Monthly Archives: June 2017

“The Origin of the Jews: The Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age” by Steven Weitzman— The Question of Jewish Origins

Weitzman, Steven. “The Origin of the Jews: The Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age”, Princeton  University Press, 2017.

The Question of Jewish Origins

Amos Lassen

The Jews have one of the longest continuously recorded histories of people in the world today but we know very little about where they came from. Many think the answer to this question can be found in the Bible while others look to archaeology or genetics for clues. Some have even considered debunking the idea that the Jews have a common origin. Steven Weitzman looks at what we know about where the Jews came from, when they arose, and how they came to be.

There have been hundreds of books written on the topic and as many if not more explanations, theories, and historical reconstructions. This, however, I understand, is the first book to trace the history of the different approaches that have been applied to the question including theories in the following disciplines genealogy, linguistics, archaeology, psychology, sociology, and genetics. Weitzman shows us how the search for answers has had to deal with religious and political agendas, how anti-Semitism has affected generations of learning, and how recent claims about Jewish origins have been difficult to decipher and pull out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He doesn’t give us conclusions and instead he challenges his readers to join him on the quest. He does give us some new information about the assumptions and biases of those seeking answers and explains the challenges that have made finding answers so difficult.

Weitzman makes points that are complex more understandable and synthesizes a wide range of research and prior analyses. make this an invaluable resource for both novice and scholar. We look at the different accounts of Jewish origins in different disciplines thus giving us, the readers, and a chance to reach our own conclusions. It seems that for as long as the Jews have been on the earth, they have looked for their roots and now we join them in the search. Here is a book that is a history of a history, a bit of a rarity these days. We learn how the Jews and others have thought about the origins of the Jews.

I found the summaries of the theories of Wellhausen and his Documentary Hypothesis; of the crucial importance of the Babylonian Exile, of Persia and Ezra and Nehemiah; of the Hellenistic age, as well as Shlomo Sand’s modern theories to be fascinating reads.

As a teen and college student and a young Zionist, I was exposed also to the theories of Mordecai Kaplan and Jacob Neusner but for whatever reason they did not make it into the book here while the ideas of postmodern philosophers did. I was very glad to see that my mentor, Michel Foucault is included as is Gilles Deleuze.

 

“My Mourning Year: A Memoir of Bereavement, Discovery and Hope” by Marshall Andrews— Dealing with Death

Marshall, Andrew. “My Mourning Year: A Memoir of Bereavement, Discovery and Hope”, Red Door Publishing, 2017.

Dealing with Death

Amos Lassen

In 1997 Andrew Marshall’s partner died as the result of a debilitating illness. Marshall struggled not only to make sense of his loss but to even imagine what a future without Thom might look like. He collected his thoughts in his diary and he wrote about what set him back including becoming involved in a new relationship while rebounding, encounters with psychics and gurus and how his job as a journalist provided him with the chance to talk about death with others among whom there was a forensic anthologist and a holocaust survivor. Slowly, he was able to deal with what he felt and to get his life back into order.

He never planned on publishing his diary but he did share some of it with others who were dealing with the death of a loved one and since they found that it helped them, so as a way to mark the twentieth anniversary of Thom’s death, he decided to let everybody read it. The diary became this very frank and honest look at grief and mourning that followed Thom’s death. The line that really got to me was when Marshall said that he lost the love of his life and he felt nothing. I prefer to think of that not as “nothing” but as a void. Marshall says that at times he felt that Thom was having an affair with his illness since it took so much of his time and thoughts.

We learn here that we are not taught about how to accept death and how to move on after dealing with it. Marshall wonders if it is better to know that a loved one is going to die to prepare for their death or to have them swept away from life in an instant. We see that mental health is indeed a struggle. Marshall endures failed counseling sessions, spontaneous vacations, and romantic dates as he tried to get past Thom’s death. Perhaps what was the most difficult for him was his own family, who, even after Thom died, did not yet fully accept Marshall’s sexuality and validate his relationship with Thom. It’s not until after Marshall’s emotions reach their worst point that he finds the courage to confront his family’s absence of support.

Thom was very lucky to have been loved by Andrew. Before we begin to read, we know what to expect from this book just by reading the title so there are no surprises here.

