters who pull us into the story in the first few pages.

Luke’s struggle to come to turns with his own feelings and his undeniable attraction to Theo is a struggle that many of us have had to face in our lives. Both Theo and Luke have to deal with emotions that they had not been used to having as well as reconcile the desire they feel for each other. The story is told from Luke’s perspective of Luke, thus letting us feel what he is going through. Because this is the first time that Luke has ever felt anything more than friendship for a boy, his need for Theo is quite strong. It is fun to read about their feelings for each other and the deep conversations they share lets us really get to know them. As Theo and Luke become closer, Luke’s relationship with Zara becomes more and more of a problem. He is really afraid of hurting her. He also worries about how others will react when the secret is out. He realizes that he might lose friends but he also realizes how much he loves Theo.

“SLACK BAY”— A Dark Comedy

“Slack Bay” (“Ma Loute”)

A Dark Comedy

Amos Lassen

In the summer of 1010, several tourists disappeared while at the beaches on the French coast near Calais. Inspectors Machin (Didier Després) and his assistant Malfoy (Cyril Rigaux) are investigating these strange happenings. They think these the vanishings are centered at Slack Bay, a unique site where the Slack river and the sea come together only at high tide. Living in Slack Bay are fisherman and oyster farmers and a vey strange family, the Bréforts, who have been the ferrymen of the Slack Bay. The head of the family, is nicknamed “The Eternal” (Thierry Lavieville), because of having saved a hundred people from the sea. He and his family enjoy cannibalism.

The Van Peteghems’ mansion stands high above the bay. Every summer, the Van Peterghems who all degenerate and decadent from inbreeding, come to their villa and mix with the residents.

The film’s focus is on the clash between the impoverished locals trying to make ends meet by fishing and ferrying visitors across the shallow inlets and the upper class vacationers who wear fine clothing and possess airs of importance. The Van Peteghem family consists of André (Fabrice Luchini) and Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), husband and wife, and their two daughters (Lauréna Thellier and Manon Royère) who run all over the place and scamper about and their niece Billie (Raph) who falls for the young local Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville), son of The Eternal. Billie mother is Aude (Juliette Binoche), André’s sister. The family manor, The Typhonium, has wonderful views over the coast.

The detectives come on the scene to investigate some strange disappearances and provide a connection between the two classes.

Their inquiry seems doomed with no method but plenty of madness, while a family of bourgeois holidaymakers arrive for their annual vacation. Machin is obese and Andre is a hunchback.

The film is a visual fest with beautiful costumes and gorgeous seascapes. It opens with the Breforts scraping mussels off the rocks at low tide. The men combine their bivalve gathering with the ferrying well-off visitors across the river inlet or around the headland.

There is something strange going on amid the sand dunes. What brings the Breforts with the Van Peteghems together is the young romance between Ma Loute and Billy (who dresses as a boy but says she a girl in disguise). The film is a lot of fun as the circumstances are set up.

As I mentioned earlier the Brefort family are cannibals who kidnap, kill, and eat some of the bourgeois tourists whom they row across the bay. “Slack Bay” is a burlesque of passion and rage, a comedy of manners and of carefully constructed appearances that are warped by the constant and hidden force of cannibalism. This is a society that depends on radically maintained differences and distinctions that don’t hold up against relentless natural forces.

The isolation of the Brefort clan has come about due to official contempt and social invisibility and we see this in the father and the son. (Neither are actors; they were picked from the location and are actually father and son). Director Bruno Dumont’s attention to light, form, and motion is graceful but with an off-kilter spontaneity that matches their emotional fullness. The comedy is loud and its repetitive antics adhere to a quiet transcendent tenderness and, a geographical devotion to earth that united with irrational sublimity. Dumont blends genres as we see the coming together of slapstick and horror and realism and fantasy. (Would anyone care for anymore of this foot?).

“In the Name of the Family” by Sarah Dunant— One of History’d Most Notorious Families

Dunant, Sarah. “In the Name of the Family”, Thorndike, 2017.

One of History’s Most Notorious Families

Amos Lassen

The quick rise of the Borgia family in Rome has taken Italians by surprise, as Pope Alexander VI Rodrigo Borgia openly uses his illegitimate children as dynastic weapons. His son Cesare is the arrogant, sadistic leader of a victorious mercenary army, and his scandal-soaked daughter, Lucrezia, is a pawn in the marriage game.

