“Vampire Rising” by Larry Benjamin— To Be A Vampire…

Benjamin, Larry. “Vampire Rising”, Beaten Track Publishing. 2015.

To Be a Vampire…

Amos Lassen

What is it about gay literature and vampires? This is the question you should keep in mind while you read Larry Benjamin’s “Vampire Rising”. Set in mid

” twenty-first century, there is no longer anti-Semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia to deal with as they have all been eschewed. The world is now run by “the state,” headed by Christian zealots, who use the of fear and oppression to govern. Vampires are despised, and feared, and must deal with discrimination and unspeakable violence. Because they are the undead ands unholy, they have no basic human rights. We meet Gatsby Calloway who lives on the fringes of society and avoids humanity. , But then he meets Barnabas, a young painter. When Barnabas is mortally wounded during an anti-Vampire attack, Gatsby must forget everything he has known, and learn to trust.

While Gatsby Calloway is a vampire, he is far from the Hollywood “Dracula” stereotype. He is a professor, a concert pianist, a debonair party host, and a really nice guy who is unable to resist his attraction to a handsome former student, Barnabas who is now an artist. However, Barnabas has a good deal of self-loathing and guilt over “turning” a dying human he had feelings for many years ago.

In this novel, “vampirism” is caused by the “Human Vampire Virus” that only infects gay men. With straight men and women, the disease fails to replicate. We see that only a small percentage of the population are victims of the disease and they are easily marginalized, discriminated against, and even persecuted. They don’t kill people, and actually only feed on each other and when they do, they gain a supplement that increases the virus’ strength in their system. People are suspicious of them and they re hated so there are not many of their kind left. Nonetheless, they cause suspicion and hatred (mainly from fundamentalist religious groups). What vampires still posses, however, is immortality and great super-human strength., mainly — that they’d have been wiped out entirely if it weren’t for helpful side-effects like immortality & super-human strength.

Even with this much negativity, Barnabas wants Gatsby to turn him but Gatsby refuses to take on that kind of responsibility. Yet, as the two become more involved, Barnabas studies vampire culture and learns about all the difficulties and prejudices facing them. He discovers a grassroots movement by vampires that is demanding equal rights and secretly plans to attend a big vampire rally where the featured speaker is the dynamic and controversial vampire speaker Malcolm V. Unfortunately the rally does not come off as planned and there is bloodshed and death. I am not about to reveal what the result of this was but I can tell you that if you regard the vampires and their society as allegory, you will find you have learned something here. We begin to understand what happens when a group in society is denied basic rights.

Writer Larry Benjamin successfully brings together the future and the gothic in this very short novel. This is also a story about the battle between what Barnabas feels is unrequited love and what Gatsby feels is forbidden love. We get a great mixture of social commentary and how love stands against intolerance.

“Caught Inside” by Jamie Deacon— A Beautiful Story

Deacon, Jamie. “Caught Inside”, Beaten Path Publishing, 2016.

A Beautiful Story

Amos Lassen

Luke is seventeen-years-old is pretty sure that he has figured out his life and he knows what is going on. But this all changes when he meets Theo. He had planned to have a simple summer with his girlfriend Zara at her family’s summer cottage in Cornwall and really all that he could think about were surfing and sunbathing on he private beach there. Love, simply, does not interest him… or so he thought. He has no plans for falling for someone so he was totally unprepared to meet Theo, an undergrad at Oxford who is Zara’s cousin as well as her best friend. Luke suddenly questions everything he thought he knew about himself. He wants to make sure that no one, especially Zara, find out about his new relationship with Theo but things do not always work out according to wishes.

This is a beautiful book with wonderfully realistic characters and what they do is very real making it easy for the reader to empathize with them. Theo was having a rough time; he was in the middle of dealing with his own broken heart and his new desire for Luke. Luke also had some self-discovery to take care of.

From the moment Luke meets Theo, he has to deal with new feelings and this scares him. However, what he feels is unyielding, undeniable and no matter how much he tries to ignore how he feels, he realizes that this is not just a phase. Of course, as Luke and Theo become closer, the more Luke’s relationship with Zara becomes a problem. He doesn’t want to cheat on her and he does not know how Zara and the rest of the world will feel about his being gay. Regardless how anyone feels about this new romance, there is no denying that it is beautifully rendered here. The prose is gorgeous and the scene where Luke is confronted by his own feelings and dealing with how others react is an emotional tear jerker. He thinks that he will not only lose all of his friends but that people will laugh at and abandon him. We really understand what he was going through. Writer Jamie Deacon takes us on a raw emotional journey filled with risk and regret, betrayal and self-discovery.

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“Last Winter’s Snow” by Hans S. Hirschi— Navigating Life

Hirschi, Hans S. “Last Winter’s Snow”, Beaten Track, 2017.

