Monthly Archives: April 2019

“Glory and its Litany of Horrors” by Fernanda Torres— From Lear to Sodom

Torres, Fernanda. “Glory and its Litany of Horrors”, Restless Books,  2019

From Lear to Sodom

Amos Lassen

Fernanda Torres, Brazilian actress and bestselling author, gives us a very funny look at the art and artifice of acting. Mario Cardoso is an actor who has everything going for him: fame,  acclaim, a great lifestyle and artistic achievement. His crowning glory is to be his staging a production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear”. Everything is going wonderfully until he sees his co-star dressed as chicken with a diaper and he begins to laugh hysterically. In fact, this happens during each performance.

Then his troubles begin. He gets a call telling him that his mother has been found unconscious on a beach in Rio. He abandons Lear (and his career) and goes to her and becomes involved in the kind of family drama he had been determined to leave behind. His first chance at recovering his career comes in a biblical role in an evangelical TV station’s production of a soap opera, “Sodoma”. He has a torrid affair, finds love, and signs a deal with the country’s biggest TV network for steady work in soap operas. His new life brings him fame and money that theater could never match but … the compromises he’s made in the past come back to bite him  and his next stage set will be one he never could have thought of.

Torres has something to say about the commercialization of the arts as seen through the life of Mario Cardoso, a middle-aged actor who experiences success and the downfall of the profession. He was really unable to get a grasp on the tragedy of Lear, a role for many that is the apex of a career. Set in Brazil in the 60s, we are aware of the horrors of the times. Mario’s personal history runs parallel to what was happening in Rio at the time and it seems that the horrors of the city manifested themselves in him. The political configurations of the government directly influenced the state of the arts. Brazil from 1964-1985 was under a repressive governmental regime, a military dictatorship that infiltrated the New Cinema and

The background of The Glory and its procession of horrors is the Brazil of the 60s. The history that goes largely in the city of Rio de Janeiro, narrates in conjunction with the history of the actor and the theater, the political configurations of the time. The cultural political pieces facing the repressive regime of the Military Dictatorship (1964-85), social context, the incursion into the New Cinema and the savage capitalist system of the time. We feel this throughout the read. Without letting on too much about the plot, I believe that it is fair to say that the book is fun, both comedy and tragedy as we go on a tour through the history of Brazilian dramaturgy and dramatization which are related to us  by a wretched actor, but it is not much more than that. Quite basically, this is the story of a politically committed young actor  who ends up being disillusioned with the idea that art can change the world. It follows worldly success, novels, commercials, as life collapses.

some situations (and people) as told humorously and in an ironic, sometimes ridiculous tone. It is a good-humored view of things that is far more interesting than a depressing and nostalgic view and it keeps the story light.

 

“Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimaging Life” by Louise Aronson— Getting Older

Aronson, Louise. “Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimaging  Life”, Bloomsbury, 2019.

Getting Older

Amos Lassen

Many of us do not want to think about getting older much less talk and/or read about it yet it is a fact of life. We do not see ourselves as older and we certainly not anxious to talk about aging. Not so long ago, I went to an alumni reunion— the 50th anniversary of being awarded a higher degree. My sister who is 20 months younger than I picked me at the airport. I had not seen her for about five years and I thought to myself that she is getting old and then I went to the reunion and had the same thoughts about most of the alumni there who had been my classmates. Of course I realized that if they looked old, so did I.

For more than 5,000 years, “old” has been defined as between the ages of 60 and 70. If that is true, most people alive today will spend more years in elderhood than in childhood, and many will be elders for 40 years or more. However, now that humans are living longer than ever before, old age has become something of a disease, “a condition to be dreaded, denigrated, neglected, and denied. “

Author Louise Aronson uses stories from her years (25) of caring for patients, and takes from history, science, literature, popular culture, and her own life to give us a vision of old age that’s “neither nightmare nor utopian fantasy”.  Her vision is full of joy, wonder, frustration, outrage, and hope (about aging, medicine, and humanity itself). 

I don’t like to admit it but I am old. I see it and I feel it but I try not to let it stop me from doing what I love. Aronson’s empathy, knowledge, and reporting skills give us a look at how today’s elders are treated. Her examination of aging and the human condition is full of poignant stories as well as the viewpoints of medical experts, writers, historians, and scientists. Her knowledge is first hand,  gleaned from her professional work as a geriatrician, her personal experience as a daughter, her common sense, and her analysis of our social supports and cultural messaging.

