Monthly Archives: October 2017



The Ultimate Vintage Comedy

Amos Lassen

During the Golden Age of television and variety shows, Red Skelton held a very special place. Now we can revisit his show in a unique DVD set of 22 discs with more than 65 hours of comedy, guest stars. 

Red Skelton was a man who performed with class, style and brilliance and was referred to as America’s Clown Prince. “The Red Skelton” ran for twenty seasons on television and each week we would see memorable creations that Skelton brought to life and these included his alter personalities of “country bumpkin” Clem Kadiddlehopper, Sheriff Deadeye and lovable hobo Freddie the Freeloader. Skelton’s guests read like Who’s Who in the entertainment industry—- John Wayne, Jackie Gleason, Johnny Carson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Milton Berle, Jackie Cooper, Tim Conway, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Simon and Garfunkel, Phyllis Diller, Merv Griffin, Audrey Meadows, Mickey Rooney, Nipsey Russell, Robert Goulet, Audrey Meadows to name just a few.

Among the programs we see here are 130 remastered and hours of extras, a full-length biography of Red with rare home movies and intimate interviews and a bonus DVD of Skelton’s Farewell Specials along with a memory that shows how Red brought his characters to life.  In effect there are three distinct DVD collections:  

  • THE RED SKELTON SHOW: THE EARLY YEARS (8 Discs) — The beginning of Red’s legendary two-decade television journey is celebrated in this 72-episode set. Many of Red’s best characters and classic bits can be found in these episodes, providing a sidesplitting look at a true pioneer of television’s Golden Age.  
  • THE RED SKELTON HOUR: IN COLOR (10 Discs) — This deluxe set features 31 rarely seen episodes in their original, brilliant color; highlights include Red’s famous recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, musical performances by Simon & Garfunkel, Frankie Valli, The 5th Dimension and more, plus a bonus Skelton biography, America’s Clown. 
  • THE COMPLETE 20TH SEASON: IN COLOR (3 Discs) — Twenty years after The Red Skelton Showfirst aired on NBC in 1951, the extraordinary Red appeared in his last season, bringing all his wonderful characters to life for the last time on network television.  An incredible group of guest stars includes Jerry Lewis, Vincent Price, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John and many more! 
  • BONUS DVD: RED SKELTON: THE FAREWELL SPECIALS (1 Disc) –Red’s zany, unexpected and classically hilarious crowning performances are celebrated in this compilation of farewell specials, featuring, “Red Skelton’s Christmas Dinner,” “More Funny Faces,” “Funny Faces III,” and “A Royal Command Performance”- America’s wackiest court jester gets silly with Britain’s Royal Family at London’s Royal Albert Hall.  There is a lot to see here and once we see it all, we understand a lot more about the world of comedy.

“BLACK IS THE COLOR”— Taking Back an Image



Taking Back an Image

Amos Lassen

Jacques Goldstein’s “Black is the Color” is a look at African-American artists who decided to give a different image. Having been faced with racist caricatures, the artists rebelled against the image of degrading stereotypes of a brutally racist society but because these artists had been so ignored and marginalized, they had to wait a hundred years before they finally won the recognition they rightfully deserve. This film tells the story of how African-American artists how they did this. Now, a century and a half after the abolition of slavery in this country, the Museum of Modern Art in New York has just hired a black curator to fill the hole in the absence of African-American artists among its collections.

The term “The Color Line” was first coined over a century ago and it supposedly determines who is black, and who is white and implies who is superior and who is inferior. Now, finally, the time has, at last, come to do away with the segregation that has virtually kept black art out of American museums and leaving it on the fringes of the art market but getting to this point has been difficult.

The film focuses on African-American artists’ long march to obtain recognition and that march took place alongside the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Their image had been rather degraded by a discriminating white perspective in a segregated society.

Works by African-American artists are now on show in the most prestigious museums, and their paintings are selling for fortunes at auction. Yet for over a century these artists were ignored by galleries, looked down on by the critics and as a result remained largely anonymous to the general public.

From the 19th century onwards the goal of African-American painters was to reclaim ownership of their image, and this remains the goal of today’s artists as well.

The film juxtaposes works of art with the historical documents and footage of the major moments in this battle for civil rights and features interviews with the young artists, curators and collectors who have played their part in earning this recognition.

However, racist stereotypes are as powerful as ever and the question as to whether African-American art will be able to disconnect itself from the issues that gave rise to it is uncertain.

Art historians and gallery owners place African-American visual art against the larger social contexts of Jim Crow, World War I, the civil rights movement, and the racism of the Reagan era. Meanwhile, contemporary artists discuss individual works by their forerunners and their ongoing influence.

