Monthly Archives: August 2018

“A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN
”— Prison in Thailand, A True Story

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Prison in Thailand, A True Story

Amos Lassen

“A Prayer Before Dawn” is based on the memoir written by Billy Moore in 2014 about the horrors of the Klong Prem prison in Thailand. It is the true story of a British boxer and heroin smuggler who, in Thailand, becomes addicted to ya ba (a particularly potent Thai crack cocaine) and makes a living selling drugs.

The punches and kicks and the torment from fellow prisoners at Klong Prem is the violence you’ll see in this film. The first time Billy Moore walked into his cell packed with seventy prisoners, the floor resembled a mass grave, with intertwined arms and legs, and the smell of human feces was so strong he almost vomited. That night, he slept next to a dead man. But the most horrific scene is in the boxing ring where the Thai brand of fisticuffs is called Muay Thai. It is Billy’s brutal gang rape that forms the prison’s rite of initiation. Though the editing is itchy, you get the point that you’re better off going straight all your life.

We don’t know why Billy Moore (Joe Cole) went to Thailand where he appears to be the only farang, or foreigner. In his memoir it says that he went abroad to escape a life of heroin addiction and alcoholism in England. Perhaps he thought that indulging in Muay Thai, which allows pugilists to use stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques, would draw the drugs out of his system. This discipline is known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins.

When Billy is not in the ring, he is tormented by the prisoners, who have contempt for a foreigner who doesn’t speak a word of Thai, has no money, allegedly has no family, and has no cigarettes to bum. The boxing is filmed in the usual way with restless editing, which may be necessary if you want your actors to emerge alive but which can nonetheless be frustrating. Some of the Thai dialogue has English subtitles but most of the palaver of the prisoners can be understood without translations.

The film is really about Billy’s redemption, a man who emerges after three years in a Thai hell-hole, then serves time in the UK.“A Prayer Before Dawn” shows Billy getting a legitimate chance to let it all out in the ring. In a final scene we see Billy’s father who in real life is Billy. Aside from Joe Cole the actors are all Thai and former prisoners.

The film is grueling and punishing but it is brilliantly done, and the kickboxing kid Joe Cole is a wonder. Director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s film is a survival story. I understand that before filming started, Cole went through months of extensive boxing training and spent much time with the real Billy Moore and his family in Liverpool.

As I said, the film has a lot of strong violence, including a brutal male rape sequence, drug use and strong language throughout, with some sexual content and nudity. It is a depiction of the brutality of incarceration in Thailand. We are simply dropped into the thick of a disorienting situation with almost no preparation. Opening frames of deep breaths and preparations for a fight give way to a blur of fists as Billy puts the tools of his trade to crunching use. His moonlighting activity, the selling of Thai meth/caffeine concoction ‘yaba’ to dingy strip club goers, soon sees him arrested by the authorities and thrown on the back of a van. The camera follows Billy at close quarters at all times.

Who is this young man? How has he found himself in Thailand selling drugs? Where are his friends, his family? Though the slightest cracks in a stoical exterior will release tiny bits of personal information as his time inside wears on, no back-story is provided; all that matters from here on out is living day by day and, if necessary, hour by hour. The monotony and persistent danger of his situation are reflected in Cole’s extraordinary physical performance. This is in no way limited to his prowess in the ring, and is amazing to watch. Addicted to the drug that got him arrested, Billy’s blind fury and short fuse do not endear him to the heavily tattooed men with whom he shares extremely cramped conditions, sleeping cheek by jowl like sardines. By not subtitling portions of the early exchanges between Billy’s fellow detainees, Sauvaire effectively isolates him in ignorance as well as the claustrophobic confines of their overcrowded cell. A brutal rape scene, which Billy is forced to observe close at hand, makes the price of his silence shockingly clear. The guards show little mercy and their hypocrisy is typified by one of them running his own internal drug business, despite the ruthless punishment to which any abusing the substance are submitted if found in possession.

The heat, the violence, grimy conditions, bitter confinement and continual air of menace make this a debilitating, pulverizing two hours.

“EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC”— The Ultimate Collector’s Edition

“EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC”

The Ultimate Collector’s Edition

Amos Lassen

“The Exorcist” was an enormous box-office success and was followed by a sequel in 1977 by “Exorcist II: The Heretic”. A new two disc set from Shout Factory features the bizarre nightmares that plague Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) four years after her possession and exorcism. It seems that the demon has returned and Vatican investigator and a research specialist use their combined faith and knowledge to free her.