 

“AGAINST THE LAW”— Gay Men in 50s England

“Against the Law”

Gay Men in 50s England

Amos Lassen

Fergus O’Brien’s “Against the Law” is part biopic and part documentary. It uses the story of gay rights activist Peter Wildeblood to explore the nearly forgotten world of gay men who lived in England in the 1950s. This was a time when homosexuality was illegal and gay men were persecuted and prosecuted aggressively. Wildeblood (Daniel Mays) is a shy journalist whose lover, Eddie McNally (Richard Gadd) under pressure from the police, denounces him as a homosexual. With that Wildeblood is caught up in what became an infamous 1954 trial that also targeted his well-known friends Lord Edward Montagu and Michael Pitt-Rivers. This is shocking as compared to today and we learn that rather than silencing Wildeblood, he became radicalized and he went on to document it in a candid memoir that fueled a public discussion about homosexuality thus contributing to its eventual decriminalization (in 1967) in the United Kingdom. It’s a moving story (even though some of Wildeblood’s ideas about the various kinds of gay has not stood the test of time and for that we should be thankful. The real stars of this film are several gay men who are now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s and who lived in England during that time. There are interviews with these men that appear throughout the drama making this film a bit more personal.

The film is based on Peter Wildeblood’s autobiography about his affair with a handsome serviceman he met in Piccadilly and the devastating consequences of their relationship. He has been a very celebrated and well-connected journalist on the Daily Express, with many acquaintances. His journey from Fleet Street via public vilification was very quick and he was imprisoned under the same legislation that sent Oscar Wilde to prison. With his career and personal life in tatters, Wildeblood began his sentence as a broken man. While in prison, he was subjected to a series of questionable ‘medical’ therapeutic measures which were believed to be able to ‘change’ his sexual orientation. When he was freed a year later, he was determined to do all he could to change the way Britain’s laws against homosexuality impacted on the lives of men like him.

The importance of Peter Wildeblood’s case (which was jointly brought against him, Lord Montagu and Michael Pitt-Rivers) is that it brought the debate about homosexuality into the public domain. It eventually led the way to the creation of the Wolfenden Committee on sexual law reform that resulted in the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which changed the lives of thousands of gay men with its partial decriminalization of homosexual acts. This film gives a moving portrait of what it meant to be gay in the 1950s and underlines the importance of understanding our recent history along with the tremendous social and emotional burdens endured by generations of gay men.

The film is a powerful British production that elegantly combines fact and historical drama about an important moment in the struggle for LGBT rights in Britain. The cast also features Mark Gatiss as Wildeblood’s prison psychiatrist, Doctor Landers and Charlie Creed-Miles as Superintendent Jones. Here is the dark reality of the past that people who are still alive today had to deal with.

“THE HIPPOPOTAMUS”— A Disavowed Poet

“THE HIPPOPOTAMUS”

A Disavowed Poet

Amos Lassen

 “The Hippopotamus” is a film about a disavowed poet and the film is filled classically British absurdity in a lush countryside setting and performed by a cast of excellent character actors led by Roger Allam as Ted Wallace. He travels to Swafford Hall, where Matthew Modine, an American, has taken up the manners and means of an English squire and where Wallace is tasked with investigating a series of ‘miracles.’

Now you must be warned that during the entire length of the film, there is voiceover that describes what is happening in Wallace’s head. He is referred to as a “poor, pompous, hippopotamus”.Ted Wallace is a drunk living off of his past literary fame. He is a poet who hasn’t written a poem since 1987. He works as a theatre critic for a newspaper culture section, he ends up seeing a terrible performance of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” and ends up fighting the director. Soon he is being called into his newspaper editor’s office and is fired.

Later, sitting in his no-longer-favorite pub because they’ve finally refused an extension to his line of credit, he meets a beautiful young woman who claims he’s her godfather. Jane (Emily Berrington) has a “project” for him. He is to visit Swafford Hall, home of her mother’s brother and his family, and investigate miracles that have supposedly been taking place there. Jane has leukemia and after spending what should have been her last few weeks at Swafford with her extended family she has apparently been cured.

Once at Swafford, he resumes his long-dropped friendships with Annie (Fiona Shaw), the aristocratic Lady of the house, and her American businessman husband Michael (Modine).  Their 16-year-old son David (Tommy Knight) and his more rational brother Simon are both there.

At Swafford everyone dresses for dinner although Ted spends much of his free time walking round the fields in a silk dressing gown. They have guests over including the flamboyant Oliver Mills (Tim McInnery), who thinks nothing of telling anal sex anecdotes at mealtimes. Valerie (Lyne Renee) is a very glamorous French woman with a rather plain teenage daughter.

