Monthly Archives: May 2019

“EVERYTHING IS FREE”— “True Love Conquers All”?

“Everything is Free”

“True Love Conquers All”?

Amos Lassen

Ivan (writer-director Brian Jordan Alvarez) is an American painter living in Columbia who falls for Cole (Morgan Krantz), his best friend’s younger brother. Though not gay himself, Cole returns his advances, but will older brother Christian (Peter Vack) be ok with that?

In the years after art school, gay American painter Ivan (writer-director Brian Jordan Alvarez) has relocated to a coastal town in Colombia to focus on his craft. After some time apart, his straight best friend and former roommate, Christian (Peter Vack), comes to visit, bringing his younger brother, Cole (Morgan Krantz), along. Before long, Ivan and Cole (who generally identifies as straight) start secretly sleeping together. When Christian finds out, difficult and surprising emotions come to the fore and not just for the three men but also for the diverse circle of fellow American expats and tourists around them.

The plot line is something so many of us can  relate to (falling in love with one of your straight friends). It seems that Ivan has had a habit of doing this, has finally gotten in too deep which he would come to regret.

Cole makes the first move but he very hesitantly draws out his flirtation with Ivan who very quickly is falling for him.  When they finally get physical with each other it’s clear that the passion between them is mutual. During the day when they all hang out together with the two girls they met when they first arrived, Cole falls back into the role of a girl-crazy young man that is expected of him, especially by his overprotective brother. It is when Christian discovers what the two men have been doing on the downlow, he goes loses it.  When Ivan confronts Cole he retracts everything that has happened between them insisting that he is not gay and that he was only experimenting.

The cast is talented but “Everything is Free” has a simple plot line, that somehow it messes up. There are long, mostly silent shots of Alvarez, wandering the Colombian beaches or staring quizzically into the camera. One of the major flaws is the self-indulgence of its creator and star. It’s a little ridiculous how much time is spent slowly zooming in and panning out of Alvarez’s chiseled body..

The love story has no plot and does nothing to make an audience care about any of its characters. A quick hookup turns into a torrid love affair with no actual conversations taking place. Friendships are made almost instantly and discarded just as quickly. The audience is given little and less in way of character development. We know nothing about these characters or why we should care about them. Although Alvarez seems to try and talk about queerbaiting and gaslighting by straight men, the plot is simply not given time to develop, and the characters lack depth.

 

 

“RESURRECTING THE CHAMP”— A True Story Based on a Lie”

“Resurrecting The Champ”

A True Story Based on a Lie

Amos Lassen

“Resurrecting the Champ” is about fathers and sons and the power of redemption and it is inspiring and powerful. Erik (Josh Hartnett) plays a “Denver Times” sports writer who we see as a competent workhorse coveting the glory of a more talented man. He covers the boxing beat and his editor Alan Alda, thanks him for “filling pages.” When Erik encounters a battered homeless man (Samuel L. Jackson) who claims to be beloved ex-heavyweight contender “Battling” Bob Satterfield. Erik sneaks behind Alda’s back to David Paymer at the Sunday magazine section, and pitches him a touching, expansive personal profile of the fallen champ. At one time Satterfield was ranked No. 3 but now he’s an old, homeless and remembering past glories. He remembers the past in detail. Erik is separated from his wife (Kathryn Morris). He tells his son Teddy (Dakota Goyo) about all the celebrities he meets.

Jackson disappears into his role and is completely convincing. He’s realistic, even philosophical, about his life and what happened to him. However Erik who is efficient enough but doesn’t have enough the edges and angles to be a sportswriter.

Rod Lurie’s film is a fictionalized drama based on fact, takes the form of a story about a journalist who comes to learn about life, love and writing by doing a story about a homeless man. But it could just as easily be described as a movie about a man with little character who learns how to scam the system.

We learn a lot about Erik from the way his estranged wife, looks at him. She sees him as a lousy writer and he’s lousy because there’s something flawed in his character. He blots out whatever truths he doesn’t like.

