Monthly Archives: January 2021

“Gay Bar: Why We Went Out” by Jeremy Atherton Lin— Remembering When

Lin, Jeremy Atherton. “Gay Bar: Why We Went Out”, Little Brown and Company, 2021.

Remember When?

Amos Lassen

It is impossible to look at LGBTQ history without realizing the importance of the gay bar and that is just what Jeremy Atherton Lin does in “Gay Bar: Why We Went Out”.

“The gay bar has long been a place of solidarity and sexual expression–whatever your scene, whoever you’re seeking.” Yet today around the world, the bars are closing and demolishing a culture in the process. Lin looks at what the gay bar was, how he was shaped by it and  the bar’s influence on gay identity. Lin writes from the personal point of view and takes us his own

 transatlantic tour of the bars that marked his life and as he does we get a look at a time that was. From Hollywood in the 1970s to London to AIDS to today’s queer places, we read of what the gay bar represents throughout his life and who we are.  What we really see is the connection between identity and place that takes us beyond what we have heard about Stonewall and read about the other places that many of us are unaware of that had a role in our identity and liberation.

Here are places that have been our refuges and that formed our subculture. It is the differences and similarities that created the gay movement and underlies the desire to belong. “Gay is an identity of longing and there is a wistfulness to beholding it in the form of a building…”

Lin combines his narratives with history. We read of the cultural shifts in our acceptance of gays, “of mixed bars fostered by gentrification, of queer safe spaces where rules of conduct abound sometimes in a stifling manner.” Especially interesting is that during this Covid-19 pandemic, gay bars have set up outside tables and brought their indoors out into the light. This actually shifts the aura of the mystery of what went on in the bars.

I believe that is fair to say that this is the definitive book about gay bars and what these places have been. Lin’s research is amazing and his prose is beautiful. 

“ERNESTO”— Searching for Himself

“ERNESTO”

Searching for Himself

Amos Lassen

Ernesto (Federico Russo) is a teenager who wanders, in search of himself, through the streets of Rome. As time passes, people just seem to disappear. He becomes involved in quick relationships that bring pain to himself and to others but he does find refuge in his happy moments and in political ideologies. He believes he can save his soul from suffering but life is not like that. to grow and move forward. Directed by Alice De Luca and Giacomo Raffaelli the film seems to give sense to the fragments of Ernesto’s life.

This is a film about juvenile bewilderment, which reflects the crisis in thought in the world today. Relationships are the guiding line of the narrative, which, over the course of its chapters looks at Ernesto’s encounters with various characters, each of whom are as important and necessary as the other. The city of Rome acts as a lifeline for a generation in need to finding and losing itself . The film’s division into chapters allows the viewer to follow Ernesto’s new habits, to leave behind the old ones and to show how we see the passing of time not in years, but in terms of the people we have loved, the mistakes we have made and the situations we have experienced.

 

“THE MAN WITH THE ANSWERS”— A Gay Road Movie

“THE MAN WITH THE ANSWERS”

A Gay Road Movie

Amos Lassen

As I was surfing the internet looking for something new to watch, I came across “The Man with the Answers”, a new Greek film directed by Stelios Kammitsis and immediately logged on to watch what turned out to be a gay road film.

Victor, a twenty-something ex-diving champion, works is working in a furniture factory and lives with his sick grandmother in a seaside town in Greece. When she dies, he is distraught and decides to take his car to Germany on a trip. While on the ferry to Italy, he meets Matthias, a young German who is on his way home who persuades Victor to take him with him. As they drive north, Victor who is quite uptight and repressed clashes, Matthias, yet they soon find common emotional ground  as their trip takes unexpected turns. This is a wonderful and tender story about self-discovery, love and family.

The film is a co-production between Cyprus, Greece and Italy.

 

“YOUR NAME ENGRAVED WITHIN”— Taiwan, 1987— A Gay Love Story

“YOUR NAME ENGRAVED WITHIN”

Taiwan, 1987— A Gay Love Story

Amos Lassen

Kuang-Hui Liu’s “Your Name Engraved Within” is set in 1987 when a martial law had just been lifted in the country, but that did not change in the toxic masculinity that filled the society. Told in flashbacks, we see the blossoming friendship between two school-boys Jia Han (Edward Chen) and Birdy (Jing-Hua Tseng) as it grows. However, they are surrounded by homophobic classmates who eagerly beat up their gay peers. 

