Monthly Archives: November 2017

“Who Am I If You’re Not You?” by Lynn Thorne– Soul Mates

Thorne, Lynn. “Who Am I If You’re Not You?”, Mascot, 2017.

Soul Mates

Amos Lassen

Marika and Jennifer , a real couple, were two soul mates looking forward to their future together until Marika announced that she was meant to be a man. “Who Am I If You’re Not You?”, a book about love and its capacity.

As her wife transitions, Jennifer goes through her own personal problems to find herself. She works through anorexia, cutting and crippling depression. Jennifer discovers those things that define her life, her love, and her marriage as she fights to save herself.

The book is beautifully written, honest and a pleasure to read. Jennifer and Marika’s lives became complicated and difficult as they struggled to stay together. You can imagine what it was like for Jennifer when Marika opened her heart and her life to her. While this is a topic for mature people. I think that it is fine for all who want to better understand what being transgender is all about. There are many emotions here and they are presented with sensitivity.

I was quickly taken in by the story and I gained a new sense of understanding and compassion for both women. We see Jennifer pain and watch her as she becomes accepting. We are given Jennifer’s poems and through them we get to know her better. Since we all struggle to find out who we are, this book is especially relevant.

“OPERA”— Sumptuous Horror

 

“OPERA”

Sumptuous Horror

Amos Lassen

After an unfortunate car accident makes a career casualty of opera star Mara Cecova, a young understudy named Betty (Cristina Marsillach) is pressed into service as the new lead by her director, Marc (Ian Charleson). Charleson is a horror movie pro who is trying to move upscale. Betty’s agent, Mira (Daria Nicolodi), feels nothing but enthusiasm for her young star in the making and Betty’s debut turns into a smash success. However, an usher is murdered in one of the theater boxes during the performance and this seems to indicate that one of Betty’s new fans may have homicidal tendencies. Inspector Santini (Urbano Barberini) investigates the mysterious goings on, while Betty’s celebratory but unsuccessful opening night meeting with the stage manager (McNamara) turns nasty when the killer arrives and performs gruesome acts while pinning Betty’s eyes open with taped needles. Terrified and confused, Betty falls into a disoriented state in which she acts as the pawn of a devious mind with violent ties to Betty’s past.

There is a lot of gore including a jaw-dropping slow motion bullet sequence that just cannot be adequately described in words. The film is beautiful, shocking, frustrating, and totally entertaining and is one of those films that becomes better with time.

Dario Argento’s “Opera” was inspired by his abortive attempts to direct an Opera (Verdi’s “Rigoletto”) and his long-standing interest with Leroux’s “Phantom of the Opera” but it is not an adaptation of that famed volume. Rather, the film simply takes the idea of a masked psychopath, obsessed with the understudy who has more talent than the Diva, who stalks the opera house. Argento adds sadomasochistic fantasies and the then current AIDS epidemic, and it is a deliriously over-wrought and thrillingly obsessive film that stays with the viewer for days afterwards.

The understudy is Betty (Cristina Marsillach), who takes over the lead role in a stage production of Verdi’s Macbeth that is being directed by Marco (Ian Charleson) – best known for his horror films – after the Diva, The Great Mara Cecova, is hit by a car. Her brilliant performance is hugely acclaimed, but also attracts the attentions of a sadistic hooded killer, so Inspector Alan Santini (Urbano Barberini) is called in to investigate.

The visuals are amazing with the camera gliding constantly tracking, panning, or indulging. The film contains two of Argento’s strongest and most daring images. First we see Betty’s eyes wide open and she is forced to stare through an array of needles taped beneath her eyes, unable to close them without ripping her eyelids to shreds. The other key image is a close-up shot of the killer’s brain pumping with blood and as it pulses, the whole screen pulses with it, as if the image and the ideas behind it were so powerful almost rip through the very fabric of the film itself.

 “Opera” is heavy sexualized nature but not in a literal sense. The film was made at the peak of the AIDS crisis, and Argento’s concern with this is paramount with the killer wearing protective sheaths over his black gloves. It’s a film almost entirely without love, at least in the conventional sense – Betty is unable to sleep with Stefan, in the closest the film gets to a loving relationship. The only way sexual feeling can be consummated here is through violence and the murders become a bizarre courtship between Betty and the killer, although for her it is more like rape. We, of course, wonder, why Betty doesn’t tell anyone exactly what happened. Likewise, countless rapes go unreported; Betty feels she has been violated, she can’t bear to think about it and desperately wants to forget.

“Opera” has a genuine love-it-or-hate-it ending (I love it) and some of the most disturbing moments Argento has yet filmed.