We see him having conversations and then later describing those conversations  and each time his description doesn’t match up with reality. He has a character problem, and yet the movie never confirms that by having some unimpeachable voice of authority state it. However, neither do we see him as a complete loser. Erik has generous impulses but seems unformed.

He finally stumbles onto a good story when he finds a Satterfield living on the street. Through small bribes and manipulation as well as genuine interest and concern, he persuades the man to open up and tell his story. He sees “the champ” as his ticket to the big leagues, maybe television.

Bonus Materials

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the main feature
  • Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Surround, French 5.1 Dolby Surround
  • English, Spanish and French Subtitles
  • Feature Audio Commentary from Director Rod Lurie
  • Resurrecting the Champ Behind the Scenes Featurette (SD, 4:24)
  • Interviews with the Cast and Crew of Resurrecting the Champ (SD, 6:26)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:26)

“The Jewish Century” by Yuri Slezkine— Interpretative History

Slezkine, Yuri. “The Jewish Century”, New Edition, Princeton University Press Reprint, 2019.

Interpretative History

Amos Lassen

Yuri Slezkine’s, “The Jewish Century begins with this idea: “The Modern Age is the Jewish Age, and the twentieth century, in particular, is the Jewish Century.” The metaphorical yet it totally backs Yuri Slezkine’s provocative thesis that Jews have adapted to the modern world so well that they have become models of what it means to be modern. The focus here is on Russian Jews, including émigrés and their offspring and it is also an original account of the many faces of modernity including nationalism, socialism, capitalism, and liberalism. Slezkine uses his deep insight and skills of analysis to present  Jewish, Russian, European, and American history. It is a detailed study that has us rethink how we understand the situation of the modern Jew.

This is “one of the most innovative and intellectually stimulating books in Jewish studies in years.” Slezkine argues that the Jews were, in effect, among the world’s first free agents. They traditionally belonged to a social and anthropological category known as “service nomads,” an outsider group specializing in the delivery of goods and services. Their role, Slezkine argues, was part of a broader division of human labor between what he calls Mercurians-entrepreneurial minorities–and Apollonians–food-producing majorities.

Since the dawning of the Modern Age, Mercurians have taken center stage. In fact, Slezkine argues, modernity is all about Apollonians becoming Mercurians–urban, mobile, literate, articulate, intellectually intricate, physically fastidious, and occupationally flexible. Since no group has been more adept at Mercurianism than the Jews, he contends, these exemplary ancients are now model moderns.

The book concentrates on the drama of the Russian Jews, including émigrés and their offspring in America, Palestine, and the Soviet Union. But Slezkine has as much to say about the many faces of modernity–nationalism, socialism, capitalism, and liberalism–as he does about Jewry. Marxism and Freudianism, for example, sprang largely from the Jewish predicament, Slezkine notes, and both Soviet Bolshevism and American liberalism were affected in fundamental ways by the Jewish exodus from the Pale of Settlement.

This an excellent, thought provoking and controversial read. If you are at all interested in how Jewish culture and Zionist culture defines and expresses itself, then you must read this. We look at all aspects of Ashkenazi culture as it inter relates with gentile culture, from literature, to ideology, to business and economics and casts an anthropologists look at social life at a simple level everywhere. Some readers and critics see “The Jewish Century’ as a justification for anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic tropes, whilst others see it as a very thorough study of the role of Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries, an area of academia which has often been played down, repressed or totally ignored (because of the trauma of the Holocaust). Jews have been highly influential in every aspect of 20th century life, and Slezkine honestly and openly examines this.The author is engaged in a curious dual process; to make a sociological theory and to explore Jewish history in the twentieth century. The first he does in an interesting manner, however it has the weakness of all theories dividing humans into categories for academic analysis. It is useful but to much just falls through the cracks. For instance the phenomenon of warlike merchant peoples is aluded to vaguely but not examined enough. Are they Mercurian or Apollonarian peoples? It is clearly not the case that a people needs to renounce force or political competition to succeed as service nomads and in fact many did not. Nevertheless it is an interesting idea, and succeeds as a mythic archetype.