This is an honest and humane analysis of what it means to grow old in America. The book is part memoir, part history, and part social critique. Aronson is sharply critical of the “anti-aging industry” that has tried to turn being elderly into some sort of disease. She tells us that “life offers just two possibilities: die young or grow old.” Here is a book for those who want to grow old and stay human while doing so. “Elderhood” looks at why aging must be understood and redefined and why the medical establishment’s usual goals of saving lives and curing disease is misplaced and ill-advised for many older patients. Successful aging is possible for those who do not perceive meaning in aging itself, but instead, find meaning in being themselves in old age. Of course, adaptability and self-acceptance are required.

Dr. Aronson tells us that most doctors view medicine from the viewpoint of youth. All but a few medical studies use subjects who have not yet reached 65 years of age. Very few doctors choose geriatrics as their specialty, opting instead to work in more lucrative fields where the prognosis is generally for improved health and vitality. Doctors dealing with the problems of the elderly are more likely to observe patients who are declining in health and who are becoming more fragile.

As we age, our blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels often become elevated. Thinking that these conditions are going to decrease life expectancy, doctors are prone to prescribe medications to counteract the effects of aging but that can also produce serious side effects  that reduce the quality of life for the older patient. Many surgical procedures, should be last resorts to be used only when they are necessary to save the life of the patient.

As we grow older, we lose our independence, become isolated from family, and lose friends to death. As a result, our lives seem to have less meaning and our days become dreary and long. Surgery and medications do nothing to counter these negative aspects of getting old. What we need is greater understanding of the aging process and  an easing  of the downsides of aging.

Aronson’s book is also an autobiography centered on her life experience and medical career  and a critique of geriatrics, American medicine and of how our society deals with aging. She shows us a medical system that is “almost caste-ridden” in its hierarchy of specialties, in which geriatrics is low-rated, as well as American medicine’s fragmented approach to patients, funding, medical training and hospital vs. home care. She shares the shortcomings and the horrors of senior acute care and senior facilities. She explains the gap between doctors’ objectivity and simply “not caring” and a lack of imagination. And she shares some surprises as well but you will have to read the book to find them.

“Immaculate Conception” by I.J. Miller— Two Moms

Miller, I.J. “Immaculate Conception”, Island Publishing, 2019.

Two Moms

Amos Lassen

Maddie and Al are two moms in a committed relationship. Their story begins in the present when two women are stuck in a motel room in Weehawken, New Jersey that is surrounded by a SWAT team and a hostage negotiator. From here we go back in time to see how Maddie and Al were mistreated when they were children. Both women had terrible childhoods and as we watch, we become angry. This is of the beautiful aspects of the book—we are pulled into the story and feel some of the same emotions that the characters feel.

Moving forward here means going backwards to when Al and Maddie met two-and-a-half years earlier when they were working in the athletic department of a small college in Oregon. Beginning as friends, they come together as lovers and decide to have a baby together The way they unravel each other’s defenses and become partners is very well done. They decide to have a baby together and give their child the kind of childhood that they never had.  However, there is a problem who the father is.

Coming back to the present, we have  a climax that stuns us. Maddie and Al went to New Jersey hoping to find safety for their child. The biological father is manipulative and the women had to get away from him. He managed to find out where they were and they are quite literally prisoners of the state’s top hostage negotiator and his personal four-man SWAT team.

This is quite an emotional read as it moves back and forth between past and present. We understand why Al and Maddie are so desperate to keep their baby; it allows them to come to terms with the way they were treated and to try to negate that by raising this child with as much love as there is for them to give. We might say that it is a kind of apology to show that they are able to rise above the way that they were treated.

They also show us how important it is to protect our children at all costs and how much it might be necessary to fight to rise above what they have had to deal with as a result of abuse.

Here are two women struggling to be a part of society and starting their own family. We all deal with conflicts but none quite as difficult as what Al and Maddie have faced and continue to face. I am aware that I have not mentioned what the child’s father is so concerned with and I have no intention of doing so.  (This is a thriller and you would not want me to ruin it by saying too much). Just sit back and put yourself in the hands (and words) of master storyteller I.J. Miller and let her prose take you on a trip you will not forget.

“THE SHAPE OF NOW”— Remembering War

“THE SHAPE OF NOW”

Remembering War

Amos Lassen

Manuel Correa’s experimental documentary “The Shape of Now” is about writing history for the sake of peace and reconciliation.

