“SPRING & ARNAUD”— Mortality and What We Leave Behind

spring and arnaud

“SPRING & ARNAUD”

Mortality and What We Leave Behind

Amos Lassen

Spring & Arnaud is a tender and intelligent love story about acclaimed Canadian artists Spring Hurlbut is 60-years-old and is an artist who focuses on mortality and what we leave behind; Arnaud Maggs is 85-years old and a photographer who is fascinated by ways of identification, repetition and differences and likenesses of people. The two share a wonderful and tender love story. They have been together for twenty-five years and they both have to deal with the nature and meaning of creativity and what happens when the drive for invention and discovery resists life’s finite reality.

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When they met she was 35 and he was 60. She knew throughout their relationship that in all likelihood she would survive him, and this knowledge would in many ways propel her love for and artistic exploration into the ephemerality of life. “How life comes into the world and then I’m very compelled by how we exit the world. I think that I’m just swinging in between those extremes.”

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The documentary follows the final years of Maggs’s life. The film is powerfully romantic and a very human story that transcends the standard notion of “artist documentary”. The film does examine a large portion of their individual bodies of work but it is presented as an extension of their personal stories and not from the point of view of an observer looking in. “ Not only is this a documentary about two unique characters is also an unforgettable look at art, love and mortality.

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Maggs’s death came when he was 86 last year. The film was shot in the months leading up to his death but the main focus is on the love the two artists shared. “We see Arnaud and Spring, looking, talking, not talking, gesturing, at their cottage in France, their home and studios in Toronto, a flea market, the National Gallery in Ottawa”.

“THE PROFESSOR: TAI CHI’S JOURNEY WEST”— A Tai Chi Master

the professor

“THE PROFESSOR: TAI CHI’S JOURNEY WEST”

A Tai Chi Master

Amos Lassen

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese form of exercise that is practiced daily for relaxation, health, harmony, flexibility, and personal renewal. It is grounded in Chinese philosophy and culture and is both a spiritual practice and a way of life designed to achieve balance in mind, body and spirit.

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Barry Strugatz’s new documentary focuses on Cheng Man-Ching (1902 – 1975), a Tai Chi master who brought Tai Chi to America in 1962 when he was 60 and set up a Tai Chi school in New York City’s Chinatown. There he taught practitioners the slow, controlled movements to improve the flow of “chi” (the life energy which is the source of movement and vitality). Among his were Ed Young, an award-winning illustrator; Maggie Newman, a modern dancer; Stanley Israel, a prison guard and union president; Ken Van Sickle, a photographer and filmmaker; and Robert Chuckrow, a physicist and they share their feelings about Tai Chi. Many of Man- Ching”s followers had been hippies and countercultural American youth during the 1960s.

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Cheng Man-Ching taught a program lasting nine-months program that shortened Tai Chi practice from 108 to 37 essential postures. He was able to apply tai chi to calligraphy, brushwork, relationships, and the seasons.

Although members of New York’s Chinese community criticized Cheng Man-Ching for teaching the “secrets” of Tai Chi to Americans, this did not stop him and kept on sharing this practice until returning to Taiwan and working on a book. He died there in 1975 after teaching in the United States for 12 years. Included in the film is vintage footage of Cheng Man-Ching’s exercises and demonstrations of Tai Chi thus giving us a clear personal portrait of him.

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DVD Extras include Cheng Man-Ching performs his 37 Movement Form • The Origin of Tai Chi • Medical Science & Tai Chi: Interview with Peter M. Wayne, PhD, Harvard Medical School.

“The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine” by Ben Ehrenreich— Everyday Struggles in Palestinian Life

the way to the spring

Ehrenreich, Ben. “The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine”, Penguin Press, 2016.

Everyday Struggles of Palestinian Life

Amos Lassen

As a result of spending some three years traveling to and living on the West Bank, staying with Palestinian families in its largest cities and its smallest villages, Ben Ehrenreich gives us “The Way to the Spring”. His purpose in writing this was to

gather stories of people suffering from extremes of oppression and want. Palestine is ruled by the Israeli military and some who live there feel set upon and harassed constantly by Israeli settlers who admit unapologetically to wanting to drive them from the land— their Arab neighbors have said the same to the Israelis. Palestinians have been forced to deal with fences, checkpoints, and barriers that have exerted control over their lives. Ehrenreich tells their story with power and grace and while I do not agree with much he has to sat, I respect his writing.

He writes about individual Palestinians who live within this existential struggle and, as he says, ‘“decline to consent to one’s own eradication, to fight actively or through deceptively simple acts of refusal against powers far stronger than oneself.”

