Monthly Archives: April 2017

“I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well” by James Allen Hall— Essays about Growing Up Gay

Hall, James Allen. “I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well”, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2017.

Essays about Growing Up Gay

Amos Lassen

James Allen Hall growing up in Florida in the 1980s and his life has taken him to places where few dare to go. His parents lost their once-thriving family business in the pre-crash 2000s and unstable moved into a two-bedroom student apartment that he had once shared with just his brother. His mother attempted and/or threatened suicide many times and his father was greatly depressed. In these essays, we see that Hall lived through, his family’s meth addiction mental illnesses, and incarcerations, Hall writes of “his own penchants for less than happy, equal sex with an agility, depth, and lightness making this a tragic, funny, graceful book.”

What we read is harrowing yet Hall shows us a sensibility driven to make something beautiful and worthy of his life and what he went through. He shares his vulnerability and he see him as a “witness, an unrelenting seeker, a survivor, someone who’s earned the right to judge but who withholds that too-easy gesture in favor of a clearer sight and the hard won belief that while we are bound together by so many complex tethers, including cruelty, we are especially linked by compassion, a force abundantly evident in this moving collection.”

Even though his youth was filled with violence and homophobia, he did not give up. manages to exist and persist. The pain he once felt have now became “testaments to perseverance shaped by the acceptance of a flawed self, love for a complicated family and an unflappable wit”. His essays are raw, honest and mournful but above all else they are beautiful.

 

“The Man and the Mask” by Alexrod— Threatened by Anger

Ironrod, Alex. “The Man and the Mask”, MLR, 2017.

Threatened by Danger

Amos Lassen

Alex Ironrod writes of love and lust, passion and submission, sadism and masochism in England in the 1750s a time when men took what they desired. Captain Jamey Todhunter is a disgraced army cavalry officer who has done well as a highwayman He meets Sir Michael Taplow, a young aristocratic merchant who becomes his submissive apprentice, Michael is slowly taken into a web of sexual submission and criminal training. However, when their most daring robbery in London goes awry, Michael must decide whether to submit to the sexual tortures of the prison warden to save his master, or see Jamey hanged. The two men manage to flee to the American colonies and first become merchants in Boston. Later, they built a horse farm in western Massachusetts yet even in the New England wilderness, their relationship is threatened, this time by a new and unthinkable danger.

This is quite a read and a look at the historical and the erotic. I had not read Alex Ironrod before and now I plan to read all that he has written.

 

“Unknown Horizons” by CJ Birch— Memory Loss

Birch, CJ. “Unknown Horizons”, Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

Memory Loss

Amos Lassen

Lieutenant Alison Ash steps aboard the Persephone, knowing that in doing so, her life will never be the same. In less than three weeks, the ship will dock at the Posterus and the most important journey humankind has ever undertaken will begin. Alison knows that so many pleasures she has had in the past will become part of her memory and never happen again and neither will she ever again see her family. She has been trying to hide her memory loss from others but in doing so she puts the entire mission in jeopardy. We learn that this mission is the very first generational ship. The mission and her new attraction to Captain Jordan Kellow will change her life forever.

Here, for our characters, Earth is a distant memory for some and/or just a dream for others. As a child, Lieutenant dreamed of living on Earth, but now has been assigned Executive Officer aboard the first generational ship of the Union Fleet. The mission has been years in the making and the Posterus will lead some to a new, inhabitable planet, but it’s going to take 100 years. Alison sees this is as the opportunity of a lifetime. She really wants to leave her family’s legacy (and her recent memory loss) behind. 
Soon she is drawn to a beautiful and guarded woman, knowing that it is forbidden to take up with others in the company and, in fact, is forbidden. Of course has no real control over how her heart behaves.

Ash’s memories begin to return to her and she discovers that the Posterus and all 45,000 on its inhabitants just might be in serious danger, and that she may be the reason.