Navigating Life

Amos Lassen

Hans Hirschi introduces us to Nilas and for several decades we are with him as he and his partner and Swedish husband, Casper, build a life while dealing with t bigotry, discrimination, and the onset of the AIDS crisis. We go back in time to when being gay was considered a “mental disorder” and then move forward to the present and today’s newly guaranteed freedoms as the world movies towards equality. While this is one couple’s story, it could also be any of our story. We all try to live good lives.

Nilas and Casper share a beautiful love and no matter what they are always there for each other. They learned to adapt to each other and to society when there was nothing they do about discriminated against as gay men They are two men from different cultures and we are with them when they meet for the first time to the death of Casper and the end of a beautiful marriage.

We read of the gay history of Sweden from the 80’s to 2017 and while at times it was very difficult , the two men kept hope alive as they faced the traumatic events and the struggle for freedom. Hirschi gives us believable and engaging characters who face discrimination and oppression as members of oppressed minority. I had never heard of the

Sami community or their land, Sápmi before I read this. The story begins when Nilas wakes up and finds Casper dead in bed next to him. The rest of the book is in chronological order taking up by his memories of his relationship with Casper, in chronological order. We go back to 1982 when Nilas, a native Sami, goes to study in Stockholm. He knows he’s gay but within his community, he has not really had the opportunity to really understand what that means. He had already told his parents that he was gay and they were shocked but are accepting. He meets Casper, a Swedish student in a bar in Stockholm,

. Casper has not shared his sexuality with his parents even though he was living in a cosmopolitan community. We learn that Casper’s parents are very religious and intolerant of anything other than what they see as the natural order. Their relationship is a microcosm of the gay experience and history in Sweden. The two men are deeply in love with each other and totally exclusive and faithful. However, “they are discriminated against at work and face the AIDS crisis, family hostility, assaults, put downs, incomprehension, insults, frustrations” yet they find people who accept them and love them for who they are.

Nilas is the narrator of the story and he gives us beautiful descriptions of the places that he and Casper visited. He also shares his reflections on “nature, landscape, the importance of tradition, and what makes a place home and a people, our family and our community”. We clearly see here that it takes time and work to learn who we really are and where we belong.

 

“Option Four” by Jon Eliot Keane— Coming Out

 

Keane, Jon Eliot. “Option Four”, Beaten Track, 2017.

Coming Out

Amos Lassen

Seventeen-year-old Donn Carhart wants to come out. But it is 1997 and we have still not reached the freedom we have today. He knows that are four options— “reject, tolerate, accept, or they’ll say “me too!” Donn’s parents do not like gay people, and Donn doesn’t know any other gay kids. But then he meets Alex, an openly gay transfer student, and after learning a little bit about gay history in the United States, Donn starts the Acceptance Project club at school. The club’s purpose is to address discrimination, and it draws a lot of student members, including Thad, the most popular guy in his class and the object of Don’s lust.

When Donn does come out, a group of parents try to shut down the group as a “gay club” and a danger to their children and the community. With all this pressure, Donn has decisions to make.

What an amazing character there is in Donn. He is personality and sweetness personified. It was not easy for him—he had to deal with his parents and family secrets, coming-out, the club and the two guys in his life, Alex and Thad. We watch him as he gains confidence and we see his as even more mature than his parents. I love that this is written as a journal thus almost making us feel like we are reading someone else’s thoughts.

There are so many sweet, funny, and charming moments in the story but there is also heartbreak and serious issues. The students, themselves, shed light on discrimination and homophobia through the Acceptance Project and that was very brave to do back then. A book like this is a blessing for young people dealing with their sexuality.

 

“Just Your Average Guy” by Paul Jason— Gender and Gender Equality

Jason, Paul. “Just Your Average Guy”, Beaten Track, 2016.

Gender and Gender Identity

Amos Lassen

Now that transgender people have begun to see a bit of acceptance in modern society, many are writing books about their journeys. In this memoir, we read

About the conflicts, the traumas and the breakdowns that he has experienced as a man who is closeted,, a family guy who tries to balance his straight sexuality with his trans side as a man who crossdresses. He shares his personal thoughts on crossdressing without going into self-psychoanalysis as so many others have one. This is his journey of self-discovery in which he reflects back on the lonely struggles of coming to terms with his crossdressing in a pre-internet era.

When he began dressing as a woman years ago, he felt terribly guilty about it. He was afraid all the time that someone would catch him crossdressing (wearing his mother’s clothes). When he moved out of his parents’ house, he began building his own closet, yet the fear and that guilt came with him. He went to great lengths to protect his secret and we really feel the fear that he felt. It is interesting that

there was no sexual element to his crossdressing, as well as no deep-seated gender confusion behind his identity. Crossdressing never aroused him nor did he ever want to become a woman. He was never aroused by crossdressing, and never felt the urge to become a woman. He simply takes comfort in the clothes and the cosmetics, and finds a sense of peace in his crossdressing, without ever forgetting who he is beneath it all. He writes about double standards and carefully explains that he is quite simply a man who likes to dress as a woman. He simply wants us to understand that.