This is a much-needed survey of great work by artists whose contributions have been neglected by the mainstream art world for much too long.

“Holding: A Novel” by Graham Norton— Gossip and Secrets

Norton, Graham. “Holding: A Novel”, Atria Books, 2017.

Gossip and Secrets

Amos Lassen

The rural Irish village of Duneen has always been peaceful but that changes when human remains are discovered on an old farm. It is suspected that this is the body of Tommy Burke, the former lover of two different inhabitants and soon the villagers become aware of Duneen’s dark past. begins to unravel. Police sergeant PJ Collins struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life and as he does, he discovers the past of a town that had one been so peaceful as well as the complexities and contradictions that make us human.

Collins is extremely overweight and because of that, he usually dealt only with speeding violations and herding drunks. This changed when he learned that human bones were discovered at a nearby construction site. Every resident of Duneen has a theory about what happened.

PJ assumes that human bones can only mean murder. PJ and Detective Dunne figure that the bones belong to the once beloved town heartthrob, Tommy Burke who has been missing for nearly twenty-five years and whose disappearance caused a mess in the town. Brid Riordan, the neighborhood drunk, had been once engaged to Tommy. Evelyn Ross, the town beauty and orphan tells that she and Tommy held deep love for each other love that only a few villagers knew about.

Norton writes beautifully and has created some unforgettable characters. We cannot help but turn the pages as quickly as possible.


“Samaritans” by Jonathan Lynn— A Funny Yet Serious Look at Healthcare

Lynn, Jonathan. “Samaritans”, Independently Published, 2017.

A Funny Yet Serious Look at Healthcare

Amos Lassen

The chairman of the board of Samaritans, billionaire arms dealer and part-time philanthropist David Soper, has made a huge decision and has decided to step down, leaving the medical center at a loss.

Business School alumnus and Las Vegas hotel genius Max Green is the perfect man for the job. He is a man of vision and a mission, who knows that wealth-care is smarter than healthcare. He is determined “to make Samaritans great again”.

Andrew Sharp is the star cardio-thoracic surgeon who turns his back on health care; he is more interested in buying fancy cars and payola then he is in saving lives. However, his dreams are shattered and become nightmares.

“Samaritans” is the story of a struggling community hospital in Washington DC that appoints Max Green, an executive from a Las Vegas casino as its CEO, thinking that he can deal with its financial problems. Max is a self-centered, greedy man who feels that the only people that should get health care are those can afford it. “People can’t have what they can’t afford. That’s what got America into this economic mess – everybody wanting something for nothing. There’s no morality in that, is there?”

Subtlety is not found in this novel. Author Jonathan Lynn goes up against corporate greed, the hypocrisy of management and the callousness of our healthcare industry. While the book is based on the chaos of medical care, the story is an allegory about greed and politics, a world that is not regulated. We laugh and cry at the same time here as we see the very narrow line between tragedy and comedy. Because the book looks at the effect profit-minded health care can have on patient lives, we find something to laugh at while being afraid at the same time.

Satire is very difficult to write but Lynn does so wonderfully as he takes apart the American healthcare system that is all very real. This is certainly not the kind of topic that lends itself to comedy but writer Lynn has made it work. Everyone needs to read this and understand what is really going on and you will laugh all the way through while you are learning something new.


“A Pornographer” by Arch Brown— A Memoir

Brown, Arch. “A Pornographer
”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2017.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

With the death of Arch Brown in 2012, our community lost a very valuable member. Wile in the process of archiving his Possessions, an unpublished memoir with the simple title of “A Pornographer” was found and now it has finally been published giving us great insight into the man who for eighteen years was responsible for making homoerotic films. His memoir includes his interviews in the late 1960s and early 1970s with many of the men and women who wanted to star in his sex films including some who did not make it into his films. These interviews and films took place in the ten years after gay liberation finally began to take hold. The films were great successes and Brown soon had an international following.

When his film, “Tuesday” was selected, it was the only gay film to be included by the First New York Erotic Film Festival in its nation-wide release of winning films. The distributors were then charged with promoting obscenity. Brown also directed several documentary films on art and culture including a series on English as a Second Language for New York University. As if these films were not enough to be a legacy for Brown, he also was a playwright and a photographer. He had nine productions of his plays across the United States for over fifteen years and his still photographs and collages have appeared in “Mandate”, “Honcho”, “The Village Voice” and “Michael’s Thing”. His essays and reviews have appeared in The Advocate, The Villager, Manhattan G.A.Z.E. and he had a regular column on “Television and Society” in the New York Native. Brown founded G-MAN, The Gay Men’s Arts Network and, in memory of his partner Bruce Brown who died in 1993, he sponsored The Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation, which continues to give grants to gay-positive arts projects based on history. I wonder how many people outside of the New York area are familiar with his work but that becomes a moot issue with the publication of this book by Chelsea Station Editions (headed by author Jameson Currier, one of my favorite writers).