“BEHIND THE CURTAIN: TODRICK HALL”— An Intimate Look

“Behind The Curtain : Todrick Hall”

An Intimate Look

Amos Lassen

YouTube sensation Todrick Hall is a man who is driven by his passion to express himself creatively, and unafraid to tackle serious issues. He writes, records, and shoots music videos for his own socially conscious, and deeply personal, visual album “Straight Outta Oz.” He plans every detail including sets, costumes, choreography and more for the tour he will take after the album is released. In this documentary, we meet the man behind the music. It focuses on how he came to terms with his identity as a gay black man, and how he has used it to create an inclusive atmosphere for his fans. He shares coming out to his mother, discussing the impact of events like the Orlando nightclub shooting and lamenting about choosing his career over his one true love.

Hall is the type of entertainer and human being that we need to see more of in show business. Now at 32 years old, we see him as a man of ambition. He is a  rapper/singer/songwriter/actor/dancer/producer.  Director Katherine Fairfax Wright didn’t know who Todrick Hall was when she was offered a job to direct this film and we see that she not only found out who he is but she even fell in love with him as they worked together. That love makes this film very special.

“Straight Outta Oz” is Hall’s personal history set to music and dance and he tells us that as he was writing this album, he and Awesomeness Films decided that the documentary should follow him as he did so.

The documentary begins as Hall is about to start his new musical based loosely on “The Wizard of Oz” in which he incorporates his own life story, including his tough childhood growing up gay in a conservative religious African/American family. The show is a cathartic experience for him and also one that brings him closer to the audience.  One of Hall’s greatest talents is that he is really able to connect with his fans.

it is somewhat exhausting to watch Hall actually unwind with his very supportive boyfriend and we see that he has a totally different life when he is not being filmed or performing.

“BETWEEN TWO-SPIRIT”— Becoming a Woman at Sixty

“Between Two-Spirit”

Becoming A Woman At Sixty

Amos Lassen

Two-Spirit is a native American term used to describe Indians who fulfill both roles of a man and a woman : almost like a third gender.

As Chris Muth was nearing his 60th birthday, he had just dealt with a life threatening illness. He was a Professor of Management at a High School of Engineering in Geneva and decided that the time had come for a change. That change involved his becoming woman or as he said, he wanted to make his outside body conform to the way he felt within. 

When he was in his 20’s and studying at the University, Chris lived in a Commune in Zurich and joined a club for Transvestite Women and started to cross-dress for the first time in his life. When he met his future wife, his life took him on a straighter and more serious conventional path, and he settled down and became a father and a successful businessman before moving on to become a professor.

We are not told about the years in between but everyone was shocked when they discovered what the wanted to do so it is safe to assume that in that time, he had lived completely as a man. Even when he leaves Geneva for Thailand to have gender re-alignment surgery this is the first time any of his friends had ever seen him seen him wear women’s clothes.

 Filmmaker Laurence Périgaud actually met Chris by chance at a Conference on Transexuality just a few weeks prior to the start of filming this documentary. The movie begins with the surgery and covers the first year of transitioning. Chris’s Swiss Doctor explains that in cases of people wanting to undergo hormonal or surgical transition to the other sex there is the Harry Benjamin Code of Practice recognized by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health which determines the protocols that should be followed.  In Chris’s case the doctor allowed Chris to fast-track the whole process. He has barely been on hormones for eight months, and even more important is that he had never had to live openly as a woman for some time as all other patients do.  We assume that this is because of his age.

In Thailand the Doctor gave Chris a new softer more feminine face and altered his genitalia as well. When he recovered, Chris returned to Geneva to face the world, but only little by little.  At home she is Christa a new woman, but at work and in society he is still Chris the man.  This is not hard to do because so much clothing now is unisex. He had planned to come out to his employers and his colleagues at the end of the semester, but the rumor mill beat him to it.

 Chris/Christa’s world is conservative and his fellow professors and friends struggle to come to terms with the complete shock of his new identity and some have managed to do so but with a bit of reluctance. The School President offers her support but the Industrial Association, the professional organization that he is president of has asked for her resignation.   His ex-wife has filed for divorce and their daughter will have nothing to do with her father.

The film focuses only on the positive side of the transitioning making it a bit unrealistic and we, of course, question the decision to by-pass many of the crucial safeguards that are normally in place.   Nonetheless, Christa Muth is likable and personable and has a fine sense of self deprecating humor. She is brave and even courageous in recognizing that it’s never too late in life to become true to who you really are regardless of the consequences.   Where I live there are three people in their 80s who are transitioning and I admire their desire to do so. The movie was special for me in that my niece, an academic like Christa, transitioned at age 41 and was allowed to keep his tenure.

“The Night Language: A Novel” by David Rocklin— Love, Loss and Repression

Rocklin, David. “The Night Language: A Novel”, Rare Bird Books, 2017.

