“TIL MADNESS DO US PART”— Inside an Asylum

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“Til Madness Do Us Part”

Inside an Asylum

Amos Lassen

Director Wang Bing looks at the inmates of an isolated mental institution in rural Zhaotong. Within the facility’s gates, the patients are confined to locked floors of a single building. Once locked on that floor and with little contact from the outside world, anything goes.

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The inmates have been committed for different reasons but once inside, they all share the same life and cramped living quarters and they look for comfort and warmth. We see mental illness and criminality, therapy and incarceration, and the relationship between individuals and society in this riveting, terrifying, surprising and tender documentary portrait that viewers will not soon forget. The inmates are the abused and neglected from China’s darkest corners.

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There are endurance tests and the daily tedium and long-term despair of life in a mainland mental hospital. For about 20 of its four-hour length, we are in one cell where almost nothing happens. Overall we have entered a “painfully finite world of grimy, bare-walled rooms lining an outdoor corridor that overlooks an open courtyard below, with metal bars in place to prevent anyone from trying to climb down or jump”. The building is home to about 100 men, some of whom are identified onscreen by name and length of confinement. Many of these have been imprisoned for as long as 10 or 12 years.

 

The camera captures the crowded hall where the men stand around chatting with each other or muttering to themselves and given medication from the hospital staff. The filmmakers slip regularly into the men’s quarters, where they sleep about four to a room, and sometimes two to a bed. They do not seem to be aware of the camera’s presence, but then they don’t seem particularly aware of anything. Because of this, some may find this a hard film to watch. There are those who walk around naked and while Wang tries to give his subjects a sense of dignity, we realize the ethical questions that arise.

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We see one of the men relieving himself wherever he pleases and as we see the passage of time and sheer repetitiveness of existence. It seems that we are not seeing people but the shells of who they once were. They live in a world of their own creation and have been their own ways of social exchange.

 

At times they huddle together in their beds for warmth and companionship; two men, one younger than the other, express unabashed physical affection for each other in one of the film’s most tender moments. In another scene, a man standing outside carries on a flirtation with a woman on the floor below, a world that remains otherwise off-limits to the camera.

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How and why these men ended up here is a mystery. I understand that some of them have killed, while others are simple outsiders whose local government. The fact that such details are not included in the film such details strengthen Wang’s silent observational approach that a large number of people lose a sense of humanity. It is shocking to see that some of the men have been put there because they have grown too old, too slow and too difficult for their families to take care of them any longer.

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At the three-hour mark, the camera unexpectedly follows a newly released inmate outside the building’s walls and follows him as he returns to his home village. His sense of freedom is brief but staggering, throwing the oppressiveness of the incomprehensible for us to understand.

Wang had long been interested in filming a psychiatric hospital and after visiting one the place, he granted permission to shoot inside the hospital for two weeks in May of 2012. Even with the uniqueness of the physical space, there are no establishing shots of the hospital. All we really know about the inmates are their names and how long they are confined.

“BROADWAY BARES”— A Sexy Video

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“Broadway Bares”

A Sexy Video

Amos Lassen

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For the last twenty-five years “Broadway Bares” has been showing us the beautiful men and women who dance and/or make up the choruses of New York theatre are. They have been stripping down and showing off their beautiful bodies, by getting them to strip down, show off their great physiques and other assets in order to raise money for charity.

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For 2016 the theme is “On Demand”.You can find out more at broadwaybares.com. “Broadway Bares” show itself will take place in New York on June 19th.

“Death Comes Darkly” by David S. Peterson— Finding Love

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Peterson, David S. “Death Comes Darkly”, Bold Strokes Books, 2016.

Finding Love

Amos Lassen

Heath Barrington is a good looking and smart detective who is also confident, strong, and mad about fellow police officer Alan Keyes. Keyes struggles with his feelings for Heath. It is the 1940s America and a much different time for gay people in this country. The two men are working together on a murder case. An eccentric millionaire was murdered at his mysterious and isolated estate in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. As they search for clues they find long buried secrets of the man’s weekend guests. It’s up to Heath to solve the mystery and also convince Alan that some secrets should not be kept and that lust can often develop into love. aren’t worth keeping, and lust can lead to love.

someone is murdered and everyone is a suspect. Set in 1947 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Detective Heath Dexter S. Darkly invited Heath to spend a weekend at his isolated estate and there he met the ex-Mrs. Darkly, Dexter’s daughter and son-in-law, Dexter’s brother-in-law from his first marriage, the servants Bishop and Nora, and Harwood Acres, the college roommate and lover of Dexter’s son, Nigel, who died 10 years ago and who looks very much like Heath.