Jane continually hassles him constantly from her home but Wallace is too drunk to be a natural sleuth. It turns out that David is Wallace’s godson and he is obsessed with sex and has no idea that it is inappropriate to talk about penises. Wallace is self-loathing and sarcastic, but he’s blunt without being mean and is actually very understanding of teenagers, and what is normal for them: their obsession with sex, and their desperation to understand the world without the world view to do so properly. David is certainly different but does he really have the ability to heal, or is everyone so desperate to believe that they hang on his every word. If you are trying to find a plot here, forget it— there isn’t one.

We hear a lot about sex, bestiality and underage sexual acts of a sexual nature but I am not sure why. The film is based on Stephen Fry’s novel of the same name and directed by John Jencks.

“MANSFIELD 66/67”— Remember Jayne Mansfield?

“MANSFIELD 66/67”

Remember Jayne Mansfield?

Amos Lassen

If you are one of the people who believes that camp id dead, you have to see “Mansfield 66/67” by filmmakers Todd Hughes and P. David Ebersole. It is loosely based on the life of once Hollywood pin-up and blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield. Right from the beginning we are told that the documentary is based on press cuttings and rumors and vague reminiscences of the film star’s coaster life, most of which are quite scandalous. The film mixes archival footage with talking heads of people who knew/worked with her such as Mamie Van Doren and Kenneth Anger. The directors also spoke with a very odd assortment of ‘B’ & ‘C’ list celebrities such as the punk singer Marilyn and drag queen Peaches Christ who are too young to have known her, but seemed to be obsessed with her legend. Strangely enough the only real voice of reason about the Mansfield phenomenon was filmmaker John Waters who has dismissed some of the more outrageous rumors about Jayne Mansfield for being blatantly untrue.

Jayne Mansfield had a short movie career in the mid 1950’s was very successful and included several major box office hits, one of which won her a Golden Globe Award. 20th Century Fox was grooming her to be another Marilyn Monroe but because she kept having babies, she was unavailable and so they stopped offering her any more major roles.  In 1963 when her move career was almost over, she was in the sexploitation film ”Promises! Promises!” and she became the first major American actress to have a nude starring role in a Hollywood motion picture.

This documentary, however, mainly focuses on Mansfield’s life after the studios had dropped her, and when she become even more of a real publicity hound. there is even a clip of her saying that the public have a right to know all about her private life. She was encouraged by her husbands and boyfriends to do some very questionable stunts like having ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ that would expose her enormous breasts when there were paparazzi cameras around to record it.

One of her major fixations was with the First Church of Satan and its founder, Anton LeVay First Church of Satan who sold himself as the leader of powerful demonic cult. Waters dismisses this ‘relationship’ as a joke and something that only two publicity whores would concoct.  However, we do know that LeVay had a major falling out with Mansfield’s lawyer/boyfriend Sam Brody and very publicly put a curse on him saying that he would meet his end in an automobile accident. It has never been proven that the curse was anymore than hearsay but the fact that he and Mansfield were killed in a particular nasty car crash in 1967 has been the subject of many tabloid stories, most of which claim that she had been decapitated which is definitely not true.

I understand that The documentary never set out to tell the full story of Mansfield’s life and it does look at a few of the more outrageous facts attributed to her life as an old-fashioned sex symbol, and we get hints that there was a great deal of untapped substance to Mansfield who was so much more than just another  dumb blonde.

The film focuses on the last two years of the starlet’s life, in the rumors that swirled and the legends that the papers saw fit to print. It is at its best when it look at the peculiarities of Mansfield’s singular persona and has fun with whatever explanations are dreamt up. When it indulges in notions of Satanism, curses, and other such nonsense, however, it becomes hard to take seriously. But that might just be the point of the film. It is irreverent and shows various events of the actress’s life through interpretive dance. We are dared to take it seriously and when we do, the movie changes direction.

Its fun to listen to John Waters talk about the ridiculousness of Mansfield’s persona. There is a series of her iconic and squeals and they capture the magic that made her so attractive and popular.When it focuses on the cultural milieu that gave us Jayne Mansfield then helped destroy her, it is fascinating.

In 1957 Mansfield was one of the top box office draws in the nation. In 1963, she became the first big name movie star to do a nude scene in and we understand why she was chosen to do so. By 1966, in part because of some poor business decisions made by Sam Brody her career was at its end. Brody’s influence over Mansfield was toxic.

