“Fireworks in the Graveyard” by Joy Ladin— Identity

Ladin, Joy. “Fireworks in the Graveyard”, Headmistress Press, 2017.

Identity

Amos Lassen

As we search to learn who we really are, we explore the concept of identity and realize that this is the most difficult riddle we will ever face in life. Joy Ladin faces the relentlessness of our most vexing riddles with it was style, lyricism and humor. grace, musicality, and wry humor. She looks at love in all of its mutations and meditates on love and faith and we feel her fear and acceptance that death is always impending.” Death in all of its grammatical forms is a major theme of the book, it is an inescapable fact of life. Memories and re-memories are another theme here.

Much like the Torah, Ladin uses repetition for emphasis. The poem “Sabbath” took me back to my youth when after the traditional meal we would sing for hours around the table. I love that she went to the Psalms to find songs and we learn that there are really no new songs to sing to God. By singing old songs we might find new meanings and a new way to understand.

In “While You Were Away,” we get the idea that a change has taken place and we see that this change was prolonged and contains frightening details. She shares that her “physical and mental state—breathless and broken.”

Ladin has structured her book in three parts, each named for a poem within it. These sections are the speaker, a lover, and often a mother or young boy. For those of you who do not know, Ladin is a trans woman.

Because poetry is so personal, I am having a difficult time writing this review. I know and love Joy and am a huge fan so anything she writes is a work of beauty for me. I feel as I am rambling here and I am about to do something I have never done before and that is end this review in the middle so that I can spend more time with the poems.

“You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History” by Howard Zinn— Personal Stories

Zinn, Howard. “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History”, Beacon Press, 2017.

Personal Stories

Amos Lassen

Howard Zinn shares his personal stories about more than thirty years of fighting for social change, from teaching at Spelman College to recent protests against war. Zinn has led a remarkable life as teacher, writer, and social activist. The title of this book was taken from his advice to students about his take on American history and current events and is a powerful testament to that life. He begins with his 1956 acceptance of a teaching post at Atlanta’s Spelman College, a school for black women that would soon be caught up in the civil rights movement. Zinn, who had already been radicalized on the streets of Brooklyn as a teenager, soon found himself caught up along with his students (but was kicked out in 1963 for “insubordination.” He moved to Boston University, where he became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, and would prove a constant thorn in the side of university president John Silber throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Zinn writes in plain language about moral urgency and with a fine sense of humor. He knew that the FBI was watching him constantly during the war era, and stated “I have grown to depend on them for accurate reports on my speeches.” We read of when he realized, years after WWII, that he had dropped napalm bombs on German troops; a meeting in a college classroom with the sister and parents of one of the victims of the Kent State massacre; Selma, Alabama, police beating blacks attempting to register to vote while federal agents stand by and do nothing. Zinn saw how to find a substitute for war in human ingenuity, imagination, courage, sacrifice, patience as the central issue of our time.

Zinn believes that activism and education are inextricable, and his memoir illuminates a well-engaged life. He advised SNCC in Selma, Alabama and volunteered to fight the Nazis but, after Hiroshima, he developed a skeptical pacifism. If Zinn at times seems to be a bit Pollyannish, he’s also inspirational, arguing that, because much has changed in history, “We can be surprised again. Indeed, we can do the surprising.”

“ABOUT US”— Decisions

“About Us” (“Sobre Nos”)

Decisions

Amos Lassen

Life is all about choices and we certainly see that in Directors Mauro Carvalho and Thiago Cazado’s “About Us”. Diego is leaving home and Brazil to go to film school in California for four years. In order to start anew ne must leave everything behind and this includes Matheus, the guy he loves and with whom he has shared a short but passionate affair.

 

Moving ten years forward we are back in Brazil and Diego has decided to writer a novel about the relationship he shared with Matheus. However, this is to be a novel in photographs. In this we see the role of passion in our lives and how choices can affect that passion. It’s a novel idea with a lot of eye candy. The cast includes Thiago Cazado, Rodrigo Bittes, Marina Falcão and Renan Mendes.

