Monthly Archives: August 2020

“A Queer New York: Geographies of Lesbians, Dykes, and Queers” by Jen Jack Gieseking— Surviving in New York

Gieseking, Jen Jack. “A Queer New York: Geographies of Lesbians, Dykes, and QueerNYU Press, 2020.

Surviving in New York

Amos Lassen

Jen Jack Gieseking’s “A Queer New York” is the first lesbian and queer historical geography of New York City

Rapid gentrification in New York City has led to the disappearance of many lesbian and queer spaces and displaced some of the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community. Gieseking highlights the historic significance of these spaces, mapping the political, economic, and geographic dispossession of an important, thriving community that once called certain New York neighborhoods home. 

The focus is on well-known neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, Park Slope, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Crown Heights. We see how lesbian and queer neighborhoods have folded under the capitalist influence of white, wealthy gentrifiers who have ultimately failed to make room for them. Nonetheless, lesbian and queer communities have succeeded in carving out spaces and lives in New York. 

We see how lesbians and queers have survived in the face of twenty-first century gentrification and urban development.Gieseking’s cartography of lesbian NYC and the lesbian-queer lives there is both “affirming and disheartening.” We see the multifaceted, dynamic, and fabulous lives and people and spaces that exist within the lesbian-queer community; but at the same time, it is disheartening to know that the trend of erasure and de-prioritization of some members of the LGBTQIA community is continuing.

 Through the use of ethnography and archival research, we see the situation close up. The thesis here is that queer spaces don’t have to be relegated to physically owned buildings because that leaves out many people who can’t afford to live in specific places. Thoseinterviewed relate their experiences in gay neighborhoods with places like bars and community centers. 

“AMERIKA SQUARE”— Opposing Forces

“AMERIKA SQUARE”

Opposing Forces

Amos Lassen

 A tattoo artist, his racist friend and a Syrian refugee come together in Yannis Sakaridis’ “Amerika Square” a story of the opposing forces facing today’s humanitarian crises. Nakos (Makis Papadimitriou), is unemployed and lives in the small neighborhood of Amerika Square. He is tired of the thousands of refugees in his neighborhood. Much of his frustration comes from his inability to do anything about Athens new demographics, something he spends most of his time brooding over instead of doing anything about his life that is going nowhere. His only confidante is his childhood friend, Billy (Yannis Stankoglou), who doesn’t share his friend’s worldview and who believes welcoming refugees is the correct response to the crisis of people fleeing war and seeking asylum. Nakos is working on a sinister plan to eliminate these illegals and Billy has an opportunity to help two migrants escape from Athens. One of these is Tereza, a beautiful African singer with whom he falls in love and the other is Tarek, a weary Syrian ex-military doctor escaping the war in Aleppo and trying to reunite with his 9 year-old daughter who has already been smuggled to Germany.

The stories come together when Nakos stops their smuggler cold and Billy is forced to step. Nakos realizes his anti-migrant attitude has cost him friends, family as well as his pride and dignity.

This is a chilling portrait of an angry, disenfranchised racist who turns to poisoning immigrants to make them “go back where they came from.” We see a liberal and a xenophobe as friends and this suggest that one’s attitude to immigration is not linked to class and is an individual response.

Nakos is  frustrated and unemployed,  living at home with Mom and Dad. In a sardonic voiceover, he lists all the foreigners living in his building. They come from all over the world and, to his mind, mess up the whole neighborhood. In contrast, the images show normal, friendly people going about their business. Nakos’s own psychological profile is sad and we see a long-running conflict with his father and a chronic inability to find a job. Nakos becomes deadly serious when he has a plan to make homemade bread laced with strychnine and hang it in bags from garbage cans to tempt the hungry and the homeless. He is targeting immigrants, but killing vagabonds is also okay.

Nakos, who hates tattoos is friends with cool tattoo artist Billy who falls for a pretty African nightclub singer (Ksenia Dania) to the point of running afoul of her gangster protector and finally sacrificing everything for her.

