“SHORT EYES”— Life in The Tombs

short eyes

“Short Eyes”

Life in The Tombs

Amos Lassen

“Short Eyes” is basically the story of a young man who is charged with child molestation and placed in New York City’s infamous Tombs prison. When the other inmates in his cellblock find out what he is charged with, life becomes extremely difficult for him. The film was released in 1977 and is the film version of Miguel Piñero’s play. It has not been available for years and now we finally have it on DVD. We can only imagine how strong this film was when it came out but today it is quite tame when we consider what we have seen on the HBO series, “OZ”. Here there is a lot of sermonizing as well as characterizations that seem unfocused but we must also consider the subject matter and when it was made. We constantly feel a sense of dread but that could well be because the entire action takes place in two rooms of the Manhattan House of Detention.

There is a sense of authenticity and raw urgency.  Director Robert Young gives us a graphic, detailed portrayal of the Tombs and the pathetic souls there who were unable to make bail and so they rot endlessly while still waiting for a trial. Pinero’s script breaks the jail population down by racial lines: The blacks, Latinos and whites eye each other cautiously and interact like they’re always ready to spar. The guards sanction fighting as a way for prisoners to solve problems amongst themselves. Weapons like shanks and razor blades are sold for cigarettes. The Tombs a vicious place.


There is also a code at The Tombs. Prisoners from various groups seem to have a sense of place and while tensions may run high and testosterone levels may rage, tempers are usually kept in check for the greater good of the cellblock.  However, danger is never far from the surface but there is order.

And into this mix comes a new prisoner named Clark. A well-dressed white prisoner, Clark is immediately approached by Longshoe, who breaks the whole system down for his fellow Caucasian. It’s a powerful monolog for how well it articulates the entire jail social system and it’s indicative of the kind of poetic language Pinero uses to orchestrate the entire picture.

But what Longshoe doesn’t know until a guard abruptly informs everyone is that Clark is a “short eye,” or a child molester. The guard tells Clark just how low on the totem pole of life he considers him. This is tough stuff and the film doesn’t sugar coat any of it. Clark is immediately ostracized from the rest of the inmates, who hold child molesters separate and it becomes quickly clear that Clark is in danger. Juan, a more introspective soul, reaches out to him and asks him if he’d like to explain himself as a way of alleviating some of the pressure, a sort of jail house confession. Clark unleashes a fountain of sickness, dating his obsession with young girls back to his teenage years and this speech is shocking in yet another memorable monolog, this time shocking in its honesty and explicitness. Juan is revolted, not understanding why this man took at opportunity for friendship to share his perversion.

There are no simple stereotypes here and each character carries contradictory elements that are never toned down or softened to be made more “sympathetic”.  The acting all around is excellent and Bruce Davison is both heartbreaking and disgusting as Clark and Jose Perez is challenging and magnetic as the philosophical but still grounded Juan.

“Short Eyes” strives for realism and the film was actually shot in The Tombs with many former convicts in supporting roles. First written by Miguel Piñero as a play while he was a prisoner in Sing Sing, and then shot in ‘The Tombs’ – the Men’s House of Detention in Manhattan, it’s not surprising that this has an authentic feel to it.  Piñero also plays a minor character in the movie. This is a theatrical film in which the prisoners are almost all either African-American or Hispanic. When Clark Davis, whose crimes are very quickly and publicly exposed by an unsympathetic guard, everything suddenly changes. There is a question of morality (and yes prisons do have codes of morality) about what to do with the pedophile child rapist. This unites the other prisoners and we feel the irony of those who have been ripping each other off and lining up to have sex with an unwilling youth. Believe it or not there is a sense of moral righteousness in order to denunciate Davis and what he did. The end result is inevitable, although there are a few final twists.

This is a tough, challenging film that offers some definitive insights into the minds of the incarcerated. Its patient, quiet style underlines the scope of anger and frustration of the men it depicts.

“The Hundred-Year House” by Rebecca Makkai— Old Money, Old House

the hundred year house

Makkai, Rebecca. “The Hundred-Year House”, Viking Adult, 2014.