Using exciting production design, special effects and a supporting cast that includes Max von Sydow, Paul Henreid, James Earl Jones, director John Boorman takes us into the tangible experience of evil. However, the sequel is a desperate concoction. “Exorcist II” contains lots of crosscutting between scenes of simultaneous action, in this case involving characters that are supposed to be in telepathic communication. It all looks very busy but not much happens.

The screenplay picks up four years after the earlier events in Georgetown. Father Lamont (Richard Burton), a failed exorcist himself, is commissioned by an old friend, a Cardinal (Paul Henreid), to investigate the original exorcism conducted by the late Father Merrin (Max von Sydow.

When Father Lamont cooperates with Regan’s psychiatrist (Louise Fletcher) in some experimental work involving “synchronized hypnosis” (when the therapist joins the patient in the latter’s trance), all hell breaks loose again, though the being that Father Lamont sees still in possession of Regan is no longer identified as the devil. He’s now called “Pazuzu, king of all the evil spirits of the air.” “Exorcist II” begins by looking foolish and slowly becomes a straightlaced film of the absurd. The fight for possession of Regan’s soul includes several trips to Africa, two to Rome, and finally a climactic one to the same Georgetown house of the first film.

Mr. Boorman’s strength, however, is not in his narrative or in his handling of actors, all of seem to be extremely ill at ease, it’s in his sets and decor. There’s the germ of an interesting idea, probably left over from the original script by playwright William Goodhart that persuaded Linda Blair to sign on to reprise her role as Regan MacNeil. But whatever might have made an interesting sequel was lost in the endless rewrites that continued throughout production.

Regan MacNeil now lives in New York City with Sharon Spencer (Kitty Winn), her actress-mother’s assistant. She attends high school, where she participates in the performing arts, tap dancing extensively, but much of her time is spent at a bizarre psychological institute run by Dr. Gene Tuskin (Fletcher) who comes across as an odd New Age guru. Her clinic consists of a hive of glass-enclosed offices and treatment rooms, where all the patients can see each other, and her major treatment device for Regan consists of a biofeedback “synchronizer” that works as a mind meld machine. The speed with which it puts Regan into deep hypnosis, then allows her to pull someone else into her memories, is absolutely amazing; one could even call it mystical.

Regan isn’t even the central character in the film even though her face featured prominently in the advertising. Father Philip Lamont, a disciple of Father Merrin, who is asked to investigate the late priest’s exorcism of Regan because of vague allegations of irregularities and potential heresies in Merrin’s teachings. He becomes the central character. Via the “synchronizer”, Father Lamont gains access to Regan’s recollection of how Father Merrin died during those few minutes when he was alone with her demonically possessed body, and he becomes convinced that the demon that tormented her, is still a threat lurking inside her.

However Pazuzu was exorcised in the first film. In the muddy theology of this film, Pazuzu’s mission is to destroy certain special individuals who were born to defuse evil in the world and who are distinguished by their ability to heal the sick. The film’s opening scene shows Lamont failing to save such a young girl from Pazuzu in South America. Lamont’s visions lead him to the young boy that Father Merrin saved in Africa, whose name is Kokumo, now an adult (James Earl Jones) and, depending on which version of reality you believe, either a powerful medicine man or a scientist working with locusts. Regan, too, has magical healing powers, as she demonstrates at Dr. Tuskin’s clinic by miraculously drawing forth speech from a silent autistic girl. But, according to Father Lamont, once Pazuzu’s wings have “brushed” someone, they are always in danger. (Or something of that order).

The real purpose of all this mumbo-jumbo is to provide an excuse for Regan and Lamont to return to Georgetown so that Regan can confront her past and so that Boorman can use greet special effects. But despite a plague of locusts, walls that rip themselves to pieces and a floor that collapses beneath Regan’s former bed, we are not frightened. The nearly two hours that lead up to this come from a plot that snot interesting (but great camp fun).

Blair comes off as a total ditz and part of that is by design: Blair seems to have repressed memories of her earlier exorcism. Or not. On this matter, as on many others, the film is fuzzy and not terribly lucid. I had a hard time figuring out exactly what Pazuzu was aiming for this time around. Did he want to repossess Blair’s soul?

Richard Burton eventually learns that Pazuzu travels the world through swarms of locusts and has sinister plans for humanity. His impeccably hammy line readings and sonorous voice do nothing for the film and then James Earl Jones comes along and makes Burton sound like a teenaged. Burton’s trembling man of God is haunted by demons both literal and figurative and he looks like he could use a stiff drink.

