Monthly Archives: May 2020



Looking Back

Amos Lassen

Sometimes looking back at a person’s productive output can bring wonderful rewards and such is the case with director Steven Vasquez. His short film, “”Rose and Alexander” is a gem that is about to be discovered by many now that it is being released online.

We meet a young woman by the name of Rose Delongpre (Laura Reilly), the daughter of a mentally ill father (Joseph Haggerty), for whom she wants acceptance in society. At the same time, Alexander (Brandon Ryan Puleio) her overprotective brother to whom she is sexually attracted has some kind of hold on her and from which she tries to be free. On her own, Rose has to deal with a murder, her being raped and the child that she is carrying.  

The story and characters are beautifully developed in just 40 minutes. You do not want to miss this.






A Noble Attempt

Amos Lassen

Produced for the Golden Age of Television, “Wuthering Heights” was an exceptional production that starred Richard Burton, Rosemary Harris, Denholm Elliott, Cathleen Nesbitt, Barry Jones, John Colicos, and a young Patty Duke. It was adapted from the Emily Bronte novel by James Costigan and it was a live television production. Burton sometimes overacts, but so did most stage actors on live television. Acting live without breaks except for commercials was much like acting for the stage and unlike acting for films which was done in short scenes. Television performers were not projected live but rather shrunk to a 12-inch screen so that even in his quiet moments, like he tells Cathy’s husband, recalling their childhood fantasies, that he had become rich by recalling that he was the son of the emperor China, his powerful voice booms loudly It’s fascinating to see Burton at age 34, fresh from Broadway and London stage triumphs, fit and younger than we are used to. This is one of the few extant examples of his television work. This is a fascinating film to finally see, for Burton’s fans but also to those who enjoy superior actors tackling strong roles in adaptations of a classic literary works. Burton is satisfyingly savage, barbaric, and quintessentially Heathcliff, in the role that every male actor yearns to interpret.

The way those early live productions were filmed gives them a cardboard cutout appearance. The sets look like they’re carved out of foam rubber, and then painted with hard black outlines. The actors/actresses appear smudgy, and the black and white looks like gray and beige. The farmhouse of Wuthering Heights looks spectacularly dirty and decrepit.
Rosemary Harris matches Burton in his power. she gives a bravura performance as Catherine; as her sanity slips away she’s appropriately bizarre. Denholm Elliott is good as the shallow Linton, and seeing John Colicos as loathsome Hindley Earnshaw is amazing. Cathleen Nesbit expertly holds the cast together as the one person who thinks kindly of all the people in her orbit, as the servant Nelly.

As I said, live TV in those days required a bit of over-acting because of the 12-inch screens but when seen on our widescreen TVs now, it looks as if the actors are shouting right in our faces so this has to considered while watching “Wuthering Heights.”
“Wuthering Heights” shows that harsh environments create harsh people, that isolation can cause men and women to give free rein to their emotions, and those emotions can spiral out of control and spill over into the world outside of their isolation. Bronte tells us that this is what life should be like and not hidden away . When Emily Bronte published the novel, many reviewers were repelled by the violent emotions it contained; polite society dictated that emotions be kept in check. Bronte kept her emotions to herself her entire short life but beneath her tightly bound demeanor was passion. The only place she  could speak about her true self was in her one novel, and her poetry.
“Wuthering Heights” was a production from first season of the “Dupont Show of the Month,” sponsored by the DuPont Corporation.

The decision to leave in the DuPont commercials is a unique confluence with this precise moment in history. There are issues in looking at this copy of the film. The print is unclear, due in part to the original recording method, and in part because it was designed for showing at the then-standard 480-line television standard.

The book is an early tearjerker, a precursor of the soap opera. Of course, the genre was not as antique and ridiculous as it was when Miss Brontë had written it. The conclusion that the frustrated sexual urges of Heathcliff and Cathy are never consummated lead inevitably to misery and madness are the point of the novel, and the TV version strongly makes this point as Burton glowers and rants, chews the scenery in a way that would have deafened the audience.

This show was originally shown live, a genre of entertainment that has effectively disappeared. Modern shows are recorded and edited and tweaked in post-production It is ridiculous to compare this to a modern show and it needs to be considered as it is.



Sick Fun

Amos Lassen

As I watched “Gutterballs”, I thought to myself that it is adeliberate attempt to make the most extreme, repugnant slasher film imaginable with all of its exploitative elements exaggerated so far that good taste was out of the question. It is filled with perhaps the highest profanity counts in movie history and filled with gore, verbal venom, sexual violence and mutilation. I do not think there’s never been anything else quite like it. 