He and Alan get the just in time to help investigate a murder and they learn that almost everyone had a reason to kill Dexter Darkly but there are questions whether if the obvious suspect is the murderer, or is it all a set-up?

We learn that Keyes and Barrington had originally met at another murder scene and their relationship is just beginning. The book starts with Heath preparing to go to Lake Geneva. A storm occurred at just the time the murder occurred and as a result there is no outside communication. Four people who are present at the estate had motives for murdering the man but actually everyone is suspect.

More than that I cannot say without spoiling the read but I can say that the story is well written and what at first seems obvious turns out to not be the case and it is great fun tying to figure things out.

“Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope” by Wendy Holden— Courage, Resilience and Hope

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Holden, Wendy. “Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope”, Harper, 2015.

Courage, Resilience and Love

Amos Lassen

Among the millions of Holocaust victims that were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944, Priska, Rachel, and Anka each passed through its gates holding a secret – all three were newly pregnant. All three were also facing an uncertain fate without their husbands who had been murdered by the Nazis. They were alone and scared determined to hold on to all they had left— their lives, and those of their unborn babies. Sixty-five years later, the three ‘miracle babies’ meet for the first time at Mauthausen for the anniversary of the American liberation that ultimately saved them. They were united by remarkable experiences of survival against all odds, they come to consider each other “siblings of the heart.”. Wendy Holden expertly brings the three stories together for the first time and she tells a story that is both full of horror and full of hope.

Priska, Rachel, and Anka would not allow evil to take their unborn children. Rachel was sent to Auschwitz, unaware that her husband has been shot. Priska and her husband traveled to Auschwitz there together but were immediately separated. Anka was also at Auschwitz and hoped to be reunited with her husband. With the rest of their families gassed, these young women were determined to hold on to all they have left—their lives, and those of their unborn babies. Because they concealed their conditions from the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, they were forced to work and almost starved to death, living in daily fear of their pregnancies being detected by the SS guards.

In April 1945, as the Allies closed in, Priska gave birth and she and her baby, Hana, along with Anka, Rachel, and the remaining inmates, were sent to Mauthausen and embarked on a seventeen-day train journey. Rachel gives birth on the train, and Anka at the camp gates. All believe they will die, but then a miracle occurs. The gas chamber ran out of Zyklon-B, and as the Allied troops neared, the SS fled. The three mothers and their newborns survived and their journey to freedom began.

Wendy Holden tells this extraordinary story of three children united by their mothers’ unbelievable fight for survival. She brings all three stories together for the first time, to mark their seventieth birthdays and the seventieth anniversary of the ending of the war.

This is a life-affirming celebration of our capacity to care and love amid inconceivable cruelty. If the women would have acknowledged their pregnancies, their lives would have ended at that moment. Living conditions were abysmal and their health worsened from day to day. They were soon emaciated and covered with lice

They were selected to help the German war machine by being transferred to Freiberg and worked like slaves in a factory making parts for aircraft. At the same time, the allies were advancing and bombing raids were daily, during which the women were locked in a room on the top floor of the factory while their Nazi captors hid in shelters. Their final destination was the infamous Mauthausen Camp that had the reputation of being the final destination. It was a camp from which no one left alive.. died from the appalling conditions including hard labor, lack of food, illness, being gassed or from the sheer brutality of the SS guards.

The war was close to its end and the Allies were closing in on the Nazi regime. Within days the Americans arrived headed by Sgt Albert J. Kosiek a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. He had seen and witnessed much but nothing had prepared him or his men for what they saw at Mauthausen. Many of the men broke down when the sheer horror when they saw the conditions of the camp but the war was finally over and Priska, Rachel and Anka had survived with their babies.

The three mothers who defied death to give life were eventually allowed to leave and head home to try and find their husbands and rebuild their lives. Their journeys ended in heartbreak— their husbands were never to return and their homes and possessions all gone. On 10 May 2015, the Austrian authorities marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen in the presence of relatives of survivors and those still alive who helped liberate the camp. Hana, Mark and Eva were present at the celebration.