We go to three locations— the village of Nabi Saleh, where families have been protesting weekly to be able to use a spring that was theirs until Israeli settlers claimed it, and are consistently met with force; the city of Hebron, filled with checkpoints and segregated zones, and a place where Jews and Palestinians openly show their resentments; and the village of Umm al-Kheir, where ever-expanding Israeli settlements are supposedly killing a Palestinian way of life. .

Ehrenreich gives us the essence of the Palestinian struggle: “not Islam, or even nationalism, but the stubborn refusal of injustice, the restless search for ‘how it would feel to be free.’”

“Though often framed as a ‘foreign policy problem,’ Palestine is a land of ordinary men and women who refuse to be eradicated from the earth. Ehrenreich shines a light on their daily human experience of occupation that they face over the last eighty years of their existence.  There has bee so much written about the plight of the Palestinians that we rarely get something new— this book fills that space. It is intelligent, informative and at the same time a critical book at a delicate issue.

“The Fate of Gender: Nature, Nurture, and the Human Future” by Frank Browning— Looking at Gender

the fate of gender

Browning, Frank. “The Fate of Gender: Nature, Nurture, and the Human Future”, Bloomsbury, 2016.

Looking at Gender

Amos Lassen

In case you have not noticed, concepts of gender have been changing lately and this is universal. If you have not yet done so you need to think about gender and understand that as both a concept and as a reality, it is becoming fluid.. Frank Browning takes on an adventure around the world to see gender concepts— gender-neutral kindergartens in Chicago and Oslo, “femminielli” weather casters in Naples, conservative Catholics in Paris fearful of God and Nature and transsexual Mormon parents in Utah among others. Browning relates specific and engaging human stories and explains the neuroscience that distinguishes male and female biology. We see how all parents’ brains change during the first weeks of parenthood, how men’s and women’s responses to age differ and that this is not based on biology but on one’s earlier life habits. We are taken back to Simone de Beauvoir’s legendary and world-shaking observation that one is not born a woman but instead becomes a woman. We also see that no one was born a man but one learns how to be a man through performance and that there are no hard and fixed ways of being masculine or feminine. Those of us who grew up gay know this but I believe this is the first time that it has been put into writing and on a large scale.

The labels that have been used— “gay”, “straight”, “male”, ‘female” are now passé and reductive, Browning states. The new gender fluidity will change our world greatly. Now we can link science to behavior and revisit those who challenged gender in the past and we can continue to debate nurture vs. nature to see that we live our lives moving back and forth between who we are and what is expected of us instead of just who we are.

Gender today has become something of a conundrum and we cannot find the answers in science alone or through research because things are changing so quickly. Browning has researched and interviewed a host of people including biologists, neurologists, psychologists, physicians, parents, teachers, counselors, therapists, and many individuals who define themselves as ‘gender variant.’ In order to arrive at the conclusions that he presents to us along with an overview of the changing face of gender. We read the scientific evidence that gender is a construct and not a biological reality. Ideas of masculinity and femininity have indeed become more fluid and this is just the beginning. We now see science looking to the social reality of how we live instead of the opposite that it had always done before. Browning males it very clear here that gender is not yet a settled concept.

From the moment of our conception in the womb, sex and gender are not only part of but they rule our lives. Here we are challenged to think about what we are willing to do to live fuller and more meaningful lives.

“The Sun Goes Down” by James Lear— … And So Does Vince

the sun goes down

Lear, James. “The Sun Goes Down”, Cleis Press, 2016.

… And So Does Vince

Amos Lassen

In a pitch to say alive after the sale of the business and something of a disastrous reorganization, Cleis Press has released a new book by one of its most popular writers, James Lear. Lear is one of my favorite literary smut (an endearing term for erotica) writers and as usual, we get a fine and very sexy read.

We meet Mitch Mitchell who needs a vacation and is determined to make the most of his trip to the Mediterranean island of Gozo. However, unlike Mitchell, death takes no vacations and Mitch finds himself investigating what happened to a young, gay lance corporal. The police have classified it as a suicide but the dead man’s boyfriend claims it was murder. Mitch suspects that some kind of gay cover-up is taking place and gets to work on an investigation that leads him into a maze of lies, false identities and secret sex.

Mitchell, himself has quite an active sex life and he shares his sexual adventures with us and provides many details. What we do not know at first is that in dealing with the loss of Vince, the love of his life, we see that the is trying to hide how he feels by engaging in a full and active sex life.

Mitch was invited to the island of Gozo and he assumed that the reason was that an old friend wanted him for sex. However, he soon finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation. Yet Mitch always seems able to find sexual satisfaction on the job.

