“JEFF BECK: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS”— Beck Through the Sixties

jeff beck a man for all seasons

“Jeff Beck ‘A Man For All Seasons’”

Beck Throughout the 1960s

Amos Lassen

In 1964 when Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds, the band was left searching for their first hit and they needed a replacement. Who they got was a multi-talented, technical and sonic pioneer, Jeff Beck. Beck helped move the band forward and it became on of the most daring groups working and playing in the United Kingdom.

This documentary traces Beck’s music and carreer in the 1986s from his formative influences with the Yardbirds and with Mickie Most as a soloist and thea the first incarnation, albeit radical, of the Jeff Beck Group at which time he played alongside Rod Stewart, vocalist and Ron Wood as second guitarist.

We get many interviews and lots of rare performance and studio footage. I love that those who worked with Back contribute and I suspect this is the most complete portrait of Beck that we will ever have. It always seems more real when we see and hear the person speaking. I doubt we will ever consider Beck to be underrated again after seeing this documentary.

Here are some of the highlights: New interviews with: Yardbirds first manager, Giorgio Gomelsky; the man who took over from Gomelsky, colourful music biz impresario, Simon Napier Bell; Jeff’s fellow Yardbirds, Jim McCarty & Chris Dreja; musical conspirators from the early 70s, Tim Bogert & Max Middleton; the ever shocking Pamela Des Barres (aka Miss Pamela of The GTOs); legendary music press scribes, Charles Shaar Murray & Chris Welch; Beck’s official biographer Martin Power and  Uncut Magazine editor, Nigel Williamson.

“Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague” by Joyce Brabner (Author) and Mark Zingarelli (illustrator)— Fighting AIDS

second avenue caper

Brabner, Joyce (author) and Mark Zingarelli (illustrator). “Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague”, Hill & Wang, 2014.

Fighting AIDS

Amos Lassen

Joyce Brabner gives us the true story of a tight-knit group of artists and activists living in New York City in the early 1980s who found themselves on the front lines in the fight against AIDS. They were struggling to understand the disease and how they could help so they made a deal with a bona fide goodfella, dressed in wonderful disguises, piled into an “A-Team” van, and set off for the border. They were determined to save their bedridden friends by smuggling an experimental drug into the United States from Mexico.

Their community was in crisis and the world looked away. So what were they to do? Here an impassioned gang of misfits never gave up hope as they searched for ways to raise awareness and beat the plague. This book is a heartfelt tribute to the generation that faced down AIDS.

“Second Avenue Caper” is set in Manhattan in the darkest early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Brabner’s vivid script tells the story of a band of friends – her friends – who plotted to smuggle illegal drugs from Mexico to help beloved comrades desperately ill and abandoned by the medical establishment. Ray, a male nurse and drag-show producer tells the story; his Jewish partner, Benny, becomes a collaborator. Much like what really happened, characters disappear and Brabner tells the story with no sentimentality and this makes it all the more powerful.

In addition to being a story about AIDS this is the story of the Lower East Side, where the book is set and is now a totally different place. At the time, it was full of people from Communist-led countries. Now it seems like all the buildings have been emptied out and put on hold for retail development and the spirit of neighborhood that was once there is gone.

The book captures the time and the pathos, the tragedy and the sweetness as well as the mania at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in New York City. This is a graphic novel that is also graphic in what it has to say. We are seeing more and more books coming out that are about the AIDS epidemic and this in one that pulls us in immediately.

Joyce Brabner and Mark Zingarelli document a recent moment in history that already seems so far away but it is important that we never forget what happened. The story is powerful, the artwork is wonderful and what happened with AIDS is anemblematic tale of our times and it is classically heroic and moving at the same time.

 We can never allow ourselves to forget that “At that liminal moment when it became clear that a pattern of infection threatened to become a deadly epidemic, heroes emerged from the ranks of the ordinary. They were motivated by the desire to help friends survive this pitiless disease, or, in many cases, to make sure they died loved and cared for.”

We meet some of those people right here and their stories are poignant and brilliantly told to us. Joyce Brabner  gives us a wonderfully crafted tale that is powerful in its depiction of the strength of the human spirit in the face of unspeakable tragedy. Mark Zingarelli’s artwork is spectacular with a brilliant cinematic quality to it.

“Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe” by Matthew Pratt Guterl— The First African American Superstar

josephine baker

Guterl, Matthew Pratt. “Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe”, Belknap Press, 2014.