You might think that since Slezkine is a scholar, this may not be for the layman. However, it is well written and for everyone.

 

“Tubstrip” by Jerry Douglas— A Play

Douglas, Jerry. “Tubstrip”, with a foreword by Jordan Schildcrout,
Chelsea Station Editions, 2019.

A Play

Amos Lassen

 Jerry Douglas’s “Tubstrip” is a risqué comedy set in a gay bathhouse was a produced onstage in 1973-1974 and was very popular. It was a time of gay liberation and sexual revolution. The gay press saw it as “funny, sexy, and important” by the gay press and it ran for 140 performances off-Broadway, then toured to eight cities over nine months, and returned to Broadway starring legendary adult film star Casey Donovan in the lead role. Despite its unprecedented success and acclaim. This is the only published edition of the play.

In the foreword Jordan Schildcrout kooks at the importance of the play as one of a wave of erotic gay plays (of which most are either forgotten or lost) that were produced between 1969 and 1974. We also have rarely seen publicity photos, posters, and advertisements from the original production of the play.

I know Jerry Douglas as a writer and director of “all male” films, including the classic “The Back Row” yet he is a graduate of Yale Drama School. He went on to have a major career in gay male pornography between 1989 and 2007. 

“Tubstrip” is set in the central lounge of a popular New York City bathhouse on the Tuesday evening that the Academy Awards are being televised, a night when most  self-respecting gay man in New York is watching the telecast.  The play opens with silence  as we see the young attendant Brian, the play’s main character, sits alone in a suspended bamboo cage chair “in a fetal position.” This is a hint on what is to come, with Brian “leaving the nest of his egg-shaped chair and metaphorically taking flight”; destination unknown. At just the same time, we see Darryl, a client of the bathhouse coming out of the pool completely naked. We immediately sense a juxtaposition between above and below, air and water, the mind and the body, the romantic and the erotic. Darryl wants Bryan and tries to catch his eye with  sexually provocative poses.

There are nine characters in the play and each comes to this bathhouse with his individual sexual and romantic desires giving us an idea as to different kinds of relationships and how they come into being. We have Richie, a romantic and naïve young man who is searching for his lover Darryl, who has surreptitiously come to the baths in search of sexual variety. Andy is a witty black queen infatuated with Brian. We have Tony, a sadist, and his lover Kevin, a masochist; Dusty, a hustler; Wally, a 59-year-old skin-flick mogul looking for new talent; and Bob, a Viet Nam veteran who knew Brian in high school. The stage is filled with young and attractive actors, almost all of whom, at one point or another, will be naked. We get a fantasy version of a bathhouse; yet, even as it celebrates sexual liberation, it dramatizes many of the tensions that were evident in the emerging gay sexual culture, between sex and romance, promiscuity and monogamy, sadomasochism and consent, competition and community.

As Kevin Winkler has noted, the bathhouse was a theatrical space, not just for professional entertainers like Bette Midler, who famously got her start performing at the Continental Baths, but for the men cruising and engaging in sex.

At the baths, it seems there was always a show going on and everyone is a performer of some kind. Much of the comedy of “Tubstrip” is from how one seems himself at the bathhouse which is really a kind of playhouse for the kids. It is a breeding ground of sexual fantasy, comes from an awareness of the theatricality involved both in the presentation of self and the pursuit of sexual fantasy in which people might wear masks and play roles, but it is also actually a place where truths are revealed, and by the end of the play, many of the characters see each other—and themselves with honesty and clarity.

We learn that Brian, was a gawky high school freshman who had a crush on the macho heterosexual athlete Bob. While he was at war, Bob received letters from Brian, which piqued his sexual interest in a kid he barely remembered. Now Bob, entering the bathhouse in full Green Beret uniform, has come searching for Brian, and he is impressed to find that the “short, skinny, uncoordinated” freshman he knew has grown into a good looking and desirable young man.