According to estimates around 200,000 people lost their lives in the 50-year Colombian civil war. Another 25,000 were kidnapped, many are still considered missing. When the peace deal between the government and the FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels was signed in November 2016, guns were banned from the conflict and the country’s population have since faced the almost impossible task of having to agree on a common past. “The Shape of Now” shows us this strenuous process and Colombia’s leaden present from very different perspectives. Like the people of Colombia— the survivors, the grieving mothers, the historians and experts – this film is still in first orientation mode.

When Colombians are asked if they remember the war, each has a different story and different memories. We then ask ourselves if it is possible to write history from so many different perspectives. When we are in grade school, we are taught that history is the story of the past, of what came before us. It isn’t until much later that we learn that history can be totally different from person to person. Herein is the difficulty of writing history.
“The Shape of Now” attempts to present the difficulties of writing history in order to achieve peace and reconciliation.

The film opens us to the lived experiences of different social spheres invested peacekeeping: as scientists, academics and activists try to find possible routes to normalize a war-torn society, a group of elderly mothers find a direct way to approach the possible killers of their disappeared children by forging a necessary and genuine encounter in the attempt to find closure.

The film was made during and in response to the signing of the peace plan  between the government of Colombia  and the FARC-EP guerilla faction. This is a film that must be seen since it cannot simply be written about.

“BACHMAN”— A Biopic About Randy Bachman

“BACHMAN”

A Biopic About Randy Bachman

Amos Lassen

The new documentary, “Bachman”, written and directed by John Barnard explores his life, from his childhood in Winnipeg, Canada to his conversion to Mormonism to his touring life today at age 75. 

Bachman takes us on a guided tour of a warehouse containing his collection of a seemingly endless number of guitars. Bachman beams at them with pride and joy, handling them as if they were newborn babes. Many of us grew up listening to Bachman’s music, a result of his work with The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. He’s one of the rare musicians to have No. 1 singles representing two different bands, and his many hits include “American Woman,” “These Eyes,” “No Time,” “Undun,” “Laughing,” “Takin’ Care of Business,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” “Let It Ride” and “Roll On Down the Highway.” The list inevitably conjures up fond memories of AM radio heard over tinny car speakers during a summer drive.

Bachman is still going strong in his 70s as a solo artist (a large section of the film is devoted to the creation of his latest project, a recently released album featuring the songs of George Harrison) and currently hosts a popular music-oriented radio show on Canadian television.

The film follows Bachman’s life in chronologically, beginning with his modest upbringing in Winnipeg. Discovering his love of the guitar at an early age, he hooked up with popular local singer-songwriter Chad Allan, joining his band Chad Allan and the Expressions. The group eventually became The Guess Who, with Burton Cummings, replacing Chad Allan and with whom Bachman formed a hugely successful songwriting partnership.

From the beginning, Bachman was an anomaly as a rock star. He rejected the common lifestyle of booze, drugs and sex and converted to Mormonism after he met the woman who would become his first wife. His stern sense of morality led to tensions with his fellow players, who eventually kicked him out of the band. Neil Young who is interviewed in the film, expresses the indignation he still feels over the decision. Young says that Bachman “was the biggest influence on me.”

 

Bachman reunited with Allan to form Brave Belt, but the country-folk project, heavily influenced by such bands as Poco and Buffalo Springfield, was short-lived. Not long after, Bachman was persuaded to listen to a singer named Fred Turner at a local bar. Not wanting to venture inside an establishment that sold alcohol, Bachman listened to Turner’s take on “House of the Rising Sun” from an open door. Their resulting collaboration, Bachman Turner Overdrive became a global phenomenon that brought Bachman wealth but that band, too, eventually fell apart due to faltering record sales and interpersonal tensions.

We hear from such musicians as Young, Peter Frampton and Paul Shaffer. But it is Turner, himself, who delivers more personal commentary. Cummings who was  so important in Bachman’s career, is conspicuously not here. Two of Bachman’s children speak about their father but very little about his personal life is revealed. Bachman doesn’t open up about his marriages, his conflicts with other bandmembers, the way he dealt with massive success and then financial ruin, his health problems, the inspirations behind his songs or pretty much anything else of substance. It is Bachman’s love of music that comes through again and again. I just wish the documentary had gone a bit deeper.