Love, Loss and Repression

Amos Lassen

Prince Alamayou of Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia), is taken from his home and the Abyssinian war to the court of Queen Victoria and to a world he knows nothing about. Philip Layard, a young apprentice to one of the doctors on the battlefield in Abyssinia, becomes Alamayou’s guardian, only friend, and eventually, the love of his life. Then when Parliament accuses Alamayou of murder, the young prince is sentenced to return to Abyssinia where he will be executed. Alamayou’s only hope comes from the unexpected and forbidden love between him and Philip but at that time, it could not be spoken about.

The prose here is gorgeous and it packs an emotional and unexpected wallop. I find this to be a beautiful meditation on loneliness and being the other. This is storytelling at its best and I find myself haunted by what I read. Forbidden love, loneliness and loss go hand-in-hand with the price one pays to be repressed.

The love that Alamayou and Philip share reflects the complexity of social and political relationships. We look at sexuality, race, class, love, and war and we hope for the best for the two lovers. Rocklin brings gender, race, the past and the evils of colonialism together and then pits them against war, wealth and its privileges, xenophobia and love’s power. We go back in history to revisit what many have forgotten about— a time when one’s life was not his own and we see the contradiction of Queen Victoria taking Alamayou to her court while at the same time providing him with a steward that joins him in forbidden love and intimacy. We see what can happen when those who rule listen  to foreign voices.

“David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music” by David Bullock— A History of LGBT Music

Bullock, David. “David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music”, Overlook Press, 2017.

A History of LGBT Music

Amos Lassen

LGBT musicians seem to have always shaped the development of music over the last century. They have provided a sexually progressive soundtrack in the background of the gay community’s struggle for acceptance. With the beginning of recording technology, LGBT messages were for the first time brought to the forefront of popular music. This is the first book to deal with the entire history of recorded music by and for the LGBT community and it shows how those records influenced the evolution of the music we have today.

We read about the lives of the people who made these records, we journey through the scarcely documented history of LGBT music-makers. Writer Darryl W. Bullock shows how gay, lesbian, and bisexual performers have influenced Jazz and Blues and continue to do so. Almost forgotten is the Pansy Craze during between the two World Wars (when many LGBT performers were feted by royalty and Hollywood alike) and we get a chronicle of the dark years after the depression when gay life was forced to go underground and we read of the re-emergence of LGBT performers in the post-Stonewall years with special attention to out-gay pop stars such as Elton John, Boy George, Freddie Mercury, and George Michael.

Bullock gives us a comprehensive history of LGBT music from the earliest records in the pre–jazz age to the 21st century and we see it as both a cultural and sociological aspect of the history that is impacted by diverse artists and music styles. He looks at their lives, their lyrics, and their struggles, both in society and within the music industry making this a fascinating read.

In reading about the LGBT community’s influence on music historically, we see how society moved between acceptance and persecution. We read of the contributions from many artists who have been forgotten and/or unappreciated and we see that not only were there LGBT recording artists since the beginning of recorded music and they did not hide their sexuality.

The history of LGBT music is the history of one hundred years of social change. “Music is sexy, and sex is better with the right music and LGBT people have been pushing the boundaries of music and sex for decades.” Music is also the soundtrack of our lives. In the prologue to “The Glass Menagerie”, Tennessee Williams wrote that the play is memory and memory always happens to music.

“Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man” by Chike Frankie Edozien— A Memoir

Edozien, Chike Frankie. “Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man”, Team Angelica Publishing, 2017.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

Nigerian journalist Chike Frankie Edozien shares a personal stories of gay Africans who he sees as great men who live and love in the face of great adversity. He explores the worsening legal climate for gay men and women on the continent; the impact of homophobic evangelical American pastors, the dangers of political populism and the pressures placed on those living under harshly oppressive laws that are the legacy of colonial rule. These pressures sometimes lead to seeking asylum in the West. Nonetheless, he is hopeful and his memoir is a tribute to Africa, especially Nigeria and the city of Lagos.

This is a powerful look at what it means to be a gay Nigerian man and a tender and insightful study of the complicated and unspoken bonds that exist in most intimate relationships. In effect, this is a study of how the human heart survives against great odds.

 

“A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back” by David Hallberg—“The Most Exciting Male Dancer in the Western World”

Hallberg, David. “A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back”, Touchstone, 2017.

“The Most Exciting Male Dancer in the Western World”

Amos Lassen

David Hallberg was the first American to join the Bolshoi Ballet as a principal dancer. “The New Yorker” described as “the most exciting male dancer in the western world” and his new boo, “A Body of Work” takes us on an intimate journey through his artistic life up to the moment he returns to the stage after a terrible injury almost cost him his career.

His childhood is an all-American story that was hurt by intense bullying. Hallberg’s memoir takes us deep into his life as an artist as he wrestles with ego, pushes the limits of his body, and searches for ecstatic perfection and fulfillment.