Tarek(Vassilis Kukalani) is the most engrossing character. He is a middle-class Syrian on the run from the war and looking for passage to Germany. His “travel agent” is Hassan, who outlines the various routes and prices available (raft, private boat, plane) with unsettling precision. Tarek opts for air travel with fake passports, but the stakes are raised when he’s separated from his daughter in a test of wills with the “authorities.”  Nakos and Tarekrepresent two diametrically opposing forces that threaten to overwhelm the social order.

Director Sakaridisbrings the stories together in a natural way with well-written voiceoversand this is an excellent film that deals with the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. There are many sad stories in the global migration crisis: deaths, rootlessness, hopelessness, and families torn apart. Yet, there are few narratives as distressing as those of people who refuse to accept change and hold the gates to freedom shut.

Parts of the film look at the narratives of people in Nakos’s building and neighborhood. They feature a mix of native Greeks and some refugees on the way to better lives. The film is Greece’s official submission in the  2020 Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film. It comes at a time where the European Union is exerting its power to close its borders to refugees escaping conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.

“The Obituary of Tunde Johnson”— Finding Identity

“The Obituary of Tunde Johnson”

Finding Identity

Amos Lassen

“TheObituary of Tunde Johnson”is about Tunde, a young man struggling to find his identity. Writer Stanley Kalu and director Ali LeRoi use the idea of a single day repeating itself for gay, African-American teen (Steven Silver).

 Ade (Sammi Rotibi) tells his son Tunde, who’s the lone black kid at St. Ambrose Prep that his family does not die ordinary deaths.  The film is a comment on political and social issues that brings commentary into the narrative and lets the viewer figure out the rest.

Tunde was born in Nigeria, but hasn’t had any trouble fitting in with his classmates. He is thought to be a smart young man with a bright future. His best friend since grade school is Marley (Nicola Peltz), who dreams of  the star of the lacrosse team, Soren (Spencer Neville), who also happens to be Tunde’s secret lover. On Soren’s birthday everyone goes to his house for a party. Tunde has a secret that could have devastating consequences on his relationships, if he ever lives long enough to experience the aftermath. Tunde is pushed to define what he wants from life regardless of what anyone else tries to impose upon him. He knows that he is running out of time and his problem is time. On May 28 he’s murdered by trigger-happy police. In fact, he dies several times

and it’s at the hands of police officers. What at first seems like a nightmarish becomes an exposé of the numerous ways a young, unarmed black man can be murdered by authorities. In spite of Tunde changing elements of each day, he is nonetheless confronted by police and subsequently killed without cause. Sometimes he’s alone, other times he’s with friends; sometimes he’s driving, other times he’s walking or just hanging out. What is consistent is the police’s reaction to his existence. 

Tunde never changes who he is and, actually, he becomes more confident with who he is. Nothing is all good or all bad in this look at adolescence. From first love to heartbreak, best friends forever or best worst enemy, life is filled with emotions. Each day presents another opportunity to take a different approach and numerous chances to make the right or wrong choice. The impact of Tunde’s multiple deaths are a heavy burden on him and the audience even though we know that we will return from the dead. 

Soren is Tunde’s lover and a completely closeted play thing for Tunde’s best friend Marley This complication sets up an interesting love triangle that both evolves and dissolves depending on Tunde’s nightly demise.

Silver is amazing as Tunde who eats Xanax like candy. We see a great deal about black men  and the way they are treated by white police officers.

 

 

“TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND DIRTY”— A Dark Comedy

 

“TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND DIRTY”

A Dark Comedy

Amos Lassen

  Rob (Mark Greenfield) and foul-mouthed Manny (Coolio), are the unsuccessful, unrefined and uncouth sales force at Affordable Mattress, a fly-by-night showroom.   They do not do much aside from moving furniture, taking smoke breaks, washing windows, and hanging with other people at the mall where the store is located. The store’s  manager, Preston (Kenneth McGregor) verbally abuses them and because he wants more sales, he hires Isabelle (Rocío Verdejo), who is what the business needs. She quickly makes friends with Manny, Rob and Martin (C. Clayton Blackwell), the dim-witted gift shop employee from next door.