“WEST OF THE JORDAN RIVER”— Continuing the Discussion

“West of the Jordan River”

Continuing the Discussion

Amos Lassen

Amos Gitai goes to the West Bank to better understand the efforts of the citizens, both Israelis and Palestinians, to try to overcome the consequences of the 50-year occupation. Interspersing footage of his interviews with Yitzhak Rabin from the 1990s with the contemporary interviews of everyday citizens. It seems that what we see are a collection of outtakes from Gitai’s earlier film, “Rabin, The Last Day”. In this aspect it becomes problematic because the documentary never coheres into a solid whole, leaving viewers with only the vaguest of sketches of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There is, however, a message and that is Gitai seeing the peace process as being over after hitting a dead end in the wake of Rabin’s death. The film is bookended by interviews with Rabin from 1994 on the subject of the Oslo Accords, and we get the implication that the bilateral situation has steadily deteriorated since then but without providing the context to verify such a claim. Gitai suggests early on that his film will provide a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however the series of short interviews that he conducts with various political and civil figures involved in the conflict fail to deliver on this.

The roughly five-minute interview segments that make up the entirety of the film go back and forth between talks with Israeli and Palestinian organizations, journalists, politicians, and regular people on the street. This diversity of views on display gives the film the appearance of having a broad overview of the conflict yet the final product nevertheless feels shallow. Gitai makes no attempt to bridge the gap between Rabin’s assassination and the present day regarding the manifold changes in the conflict that have taken place in the meantime. The result is a work that feels like an introduction to a larger statement that the filmmaker can’t manage to put into words.

Early in the film, a member of Hamas states plainly that he doesn’t believe in the peace process. Later, a Palestinian boy says to Gitai that he wants to die as a martyr, while simultaneously admitting that his life is actually quite good. If there’s a thesis here, we get it when Gitai says that such Palestinian extremism triggers an equal response on the Israeli side. Yet, he offers no concrete examples of this equivalent Israeli response to such ingrained behavior under the assumption that his audience will take his word for it. We hear from the leftist Israeli organization “Breaking the Silence” that claims to speak out against Israeli abuses in the West Bank but we see as paranoid and unconvincing in its time on screen. The group’s promise to reveal the outsized ethical toll of Israel’s presence in the West Bank is simply the assertion that “it’s difficult to be a soldier in a place where the parents of child soldiers are one’s everyday acquaintances.”

We see an Israeli-Palestinian women’s association doing the practical work of reconciliation by bringing mothers from both sides of the conflict together to share their grief and this is a glimmer of hope. This scene works to fundamentally undercut the rest of the film by showing that coexistence here is possible when people are willing to listen to one another.

Gitai often takes incidents and anecdotes out of context, making it difficult for viewers who lack intimate knowledge of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to follow the proceedings. He never concretely defines the nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and provides almost no historical back-story for the views and assertions we see on the screen.

At the heart of the documentary is a 1994 interview with Israeli Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin before his assassination. At one point, Rabin says: “We must first make intermediate steps which would bring, by their success, evidence that peaceful coexistence is possible.” With this ideal of reconciliation

between Israel and Palestine, Gitai joins a meeting of The Parents Circle, a gathering of parents from both sides who lost children in the conflict. He attends a meeting of B’Tselem, a human rights organization that assists Palestinian women to film violations in occupied territories. He talks with two women living in a Jewish settlement about their desire to get along with their neighbors. He also listens to veteran activists who show the harshness of everyday life in the occupied territories. And then there is the young Palestinian boy whose dreams and wants to die as a martyr.

Gitai tells us in his press notes that this documentary is a tribute to the civil courage of individuals who feel disappointed by the lack of political action to resolve the problem. “Because of this, we are all forced to act individually in our own way. This is the optimistic side of the film. We see a large collection of people of different backgrounds who take action in their own hands.”

“SCALPEL”— A Very B-Film Psychological Thriller

“SCALPEL”

A Very B-Film Psychological Thriller

Amos Lassen

In a small southern town, just outside Atlanta we find creepy plastic surgeon Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) might have killed his wife, (his father-in-law thinks so). When the father-in-law dies, he cuts his irresponsible son Bradley (Arlen Dean Snyder) out of his will as well as the son-in-law he despises, Phillip, and leaves the entire estate and $5 million in cash to his granddaughter Heather (Judith Chapman). The only thing is that Heather has been missing for over a year and no one knows where she has gone.

Phillip discovers an exotic dancer in the gutter, whose face is smashed beyond recognition and names her Jane Doe. He plans and schemes to give her a face that resembles his missing daughter. After he does so, Phillip makes a deal whereby she poses as Heather and they split her inheritance, as they empty the estate. Judith Chapman plays both Heather and Jane Doe, making it hard to tell them apart. Things changes when the real Heather returns and the twisted plastic surgeon schemes to murder Jane. It leads to a surprise ending that is so crazy, it is ridiculous.

