Monthly Archives: November 2017

“PULP”— A Comedy/Thriller

“PULP”

A Comedy/Thriller

Amos Lassen

Mickey King (Michael Caine) is a successful pulp novelist who is invited to ghost-write the autobiography of a mystery celebrity. His client, Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney) is a former actor -known for his gangster roles and real-life gangster connections. Now death is close at hand and King finds his job to be a lot more complicated than he first imagined.

Director Mike Hodges excels with the darker side of human nature and gets one of Caine’s finest performances with “Pulp”. Michael Caine, in one of his very finest performances, plays Mickey King, a writer of paperback pulp thrillers such as “My Gun Is Long” who is cornered by the associates of a faded Hollywood star named Preston Gilbert. Before King can meet Gilbert, he must go on a mystery coach tour. Soon, dead bodies are turning up and Mickey realizes that he’s in way over his head.

We see that he banality of the world is often lit up by people who are so much larger than life it’s hard to believe that they really exist. The film is an analyses the allure of fictional violence; glamour, machismo and the lack of consequence making this a very funny viewing experience. It also has a darker side which is largely kept as an undercurrent always close to the surface. Mickey King thinks he knows what’s involved in being the tough guy but the reality is that he really doesn’t. King may be physically prepared for the challenges that await him in the real world of violence and he’s hopelessly lost, drifting around in the middle of a sea of human corruption. When the film was first released in 1972, it flopped but since then it has gathered a small cult following over the years.

Extras include:

Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements, supervised and approved by director of photography Ousama Rawi, produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Original 1.0 mono sound

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Brand-new interview with writer-director Mike Hodges

Brand-new interview with director of photography Ousama Rawi

Brand-new interview with assistant director John Glen

Brand-new interview with Tony Klinger, son of producer Michael Klinger

Original theatrical trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector s booklet containing new writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

“Mink Eyes” by Max McBride— Duty, Fatherhood, Friendship and Love

McBride, Max. “Mink Eyes”, Arjuna, 2017.

Duty, Fatherhood, Friendship and Love

Amos Lassen

In “Mink Eyes”, author Max McBride gives us a look at both “the formal and informal workings of our legal system and the schemes and scams germinating in the underbelly of the business world”.

Our story begins in October 1986 when we meet Private detective Peter O’Keefe a man who is physically scarred and emotionally torn Vietnam vet. His best friend, ace attorney Mike Harrigan hires O’Keefe to investigate a mink farm Ponzi scheme in the Missouri Ozarks. Soon, O’Keefe finds himself in a web of money laundering, cocaine smuggling, and murder all under the hands of a–woven by a mysterious mobster who we come to know as known as “Mr. Canada.” Tag Parker, a beautiful woman, is also involved in all of this but she also becomes the object of O’Keefe’s dreams and nightmares.

Yes, this is a detective story about “murder, addiction, obsession, sex, and redemption” and we see these through the themes of duty, fatherhood, friendship and love. Peter O’Keefe is a reluctant hero who struggles every day to choose in favor of life over death.

I cannot say much about the plot because to do would ruin a wonderful read. The story is propelled by its larger than life characters and it moves rapidly. Be prepared to clear you day before you start to read because one you do, it is hard to walk away from this book.

 

“Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic” by Richard A. McKay— Following An Idea

McKay, Richard A. “Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic”, University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Following An Idea

Amos Lassen

 “Patient Zero” is popularly understood to be the first person infected in the AIDS epidemic and has been the key to media coverage of major infectious disease outbreaks for more than three decades. Yet the term itself did not exist before the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. We have wondered how quickly this idea came to exert such a strong grip on the scientific, media, and popular consciousness. Richard A. McKay in “Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic” interprets a wealth of archival sources and interviews to demonstrate how this seemingly new concept drew upon centuries-old ideas—and fears regarding contagion and social disorder.

This is a carefully documented and sensitively written account of the life of Gaétan Dugas, a gay man whose skin cancer diagnosis in 1980 took on very different meanings as the HIV/AIDS epidemic developed. He also received widespread posthumous infamy when he was incorrectly identified as patient zero of the North American outbreak. McKay shows how investigators from the US Centers for Disease Control inadvertently created the term inadvertently when they were researching the term amid their early research into the health crisis at the beginning and how an ambitious journalist amplified the idea in his determination to reframe national debates about AIDS. Many people struggled with the notion of patient zero by adopting, challenging and redirecting its powerful meanings in order to try to make sense of and respond to the first fifteen years of an epidemic that was unfolding before their very eyes. This book untangles the complex process by which individuals and groups create meaning and allocate blame when faced with new disease threats. In effect, McKay gives us revisionist history.