Set at the Xcalibur bowling alley, a bunch of filthy-mouthed jerks get together after hours to bowl thanks to a permissive janitor. The worst of the bunch is Steve, a bully who winds up leading a gang rape against Lisa, the girl who jilted him and crushed his foot with a bowling ball during an altercation. The next night, Lisa (possessing miraculous recuperative powers) returns to the scene of the crime for another night of fun and games. This time, however, a mystery player named BBK shows up on the scoreboard, and the body count quickly begins. 

Featuring a gory death every few minutes, “Gutterballs” spares no one. A transvestite probably gets the worst of it in the film’s tasteless plot, and there’s also an unforgettable death by 69 sequence along with other outrages that make sure you won’t be bored . The film seriously overplays its hand during the finale and gives us to at least three twists too many. But it is that ferocity that makes it hard to turn away.

Director Ryan Nicholson shocks first with the pool table rape scene adding brief hardcore insert shots involving a bowling pin thus making the film even more extreme.  “Gutterballs” is sick gore and a lot of nudity with totally unlikable characters yet it’s still an impressive.

Two groups are at war and want to settle it with a bowling match. One group is made up of consists of evilly abusive, misogynistic frat-boys; the other group consists of cute chicks, random dudes, gay stoners and a transvestite. The characters were set to stun for this so we must suspend disbelief for as long as possible. 

Everyone abuses the hell out of each other for a while before the leader of the frat-gang is brutally pummeled by a member of the other team. The only recourse is for the frat-boys to work up to a little semi-pornographic gang rape. Next night it’s back to business: stupid bowling alley manager is a constantly insulted, gang leader who constantly screams “fuck off and get me a fucking beer” to everyone, the rape-victim is acts weird and a mysterious killer with a bowling ball bag on his head does really terrible things to everyone. 


U have to to give Ryan Nicholson credit for making a sexually explicit, graphically violent, morally repugnant, bad B-movie. On the plus side, after a ‘slow’ start, there are plenty of cringe-inducing, hyper gory and disgusting murders that take place. “Gutterballs” avoids being painfully self-conscious. It takes its so-over-the-top-it’s-corny mis-en-scene seriously. Even though it’s beyond unbelievable, and its performances ae awful but I  was not insulted just nauseated.

It is quite easy to become tired of the F-word and angry at yourself for spending time with these characters but you’ll never forget “Gutterballs”. Everything shocks in violent film. Even though it is not meant to be taken seriously, violent gang rape and death by 69 are hard to forget and the film is a supreme representative of sincere and total badness. Corny performances are totally in earnest, the awful characters (whose names I chose not to give here) make you cheer for death, and blood spews like nobody’s business. All in all, “Gutterballs” is sick, sick, sick fun.



Journey to the End

Amos Lassen

Set in Stockholm in the early 1980s, we meet young Rasmus (Adam Pålsson) and Benjamin (Adam Lundgren) who fall in love at the same time as the AIDS epidemic came to Sweden and their circle of friends is soon dying. Writer-comedian Jonas Gardell gives us a very emotional chronicle of an era based on actual experiences and memories. It is touching, funny and frightening as it moves to its bitter, dark end. The film is also a look at religious fanaticism and a society that would prefer to pretend that the epidemic is not happening.

Most documentaries and films about AIDS concentrate on what happened in the US, but here were are taken somewhere else.  Rasmus is a young man from the middle of nowhere who goes to Stockholm to check out the city. He stays with his aunt and immerses himself in the gay world, meeting other people and having fun. Benjamin comes from a very strict family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When he knocks on the door of one of Rasmus’ gay friends, intending to spread the word of his religion, the man immediately sees that Ben is gay, something the young man thought nobody could ever Ben slowly begins to open up and eventually begins a relationship with Rasmus.

Benjamin just wants a simple monogamous relationship and has no intention of coming out to his parents, Rasmus feels people should be out and proud, and he also wants to have sex with other people too. Then they hear about AIDS and people around them start getting sick.

From the very beginning, we see that this isn’t going to be an easy film. The title comes from a line of dialogue in the first few minutes where a nurse is informed not to touch AIDS patients without complete safety gear. As the film moves forward, we move between the young men figuring out their lives against the promise of early 80s Stockholm gay scene and Rasmus lying in a hospital bed suffering the effects of the epidemic.

We see the contrast between the hope and possibility of gay people in a society that’s slowly being more accepting of different sexualities with the devastating impact of AIDS. We also see great performances. Adam Palsson is excellent as the brash Rasmus, although it’s Adam Lundgren who acts as the real heart of the film. He possesses a wonderful innocence and sense of empathy that pulls us into.

The supporting cast is also excellent as is the recreation of 1980s life and projects an intimate knowledge of the areas of Stockholm that were popular with gay people in the early 80s.

