“Men of the Manor: Erotic Encounters between Upstairs Lords and Downstairs Lads” edited by Rob Rosen—- A Gay Look at a Time that Was

men of the manor

Rosen, Rob, editor. “Men of the Manor: Erotic Encounters between Upstairs Lords and Downstairs Lads”, Cleis, 2014.

A Gay Look at a Time that Was

Amos Lassen

When I see the name Rob Rosen on the spine of a book it does not stay on the shelf for long. I love the way he writes and when he edits, I love his choices. This time we go back in time to the country estate and meet servants and masters read about intrigue and mystery and watch money be exchanged for sex and vice versa. Quite simply, this means we are in for a very good time.

Rosen brings us some very hot and sexy stories all set sometime before the first World War. It is a time of leisure and the threat of war is not yet upon the world. Those with money and class have lots of time to indulge in whatever they want and in this anthology they want sex. Just as the upper classes looks for liaisons so do the needier class with the hope that finding the right person might change lives. Here is a book about short sexual comings together and it is all about fun—reading it and writing it were also obviously all about fun. So someone is bound to say—are the stories really dirty and smutty? To that I must reply that when I started reviewing I got very bored with some of the erotic stories and anthologies I had been sent but after a while I noticed that there is that category that I call literary smut in which the stories, although highly erotic, are also literature and that is the case with Rob Rosen. I do not believe that he would choose a story that does not have literary merit and he is one of the several that I put into the literary smut category.

And there is diversity here as well—each story is set in a different place and at a different time before the war. I read one review in which the reviewer said that there was more porn than plot and I can only wonder if we read the same book. She went on to say and I quote, “The Lord meets the lad, exchange some glances and some banter, and then they find a place for their one encounter. That’s really all the story was, just the single sex scene between the two men. There was hope for more in the end, but definitely not a solid ending. Just a fun, hot little tale. And that, my friends, would be my review x13. All the stories followed the same basic formula with no real plot to be found”. I am firmly convinced that the reviewer not only did not read the book but also did not even see it because none of what she says has an ounce of truth in it. I have never understood why someone would write a review of something they did not read and trash it as well.

Rosen has said that the reason he was anxious t edit this book was to show the differences and the likenesses between the haves and those that have little or nothing. He wanted “to show not only what makes them so vastly different but also their romantic similarities”. In that he well succeeded and we have stories from the perspectives of both sides.

I urge you to avoid the negative review and rush to get a copy of this. I am sure that you will agree with me.

“The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride. Gay Couples in the Early Twentieth Century” by Sebastien Lifshitz— Vintage Photos

the invisibles

Lifshitz, Sebastien. “The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride. Gay Couples in the Early Twentieth Century”, Rizzoli, 2014.

Vintage Photos

Amos Lassen

“The Invisibles” is a collection of gay couples from 1900-1960, the period that is often referred to as “the dark ages”. The people we see in their photographs dared to be out at a time when it was quite dangerous to be so and even if they were just out in order to get the picture taken that was quite a brave move.

Lifshitz discovered and collected the photos from flea markets and garage sales and that is why we do not know who are in the pictures as their identities have been lost for quite some time. The photos are indeed intriguing—we see couples holding hands, exuding happiness and freedom and this is so unlike other pictures from that period. The photos are what inspired Lifshitz to make a documentary film and to give voices to those who had been silenced. The film was awarded the Cesar Award for Best Documentary in 2013.

We see the gay world that was before the Stonewall Riots— men and women in the first half of the 20th century, in the middle of severe oppression They dared to take pictures of themselves and each other and we get a story of love that we did not have before.  It all began when Lifshitz found a family album of photos from the sixties that had belonged to two old ladies. He saw the affection in the photos and knew that they were a lesbian couple. He was mystified as to how they got their pictures developed and he began to look for other pictures from that period. As he collected he knew he was onto something big and he soon had six decades of photographs showing same-sex love.

Now that we have these photos we see that there have always been those who stand before a camera with pride and that the repression that we were forced to live with did not stop from enjoying each other.