The First African American Superstar

Amos Lassen

We remember Josephine Baker as causing sensations—her nightclub act was quite risqué– she walked down the Champs Elysées with her pet cheetah in tow, and she wore banana skirts and was the siren of Jazz Age Paris. In “Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe” author Matthew Pratt Guterl shows a side of Baker that was little known and that was that her ambitions in the later years of her life were even more daring and subversive than when she was younger and the first African American superstar.

Knowing that her performing days were numbered, Baker settled down in a sixteenth-century chateau she named Les Milandes, in the south of France. But then, in 1953, she did something completely unexpected and, in the context of racially sensitive times, outrageous. She adopted twelve children from around the globe, transformed her estate into a theme park, complete with rides, hotels, a collective farm, and singing and dancing. The main attraction was her Rainbow Tribe, the family of the future, which was made up children of all skin colors, nations, and religions living together in harmony. Les Milandes attracted a public eager that was eager to spend money on a utopian vision, and to worship at the feet of Josephine who became the mother of the world.

Guterl says that Baker was a serious and determined activist who believed she could make a positive difference by creating a family out of the troublesome material of race. As we begin to read we are asked to set aside everything we know about Josephine Bake but unfortunately this came a bit too late in the text. Guterl had already begun his story that reads like a fairy tale. It is amazing to read how singer/dance Baker rose again during her elder years but this time she did so as a relentless civil rights advocate and the adoptive mother of 12 multiracial children, the “Rainbow Tribe.” Guterl went after the story that was in fragments and brings us a look at “an inspirational, exaggerated symbol of what was possible at the extreme end of wealth and fame, globally speaking, for anyone and everyone, no matter their skin tone or racial classification.” This is a stunning book that is both fun and intelligent that gives us new ways to consider identity, success, family, race, celebrity, and Josephine Baker.

Here is a Josephine Baker whose commitment to an international movement for civil rights began in her own house.

 

“The Empty Chair” by Bruce Wagner— Two Novellas

the empty chair

Wagner, Bruce. “The Empty Chair”, Plume, 1940.

Two Novellas

Amos Lassen

The two novellas in Bruce Wagner’s “The Empty Chair” deal with suffering and letting go. Wagner writes of Buddhist spiritual journeys taken by two people who are both desperate. While the stories are set years apart, they are linked tenuously.

“First Guru” is the story of Charlie, an aging gay Buddhist in Big Sur, California. He lives in a book-filled trailer that he rents from a monastery. He has led a difficult life, having been repeatedly molested by a priest in his local church, which led him to experience panic attacks as an adult. He once pursued a somewhat romantic relationship with a woman who was enchanted by Buddhism, and had a son, who was the center of their universe. As his wife taught a basic form of Buddhism in prisons (including San Quentin) and then in schools, he raised their son as a stay-at-home father. But their lives were rocked when their 12-year-old son committed suicide, and he has been unable to settle down since that tragedy, traveling in a Volkswagen bus.

In “Second Guru,” we meet Queenie, a wealthy, former wild child who now lives in a lavish tent in the New Mexican desert. Between sips of wine and puffs on a joint, Queenie tells her story of a long lost love with Kura, a drug lord who saved her from being stabbed to death by her gangster then-boyfriend at a Chicago nightclub. She recounts learning of Kura’s affinity for the mystics, his discovery of The Book of Satsang, and his subsequent devotion to the Indian saint who wrote the text, the Great Guru.

The metaphor of the empty chair comes to mean radically different things for each of the two main characters and their journeys toward and away from Buddhism. There are true stories, I understand and are told as interviews with the author. Throughout the interviews, Wagner interjects descriptions of his subjects and this makes it all more believable.

Wagner gives us a look at Americanized spirituality. This includes deep looks into some of our emotions namely, love, grief, loss, and he has a great deal to say about devotion although the does so somewhat indirectly.

Wagner sees himself as a story collector and then he brings the two stories together by using the empty chair metaphor. Here are two stories separated by time yet joined together by loss, grief and death and there are represented in the emptiness of the chair.