When I lived in Arkansas, I went to a gay weekend in the small town of Eureka Springs and it just happened that weekend there was a meeting of straight male crossdressers. It was a fascinating experience to speak to the guys (who ranged from truck drivers to stay at home dads) and to learn their feelings on dressing as women while otherwise maintaining straight lives. Writer Jason’s views are also fascinating especially because he writes about how it was before we had the Internet and access to so much.

We do not yet live in a world where men are free to live in have peace and we can only hope that we are moving in that direction. The more that we read and understand, the more likely we will gain that new world. I admire Jason’s honesty in telling his story and I can only hope that as many people as possible will read it.

 

“SUMMERTIME”— Unlikey Relationships

 

“Summertime” (“L’estate addosso”)

Unlikely Relationships

Amos Lassen

A gay couple living in San Francisco takes in two strangers traveling from Italy to start a new life in America, discovering each other and forming the most unlikely of relationships along the way. Directed by Italian director Gabriele Muccino, this is the story of two Italian teenagers who are reluctantly spending a vacation together.

Curly-headed Marco (Brando Pacitto) had delayed his plans for the summer after an accident on his scooter, but when the Insurance Company paid up it gave him enough money to be able to travel. His friend Vulcano was already in California and so told Marco that he could hook him up with some friends of his who would let him crash in their apartment in San Francisco for a few days.  However what he failed to tell Marco was that he had also said the same to Maria (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), one of their very conservative and uptight school mates who he really did not like.

Now with Maria in tow he landed in S.F. to discover that their hosts Matt (Taylor Frey) and Paul (Joseph Haro) are actually a gay couple which brought out all Maria’s homophobia which she barely tried to suppress.  By the 2nd day, however, Maria relaxed a little, mainly because she was starting to get ‘a thing’ for Matt especially after she discovered that he was actually bi-sexual. In fact the recounting of the story of how he and Paul got together was definitely one of the more dramatic highlights of this story.

The few days that Marco and Maria were meant to stay in San Francisco became weeks as the four of them bonded, although not exactly in the way that the two Italians would have liked.  Maria by now had a serious crush on Matt and although she had now warmed to Marco, she would not allow him to act on his feelings for her.

This story of coming out, both gay and straight, of course, has an air of expectancy of things that will never happen. Muccino includes several false leads in this otherwise entertaining tale to give the impression of a layer of complexity. It is always pretty obvious how this all is going to end up. 

The four young leads are filled with talent Frey as the once sexually confused Matt leads the pack and we see that he is very happy with the hand that life has dealt him.

“WEST OF EDEN”— Family, Revenge and a Forbidden Love

“West of Eden”

Family, Revenge and a Forbidden Love

Amos Lassen

It is not often that we get sophisticated and intelligent gay romance films and I strongly recommend “West of Eden”. This is not just story about gay love but one about true love set against societal constraints. We are reminded that individual freedom and rights are worth fighting for.

Billy Williams (Kieran Foster) is a Māori cowboy who does not say much verbally but sys a great deal with facial expression and body language. More than that, he is a good looking man. We get a glimpse at New Zealand in the fifties and early sixties. We see how itwas in small towns where the mind sets of the older generation is challenged by new ideas. The trouble is often such challenges can lead to disagreements and hostility.

The farm is full of dark secrets. Billy becomes involved with a family that has some serious problems and we see family feuds and the struggle with being gay in 1960 combined with the ever present small town gossip and societal expectations. (You will undoubtedly notice that I am skirting the plot as much as I can and when you see the film, you will understand why.

Even though the film is hinted as being a gay love story, it is more a drama of secret and lies with the action played out on a farm in rural New Zealand. Not only do we see the gorgeous New Zealand countryside but we are also taken on a journey filled with twists and turns. We become caught up in the characters and the story that stays with us long after the film is over. I love the song in the kitchen scene, so much a song of the time. Billy and Tom are our representative gay characters and the film gives us an excellent look at the struggle gay men had back then.

Everything is accurate for the time period including the costumes, the makeup and the hair styles. In the 60s, New Zealand was conservative especially in the rural areas. Social restrictions abounded and were adhered to. The story is complex and beautifully written story with full real characters. We become aware of the different situations people had to deal with back then. Each character had a story for us to get involved in and there were moments that I felt emotionally drained. Billy, our main character, steals hearts easily and his story is raw and emotional.

 

“THE KITE”— First Love

“The Kite”

First Love

Amos Lassen

Danish filmmaker Lasse Nielsen brings us a new short film “The Kite”. Essentially a first-love film whose protagonists are two men who have managed to preserve the memories of the tender love they first discovered for each other in their youth.