 

 

“Hidden: The Intimate Lives of Gay Men Past and Present” by Clinton Elliott— Brief Biographies of Men in the Closet

hidden

Elliott. Clinton. “Hidden: The Intimate Lives of Gay Men Past and Present”, AuthorHouse, 2014.

Brief Biographies of Men in the Closet

Amos Lassen

Let’s face it—gay men have always been around but in the past the closet was the biggest gay bar in the world. In this book, we go into the closets and pull our men out. Clinton Elliott gives us delightful short looks at many of these men and they include some who are quite famous—Horatio Alger, Thomas Eakins, King Edward II, Alfred C. Kinsey, and Siegfried Wagner to name just a few. There are actually 400 short biographies here and all of the men lived at a time when secrecy and discretion were important and revelation probably would have been disastrous. I had the feeling more than once that I was reading a juicy tabloid tell-all but then again now that I know about these men, my life has not changed. The men we read about here had quite difficult lives and yet most survived. Those of us who came out in the 60s and 70s, we can understand very easily because it was the same way for us. There are, to be sure, some surprises here and the reading experience is pure pleasure. We never get too much or not enough information —it is always just right. The door is partially opened for us if we want to pursue further study. Clinton Elliott certainly knows how to shorten information to give us just what we need to know.

Surely there are other books that are something like this but as Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit” and there is plenty that is brief and the whole volume is filled with wit. History can be excessively boring and it seems that author Elliott knew exactly what we wanted to know bout each person and supplied us with that. I cannot imagine how much research and writing and rewriting went into this book. To give you an idea of what you will find here have a look below:

 “One who did was James Brooke. He turned his inheritance into a 142-ton schooner, sailed for the East Indies, seized the northern part of Borneo and proclaimed himself Rajah of Sarawak. Among those who did not survive was Jan Quisthout Van der Linde, a soldier in New Amsterdam (not yet New York). He was stripped of his arms, his sword broken at his feet. He was then tied in a sack, thrown into the Hudson River and drowned until dead…the trial of those over-the-top transvestites Ernest Boulton ‘Stella of the Strand’ and Frederick ‘Fanny’ Park; and a delightful description of the 5th Marquess of Anglesey as he parades along the boulevards of Paris rouged, powdered and perfumed, cradling an equally perfumed poodle festooned with pink ribbons”. 

“THE LITTLE BEDROOM”— A Story of the Heart

the little bedroom

“The Little Bedroom” (“La petite chambre”)

A Story of the Heart

Amos Lassen

Edmond’s heart is no longer strong but it still works and Edmond is still independent and against the idea of moving into a retirement home. He also refuses help from Rose, the person who takes care of him at home. Rose, however, stands up to him and she also knows what happens when someone is forced into doing what he does not want. Her own heart is still unhealed from some thing that happened to her in the past. It took a bad fall to get Edmond to accept help from Rose.

Rose (Florence Loiret Caille) returned to work to soon after a personal neonatal tragedy. On her rounds as community nurse she meets one of her new patients, 80 something Edmond (Michael Bouquet). Circumstances bring the two into close contact frequently and an unlikely bond of friendship gradually develops between Rose and Edmond. Edmond is not an easy patient. He lost his wife

, some 40 years earlier and now has only his unloving and unsupportive son Jacques (Joel Delsaut) to call ‘family’. Edmond is a diabetic and life seems to hold few surprises or joys. He is undisturbed at the idea of giving up on the will to live. Jacques intends his father be taken into care so that he, himself, can start life anew in New York.

Rose has a warm heart and clear mind. She encourages Edmond to do the simplest of things such as eating, and to accept insulin shots. They do not say much to each other but it is her presence and willingness to regard Edmond as a man and as a real human being has a profound effect on Edmond and it brings back his will to live a little every day. When a small fire in Edmond’s home occurs, Rose is there and deals with it even though the kitchen is charred. When Jacques sees it, he blames his father for starting the fire and accuses Rose of being too involved with his father. It is here that her boss decides Rose is not yet ready to return to work so soon after losing an unborn child and forces her into taking a long vacation.