“BOOM!”— Taylor and Burton and Tennessee Williams

“Boom!”

Taylor and Burton and Tennessee Williams

Amos Lassen

“Boom!” is often considered to be a comedy horror story of posh, intelligent people letting their hair down in public. It is based on Tennessee Williams’s “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore” about the ‘Angel of Death’ poet and the dying millionaires and stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It is not one of their best movies, though it is still interesting, intriguing and fascinating. At least I think so.

Taylor plays the supposedly dying Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth and Burton plays the penniless poet Chris Flanders, a mysterious man who may or may not be the Angel of Death. Both stars seem to be enjoying themselves but are upstaged by the grand Italian island setting and the wickedly waspish Noël Coward’s ingratiatingly camp turn as the Witch of Capri.

Director Joseph Losey’s 1968 movie is magnificently self-indulgent, an overblown but captivating Sixties kitsch folly, made at the peak of the Burton-Taylor fame. It was directed with a winning lack of restraint, apparently relishing overheating Williams’s already overheated play and the playwright’s own screenplay, but with dialogue mostly lacking in his usual wit. The movie looks smart thanks to the ravishing island location and Douglas Slocombe’s lovely, distinguished Technicolor widescreen cinematography. The score by John Barry, another asset.

Williams’s play “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore” must set some kind of record for literary resurrections. It’s a short story, “Man Bring This Up the Road,” and it exists in no less than three dramatic versions that have received widely publicized professional productions, two on Broadway in 1963 and 1964 (both unsuccessful) and one in San Francisco. It then became “Boom!”, a $5-million color film version. In spite of Williams’s rewriting “Boom!” is still an unconsummated work caught like so many of the playwright’s heroes, midway between a real world and a symbolic one.  With all of its overtones of Indian mysticism, Christian theology and Greek mythology, the movie is essentially a story of the very-very rich that shows that money can’t buy happiness. Mrs. Flora Goforth, who dominates “Boom!” from beginning to end, sits on her Mediterranean island dictating her memoires into a battery of tape recorders. She is, at turns, mean, bawdy, stingy and frightened. She’s had five or six husbands, is a multimillionaire and is now refusing to face the fact that she’s dying. Because she is so healthy looking, it seems only that she must be dying of some dread plot device.

The movie opens with the arrival of a ne’er-do-well poet, Chris Flanders, an aging, turned-around Orpheus, who ascends to her mountain domain, bringing with him a reputation for being the last house guest of wealthy old ladies before death. Half-mocking, half-sympathetic, Chris(t) presides over the last 36 hours of Mrs. Goforth’s life. In effect, he arranges her safe, finally peaceful, passage out of her hell on earth. Miss Taylor, who is not a subtle actress, has no trouble with the robust, shrewish aspects of the wealthy woman from One Street, Ga., but it’s impossible to see the vulnerability in the woman Williams described as “a universal human condition.” She spends a lot of time changing her clothes and fixing her hair. As the Angel of Death, Mr. Burton is earnest and mellifluous. The one unequivocal success is a brief appearance by Noel Coward as the Witch of Capri, Mrs. Goforth’s wickedly gossipy friend.

The mostly negatively reviewed film did little to help the plummeting careers of Burton and Taylor. The film is caught between a real world (of vanity and suffering) and a symbolic one (fuzzy overtones of Indian mysticism, Christian theology and Greek mythology). The only thing that comes through as clear and straight is the beautiful location shots on the coast of Sardinia.

Taylor never makes us feel her vulnerability or want to really care about her. While Richard Burton has a mellifluous poetical voice but is done in because the confrontational chatty scenes have a gloomy air of self-importance and lack dramatic inspiration. The highly stylized film is ineffective in conveying that this a study of universal suffering and instead remains fascinating as its questionable worth is to watch the famous stars emote in such a flowery but pretentious manner.

There are different kinds of bad movies. Some are simply wretchedly bad, like well, you know. Others are bad but fascinating and “Boom!” is one of these. It isn’t successful, it doesn’t work, but so much money and brute energy were lavished on the production that it’s fun to sit there and watch.

 Taylor and Burton exchange 90 minutes of Tennessee’s peculiarly formal dialog, and you begin to realize that this was done before in Williams’s “Night of the Iguana.” In that the man was a failure, but he had a poetic spark that the dominate and successful woman hungered for. Williams has written this story more than twice, no doubt for reasons of his own.