For me this was so much more than just a read. The stories are rendered in beautiful language about subjects that are more often pondered than written down. I was taken into a world that was only partially mine because my spirituality comes with Judaism but the mystical beauty of these stories cannot be ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

“SALEM: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON”— Massachusetts, 1692

salem poster

“Salem”: The Complete First Season

 Massachusetts, 1692

Amos Lassen

In Salem, Massachusetts in the early 1600s there were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people (primarily women) who were falsely accused of witchcraft in various towns in the New England state. These trials resulted in the executions of twenty people. Of course, The most famous adaptation/retelling of the Salem Witch Trials are no doubt the various film adaptations of The Crucible by Arthur Miller who a pointed out the ridiculousness and sheer lunacy of the whole situation with no actual magic and curses involved. Salem, on the other hand proposes the question that what if witches did in fact exist?

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The drama is this new series is intense and the portrayals of spirit possession are very disturbing. We see a teen girl contort, writhe in pain, and inflict harm on herself like biting off her own finger. Witchcraft practitioners are doused in blood for group rituals, and capital punishment is exacted by hanging and, in one case, crushing with stones. People are shot, whipped, and branded for various crimes. Sexuality is similarly explicit, showing intense bedroom encounters that obscure only genitalia and breasts, plus hints at masturbation and a link between sexuality and witchcraft. This is not a historical retelling of the events in Salem in the 1690s, but it is based on documented facts which when taken together give us a compelling story for a mature audience.

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The cast is quite large and there are four main characters. Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) is the initial witch of the series. She is Salem’s most powerful enchantress and holds a deep secret and deeper desires that may threaten her position and strength in the town of Salem. John Alden (Shane West) is a hardened war veteran and Mary’s one time love interest who returns to Salem to reclaim his love, only to find it consumed in a witch hunt frenzy. Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel) is a well-educated local reverend who is regarded as the foremost expert on witches and malice, and seemingly lives a life of upholding the law, despite living a private life that can turn his entire world upside down if it became public. Reverend Increase Mather (Stephen Lang) is Cotton’s much more revered father who has spent his life’s work seeking out those who do the devil’s work and shuffles them off this mortal coil. Increase comes to Salem after hearing about Cotton bringing the witch trials back.

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When the first episode begins, Mary Sibley, is making a difficult decision about an unexpected pregnancy, where she loses the baby. Because of this, her lover, John Alden, disappeared to join the war. He comes back to Salem and is hailed as a war hero. He soon learns that Mary has married someone else, a wealthy man, George (Michael Mulheren) who governs Salem. John decides to stay and as he begins to grow accustomed to his new life, he witnesses Reverend Cotton Mather having a woman hanged in public, claiming that she “danced with the devil” by practicing in witchcraft and this created a sense of paranoia in the town of Salem. Over the course of the first 6 episodes of the show, the main conflict is between Cotton and John. While we’re introduced to various characters, each episode has Cotton finding a new woman that he believes to be a witch, John will try to talk him out of it, and Cotton will end up having that person sentenced to death. Cotton and John dominate the story, though Mary begins to make calculated maneuvers to secure her place at the top of Salem.

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This summary gives you a bit of an idea of what to expect from the show. I was really impressed with the chemistry between the actors. The show is actually quite bold and brutal and really goes where others have tried to go. There is nudity and some shocking scenes like people being burned alive, a birth taking place as the mother walks around the house and so on.

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I actually love the show even though the writing is often choppy and filled with cliché. The acting is uniformly excellent, the sets and costumes are amazing. Again I must mention that is not family viewing due to the intensity and brutality that we see.

“LAST SUMMER”— Saying Goodbye

last summer

“Last Summer”

Saying Goodbye

Amos Lassen

Luke (Samuel Pettit) and Jonah (Sean Rose) live in rural Arkansas and they are best friends and lovers. This is to be their last summer together as Jonah (Sean Rose) is going off to college. Traditionally their summers had been filled with baseball, bicycles, church and pot luck dinners and now they must think about their futures.

Having lived Arkansas for seven years not so long ago, I was anxious to see this film and interestingly enough it did nothing for me the first time. That was two years ago. I sat down today and watched again and I was taken with its lyrical beauty and its emphasis on touch. Of course, since it took me two viewings to love this film, that does not mean that the same will be true for you. The reviews everywhere have been raves.

Director Mark Thiedeman captures those moments of tactile pleasure and those feelings and touches really mirror the way the two boys feel about each other. At times it is like watching a series of snapshots as we watch Jonah preparing to leave and Luke struggling with that and the memories that he will have. Theiderman also uses ambient sounds and light, shadows and darkness to emphasize emotions.