Robert Lansing gives outstanding performance as the mad plastic surgeon. We learn that he drowned Heather’s mother but the death was chalked off as an accident by the authorities, but not by Heather’s grandfather.

!

 

With the themes of greed, murder, and incest, “Scalpel” could have been so much sleazier. What happens is entertaining and that is because of the actors. The problem that we have is that the movie

doesn’t provide much difference between Heather and her double and Chapman plays them almost identically. However, the worst is yet to come. Director John Grissmer’s final reel throws in bizarre twists and an insane ending.

SPECIAL FEATURES include:

* Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements

* High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

* Original Uncompressed Mono Audio Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

* Brand new audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith

* Brand new crew interviews

* Original Theatrical Trailer

* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Bill Ackerman

“Visionary Women: How Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall, and Alice Waters Changed Our World” by Andrea Barnet— Four Women

Barnet, Andrea. “Visionary Women: How Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall, and Alice Waters Changed Our World”, Ecco, 2018.

Four Women

Amos Lassen

“Visionary Women” looks at four influential women and how they spearheaded the modern progressive movement. These four visionaries are only connected by their decision to break away from convention

This is the story of four visionaries who profoundly shaped the world we live in today. Together, these women—linked not by friendship or field, but by their choice to break with convention. Jane Jacobs fought for livable cities and strong communities; Rachel Carson warned us about poisoning the environment; Jane Goodall demonstrated the indelible kinship between humans and animals; and Alice Waters urged us to reconsider what and how we eat. 

Andrea Barnet traces the arc of each woman’s career and looks at how their work collectively has changed the course of history. All four come from different generations, Carson, Jacobs, Goodall, and Waters yet they all found their voices in the early sixties. These women stood as bulwarks against 1950s corporate culture and its war on nature. As outsiders, each prevailed “against powerful and mostly male adversaries while also anticipating the disaffections of the emerging counterculture.”

They brought a transformative progressive movement while offering people new ways to think about the world and a more positive way of living in it. 

These four women became moral voices in the 1960s and possessed a passion for truth and a perseverance. that defied expectations. They questioned blind faith in technology and the conquest of nature and were able to shape a sensibility that protected our values and our world Here are four passionate outsiders who transformed the world. They improved the way we experience our global home and our daily lives. They shared what they knew about the “interconnectedness of the human community, animal species, natural world and built environment, convictions that have transformed the way we live now.”

“The Sparsholt Affair” by Alan Hollinghurst— Seven Decades of a Family

Hollinghurst, Alan. “The Sparsholt Affair”, Pan Macmillan, 2017.

Seven Decades of a Family

Amos Lassen

Alan Hollinghurt’s “The Sparsholt Affair” spans seven transformative decades in England in the life of a remarkable family. We begin in 1940 when David Sparsholt arrives at Oxford to study engineering even though he really wants to the Royal Air Force. David is one of those handsome, athletic and charismatic guys who is unaware of his effect on others–especially on Evert Dax, the lonely son of a celebrated novelist who is destined to become a writer himself. Oxford is a strange remove: a place of fleeting beauty–and secret liaisons with the world at war, and the Blitz raging in London. A friendship develops between these two young men that will have unexpected consequences.

We read about David Sparsholt’s legacy across three generations and on friends and family alike. The novel shows the increasing openness of gay life and it becomes a meditation on human transience, even as it poignantly expresses the longing for permanence and continuity. The book is gloriously written and looks at human behavior and time and change. Hollinghurst is considered as one of Britain’s finest observers of life. He captures the changing nature of the homosexual experience as the country moves from shame and criminality to openness and dating apps.

The scandal in the title involved politics, sex, corruption and possibly espionage but it is neither explored nor explained. Hollinghurst goes into the lives of various characters peripheral to the affair. He is not necessarily concerned with the ramifications of the scandal and we wonder if it serves a purpose. The book also revolves around Oxbridge social life, artists and older gay men and their much younger lovers. As is usual in Hollinghurst novels, there are many frustrated longings and considerable ignorance on the part of leading characters about their family pasts.