Perhaps the film’s central miscalculation is “Pazuzu”. Now Pazuzu is an actual figure from Assyrian and Babylonian mythology and figures prominently in Peter Blatty’s novel,” The Exorcist” but that doesn’t make his name any less ridiculous. No matter how scary the film makes him out to be.

I would argue that the has enough visual magic to fill about ten minutes of screen time. There are some stunning, virtuoso sequences in the film, from a thrilling aerial jaunt over Africa from the perspective of a demonic locust to locusts descending upon Washington D.C. Even though it’s widely ridiculed, the scene involving James Earl Jones in an elaborate bee costume is a haunting and powerful exploration of faith and faithlessness. It’s one of the few sequences in the film where Boorman and ace cinematographer William Fraker achieve the hallucinatory dream state they’re aiming for. It would be a lot easier to buy “Exorcist II: The Heretic” as a mood piece if it was able to sustain a tone beyond clumsy exposition and hysterical camp for longer than a few minutes.

Special Features include:

DISC ONE (118 minute Cut): 

  • NEW 2K scan from original film elements
  • NEW Audio Commentary with director John Boorman
  • NEW Audio Commentary with project consultant Scott Bosco
  • NEW What Does She Remember? – an interview with actress Linda Blair
  • NEW interview with editor Tom Priestley

DISC TWO (102 minute Cut): 

  • NEW 2K scan from original film elements
  • NEW Audio Commentary with Mike White of The Projection Booth blog
  • Teaser Trailer
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Galleries – Color and B&W Stills, Behind-the-Scenes, Deleted Scene photos, Posters and Lobby Cards

“The Jewish Joke: A Short History with Punchlines” by Devorah Baum— A Celebration

Baum, Devorah. “The Jewish Joke: A Short History with Punchlines”, Pegasus, 2018.

A Celebration

Amos Lassen

Devorah Baum’s “The Jewish Joke” is a fascinating and revealing celebration of the great Jewish Joke (excuse the redundancy). It includes stories from many comics and reveals the history, context and wider culture of Jewish joking. The joke has wandered with the Jewish people all over the world and it has been translated into many languages and finds a home in many different places yet it always remains a Jewish joke.

Have you ever thought about what makes a joke Jewish? I know that I had done so before I read this book. Jewish jokes have nothing to do with the liturgy or Jewish spirituality but it is always animated and it never seems to get old. This is one of the things Baum looks at here. We look at what sets Jewish jokes apart from other jokes, why they are important to Jewish identity and how they work. The nature of the Jewish joke ranges from self-deprecation to anti-Semitism, politics to sex, Devorah Baum looks at the history of Jewish joking and asks whether the Jewish joke has a future. 

She balances serious research with light-hearted humor and provides fascinating insight into this well-known and much loved cultural phenomenon. She looks at      the roles Jewish humor has played “as a response to oppression and as a way to mock hypocrisy about religious observance.” There is a lot of humor in the pages of this slim volume and I felt that I was smiling the entire time that I read.

This is not joke book but rather a psychological insight into Jewish life both in old Eastern Europe and Russia and life in any modern Jewish community in the United States. It is filled with genuinely very funny jokes as well as a look at what these jokes signify and how they are used. A sense of humor can be to confront what one finds offensive. including offensive jokes.

Baum attempts to get a hold on the slippery nature of the Jewish people and succeeds. As we read, we hear the jokes as if they are bring told to us. I love the Jewish slang that we have in the jokes and I especially enjoyed what she has to say about religion and that some Jews feel that God abandoned them ( historically) while others would like to measure a suit for God, at a very good price of course.

“The Jewish Joke” also celebrates the contribution of Jewish comedians to our world. We see how Jews make us laugh and we laugh as we read.

“No Ashes in the Fire” by Darnell L. Moore— Queer and Black in Camden

Moore, Darnell L. “No Ashes in the Fire”, Nation Books, 2018.

Queer and Black in Camden

Amos Lassen

Darnell Moore’s “No Ashes in the Fire” is both memoir and social commentary. What we gain here is a deep understanding of being black and gay. Moore not only claims this double identity, he both suffers and revels in it. The idea of blackness has crafted by generations of white supremacy and is paralyzing and narrow. Black Americans have struggled to free themselves of these limited expectations, to transcend being seen simply as other, as “the brutish thug on the corner, the sassy and strong black woman, the cheerfully selfless mammy, or the mindless entertainer.” There is an invisibility of black people that denies the complexity of who they really are as human beings and it has constantly threatened sense of self and undermined ability to realize full potential; it has allowed a justification for centuries of societal and institutional abuse and exploitation.