In Florence, people lament what has been lost after the mad monk Savonarola s pious reign. We really see that violence is an acceptable kind of diplomacy and Niccolo Machiavelli, a clever and calculating undersecretary who does well in conditions like this and he tries to use affairs of state to his own ends. Machiavelli is impressed with the influence and boldness of the Borgias and one man in particular catches his eye.

Cesare defies his own father and hatches a secret plot to consolidate his power and feed his ambition. Lucrezia, whose previous husband was murdered by her possessive brother, is set to marry once more to further the Borgias advantage and her future sister-in-law is a formidable adversary.

While alliances are forged, tensions within the regions of Italy intensify, and deceptions are set like traps. Dunant’s novel is a psychological look at the familial relationships between Father Rodrigo and his children. Set from 1501-1503, we meet three Borgias who work for the family and construct fame and fortune together diplomatic, political and military genius. All three Borgias, we see, were intelligent strategists. Sarah Dunant combines the lives of the infamous Borgia family, actual historical events giving us a look at corruption, manipulation, and intrigue.

 

“Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America” by Nathaniel Frank— How Opinions Change

Frank, Nathaniel. “Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America”, Harvard University Press, 2017.

How Opinions Change

Amos Lassen

I often find myself staring blankly ahead and thinking about how gay marriage has changed who we are in this country. Before the 1915 Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex couples to marry, there were periods of intense conflict and some of the most divisive of all contests took place within the LGBT community itself. Nathaniel Frank gives us the very dramatic story of how the idea of gay marriage was an unthinkable and undesirable idea for many gays and lesbians. Nonetheless it became a legal and moral right in just fifty years.

Frank begins the story in the 1950s when millions of gays and lesbians were afraid to come out and were certainly not ready to fight for equality. Then a gay rights movement came into being along side of the rising awareness of the equal dignity of same-sex love. A group of LGBTQ lawyers soon began to focus on legal recognition for same-sex couples and this time, marriage was not considered. It took being pushed by a small set of committed lawyers and grassroots activists that established movement groups to create and develop a successful strategy to win marriage in the courts.

Marriage equality proponents first had to win over members of their own LGBT community who were not ready to make marriage a priority and at the same time had to contain the others who has moved ahead with the idea of gay marriage. They also had to fight against antigay opponents and gain and maintain the American center by spreading the simple message that love is love with the idea that this would move the community further towards justice.

Frank traces the dramatic struggles that finally resulted in same-sex couples winning one of the most important rights of citizenship: the right to marry and have their marriage recognized by state and federal governments. This is quite an inspiring read and with our government in the condition that it is now, really need inspiration. It is fascinating to read how every state prohibited homosexual activity in 1961 and then allowed marriage equality for gays and lesbians in 2015. It was something that most of us never dreamed of seeing in our lifetime and I was mesmerized by what I read here. Just as we waited for the SCOTUS decision to come down, I have waited for someone to write the definitive account of how this happened. This is a story of courage, determination, and strategies. Just as details were important during the fight, so are they important now and Frank shares those details with us. His prose is impressive yet easy to read and it is our story.

 

“Spotless Memories of a New York Childhood” by Sherman Yellen— Behind the Scenes with Yellen

Yellen, Sherman. “Spotless Memories of a New York Childhood”, Moreclacke Publishing, 2017.

Behind the Scenes with Sherman Yellen

Amos Lassen

Sherman Yellen is a playwright, librettist, Tony nominee, and two-time Emmy Award-winning writer. In his autobiography, he shares the world of his impoverished forebears before World War I; writes about “his troubled, prosperous, mendacious father” and his beautiful, fashion-model mother and he tells us about his own New York childhood in the 1930s and 40s. Here we read about the lost world of a New York Jewish-American family during the Great Depression and World War II with candor and love.

Yellen grew up in New York under FDR, and he has watched with great sadness the rise in bigotry and the dismantling of social programs and social progress in this country. He is appalled by the heartlessness and greed that now passes for government policy and he believes it is the obligation of artists to speak out against the erosion of our democracy during these troubling times. Not only is this story it is also the story of New York City of the early 20th century and it is fascinating.