David Sparsholt is the character that ties the years and characters together but he’s a weak thread because we only get glimpses of who he is. I just wish that he had done a bit of a better job.

“Secrets and Shadows” by Roberta Stilman— Thinking Back, Facing Trauma

Stilman, Roberta. “Secrets and Shadows”, Campden Hill, 2018.

Thinking Back, Facing Trauma

Amos Lassen

Paul Bertram (Berger) was a child in Berlin at the time of World War II and in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, he was filled with memories of what it was like to be a Jewish child there. He and his family managed to escape and went first to Sweden and then to America. Paul decided that he wanted to visit Berlin and invited Eve, his ex-wife to join him. They had a good marriage for 23 years and had three kids before Paul decided to be unfaithful.

Paul was a very charming and talented guy who was successful at everything that he did except liking himself. He hoped to be able to deal with that while in Berlin. Paul’s family had lived in Berlin for generations and they were well-respected and successful jewelers. Like so many other good German Jews, they thought that the Hitler regime was a phase and would pass but we all know now that this was not the case. The Bergers had been helped by Paul’s grandfather’s chief jewelry designer, Hjalmar Friedmann who was not Jewish. He moved his family into the Berger home so that the Nazis would not think that the house had Jews living there. They actually take over the house while the Bergers hide in the attic. Paul suffered traumas because of what his family had to endure and the reason he wanted to go back to Berlin was a chance to face them head-on.

The wounds that Paul faced are difficult to deal with and undoubtedly influenced his relationship with his wife. Some may find the book to be slow moving until they realize that this is deliberate so that we can better understand Paul and his relationship with his wife.

“Secrets and Shadows” looks at the themes of marriage, trauma and forgiveness but it does in uniquely by allowing the reader to see through Paul’s eyes as he relives his younger days in Germany. We watch as appeared as a good and solid marriage goes bad and then later see what caused that to happen. Then after being apart for five years, Paul invites his ex-wife to go to Berlin with him. It was his hopes that by facing the demons in the place of his youth that he would better understand the mistakes he made in his marriage to Eve. Here we have a case of looking at the past as a way to deal with the future.

The novel moves from past to present and back again and Stilman’s gorgeous pose is filled with details. Paul and Eve have had a problematic relationship, and because their characters are so well developed we feel we get to know them. I found this to be a well-realized novel that played on my emotions. We gain quite a sense of history in a different approach to the period before World War II and we see how trauma can affect someone his entire life if he does not deal with it or face it.

“Gender Reckonings: New Social Theory and Research” edited by James W. Messerschmidt, et al.— Gender Theory and Research Today

Messerschmidt, James W. Michael A. Messer, Raewyn Connell and Patricia Yancey Martin, editors. “Gender Reckonings: New Social Theory and Research,” NYU Press, 2018

Gender Theory and Research Today

Amos Lassen

“Gender Reckonings: New Social Theory and Research” is a collection of vivid narratives, fresh insights, and new theories on where gender theory and research stand today. I think that we forget that gender and sexuality have always been a part of sociology and now they are essential parts of the social sciences. It is this book’s aim to look at

 new directions for understanding gender and sexuality “within a more pragmatic, dynamic, and socially relevant framework.”  We see here how gender relations must be understood on a large scale as well as in intimate detail.

 The contributors return to the basics and question how gender patterns change, how we can realize gender equality, and how the structures of gender impact daily life. We not only get the foundational concepts of gender relations and gender justice, “but also explore postcolonial patterns of gender, intersectionality, gender fluidity, transgender practices, neoliberalism, and queer theory.”  Some of this can be classified as comparative gender studies since we have scholars from different generations, fields, and world regions. The editors and contributors are leading social scientists from six continents, and the book gives vivid accounts of the changing politics of gender in different communities. We see a spectrum of opinions and styles as well as conceptual frameworks that add to the understanding of gender theory and research.

a spectrum of styles and conceptual frameworks contributes immensely to our sociological understanding of gender theory and research. The writings demonstrate the “diverse ways that contexts matter and the importance of engaging in social research for gender equality and social justice.”