For LGBTQ black people, it has been worse. They have to deal with racism, disabling as it is for all black people, and their identities as queer and trans living in a patriarchal and dominantly heterosexual world is an extra burden, including one often imposed by their own communities; yet another assault on the psyche.

Thirty years after having been assaulted by three boys when he was fourteen, Moore is a leading Black Lives Matter activist, and an advocate for justice and liberation. In “No Ashes in the Fire”, he shares his journey with us from having been a bullied teenager to finding his calling in the world. He has transcended over many forces of repression and shows us that if we dream, we can create futures in which we can thrive. This is a story about “beauty and hope-and an honest reckoning with family, with place, and with what it means to be free.”

Moore has struggled against bullying, bigotry, and self-loathing and we see his vulnerability. He finds his way to LGBTQ activism and self-acceptance through faith and family. He has dared to call into question the truths we assume about ourselves and those among us.

Moore grew up as a queer black man in Camden, New Jersey in the 1980s. He was loved by his family and cast out by his peers as he his faith, his sexuality and his own self-loathing and self-acceptance. He writes analytically and he is aware and compassionate. He takes us in to his family and his life as if we have always been there. We see how he faced “anti-Black racism, neoliberalism, queer and trans antagonism, inequities in education, the ills of U.S. housing markets and so much more”.

“Night Soil” by Dale Peck— Family Secrets

Peck, Dale. “Night Soil”, Soho, 2018.

Family Secrets

Amos Lassen

Dale Peck’s “Night Soil” introduces us to a mother and son and then presents the queer, complex family history and present education of the narrator and insider-outsider, Judas ‘Jude’ Stammers. We read about family secrets, sexual explorations, art world wealth, and legacies of racism and environmental destruction. Jude’s mother Dixie is an artist and her pottery is lauded. Jude is pathologically shy, and retreats into a world of anonymous sexual encounters at a roadside rest area. He really wants to be in a relationship with one of the boys at The Academy, the private school he attends. The Academy was founded by Judas’s grandfather who had been a nineteenth-century coal magnate. Jude’s mother’s secretive nature, causes him to explore his family’s history, and the Academy’s as well and he discovers a series of secrets that cause him to question everything he thought he knew about his world.

Writer Dale Peck mixes parable and a queer coming of age story to give us this story of love and longing. Here is queer identity at the intersection of art, family, capitalism, and the American racial order.

Jude’s face and torso have a very prominent birthmark and he is a self-deprecating and sexually receptive youth, who eventually is prized by a black boy who attends the Academy. Jude is sexually precocious and has been allowing other males to have sex with him without letting them see him or his body.

The story is beautifully told and intelligently written look at a shy boy who remains detached from others around him. Judas masks his loneliness by escaping through his sexuality. He explores his sexuality in bathroom stalls and anonymous sexual experiences. He will not show people who he really is, not only physically, but personally. As he learns about the secrets his family has kept hidden for generations, he explores who he is and what he wants to be. He knows he can only pursue his sexual desires with random older men although we never learn why.

“The Israel Bible” by Tuly Weisz— Honoring Israel’s First Seventy Years

Weisz, Tuly. “The Israel Bible” (Hebrew and English Edition), Menorah, 2018

Honoring Israel’s First Seventy Years

Amos Lassen

The Israel Bible is the world’s first Bible that truly focuses on the Land of Israel, the People of Israel, and the relationship between them. It is non-sectarian in that it was designed for both Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike. We get a new and unique commentary that explains why God was so focused on the Land of Israel. We have both the original Hebrew text and the New Jewish Publication Society translation. All 929 chapters of the Hebrew Bible highlight Israel and included are relevant quotes and perspectives from prime ministers, maps, charts and illustrations. With what is going on right now in Israel, it is important to know the background and here it is part of the commentary. As a way to understand the situation in Israel today, it is necessary to understand the background and this is what makes this bible so important (and such a pleasure).

Not only is “The Israel Bible” a wonderful translation but it contains beautiful illustrations and excellent study aids. There are charts, study notes and enlightening essays. I think that we often forget that the bible is the story of the connection of the Jewish people to the land that was promised to them by God thus making Israel the central focus and the object of forty years of wandering. Therefore it is important to have as much as possible about Israel in the commentaries and the notes.

Israel is the Torah’s main theme and we understand the major role that it plays by having a Bible that is all about the Land of Israel.