We see the confusing feelings between the two teens and their despair. Taking place in a Catholic high school, the film moves slowly and requires a bit of patience but it is well worth it. Jia-Han is well-liked among his classmate who don’t quite know what to make of Birdy. The two bond immediately and their intense  camaraderie provides a cover for their growing intimacy. They do not hide their feelings for each other from themselves, risky as that is. When the school begins admitting girls, Birdy takes up with an outspoken girl and Jia-Han struggles to hide his broken heart.

Director Liu is especially good at showing how physical desire manifests itself: the gestures of affection, the postures of people pretending not to acknowledge each other. He doesn’t rush the romance between the boys, allowing the boys to develop believable chemistry. The film is wrapped up in the gravitational pull between Jia-Han and Birdy causing the details of the boys’ school, their families and the political circumstances surrounding them pass to be unclear. Liu focuses on first love and this leaves the world beyond them to be indistinct.

As we move toward the climax, the film moves to the present when the two meet again for the first time in 30 years and we see the tremendous contrast between the homophobia they once lived through to a time of sexual liberation.

This is the first LGBTQ+ film since the legalization of gay marriage in Taiwan and it tries to be emblematic of the gay experience by setting its story of characters accepting their homosexuality and coming out during the easing of cultural conservatism while embracing the newfound openness of today’s Taiwanese society.

Because of the illicit nature of the boy’s love and the teenage passions that they share, every moment together becomes torrid and painful, full of barely restrained erotic feelings and sensuous touching that define their hidden desires. As they labor through the academic year, the restrictive nature of society ruins these pure emotions to make the characters fill with self-hatred and violence until misunderstandings cut their ties. Times of freedom experienced by the two as they head to theatres and get to know each other are potent and romantic as we see them fall for each other. However, Birdy deals with Han’s attraction by dating female student Ban Wu (Mimi Shao). This initiates a painful and humiliating journey for Han that takes up the rest of the film as he comes to terms with coming out. It’s a process made more arduous due to Birdy’s indifference. His behavior has a reason which the audience is clued into with lingering shots of his face showing him trying to protect Han from making a mistake and revealing his true sexual orientation.

The film establishes their sexuality is normal and always prompts the audience to question just what is love by having different definitions of it (Han’s pure emotion to showing how hetero social norms and relationships can be toxic, parents who married out of convenience, desperation, social order in order to have kids). In contrast, the emotions of the boys come out as the purest. It is a beautifully shot film that portrays an intense romance in  historical and cultural context.

“All Kinds of Other” by James Sie— Leaving the Past Behind

Sie, James. “All Kinds of Other”, Quill Tree Books , 2021

Leaving the Past Behind

Amos Lassen

 Jules and Jack have left behind their old lives to make fresh starts at a new school in Los Angeles. When they meet, they are immediately attracted to each other but then a video emerges that shows their connections to two popular trans vloggers and their relationship is challenged by this. Their parents and friends come into the picture and the two begin to sense their fears and  insecurities. Now they each have to decide whether to “play it safe” and expose their feelings for each other.  

Much like his characters, James Sie grew up feeling “Other.” Raised by his Chinese father and his Italian immigrant stepmother, he was surrounded by a boisterous extended Italian family and its culture.  It wasn’t until he came out in college that he found his true identity and the community where he belonged.

We are all aware of the problems facing gay youth today and we certainly see the changes that have come about since we had to deal with these issues. Author James Sie wrote about Jules as the kind of person he wished he had been when he was a teen and in school.

The two boys—one cis, and one transhad been hiding their feelings for each other until their how they feltfor each other give them a reason to stand up and facetheir fears.Jules was still trying to understand what it meant to be gay and the kind of person that he wants to be. Jack was dealing with losing his best friend and was not ready to let anyone into his life. When they meet, the attraction they felt was very real. It was not until the video came out that they found themselves publicly having to deal with how they felt.