The bathhouse is a place where erotic desire is unleashed and lovers, liberated from social restraints, can meet their proper match. But in order to maintain that romance, the lovers must then leave the forest behind and return to the “civilized” world. (as we see Wally do.)  The central plot of Brian and Richie focuses on traditional notions of romantic fidelity. They, too, can have their desires fulfilled at the bathhouse.

The character most pulled by the tension between sexual exuberance and romantic longing is Andy, “a chatty flirt” and “a black queen” who has some of the best comic lines. We see that Andy and Wally moving toward deeper friendship and mutual support. Andy is very much part of the sexual action of the bathhouse. His romantic pursuit of Brian and his flirtations with other patrons are often played for comedy, but they are also rooted in his genuine need for affirmation in a community that too often leaves gay black men out of its world. Andy feels he is not getting enough attention, he emerges wearing an enormous Afro wig.

people confuse S&M with bad relationships in which one Many person dominates another or treats another badly. S&M is a sexual act in which both partners treat each other well. Many of the play’s characters do not understand this distinction and show concern over the abuse Tony heaps on Kevin, including handcuffing him naked and face down on the pool table.

“Tubstrips” creates a fantasy in which characters connect—as sexual partners, as romantic lovers, as friends, and as a community.  It does not deal with issues of the closet or the traumas that often came with coming out and no one is in agony over how they became gay, we have no alcoholism or drug addiction. We have gay love, sex, and affection as exciting, fulfilling, and achievable. While this was once considered fantasy, time have changed greatly.

On the stage, there was speculation as to wondered whether mainstream critics could “tolerate anything gay that is so open and healthy” with “nine naked men, eight of them quite attractive, and lots of hilarious lines. The play would be of no interest to anyone not a homosexual but it is actually very well crafted, the several plots skillfully managed, the laughs beautifully built up to, the characters nicely differentiated, and everything highly professional.”  

Vito Russo disagreed and said that plays like this are staged and pretend to be a product of our liberated culture” but actually just “exploit the situation to make a buck” from members of the gay community who will “pay any price” to see nudity on stage. “The nudity is one element of the larger theatrical fantasy, which also includes the pleasure of seeing one’s world represented, of being an insider who understands the meaning of that world, and of seeing gay romance and eroticism validated in a manner still rare in mainstream culture.”

Reading this I really do not see  conflict between the erotic and the legitimate theatre. Rather, it is interesting and fun to read about the erotic within the legitimate. “Tubstrip” is significant for helping to open the theatre as a venue for the expression of gay romantic and sexual desire. Gay sexuality in the 21st century is quite different than it was in the era of sexual liberation. The AIDS crisis, the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the use of apps like Grindr as a tool for meeting sexual partners have radically changed the ways that queer men experience their sexuality. It’s more difficult for “vintage” plays to maintain a place in the culture, particularly when critical disdain caused them to go unpublished until now. Yet revisiting erotic plays of the gay liberation era can do much more than offer the pleasures of nostalgia. We see how our experiences and fantasies of sex and romance are constructed by our changing social realities and we can thing more clearly about how we experience desire today and imagine ways in which we might experience it in the future.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography” by John C. Collins— Unraveling the Controversies Surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls

Collins, John C. “The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography”, Princeton University Press, 2019.

Unraveling the Controversies Surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls

Amos Lassen

If there were only two words to describe the Dead Sea Scrolls, they would probably be discovery and fascination. They were first discovered in the caves at Qumran in 1947 and appear to have been hidden in the Judean desert by the Essenes, a Jewish sect that existed around the time of Jesus. They continue to inspire veneration to this day. This book is not about what I written in the scrolls but rather a biography in which John Collins tells the story of the scrolls and the bitter conflicts that have occurred since their discovery.

Collins explores whether the scrolls were really the property of an isolated, quasi-monastic community or more broadly reflected the Judaism of their time. He looks at the impassioned disputes surrounding the scrolls and Christianity and looks at endeavors to “reclaim” the scrolls for Judaism after the full corpus became available in the 1990s. Collins describes how the decades-long delay in publishing the scrolls gave rise to sensational claims and conspiracy theories.