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It is interesting to see that neither of the parents have a problem with their sons’ relationship and what we see is simply a story of two lovers who know that eventually they will be separated and they need to figure out which direction their relationship will take.

We are reminded of those quiet summer days we remember as kids and I found the film to be a meditation on youth and the fleeting moments of love’s first kiss; it is both romantic and heartbreaking in its own way, and Thiedeman captures the magical essence of summers past on film.

Often the bonds formed in young adulthood whither, even when trying to keep them intact. We learn that Jonah is ambitious with good grades and goals while Luke is an athlete in summer school lost over thinking about his future and unsure of his aspirations. Over the course of a little more than an hour, we watch their love become victim to change and maturity. The film hypnotizes us with its beauty and emphasis on emotion.

There is little narration as we concentrate on the images on the screen. It seems to me that the film is a mood piece that captures its narrative through vision and sound. There is little dialogue between the boys and Theiderman keeps us focused on the sensual and tactile. It is the imagery that presents the theme of the film and it is presented against the music of Schumann and Beethoven. This is a beautiful film that you do not want to miss.

“BOYS ON TAPE 8″— A New “Old” Short from Wade Radford

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 09_Fotor_Collage_Fotor

“Boys on 8 Tape”

A New “Old” Short from Wade Radford

Amos Lassen

While this is not a new film to director Wade Radford, it is to us and can be found as an extra on “Boys Behind Bars 2”. Quite basically the film is about two young, agoraphobia sufferers who create a nest within their efficiency apartment and their fears preventing them from risking their love in the outside world.

The film looks like it was shot with a VHS camcorder, a throwback to what was once how we made films. Our new characters are not named but that does not stop us from getting to know them in such a short period of time. One of them seems to be looking right at us but we notice that in fact of him is a mirror and his back is actually to the camera so that he could not possibly looking into the lens. The same is true of the other guy and this makes us understand how they feel about the outside world. They have turned their back on it and their feelings are only for each other. They seem to want nothing more than to be alone together where they can love each other as they choose.

As simple an effect as this is, it says a lot and I love the idea. Their devotion is only for each other and they face a situation about how they will navigate the future. We soon see that even though their love is very, very strong they want totally different things out of life.



Every once in a while one of them looks out of the window and forming opinions about those who pass in front of their flat. It is only when they begin to speak that we begin to understand what they want and who they are. We learn of their fears as well as their hopes and what they want to do in life. They speak while looking out of the window and then they slowly let down their guards and begin to speak to each other. As we listen to them, we tend to focus on ourselves (or better said, I began to focus on myself) and we begin to think about their decisions and our own decisions. Even with the love they years, their lives are not so happy and what we see is the two exploring their differences and what they will have to deal with before they actually become part of life. While watching I suddenly realized that is really difficult to overcome fear and I really believe the reason there is so much hatred in the world is because we hate what we fear and we hate what we do not know. We also see that it helps to have someone aid us in overcoming our fears because understanding from someone else is the key.

I really loved how this film made me think carefully about issues within myself that I have not visited in a while. We all need to develop the power to empathize with others because it makes so much better. Radford presents us with a natural situation in a natural world—a place where we all need to share and love together. 

Unfortunately there is no trailer available.

“CHOZEN: THE COMPLETE SEASON ONE”— A Gay White Rapper

chozen

“Chozen: The Complete Season 1”

A Gay White Rapper

Amos Lassen

“Chozen” is a series of half-hour animated comedies about a white gay rapper who just got out of prison. In prison he learned something new and he is now on a quest for redemption and he aims to claim what he considers to be his rightful position as the top rap artist in the world. His lyrics are about the stereotypes of machismo and misogyny that are synonymous with rap music. His new world view, however, comes right out of prison.

Let’s face it, the idea of a gay white hip-hop thug still remains fantasy for many. “Chozen” was created for FX TV which means that anyone can see it. Bobby Moynihan is the voice of the character Chozen who now goes free after serving ten years because a friend set him up. He has become hardened both in mind and body not to mention his sexuality. He is a blunt character is filled with pride and totally oblivious.

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Here is a program that could have offended everyone but instead it comes across as tender. Chozen wants to build relationships. He goes to stay with his sister, Tracy (Kathryn Hahn), at college where he meets Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), a flip-flop-wearing lacrosse bro, who becomes his lover; Troy (Nick Swardson), a bespectacled virgin who becomes his aide-de-camp; and Jimmy (Mr. McBride), a peeping-tom ex-roadie who he hires as his manager. He also reunites with a pair of old running buddies, Crisco (Hannibal Buress) and Ricky (Michael Peña) and they are to be his hype men.