Just how close Mansfield was deeply involved in the Church of Satan is still debated. She and LeVay did pose for PR photos together.Ebersole & Hughes try to exploit the Mansfield camp factor with frequent song-and-dance numbers to represent various episodes under discussion but, unfortunately they work only as camp.

The animated segments are irreverent. around-the-house movie Roar. Not surprisingly, none of the Hargitay family chose to participate. Jayne was married to Mickey Hargitay and mother of the fine actress, Mariska. We do however have cult film icons Mary Woronov and John Waters Mamie Van Doren having their say.

Jayne Mansfield was one of Hollywood’s legends. She died at the age of 34 in a tragic car accident in which she may or may not have been decapitated (even though I said earlier that this did not happen). Her accident might be the greatest drama she left behind. This documentary pays more attention to her death than anything she achieved in life. The film is fun as it veers as conjecture in regarding Mansfield’s messy personal life. We see the mutation of her celebrity status as she veered into the occult. We wonder if a star of her caliber turned to Satan either in desperation to save her career or for publicity. The Satanic aspect is mostly intriguing because of the belief that LeVay put a hex on Mansfield’s troubled boyfriend Sam Brody saying he’d die in a car accident.

“Mansfield 66/67” begins with a title card that tells us that much of its information draws upon rumors and press clippings. The film shows this speculation by injecting musical interludes into the show. Featuring drag numbers and eccentric songs about Mansfield, the film plays up her myth and it is fun as it captures Mansfield’s appeal even though Mansfield, herself, remains elusive. I remember her films and her persona and she was an enchantress even though she was no actress. Being from New Orleans, I remember her death. It was big news because she was on her way from Biloxi, Mississippi in order to do a television interview in The Big Easy.

“THE LOVED ONE”— Dying in California

“The Loved One”

Dying in California

Amos Lassen

When “The Loved One” hit movie screens in 1965, people were outdone. Based on Evelyn Waugh’s book of the same name and adapted for the screen by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood, this is a movie that could never be made today. It was considered tasteless and offensive in its satire on the funeral business in California and I loved it. I recently watched the Blu ray release of this satire and I was even more certain as to why I loved a movie that the world hated.

It is not just about death, however. Director Tony Richardson takes on sex, greed, religion and mother love, as well. Robert Morse plays Dennis Barlow. a would-be poet who gets entangled with an unctuous cemetery entrepreneur (Jonathan Winters), a mom-obsessed mortician, Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger) and other bizarre characters played by such adept actors as John Gielgud, Robert Morley, Tab Hunter, Milton Berle, James Coburn and Liberace. The film was advertised as “the movie with something to offend everyone” and we easily see why. The story centers around the pomp and ceremony that comes with the daily operation of a posh mortuary and a climaxing idea by an owner of a Southern California cemetery of orbiting cadavers into space since we are running out of burial spaces on earth.

Dennis falls in love with the lady cosmetician (later promoted to embalmer) while making arrangements for his uncle’s burial. However, she (Anjanette Comer) is dedicated to her work and Whispering Glades Memorial Park. Jonathan Winters, in a dual role, is excellent both as the owner of Whispering Glades and his twin brother, who operates the nearby pet graveyard and is patron of a 13-year-old scientific whiz who invents a rocket capable of projecting bodies into orbit. While the film was promoted as being outrageous and offensive, I want to head in that direction. It is indeed offensive not just because of its theme or its insensitivity.

The way that some funeral rituals are practiced in some of the fancy cemeteries near Hollywood are naturally shocking and disturbing and they are vividly and vulgarly revealed shown here as commercial shams. The violent and undisciplined excessiveness of these funerals is seen in its morbid ribaldry. There is too much kidding around with corpses, too much joking in the embalming room, too many scenes of dead bodies and food. For believers, the travesties of the doctrine of the resurrection of soul is sure to offend. By using an obvious American, Robert Morse, in the role of the poet, who is a total dunce so as to offend the British, however, does not really work. John Gielgud is Sir Francis Hinsley, the loved one, the poet’s uncle who commits suicide and for whom burial is arranged. Rod Steiger is repulsive as the hideously epicene Mr. Joyboy, chief of the embalming room.