“All Kinds of Other” is a beautifully written emotional story about self-acceptance and being who we really are.

“The Wolf and the Woodsman” by Ava Reid— An Unlikely Alliance

Reid, Ava. “The Wolf and the Woodsman: A Novel”, Harper Voyager, 2021.

An Unlikely Alliance

Amos Lassen

Évike lives in a village in her forest where she  is the only woman without power and is considered to be an outcast clearly who has been abandoned by the gods. The villagers says that her corrupted was corrupted by her father being a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers come from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike finds herself betrayed by her fellow villagers given to them. 

But when monsters attack a Woodsmen with one eye was attacked by the soldiers by a monster and everyone was killed aside from him and Évike, the two have to rely on each other. We learn that he’s no ordinary Woodsman; he is the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár is afraid that his cruel brother plans to seize the throne and begin a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. His mother is reviled foreign queen so Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike create a pact to stop his brother. Evike and Gaspar begin to like and trust each other and the fact that they both have dealt with oppression and alienation only makes their bond stronger. Things change, however, whenÉvike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic and she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to do for a nation that never cared for them at all. 

 Évike, even with all of her flaws, wants to do the right thing but she is torn. Discovering a power that could save a nation from itself makes her want to live because only then will she be able to use it.  

This is something of a dark story filled with aspects of fairy tales and it also has its share of gore and blood. We see the tension between culture, religion, and identity and the ideological and emotional struggles of being caught between different cultures and theologies. We read about Évike learning about love and being able to a part of more than one world.  We see both her strength and her vulnerability who often acts before thinking. Reading about who she is has us confronting ourselves on some of the very same issues. 

“Lola On Fire” by Rio Youers— An Emotional Thriller

 

Youers, Rio. “Lola on Fire: A Novel”,  William Morrow, 2021.

An Emotional Thriller

Amos Lassen

“Vengeance and deceit, love and bullets, secrets, and twists” come together in Rio Youers emotional thriller, “Lola On Fire”. We meet Brody Ellis who is short on both  luck and the cash to buy medications for his sister Molly.

Out of despair, he robs a convenience store, but as he is leaving, he bumps into a young woman and loses his wallet. He expected the cops to arrive soon but instead he hears from Blair Mayo–the woman he bumped into and who has his wallet. To get it back, but he must do a favor for her— steal her late mother’s diamonds from her wicked stepmom. He agrees but when  he gets to the house, he comes upon a crime scene and a security camera. Brody understands that he’s been framed. Returning home terrified, the phone rings once again and he is told that the police won’t get the incriminating video footage. Instead, Blair tells him that her father, Jimmy Latzo, a notorious mobster will avenge what has happened.

Brody and Molly set out on a journey to save their lives understanding that Brody is a pawn in a game in which an enforcer, Lola Bear who had brutally crossed paths with Jimmy Latzo twenty-six years before in also involved.

Here is a novel filled with non-stop action that keeps the reader turning pages as quickly as possible. Latzo wants his own special revenge on Brody (and his sister, Molly, by default) and brother and sister become involved in a tangle web.  This is a dark read filled with gore and I say that as a warning to the weak-of heart. Those who stick with it will clearly be able to see the differences between good and evil. A dysfunctional relationship comes into being because of manipulation and betrayal and to see everything come together is quite an experience.

“The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood” by Donna Rifkind— An Amazing Woman

Rifkind, Donna. “The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood”, Other Press, 2020.

An Amazing Woman

Amos Lassen

Donna Rifkind’s  “The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood” is the story story of screenwriter Salka Viertel, whose Hollywood salons in 1930s and 40s were a refuge for famous figures who had escaped the World War ll. History shows us that Hollywood was the creation of
women, Jews, and immigrants. Salka Viertel was all three and she was also wrote the screenplays of  five of Greta Garbo’s movies and was her most intimate friend. She had once been the highest-paid writer on the MGM lot. Her home in Santa Monica was open on Sunday afternoons the many European émigrés who had fled Hitler’s Germany including Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Arnold Schoenberg and Hollywood star such as Charlie Chaplin and Shelley Winters. It was in Viertel’s living room that many cinematic, theatrical, and musical partnerships were born. She was a worldly woman who was fluent in eight languages and she was a real bohemian who lived a fascinating sexual life while maintaining a motherly image. It is surprising that we have not heard more about her before this book especially since we are aware of how Jewish immigrants to this country changed Hollywood.