It’s not always an easy watch with the horrible reality of the end stages of AIDS, but that’s as it should be. For those who weren’t around at the time, it’s easy to think the AIDS crisis was a bad thing without understanding what it was actually like for those living through it. There were people who were still somewhat dislocated from society and often estranged from their own families. They had built their identity and new families with each other and then had to watch those closest to them dying ugly, deaths, often wondering if/when the same would happen to them. They also knew that if it had primarily been happening to straight people, the reaction would have been a full scale emergency rather than a political football and ignored by many.

“Don’t Ever Wipe Tears” caused a sensation when it first was screened in Sweden in 2012, and it has now been recut into a film for distribution in other countries. It’s a look at the AIDS crisis and 80s gay life, beyond the places that are normally concentrated on. It is sometimes a tough watch but always rewarding.

“RAW! UNCUT! VIDEO!”— Safe Sex During the Aids Epidemic


Safe Sex During the Aids Epidemic

Amos Lassen

“Raw! Uncut! Video!” is a new documentary about inventing safe sex during the AIDS epidemic and the gay fetish porn studio Palm Drive Video which was created by leathermen Jack Fritscher and Mark Hemry during the 1980s home video revolution. It was a homegrown mail-order company that expanded the boundaries of sexual experimentation and promoted kink as an integral form of safe sex during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

“As AIDS devastated queer communities, a pervasive fear of sexual activity overtook American culture – and drove many LGBTQ folks back into the ‘closet’. Because fetish does not require an exchange of bodily fluids, Palm Drive Video was founded as a safe-sex service that offered viewers new sexual possibilities in an age of plague. Using rugged men hand-picked from small-town bars, rodeos, county fairgrounds, body-building contests, construction sites and back alleys, the studio focused on a diversity of all-male fetish scenarios – from extreme BDSM to mud worship, medical torture, and leather cowboys. With unlimited access to the Fritscher-Hemry archive, intimate observational footage of Jack and Mark today, and interviews with other legendary experts on gay fetish, RAW! UNCUT! VIDEO! reconstructs an erotic underground of hot men and wild sex that paved the way for sex-positive activism and a proliferation of LGBTQ community-building around niche sexualities.” @rawuncutvideo_

However the movie cannot be finished without some help if you can.

“Why We Need Your Help:

Our project looks beyond the lurid sensationalism often associated with ‘adult films’ to examine the powerful and positive impacts that fetish pornography has historically had for LGBTQ communities. Nevertheless, fetish and pornography are still taboo for many people and there are persistent stigmas around both alternative sexualities and ‘adult’ entertainment. Most traditional funders of independent documentary hear the description “a film about gay fetish porn” and run away as fast as they can! Thus, raising the budget necessary to complete RAW! UNCUT! VIDEO! has presented our producing team with many challenges. After three years, we are finished with production and are now editing the film. To date the majority of funding for the project has come from our own pockets and from the generosity of individuals who are interested in seeing this documentary get made. Editing and post-production is one of the priciest and most time-consuming phases of any documentary and, while we continue to apply for grants, we are still in need of community support to finish the film.


How Your Contribution Will Be Used:

We currently have a rough feature-length assembly of the documentary. Funds raised via our crowd-funding will enable us to hire a professional Editor to finesse and complete the film. Additional funds will be allocated to other critical post-production costs such as hiring a composer, sound mixing, and color grading. We are so close to completing the project and we need your help! Please consider contributing – any amount, large or small, gets us closer to the finish line.”

“Director’s Statement:

AIDS continues to pose a massive health threat around the globe, and understanding the diversity of tactics that communities in the Global North used to battle the epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s remains critical in sustaining efforts to control the disease. Media outlets have reported extensively on the role of governments and activists in promoting safe-sex practices to help combat the transmission of AIDS. But, on top of completely devastating communities, AIDS also brought with it a pervasive fear of sexual activity that drove many LGBTQ people back into the ‘closet’. There has been scant mainstream coverage of efforts to mitigate infection by underground fetish and porn communities through the promotion of sex-positivity and alternative safe-sex practices. We are inspired to create RAW! UNCUT! VIDEO! to explore the historic significance of gay fetish porn during the height of the AIDS crisis in the U.S., to trace the dedicated efforts of two leathermen (Fritscher and Hemry) to produce erotica that allowed queer men to safely explore their sexual boundaries in an age of plague, and to resurrect an assortment of wild characters who shared their own sexual kinks onscreen to help diminish the many impacts of AIDS.

Our approach to RAW! UNCUT! VIDEO! is to use archival-focused storytelling to provide a fresh and contemporary exploration of a little-known form of AIDS activism. Current footage and interviews introduce our primary characters and highlight Palm Drive’s efforts to produce safe-sex videos that would appeal to a diversity of kinky queers. Although, our story truly comes alive through Palm Drive films and behind-the-scenes material that is edited to create ‘observational’ sequences that immerse the viewer in the vintage world of Palm Drive Video productions. Throughout the film, our characters’ serious drive for activism and sexual exploration is countered by their constant sense of humor, the uniqueness of the experimental fetish scenarios that are explored, and the infectious enthusiasm of the Palm Drive stars to push their outrageous sexual limits for a greater good.