Marc (Eric Cavayaka), Rose’s live-in partner, chooses to leave her to work abroad. After their separation Rose finds she has plenty of time available to care for Edmond whom she then takes to her own apartment where he stays. We realize that Rose needs a substitute for her lost child and this she finds in caring for Edmond. A strong friendship develops as they talk, dine together and go out. Edmond takes an interest in Rose once he realizes that she miscarried and still grieves long after her tragic loss. Rose takes Edmond to her child’s cemetery; where at the graveside he shows her which plants will last longest. Some might find this a bit morbid but it is actually quite touching.

The movie has fine acting from the two leads. Edmond stays with Rose, and they keep this as their secret. Jacques who is unaware of this situation reports his father as a missing person. Marc returns to Rose and also forms a bond with Edmond. 



There are some powerful dramatic moments such as when Edmond chooses to go on a mission and journeys alone to where memories of his deceased wife are strongest. Rose is deeply affected by what she though was Edmond’s disappearance. At this point to do any more summation of the plot would spoil the film. Stéphanie Chaut and Véronique Reymond co-direct and co-write with empathy, immaculate timing. We find ourselves swept up into the lives of the characters and the themes of humanity, compassion, dignity, and life’s unexpected events are constant throughout the film. This is, quite simply, a beautiful film.

“WAGNER’S JEWS”— A Strange Brotherhood

wagner's jews 

“WAGNER’S JEWS”

A Strange Brotherhood

Amos Lassen

From what we know of history, Richard Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite.  His writings about Jews were important to and embraced by Hitler and the Nazi party. However, this film teaches us something we did not know about Wagner and that is that many of Wagner’s closest associates were Jews – young musicians who became personally devoted to him, and provided crucial help to his work and career. Even more interesting is that as Wagner called for the elimination of the Jews from Germany, many of his most active supporters were Jewish.

I am sure that some of you are thinking what I thought when I first learned this— why were Jews drawn to him and with all of the hate for Jews that he harbored how could he accept them? These two questions are what this film answers and it is, incidentally, the first film to look at Wagner and his personal relationships with Jews (I almost feel like using the word Jew here is an anti-Semitic act). I remember all to well the volatile arguments that went on in Israel when I lived there as to whether or not the Israeli Philharmonic could play Wagner’s music.

The film was made in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, and through the use of archival sources, re-enactments, interviews, and performances of original musical works by Wagner’s Jewish colleagues, we get a different look at Richard Wagner. The film also looks at the controversy in Israel and Zubin Mehta; the conductor of the Israel Philharmonic is interviewed here, as is Leon Botstein. The questions remain the same throughout history: “is it possible to separate the art from its creator? Can sublime music transcend prejudice and bigotry, and the weight of history”?

Directed by Hilan Warshaw the film is an intense look at the Wagner situation and does so evenly. The issue is still as complex as it has always been and because the director himself is a musician, he is able to look at the issue “polyphonically, pursuing many different voices and balancing contradictions, without once taking the floor himself at all.”

Wagner changed the face of the music of the west and he was without doubt a musical genius. But Wagner was also a hateful man—egotistical, selfish, a betrayer of friends, and a liar. His writings about the Jews are disgusting and vile and he was the personification of anti-Semitism. His essays were vitriolic rants that often crossed over into the delusional. Later Hitler adopted his writings and they helped cause even more hate in Germany.

How could it have been that Wagner had many rich Jewish supporters and admirers? He had Jewish musicians and conductors working for him, some who considered Wagner their mentor. Who were they? Why did they work for him or give him money? This documentary looks into stories of Jews who worked with Wagner or were tutored by him— Carl Tausig, a piano prodigy who was 16 when Wagner mentored him; Joseph Rubinstein, pianist and composer, and, most tragically, Herman Levy, a proud and accomplished conductor, the chief conductor of the Munich Orchestra, who was bullied and belittled by Wagner yet conducted the first performances of the Ring Cycle and Parsifal. We learn of the history of Wagner and the Jews as well as whether Wagner’s music should be banned in Israel. The eternal question pops up again and again— can or should we separate the person from his art? Wagner is the ultimate test of this question.