Viertel welcomed the elite of the Frankfurt School, of modernist music or German literature as her guests. She came here before many of them and she wanted to give them a taste of home by baking German specialties and served her special coffee. She tried to bring to America as many refugees as she could.

I loved reading and learning about the salons of Gertrude Stein in Paris and am a huge fan of the Frankfort School so I knew I would love this book before I even began to read it and I was not wrong.

Viertel came with her parents to America in 1928 from the Western Ukraine. They had only planned to be here for  four years, but because of the rise of Nazism, they decided to stay.  Here Donna Rifkind brings back the 1940s and the life of a woman and how she worked in films via her connection to Garbo and her own talents. The obscurity of Viertel’s life disappears with this wonderfully researched book. I was sucked into it immediately.

 

 

 

HAYMAKER”— Human Dignity and Love

“HAYMAKER”

Human Dignity and Love

Amos Lassen

Nick Sasso’s “Haymaker” is the story of Nick,  a retired Muay Thai fighter (Sasso) working as a bouncer, who rescues a transgender performer (Nomi Ruiz) from a thug, eventually becoming her bodyguard, protector, and confidant. The relationship leads him to make an unexpected return to fighting and he risks not only his relationship, but his life. Sasso also wrote and edited the film.

Nick’s job with Nomi involves escorting around the globe to her appearances or shopping. He soon becomes restless and abandons Nomi in Greece to go to Thailand and get back the Martial Arts again.  He wants to see if there is one last fight in him. Unfortunately there is no chemistry between the two so any relationship seems false. Nonetheless, this is a noble attempt but one that fails dismally.

“GOD OF THE PIANO”— To Raise a Prodigy

“GOD OF THE PIANO”

To Raise a Prodigy

Amos Lassen

For concert pianist, Anat (Naama Preis), music is all she has but she never has  been able to reach her father’s musical standards. She has hopes that her  unborn child will be able to so. However, she gives birth to a boy who is born deaf. Now, Anat’s will to raise a musical genius becomes stronger, and she takes drastic measures to make sure her son becomes the composer her father always wanted. Her son, however, is indifferent to destiny as a  great pianist and Anat will have to stand up to her father  and her own actions.

“God of the Piano” from director Itay Tal explores  the uncertain nature of prodigy and the price one pays for being labeled a genius. It is filled with twists and turn and totally unpredictable. There is wonderful music and adoration of a gifted young pianist, but it is basically a study of a woman who lives through her genius son, pushing him relentlessly and nurturing his talent while at the same time being guilty of inflicting psychological abuse on him.

Anat is a concert pianist from a family that’s all about music, so much so that when a pregnant Anat breaks water during a concert, she continues her performance, and when riding in the back seat of a car on the way to the hospital, she sees that her brother and father do not talk about her or ask how she’s doing but discuss the technique of the pianist who performs for them on the radio.

When she learns that her newborn son is deaf and has a defect that would prevent him from getting anywhere near what Anat is hoping for him, she switches wrist bands in the hospital and takes home a normal, healthy child. Anat had never reached the heights that her teacher, Arieh (Ze’ev Shimshoni) had hoped for her and this is the reason that devotesher life to her “son” Idan (Omer Migram as a baby, Itay Zipor at a 5-year-old, and Andy Levy at the age of 12).

We are all aware of parents who, like Anat, live through their children.  Anat is so wrapped up in her misguided devotion to Idan that she refuses to let the 12-year-old go on a school outing because that would take two days away from his rehearsing for an audition. Yet she has no problem seducing Raphael (Shimon Mimran), a great composer, to get from him corrections to her boy’s composition.