Ultimately, we hope that the film reveals the complexities of historic efforts to combat AIDS in the U.S., and in so doing, expand the discussion on best practices to continue fighting the epidemic around the world. At the same time, we hope to cast light on the importance of embracing non-normative sexualities and overcoming moralistic frameworks that only accept human sexuality in extremely limited terms.”


The characters include:

Jack Fritscher is director and co-founder of Palm Drive Video. Former Editor-in-Chief of the influential Drummer Magazine and one-time lover of Robert Mapplethorpe, he is a prolific writer and a living legend in the gay leather scene.

Mark Hemry is editor and co-founder of Palm Drive Video. Partnered with Jack Fritscher for 40 years, he was the technical backbone of the porn studio while also maintaining a career as a scientist for a federal government agency.

“Thrasher” (Steve Thrasher) is a Palm Drive superstar – and a heterosexual man. As a young handyman on the Fritscher-Hemry ranch, he perfectly fit the blue-collar aesthetic that Jack and Mark were looking for and was cast in some of their most iconic films.

Donnie Russo is a gay porn legend. Early in his career he starred in five Palm Drive films and posed in numerous still photos by Jack Fritscher. His work with Palm Drive has reached cult status.

Mickey Squires is a Colt model and a renowned performer in adult films. He collaborated with Palm Drive Video in the 1990s when he was in his mid-40s and was re-establishing his porn persona as a Daddy and a Bear.

The Men of Palm Drive include Mr. America Chris Duffy, Colt Studios star Tom Howard, Raging Stallion co-founder JD Slater, plus countless “real men” hand-selected by Fritscher and Hemry. They are all intimately immortalized in hundreds of hours of videos and behind-the-scenes footage from the massive Palm Drive archive.

Other Participants (to date):

Susie Bright – Writer

Darryl Carlton (Divinity Fudge) – Artist/Performer

Rick Castro – Photographer

Durk Dehner – Tom of Finland Foundation

Roger Earl – Filmmaker, “Born to Raise Hell”

Jeffrey Escoffier – Porn scholar

Peter Fiske – Chairman Emeritus of the 15 Association

Lucas Hilderbrand – Media Historian

David Hurles – Old Reliable

Owen Keehnen – Grassroots Historian

Mr. Pam – Porn director

Steve Parker – Porn star

Susan Shaw – Thrasher’s mother

Ron Suresha – Writer

Gary Wasdin – Executive Director of The Leather Archives & Museum



Ryan A. White – Director/Producer

Born in Big Sur, California, Ryan White is a documentary filmmaker whose award-winning films have screened around the world. He spent four years in Hanoi, Vietnam working as Film Advisor for the World Wildlife Fund’s Greater Mekong Program, then relocated to Bangkok, Thailand, where he produced and directed two documentary features, Camp Unity (2010) and Mondo Banana (2013). His short film Cruising Elsewhere (2016) was recently awarded Best Short Film at the Tampa Bay Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Best Documentary Short at CineKink NYC. Other documentary credits include co-directing Dirt McComber: Last of the Mohicans (2018), producing The Organic Life (2013) and associate producing Out Run (2016). Ryan also lectures in documentary and film/video production at California State University, East Bay.


Alex Clausen – Director/Producer

Alex Clausen is an artist that lives and works in Guerneville, California. Clausen earned a bachelors’ degree in Art and Physics from University of California, Davis, and a graduate degree from the California College of the Arts. He was awarded a Graduate Fellowship at the Headlands Center for the Arts for the 2006-2007 year. Clausen has exhibited work at Rena Bransten Gallery, the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art, the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston, Kala Art Institute, the Exploratorium and is part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco collection. He is currently an active collaborator and board member of Earthbound Moon, an arts non-profit based in Eugene, Oregon.


Todd Verow – Producer

Todd Verow attended the Rhode Island School of Design and the AFI Conservatory. He made short experimental films and worked as a cinematographer before making his feature film debut with Frisk in 1996 (Sundance, Berlin & Toronto). Starting his own production company Bangor Films, Todd has directed over twenty-five features and numerous shorts, establishing himself as the most prolific auteur emeritus of the New Queer Cinema.


Charles Lum – Producer

Charles Lum, aka clublum, received his MFA in Photography from the School of The

Art Institute of Chicago in 2004, after 25 years scouting and managing locations for TV commercials and classic feature films like Wall Street, Fatal Attraction and Sid & Nancy. His short videos have screened internationally in museum, art and film venues.