This is a bit of science fiction with lesbian romance thrown in but it is important to know that this is the first book in a series and in that way you are not disappointed if issues are not resolved. Both the romance and the tension are intrigue build throughout the book. We do know that Ash and Jordan are aware of the possible doom of the mission yet they have to be emotionally solid to deal with the situation. There is certainly physical attraction between the two women and that is frustrating, especially since they are not allowed to act on it. Ash is a serious worker and is always ready to give of herself to help someone and Jordan has a difficult time dealing with it.

The women also have to deal with the Burrs who are mechanically altered humans who fought in the final battles for the domination of the now desolate planet Earth. Most of the Burrs are over 100 years old, and their leader has a plan for Ash and the Posterus. This is a story about the nature of love and we read of growth, love and courage.

“Death Goes Overboard” by David S. Pederson— Lies, Secrets and Scandals

Pederson, David S. “Death Goes Overboard”, Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

Lies, Secrets and Scandal

Amos Lassen

Small-time thug Gregory Slavinsky is a small-time thug who borrowed $25,000 from businessman/ gangster Ballantine. After missing a loan payment, Slavinsky booked a weekend cruise on a Lake Michigan steamer, which sails from Milwaukee and has stops in Chicago, Mackinac Island and Ontario Canada. Ballantine and his bodyguard, George. Also booked the cruise in order to make sure Slavinsky doesn’t escape into Canada with the money. Also on board or Mr. Alex Whitaker and Mrs. Vivian Woodfork (his elderly aunt), Detective Heath Barrington, his working partner, Alan Keynes and undercover policeman Grant Riker are there to monitor the “criminal element.” When a body goes overboard and the money is missing, no one knows if it is suicide or murder. Another question that everyone seems to have is where is the money now. And where’s the money?

This is by and large a murder/mystery that is set in 1947, a time when

homosexuality was still considered a mental defect with the distinct possibility of one losing your job, getting arrested or “put in an institution and diagnosed as diseased if caught. Pedersen really introduces us to two men who find a way to deal with the difficulties of being gay and living a happy life. It is the mystery holds our interest throughout while at the same time we get a look at gay men in America after WWII.

The plot unfolds through the eyes, ears and perspective of Detective Heath Barrington and the mystery aspects of the book keep us guessing. Ballantine and Keynes are up against gangsters, con artists, and seductive Grant Riker, a fellow policeman who could come between Heath and Alan and upset their romance. 

“Sacred Band” by Joseph D. Carriker, Jr.— Gaining Normal Lives

Carriker, Jr. Joseph D. “Sacred Band”, Lethe Press, 2017.

Gaining “Normal” Lives

Amos Lassen

Rusty had been a kid during what came to be known as the golden age but he remembers his idol, Sentinel saved lives and righted wrongs before he was outed by scandal and that forced him to live in isolation. Then when a gay friend of Rusty’s who was living in the Ukraine goes missing, Rusty is forced to acknowledge that there are some places where the law doesn’t protect everyone. He then manages to find and recruit Sentinel to help him find his friend. However, the disappearance of the friend was just one move in a terrible plot against queer youth. The characters are so wonderfully drawn that there are times that it feels that they are right here in the room with us.

This is also a look at those who are marginalized and sit on the fringes of society. We become very aware of the struggles of the LGBT community and its members who have to deal with real world issues. Joseph Carriker Jr. mixes fantasy and reality here.

The plot itself is suspenseful and addictive and the book is hard to put down. I actually read it in one sitting.

“Saints+Sinners 2017: New Fiction from the Festival” edited by Paul Willis and Amie Evans— An Anthology

Willis, Paul and Amie Evans editors). “Saints+Sinners 2017: New Fiction from the Festival”, Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

An Anthology

Amos Lassen

Since I could not make it to the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in my hometown of New Orleans, I did the next best thing and got a copy of the anthology of short fiction. I haven’t really had a chance to look at it yet but I know it will be a good read. Of course, it won’t be the same as seeing old and new friends and attending panels and parties but it will have to do.