This is a clear and easy to read look at the Scrolls. The subject has always seemed to be clothed in myth. The writing is clear and precise and Collins writes about the different interpretations from various scholars and he summarizes the historical debate about the Scrolls.

“Queer X Design: 50 Years of Signs, Symbols, Banners, Logos, and Graphic Art of LGBTQ” by Andy Campbell— An Illustrated History

Campbell, Andy. “Queer X Design: 50 Years of Signs, Symbols, Banners, Logos, and Graphic Art of LGBTQ”, Black Dog & Leventhal, 2017.

An Illustrated History

Amos Lassen

Andy Campbell’s “Queer X Design” is the first illustrated history of the iconic designs, symbols, and graphic art that represent more than 5 decades of LGBTQ pride and activism–from the evolution of Gilbert Baker’s rainbow flag to the NYC Pride typeface launched in 2017 and beyond.

This is one of those fun books that can be looked at again and again. It is organized by decade from the days of pre-liberation through the seventies to and through the millennium. It is both uplifting and inspiring as well as a colorful celebration of the symbols that have been with us along the way. Liberation is a movement that constantly evolves and while we have made great strides there is still a lot to do.

 Included in the collection are Gilbert Baker’s original rainbow flag, ACT-UP’s Silence = Death poster, the AIDS quilt, and Keith Haring’s “Heritage of Pride” logo, as well as the original Lavender Menace t-shirt design, logos such as “The Pleasure Chest,”. There are protest buttons such as “Anita Bryant Sucks Oranges,” and sidebars throughout will cover important visual grouping such as a “Lexicon of Pride Flags,” that explains the now more than flags that represent segments of the community. Of course, the  pink triangle is here as well.

“Birthday: A Novel” by Meredith Russo— “Two best friends. A shared birthday. Six years…”

Russo, Meredith. “Birthday: A Novel”, Flatiron Books,  2019

“Two best friends. A shared birthday. Six years…”

Amos Lassen

Meredith Russo’s “Birthday” is a heart-wrenching and universal story of identity, first love, and fate. It is a beautifully written addition to the growing canon of transgender literature and also to mainstream literature. Eric and Morgan share a birthday, and everything else, too. We follow them on six of their birthdays and just on their birthdays and as we do we read a gorgeous and quiet story about love, friendship, family, community, sexuality, identity and gender. We also explore the transgender experience with its harsh realities and its optimistic hope. The story broke my heart and put it back together. I am writing this with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. Through the alternating voices of transgender girl Morgan and cisgender boy Eric, two childhood best friends face the reality of identity and the intense longing of two teens who feel trapped in their slow-burn romance

Eric and Morgan would never have become friends if it weren’t for their shared birthday. Their families being trapped at the hospital together for three days during a freak blizzard in September also helped. Since that day before they can even remember, Eric and Morgan have always celebrated their birthday together.

But it turns out being friends forever doesn’t guarantee that things will stay the same forever. The story here starts when they’re thirteen. Morgan isn’t happy and knows she needs help. But she doesn’t know how to articulate that she’s suffering and feels trapped. Especially if it means hurting her father–the only parent she has left–or losing Eric.

Eric doesn’t know how to balance the person he wants to be with the person his father expects. He knows that he could be popular and maybe happier if he focuses more on football. But how can he do that if it means leaving Morgan behind?

Over the course of five birthdays Eric and Morgan come together and grow apart. There will be breakups, make ups, secrets, and surprises. But through it all they’ll always have each other.

We follow Eric and Morgan across five birthdays in alternating chapters from the age of thirteen to eighteen as they come of age in small town Tennessee. While Morgan struggles to find the strength and vocabulary to articulate that she is transgender and lives as her true self, Eric has to figure out how to break out of his father’s toxic orbit before he crashes.

Eric and Morgan are dealing with difficult issues and the isolation when it feels like no one can possibly care or understand. Despite this heaviness, we see both characters find a way through. Their character arcs also emphasize how important it is to find support as both Eric and Morgan build support systems with family, friends, and in Morgan’s case an understanding therapist.