Yellen wonderfully recreates the Jewish-American immigrant experience and it is that much more interesting since he has written it with his trademark wit. He tells it like was and this is not always pretty but we need to know the reality of how things once were. Personally, I am in awe of how things have changed and I often think about that when I was growing up, there were not many people around who were my age today. There were even fewer college graduates. For me looking back is not so terrible but for others who lived poor lives it can be difficult to think about. Some may find Yellen’s depictions to be cruel but I find them to be honest. There is a theme here about compassion for the human condition and if that is all we have learned from the past, we can be satisfied. Because there is so much more here, it is that much more satisfying.

“The Rabbi’s Atheist Daughter: Ernestine Rose, International Feminist Pioneer” by Bonnie S. Anderson— “The Queen of the Platform”

Anderson, Bonnie S. “The Rabbi’s Atheist Daughter: Ernestine Rose, International Feminist Pioneer”, Oxford University Press, 2017.

“The Queen of the Platform

Amos Lassen

Ernestine Rose who was “known as the queen of the platform” was an outstanding orator for feminism, free thought, and anti-slavery. Yet, she would gradually be erased from history for being too much of an outsider because she was an immigrant, a radical, and an atheist.

Rose was the only child of a Polish rabbi but she rejected religion at an early age, successfully sued for the return of her dowry after rejecting an arranged betrothal, and left her family, Judaism, and Poland forever. She went to London and became a follower of socialist Robert Owen and met her future husband, William Rose. Together they moved to New York in 1836. In the United States, Ernestine Rose rapidly became a leader in movements against slavery, religion, and women’s oppression. She was a regular on the lecture circuit, speaking in twenty-three of the then thirty-one states. She challenged the radical Christianity that inspired many nineteenth-century women reformers and even though she rejected Judaism, she was both a victim and critic of anti-Semitism. After the Civil War, she and her husband returned to England, where she continued her work for radical causes. By the time women achieved the vote, for which she had tirelessly worked so hard for, her pioneering contributions to women’s rights had already been forgotten.

Rose was active in the religiously-motivated abolitionist movement and free thought and worked tirelessly to see that ALL people are created equal. What is so interesting is that Ernestine Rose’s commitment to equality and justice is almost virtually unknown. This book changes that and I must admit that before this I had never heard of her before and author Anderson brings the past to us and in doing so gives new perspectives on the present. Rose’s activism came at a time when it was rare for women to speak out on political issues, and certainly not about on their own rights.

She was “a woman of fierce intellect and uncompromising convictions”. Bonnie Anderson makes sure that Rose’s legacy will both inform and inspire those who are still fighting for equal rights.

 

 

“The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages” edited by Andrew Blauner— How Writers See the Bible

Blauner, Andrew (editor). “The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages”, Simon and Schuster, 2017.

How Writers See the Bible

Amos Lassen

What a fascinating idea—- letting us see how thirty-two of today’s most prominent writers reflect on Bible and the passages that are most meaningful to them. While the contributors are not primarily known as religious thinkers, they write intelligently and movingly about specific passages in the Bible that influence the way they live, think about past experiences, and see society today. There are a variety of the biblical readings— some are about specific passages and some are anecdotes from everyday life depending how the writer interprets his favorite, they can inspire, provoke, or illuminate.

We are also not confined to one Bible; we have passages from both the Hebrew and Christian bibles and we from Genesis through Revelation. This is a wonderful book for both secular and religious people.

This is the kind that can be used for reference and/or pleasure and it brings out the richness and diversity of biblical texts and we see how these texts apply to how we live. Those that we read here include “literary fiction writers (Colm Tóibín, Edwidge Danticat, Tobias Wolff, Rick Moody); bestselling nonfiction writers (A.J. Jacobs, Ian Frazier, Thomas Lynch); notable figures in the media (Charles McGrath, Cokie Roberts, Steven V. Roberts); and social activists (Al Sharpton, Kerry Kennedy)”.

The contributors demonstrate that the bible is not only “a source of spiritual guidance, a work of literature or history or an anchor for memory”, we immediately see that what is written within is “both inexhaustible and infinitely challenging.”

Editor Blauner who is an anthropologist has selected wonderful commentators who give mainly insightful and often very personal thoughts about their favorite Biblical passages. I was enjoying every word until Al Sharpton once again plays up the racial aspect of the bible and he throws a blanked over what could otherwise have been in which every page could be fascination. Sharpton, it is really time to give it a rest. His selection and commentary almost ruined the entire read.