Quite basically, this is a book about creativity. Hallberg shares themes of inspiration, self-doubt, and perfectionism and we are with him as he attends daily class, goes through rigorous rehearsals, and triumphant performances and searches for new interpretations of ballet’s greatest roles. He also shares the loneliness he felt as a teenager leaving America to join the Paris Opera Ballet, the ambition he had to tame as a new member of American Ballet Theatre, and the reasons behind his decision to be the first American to join the top rank of Bolshoi Ballet and working with an artistic director who would later be the victim of a vicious acid attack. Later as Hallberg performed throughout the world at the apex of his abilities, he suffered a crippling ankle injury and unsuccessful surgery leading to an agonizing retreat from ballet and a reexamination of his entire life. It is the emotional intensity that makes this such a fascinating read and the artistic insight that we get here is amazing. Here is a story with all of its passion, wisdom and vulnerability.

“The Psychic Life of Racism in Gay Men’s Communities” edited by Damien W. Riggs— Privilege and Marginalization

Riggs, Damien W. (editor). “The Psychic Life of Racism in Gay Men’s Communities”, (Critical Perspectives on the Psychology of Sexuality, Gender, and Queer Studies), Lexington, 2017.

Privilege And Marginalization

Amos Lassen

“The Psychic Life of Racism in Gay Men’s Communities” deals with complexity of mapping out the operations of “racialized desire” as it exists among gay men. In order to explore this, the contributors to this volume examine the intersections of privilege and marginalization in the context of gay men’s lives, and in doing so argue that as much as experiences of discrimination on the basis of sexuality are shared among many gay men, experiences of discrimination within gay communities are just as common. By focusing specifically on race, the contributors give insight as to how hierarchies, inequalities, and practices of exclusion strengthen the central position for certain groups of gay men at the expense of other groups.

In considering how racial desire operates within gay communities, the contributors connect contemporary struggles for inclusion and recognition with ongoing histories of marginalization and exclusion. The book disputes the claim that gay communities are primarily organized around acceptance and homogeneity and shows us instead that there are both considerable diversity and ongoing tensions that affect gay men’s relationships with one another.

This is a very timely account of gay white racism, with much needed attention to Islamophobia, homonationalism, and sexual racism in today’s’ digital age. We see the continued importance of contesting libertarian accounts of racialized sexual desire by looking at the lines between individual subjectivities and the power structures that shape them. Besides acknowledging the continuities between racism in general and gay racism, in particular, it looks at specific articulations, enactments, and effects in diverse gay men’s communities and these include resistance to and even appropriations of racism.

We hear from new voices that give new life to discussions on racism in gay men’s communities. We are reminded of the difficulties many face when race and sexuality come together.

“Vanilla” by Billy Merrell— Vanilla and Hunter

Merrell, Billy. “Vanilla”, Push, 2017.

Vanilla and Hunter

Amos Lassen

Vanilla and Hunter have been dating since seventh grade. They came out together and became a real couple in high school. They are very much in love and as their relationship deepens, we see a few problems. Hunter want to have sex but Vanilla doesn’t know how he feels about that. Hunter has some loud friends that Vanilla sees as obnoxious and does not want to hang out with them.

It is never easy to be a couple in love while still in school and we see that here as Vanilla and Hunter are growing apart and each is discovering new things about himself. Yet their relationship is the one constant thing for both of them.

Vanilla wants to spend more time just being in love with each other before they commit to having sex and he, so he tries to make Hunter understand and while Hunter does understand, he doesn’t know how much longer he can go without sex. He reacts by pushing Vanilla away and finding new friends, talking to other guys online, and trying to figure out what he really wants in life. Vanilla at the same time tries to figure out why he doesn’t want sex or if he is just not ready.

Eventually, as things start to go downhill with Vanilla and Hunter, Clown/Angel is the one that is constantly there for Vanilla, telling him that maybe his lack of interest in sex might not be something that is a bad thing, or maybe that he is actually asexual.

“Vanilla” is the first young adult novel from poet Billy Merrell. It is written in verse and shows a clear understanding of today’s gay youth. Merrell beautifully captures the emotions of adolescent relationships and young love.

The story alternates between three narrators; Vanilla, Hunter, and their mutual friend Clown. Each of the narrators’ sections are distinguished from each other by three different fonts. However, I needed a bit more information about the characters and I would have liked a bit more differentiation between Hunter, Vanilla and Clown. The novel is propelled by the drama and the emotions of the characters and I would have loved to now them a bit more. We see that some freedoms often give way to more problems. Vanilla, Hunter, and their friends struggle to understand their place in the “gay community” and they struggle with the pressures of being gay in high school. They want intimacy, but they don’t know what form that intimacy should take.