The novel on which the film is based is a short satire that was written after Waugh’s trip to Hollywood, where he attended a funeral at Forest Lawn and was struck by parallels between the pretensions of the movie industry and the lavish overproduction of the Los Angeles funeral business. The book is laced with the kind of acidly condescending sarcasm that is a British specialty, but Richardson chose to have made an American screenwriter, Terry Southern, the notorious author whose temperament and style were the antithesis of Waugh’s write the screenplay with British Christopher Isherwood, author of the stories that would inspire and who had been one of Evelyn’s Waugh’s chief literary rivals. What we get is a that is not sure what it is satirizing and being offensive. overstuffed satire that can’t make up its mind about what it’s satirizing because it’s so busy extending a middle finger to everyone watching. The film has quite a cult following despite its many problems.

The first half hourhour mocks America’s film industry, with Roddy McDowall as an unctuous studio executive at Megalopolitan Pictures and Jonathan Winters as a producer. It also parodies English class-consciousness, which is dutifully preserved by the L.A. ex-patriot conclave under the leadership of Sir Ambrose Ambercrombie (Robert Morley), who has been knighted for his services as an actor specializing in butlers and prime ministers. From that point on, the script deals with Dennis getting a job at a fancy pet cemetery called Happier Hunting Grounds. In the process, he becomes familiar with the A-list cemetery for humans, Whispering Glades, which is owned and operated by Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy (Jonathan Winters) in an ostentatious and quasi-religious style that exerts cult-like control over its employees.

Dennis falls in love with Aimee Thanatogenous (Anjanette Comer) but she is already in love with her boss, the facility’s chief embalmer, Mr. Joyboy. Unfortunately for her, Mr. Joyboy only has eyes for his corpse clientele and his aging mother (Ayllene Gibbons). In desperation, Barlow gives Aimee poems that he claims to have written himself but in fact has plagiarized from such well-known sources as Keats and Shakespeare. This mixes her up and so she seeks advice from a newspaper columnist, Guru Brahmin, whom she doesn’t know is really a gruff, cynical and perpetually soused reporter (Lionel Stander), who, when cornered in a bar, might just tell a desperate soul that killing oneself is a good option.

At Whispering Glades, Rev. Glenworthy is running out of burial space, and he conceives a plan to extract more profit from the land by converting it into retirement homes, emptying the graves by blasting their occupants into space. The rocketry will be provided by a child prodigy, 12-year-old Gunther Fry (Paul Williams). The first person to receive a space burial is, appropriately, an astronaut nicknamed “The Condor”, and his precedent-setting service is complicated by a web of deceit and blackmail.

There is not a boring moment in the film. There are subplots and twists and turns, some really good acting and really lousy acting. Instead of paying attention to what is going on, it is fun just to ignore the plot and let the offenses entertain and watch the actors trying so hard. The scenes with Mr. Joyboy and his gluttonous mother remind us of John Water. There are many \ cameos by famous actors (who are even listed as “cameo guest stars” in the opening credits). James Coburn is the immigration officer who stamps Barlow’s passport, Milton Berle is a wealthy Angeleno who wants his dog buried at Happier Hunting Grounds, Dana Andrews is a corrupt Army general. We see Liberace cleanly dressed and minus sequins as Whispering Glades’ “counselor”, gently advising the bereaved on coffins and funeral attire with the enthusiasm of a wedding planner. As each guest star appears, the film momentarily pauses as if boasting about the marquee names it managed to attract. But then the moment is over and… the film ends and Dennis Barlow returns to England a sadder man from his American adventures.

The special features include:

  • Trying to Offend Everyone: This 2003 featurette offers recollections of the film’s production by a scattered group of surviving participants, but it only hints at the film’s troubled history. Interviewees include Robert Morse, Anjanette Comer, Paul Williams, Haskell Wexler and Tony Gibbs, who is described as “supervising editor”, although the film’s editing credit is divided between Hal Ashby (future director of Being There) and Brian Smedley-Aston (a member of the editorial team on Performance).
  • Trailer

“Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens” by Eddie Izzard— A Very Singular Life

Izzard, Eddie. “Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens”, Blue Rider, 2017.

A Very Singular Life

Amos Lassen

“Izzard is one of the funniest people alive, a talented actor, a sharp cross-dresser, an experienced marathon runner, and a great writer. You will have to read this if only to find out what a jazz chicken is.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer.