The DVD has several extras: Extended Interviews • Musical Performance: Rubinstein’s Parsifal • Deleted Scene: Death in Venice • Filmmaker Interview

“A PEOPLE UNCOUNTED: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE ROMA”— The “Gypsy” Holocaust

a people uncounted

“A PEOPLE UNCOUNTED: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE ROMA”

The “Gypsy” Holocaust

Amos Lassen

Many associate the Holocaust with the attempt at annihilation of the Jewish people and we forget that others were also destroyed at the same time. The Roma (Gypsy) appear almost only as an afterthought when we look at the darkest period of history in the existence of the world.

 The Roma (Gypsies) faced annihilation during the Nazi ‘Final Solution,’ yet have been relegated to a footnote in history. The Roma are still victims of extreme and often violent racial persecution. This film is the story of Europe’s largest minority group.

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A People Uncounted is a powerful journey exposing the tragedy of Europe’s largest minority group. Director, Aaron Yeger, visited eleven countries and interviewed many Roma (artists, historians, musicians, Holocaust survivors) and we see here the very rich and the very difficult lives led by the Roma. Through their music, words and poetry we see their story and learn that once again that in Europe there is racism and genocide for some ethnic minorities. We must never forget the lessons of history and be aware that it can, indeed, happen again. This is the first nonfiction feature dedicated to Romani victims and it consists of visual evidence, historical commentary and survivor testimonies.

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The Roma migrated northward from India during the Middle Ages, landing everywhere from Russia to the U.K. In some places they were forbidden to settle or own property and in other places they were segregated into ghettoes. Vlad the Impaler, Henry VIII and Maximilian I were among those who authorized their exile, persecution or outright murder. Nonetheless, a romantic popular stereotype of footloose freedom persisted. Today they are Europe’s largest minority as well as the European Union’s most discriminated against. They are widely associated with theft and miscellaneous other misdeeds and this gives right-wing politicians and ethnic nationalist groups a license to brand them undesirables and encourage hate crimes against them. We see one woman here that is so afraid that her educated, successful children will be tainted by association that she’ll only discuss her heritage while being photographed in silhouette. 

The Nazis targeted them and because their skin was somewhat dark and they lived in isolation they became easily identifiable. The Nazis had every intention of erasing them from the face of the earth and referred to them as “gypsy scourge”. Many perished in concentration camps; while countless others were simply shot or starved to death in their homelands. Survivors of this holocaust, which claimed up to 90% of Europe’s Roma population, tell frightening stories here, including one man who was subjected as a boy to Mengele’s experiments.

The catastrophe of the Roma was not hardly recognized after the war. There was no information about or mention of them at the Nuremberg trials and until recently they have not had academic or political voices.

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“A People Uncounted” primarily looks at the genocide of the Roma and Senti people during World War II. Yeger and also touches on parallels with the American Civil rights movement as well as genocide that has taken place in more recent years. There is a lot of ground covered within an hour and a half, maybe a bit too much for a film of that length but it is better to have a film that tries to say too much, than a film that essentially says very little.

There is no accurate count of Roma and Senti people who died in death camps or the various round-ups, but it estimated that the population loss was close to 90 percent. We see the historical perspective as well as current laws, in places such as in Italy where Roma people are registered and have been forced to move from cities such as Milan, where municipal laws are able to circumvent European Union rules. A montage of clips from movies and television shows touch on how “Gypsies” have been portrayed in popular culture with a mix of both prejudice and fanciful romanticism. It is the first person accounts that make A People Uncounted worth watching, both for providing some added historical perspective on a minority people, but also as an antidote to those who insist on trivializing history for their own dubious purposes.

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 Genocide is defined and the modern white power movement is deconstructed, giving a broad overview of the many issues and secondary indicators of ongoing discrimination and hate. The intent is to give a bigger picture idea of how the persecution of the Romani people that we see as an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of different cultures — has persisted throughout history and is perpetuated in modern society.

 The modern motto of “We must NEVER forget, lest it happen again” reminds us that we do FORGET and in many cases, “we” do not even know or adequately acknowledge the existence of genocide being perpetrated against so many groups throughout the world – the Turkish genocide of Armenians, Stalin’s purges and Holodomor against 10,000,000 Ukrainians, the recent and various “ethnic cleansings” within the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda’s decimation of Tutsis by the Hutus – to name but a few. Yeger’s film is superbly researched and emotionally wrenching. We see the Roma as a people who have been “uncounted”.