 Isabelle introduces an idea for them to get out of their dead-end jobs. She tells them that if they murder her ex-husband, Antonio (Spencer Rowe), and make it look like an accident, she can collect a $200,000 life insurance payout. Together, they develop a scheme and they go about it with total incompetence.

Directed and written by Timothy L. Anderson, this dark comedy is quite funny. He wonderfully captures the boredom that makes the film funny and smart. Interaction between Preston and his employees is tense and we feel their frustration and ennui.

Manny has of illusions about becoming a lawyer but it is sure that this will never happen and Marin does not seem to have the ability to think about anything.

Preston hires Isabelle, hoping that she will attract customers and generate a little energy. She charming and pretty but turns out to be a woman with a plan. She is willing to pay Manny, Rob and Martin to get rid of her husband and they attempt to do so the same way they sell furniture—ineptly and carelessly. Of course, there is a twist but you will have to see the film to find out what that is.

“KEYBOARD FANTASIES: THE BEVERLY GLENN-COPELAND STORY”— The Inspiration and the Legend

“KEYBOARD FANTASIES: THE BEVERLY GLENN-COPELAND STORY”

The Inspiration and the Legend

Amos Lassen

Beverly Glenn-Copeland lived in near isolation in Huntsville Ontario when she wrote and self-released “Keyboard Fantasies” which she recorded on seven tracks of a cassette. The music is a folk-electronica hybrid. Thirty years later Beverly, now Glenn began to hear, via email, from people all over the world who thanked him for his music.

A rare-record collector in Japan reissued Keyboard Fantasies and subsequent music. In the film we see Copeland commit his film and his music to this documentary by Posy Dixon.  The film is a coming-of-age story filled with both pain and happiness.

Copeland is a legendary singer, composer and transgender activist who because of the reissue of musical explorations has found a degree of fame. Throughout Copeland’s career, the music cannot be categorized or put into genre. It blends vision, technology, spirituality and place.

I love that we are finally giving our past heroes their just do and Posy Dixon brings us a fascinating story that might have been lost to us were it not for this brilliant documentary. Here is a person who has given his life and music to the screen and who shares an intimate story filled with pain and prejudice yet is able to channel those feelings into the music of hope and happiness. The film brings that music to a whole new generation and whose life is an inspiration to all of us. We gain an understanding of how social constructs have ruled how we live and not just gender but also identity, time and space. It was the challenges of his own past that allowed Glenn Copeland to face the world and even though he sees himself as an elder, he is a contemporary.

“AMMONITE”— Coming Soon

“AMMONITE”

Coming Soon

Amos Lassen

The first trailer of “Ammonite” has just been released. The film is highly anticipated after the success of director Francis Lee’s film, “God’s Own Country”. “Ammonite” is a queer romance that is based on the life of British paleontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and focuses on the romantic relationship between Anning and Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan). 

Set In the 1840s, we meet Anning who works alone on Southern English coastline of Lyme Regis. In the past she has made wonderful discoveries but now she searches for common fossils to sell to rich tourists  so that she can support herself and mother, a sick widow. When tourist Roderick Murchison, comes to Lyme on the first leg of a European tour, he asks Mary to care for his young wife Charlotte, who is dealing with a personal tragedy. 

Mary has little money and is struggling so she knows she must agree to take the position but because of her devotion to her work, she faces clashes with her unwanted guest. They are two women come from totally different worlds. Nonetheless, Mary and Charlotte learn that they can each provide what the other has been looking for: the understanding that they are not alone. They begin “a passionate and all-consuming love affair that will defy all social bounds and alter the course of both lives irrevocably”.

“YOUNG HUNTER” (“EL CAZADOR”)— Gay in Buenos Aires

“YOUNG HUNTER” (“EL CAZADOR”)

Gay in Buenos Aires

Amos Lassen

Marco Berger’s latest film is a sympathetic exploration of gaydom in modern day Buenos Aires. We see fifteen-year-old Ezequiel (Juan Pablo Cestaro) discussing a porn magazine with his heterosexual friend in the opening scene. He is not sure how to approach his sexuality. His parents are away travelling now so it seems like a good time to find out. In the skater park he meets Mono (Lautaro Rodríguez), a young guy with tattoos who seems ready to be his friend but is so cool and laid back it may Ezekiel wonders if he is gay or not. Ezekiel soon finds out that he was right to be apprehensive about Mono.