It is not necessary to be familiar with Brown’s work in order to enjoy this book. He does not even name his films in his memoir and when he writes about his cast members, he does so using made-up first names. Therefore what we really get here is something of a psychological look at those who enjoy having sex in front of a camera and how why they are responded to as they are. It is not all sex here—we also learn about Brown as a receptionist, gopher, casting agent, writer, director, stagehand, cameraman, talent scout, friend, and psychiatrist. To be sure, it was his films that brought him public attention and awareness but he was so much more than sex films. He was really known for the “quality and style” of his work with its inventive direction and his approach putting him way above the average pornographers of his time. He did not engage in the sordidness that was often common to the porn of that period.

Brown thought off himself as a pornographer and he waned his works to be judged as pornography. He tells us that he made porn films because he felt that lovemaking is “one of the greatest areas of life, a pleasure, a release”. He shows us this in his films but bemoans the fact that those who need to understand that are those who do not see his films.

The book contains a short biographical sketch (after all, the entire book is a form of biography), illustrations and photographs, two appendices (one of the films and the other on critical reception) and “Remembering Arch Brown” by James Waller, the president of the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation and it is absolutely fascinating. When I began reading “A Pornographer”, I did so slowly but soon found that the more I read, the more I wanted to know so my first reading was sped up so that I could read it critically a second time and I must add that for me this is one of the best reading experiences that I have had lately.

“The Book of Norman” by Allan Appel— Sibling Rivalry

Appel, Allan. “The Book of Norman, A Novel”, Mandal Vilar, 2017.

Sibling Rivalry

Amos Lassen

In Allan Appel’s “The Book of Norman”, a sibling rivalry begins when brothers Norman and Jon Gould compete for their dead father’s soul. Norman is a recent drop-out from the New York Jewish Seminary, who now wants to experience what he missed while being in the seminary and that is a lot since the novel is set during the Summer of Love when sex, love and rock and roll were happening right outside his window. up on his generation’s sex, love, and rock ‘n’ roll. His brother Jon gets short hair cut, sells his stash of grass and begins conversion to become a Mormon. Norman tries to pull his brother back to Judaism while Jon tries to prove to Norman that Mormonism is the true path. This is a fun and irreverent look at American religious difference.

Both sons struggle with sharing their new religious approaches to their Jewish mother, a recent widow who already has a boyfriend just ten months after the death of her husband and which Norman is none too happy about. The focus of the novel is Norman and Jon’s deceased father’s soul. They argue over whether their father should be converted to Mormonism after his death so that he can have a Mormon afterlife, which Jon prefers, or whether Norman should say Caddish to keep his father’s soul in a Jewish afterlife (even though he is leery about any type of afterlife). It seems that the status and location of a person’s soul has more significance in the Mormon faith than in Judaism says Jon and Mormon elders. Even though he has dropped out of rabbinical school Norman does not believe in souls in the first place but he becomes passionate about the state of his father’s soul and this changes his relationship with his brother forever. brother.

Norman and Jon come home for the summer to work at a Jewish day camp While at camp, they meet two beautiful Israeli female counselors and Norman becomes sexually obsessed with them. Jon goes in the opposite direction and does not look at the women who tend to des immodestly. Jon notices that there is something unusual about the women since they turn up at certain places and events that are important to Norman, including a Shabbat service and during a tense and strange basketball game between Mormons and Jews to determine the status of his father’s soul. Norman thinks that they must be angels and refers to them as angels throughout the book.

Writer Allan Appel takes us into the mind of Norman and we see that he is a confused, young man who is trying to find out just who he is. In leaving rabbinic Judaism, he becomes indulgent as he leaves the kosher laws behind but not to worry— Norman and Jon both realize that it is impossible to leave their Jewish roots and culture.


“Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl” by Andrea Lawlor— A Gender Fluid Shapeshifter

Lawlor, Andrea. “Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, Rescue, Rescue Press, 2017.