The tremendous research that went into this book insures that it will be taken seriously. Wendy Holden gives us three new Jewish heroes of whom we can all be very proud. The stories we read are emotional and it is hard to read this with dry eyes but we do get a happy ending. It is absolutely amazing that these women were able to deliver their babies when we read of the circumstances. The three women did not know each other at the camps but their children were able to connect and thus give us a feeling of survival.

Throughout the story of the senseless cruelty, disease, decay, filth, and starvation, Holden gave the reader a sense of hope. We are there with the three women through Holden’s bold descriptions. Finally we see the good in the world but only at the great expense of the millions we lost during the Holocaust.

 

“Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City” by Adina Hoffman— One City, Three Different Lives of Three Different Man

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Hoffman, Adina. “Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.

One City, Three Different Lives of Three Different Man

Amos Lassen

Of all the places in the world that I have visited and/or lived in, Jerusalem is the most special. I still remember the first time I saw her as we went up the road from Tel Aviv—-there she was gleaming with golden specks reflected from the stone of which the city is built. My first time in Jerusalem, we stayed at a quaint little hotel just inside the Jaffa Gate. We sat down to have coffee in the lobby and were promptly joined by a goad who just happened to be walking through and this was something that we do not see in many places. As we sat the sun began to set and it was the Sabbath, a very special time to be in a very special city. Adina Hoffman’s “Till We Have Built Jerusalem is a gripping and intimate journey into the city through the very different lives of three architects who helped shape modern Jerusalem. These three men worked in Palestine under British rule from 1918 to 1948.

We begin in 1930 with an excavation and the arrival Erich Mendelsohn, the celebrated Berlin architect and refugee from Hitler’s Germany, who has to deal with a complex new Middle Eastern reality. We meet Austen St. Barbe Harrison, Palestine’s chief government architect from 1922-1937who had been steeped in the traditions of Byzantine and Islamic building but who soon realizes that working under the often stifling and violent conditions of British rule is very, very difficult. The third architect is a possibly Greek, possibly Arab architect named Spyro Houris who had once been a fixture in Jerusalem but who been totally forgotten even though his grand, Armenian-tile-clad buildings still stand as a ghostly testimony to the cultural fluidity that has historically characterized the city and reveals the multicultural world of Greek Orthodox Arabs.

Hoffman’s paints portraits of the architects that feature the usual melodrama between visionary architects and penny-pinching funders and this is a city heightened by the turmoil of a Palestine rife with violence between Arabs and Jews, shadows of war and exile, and demands that Jewish architects use only Jewish workers and suppliers. Hoffman sets their stories against the backdrop of present-day Jerusalem that she sees as tacky, squalid, and torn by religious hatred and beautiful and graceful buildings are often disfigured by security barriers. We see how these architects “blended European Modernist styles with Ottoman and Arab motifs in a Utopian impulse towards an inclusive, cosmopolitan society”. The result is a vivid architectural criticism and “an illuminating meditation on why Jerusalem’s divisions now seem intractable”.

Hoffman’s book is a study of memory as well as forgetting to remember, place and displacement. As we read, we uncover layers of buried history and yearn to know what it means to be foreign and to belong, sometimes at the same time.

 

 

 

A beautifully written rumination on memory and forgetting, place and displacement, Till We Have Built Jerusalem uncovers ramifying layers of one great city’s buried history as it asks what it means, everywhere, to be foreign and to belong. Hoffman brings together a social and architectural history of one of the famous cities of the world. To give us the beautiful narrative that she does, Hoffman combines urban history with intellectual search and gives us biography, history, politics, aesthetics, religion and psychology in one very rewarding read.

Hoffman deals with the architecture outside of the walls of the Old City and in doing so, she reminds us of the heterogeneous past while also giving hope to all those who are continuing to build a more inclusive Jerusalem (in their imaginations). We see a Jerusalem that can be and understand what could happen if the city continues on the path that it is on presently. I cannot deny my love for the city and am so fortunate for having lived and worked in Jerusalem for many years but I never would have thought that a book about three architects would interest me. Hoffman’s beautiful prose pulled me in immediately and I gained a new perspective of the city both historically and looking at it today.