There is a sense of tension throughout the film but what really hooks is Cestaro’s acting talent. He conveys palpable chemistry and playfulness while showing a certain vulnerability about his character. Rodriquez’ Mono reciprocates with sultry glances and a certain insouciance that adds to his allure. 

There is another character— a younger boy Juan Ignazio (Patricio Rodriquez) who adds another dimension to the piece. The performances are all excellent and the subtle interplay between Ezekiel and his father (Luciano Suardi) is impressive, His father is there for his boy although he does not necessarily understand his motivations.

We see the tragedies that come to the fore when desire isn’t allowed to express itself freely and publicly. In Berger’s look at Argentina, queer feelings are clandestine. A boy like 15-year-old Ezequiel is forced to develop a sort of criminal mind, and a criminal gaze, from a very young age. The queer object of desire can only be a prey, or a victim who is tricked into reciprocating one’s desire. Ezequiel has to go through all kinds of subterfuges and a different kind of theatrics from drag in order to get a good glimpse at other men’s bodies, let alone touch them, including that of his cousin (Juan Barberini).

It seems that the world is a tease that one can only enjoy along with the terrifying dread of being found out. Instead of thinking about it, however, Ezequiel takes matters into his own hands and finds a system of tricks for having sex with other boys. He invites them over to his house when his parents are away, feeds them beer and straight porn magazines, and then suggests that they masturbate together. If these do not work, he goes to the nearby skatepark and stares at shirtless boys like Mono who he ends up falling in love with. At first it seems gratuitously reciprocal, but Ezequiel realizes that he’s caught in a web of intrigue and lies much that is much bigger than the one he had to build for himself.

The film is presented as a thriller and while it recognizes the ravages of queer desire in a queerphobic world, it “doesn’t focus on the suffering but on psychological solutions and practical strategies for sexual survival that are bound to seem familiar to any queer child who’s dared to evade repression and its many laws through queer creativity and savvy.”

“CLÉMENT, ALEX AND ALL THE OTHERS”— A Human Film

“CLÉMENT, ALEX AND ALL THE OTHERS”

A Human Film

Amos Lassen

In “Clement, Alex and All the Others”, Taiwanese director Cheng-Chui Kuo adapts his own play that follows the daily life of two Parisian roommates and their relationship to love and memories..

Clément (Yannis Bougeard),is a young filmmaker in his thirties who has inherited a large sum of money from his absent father. He was able to buy a lovely apartment in Paris and wanting to be alone, he has a roommate, Alex (Carolina Jurczak), a girl his age and a lesbian. David (David Mora) who was Clement’s companion also lived with them until he got a professional opportunity in Nantes and moved. The relationship ended and Clement is still hurt by this. This is not a new feeling for Clement who lost his mother and  a boy with whom he was very much in love. In order to move forward, he and Alex try to recruit a new roommate. In the advertisement placed by Clement, it is stated that the roommate must be a gay boy or a lesbian girl. They choose Léo (Bellamine Abdelmalek), a very handsome guy and all goes well aside from one “small” fact. Leo has kept some important information from his roommates: he lied and is not gay. He is in a relationship with Maeva (Laura Boujenah). Alexis interested in Maeva (Léo introduced her as a lesbian. We follow the daily life of these Parisians who make up with their fear of loneliness, their hopes of love, their little lies and secrets.

The dialogue is natural and witty and we see the director’s love for French cinema with his hints at the New Wave films of Eric Rohmer and Claude Sautet. Here is a colorful and sentimental Paris where everyone tries to find their own place. The apartment sequences which rely heavily on the comedic aspects of the situation and malicious dialogues give way to flashback memories and timeless vignettes that show deeper emotions.