Old Money, Old House

Amos Lassen

Rebecca Makkai introduces us to the Devohrs— “Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who detests her parents’ wealth but nevertheless finds herself living in their carriage house; Gracie, her mother, who claims she can tell your lot in life by looking at your teeth; and Bruce, her step-father, stockpiling supplies for the Y2K apocalypse and perpetually late for his tee time. Then there’s Violet Devohr, Zee’s great-grandmother, who they say took her own life somewhere in the vast house, and whose massive oil portrait still hangs in the dining room”. We immediately understand that we are dealing with “old money” here and a family that thinks they are the who’s who.

Violet may be dead but her spirit is very much alive and stories about her continue all the time. Her portrait is said to terrify the artists who lived in the house from the 1920s until the 1950s at which time the house was home to the Laurelfield Arts Colony. I did not mention another important character, Doug who is Zee’s husband and is especially interested in that period of time. Doug is an unemployed academic who knows that if we ever wants to get a job in academia, he must write a book and secure a publisher. He has been working on a biography of poet Edwin Parfitt, who had once lived in the art colony and now he wants to get his book on track, which will provide him with some sense of self-esteem, but he needs the motivation. He also needs access to the colony records that have been rotting away in the attic for decades. The problem is that when he begins to look where he should not he has to deal with Gracie who guards those files with a ferocity that is hard to break through. Gracie is surely hiding something and it is probably something about secrets of the house. It appears that those secrets could turn the family inside out. Makkai gives us a generational saga but in reverse and we travel back in time on a virtual scavenger hunt. What we will learn has to do with this strange family and the house they live in.

Makkai has structured her novel intricately and each section takes us back in time. The house is located in Chicago and is quite possibly haunted. We can only wonder what Violet’s suicide (alleged) had to do with the house and why was it turned into an artists colony afterwards. That was in 1906 and the colony was not only successful but it thrived until something happened that caused the property to once again become a private dwelling. As time turns into the new century, Zee who had been raised in the house and since become a professor of Marxist thought is now living in the carriage house with Doug who is supposed to be writing a book about the artists who had once lived there. As I said before Doug does not have access to do the necessary research because of his mother-in-law but his stepfather-in-law has invited his son (who is also unemployed) and his daughter-in-law, an artist to also leave in the carriage house. Mikkai is left to find ways to have these characters interact and as they do, we become aware of intrigues, secrets and betrayals that are actually very funny reading. We soon find ourselves dealing with themes of ambition, sexism, violence, creativity, and love and all of their complexities.

The dialogue is sharp and smart and while the novel is quite odd, I had a great time reading it. That might be because literature plays an important part in the goings-on or it might just be that Rebecca Makkai is a terrific writer. He characters never learn all of the secrets of the house but the readers do. This is such a refreshing read with several wonderful moments and the inverted timeline is just fun. Be warned though—nothing is as it appears.

BLACK & WHITE PRIDE 2014— sensual interracial relations



sensual interracial relations

                                                                                                                                                     (artist~ marc littlejohn)

(artist~ matt pipes)
(artist~ marc littlejohn)
featuring art by
and more!

opens july 12th
7pm till 9pm
$5 cover
adults only
(on display thru august 18th)
live performance by~
race & homosexuality has always been the elephant in the room within culture.
 relationships change with the times we are living.
from “the love that dare not speak it’s name, to loving v. virginia, to gay marriage rights~ we’ve come a long way baby.
antebellum gallery’s presentation of BLACK & WHITE PRIDE 2014
 may be the first to present artworks with GBLT interracial relationships as the main theme.
please join antebellum and curator rick castro in exploring interracial~ GBTL relations in the 21st century.
(artist~ mountain broady)

“Em and the Big Hoom: A Novel” by Jerry Pinto— An Unusual Family

em and the big hoom

Pinto, Jerry. “Em and the Big Hoom: A Novel”, Penguin Books, 2014.