Paul Lee – Producer

Based in Toronto, Paul Lee has produced, co-produced, and associate-produced over 50 films – more than half of which have been award-winning LGBTQ films. LGBTQ productions include San Francisco filmmaker Jenni Olson’s Berlin-premiered Blue Diary and Sundance-premiered The Joy of Life, and the Berlin-premiered Below the Belt by Toronto filmmakers Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert. Since 1991, Paul has organized, programmed, and curated film festivals in 25 countries around the world. His own films, Thick Lips Thin Lips (1994), These Shoes Weren’t Made for Walking (1995), and The Offering (1999) have screened at hundreds of film festivals and won numerous international awards.









“BITTER YEARS”— Being Gay in Italy



Being Gay in Italy

Amos Lassen

Andre  Adriatica’s “Bitter Years” is a film based on the life of Mario Mieli, one of the founders of the Italian Homosexual Liberation Movement which was created at the beginning of the 1970s. He was an activist, intellectual, writer and performer and an important figure on the Italian cultural scene.

While he was alive, he had deeply complicated relationships with his parents and toward the end of his life with his partner Umberto Pasti, with whom he had an intense love affair. Mario died in 1983 but his legacy lives on today.


Mario killed himself in 1983, before turning 31. He was an activist, an intellectual, a writer and a performer and a key figure in the Italian cultural panorama at that time along with his friends architect Corrado Levi, painter Piero Fassoni singer Ivan Cattaneo, activist Angelo Pezzana, writer Fernanda Pivano and poet Milo De Angelis. He liked to provoke and to innovate but, today, he is not well known. He was the son of the upper-middle class and one of seven children.

“FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO”— Four Families with Children


Four Families with Children

Amos Lassen

When the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality, the backlash by the religious right came quickly and  was very harsh. It was also successful. Daniel Karslake’s documentary film  “For They Know Not What They Do” looks at four faith-based families with LGBTQ children who are caught in “the crosshairs of sexuality, identity, and scripture.”


When the Bible is read to teach that homosexuality is wrong and unforgivable in the eyes of God, many parents with gay or transgender children become conflicted and challenged to learn to love their child unconditionally. Here we see how powerful Christian faith is for many people. Religion, for them, is more than studying the Bible and attending church, it is dedication of life to God. To not follow all of the laws that Christianity imposes means, according to them, that one will  burn for eternity.

However, there are many rules and if you deviate from them, you will not enter the gates of heaven and will burn in hell for eternity.The Christian faith sees homosexuality as a choice and it is possible to stop being homosexual at any time. There are Christian parents who use strong measures to what they believe will “cure” their child of homosexual tendencies. These include conversion camps and the removal of any publications, movies, or items that even mention or suggest homosexual relationships. While the parents are dealing with their own issues of shame, frustration, and conflict, their children suffer in silence and face drug addiction, self-harm and attempted suicide.

The four young adults that we meet here come from different backgrounds but all share similar stories. All four felt that they were different, whether it be an attraction to the same sex or not feeling connected to the sex which they were assigned at birth. Because their feelings go against their religious rules, they hide who they are hoping  that it will all go away.

Ryan Robertson is the son of Evangelical Christians who becomes deeply deep depressed because his parents’ difficulty coping with his sexuality. He participates actively in church but feels misunderstood since he is unable to  understanding how he can feel this way knowing it is against everything he was raised to believe. He has tried conversion methods and eventually he veers off the deep end leaves home and uses drugs to relieve the pain that he feels inside. The drugs and a final overdose led to his death. It was only then that his parents learned to be more open and less fearful of homosexuality.

Sarah McBride came out to her parents as transgender and it was very difficult to do so because she already had an older brother who had come out as gay. Her parents has no idea what transgender meant and did not know how to accept his becoming a woman. Sarah went through severe depression and doubt feeling that she would ever meet anyone who would accept her for who she was. She finally came out publicly in college while shew as student body president and she gained a lot of support. She later became the first transgender intern in the white house and fought to change (such as the Bathroom Bill).

Victor Baez Febo hid his homosexuality from his parents because they are very strong Catholics. He moved back to Puerto Rico to live with his grandmother where he thought he could live his lifestyle and no one would find out but was outed by a neighbor who caught him fighting with a current boyfriend. When his grandmother learned of this from a neighbor, she changed the locks on the door and told him to leave and never come back After his parents were called, he returned home and faced his parents. He eventually moved into his own apartment. After a house warming party with tons of his friends at his home, he went to Pulse, a gay bar. When fire was opened on those there, Victor hid in a closet surviving his friends and many others who were killed that night. A member of a church actually congratulated the shooters in getting rid of all of the so-called “sinners.”