 

“FUNERAL”— A Father’s Death

“FUNERAL”

A Father’s Death

Amos Lassen

A new short film is making the rounds of LGBT film festivals and it is a stunning look at a trans woman who must confront her demons as she prepares to attend her estranged father’s funeral. Art Arutyuvan directed and wrote this very powerful film that deals with self-acceptance and acceptance by others of a man/woman who is trying to live her life as the person she really is. I cannot say much about the plot because I would spoil the film for those who have not seen it but I can say that this is a brave film that deals with the topic of death, something none of his are too anxious to see in films today. Instead of saying any more, I am posting a couple of stills from “Funeral” and just by looking at these, you can see where the short goes. Brendan Takash, Rod James, Lee Te, Irina Aylyarova give excellent performances.

“DEEP WATER”— The Dark Side of Bondi

“Deep Water”

The Dark Side of Bondi

Amos Lassen

Bondi is a town on the sea in Australia that on one hand is an inviting beach culture but that on the other hand has quite a dark history that comes to the fore in the miniseries made for Australian television. In the 1980s, it was home to packs of gay-bashing teenagers who robbed, beat and frequently killed their victims and then threw their bodies from cliffs into the ocean. The police force was indifferent and generally looked the other way, writing off suspicious deaths as accidents or suicides and listing murder victims as “missing” if no body was found. At least thirty homicides have remained unsolved even though relatives and survivors have pressed for renewed investigation.

“Deep Water” is set in present day Australia as a serial killer targets gay men and this brings about conflict within the local police and those who want to know what really happened as others hope that it will all stay buried with the victims. The series uses a police procedural to draw viewers into a sinister world where lives are tossed away for sport and families of the dead are left to grieve without any explanation or recourse. It gives a detailed account of Bondi’s secret history as a haven for homophobic violence.

The central figure is Detective Constable Tori Lustigman (Yael Stone) who is a Bondi native and has returned home after a divorce. With her is her teenage son, Will (Otis Pavlovic). As Will settles into his new home, Tori attempts to find her footing in the local police station commanded by Chief Inspector Peel (William McInnes). Her new partner is a Bondi veteran, Detective Nick Manning (Noah Taylor). One of the challenges for Tori is that everyone on the force knows her by name, due to her association with a famous case of the past.

It did not take long before Tori and her partner are called to a gruesome crime scene. They found the bloody body of a young gay man in his apartment. For Tori, the case instantly becomes more than an investigation. Aspects of the murder remind her of the death of a gay man in the Eighties to which she had a deeply personal connection. She has always that case was wrongly classified as an accident. Tori insists on looking at the parallels between this latest crime and the unsolved incidents of gay-bashing from twenty-five years ago and this immediately caused friction and conflict within the department, especially with her commanding officer, Chief Inspector Peel, who doesn’t want to hear a word about reopening closed cases.

As there are more and more victims, Tori and Nick discover that he is luring his victims through a hookup app called THRUSTR. Yet, Tori remains convinced that the THRUSTR killer’ is linked to unsolved Eighties killings, and she begins tracking down and interviewing survivors, family members and other potential witnesses. The deeper Tori digs, the more she find herself questioning whether her chief’s resistance is more than just bureaucratic. In the Eighties, when Peel was himself a detective, he detained a pair of suspected gay bashers, whom he then released without charge. One of those suspects, Chris Toohey (Ben Oxenbould), went on to become a football hero and local legend; the other, Kyle “Hammers” Hampton (Craig McLachlan), owns a local biker bar that is suspected of being a haven for drug trafficking. The connection between these two former associates, whose paths diverged so radically since their teenage years, is a point of high interest for Tori and a point of extreme discomfort for her boss.

As Tori, Yael Stone gives a compelling portrait of a cop who is both investigator and victim, one who shares a special connection with the survivors she interviews because, like them, she has spent so many years searching for elusive answers. She wants closure (both for herself and for others).

Noah Taylor’s Nick as her partner is cynical and quietly follows his partner’s efforts while keeping his own counsel. Nick’s stoic demeanor suggests a policing career that has been full of compromises. As his new partner’s heedless enthusiasm Nick is forced out of his comfort zone, and we see just how far he wants to follow Tori into professionally treacherous territory. The partners have to learn how to navigate each other and watch their backs at the same time especially when an arrest goes horribly wrong).

Director Shawn Seet shows the contrasts between the serene and beautiful vistas of Bondi’s and the dark underside that the THRUSTR killer has exposed. Parts of the concluding episode play out against the background of the annual Sydney Mardi Gras, one of the world’s largest LGBT pride festivals, where the colorful celebrations of song, dance and surf make the scene an ideal hunting ground for a killer with a very different agenda.