“Calvin’s Head” by David Swatling— Homeless in Holland

calvin's head

Swatling, David. “Calvin’s Head”, Bold Strokes Books, 2014.

Homeless in Holland

Amos Lassen

First off I want everyone to know that I am well aware that the real name for the place I refer to as Holland is The Netherlands but I was looking for something more alliterative for this title therefore I used the “H” word. Now on to the book— The Netherlands is a beautiful country but unfortunately being homeless there detracts from the beauty, at least for Jason Dekker who had come there because of his thesis on Van Gogh. Now, he and Calvin, his dog are on the outskirts of Amsterdam. While there he had fallen in love with a Dutch artist, Willy Hart who convinced him to stay past his original plan to be there. Now Willy is off somewhere and Jason is having a hard time of things. In fact Jason is very distraught.

One morning in the park, Calvin discovers the victim of what had obviously been quite a horrible death. Jason sees this murder as a chance to perhaps solve their financial problems but what he does not realize is that he is now in the sights of Gadget, a cold-hearted murderer.

In the beginning of the book we are given a great deal of information as Jason basically narrates the story (although Gadget and Calvin have something to say as well) but once past that I found myself in the thick of the plot and despite the beautiful prose I was turning pages as quickly as I could. You may notice that I mentioned that the dog also has his say but we must keep in mind that it was Calvin who found the body and being a dog owner myself (Sophie, my Jack Russell Terrorist), I was not surprised to see that Calvin indeed has his own point of view. Calvin is not just a dog; he is also a character in the story.

What might surprise many is that this is a very scary story replete with twists and turns in the plot. Because it is a thriller, it is hard to review without giving something away. Above all else and that includes plot and character, it is the beautiful language of the story that keeps it going. I mentioned that I read it quickly but at the end when I sat down to write this review, it was not the plot but the prose that I remembered. Yet the characters are well developed. We tend to sympathize with Jason probably because he is a “good-guy” while Gadget is the opposite. We can visualize them as we read and there are times I felt that we were in the same room—I even found myself looking over my shoulder more than once to make sure I was alone as I read.

There is something for everyone here—romance, action, murder, art history and a dog and there is no way you can go wrong reading “Calvin’s Head”. This is author David Swatling’s first novel but I can tell that we shall be hearing more from him. Some may not care for the ending but I think it is perfect.

“Homecoming”, (The Châtelaine Book 1) by Cooper West— A Paranormal Mess in an Overdone and Stale Genre

homecoming

West, Cooper. “Homecoming”, (The Châtelaine Book 1), Cooper West, 2014.

 A Paranormal Mess in an Overdone and Stale Genre

Amos Lassen

The paranormal has been milked so much that there is really nothing new to write about and we really see that here in Cooper West’s “Homecoming”. Now that I think of it, I realize that in the past I have given West entirely too much credit with her books. Not only is this poorly written but the plot is a mess and the kindle formatting is way off. Nonetheless I tried to be fair—as fair as I can be when reviewing something that is so below other books so I have decided to say what I really think this time. My first thought is to tell you to save your time and money because that is really nothing I can say good about this overblown tale that has nothing to offer us. In fact I wonder why West published it at all. I notice that this is self-published which in itself is interesting because West usually writes for Dreamspinner but I guess that press did not want it. I am surprised that she did not get her pal Ryan Field to publish it—it is on the same level as the barely passable romances that he publishes.

Ursula Price (Sula) is a werebear and her life is instable. It is hard for her to live with the idea that she is feared. She thinks that she might be the last one of her kind that is alive today. Before her mother died she gave her a bracelet that has the power to keep her werebear nature under control.

She has had to travel alone but that she meets Lisbeth, a lone werewolf who would like to settle down with her. Lisbeth also meets a fellow werewolf, Tony who is a member of a pack that includes gay Daniel and Cal and they are attracted to Sula and very much in love with each other. They then have to deal with the love they share and the love they suddenly feel for a female. So with this premise of a plot and poorly constructed prose we get a look at what west thinks a “werefamily” should look like. Personally I would rather to feed animals at the zoo. This is book one of what I take it is to be a series. I am sure that with homosexuality, weresexuality,  and bisexuality the only thing left is a “transwerebear” that we will probably get in book 2.

“Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David”, by Lawrence Wright— The 1976 Camp David Conference

thirteen

Wright, Lawrence. “Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David”, Knopf, 2014.

The 1976 Camp David Conference

Amos Lassen

President Jimmy Cater persuaded Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel and Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt to come to Camp David and sign the first peace treaty in the modern Middle East, the same one which still is in force today. 
 Lawrence Wright takes us through the thirteen days of the Camp David conference and shows us issues that have made the problems of the region so difficult. He also looks at the scriptural narratives that continue to frame the conflict. He gives us detailed and vivid portraits of the characters who were there— including Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizmann, Osama el-Baz, Mohamed Ibrahim Kamel and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Cyrus Vance and writes of the work that went on behind the scenes. Many do not know of the role that Rosalynn Carter played and this comes through here as well. We really get a look at the peace process and how Carter persisted to get an agreement pushed through and how the participants, some of who had been enemies seemingly forever, managed to get a peace treaty. We become very aware of the difficulties inherent in the process and its outcome, not the least of which has been the still unsettled struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians. 
 Wright gives us a look at history and some very fine reportage that gives us a timely revisiting of this important diplomatic triumph and an inside look at how peace is made. Wright’s research is meticulous and he goes beyond the main events and takes into consideration the historical events of the time and how they factor in.

We also get some wonderful details—“Rosalynn Carter spontaneously suggesting to her husband that the intransigents should come to the beautiful and peaceful Camp David to revive stalled talks; Begin startling his hosts on a brief outing to the Gettysburg battlefield by reciting Lincoln’s entire address from memory; Carter dramatically accusing Sadat of betrayal and, at one point, thinking to himself that Begin was a “psycho”; Israel’s fiercest warrior, Dayan, by then going blind, bloodying his nose by walking into a tree; Begin bursting into tears as Carter presents him with conference photos inscribed to each of the prime minister’s grandchildren”. These personal touches make everything wonderfully human.

Wright puts everything in context and that is what makes this book so fascinating. We are reminded that Carter’s Camp David was an act of surpassing political courage and Jimmy Carter full credit for all the lives his inspired diplomacy saved.

TRY IT FOR 99¢

“BALLET BOYS”— Dancing Boys

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“Ballet Boys”

Boys Dancing

The Norwegian documentary “Ballet Boys”  follows Lukas, Syvert and Torgeir, who are all in the same class together at a ballet school, where they’re the boys among many girls. To be honest, while early on the documentary asks questions about why the boys want to do ballet, it quickly realizes there’s no better reason than ‘why not?’ After all like anything else, once you realize you have a talent, it’s no surprise you’d want to pursue it. However there are undoubtedly reasons to stop, not least the time, passion and dedication needed, especially knowing that there are no guarantees of a successful dancing career at the end of it.

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“Ballet Boys” introduces us to  young dancers and the bonds that have grown between them over their years together. The  main drama in the this documentary film comes with the dancers  approaching the end of their schooldays and they must decide what to do next. Do they want to continue with ballet at another school, and even if they do, what would going to different places to dance do to strong bonds between them?

The core is a story that could be told about many young people as they finish school and have to decide what to do next, although the stakes here are a little higher, especially for the Lukas who’s been invited to audition for the Royal Ballet School in London, which wouldn’t just mean he leaves Syvert and Torgeir behind, but has to move to a whole new country, all by himself, at just 16-years-old.

Thanks to the fact it allows you to get to know and care about the teens, “Ballet Boys” is surprisingly effective and watchable. There is a slight sense that the film might have found a better way to tie together what is universal and what it unique to the world of ballet, but it does ensure that those who aren’t that interested in dance will be pulled into what is essentially a coming of age tale about three young men.

One thing that I did not really care for was that the documentary does seem to have a slightly uncomfortable interest in showing the boys in their changing room. It tries to explain it by saying this is where they are most themselves and where they relax, but after a while it starts to feel a little voyeuristic.

This is a well-made and interesting documentary which may find its core in a story that’s pretty universal, but still offers plenty of interest for those who like dance.