Elliot Porcher was a Tom Boy growing up. She played with bugs, wore baggy clothes and felt like a real boy. She tried to express herself with clothing and outside activities but gave up and starting wearing feminine clothes. She became depressed and withdrew. When she came out to her parents, they didn’t understand and thought it was just a phase and she would eventually grow out of it. They tried to come to terms with the fact that their lives would change once their little girl would totally change identities. They were able to find a way to still have their faith and support their daughter rather than lose her to drugs or suicide.

The film isa wake-up call against complacency. Today many gay men and women live comfortably and we often forget the others who are not so lucky. A film like this reminds us to remain aware of  the struggles that so many other LGBTQ people face daily.

Christianity is evident throughout the film. We see extreme evangelicals misquote the Bible to justify their behavior. This is a sign of the times in a society where people in high places can lie to make political gains and power. Now that evangelicals have lost the battle for same-sex marriage, they have turned on the transgender community.

Those of us in the LGBTQ community must continue to celebrate our rights and acceptance while being vigilant all of the time.

Karslake looks at the toll this culture war has taken on families through four very different but equally devout sets of parents and we see the very real damage they have caused yet it also shows us the parents as otherwise well-meaning. The film is a strong case that the bonds of family and community have the capacity to rise above hate, but at the same time, we are reminded that the LGBTQ community is still under fierce attack.

Thisis a film of honesty, sadness, and joy. It could have easily been just been a collection of clippings of people with religious power showing their hatred toward homosexual and transgender people yet here that hatred is so much more than that.


“All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto” by George M. Johnson— Personal Essays

Johnson, George M. “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto”,Farrar, Straus and Giroux , 2020.

Personal Essays

Amos Lassen

George M. Johnson explores In a series of personal essays explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. These include getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, flea marketing with his grandmother and his first sexual relationships. Here is what Black queer boys face and a testimony  
for young queer men of color. We look at “gender identity, toxic masculinity,

brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy.” Johnson writes honestly, frankly and with emotional. His personal stories of healing and reconciliation of self are absolutely amazing. The essays are written in a way that made me feel like I was actually chatting with the writer.

“All Boys Aren’t Blue” is heartwarming, funny, and occasionally heartbreaking and Johnson’s take on trauma and tragedy is beautifully dealt with.



“Home” by Jean Alexander— Living in Texas

Alexander, Jenn. “Home”, Bywater Books, 2020.

Living in Texas

Amos Lassen

Rowan Barnes moved to Texas because of her job as grill chef at a new restaurant was but she feels out of place and alone in the Lone Star State. But then she meets Texas born and bred Kate Landreth while picking up beef from a local cattle ranch. Rowan is immediately attracted to Kate and is immediately drawn to the woman and the two women become closer. Kate is Texas through and through and her heart is as big as the state in which she lives. Even though Rowan begins to see Texas differently, Kate is wary about falling for someone who feels that Texas will never be her home. As we read Jenn Alexander’s novel, we find ourselves looking at new definitions of what the word “home” means.

At first, Rowan finds Texas to be completely different from her hometown and she is homesick even while pursuing her dream job.  Of course, the readers want a happy ending for the two women and we hope that they end up together. Rowan finds Texas to be very hot and very conservative and this stays with her until she meets Kate and romance ensues. Kate teaches her all about Texas and we feel her love for the state and also for Rowan. Rowan listens carefully to what Kate says and soon realizes that maybe everything will be alright.

Alexander appeals to the emotions in her book and it is difficult not to weep gently as we read. She has created too relatable characters that we take into our hearts and this she does with beautiful prose and wonderful description. I must admit that I once felt about Texas the way Rowan did and it beautiful that she has someone to help change her mind.

It is very difficult to leave one’s hometown and move to a place that is foreign and the differences between Portland and Rowan’s new home in Texas. With the right person, the wrong place can feel like home.



“The New Jewish Canon” edited by Yehuda Kurtzer and Claire E.Sufrin— A Text and a Textbook

Kurtzer, Yehuda and Claire E. Sufrin, editors. “The New Jewish Canon”,Academic Studies Press, 2020.

A Text and a Textbook

Amos Lassen

During the last two centuries and into the 21stthere have been many new thoughts about Jewish ideas and major changes have occurred in Jewish life.  These have brought about debates because changes have happened so rapidly. In Yehuda Kurtzer and Claire E. Sufrin’s “The New Jewish Canon”, we see how to make sense of what has happened. Eighty excerpts from primary texts along with essays about these texts, we gain an understanding of how these changes can be understood. Leading Jewish scholars look at  “history and memory, Jewish politics and the public square, religion and religiosity, and identities and communities”, there are bound to beconversations about what is included here. Here are the important ideas and debates of the past two generations as well as debate and scholarship about what is to come.