A Gender Fluid Shapeshifter

Amos Lassen

Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town that seems to live on politics and partying. He is studying queer theory and he enjoys just “being around”, writing zines and spending time with his lesbian best friend. And enjoying quite a social life. There is something else about Paul that he keeps a secret and that is that he is a shapeshifter. Paul is able to transform at will to enjoy adventure whenever and wherever he can. We are with him as he is o his journey exploring LGBT archives of both pleasure and struggle.

Andrea Lawlor has set her first novel in 1993 and by doing so we get a look at the history of the early ’90s when queer politics were guided by ACT UP and Queer Nation. Paul experiences a world in which AIDS has taken its toll and devastates our community and when we dared to speak up. The music was hot and the pain was at times unbearable. Along with Paul we face questions of who we are both sexually and publicly.

Granted, the premise of a shapeshifter may be a bit difficult to take but I found it refreshing and an interesting way to look at queer radicalism in years past. This is a very funny and clever novel of a gender-fluid hero/heroine that is totally original. Writer Lawlor is witty and she uses that to explore our not so distant path that is in my ways a part of our liberation. We really see how others saw us and we can better understand the present by seeing how it once was. This is a “nostalgic trip back to the queer 90s wrapped up in a speculative temporal-space odyssey that inspires a meditation on gender, love, sex, identity, home, atmosphere, place, and love.” Isn’t that all there is?

“THE TOWER”— Collective Flight


Collective Flight

Amos Lassen

Set in East Germany during the last ten years of Communism, Christian Schwochow’s “The Tower,” is a German mini-series about the lead-up to a moment of collective flight. When the end came for the German Democratic Republic, it came quietly in the form of a radio broadcast with an official voice announcing to the populace that there would no longer be any restrictions on border crossings. What started as a trickle of refugees became a deluge. “The Tower has multiple story-lines and large cast of intersecting characters that shows what life felt like to those who lived at that singular time in an unchanging political system before the rules changed, seemingly overnight.

Richard Hoffman (Jan Josef Liefers) is a surgeon at a clinic in Dresden, with burn tissue all over his back that is a painful and eternal reminder of the 1945 firebombing of his hometown when he was a child. He is married to a nurse (Claudia Michelsen) and they have a teenage son named Christian (Sebastian Urzendowsky). Richard has been carrying on an affair with his secretary that has resulted in a child who is now 5 years old. Hoffman goes back and forth between the two homes, and his wife supposedly knows nothing about the second family, although you can see her give him a couple of sharp glances on occasion. The mistress wants Hoffman to get a divorce however he knows that is impossible due to professional and personal reasons. The Hoffman family is part of the bourgeoisie in “The Tower” ; they are an elite group of doctors and book publishers and musicians. Their private lives are as chaotic as their public lives are appropriate. In such a political system, lying is a necessary skill.

Meno (Götz Schubert) is a book publisher who works with authors to remove potentially problematic passages in their novels. He is a man who loves literature, and he has been forced to become a censor. He hates this and it takes a psychological toll on him especially when he is assigned to work with an author (Valery Tscheplanowa) who refuses to edit her novel about the Red Army’s rape of German women upon invading the country and she is thrown out of the Writer’s Union because of this and we see her as an exile in her own country, all publishing doors closed to her. Meno is haunted by her and Hoffman’s mistress (Nadja Uhl) is desperate for her lover’s protection and attention, and becomes a liability when he turns his back on her and their daughter. While these are private matters, they get the attention of the Stasi, who can use it to blackmail Hoffman. 

Director Schwochow keeps these plot-lines moving smoothly and briskly, filming everything in a cold green-tint, suggesting that the world behind the Iron Curtain is devoid of color. The film is at its best strongest when it shows the direct connection between State control and private life. We see this clearly in Meno’s relationship with the censored author and in Christian’s increasing trouble with authority. Christian’s schoolwork is propaganda, and school papers are graded according to whether or not they express the proper “class attitudes.” Christian starts getting in trouble for reading non-approved books, and his parents become very uneasy. He was raised in an intellectual household, and yet in public he is meant to toe the party line. His parents encourage him to live the same kind of life that they do life that they do but he is unable to comply with their wishes. It is heartbreaking to see Christian change from a sweet teenager to tough-minded veteran of multiple authoritative organizations.

There is danger that Meno faces when he tries to smuggle the author’s banned manuscript out of the country to more welcoming publishers in the West. Meno moves from a laughing, confident man to a ruined shell of an individual and we see what politics have done to talented minds like his.