Below is the Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments

List of Abbreviations

Introduction: “He Is Still Out There”

  1. What Came Before Zero?
  2. The Cluster Study
  3. “Humanizing This Disease”
  4. Giving a Face to the Epidemic
  5. Ghosts and Blood
  6. Locating Gaétan Dugas’s Views

Epilogue: Zero Hour—Making Histories of the North American AIDS Epidemic

Appendix: Oral History Interviews

Bibliography

Index

“The Videofag Book” edited by William Ellis and Jordan Tannahill— Four Years

Ellis, William and Jordan Tannahill, editors. “The Videofag Book”, Bookthug, 2017.

Four Years

Amos Lassen

In October 2012, gay lovers William Ellis and Jordan Tannahill moved into a former barbershop in Toronto’s Kensington Market neighborhood. They turned the shop into an art space called Videofag which. Over the next four years became a hub for counterculture in the city. They hosted performances, screenings, parties, exhibitions, and all kinds of queer activates. Eventually William and Jordan broke up and closed the space for good in June 2016. The time they spent there had taken its toll and the men were exhausted and their love seemed to be worn out.

This is a chronicle of those four years and is related through multiple voices and mediums. It is a “personal history by William and Jordan; a love letter by Jon Davies; a communal oral history compiled by Chandler Levack; a play by Greg MacArthur; a poem by Aisha Sasha John; a chronological history of Videofag’s programming; and a photo archive curated by William and Jordan in full color.”

“Keeping On Keeping On” by Alan Bennett— Diaries and Essay, 2000-2015

Bennett, Alan. “Keeping On Keeping On”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

Diaries and Essays, 2005 to 2015

Amos Lassen

Alan Bennett’s third collection of prose, “Keeping On Keeping On” is hilarious, revealing, and intelligent. It is made up of Bennett’s diaries from 2005 to 2015 including his much celebrated essays, his irreverent comic pieces and reviews. Taken as a whole, it reflects a decade in which Bennett had four major theater premieres and the films of “The History Boys” and “The Lady in the Van”. This is a classic history of a life in letters.

Bennett writes about the injustices of private education, Maggie Thatcher and the creeping erosion of the British National Health Service as he shares what it was like to become famous. He shares his feelings about those he calls “the hypocritical English” even though he comes from a working family that was also hypocritical. He is amazed by his own ‘success,’ both as an entertainer and as a moral crusader. He writes about justice, or “fairness” and about being simply being ordinary (the way he sees himself). He loves churches, country life, picnics and he really loves, as we see here, reminiscing.

Bennett abhors commerce and the public commercialization of standard rights and feels that the right of entry to public buildings, mainly National Trust properties and libraries should be run by private companies. Bennett has something to say about politicians and sees Thatcher as evil even though her electorate loved her. He sees Tony Blair as a traitor.

Bennett writes with wit, insight, honesty and a rage against injustice and fakery and has interesting thoughts on some major events. He makes us think and causes us to laugh (with him). He believes that there is hope that the world is civilized and humane.

“The Uruguayan Book of the Dead” by Mario Bellatin— The Mysteries of Resurrection

Bellatin, Mario. “The Uruguayan Book of the Dead”, Phenome Media, 2017.

The Mysteries of Resurrection

Amos Lassen

In “The Uruguayan Book of the Dead”, Mario Bellatin blurs the line between reality and fiction. He writes to a mysterious correspondent he has only met once and in this he looks at mysteries of the resurrection of the flesh. In detail, he writes about the fantastical events that took place during his unusual existence including travels with Sergio Pitol to Cuba, having a massage by a blind masseur in an underground storefront at a Mexico City metro station, and meeting a family of dwarf bullfighters. He uses no timeline preferring to tell his story through real or fictional characters that are fully alive. 

Bellatin diffuses time and space and we find ourselves suddenly becoming the narrator that he created. The constant movement of the book makes us believe every word he writes. He shares his dreams, desires, truths and stories as he captures a life and its plural essence and nonexistence. Eternity is almost a cycle that connects constantly and we live his life with him.

“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.