 

“HOW TO GET OVER A BREAKUP”— Surviving the End of a Gay Relationship

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“How To Get Over A Breakup”

Surviving the End of a Gay Relationship

Amos Lassen

Director Krishna Kumar’s new short film looks at the end of a relationship. “Understandably, many people feel profoundly alone after the end of a romantic relationship and some give up on love as a form of extreme escapism to protect themselves from future heartbreak. What’s interesting is that when people deny themselves this integral part of life, it hurts not just themselves but also those around them. ‘How to Get Over a Breakup’ was made to support people through the struggles of a breakup whilst keeping their hearts open to new experiences. In today’s society of having instant gratification, it’s important to note that happiness takes varying amounts of time. It is not attained through someone else. Lasting happiness is intrinsic. It is exponential; it begets itself.”

Although it was only released a short time ago, the short film has already been successful enough that the people behind it have decided to turn it into a web series.

“It’s Not Like I Know Her” by Pat Spears— Meet Jodie Taylor

its not like I knew her

Spears, Pat. “It’s Not Like I Knew Her”, Twisted Road, 2016.

Meet Jodie Taylor

Amos Lassen

Jodie Taylor has not had a happy life. Her childhood was one of loss, abuse and disappointment and she is aware that because she prefers women to men sexually, she knows that she will never be filly accepted. When she was eighteen-years-old, she ran away from her home in Florida and made it to Selma, Alabama where the best she could do was become a waitress in a place known for its racial injustice. The small café where she works is a place where racism is seen in the clientele and her life becomes one of falsehoods and half-truths. She really never thought about reconciliation with her family so she never thought she would ever see them again but then, she is called home and this forces her into dealing with the past and facing the present. What Jodie really wants is a home and the definition of that word takes on real meaning as she tries to find it. Her journey thus becomes mental as much as it is physical.

I love that author Pat Spear’s chooses a white character who has to deal with racism that was directed at others. Being raised in a poor family and unable to get a good job reflect the class consciousness that is so evident in the southern United States and Spears incorporates that theme as well as the themes of the aforementioned racism and class consciousness along with sexuality into her novel. Jodie is a good person and she is a complex character. Her stubbornness and her generosity to others seem to be at odds with each other but they are simply different aspects of her personality. As her character emerges, we begin to identify with her and cheer her on. I felt that she became part of me as the novel progressed. Jodie will not allow herself to sink into depression because of the bad choices and the unfortunate events in her life. She has a dream that she has no intention of giving up. She not only wants to be accepted by others and she knows that if she can achieve that, she can also accept herself fully. She is determined to work hard for this and she has the gall to fight for it.

Spears has the wonderful ability to describe people, places and events so well that we feel we know them. While the character of Jodie won me over immediately, it is the prose that built her that kept me reading.

This is a book about resilience, humanity and learning how to achieve what at first seems to be impossible. Jodie learns when is the proper time to go after what she wants. Her irreverence helps to paint a picture of who she is as well as inject a bit of humor into her story. There is so much that I have not shared here but that is because I do not want to spoil anyone’s reading pleasure. I urge everyone to meet Jodie. I am sure that you will grow to love her as I have.

“Paradime: A Novel” by Alan Glynn— A Change of Life

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Glynn, Alan. “Paradime: A Novel”, Picador, 2016.

A Change of Life

Amos Lassen

Danny Lynch was working in a chow hall in Afghanistan and saw something that changed his life forever. There was a danger to that job but he was really never where the war action was, Besides, the pay was good. Now, however, he is back in the States, in New York City and haunted by the event that brought him back. He had a hard time finding a job here and working at a restaurant was the best he could do.

At the restaurant there is a very special client’s table and it is there that he met the Barcaderos, one of whom could be his twin brother, Teddy Trager. Teddy seems to have it all—he is a young capitalist who founded a billion-dollar investment firm, Paradime Capital. He also has everything Danny never knew he wanted—cashmere suits, a sleek sports car, privilege and power. The more Danny sees him, the more he becomes fixated with him—and the closer Danny looks at Trager, the more fixated he becomes. Where this goes, you will have to find out by reading the book. This is a harrowing story of a twenty-first-century identity crisis and a psychological thriller that will have you turning pages as quickly as possible. This is Alan Glynn’s first stand-alone novel in fifteen years and it shows us what happens at a power lunch that brings about a faceoff that is hard to forget.