An Unusual Family

Amos Lassen

Imelda and Augustine are the most unusual parents. Em seems to be smoking “beedis” most of the time and she is singing her way through life. She knows that she is the center of the universe and in her mind, everything revolves around her. She certainly is enchanting and full of spirit except when her bi-polar disorder takes over and she changes, becoming almost monstrous and the consequences are rarely good. We learn about Em from her son who is the narrator of the story. Em is the victim of a mental disorder that brings her close to her husband on one hand and far way from him on the other. Em’s husband and the narrator’s father, Augustine “The Big Hoom” does what he can to help his wife, Imelda (Em) but he also has a daughter, Susan and his son (who is unnamed) to take care of.

We learn quickly that life is something like riding on a roller coaster with its ups and downs. Everyone in Mumbai knows that Em has mental problems and many people love her and the family and they try to help in whatever ways possible. The son has his parents constantly on his mind and he often thinks about the past and how Em and Augustine came together. He has fears for the future that sometimes seems promising and other times seems to indicate disaster. He senses both hope and despair for what will be. He also thinks about the role of genetics in his life and he worries that he may have inherited something that will cause him problems or perhaps cause him to be a good father like his dad. His mother, when she is lucid, has a sweetness about her and she is honest and playful despite her disability. Jerry Pinto tells us what it is like to grow up with a mentally ill parent, one who tries to keep the family happy. The real beauty here is not the story but  Pinto’s gorgeous poetic prose and this is his first novel. Much of what the young son thinks about is familiar to us and there is certainly a lot to think about here.

While the son speaks about hiss family members, we get a look at how mental illness affects a family and learn that the emotions that this family faces are complicated and complex. We also learn about the hopes and dreams of children as they grow and understand mortality. There is, of course, love and humor but there is also bitterness, fear, and anger.

When Em is speaking, the narrative feels scattered, because that’s what her mind is like.  Author Pinto skillfully uses dark humor so that we are not overwhelmed. I loved the realistic optimism of the son and found him to be quite the inspiring character.

 The term ‘mad’ can mean many things to different people and we see here referring to the son’s mother as we feel the profound effect that this has on him (and his family). The book consists of short anecdotes that contain memories, conversations, ‘episodes of mania’ and ever changing emotions to the mother’s illness, and the reactions of the family members to it. It is the narrator that ties everything together to give us a picture of how his family copes and hopes. Over time, the mother’s illness has grown from a ‘nervous break-down’ to ‘schizophrenia’ and ultimately to a ‘manic depression’. The short chapter titles summarize the bulk of the story and they elaborate on the idiosyncrasies of Em and the Big Hoom’s personalities and the climactic moments that  seem to constantly redefine their relationship with themselves, and their children.

I think that what makes this book such a fascinating read is Pinto’s gorgeous prose and how he uses just the right words to tell us what it is like to be a part of this manic world of the mother, and the father’s strength of character to endure, support and survive his family through it. He uses simple analogies that wonderfully portray what the family is going through and thus brings us into it and we not only empathize with the family, we become part of it. The story thus becomes personal.

The son has a sense of dread that he will contract his mother’s disease and he is frustrated at not being able to discover what the cause of it is and feels helpless to deal with it. He wants to reach out to his mother but does not know how. He admires and respects his father who is so dedicated to the family yet there is always the fear of the breakdown of it. The son understands what it must feel like to be manic and we sense this all the time through the author’s descriptions. We witness the bond between  the parents from the beginning when they were young lovers in a newly independent India, and how this bond changed over thirty years of marriage. The relationship changed from being madly and passionately in love with each other to learning to deal with their lives as mental illness worked its way into the relationship. Whatever stigmas were felt in terms of mental illness begin to disintegrate as we live within this family.

Even though the setting is in India, the story transcends time and place and if I had to give the most important aspect of the story (aside from the language), this would be it.

“A Queer Capital: A History of Gay Life in Washington D.C.” by Genny Beemyn— Our Nation’s Capital

a queer capital

Beemyn. Genny. “A Queer Capital: A History of Gay Life in Washington D.C.”, Routledge, 2014.

Out Nation’s Capital

Amos Lassen

This first LGBT history of Washington, D.C. reveals that the nation’s capital has quite a gay past that goes back over 125 years. Using extensive archival research and interviews, Genny Beemyn looks at how lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals established spaces of their own before and after World War II and how they managed to survive some of the harshest anti-gay campaigns in the U.S. Nonetheless they managed to organize to demand equal treatment. Race, gender, and class shaped the construction of gay social worlds in a city that was racially segregated.