 

“Under My Window” by Michal Ronnen Safdie— Jerusalem From a Window

Safdie, Michal. “Under My Window”, with an introduction by Ari Shavit, Powerhouse Books, 2018.

Jerusalem From a Window

Amos Lassen

Jerusalem is a city where Jews, Muslims, Christians, believers, nonbelievers, residents, tourists, and so many others have come for millennia. It is one of the world’s greatest crossroads and is host to the diversity of humanity. Michal Ronnen Safdie’s home is on a hill in the Old City of Jerusalem, along the border between the Jewish and Muslim Quarters. To the East, it overlooks the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. To the north is the Muslim Quarter with Mount Scopus in the skyline and to the west is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Christian Quarter.

Directly under her window is a narrow alley that is a passageway for thousands of people every day. It is a passage for those entering the Old City through Dung Gate on the south side (mostly Palestinians who go to their workplaces, schools and markets. It is the route of Christians to the Holy Sepulcher and of Muslim pilgrims during Ramadan, and other holidays to the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount. It is also the path that Jews residing in the Jewish Quarter and in the western part of the city us to get to the Western Wall. Most of us can only dream about what she sees from her window everyday.

Safdie has two contrasting perspectives from that window. Across toward the Western Wall precinct are vast ceremonial spaces and the silhouette of the Old City quarters. Directly below the window in the alley and terraces are a great variety of people who seek both the sacred and the morning and evening cycles of life’s routines. Safdie’s photographs capture personal moments alongside large-scale public events in the city of Jerusalem, where belief and ritual come together and shape life.

Michal Ronnen Safdie was born in Jerusalem and studied sociology and anthropology. Her photographs have unusual range. There are subjects from the natural world and there is Jerusalem. I find it difficult to express the emotions that we feel as we look at the photographs in this book and therefore I am better not describing them at all. For me, viewing them is a highly personal experience as it will be for many of you.

“Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of Public Icon” by Charles Casillo— Marilyn’s Secret Selves

Casillo, Charles. “Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of Public Icon”, St. Martin’s. 2018.

Marilyn’s Secret Selves

Amos Lassen

Let me start off by saying that I have never been a fan of Marilyn Monroe yet I am quite a fan of Charles Casillo and have read and reviewed all of his books. What happened with this books, and it is one of many that I have read about the legendary star, it that after all of these years, I am becoming a fan. Writer Casillo has based his book on new interviews and research thus giving us a groundbreaking new biography that explores the secret selves behind Marilyn Monroe’s public facades. Naturally there will be detractors and I say to them, “read this before you have negative comments. You will probably be very surprised”.

I have always been amazed that Marilyn Monroe continues to amaze and captivate us. “Her beauty still captivates. Her love life still fascinates. Her story still dominates popular culture.” I really have no idea why this is so and I find it amazing how it took death to grant her such legendary status. We have not seen this with other actresses who were just as famous if not more so. Casillo now looks years of research and dozens of new interviews to introduce us you to the Marilyn Monroe we have always wanted to know and we see her as “a living, breathing, complex woman, bewitching and maddening, brilliant yet flawed.” She certainly knew how to create an image and sell it.

Casillo has studied Monroe’s life through the context of her times especially in the days before feminism. We learn of Monroe’s struggle with bipolar disorder and learn there were not adequate means of dealing with it. We read once again of her abusive childhood but new we see that despite this, her “extreme ambition inspired her to transform each celebrated love affair and each tragedy into another step in her journey towards immortality.” Casillo concentrates on the last two years of her life, including her involvement with both John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, and the mystery of her last day.

Then there are the little facts that we learn that were unknown to us in the past. Casillo shares that even though there was talk about the rivalry between Elizabeth Taylor and Monroe, we learn that Taylor secretly reached out and tried to help Marilyn during one of her darkest moments. The much spoken of Monroe’s semi-nude love scene with Clark Gable long thought to be lost brings us a new revelation and a few nights before she died, Marilyn met Warren Beatty at a party and shared some of the reasons for her final despair. Casillo has resurrected that last day and he gives us “a meticulously detailed account of the events of her last day, revealing how a series of miscommunications and misjudgments contributed to her death.”

I wondered why Casillo would chose to write a book about a subject that has been covered over and over again and that question is soon answered once I began to read. I was so drawn into the material that I read the entire book in one sitting and then spent several hours thinking about it. As you can see, I am still thinking about it.