“MAGARITA, WITH A STRAW”— A Journey of Self-Discovery

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“Margarita, with a Straw”

A Journey of Self-Discovery

Amos Lassen

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Laila (Kalki Koechlin) is a rebellious yet confident young nineteen-year-old woman with cerebral palsy leaves her home in India to study in New York, unexpectedly falls in love, and embarks on an exhilarating journey of self-discovery. Laila displays a courageousness in having to deal with her disability, while also suffering the typical teenage self-consciousness that plagues even the healthiest adolescents have a rough time with. Because of her natural intelligence, she receives an offer to go to school in New York and she goes regardless of her physical condition and begins a journey of adventure of social, cultural and sexual liberation.

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Koechlin is wonderful as Laila not only in delivering the physical and behavioral traits of cerebral palsy including the garbled speech and rigid movements exhibited by many sufferers of cerebral palsy, but also emotionally. She grows with Laila during the course of the film and she deals with important issues such as bisexuality and disability. These are dealt with differently than we have seen in other movies. We are immediately aware of Laila’s disease and then we have another character, Khanum  (Sayani Gupta) who is visually impaired. Many movies use disabilities to gain sympathy for characters but here director Shonali Bose focuses more on other problems that these people face instead of the clichés that we are used to. By the time the film has ended, we have complete forgotten the disabilities we saw. Our characters are just that—they are characters. Each character is convincing and we never feel sympathy for any of them yet we do feel the emotional turmoil that each deals with.

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Sexuality is treated aesthetically and in the subplots everything relates to everything else. Laila believes in creating an identity on her own. She is no less than any normal person, except for she is not able to do some normal physical activities yet she is smart enough to write lyrics for her College band, and to get a Scholarship for Further Studies in US. She is also a chess whiz and she is very brave in testing her sexuality both with men and with women. She has aspirations and she is strong enough to take decisions.

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Shonali Bose has dared to work on a subject that many other directors would not touch. The film is not perfect but close to it and if there is a flaw it is in the slow pacing. We reach a point that as viewers we become so wrapped up in what we see that we forget all about how slow the film moves. It is all about being a young adult and experimenting with life and sex and then becoming comfortable with the choices made. I found this to be an amazing film that achieves so much in a relatively short period of time.

“Slaves of Greenworld” by David Holly— Who Is He?

slaves of greenworld

Holly, David. “Slaves of Greenworld”, Bold Stokes Books, 2016.

Who Is He?

Amos Lassen

Dove comes naked and nearly dead from a creek. He has no knowledge of who he is or where he is from and he uses his natural instincts to survive. A slave revolt was taking place and Dove meets Raret, a slave with whom he finds peace, comfort and sex. Dove finds the world hard to understand but he seems to have a natural way to deal with problems.. As he goes forward, Dove demonstrates an innate ability to overcome problems. He works himself up the social ladder of Greenworld, and we see that his ability is enhanced by his mysterious luck. There is treachery and danger everywhere and this is especially visible when he and Raret try to find a peaceful end to institutionalized slavery. They try to find a way a way to curb the influence of the slave owners while at the same time trying to understand and undermine the fates of the others. You might have guessed by now Dove, Raret and the other slaves are mortals living in a world of the paranormal. Dove is a clever manuverer and as he finds passion in love with Raret, he also is able to gain property and titles. He battles with the other slaves in order to free them while at the time he struggles to find out who he really is. We do learn that Dove is nineteen-years-old and had been a resident of Greenworld before his ending up in the creek.

We know nothing else about him and this is one way that author David Holly keeps us reading. As we do, we find clues. We also meet Paun, an elder somewhat who lives a comfortable life in Greenworld. Others who also live at Greenworld see Paun as strange. Then there is Lalayla who adopts Dove and she also has a comfortable lifestyle and a nice income. She adopts Dove and she is also a slaveholder and she treats her slaves in the worst possible ways. This really bothers Dove and it is from among this group that he meets Raret who becomes his life partner.

I have not read much David Holly but what I have read seems to have alien characters who behave in different ways than what we are used to and we certainly see that here. Not only do we have Dove and Raret but there is also the Cendark who can bring forth children from a union with a human, the Jakurth, a kind of cat like creature that is peaceful and clever who became a friend of Dove’s early on. Then there is the Sex Slug but he is for you to learn about yourselves.

It is Dove’s idea to get rid of slavery and do away with the caste system in Greenworld. Whether or not he is successful is for you to find out by reading the book. This is not the kind of book that I usually read but enjoyed it nonetheless.