As the film moves into 1988, the scenes get shorter and the pace becomes more relentless, hopping from one person’s arc to the next and then back. In the final half-hour of the film, individuals face the crack-up of the State in their own individual ways and the demand for freedom and liberty destabilizes the entire atmosphere. Characters look at one another with an open sense of awe and fear in their faces as they wonder if this is really happening. “The Tower” is a powerful and engrossing look at the moment in history when the tide started turning and when the people are shaken out of their apathy.

“THE NIGHTMARE”— Fantasy and Reality


Fantasy and Reality

Amos Lassen

Director Akiz plays with concepts of fantasy and reality, as we move from one dream sequence back to reality while never being quite sure if the incubus that Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) is haunted by is a nightmare or a living creature. The plot evolves slowly a girl’s vision to a fright fest at a party. There is some kind of creature that is sexual but never explained.


Tina is 17 years old and seemingly has everything a girl her age could wish for. Then one night after an intense party, she begins to have severe nightmares and is haunted daily by a hideous creature. Her parents do not believe her story. The only one with whom she feels she can talk about her fears is her psychiatrist.  

The film transplants Johann Heinrich Füssli’s famous painting of the same into the modern Berlin party scene and we experience an assault on the senses by the electronic soundtrack and strobe lighting during a rave that is the film’s opening scene. In its own way, the rave is aligned with the heightened and overwhelming emotions of adolescence especially for Tina who is suggested to have a history of psychological concerns. The rave, we think, has something to do with her vision of her own death before it is revealed to be some kind of hallucination.

At this point, the line between fantasy and reality is almost non-existent and it is up to the viewer to decide what they believe is happening. When the creature arrives it seems, to all intents and purposes, to be real. Its intentions and origin are mysterious and the only clue we get comes in a, as are its origins. The most potent clue comes in a sequence when Tina is at school and is asked for her interpretation of a poem by Blake that other students have claimed is about birth. She agrees that it’s about birth but it is also about an abstract and growing nameless feeling.

Although the film has no intention of defining what this little monster is, Tina is encouraged by her psychiatrist to make physical contact with it. Tina must befriend this externalized manifestation of her own anxiety but she fears social rejection. Akiz seems to be aiming for a visceral and palpable reaction in this dark tale that makes for creepy and affecting viewing.


“FAITHFUL”— Struggling



Amos Lassen

Lauren (Clarissa Hoffmann) is still in love with her husband Ron (Ellis Miller) even though he has already moved on and in a relationship with another woman (Sarah Schulte). The more distant he becomes regarding Lauren, the more she is set upon getting him back even with the fact that he is involved with someone else. Even though Lauren has always wanted to be a doctor, she quits medical and seems not to understand that she and Ron are unable to work on the marriage if they do not see each other and that he is already involved with someone else does not seem to be important to her.

Lauren manages to get Ron to go to counseling, but he’s equally unwilling to work with the therapist (Eddy Lee) causing her to become even more upset. Lauren is growing more and more upset and desperate.

May-Anne (Cynthia Aileen Strahan), Lauren’s fellow student and friend and Lauren’s mother, Mrs. Clarice (Eve Coquillard), are very concerned over Lauren’s fragility that is a result of all of this but have no idea about what to do. As the situation nears a crisis, they intervene even though there is really nothing they can do to help. When the situation inevitably reaches a crisis they’re forced to intervene even though there may be quite literally nothing either of them can do to help.

What we really see in “Faithful” is a look at a marriage that failed through the eyes of one of the female participant. Along with the failure of the marriage the loss of comes self-esteem making the fallout so much more intense. It is not easy to watch Lauren demand explanations from her former husband and it hurts to hear what Ron has to say to her. It is the case that his love affair was meant to hurt her. The marriage is over and as much as we come to care for Lauren, it is difficult to accept her behavior and she needs to accept the fact that her husband has moved on. It is difficult for Lauren to accept that her marriage has failed as it means that she too has failed. Lauren just is unable to let go.

The screenplay is well written and the actors and direction is excellent. This is not an easy film to watch and it will say with you after the screen goes dark. As Laura reminds us that she has been exclusively faithful to her husband, we wonder if she has been too faithful. Director Niklas Berggren knows what he wants us to see and why and this is probably in the hope that can understand and relist what he is doing here.

Clarissa Hoffmann turns in a bravura performance as Lauren. Because Laura tried so hard, we often feel that she is a pain until we come around and realize what is happening. Not only is she trying to save a marriage that cannot be saved, she is also trying to save herself. As Ron, Ellis Miller is detached but he also seems to understand Laura’s need to not give up. need to hold on. As I said before that the acting is excellent all around, I want it be understood that I am specifically referring to Cynthia Aileen Strahan as Mary-Anne and Eve Coquillard as Lauren’s mother.