Well, about 10 minutes into the movie you get its most exciting moment. Goforth-Taylor stands in the window of her modernistic castle, observes that Burton has come aboard and decides that the time has come once again to take unto herself a lover. Taylor seems to embody a kind of deadly beauty, and we anticipate a moral struggle to the death between her and Burton. However, this tension dissipates.

The sets are great and Flora Goforth lives in a house that seems to be carved of Ivory soap. Everything is white, or gray, or in shadow. Her clothing is white and black. The crags of the mountain are always behind, the sea is always below. In this strange world, the characters rattle instead of breathe. Still Taylor is there and Burton, and you can watch them struggle with this impossible movie or simply watch them.

“The Fourth Courier” by Timothy Jay Smith— A Thriller

Smith, Timothy Jay. “The Fourth Courier: A Novel’, Arcade Books, 2019.

A Thriller

Amos Lassen

Set in 1992 Poland, Timothy Jay Smith takes us on an espionage thriller that does not slow down. We are in Warsaw at the end of the Communist era and several “grisly” murders whose victims may have been couriers smuggling nuclear material out of the defunct Soviet Union becomes an international affair. The FBI sends an agent to help with the investigation who learns that a Russian physicist who designed a portable atomic bomb has disappeared and with time of the essence, the race is on to find him and the bomb.

Assigned to the case are James (Jay) Porter,  a straight, divorced white FBI agent and Kurt Crawford, a gay black CIA officer who team up to uncover a gruesome plot that involves “murder, radioactive contraband, narcissistic government leaders, and unconscionable greed.” The cold and atmospheric Warsaw is a world where nothing is as it seems to be and this makes the case even more difficult.

Porter arrived when the fourth victim is discovered, killed in much the same matter as the others. These victims or ‘couriers’ seem to have been contracted to help smuggle items out and deliver them to a physicist. Unfortunately, the scientist has disappeared and thus makes it important to locate him and learn of the intended destination of the nuclear material. General Drako Mladic of the Yugoslav Secret Police soon appears on Porter’s radar. We learn that Mladic is sadistic and ready to kill anyone who stands in his way. His living in one of Europe’s most unstable regions adds to the difficulty of getting to him. Porter realizes that he will have to work alongside the most unlikely of partners to end the courier route and stop what could be a new international disaster. We can only imagine how terrible it would have been if the original plan had actually taken place. I was glued to the pages and read this in one sitting.

FBI Agent Jay Porter provides a taste of America to the story and it is fascinating to read how much attention he pays to detail.  ‘American flavor’ to the newly freed Polish setting. The case is a challenge to traditional police work and because it is set in a foreign country, there are other difficulties. Porter pushes, using some strange connections to help reveal clues to point him in the right direction. He understands the difficulty of the case and the probability that it will take a while to crack but he does not let that hinder him.

This is a dark story and the characters help to shape its darkness by adding conflicting personalities that force the reader remained focused throughout. Intrigue is high and there are many layers to the story.

Porter and CIA agent Kurt Crawford along with their Polish counterparts are concerned about the security of nuclear material stockpiled by the USSR during the Cold War. Power in the Communist countries now lies in the hands of a Mafia-like cohort composed of former intelligence and military men.

General Drako Mladic, the head of Yugoslavia Secret Services  dreams of being the next leader of his country and plans to consolidate his power by buying the most dangerous weapon imaginable. Dr. Sergej Ustinov, a Russian scientist has developed a portable nuclear bomb and thus can solidify Mladic’s hopes. The Director of Organized Crime, Basia Husarska, is a femme fatale well-who sleeps with Mladic and anyone else necessary to achieve her personal goal of escaping Poland. CIA agent Kurt Crawford is the gay black male version of Husarska who doesn’t hesitate to use his sexuality or his color to gain information. Jay Porter is able to handle this case while, dealing his divorce and custody battle and looking for a new love.

The danger with reviewing this is in giving something away that would spoil the read and I prefer, therefore, to step back from the plot and mention the brilliant prose and the well-drawn characters. Books like this can be difficult to read because of the tremendous amount of background necessary to set the scene and get the story moving. There are times that this is a slow read but the pay-off is the overall execution and the bringing together the thrills and suspense that make this genre so positive. Timothy Jay Smith has done an amazing job here and I say that as one who does not read thrillers regularly. There is a great deal more here than I have let on but hopefully I have enticed you into having a look at “The Fourth Courier”.

“Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales” by Oliver Sacks— The Final Volume

Sacks, Oliver. “Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales”, Knopf, 2019.

The Final Volume

Amos Lassen

It was not until I received “Everything in Its Place” that I really realized that this was the last book from Oliver Sacks. His books  were important to me not only for reviewing purposes but also because I was able to see Sacks, the man behind the words and he became a friend of mine. I did not have to meet him or know him face-to-face— it was his prose that took me into his life and now that is gone forever. There always seemed to be something by Sacks to read but this was the end, a final volume of essays that showcase Sacks’s broad range of interests–from his passion for ferns, swimming, and horsetails, to his final case histories exploring schizophrenia, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

Oliver Sacks was a scientist and storyteller and he was beloved by readers for his neurological case histories and his fascination and familiarity with human behavior at its most unexpected and unfamiliar. This book celebrates Sacks’s many interests and told with his characteristic compassion and erudition and in his glorious prose.

Sacks writes with his characteristic compassion and attention to detail as he gives us one last peek into his “generous, curious, and brilliant mind.” While cancer may have claimed his body, his voice continues to be strong and this is a fitting end to an exemplary literary and medical career,. It features “the essential humanity and spaciousness of mind that his readers have long come to expect . . . with a voice, breadth of curiosity and kinship with life all his own . . . passionate . . . [and] engrossing.”

Sacks will be missed, “not only for the elegance and potency of his writing, but for his critically important championing of science in an age of science denial . . . Warm, edifying, highly personal essays.”  Up until the end he remained full of curiosity and awe whether he was discussing botany or the intricacies of the brain. He wrote with natural candor and wisdom and he taught us all so much. Sacks was my friend even though I never met him. He was a man who happened to be gay and his self-acceptance was a model for so many. He was a celebrated author and neurologist who had thoughts about everything and he willingly shared them. Sacks has already been gone four years and it took that long before we had the opportunity to read everything he wrote. Sacks has written so much about so many different topics that his voice will continue to speak to us in spirit if not in person.

The essays in this collection span a range of diverse interests. They are divided into three parts – the first part deals with childhood and family, the second deals with neuroscience and the kinds of fascinating case studies which made him famous, and the last contain miscellaneous thoughts about his interests and family.

In the first section he shares his lifelong love of swimming  and childhood experiments, his love of museums of geology and natural history, a marvelous paean to the chemist-poet Humphrey Davy, and a somewhat bittersweet contemplation of libraries in which he has something to say about the replacement of so many great paper books by impoverished online versions.

In the second section he writes about patients with neurological challenges. In doing this he goes beyond simple descriptions of disorders like Alzheimer’s diseases and depression. He describes how Alzheimer’s is increasingly seen as a reorganization of the brain rather than a simple degeneration where patients connect with areas of the brain which have been previously enveloped by layers of complexity. Under the right circumstances, Alzheimer’s patients can be every bit as alert and responsive to specific stimuli as anyone else. There is also  a fascinating chapter on the history of mental asylums which shows just how far we have come in treating the mentally ill with dignity.

The third and last section speaks of many of Sacks’s personal loves and these include gardens, gefilte fish, the periodic table and the discovery of super heavy elements, a trip to Colorado Springs and a mesmerizing interaction through a glass panel with an orangutan. The final chapter which was published in the New Yorker recently is poignant and leaves one feeling sad. “It laments the lack of human connection engendered by our obsession with devices, and Sacks talks about how depressed he feels when he sees everyone who was previously nodding, smiling and talking on the streets of New York lost in their devices and screens, seduced by pieces of fleeting information.” Sacks questions the coming of technology that seems to sap us of our human and emotional juices. He also sees science as a saving grace for us, and a final note of hope that humanity will continue to endure: “As I face my own impending departure from the world, I have to believe this – that mankind and our planet will survive, that life will continue, and that this will not be out final hour.” Even as he bids us goodbye in this final essay collection, Sacks’s  writings live and will continue “to inform, stimulate and inspire as long as men and women read, listen to music, care for loved ones and revel in the excitement of science.” I guess I will continue to reread them until I join Sacks at that great library somewhere else.