This is an important, timely novel with themes of acceptance, fate, and of course love  that add nuance and depth to this unique and hopeful romance.  Here is a little sample:

ERIC: There was the day we were born. There was the minute Morgan and I decided we were best friends for life. The years where we stuck by each other’s side―as Morgan’s mom died, as he moved across town, as I joined the football team, as my parents started fighting. But sometimes I worry that Morgan and I won’t be best friends forever. That there’ll be a day, a minute, a second, where it all falls apart and there’s no turning back the clock.

MORGAN: I know that every birthday should feel like a new beginning, but I’m trapped in this mixed-up body, in this wrong life, in Nowheresville, Tennessee, on repeat. With a dad who cares about his football team more than me, a mom I miss more than anything, and a best friend who can never know my biggest secret. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to become the person I am inside. To become her. To tell the world. To tell Eric. But when?

“MATTHIAS & MAXIME”— A Heartfelt Tale of Male Longing

“Matthias & Maxime”

A Heartfelt Tale of Male Longing

Amos Lassen

Xavier Dolan’s new film is about Max (Dolan) and Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas). Max is preparing to leave for Australia and this disturbs his friends It is a coming-of-age film, or a coming-of-thirty something film or even a look at  a bunch of friends for whom things would never be the same again after that summer. It is a love story and a personal film about a group of friends in French-speaking Canada. Maxime (Dolan) is  a young guy with a skin-pigmentation disorder whose career prospects have been hindered by looking after his troubled mother (Anne Dorval). We see some serious arguments between the two complete with a sobbing, mirror-punching retreat to the bathroom. But now Max is going travelling in Australia and handing his mother over to his aunt.friends are all vaguely disturbed by the imminence of his departure and what it means. Handsome, clean-cut Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) is in a straight relationship and trying to climb up the ladder in his law firm. Things change when his annoying sister Erika, a would-be movie director, makes a short film and persuades Matthias and Maxime to be in it  and they have to kiss. The experience which was supposed to be laughed off actually affects both men deeply and revives long-dormant feelings.

In a sense, the film is about the symptoms, direct and indirect, of this new confusion and excitement. Matthias and Maxime’s new secret affects their friends without anyone quite acknowledging or grasping it, resulting in a monumentally violent argument about the rules of charades.

Max is fooled by the ancient prank of the voicemail message made to sound like someone has answered the phone. He is desperately anxious to get away to Australia and we see how he is scared of his feelings and holds onto his hard-won freedom from his mother. But he can’t make the trip without a letter of recommendation from Matthias’s father, for whom he did a work-placement scheme. He shows how excruciating it is for him to keep phoning Matthias’s dad’s secretary, in his awful English, to get this bit of paper.

The film is propelled by dialogue: people talking, talking, talking. Sex is the one thing that stops the flow. We see that the feelings involved are increasingly real and deeply felt. There is a tender and gentle film.

Centering on a pair of childhood best friends who are grappling with their more-than-platonic feelings for each other is affecting but the purpose and passion of Dolan’s other movies is just not present here.

We do not really care about the characters and their tangled sentiments. The bond between the titular protagonists is never established enough for us to fully feel the aftershock of that catalytic embrace. While this is perhaps Dolan’s least abrasive work, it’s also among his least involving.

We first see Matt and Max side by side on the treadmill, two twentysomething besties sweating it out. Scruffy, tattooed Max who comes from blue-collar suburban Montreal, works at a bar and takes care of his ailing mom. Handsome Matt  is more ambitious and put-together, a corporate-ladder climber with family connections and a slightly prissy side (his friends tease him about always correcting their grammar).

Early on, the two meet up with four of their close long-time buds at a lake house for a weekend of smoking pot and shooting the shit. Also present is Erika (Camille Felton), the younger sister of one of the guys there, who announces that she’s making a short film and needs two men to play the leads.