Their story is told through a series of flashbacks in which a kite links their past and present and becomes a symbol of their happier moments in time. Even though the film is two years old, it has an 80s feel due to the orthodox camera techniques (lens flare, slow panning and focus on objects to underline their importance to the plot) and mostly because of the melodic musical score that brings memories of childhood.

The nervousness and curiosity of youth are charmingly portrayed. There are no explicit scenes, rather glances filled with love and appreciation say everything.

“THE UNIVERSAL”— At the Movies

“The Universal” (“L’Universale”)

At the Movies

Amos Lassen

“The Universal” is the story of 3 friends and the Cinema Universale, a film theatre in Florence where the real show was the audience. It is the cinematographic reworking of a local legend about a place that really existed: the Universale Cinema, which operated during the 1970s in the working-class district of Pignone, halfway between the suburbs and the centre of Florence. The director, Federico Micali wanted to bring the story of this cinema, handed down by word of mouth, back to life in comedic form, after already having made a documentary about it some years ago.

At the Universale, the audience was the attraction. The film opens with during the screening of “Easy Rider” and a Vespa comes bursting into the theatre, driven by a character who is never identified. The loyal and certainly colorful clientele of the Universale would smoke hash and marijuana, crack jokes non-stop, snog, dance if the film was a musical, and sing ‘Bandiera rossa’ (a left-wing political song) if the film was political. They would do everything but watch the film in a calm and composed manner. This doesn’t mean they didn’t love film. When a hard-working programmer showed films Godard, Kurosawa and Bertolucci, the audiences of the Universale respected this and the audience actually broadened and diversified becoming an art house audience.

 

Within this historical, albeit legendary truth, Federico Micali intertwines the destinies of three friends over the course of more than ten years: Tommaso (Francesco Turbanti), the son of the projectionist, Alice (Matilda Lutz) and Marcello (Robin Mugnaini). We see their private and collective stories, which centre around the cinema, reflect historical events that affected the whole country: changing habits and customs, politics (years characterized by social struggle and terrorism and music: from John Wayne to Marlon Brando in “Last Tango in Paris”, heroin, punk and the New Wave, free radio and the kidnapping of Aldo Moro.

This film is a tribute to art house film and a point of reference for a couple of generations, and to an era, the 1970s, which was full of contradictions but hugely rich in artistic and cultural ferment, passion and emotion.

“PALACE OF FUN”— Intrigue, Betrayal and Mystery

“Palace of Fun”

Intrigue, Betrayal and Mystery

Amos Lassen

Set in Brighton, England, we meet Lilly (Phoebe Naughton), newly graduated from college. While at a club, she meets Finn (Andrew Mullen), a good looking young guy and invites him to come and stay with her at her house while her parents are on vacation in Italy for the summer. When Lily’s jealous younger brother Jamie (George Stocks) finds out that Finn is not who he claims to be, he decides to play a game to get rid of him while at the same time blackmailing him. Here is a movie filled with intrigue, mystery and betrayals that occur when stranger dares to come between brother and sister.

Not to be  be outdone, jealous and vindictive brother Jamie is outdone when Lilly brings Finn home and looks for someway to change the situation. He begins to play with Finn and as he does, Finn’s secret is discovered.

Director Eadword Stocks, along with co-writer, brother and star George Stocks bring us a poetic, quiet and somewhat melancholy film that powerfully portrays how normal life often exists right alongside intrigues and secrets. We see some very dramatic incidents that are presented to us with poise, control and restraint and we get a mystery/trauma combination. Because of this restraint, it takes patience to get through the middle of the film but the ending makes every minute worthwhile. The three actors are all excellent in their roles. The direction is fine throughout, so much so, that is hard to believe that this is the first feature film that Eadword Stock has directed. His use of intertexuality is quite brilliant. We are reminded of classic films that used this technique and while there are moments that we are quite uncomfortable watching, we remember what makes for good cinema.

The weekend that Lilly and Finn were to spend together came to a quick stop when Jamie learns Finn’s “terrible” secret. It seems that he stole a kid’s bag and Jamie uses this to get Finn to perform some “uncomfortable acts”. The chemistry between the characters is amazing and it is genius to see how the relationship between Finn and Lilly becomes mundane while the relationship between Finn and Jamie is quite deep but then Jamie has the upper hand). It all ends as quickly as it began and from the moment that we know Finn’s secret, the ending becomes quite predictable… or does it? I must stop my summary here because I do not want to give anything away.

We see the extreme lengths to which young people will go to in order to keep up appearances and maintain their identities. Jamie, perfectly encapsulates the self-superiority and arrogance that comes with privilege. As secrets are revealed, we cannot avoid becoming compliant in the characters’ actions and a world where morals are questionable morals and intentions are fervent.