“BOSCH: THE GARDEN OF DREAMS”— A Mystery Within a Mystery

“Bosch: The Garden of Dreams”

A Mystery Within a Mystery

Amos Lasen

 “The Garden of Delights” is Hieronymus Bosch most famed and intriguing painting and a mystery within a mystery. In 2017 we will be celebrating his 500th birthday and as a special gift we have this cinematic exploration off the painting. Through unique images granted by an exclusive access to the Prado Museum, the film explores and seeks to unveil all the unanswered questions about the painter himself, the painting, and explain the inspiration that it has had in writers painters, musicians from all over the world. It is like being witness to the process of X-raying the painting, and its restoration. Everyone will learn something new.

“The Garden” is the most enigmatic painting in art history. It is an “unbridled fantasy of this erotic delirium, with encrypted messages, poetic fable” that  for centuries has fascinated all who have been fortunate to contemplate it closely. Undoubtedly this is because we do not know where to look and can’t stop commenting on what we see.

There are still many mysteries surrounding the painting but at the same time there are elements for everyone: bright colors, complex action, comedy, tragedy, mystery, sin, life, death, and perhaps even redemption. Yet still the work can be appreciated and captures the viewer even without revealing it’s meaning. Therefore thousands of people gather around it daily in the room where it is displayed at the Prado, trying to decipher what it means.

José Luis López-Linares’ feature-length analysis of Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” is a thoughtful seminar on an artwork that has lasted for centuries and inspires gallery-goers. 

The film opens Bosch’s triptych and explores the three panels in depth. A series of talking heads featuring art experts, historians, and art lovers (and author Salman Rushdie) speak about “The Garden of Earthly Delights”. They offer an appreciation of the work’s depiction of Heaven and Hell. López-Linares captures the scale of Bosch’s work and the extraordinary detail of the piece through close-up analysis on the visual level of the canvas as well. We, in turn, get a full view of the artwork’s provocative bacchanal with lots to think about.

There is a lot going on in Bosch’s work and the documentary zooms into special sections of the painting as the experts unpack its meaning. Discussions of symbolism and religious allegory complement commentary about the technique and details. We get here an analysis of the painting’s mix of divine salvation, orgiastic pleasure, and nightmarish punishment.

“The Garden of Earthly Delights” is the most famous and intriguing work by Early Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch, an artist who is as much as an enigma as his painting which in 2017 celebrated his 500th anniversary. Aside from the afore mentioned  Rushdie, interviewees include such notable figures as Orhan Pamuk, Renee Fleming, William Christie, Philippe de Montebello, Ludovico Einaudi and John Eliot Gardiner.

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cinephiles who have been left behind.”
 —Monica Altmayer, NONFICS
On Friday May 3, 2019 independent streaming platform OVID.tv will add 14 new titles to its growing catalog of over 350 documentaries and independent feature films from distributors including Distrib Films, First Run Features, Icarus Films, KimStim. The new additions include films by Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day, starring Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey, Alex Descas, and Beatrice Dalle; Heddy Honigmann’s O Amor Natural, based on erotic poetry of Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and the newly restored version of Time Regained by Raul Ruiz, along with a doc about H.R. Giger (Alien designer). More information on each title is below, and information on all the distributors involved is here.

OVID.tv is currently available on Apple TV, Apple iPad, Apple iPhone, Amazon FireTV, Roku, and Android devices. After a free introductory 7-day trial, customers in the U.S. and soon in Canada (Fall 2019) are able to access OVID for $6.99 per month, or $69.99 annually.

 

Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s World
Directed by Belinda Sallin
Icarus Films/KimStim, Documentary
A glimpse into the life and art of surrealist H.R. Giger of ALIEN fame.
“Giger’s work shows us, all too clearly, where we come from and where we are going.”—Timothy Leary

 

Jean Rouch, the Adventurous Filmmaker
Directed by Laurent Védrine
Icarus Films, Documentary
An exploration of the role Rouch and his films played in developing cinema in Niger.
“He created a sort of film school of the streets… Even for today’s generation, Rouch’s name means something.”—Sani Magori (filmmaker)

 

Mademoiselle Paradis
Directed by Barbara Albert
First Run Features, Fiction Features
Starring Maria Dragus, Devid Striesow, and Lukas Miko
A gifted and blind 18th-century Viennese pianist works with an extraordinary physician to restore her sight, but she slowly begins to realize that her recovery is coming at a terrible price.
“Sensual historical drama. A fresh, engrossing portrait that feels entirely modern.”—Variety

 