I have read several articles about why “admitted, unrepentant sexual predators who happen to be Jewish intellectuals are accepted by the Jewish community as if they had done nothing wrong and they are included here. Three admitted Jewish sex abusers are included in the book— Ari Shavit, Leon Wieseltier and Steven M. Cohan. These three man were“once significant figures in the Jewish intellectual world but were dismissed from their professional positions after revelations of their serial sexual abuse of multiple women over many years.”.

Table of Contents

Introduction: “The State of Jewish Ideas: Towards a New Jewish Canon”

  1. Jewish Politics and the Public Square
  2. Michael Walzer, Exodus and Revolution, 1985
    Essay: William Galston
  3. George Steiner, “Our Homeland, the Text,” 1985; Judith Butler, “Judith Butler’s Remarks to Brooklyn College on BDS,” 2013
    Essay: Julie Cooper
  4. Jonathan Woocher, Sacred Survival: The Civil Religion of American Jews, 1986
    Essay: Sylvia Fishman
  5. Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949, 1987; and The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, 2004;Ari Shavit, “Survival of the Fittest? An Interview with Benny Morris,” 2004 and “Lydda, 1948,” 2013
    Essay: Daniel Kurtzer
  6. Irving (Yitz) Greenberg vs. Meir Kahane, Public Debate at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, 1988
    Essay: Shaul Magid
  7. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Eliezer Goldman (ed.), Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State, 1992
    Essay: Joshua Shanes
  8. Israeli Supreme Court Part 1: Israeli Knesset Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, 1992; Aharon Barak, “A Judge on Judging: The Role of a Supreme Court in a Democracy,” January 2002
    Essay: Yigal Mersel 
  9. Aharon Lichtenstein, “On the Murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin z”l,” 1995
    Essay: David Wolkenfeld
  10. Aviezer Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism, 1996
    Essay: Yehuda Magid
  11. Israeli Supreme Court Part 2: The Israeli Supreme Court sitting as the High Court of Justice, Horev v. Minister of Transportation, 1997; The Israeli Supreme Court sitting as the High Court of Justice: Baruch Marzel v. Jerusalem District Police Commander, Mr. Aharon Franco, 2002 
    Essay: Donniel Hartman 
  12. Samuel G. Freedman, Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry, 2000
    Essay: Noam Pianko
  13. Breaking the Silence Testimonies, Founded in 2004
    Essay: Sarah Anne Minkin
  14. Steven M. Cohen and Jack Wertheimer, “Whatever Happened to the Jewish People?,” 2006
    Essay: Erica Brown
  15. Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, Torat HaMelekh, 2009
    Essay: Hillel Ben-Sasson
  16. Moshe Halbertal, “The Goldstone Illusion,” 2009
    Essay: Elana Stein Hain
  17. Peter Beinart, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” 2010
    Essay: Sara Yael Hirschhorn
  18. Daniel Gordis, “When Balance Becomes Betrayal”  and Sharon Brous, “Lowering the Bar,” 2012
    Essay: Yehuda Kurtzer
  19. Matti Friedman, “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth,” 2014
    Essay: Rachel Fish
  20. History, Memory and Narrative
  21. David Hartman, “Auschwitz or Sinai?,” 1982
    Essay: Rachel Sabath Beit Halachmi
  22. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, 1982
    Essay: Alexander Kaye
  23. Emil Fackenheim, To Mend the World, 1982
    Essay: Benjamin Pollock
  24. Robert M. Cover, “The Supreme Court, 1982 Term—Foreword: Nomos and Narrative,” 1983 
    Essay: Christine Hayes
  25. Kahan Commission (Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut), 1983 
    Essay: Yehuda Kurtzer 
  26. Amos Oz, In the Land of Israel, 1983
    Essay: Wendy Zierler
  27. David Biale, Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History, 1986
    Essay: Judah Bernstein
  28. Elie Wiesel, Acceptance Speech, on the Occasion of the Award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, 1986
    Essay: Claire E. Sufrin
  29. Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, 1986
    Essay: Sarah Cushman
  30. Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, “The Third Great Cycle of Jewish History,” 1987
    Essay: Joshua Feigelson
  31. Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust, 1993; Yaffa Eliach, There Once Was a World: A 900-Year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok, 1998 
    Essay: Yehuda Kurtzer
  32. Haym Soloveitchik, “Rupture and Reconstruction,” 1994
    Essay: Yehuda Kurtzer
  33. Naomi Seidman, “Elie Wiesel and the Scandal of Jewish Rage,” 1996
    Essay: Erin Leib Smokler 
  34. Dabru Emet, New York Times, 2000
    Essay: Marcie Lenk
  35. Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism: A History, 2004
    Essay: Marc Dollinger
  36. David Weiss Halivni, Breaking the Tablets: Jewish Theology After the Shoah,2007
    Essay: Daniel Weiss
  37. Ruth Wisse, “How Not to Remember and How Not to Forget,” 2008
    Essay: Dara Horn
  38. Yossi Klein Halevi, Like Dreamers, 2013
    Essay: Hannah Kober