Chozen tries to enlist everyone’s help with his nascent rapping career. That, too, is well meaning and bumbling. His actual rapping is done by Grant Dekernion, the series creator. The songs begin dull, but get more vivid as the season progresses, particularly the one celebrating the return of Chozen’s big-house love interest, Jamal (Gary Anthony Williams). And the more intimate his songs get, the realer he seems.

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“Chozen” defies just about every stereotype rap music has to offer. He isn’t a minority, didn’t have a hard life, and isn’t into illegal activities, at least, not before he ended up behind bars. He’s a sweet boy who cares about people and loves men, something one does not expect to see in this world. Perhaps some ten years ago the entire premise would have seemed to be funny but that, unfortunately, is not true. The show has to find a way to attract fans that aren’t into rap music. The lyrics are amusing enough, and that helps some, but in order for the series to succeed, it needs a broad base. Actually what we see is animation and obscenity within a poignant story that is a satire.

After a short bit of back-story about how he ended up in prison in the first place, we meet Chozen after prison. He’s ten years older, at least fifty pounds lighter, and is forced to crash on his sister’s couch. He learns that Phantasm, the guy who managed to have him put into prison is now a superstar and this is what pushes him to resurrect his career. The show is advertised as “a deliriously perverse sitcom about a gay white rapper”. But what really makes it stand out is that this is well done overall. The show is well-written and intelligent and even though everything doesn’t work, what does work is great.

“Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties” by Rachel Cooke— A Group Biography

her brilliant career

Cooke, Rachel. “Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties”, Harper, 2014.

A Group Biography

Amos Lassen

“Her Brilliant Career” follows the women in Britain during the 1950s. These women were responsible for opening the door to feminism and laying the foundation of success for the modern women. They were pioneers whose professional careers and complicated private lives helped to create the opportunities available to today’s women. We have here among others a film director, a cook, an architect, an editor, an archaeologist, and a race car driver. These were women who left their homes, discovered the joys of work, and ushered in the era of the working woman.

Because these women were daring and independent yet obscure, the accomplishments that they made are all the most relevant and totally surprising. They dared “to challenge men’s control, made their own mistakes, and took life on their own terms, breaking new ground and offering inspiration.”

Journalist Rachel Cooke changes our minds about what was thought about the 1950s when she writs about these ten women who defied the status quo and convention thereby allowing them to make their marks on society and reshape it. Cooke’s research is amazing and she gives us vibrant portraits of the women. Looking at the book and the women as a whole, we see a different version of the 1950s then the one we were taught in school. We see the profound influence these women had just because they followed their dreams and overcame obstacles were able to change an age. Their legacy is their lasting contributions.

Gossip has become something of a way of life and this book is written in a gossipy vein. Even though I had never heard of most of these women, I love the way they were presented to me in the book. We see that family, friendships and networks of friends are played major roles in determining how these women ended up where they did and for me this was a new approach.

What we really see here is how rapidly things change especially at a time when women were not expected to know how to shape anything other than “women’s” stories for women.

Cooke uses a cultural and psychological perspective, to bring these women to us and we become aware of all of the influences they were prevalent at the time. Author Cooke maintains that World War II opened the door thus allowing women to step out of the home and into the working world. After the War there was a movement to push women back in but it was too late. This is an amazing read that is written with intelligence and thorough research. It would indeed be fascinating if someone were to write about the same subject in America—it is about time for us to know about it as well.

“Eight Days: A Hanukkah Story (Gay Erotic Stories Throughout the Year Book 1)” by Richard May and Wayne Goodman— Have a Gay Chanukah

eight days

May, Richard and Wayne Goodman. “Eight Days: A Hanukkah Story (Gay Erotic Stories Throughout the Year Book 1)”, Amazon Media, 2014.

Have a Gay Chanukah

Amos Lassen

Here is a brief note about an ebook that I just discovered. The blurb says, “A young gay man in New York receives a sexually explicit gift each day of Hanukkah from an unknown admirer. The gifts lead him into a world of leather sex he barely knew existed. The final gift, on the 8th night, is the most difficult one for him to accept”. Sounds like fun so if anyone has it or read, please tell us about it.