Number One Fan
Directed by Jeanne Herry
Distrib Films US, Fiction Feature
Starring Sandrine Kiberlain and Laurent Lafitte
A divorced beautician with two children is shocked when her celebrity crush knocks on her door looking for help.
“An exceptionally well-polished French thriller.”—Variety

 

O Amor Natural
Directed by Heddy Honigmann
Icarus Films, Documentary
A documentary on Brazil’s relationship with the poetry of Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and to their own sexuality.
“This warm, simple film uncovers a rich vein of ageless, grassroots sensuality and joie de vivre.”—Variety

 

Stefan Zweig: Farewell To Europe
Directed by Maria Schrader
First Run Features, Fiction Features
Starring Josef Hader and Barbara Sukowa
In 1936, author Stefan Zweig leaves Austria for South America to escape the specter of Nazism.
“A Masterpiece.”— The Huffington Post

 

The Outsider
Directed by Christophe Barratier
Distrib Films US, Fiction Feature
Starring Arthur Dupont, François-Xavier Demaison, and Sabrina Ouazani
A 31-year-old trader in one of Europe’s largest banks stages a big-money fraud.
“Slick and entertaining dramedy.”—The Hollywood Reporter
2016 Brussels European Film Festival
2016 Hong Kong – FCP

 

The Stopover
Directed by Delphine Coulin & Muriel Coulin
First Run Features, Fiction Feature
Starring Ariane Labed (The Lobster, Before Midnight, Black Mirror) 
At the end of their tour of duty in Afghanistan, two young military women, Aurore and Marine, are given three days of decompression leave with their unit at a five-star resort in Cyprus, but it’s not that easy to forget the war and leave it behind.
“Gutsy, tense and disturbing… A cracking good film!”—The Hollywood Reporter
Winner, Best Screenplay, Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes

 

The Strange Little Cat
Directed by Ramon Zurcher
KimStim, Fiction Feature
Fans of Bela Tarr and Franz Kafka will find much to love in this film about an extended family-dinner gathering.
“Highly choreographed and buzzing with life; everyday actions and conversations take on a syncopated strangeness and a balletic grace.”—The New York Times
2013 Cannes Film Festival
2013 Toronto International Film Festival
2013 Berlin International Film Festival

 

This is Our Land
Directed by Lucas Belvaux
Distrib Films US, Fiction Feature
Starring Émilie Dequenne 
Fictionalized story based on France’s right-wing resurgence.
“Essential viewing for its damning critiques.”—Film Inquiry
2017 Rotterdam International Film Festival
2017 Istanbul International Film Festival

 

Time Regained
Directed by Raúl Ruiz
KimStim, Fiction Feature
Starring Catherine Deneuve, John Malkovich, Emmanuelle Béart, Vincent Perez, Marcello Mozzarella, and Chiara Mastroianni
A lush, elegant epic taking us on a time-swirling trip down the infinitely complex labyrinth that is Marcel Proust’s memory lane.
“A triumph of classical cinematic values.”—The New Yorker
2000 New York Film Festival
1999 Cannes International Film Festival

 

Trouble Every Day
Directed by Claire Denis
KimStim, Fiction Feature
Starring Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey, Alex Descas, and Beatrice Dalle
Score by the Tindersticks
Denis’s most controversial, divisive and under appreciated film shocked audiences for its graphic depictions of carnal lust as a cannibalistic disease.
“Denis creates a horror film unlike any other, buttressing the shocks with an eye and an ear for beauty.”—The A.V. Club
2001 Cannes International Film Festival

 

Until The Birds Return
Directed by Karim Moussaoui
KimStim, Fiction Feature
In Algeria, past and present collide in the lives of a newly wealthy property developer, an ambitious neurologist impeded by wartime wrongdoings and a young woman torn between the path of reason and sentiment..
“It’s heartening to see such delicate stories of ordinary people come to the fore.”—Screen International
2018 New Directors/New Films, NY
2017 Cannes International Film Festival
2017 Vienna International Film Festival
Vic + Flo Saw a Bear
Directed by Denis Côté
KimStim, Fiction Feature
Starring Pierrette Robitaille and Romane Bohringer
Lesbian ex-cons try to start anew in the backwoods of Quebec, but their idyllic life is constantly interrupted by a nosy probation officer and a strange woman from the neighborhood.
“Sumptuous cinematography… Complex and convincing characters.”—Film Comment
Alfred Bauer Silver Bear Prize, 2013 Berlin International Film Festival