Max and Matt end up being the lucky duo. Dolan suggests their brotherly intimacy but doesn’t spend much time delineating their particular dynamic — what their closeness consists of, what makes their friendship work..

The impact of the kiss on Max is deeply felt and it causes Matt to take a frenzied early-morning swim across the lake and back as a kind of sublimation. Matt and Max go their separate ways after the weekend and stay  apart for the story’s long middle stretch. Max tends to family business, while Matt distances himself from his friends, telling girlfriend Sarah (Marilyn Castonguay) that he’s tired of the gang’s same old “jokes and songs.” Both boys do a lot of sulking and soulful staring into the distance.

Dolan is a fine actor who is controlled and sympathetic, and D’Almeida Freitas is a brooding romantic figure. But psychological realism proves a challenge for the filmmaker, and we never really see the emotional turmoil of these two young men. We understand that they’re fighting to fully grasp, and accept, their feelings for one another, but since we don’t really know the specifics of their bond — their shared history, their chemistry — those feelings don’t have meaning or fascination.

Dolan fills in the background with broad strokes and secondary figures and the erotic tension between the two is clear; the character’s function, aside from suggesting the “homosexual undertones of back-slappy, boys-club machismo, is less so.” Things come to a head at Max’s farewell party in a scene that gives off some heat but the emotion is never actually felt.

“I want to understand,” Max pleads with Matt toward the end, in the screenplay’s most evocative and haunting line. The mysteries of male desire may indeed be profound but there is still a question to be answered.

“HEROES SHED NO TEARS” — Trademark Style of Hyperkinetic Action and Violence

“HEROES SHED NO TEARS”

 Trademark Style of Hyperkinetic Action and Violence

Amos Lassen

Never Before Released on Blu-ray in North America, “Heroes Shed No Tears” is a high-octane release from Film Movement Classics with new extras including an interview with star Eddy Ko and a new essay by Asian film authority Grady Hendrix. “Heroes Shed No Tears” ix a precursor to his breakout film “A Better Tomorrow” and demonstrates the beginning of his trademark style of hyperkinetic action and violence. Woo identifies this as his “first real film” after a series of low-budget slapstick farces. This film built the foundation for his over-the-top genre films that would follow. 

Hong Kong action veteran Eddie Ko stars as soldier-of-fortune Chan Chung, the leader of an elite Chinese commando force enlisted by the Thai government to capture General Samton, a powerful drug lord from the Golden Triangle.  After a successful raid on the general’s headquarters, the mercenaries cross into Vietnam and meet a barbaric colonel (Lam Ching Ying), who is determined to stop them at any cost. Now pursued by both Samton’s henchmen and the colonel’s troops, the heroes flee for the border of Thailand, outmanned and outgunned by their enemies.

The film has a brilliant new 2K digital restoration for optimal viewing experience and while it is over 30 years old but the carnage is still unflinching and holds nothing back in its onslaught of staged combat.

This is the sort  of movie that Hollywood loves to make the characters are so dislikeable, the plot so formulaic and the political undercurrents so dubious that the best action in the world is not going to make things right.

To some director Woo is the king of modern action cinema and he starts the film with a bang. The first time we lay eyes on the squad they’re already at General Sampton’s camp and ready to attack, and the moment the opening credits finish they’re off. In many respects what follows is familiar action movie stuff – the commandos have big weapons, shoot from the hip and kill twenty black-dressed bad guys in a single sweep, while the heavily armed would-be protectors of the multi-million dollar drug business run around and shoot wildly in the air. The action itself is briskly shot and staged and the battles peppered with slow motion and Woo’s signature two-handed gunfights, first with pistols, then later with assault rifles and grenade launchers.

It is early in the film to start sympathizing with the bad guys. This is a story of a band of warriors fighting their way back to home base against the odds.