III. Religion and Religiosity

  1. Joseph Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 1983
    Essay: Shlomo Zuckier
  2. Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth, Shemirath Shabbath Kehilchathah, 1984 
    Essay: David Bashevkin
  3. David Hartman, A Living Covenant: The Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism, 1985
    Essay: David Ellenson
  4. The Complete Artscroll Siddur, 1984
    Essay: David Zvi Kalman
  5. Neil Gillman, Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew, 1990; Eugene Borowitz, Renewing the Covenant: A Theology for the Postmodern Jew, 1991
    Essay: Michael Marmur
  6. Rachel Adler “In Your Blood, Live: Re-visions of a Theological Purity,” 1993
    Essay: Gail Labovitz
  7. Rodger Kamenetz, The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India, 1994
    Essay: Or Rose
  8. Avivah Gottleib Zornberg, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire, 1995
    Essay: Shira Hecht-Koller
  9. Abraham Joshua Heschel, Susannah Heschel (ed.), Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, 1996
    Essay: William Plevan
  10. Noam Zion and David Dishon, A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah, 1997
    Essay: Emily Filler
  11. Mendel Shapiro, “Qeri’at HaTorah by Women: A Halakhic Analysis,” 2001
    Essay: Tova Hartman
  12. Jonathan Sacks, Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, London: Continuum,2002
    Essay: Michal Raucher
  13. Rav Shagar, Broken Vessels, 2004
    Essay: Tomer Persico
  14. Arthur Green, Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition, 2010; Daniel Landes, “Hidden Master,” 2010; Arthur Green and Daniel Landes, “God, Torah, and Israel: An Exchange,” 2011
    Essay: Samuel Hayim Brody
  15. Elie Kaunfer, Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us About Building Vibrant Jewish Communities, 2010
    Essay: Shawn Landres and Josh Avedon
  16. Identities and Communities
  17. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Letter to the Jewish Community of Teaneck, 1981
    Essay: Jonathan Sarna
  18. Blu Greenberg, On Women and Judaism: A View from Tradition, 1981
    Essay: Rachel Gordan
  19. Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, 1981; Alan Lew, This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, 2003
    Essay: Joshua Ladon
  20. Evelyn Torton Beck (ed.), Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology, 1982; Susannah Heschel (ed.), On Being a Jewish Feminist, 1983
    Essay: Claire E. Sufrin
  21. Paul Cowan with Rachel Cowan, Mixed Blessings: Overcoming the Stumbling Blocks in an Interfaith Marriage, 1988
    Essay: Samira Mehta
  22. Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective, 1990
    Essay: Judith Rosenbaum
  23. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America, 1991
    Essay: Arielle Levites
  24. Barry Kosmin, “Highlights of the CJF 1990 National Jewish Population Survey,” 1991; “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” 2013
    Essay: Mijal Bitton
  25. Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, 1991; Paula Hyman, “Who is an Educated Jew?” 2002; Vanessa Ochs, “Ten Jewish Sensibilities,” 2003
    Essay: Hannah Pressman
  26. Yaakov Levado, “Gayness and God: Wrestlings of an Orthodox Rabbi,” 1993
    Essay: Zev Farber
  27. Leonard Fein, “Smashing Idols and Other Prescriptions for Jewish Continuity,” 1994
    Essay: Aryeh Cohen
  28. Steven M. Cohen and Arnold M. Eisen, The Jew Within: Self, Family, and Community in America, 2000
    Essay: Alan Brill
  29. A. B. Yehoshua, “The Meaning of Homeland,” 2006
    Essay: James Loeffler
  30. Elliot N. Dorff, Daniel S. Nevins, and Avram I. Reisner, “Homosexuality, Human Dignity, and Halakhah: A Combined Responsum for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards,” 2006 
    Essay: Jane Kanarek
  31. Noah Feldman “Orthodox Paradox,” 2007; Jay Lefkowitz, “The Rise of Social Orthodoxy: A Personal Account,” 2014
    Essay: Elli Fischer
  32. Tamar Biala and Nechama Weingarten-Mintz (eds.), Dirshuni: Midrashei Nashim, 2009
    Essay: Sarah Mulhern
  33. Leon Wieseltier, “Language, Identity, and the Scandal of American Jewry,” 2011
    Essay: Jon Levisohn
  34. Ruth Calderon, Inaugural Knesset Speech, “The Heritage of All Israel,” 2013
    Essay: Yossi Klein Halevi
  35. Rick Jacobs, “The Genesis of Our Future,” 2013
    Essay: Dan Friedman