Behind its look of light and entertaining comedy on feelings, the film contains small layers that expose with modesty and humor how we all try not to be alone Beyond the stories of friendship and love, we must also see a beautiful brother-sister relationship between Clément and Anne (Chloé Berthier).

In short, a crazy charm and a maximum of tenderness. The little nugget that makes you feel good. The film shows the humanity of its characters with a comic parallel where heterosexuality is the different lifestyle. It plays with the mechanism of developing a universe in which sexuality ends up in the background. The director looks at the wounds that come out of its his characters and leads us to a normalization that should be applied socially. We hear the traumas brought about by a life marked by the loss or absence of feelings. The relationships between all the characters are natural and we connect with what the characters feel. The focus is mainly on Clément and Alex, but there is also an emotional and sensitive space for the rest of the elements that are part of the film.

“Clément, Alex and All The Others” is a thoughtful, light and very human film with characters that represent their own experiences, leaving the position of the LGBT community as one more characteristic of their personalities.

“A STORMY NIGHT”— Short and Intense

“A STORMY NIGHT”

Short and Intense

Amos Lassen

In “A Stormy Night”, director David Moragas succeeds in bringing us a realistic and honest film with authentic dialogue. With wonderful simplicity, fine narrative and excellent technique, we are taken into the story of Marcos (Moragas), a transgressive and bohemian documentary filmmaker whose his flight is canceled due to a storm and he has to spend the night at Alan’s (Jacob Perkins) house, a friend of a friend who has a completely opposite personality from his own.

The plot is propelled by the dialogue in which we learn about the characters. Alan collides with the occasional rigidity of Moragas, who, in his eagerness to be impenetrable, at times he comes across as bland or uncharismatic. Filmed in black and white, the stillness of the images stay with us long after the film is over.  

All the commonly accepted conventions for the representation of the LGTB community are deconstructed throughout the film and “A Stormy Night” shows us that shows Moragas as one of the talents to follow.

Alan is an application programmer and friend Marco’s college classmate. The two young men, who apparently have nothing in common, must spend the whole night together. During that night, they will their respective definitions of happiness, love and life.

“SHIVA BABY”— Meet Danielle

“SHIVA BABY”

Meet Danielle

Amos Lassen

 In the Jewish religion, the immediate family of the deceased mourn for seven days and sit shiva at which they welcome guests into their home to talk about their loved ones who have passed away, share in their sorrows, and begin the healing process. Emma Seligman’s “Shiva Baby” begins with Danielle’s (Rachel Sennott) screams of pleasure that are followed by an exchange of gifts, and a hug goodbye from her lover Max (Danny Deferrari). Then Danielle’s mother (Polly Draper) calls her and tells her to come home to accompany the family to a shiva.

The room where the shiva is taking place is filled with food, complaints, family politics, and overbearing parents. People try to provide Danielle with food and opportunities but we see she is bothered by something. She wants to escape the situation and her anxiety grows as the film progresses.  As the shiva takes place, the blinds come down and the candles are lit, making the atmosphere claustrophobic and tension pervades the affair. She sees that Max is there (yes, that Max). Danielle did not know about Max’s family life and certainly did not expect to see him there just as he did not expect to see her there. The film becomes an exploration of what it means for women to hold the power.

The power continually shifts throughout the film, and every time Danielle seems to hold it, she loses and tries her to get it back. We see Danielle as an isolated figure in a room filled with people and we see her insecurities and her power.

Max’s wife Kim (Dianna Agron, TV’s ‘Glee’) seem to be everything that Danielle is not. Kim is a wife and mother who can do it all. There is mystery in the air and this takes a toll on Danielle.

‘Shiva Baby’ is a witty and fun film that has plenty of energy. It is an adaptation of the director’s short film of the same name. Danielle tries to fit in with the other Jewish folk, and represses her sex-positive attitude that do not fit with the conservative traditionalism around her.

It is hard not to become invested in Danielle especially when her childhood friend Maya (Molly Gordon) appears. She is initially seen as an antagonist, but when Maya gains some context into Danielle’s mood and independence, so do we.