This is the first time in my years of reviewing that I have opened a review with a quote and that is because it says so much and so much better than I can. 
Eddie Izzard is an intelligent comedian who uses intelligent humor about everything from

world history to historical politics, sexual politics, mad ancient kings, and chickens with guns. He has a very large fan base and one that transcends age, gender, and race. Izzard’s writing is much the same in its candor and insight. He takes us into his life, writes about his mother’s death, going to boarding school, his sexuality, philanthropy, politics and acting in the movies.

Izzard’s mind is quick and he thinks about several things at the same time so it takes a bit of patience to follow him but once you get into it, you have a fascinating reading experience. He is a unique person who has led a singular life.

Beginning with his childhood, we understand that the early death of his mother became the defining moment of his life. He has tried to bring her back and we really see how this affects him.

As a student he struggled at school and used comedy to get through as he constantly looked for inspiration in his life. His career did not come easily and he did whatever necessary to focus attention on himself. He also explored his gender and his sexuality early on. He writes with honesty and openness and shares his relationship challenges, his feelings about his family, and the great moments of his career, and his addiction to sugar, his marathon running, health issues, and his regrets. Before I read this, I was not a fan and quite honestly I must say that I knew very little about Izzard. I feel like I have made a new friend and a very good one at that.

 

“STORMY MONDAY”— A Gangster Movie

“STORMY MONDAY”

A Gangster Movie

Amos Lassen

In 1988, Mike Figgis made his feature directorial debut with “Stormy Monday”, a noir-influenced gangster movie. From the beginning we are disoriented. The action takes place in a small British town, but one that for some unknown reason is holding a festival celebrating “America Week” where a character from the U.S. is running for office and we see that this makes no sense. However, instead of clarifying the setting and plot, the story moves forward introducing new elements and characters one after another with no indication of how these pieces fit together to make a coherent story.

The plot is presented through casual, almost throwaway snippets woven into the film and there are mumbled lines by the characters. I wonder, as do other viewers. why we should bother to fit the pieces together, when there’s no indication of anything worthwhile in the picture. It comes down to a conflict between the character of Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones) and a local nightclub owner (Sting), a conflict whose development over the course of the film is confusing and pointless.

It could well be that the screenplay left the “intrigue” plot sketchy in order to focus on the emotional battles being played out in the film. Although her role in the plot is never adequately explained, Melanie Griffith appears to be the centerpiece of the film, with her relationship to Brendan (Sean Bean) putting her in a situation where she must make a decision where her loyalty lies: with Cosmo for whom she works, or with Brendan, her new lover.

Then a light goes off and I realize that “Stormy Monday” is about the attitudes that men strike when they feel in control of a situation and the way they feel down when someone else takes power. “Stormy Monday” is also about symbols. It takes place mostly near the seedy waterfront of Newcastle, where a crooked Texas millionaire is trying to run a nightclub owner out of business so he can redevelop the area with laundered money. The movie uses a lot of symbols of America: the flag, stretched large and bold behind a podium.

American businessman Frank Cosmo fills the city with stars and stripes, parades, pictures of Reagan, a giant Pepsi bottle, and a whole lot of hand shaking deals. We know he is up to something but have no idea what it is. We meet Frank’s girlfriend-cum-accomplice Kate who’s lined up to do a “job” for Frank but before we know what it is, she backs out of it and starts an affair with Brendan (Sean Bean), a janitor at the Key Club.

STORMY MONDAY, Tommy Lee Jones, 1988. ©New Yorker Films

The Key Club is a jazz spot run by Finney who rejects a business overture from Frank. Brendan, now charged with ushering around a wacky Polish combo called the Krakow Jazz Ensemble helps Finney against Cosmo’s henchmen. Even without understanding what is going on, we see that this is a film with heart although we are never sure why.

Special Features include:

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

– Original stereo audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray Disc)

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

– Audio commentary with Mike Figgis, moderated by critic Damon Wise

– New video appreciation by critic Neil Young, and a “then and now” tour of the film’s Newcastle locations

– Theatrical trailer

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacey

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring new writing by critic Mark Cunliffe

“RE-ANIMATOR”— Movie Mayhem

“RE-ANIMATOR”

Movie Mayhem

Amos Lassen

“Re-Animator” is one of the most wildly popular horror movies of all-time and now Stuart Gordon’s classic is back in a new special Blu-ray restoration and packed with special features. Medical student Dean Cain advertises for a roommate and finds one in the form of Dr. Herbert West. Initially a little eccentric, it soon becomes clear that West has some very strange theories one of which is about the possibility of re-animating the dead. It’s not long before Dean finds himself under West’s influence, and deeply involved in a series of ghoulish experiments which threaten to go wildly out of control.