This year the selections are:

  • Moonshine by Michael Chin
  • The Gay Restaurants of New York by William Moeck
  • The Gods Are Stacked Against Us by Sheila Morris
  • Jesus Year by Dale Corvino
  • Must Love Animals by Louis Flint Ceci
  • Temporary Adhesions by P.D. Walter
  • Leaves by James Penha
  • Curo The Filthmonger: A Tale of Art and Survival in the Cold Embrace of Outer Space by J. Marshall Freeman
  • Passing Through by John Morgan Wilson
  • Obituaries by Thomas Westerfield
  • The Fool by Ellis Anderson
  • Oni and Marie by Debra Curtis
  • Slaying the Dragon by W. C. Smith
  • Beauty Marks by David James Parr
  • Bear Food by Alise Wascom

They are led off with an introduction by Michael Thomas Ford.

“Parker’s Sanctuary: A Guardsmen Novel” by Cooper West— Do Not Quit Your Day Job

West, Cooper. “Parker’s Sanctuary: A Guardsmen Novel”, Self published, 2017.

Do Not Quit Your Day Job

Amos Lassen

As a reviewer, I tend to get a lot of books and among them are those that should never have seen the light of day. I m always amazed that there are so many want-to-be authors out there. I try not to pan anyone’s work and I can usually find something nice to say but with Cooper West’s latest effort at trying to be a writer, I can’t really find anything positive here. I see that her old publishing house has dropped her and she is now self-publishing and I do not understand why she has never understood that she is not a writer and that she will never be one.

She introduces us to Greg Lademar, yet another Army veteran with PTSD. (I thought we had stopped having novels about ex-soldiers with PTSD about two years ago). Greg lives on a farm that he bought from his parents and when a friend of his who works at an animal shelter asks Greg to adopt Parker, “a severely injured dog who has just been rescued from an abusive home’. Now here the story goes crazy. Greg does not want to be involved with the Guardsmen. Up until now, we have not heard a word about the Guardsman and learn now that they are bonded pairs of humans and their weredogs (whatever— PTSD and blood sucking dogs in the same book). These dogs are known as Protectors, “who are literally the stuff of myths and legends”. I suppose Cooper also invented the myths and the legends.

Next we see that Greg’s life is turned upside down by unexpected events that involve Parker, the WEREdog and the strange Guardsmen, Marcus and Alex Stephanek. As if that is not enough there is the man who used to own Parker, the WEREdog but far more dangerous to him is the man who used to own Parker and he now bears a grudge because” his” dog taken from him. Now there is something the life of Parker, who has become more important to Greg than he ever imagined a rescue dog could be (especially in the paragraph above we see that he had no desire to take the WEREdog. So somewhere here we also get a shapeshifter and the paranormal becomes normal or does it.

In the past the only books by West that I read were shoddy gay romances supposedly aimed at women. I criticized those back then and had actually thought that West had stopped writing until I saw this. It is a likely progression I guess— she has moved from romance between two men to romance between man and dog. I have no idea what to make of this novel nor do I care to make anything of it. Cooper West would be wise to do the same. But beware, whenever I give West a negative review she goes on a rampage and believe it or it is West and one another writer that always get negative reviews from me but I must say that West is the only writer who has ever threatened me. Now that theme might make an interesting novel but not from West who has a difficult time writing English prose.

“Jacques Rivette Collection: Limited Edition”— Three Films

“Jacques Rivette Collection Limited Edition”

Three Films

Amos Lassen

“The Jacques Rivette Collection” consists of three films each restored, newly translated and are on home video for the first time. Rivette deals with the anxiety of influence and characters often find themselves in states of absolute euphoria, or mania during which they seem to be experiencing the familiar world as if they were prehistoric humans, or infants. Experience is shattered, torn up, hurriedly erased and redrawn. The primal-infantile dimension is crucial, for it’s here that the explorer is far enough away from the world to witness its infinite lattice of connective tissue. The Rivette model of the universe is seen in his unique approach to narrative, performance, shooting, cutting and sound. Rivette peppers his films with an infinite variety of paradoxes, doublings, matched pairs. whose components should dissolve on cohabitation but remain stable.