This is actually the fourth volume in the Mitch Mitchell series and while you do not have to read the prior books to enjoy this. However, if you have read them then you already know something about Mitch and his sexual proclivities. He is an American doctor who thinks of himself as some kind of detective who loves sex. He loves mysteries and man sex just about the same.

On the island there are plenty of willing and able-bodied men but Mitch soon learns that everything is not all sunshine and men. The novel comes at us from two directions— the sexual and the mysterious. Mitch is a bit subdued because of the loss of Vince as well as Lover Boy Morgan. When gay men begin turning up dead, Mitch realizes that this is really a serious business and he is determined to find out who is responsible. Combing mystery and erotica, James Lear gives us another great novel. Clear you day before you begin reading because you will not be able to stop.

“Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Führer” by Walter Shapiro— A True Story

hustling Hitler

Shapiro, Walter. “Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Führer”, Blue Rider, 2016.

A True Story

Amos Lassen

Walter Shapiro shares the true-life story of how his great-uncle, a Jewish vaudeville impresario and con man, managed to cheat Hitler’s agents. in the run-up to WWII. Journalist Walter Shapiro had always assumed that the outlandish stories about his great-uncle Freeman were exaggerated and were some silly Jewish revenge fantasies invented to entertain the kids in his family. It was only when he started researching Freeman Bernstein’s life did he realize that his family did not share everything and in fact his uncle had enough stories, vocations, and IOUs to fill a dozen lifetimes. Freeman a “vaudeville manager, boxing promoter, stock swindler, card shark and self-proclaimed “Jade King of China.” His greatest title, however, was that he was “The Man Who Hustled Hitler”.

Shapiro follows his great-uncle’s ever-crooked life through show business, from his early schemes on the burlesque circuit to marrying his star performer, May Ward, and producing silent films (released only in Philadelphia). Freeman’s cons and schemes were simply a prelude to February 18, 1937, the day he was arrested by the LAPD outside of Mae West’s apartment in Hollywood when he was charged with

grand larceny—for cheating Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government. Freeman had promised to ship thirty-five tons of embargoed Canadian nickel to the Führer; when the cargo arrived, the Germans found only huge, useless quantities of scrap metal and tin. It was a blow to their economy and war preparations—and Hitler did not take this lightly.

Writer Shapiro reminds us of the era of vaudeville by giving us the biography of a very colorful character. He writes with great style and humor. Just when you think Freeman Bernstein has done the most outrageous act to date, you turn the page to find something even more audacious and this is a great big fun book about a time in history that was not fun for many people. It was also a time when anything could happen.

“A Land Twice Promised: An Israeli Woman’s Quest for Peace “ by Noa Baum— Sharing Memories

a land twice promised

Baum, Noa. “A Land Twice Promised: An Israeli Woman’s Quest for Peace “, Familius, 2016.

Sharing Memories

Amos Lassen

Noa Baum is a Jerusalemite who grew up hearing stories of the Holocaust and whose years were filled with wars. She was influenced by the past and fearful of the present as Israel came of age. She readily admits that her identity was shaped by traumas from these events. While in the United States she met a Palestinian woman who came of age during the Israeli occupation and as the two women exchanged stories and memories, they became friends. In this new book, Baum gets into the heart of the Israel/Palestine conflict from a personal view and she shares her thoughts about growing up and what she learned about life since meeting a Palestinian who changed her views on so many things.

Baum writes with candid honesty about living in a nation at war and how she discovered a sense of humanity in the people she had been taught to oppose. She illustrates what so many have said before and what I believe is still true. By talking with the “enemy” there is so much to be learned that this might be the best way to end the Israel/Palestine conflict. We have seemed to lose the fact that we are all people and we all have something to teach each other. Her own search for peace changed her life and we become well aware of her desire to make a difference has influenced her totally. By looking within herself and sharing what she finds, she gives us a lot to think about regarding what is happening in the Middle East and has happened for over sixty years now. She, and so many others, just wants to live in a world built on peace.

Professionally Baum is a storyteller and by using stories, she has been able to be somewhat neutral. Her stories are “true living personal tales of a land twice promised”. Having spent more than half of my life in Israel, I found Baum’s message to be deeply moving and a very sensitive look at a conflict that most of us have not bothered to try to understand but are quick to take sides about. Baum inserts the personal side of the conflict and this is what brings home what she has experienced. I most certainly understand the hunger and need for a Jewish homeland and in fact I grew up on that.