The problem, is character development, of which there is little. The one-dimensional and ruthlessly evil villains will come as no surprise to those who have seen Hong Kong action cinema. The dice-addicted Chin, for example, who is happy to gamble with a local tribal chief and relinquish him of valuable religious relics, but when the chief reacts by threatening Chin’s life, he escapes by blowing the man and his companions to smithereens and cracking a joke. Then there’s Chau, who’s clearly only joined up for the money. At one point he goes on a looting spree by stripping bodies of their valuables, but when a man he mistakes for dead refuses to give up his gold teeth and bites Chin’s fingers, Chin responds by blowing his brains out. When he is killed a few minutes later I couldn’t help thinking he’d asked for it.

Collectively the platoon tend to shoot first and not ask any questions later and are prepared to kill anything that makes moves against them. To up the stakes a little, a second bunch of bad guys is introduced led by a particular nasty military officer who wears dark glasses, makes a ritual of dressing, and shoots people without a flicker of emotion. To prove how ruthless he is, he has a couple of members of a local tribe strung up and shot to pieces, threatening dire consequences for the rest of them if they do not attack. For the first time I felt real sympathy with characters in the film – these people live a simple existence and have no interest in this conflict but are forced to participate to protect the lives of their families. The commandos know nothing of this and don’t waste time investigating – when the tribesmen attack they just slaughter them.

As the action intensifies, the implausibility factor increases, culminating in a grisly scene in which a character is shot, has his eyes sewn open and is hung in the air with a pole wedged in his behind for three hours, an ordeal from which he emerges with his vision intact and his body in fighting fit shape.

There are  moments throughout where the brutal and the beautiful come together. The drugged-up sex scenes were added at the insistence of the studio.

 BONUS FEATURES 

  • Interview with star Eddy Ko 
  • New essay by author, film programmer, and Asian film expert, Grady Hendrix

“Rattlesnake Allegory” by Joe Jimenez— Solitary and Manhood

Jimenez, Joe. “Rattlesnake Allegory”, Red Hen , 2019.

Solitary and Manhood

Amos Lassen

Human emotions seem to have no permanent form and they are varied among all of us. It would seem that we are familiar with joy but it also has its variations. Joe Jimenez looks at human emotions in “Rattlesnake Allegory” and thematically these poems are about “the moment inside the body / when joy is not born as much as it is made out of anything / the rest of the world doesn’t want.” 

We explore aloneness and manhood as articulations of want, desire and loss after transformative experiences. Jimenez writes personal poetry and how he got to know his body and “recognizing a queer brown body inextricably belonging to lineages of loss, and then realizing that some new body has emerged from where the old parts were lost or taken”.  “Lechuza Sketches” is a sequence of four poems that close the collection in which the poet speaker manifests the Tex-Mexican folkloric figure of a lechuza, the human-owl hybrid said to inhabit parts of South Texas and the Northern Mexican border. While this may not seem clear to you in this review, when you read the collection, everything will fall into place.

One summary review I read said that this is a collection of poems “about more deeply engaging with one’s queerness, one’s brownness, and understanding that there are parts inside us we never knew existed”. I would go a step further and say that these poems are about marginalization in a world that chooses not to see us as part of it. This can based upon skin color, sexuality, religion or anything that makes us feel different. “In the world, some part of us is often / unseen / & not glorious. / But what if we are? / Glorious. Seen.”

I have always felt that desire and loneliness go hand in hand and the longing that comes from these keeps us longing for love and acceptance. As I read here, my eyes often filled with tears and my skin itched as if to tell me that this is what wanting to be accepted is like. It should be no surprise that these is a sense of sensuosity here as well.

“The clock has whittled itself down to a minute,

& so it is time for this moment I am sharing

with you to end, which means you & I—

we are no longer alone.”

Jiménez’s poetic skill and use of repetition gives his poems a feeling of deep  intensity and sincerity., to the often-surprising and sparkling imagery. His imagery is powerful and his poems are brilliant and beautiful. Unfortunately, these poems may only be known to a select few who know him and his publisher. It is difficult to make people aware of new poets. I want people to read Jimenez so tell your friends about him. Jimenez writes what we feel.

“in a world, some part of us is often

unseen

& not glorious.

But what if we are?

          Glorious. Seen.