Genny Beemyn begins at the turn of the twentieth century and goes forward through the 1980s exploring the experiences of gay people in Washington, showing how they created their own communities, fought for their rights, and, in the process, helped to change the country. We gain insights into LGBT life, the history of Washington, D.C., and African American life and culture in the twentieth century.

There is a lot of information here including some fascinating people and history. If that is not enough, Beemyn also analyzes D.C. looking at individuals and at society and reminding us of the importance of race in the nation’s capital. Below is the table of contents:


1. The Geography of Same-Sex Desire: Cruising Men in Washington D.C. in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

2. “Sentiments Expressed Here would be Misconstrued by Others”: The Same-Sex Sexual Lives of Washington’s Black Elite in the Early Twentieth Century

3. Race, Class, Gender, and the Social Landscape of the Capital’s Gay Communities during and after World War II

4. The Policing of Same-Sex Desire in Postwar Washington

5. LGBT Movements in the Capital in the Mid to Late Twentieth Century: Three Historic Moments

6. Epilogue: “In Tyra’s Memory”

Appendix: List of Narrators

“After Lunch with Frank O’Hara” by Craig Cotter— A Tribute to THE Poet

after lunch with frank o'hara

Cotter, Craig. “After Lunch with Frank O’Hara”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2014.

A Tribute to the Poet

Amos Lassen

We are now celebrating the 50th anniversary of Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems” and in this tribute to the late poet, Craig Cotter brings us 51 poems that were inspired by O’Hara. What really characterized O’Hara was his inventiveness and we see that same characteristic in Cotter’s poetry. O’Hara had a knack for providing what was unexpected and he was fun to read (and still is). I just received my anniversary edition of “Lunch Poems” and it seems to go everywhere with me.

We are immediately aware of Craig Cotter’s affection for the poetry of Frank O’Hara—it just jumps out at us with every one of his poems. In the wonderful introduction by Felice Picano who knew O’Hara, I learned that Cotter not only knows every poem by O’Hara but he has even gone as far as to read the poets that O’Hara drank with.aH

 Inspired by poet Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems”, Craig Cotter’s fourth collection of poetry, After Lunch with Frank O’Hara, assembles 51 poems, each as out, unapologetic, and inventive as those of the late poet’s. This collection also features an introduction by author Felice Picano, who knew O’Hara when both writers lived in Greenwich Village, and an afterword by Cotter about his quest to learn more about O’Hara’s life and art. He has managed to harness O’Hara’s humor and incorporate it into his own poems that are “more like a Monty Python send-up than a nostalgic paean”.  (I had to use that line as it says it so much better than I could have).

Like so others, I am challenged by poetry and I am quite sure that is because of the way it was taught when I was a high student. I always felt we are forced to learn it because it was part of the curriculum and that the teachers did not really care for it but had to teach it. We could feel that. Even in college when I took poetry courses, there was still some disdain for poetry. It was not until I went on a summer seminar about Ezra Pound where we were in residence with his daughter and at his castle that I really could say I understood what I was doing (poetically). Now I am a bit older and I hope a bit wiser and I anxiously spend time with poetry—a little a day.

I get the feeling that Cotter has taken on O’Hara not just out of love for his writing but also because he wants to pick up where O’Hara was cut short by a terrible accident. I would not go as far as saying that there is imitation here because I believe it is so much more than that—Cotter is his own man and he writes wonderfully. He relies on O’Hara and yet he breaks with him. Both men share passion and defiance of that craft and this is where the similarity between the two rests. Cotter may have gotten the recipes from O’Hara but the meals he fixes are all his own. We are also made very aware of how much times have changed and Cotter is quite bawdy—much more so than O’Hara. Yet Cotter also learned from O’Hara that a poem might just be a “message to a friend full of personal references. People can figure-it-out or not”. Knowing this Cotter was now free to write what he wanted ignoring the rules of poetry that many of us were forced into learning (in many cases from people who did not really give a damn). I think it is so important to know that each and every poem can affect people differently and there is no formula for finding meaning. I could not help but notice that Cotter and I share the same feeling about O’Hara. Reading his poetry was not enough for me; I wanted to learn everything about him and was very lucky to immediately find Brad Gooch’s wonderful biography (also reviewed on this sight). O’Hara was one of the openly gay men of his time and his flamboyance seemed to characterize him—he demanded to live on his own terms and this influenced his poetry and it turned around and influenced Cotter’s. (I cannot help but me reminded on my own personal motto—we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us). Cotter took the taste of “after lunch”—he chose to journey on a difficult road and I am happy to say he succeeded very well. The poems are sexy and unapologetic as they should be.