I was deeply moved to understand the tragic memories of the Jewish people and their longings for a safe homeland. I also now understand the deep feelings and suffering of the Palestinians and even though I have always been aware of the hopelessness they live with while never having understanding their helplessness. Baum shows that through conversations and storytelling, there can be hope and peace.

This is Baum’s story but a little bit of effort is could also be our story and I have never understood why we think that it is easier to be armed than to be aware. Baum loves Israel and we see that throughout her book. She helps us understand, by sharing her story of her Palestinian friend, that if peace between people is possible then so is peace between nations.

Baum gives us quite a look at the back-story of Israel and Palestine and what she says is important politically and socially. For her the Palestinian ceases to be “the other” in realizing that the two nations must share the land ad not just the cemeteries. We can fix relationships that have been broken.

A friend of mine, a wise young rabbi, has emphasized that in order to know someone it is necessary to sit at the same table and eat with him and I have long found this to be so true. However, to get someone to that table requires a bit of work on both sides.

“The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome Is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life” by Rodney Dietert— The Effect of the Microbiome

the human superorganism

Dietert, Rodney. “The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome Is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life”, Dutton, 2016.

The Effect of Microbiome

Amos Lassen

Cornell professor Rodney Dietert explores how “the microbiome affects every aspect of our personal and evolutionary health, the missteps that led to the current NCD epidemic (like prolonged antibiotic use and elective C-sections), the limitations of current gene therapy techniques, and what we can do, both personally and globally, to turn it around”.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recently announced that $121 million “National Microbiome Initiative” is to be used to support interdisciplinary research, develop new technologies, and expand public understanding of the microbiome. The destruction of the microbiome is responsible for the current epidemic of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, asthma, autism, allergies, obesity, and even depression, which now account for 68% of deaths worldwide.

The origin of asthma, autism, Alzheimer’s, allergies, cancer, heart disease, obesity, and even some kinds of depression is now clear. Here Dietert gives a new paradigm in human biology that has come about while we are dealing with ongoing global epidemic of non-communicable diseases.

The book throws out two fundamental beliefs that have affected all medical thinking until very recently: 1) Humans are better off as pure organisms free of foreign microbes; and 2) the human genome is the key to future medical advances. Those microorganisms that we have sought to do away with have been there for centuries and supported our ancestors. These make up as much as 90 percent of the cells in and on our bodies and more than a thousand species live inside us, on our skin, even on our eyelashes. In the past we reduced their power and in doing so have brought about an epidemic of non-communicable diseases that account for 63 percent of all human deaths. 

This book is about so much more than microbes—it is also about a way to view humans. Dietert shares where the new biology comes from, how it works, and the ways in which it affects our lives. He explains that we should use protective measures against unsafe chemicals and drugs and offers an empowering self-care guide and the blueprint for a revolution in public health. Each of us is a superorganism and the best path to a healthy life is through recognizing that profound truth.

“WEIGHT”— A Difficult Year

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“Weight”

A Difficult Year

Amos Lassen

Paul and Rebecca Steinman face a difficult year. Paul is a gym owner and power lifter and this is because of his weight. In this new documentary we meet Paul and Rebecca and learn of the problems that they have been having.

“You beat the weight or the weight beats you” and this is the test  that every powerlifter faces when approaching the bar.  When he did not make it with his squats at the 2012 American Open, it affected him greatly and he is challenged to get back to where he had once been.

A year later in 2013, he returned to the Open and competed once again hoping to do just that. In order to know what happens you will have to watch their documentary.

The DVD Extras include Epilogue • Biographies • Audio Commentary with Rebecca Steinman

“Coming to Grief” by Dale Chase— A Bit of Erotica

coming to grief

Chase, Dale. “Coming to Grief”, Wilde City Books, 2016.

A Bit of Erotica

Amos Lassen

Laz Kincaid is grieving over having to shoot a horse when he meets Johnny Anglim on the road to Cheyenne. Johnny is taken with Laz from the moment they meet and eventually the two get it on. However, Laz remains somewhat cold and distant even though the two men have been intimate. When they finally get to Cheyenne, Johnny meets

Deputy Wade Rowley who warns Johnny about Laz and claims that he is only one who can break through to him. Johnny understand this to mean that Wade is the other man in Laz’s life by the refuses to let him go and understands that there could be trouble.

Dale Chase has set her book in the Wild West and if you have read her other books, you know that she often does. I am fairly sure that this is because of the kind of men that live there. This is en emotional love story where sex is the focal point and Chase really knows how to write sex scenes and she does that once again here. I do find, however, that the story is secondary to the sex that we read about.

It seems to me that there is a lot less erotica being written these days but Chase has her readers that wait for her books. Have a look at this one— I am sure you will not be disappointed.