This is a wonderfully written look at the mystique of a woman who is still fascinating almost sixty years after her death. We knew she had a troubled life and Casillo pays careful attention to her emotional journey and this is what I believe sets this biography apart from others. She was a real woman who became a goddess and a very complex modern day heroine and an honest and vulnerable woman.

If you think that you knew Marilyn Monroe, you might be very surprised.

“The New American Judaism: How Jews Practice Their Religion Today” by Jack Wertheimer— American Judaism Today

Wertheimer, Jack. “The New American Judaism: How Jews Practice Their Religion Today”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

American Judaism Today

Amos Lassen

American Judaism has had to deal with what many other American religions have had to face of late— social upheavals, a decline in the number of participants over the past forty years, and many who remain active and struggle to find a way to reconcile their holy traditions with new perspectives. These include feminism and the LGBTQ movement to “do-it-yourself religion” and personally defined spirituality. I often find it interesting to take a look at American Judaism today with its many changes and some of the changes have come so fast that it is really difficult to get a total perspective. Jack Wertheimer is a leading authority on the new American Judaism and has set out to discover how Jews of various orientations practice their religion today. He looks at which observances still resonate, and which ones have been given new meaning, what options are available for seekers or those dissatisfied with conventional forms of Judaism and how are synagogues responding. It is all the more interesting when we understand that there is no central body to go to with questions like these and that decisions are made by individuals. Yet there are answers and many of them are surprising.

Wertheimer uses a variety of sources—survey data, visits to countless synagogues, and interviews with more than two hundred rabbis and other informed observers. He finds that the majority of American Jews still identifies with their faith but often practice it on their own terms. Not surprisingly, gender barriers are loosening within religiously traditional communities, while some of the most progressive sectors are bringing back long-discarded practices. We now have “start-ups” led by charismatic young rabbis and the explosive growth of Orthodox “outreach,” and unconventional worship experiences that are geared toward millennials. I remember growing up and being told that we are not a proselytizing religion only to learn that this is not necessarily so today.

LIke I said, there are many surprises about when and how American Jews practice their religion and many possibilities for “significant renewal.” in American Judaism. Judaism is being creative reinvented due to religious illiteracy and dynamic experimentation.

Wertheim gives us his findings descriptively, analytically, and futuristically. This is an important book for those of us who are interested in the future of the Jewish people. We get a lot to think about as we look at Judaism against the backdrop of American religious trends in this country. We have here broad patterns and many details about Judaism as it is today and we get a manifesto for a “powerful prescription for a flourishing, quotidian Judaism” and this should bring about important discussions not just about Judaism but also about religious life today.

 

“PERMANENT GREEN LIGHT”— A French Teen

“PERMANENT GREEN LIGHT”

A French Teen

Amos Lassen

“Permanent Green Light” is a new feature film from co-directors Dennis Cooper and Zac Farley and it is as subversive as Cooper’s most dangerous works of fiction yet without any of the overtly shocking Cooper staples such as killing sprees, cannibalism, and necrophilia or extreme fetishists. It is about Roman (Benjamin Sulpice), a detached French teen who wants to blow himself up in public, not as a grand ideological gesture or to put an end to his suffering, but for the sheer spectacle of it. Cooper’s fiction tends to portray pretty, troubled young guys and the predators who want to harm them As a teen, Cooper was inspired by the work of the Marquis de Sade, and wanting to tap into the dysfunctional family dynamics, reckless drug taking and so he set about writing with an absolute “purity of intent”. His fascination for sexual violence fills his prose, allowing him to explore thoughts and feelings others would never dare to.

Cooper’s novels have a novel way of dealing with sex, as do his cinematic versions of his work. “Permanent Green Light” has a foreboding sense of suburban ennui. His character here just wants to disappear. The film introduces the notion that a person who wants to explode but doesn’t want to die, and above all doesn’t want anyone thinking he has died when he blows himself up in public. It is like searching for the ultimate magic trick that’s completely implausible yet very ephemeral. Roman is the ultimate magician, because he wants to create a total spectacle, which requires complete commitment, whether that is his disappearance or his death.

In this film, none of the characters are objectified or preyed on by older, predatory types. In fact, none appear to even remotely think about sex except one guy lusting after Roman. We are very aware of the film’s deep respect for the complexities and desires that are part of the teenage experience. If Roman was 35 years old, the audience would think that he has mental problems because he is past adolescence and is supposed to be an adult. Roman’s quest is set in that weird teenage period, which is quite scary, volatile and confusing to people, because that’s when anything is possible. Because of the nature of the film, I am limited to what I can say without writing spoilers so I will stop here and leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.