“Duelle” (1975) introduces us to two beautiful young women who each other by chance and assume the role of amateur detectives. The film opens in the lobby of a decrepit hotel where we meet the two women.

In “Noroît” (1976), a woman vows to avenge her brother’s death at the hands of a pirate leader. With help, the woman spies on the pirates and then gets a job as bodyguard to the pirate leader. The film seems to exist almost entirely in terms of individual scenes, which stand apart from each other with a willful refusal to cohere into any overarching plot. Nevertheless, there is a narrative, of sorts, that carries through the film. This is a story of intrigue in which the players’ motivations aren’t necessarily clear. Everybody seems to have a story, and a scheme, but Rivette seldom focuses on the root causes of what happens since it is enough, for him, that they happen and that they drive the characters into confrontations and altercations.

In “Merry-Go-Round” (1981, ), Elizabeth sends telegrams to her old boyfriend Ben in NYC and to her younger sister Leo in Rome to join her in Paris, where she is selling her dead father’s estate. When Ben and Leo arrive, a mysterious adventure begins.

“Duelle” is film noir as the Queen of the Sun (Bulle Ogier) and the Queen of the Night (Juliet Berto) search for a magical diamond in present day. Its parallel film, “Noroît” is a pirate tale and a loose adaptation of “The Revenger’s Tragedy” starring Geraldine Chaplin. “Merry-Go-Round” stars Joe Dallesandro and Maria Schneider who are summoned to Paris, which leads to one of the most surreal and mysterious tales in a career that was dominated by surrealism and mystery.

Limited Edition bonus features include:

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of all three films from brand new 2K restorations of the films

Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)

Optional newly translated English subtitles for all films

Scenes from a Parallel Life: Jacques Rivette Remembers archive interview with the director, in which he discusses “Duelle”, “Noroit” and “Merry-Go-Round”

Remembering “Duelle”— Bulle Ogier and Hermine Karagheuz recollect their work on the 1976 feature

Interview with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who reported from the sets of both “Duelle” and “Noroit”

Exclusive perfect-bound book containing writing on the films by Mary M. Wiles, Brad Stevens and Nick Pinkerton plus a reprint of four on-set reports from “Duelle” and “Noroit”

Reversible sleeves with original and newly commissioned artwork by Ignatius Fitzpatrick

“SOMETHING LIKE SUMMER”— A Romantic Gay Musical

“SOMETHING LIKE SUMMER”

A Romantic Gay Musical

Amos Lassen

“Something Like Summer” directed by David Berry looks at youthful identity, feeling comfortable in one’s own skin, and early adulthood. We see that love discovered often has hardships and heartache and the young gay men go through many challenges.

Benjamin Bentley (Grant Davis) is a seventeen-year-old openly gay high school student who has a crush on Tim (Davi Santos), the handsome school sports jock and has begun stalking him. Tim is a self-professed heterosexual yet he is very impressed with Ben’s singing voice among other qualities. They become secret boyfriends. Tim is worried that his classmates and very religious Catholic parents might find out about their relationship. Of course, we know that this relationship is doomed before it really gets started. When this happens Ben reluctantly moves on with his life and he leaves his Texas town and goes college in Chicago.  Two years later he is on a plane flying home when Jace (Ben Baur), the flight attendant offers him free drinks and the possibility of a date.  He accepts both and we wonder if, Ben has found true love with someone who really wants to make their relationship work but then Tim turns up, making things complicated. Nasty comments fly between Tim and Ben but the love they for each other is still there. After they make up, we can’t help but wonder, again, whether they will live “happily ever after”. The cast is excellent all around and the film is a charmer. It was a very clever choice to make this as a musical and we see both joy and heartache.