“I was 19

you were 20

watching men hold hands out the window”

I fell in love with the sexiness and playfulness of “On hamlin beach homage to frank o’hara and influenced by French poets I haven’t read yet”

“you massaged my neck.

o’hara’s addictions

never hurt him

mine have made me

nearly straight

so i’m in rehab

of my mind

in north Hollywood

with clouds.

There are so many different examples that I can quote here but I have decided not to. Since poetry is personal, I want each and every person to meet Craig Cotter and then take him as you feel is best. You absolutely do not want to miss this wonderful volume of very clever poetry. You will have made a new friend in doing so and you will walk away with a smile on your face.

“420″— THE Homostoner Lifestyle




Jacob Brown’s new short film “420″ is straightforward, sexy, and psychedelic. A prolonged, lip-lock-filled toking session, the movie aims to promote respect and acknowledgement of a hybrid cultural niche: that of the ‘homostoner’. One part homosexual, one part stoner, both parts woozy fun, the film is a fantasia acted out by a real-life couple.

Brown’s Vimeo descriptions reads:

In the past few years, mainstream America has warmed to two formerly taboo trends: gay rights and marijuana. New York boyfriends Carlos Santolalla and John Tuite sit at the intersection of the two––their shared Instagram handle @jarlos420 is a showcase of their homostoner lifestyle. This video celebrates 420 and homoeroticism. “It’s about how weed can act as an aphrodisiac,” Santolalla explains. “A fantasy about when ‘lemme hit that’ becomes ‘lemme hit that.’”

Films at NEWFEST, 2014

Films at NEWFEST, 2014


In late June, Outfest, in partnership with the Film Society of Lincoln Center,announced the lineup for New York City’s largest and most esteemed LGBT film festival, NewFest! Running from July 24th through July 29th, the nearly week-long event will consist of sixteen narrative and five documentary features.

Write the organizers:

Lesli Klainberg, Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Executive Director said, “This marks the fourth year of having NewFest at the Film Society and we couldn’t be happier to continue our collaboration with Outfest. LGBT films and filmmakers are a vital part of cinema worldwide, and we are thrilled to offer this showcase on our screens each year.”

“In the year following spectacular LGBT civil rights advances across the country, the dynamic and fresh slate of 2014 NewFest films decisively demonstrates that artists and storytellers lead the charge in creating social change,” said Kristin Pepe (KP), Outfest’s Director of Programming.

NewFest’s goal is to support “diverse film communities and voices from around the world,” and the lineup for this year’s festival has international entries from Brazil, Canada, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Israel, and several other countries, as well as films focused on the experiences of lesbian, gay, and transgender characters. 


The opening night film, Futuro Beach, is a joint Brazilian and German production:

“When Brazilian lifeguard Donato fails to save a swimmer from drowning, he seeks out the victim’s friend Konrad, a handsome German biker. The two men begin a passionate affair, and Donato soon decides to follow Konrad to Berlin. Years later, their seemingly peaceful life is threatened by a visitor from Donato’s past. Director Karim Aïnouz…delivers a visually stunning, emotionally resonant tale about three men struggling across oceans of love, loss, and heartache.”


And the closing night slot is filled by legendary filmmaker Bruce LaBruce’s Gerontophilia:

“Lake refuses to feel shame about his unquenchable appetite for older men. The handsome teen defiantly signs up as an orderly at a local nursing home and quickly falls for Mr. Peabody, a charming, flirtatious soul with one last wish. Forget everything you know about filmmaker Bruce LaBruce: in what is easily his most romantic work to date, he dares us to look beyond fetish to embrace the beauty of all stages of life.”