The film is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s classic horror story “Herbert West – Re-animator” and stars Jeffrey Combs who gives a fantastic performance as the deranged West. The film war released in 1985, at the height of the ’80s’ spate of horror comedies and it’s irreverence stripped away the seriousness that had been part the horror genre and replaced it with a willful sense of the comic.

The humor here relies on verbal asides and the sheer absurdity of its situations. It is a very gory movie, so much so that producer Brian Yuzna didn’t even bother to submit it to the MPAA ratings board and instead released it unrated. The gore we see is both repellent and utterly intriguing.

West is a nerd gone terribly who has since become a cult figure around the world. We see him holed up in his basement laboratory, injecting glowing green re-agent fluid into a dead cat and realize that he represents science gone bad.

He is determined to defeat death by finding a way to get past the “6- to 12-minute barrier” after which someone cannot be successfully revived. However, he is so resolute and calculating in his desire that any sense of moral purpose does not exist. He immediately gets on the wrong side of the fictional Miskatonic Medical School’s resident genius, Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), whose ideas West openly disputes in class. West is so sure of himself that he can’t help but verbally (and, later, physically) assault those who might stand in his way, intellectually or otherwise.

Dan becomes involved in West’s experiments, despite the pleadings of his girlfriend, Megan (Barbara Crampton), who also happens to be the daughter of the straight-laced dean of the medical school, Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson). Dan is the movie’s conscience and is the only “normal” character in the movie. Director Gordon refuses to let anything be off-limits. He constantly increases the pitch of his movie using ludicrous situation after ludicrous situation. Things really get going when West decapitates Dr. Hill with a shovel after Hill tries to steal his re-agent formula, then reanimates his head and headless body. This leads to some ghoulishly comedic moments as the decapitated Dr. Hill combines West’s re-agent research with his own development of a laser drill used for lobotomies to create an army of reanimated corpses under his control. I will not even mention the sickest scene in the film that is audacious and tasteless but so much fun.

“Re-Animator” is not for everyone. Those who are easily offended, have weak stomachs, or is not willing to find humor in gruesome scenarios should not see this.

Special Features include:

– 4K restorations of the Unrated and Integral versions of the film

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

– Original Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 Audio

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

– Digipak packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Erickson

– Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer Michael Gingold

Re-Animator – the original 1991 comic book adaptation, reprinted in its entirety

– Unrated version [86 mins]

– Audio commentary with director Stuart Gordon

– Audio commentary with producer Brian Yuzna, actors Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, and Robert Sampson

Re-Animator Resurrectus – documentary on the making of the film, featuring extensive interviews with cast and crew

– Interview with director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna

– Interview with writer Dennis Paoli

– Interview with composer Richard Band

– Music Discussion with composer Richard Band

– Interview with former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone

– Barbara Crampton In Conversation with journalist Alan Jones for this career-spanning discussion

– Deleted and Extended Scenes

– Trailer & TV Spots

“COBY”— Transitioning

“Coby”

Transitioning

Amos Lassen

 

At age twenty-one, Susanna let the world know that she was beginning to transition from female to male and we realize that this was not a new thought; she had been thinking about it for years and she finally got to a place where she is at peace with gender reassignment. She knew that it would take her family time to understand and deal with the consequences.  Sarah, her live in girl friend for a few years now, fully supports and now that Coby (the transitional name chosen) gets testosterone shots, she is ready to give him the injections. 

Coby’s family live in the very small village of Chagrun Falls, Ohio said nothing when Susanna came out as a lesbian but this is different and they struggle with it as any family would. At first they tried to persuade her to change her mind but they are not accepting of her decision. (My sister went through this when her daughter transitioned so I know how difficult this is). The family is a close one and they support Coby yet they are concerned about how this will affect them.

Coby’s half brother Christian Sonderegger directed this documentary and because of that guards were down and the characters speak openly. This is actually a happy story without so many of the destructive issues that transitioning usually brings out of people. Coby’s parent’s discomfort is very real but their undeniable love for their child  goes beyond their own regret. Today Coby has fully transitioned and is now a man by the name of Jacob. H He still has one final major decision to make. He thinks that one day in the future he would like to be a parent and so would Sara but Sara does not want to carry the child. Jacob must decide now before he has his uterus removed.