The cases under investigation may be murky, but the surroundings are crystal clear. The series that has an important message about intolerance that could have been and should have been better explored.

This short series was gripping from start to finish. Some might find detective Tori Lustigman’s close connection to one of the possible victims a bit of a distraction but I found that it added to the drama. The way the killer used a gay dating App to find his latest victims seemed very current and the links to historic cases is believable.

The series is closely based on what is still a partly unsolved case, (with there being 88 “gay-hate” victims whose deaths remain unsolved). The series looks at the attitude cops have towards gays and cuts deep into the homophobia under the “clean” veneer of the police, and by the dialogue having a confrontation edge that perfectly fit the cops who want to be seen as tough guys. wanting to be seen as Noir “tough guys”.

Because political profiling, police shootings, hate crimes, racism, and bigotry are in the news every day making this a very timely story.

“Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts” by Robert Hofler— The Constant Reinvention of a Complicated, Combative, Self-aggrandizing, and Tormented Man

Hofler, Robert. “Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.

The Constant Reinvention of a Complicated, Combative, Self-aggrandizing, and Tormented Man

Amos Lassen

Dominick Dunne (1925-2001) spent his entire adult life in the public eye. However, author Robert Hofler in this biography shows us that he was a conflicted, enigmatic man who reinvented himself again and again. He was a television and film producer in the 1950s–1970s and socialized with Humphrey Bogart and Natalie Wood, he found success and crushing failure in a pitiless Hollywood. He was a “Vanity Fair” journalist who covered the lives of the rich and powerful, he stunned his readers with his detailed coverage of spectacular murder cases including O.J. Simpson, the Menendez brothers, Michael Skakel, Phil Spector, and Claus von Bülow. He once had his own television show and he wrote five novels that were bestsellers that were all based on real life events. He was a friend to many in the entertainment and literary fields and to some of the most famous women in the world (Princess Diana, Nancy Reagan, Liz Smith, Barbara Walters, and Elizabeth Taylor).

Dunne published his memoirs and now we know that he did not include everything. He did not write about the rivalry he shared with his brother John Gregory Dunne (who was married to poet Joan Didion), his affairs with other men even while he was married or about the fights he had with the editors of “Vanity Fair”. Dunne’s career as a reported came during the trial of the man who murdered his daughter in 1983.

This biography begins with Dunne’s youth and covers every aspect of the man’s career. We learn of his struggles with his sexuality. His personal life takes up the first half of the book and then moves to the crime cases he covered as a reporter and there are a plethora of fascinating stories. Dunne seemed to live for scandal and his life was often filled with sadness. His father made fun of him and called him a sissy whipped him often and made him feel that he was a girl in the body of a boy.

Dunne’s eventful, turbulent, and often sorrowful life. Dunne never felt that he really belonged anywhere and we see that here again and again. However, we are not really looking at Dunne’s family life here. Hofler is more interested in the celebrities in Dunne’s life and that is why I am sure that there will be those who read this for the gossip in it. Of that we get plenty although I am not so sure that people will want to read about Elizabeth Taylor’s drinking habits again. On the other hand I am sure that many will find Rudolf Nureyev’s sexual proclivities quite exciting especially the time that he got twenty-four men to offer themselves to him at a party. I was surprises that Hofler used the term “closeted homosexual” to describe Dunne since his affairs with men were public knowledge. Yes, he was married (don’t you love when people say, “he is married” as an excuse for not being gay?) and fathered two sons but he failed at being a family man and his wife divorced him.

Hofler writes with great detail as he shows Dunn’s wit and charm and also his vulnerability. Beneath the glitz and glamour that comes with being a celebrity, there was a lot going on and not all of it was positive. Now that we are firmly living in a culture that is so celebrity conscious that I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying this read (in which the only Kardashian to appear is Robert who I am pretty sure would not have approved for his former wife’s and his daughter’s behavior. [I had to get that dig in]). Entertainment and tragedy figure equally in the life of Dunne that seems, to me, to be the story of fame, the upper class, sexual identity and the struggle to be remembered. I am not sure that Dunne would have approved of everything here but I bet that he would have loved knowing that he was being read about. He was a man who could easily destroy himself one day and then reinvent himself the next day.