“MY WONDERFUL WEST BERLIN”— The Queer Safe Haven of West Berlin

“My Wonderful West Berlin” (“Mein wunderbares West-Berlin”)

The Queer Safe Haven of West Berlin

Amos Lassen

Berlin seems to always have had vibrant and subversive subcultures and we see here that the queer scene played a major role in creating that subculture. Yet gays in West Berlin suffered greatly under the infamous “Paragraph 175” that made homosexual acts between men a crime up until its reform in 1969. Raids and arrests in bars were common, but was unable to challenge gay life and the city turned into a gay capital. The late seventies brought great sexual and political freedoms to Berlin thus allowing for an intense social intermingling between the gay-, hetero-, and transsexual …

In West Berlin in the 1960s it was possible to find bars where men could be left to themselves and this made Berlin a magnet for young gay men. We meets some of them in this documentary and see that they are still active members of the community today,. They share those early years in the city with us. Their memories are of a community that fought steadily for its existence. They had to deal with considerable social repression in the 1970s and a collective gay identity began to emerge that was known as the “West Berlin homosexual campaign”. They fought for the abolition of paragraph 175 and the overthrow of patriarchy. Ruined buildings become the venues for new ways of living together such as all-male communes or the ‘queer house’. A decade later, AIDS hit Berlin. Director Jochen Hick explores queer lifestyles in the West of the city and the roots of a fascination that the metropolis still holds as a refuge.

Today’s hip image of Berlin is based on the city’s vibrant and subversive subcultures, which originally emerged within the grey walls surrounding West Berlin. The queer scene played a major role in creating that subculture, with its sexual diversity and its wild and unconstrained party culture, ranging from notorious clubs to CSD. Many of the scene’s actors, such as the Gay Museum, the Teddy Award, AIDS help organizations, and the queer magazine Siegessäule originated before 1989.

Yet gays in West Berlin suffered greatly under an incongruous provision in German law – the infamous “Paragraph 175” – that made homosexual acts between men a crime up until its reform in 1969. Raids and arrests in bars were common, yet ultimately failed in suppressing gay life in West Berlin. Instead, the city turned into a gay capital. The late seventies in particular were a period of great sexual and political freedoms and more intense social intermingling between the gay-, hetero-, and transsexual worlds. Then AIDS struck, wrecking greater havoc in Berlin than in any other German city.

The film covers the period from the end of WWII to the fall of the Berlin Wall. We get a picture of the gay scene from political activists, partygoers, hedonists, club owners, musicians, fashion designers, a DJ, and a make-up artist. Never before seen archival film footage completes the picture by allowing viewers to travel through time to a hitherto unknown West Berlin.

Homophobia was an integral part of the West German constitution. Even with the Article 175 criminalization of gay sex in the West Germany, the activists paved the way for gay liberation. Through the use of talking heads and archival footage we learn a great deal here. Many icons of German gay life appear here including publisher Egmont Fassbinder, Salome the artist and filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim among others. We see these icons both in historical footage and in the present day and this gives a remarkable depth of perspective.

The film celebrates drag clubs, cruising spots, pick-up bars, radical bookshops and infamous nightclubs (with darkrooms) and we see the role that these played in laying the groundwork not only for Berlin’s radical left-wing spirit but also musical genres such as techno, disco and even punk rock. We also see the hardcore elements.

We see the sadder aspects of Berlin’s gay life as well especially the anti- AIDS movement and learn that government and the church simply didn’t do enough to help those who were dying in the tens of thousands. The freedoms of today were built on the backbone of struggles made by many who either died of AIDS or were simply murdered for who they were. 140,000 men who were wrongfully arrested haven’t been pardoned, and Germany still hasn’t allowed gay marriage.

There were disagreements as well, such as whether capitalism was better for gays than socialism, or if the city has lost its charm because of gentrification.