At a Glance

All Screenings at the Walter Reade Theater except where noted in blue.


Thursday July 24


4:00 PM - 52 TUESDAYS


10:00 PM  - BOYS

Friday July 25




Saturday July 26








Sunday, July 27

12:00 PM DUAL




7:30 PM   LILTING 


Monday, July 28




7:00 PM  LYLE



Tuesday, July 29






“Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay” by Julian Cox— Witness to an Era

the gay essay

Cox, Julian. “Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay”,  (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), Yale University Press, 2014.

Witness to an Era

Amos Lassen

Anthony Friedkin for more than 40 years created full-frame black and white photographs that documented people, cities and landscapes. The majority of his work was done in California and in the period from 1969 to 1970, he created a series of photographs

that when viewed together provide an eloquent and expressive visual chronicle of the gay communities of Los Angeles and San Francisco at the time. This is the first book to explore the series. “The Gay Essay”  gives an in depth look at the times and includes the broader historical context that gave rise to it.


With the Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York City, the LGBT community was at its turning point and then was the time to begin to concentrate on community building and organized political activism. “The Gay Essay” provides “a singular, intimate record of this crucial moment. Friedkin’s portraits, taken in streets, hotels, bars, and dancehalls, demonstrate a sensitivity and an understanding that has imbued the photographs with an enduring resonance. This handsome book features seventy-five full-page plates and is accompanied by engaging essays and a poem by Eileen Myles”.

Julian Cox is the founding curator of photography and chief administrative curator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 

“Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth and the Politics of Stigma”by Jason Whitesel— Finding a Place

fat gay men

Whitesel, Jason. “Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth and the Politics of Stigma”, NYU Press, 2014.

Finding a Place

Amos Lassen

So much of what we do these days is a result of the culture to which we belong. Today there is great emphasis on the way one looks and for those who do not fit in, life can be very difficult. Gay culture is obsessive about the way we look so that being fat in a community that is obsessive about body image can be very difficult. The gay community has come up with what they might consider a solution and by that I am referring to the bear community. However, there is still a stigma about being fat and it exists and persists in almost all aspect of American culture. This forces some people to be marginalized and exist only on the edges.

In this new book, Jason Whitesel looks at Girth and Mirth, a social club for big gay men and he shows us how these men form identities and community in the face of adversity. The club has been in existence for over forty years and has long been a refuge and ‘safe space’ for such men. Whitesel is gay which makes him something of an insider but he is also an outsider to Girth & Mirth. He gives us an insider’s critique of the gay movement and he questions if the social consequences of the failure to be height-weight proportionate should be so extreme in the gay community.

He also looks at performances at club happenings and examines how allusion and campy behavior is used as a way of reconfiguring and reclaiming body images. The focus here is on the numerous tensions of marginalization and dignity that big gay men experience and how they negotiate these tensions via their membership to a size-positive group.

The author bases his findings on ethnographic interviews and in-depth field notes from more than 100 events at bar nights, café klatches, restaurants, potlucks, holiday bashes, pool parties, movie nights, and weekend retreats. This is a that book explores the pain and ill feelings that come from being put in an inferior position in gay hierarchies while at the same time it celebrates how some gay men can reposition the shame of fat stigma through carnival, camp, and play. What we really get is a look at one of the aspects of gay culture that has not really been studied before and we become even more aware of the importance of weight and body image in American culture.

I am not sure if this is going to herald a new field of academia—fat studies but Whitesel certainly uses the academic method to bring us his findings. I take it that this new field will “critically examine societal attitudes about body weight and appearance, and with that will advocate equality for all people with respect to body size”. I understand that here is very little research on weight-related stigma and weight preoccupation among gay men. Whitesel spent two years conducting an ethnographic study of the Girth & Mirth gay male social movement, attending over one hundred events. This then is a fascinating look at the world of men who are stigmatized twice– by body size and sexuality. Whitesel has captured the courage and humor by which they confront fat-phobia in gay culture as well as in larger society thus making this “an original, impressive contribution to LGBTQ, gender, body, and performance studies.”