Here is the Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments

Introduction The Editors

Part I. Points of Departure: Gender & Power and its Sequels
1. ’Theories Don’t Grow on Trees’: Contextualizing Gender Knowledge Myra Marx Ferree
2. Hegemonic, Nonhegemonic, and “New” Masculinities
James W. Messerschmidt and Michael A. Messner
3. From Object to Subject: Situating Transgender Lives in Sociology Kristen Schilt

Part II. The Larger Scope of Gender Analysis
4. Postcoloniality and the Sociology of Gender
Raka Ray
5. Race, Indigeneity, and Gender: Lessons for Global Feminism Mara Viveros Vigoya
6. Categories, Structures, and Intersectional Theory
Joya Misra

Part III. Four Dimensions of Relationship, Struggle, and Change

7. Why ‘Heteronormativity’ is not Enough: A Feminist Sociological Perspective on Heterosexuality
Stevi Jackson
8. Gender Inequality and Feminism in the New Economy

Christine L. Williams and Megan Tobias Neely
9. Gender Politics in Academia in the Neoliberal Age
Barbara Poggio
10. The Holy Grail of Organizational Change: Toward Gender Equality at Work Yvonne Benschop and Marieke van den Brink

Part IV. Dynamics of Masculinities
11. Concerning Tradition in Studies on Men and Masculinities in Ex-Colonies
Kopano Ratele
12. Rethinking Patriarchy through Unpatriarchal Male Desires
Gul Ozyegin
13. On the Elasticity of Gender Hegemony: Why Hybrid Masculinities Fail to Undermine Gender and Sexual Inequality
Tristan Bridges and C. J. Pascoe

Part V. Agendas for Theory
14. Limitations of the Neoliberal Turn in Gender Theory: (Re)Turning to Gender as a Social Structure
Barbara J. Risman, Kristen Myers, and Ray Sin

15.Paradoxes of Gender Redux: Multiple Genders and the Persistence of the Binary Judith Lorber
16. The Monogamous Couple, Gender Hegemony, and Polyamory
Mimi Schippers

Conclusion: Theory Work, or Reckoning with Gender Raewyn Connell

About the Contributors

Index

“THE NINE LIVES OF MARION BARRY”— A Struggle for Political Survival

“The Nine Lives of Marion Barry”

A Struggle for Political Survival

Amos Lassen

There is honesty and truth in this documentary about Marion Barry and his hold over Washington through nearly its entire history of self-rule. Most of the straight talk comes from Effi Barry , the former mayor’s second wife, whose love for the man who publicly humiliated her. Effi, who died in 2007, remembers the “throngs of women” who always seemed to surround Barry, or the nude photos of themselves that women sent the mayor in the mail, or the drinking that was “out of control.” By the late 1980s, Effi says, that her husband had become “an embarrassment, an embarrassment to friends, an embarrassment to self.” And then we hear from Barry himself about the loneliness of power: “Friendships, hard to find,” Barry mumbles. “Everybody wants this, everybody wants that.”

The film contains wonderful archival footage from the 1960s and ’70s. We see a young, slim, goateed, dashiki-clad man the newspapers called “Marion S. Barry, Negro militant” at community meetings, asking angry young Washingtonians to rise up with him against police brutality. Jesse Jackson says in the movie that Barry was “a marching, picketing, protesting, Freedom Riding young man who had that fire.”

Filmmakers, Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer, capture Barry’s visceral appeal and early vision but there is no attempt here to show the broader impact of Barry’s dark side. Marion Barry’s failings are a more serious puzzle than this film depicts. “The voters’ angry embrace of his return from disgrace flickers by on the screen without anyone stopping to learn just how terribly poisonous Barry’s reign really was — the cynicism he seeded among city workers in it for themselves, residents stripped of high hopes and children he taught about the reality of betrayal.”

Effi remembers the rumors about her husband when he was mayor of Washington DC in 1988. I cannot help but wonder how Effi endured all those ambiguities and broken promises. She offers no explanation at all, based in his youthful energy and charisma and the “vision that he had for the city.” It’s an explanation much like those offered by others interviewed here and Effi “thought he was one of the most brilliant men I had ever met.”

Barry confessed his wrongdoing, though it’s not clear that he’s able to stay sober. “I was doing cocaine,” he says. A sentimental piano soundtrack encourages you to feel his pain: “At the time, you don’t know what you’re doing, or at least I didn’t know what I was doing.” Old footage shows him lecturing to students on the dangers of doing drugs, at the same time that he was using. Barry notes here, “I didn’t even connect it between what I did and what I was saying. That’s the complexity of the disease. It doesn’t connect logically to what you’re doing. It just runs you rather than you run it.”