“SLOW FOOD STORY”— A NEW MOVEMENT

slow food story

“Slow Food Story”

A New Movement

Amos Lassen

Slow Food is an international anti-fast-food resistance movement. In 1986 Carlo Petrini launched of ArciGola Gastronomic Association in Italy and three years later in Paris he launched Slow Food, an international anti-fast-food resistance movement. Petrini has become an ambassador for thinking about food differently and he is famous all over the world. From the tiny town of Bra, home to some 27,000 inhabitants, the Slow Food movement has grown to become a revolution with roots in more than 150 countries. Cheese-makers, vintners, and artisanal food folk thank Slow Food for bringing about a change in consciousness that shook the very foundation of gastronomy.

Before I watched this movie, I had no idea what Slow Food was and while I am still not totally sure what it is, I believe that is all food that is not fast food. Let’s face it, we think more about nutrition than ever before and we have seen the vegetarian movement really grow.

The film shows us the political background in Italy that is indirectly responsible for the beginning of the movement. We see Carlo Petrini, the main force behind slow food, during a speech explaining his ties to the movement. Revolutions and politics go hand in hand and we see that when the economy is not good, fast food is cheap and available and satisfies for a while. As long as it is available, people will eat it and eat in a lot. We see that in order to improve nutrition it is necessary to have a healthy economy where people can afford to buy nutritional food.

Petrini was responsible for industrializing the protection of gastronomic values. He was totally devoted to slow food. In the ’70s when the fast food chains stretched over their tentacles into Europe and the world out of the USA, lots of people started losing the connection to traditional meals. They preferred the quick and hamburgers and rather than sitting down to a family meal. Petrini took the problem seriously and fought against it in articles, speeches and other ways until he was able to form the Slow Food Movement that is now helping in and embracing farmers in some 150 countries to grow and sell their products to customers. This film is a perfect interpretation of the hard work what Carlo Petrini and his co-workers and successors are doing.

I have read some very unfavorable reviews of this film and I cannot help but wonder what those that wrote them were thinking. There is a lot to be learned here but it must be approached with an open mind. It is people like Carlo Petrini that make differences in our lives for the good of us all.

“APACHES”— Young Thugs

Apaches DVD Sleeve.indd

“Apaches”

Young Thugs

Amos Lassen

 Thierry de Peretti’s “Apaches is an ensemble drama about a group of teenagers that sneak into a holiday cottage one night for a party and steal a few things including two antique rifles. When the owner tells an important local figure about it, a disastrous chain of events is set in place.

apaches1

Corsica is a place where thousands of tourists invade the beaches and clubs and in this film while that is going on, five local teenagers spend their days aimlessly hanging out in the streets. One summer night, one invites the others to a vacant luxury villa where they spend the night swimming, drinking and hooking up. When they leave, they steal several valuables from the home, including two prize rifles. Upon returning from Paris to discover the theft and vandalism, the homeowner turns to a local crime boss for help, quickly igniting a chain reaction of violence and revenge the teens had never anticipated.

Right away we are intrigued by the way things happen and we sense the tension and even a tinge of fear. With that we also have some very fine performances that are naturalistic performances and provided by a young cast who give us interesting insight into the race and class issues faced by those living in a popular tourist area.

apaches2

 Aziz (Aziz El Hadachi) is a poverty-stricken Arab teenager whose father works at a luxurious villa. He tries to score some points with his buddies so he hosts a late night pool party at the villa. As can be expected things get out of hand and I have already described what happened. Aziz takes responsibility for the whole mess including the thefts. Even though he doesn’t snitch on his two friends, Francois-Jo (Francois Joseph Cullioli) comes up with a plan to insure that no one finds out about the valuable hunting rifle he took from the villa. We see that greed is a strong force in the lives of these adolescents who want more than they need.

Toward the end of the film, one of the characters says, “We’ve got to have fun, enjoy life and stuff,” and we can feel the irony dripping thickly from every word. It is their concept of fun that is unrealistic. But there is something much deeper here than kids looking for fun. Aziz and his pals Hamza (Hamza Mezziani) and François-Jo are like so many teens, they seen to have a potentially troublesome mix of resentments and they desire to push at the boundaries. When Aziz suggests that they crash the holiday home of the ‘Frenchies’ that his dad looks after for an night of hedonism, they jump at the chance. Mix drink and friction and we get a dangerous cocktail. We see early on that the caper is used to explore the way a situation can slide from dead cool to simply deadly.

apaches3

Peretti shoots much of the early part of the film in a sickly half-light and pool reflection, his camera voyeuristically peering in from a distance. It’s atmospheric but the gloom means it takes a while for the characters to fully take shape. Once they have, things move fast. The climax may be inevitable but it is while we wait for it to happen that the viewer begins to understand the social implications of what we are observing. Materialism is everywhere as we see in the attitudes of the wealthy tourists. We also see the youth’s reaction to what they wish they had. When commodities become the reason for caring then loyalty becomes worthless.

The violence is the film happens off-screen but it echoes ominously in the animalistic tendencies of the teens. We immediately see what makes these kids act as they do (and we wish it was not true). We really get a sense of the kids and their yearning for freedom, money and girls. We also see where they are in society and we understand that they have strict parents who try to enforce respect and discipline. We wonder if their decisions and actions are justified and with all of the focus of the film on them, we are spoon-fed their thoughts and emotions.


apaches4

We do not hear a lot of dialogue and instead we see a lot thus giving us time to think about what is happening. Once the scene is set and we have become acquainted with the characters, the pace of the film quickly picks up as things start to spiral out of control.

We get some great insights into youth, race and class issues and the young cast really displays the mentality of the younger generation.

“The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition” edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler— For Study

the jewish study bible

Berlin. Adele and Marc Zvi Brettler, editors. “The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition”, Oxford University Press, 2014.

For Study

Amos Lassen

“The Jewish Study Bible” is a wonderful addition to any library for someone who is interested in really doing a serious study. It is arranged in the traditional order: Torah (the five books of Moses); Nevi’im (the major and minor prophets); and Ketuvim (the other writings). Each book is introduced by leading Jewish scholars introduce each book and offer extensive sidebar commentary which discusses the views of ancient and modern rabbinic scholars. The volume contains twenty-four scholarly essays on different aspects of interpretation: the Bible’s use in various periods in Jewish history, in the liturgy, in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Included are essays on biblical languages, canonization, textual criticism, philosophical and mystical traditions, and biblical poetry. The beauty of this book is that it spans the spectrum of Jewish thought.

This new second edition has been revised over the first that was published some ten years ago. There have been great advances in Biblical knowledge during that time especially about ancient Israel. Additionally new scholars have come into the filed and they have new and fresh approaches to the way Bible is studied. This has caused the editors to build on what was there in the first edition and they have included to the new knowledge.

The changes are extensive. Many books of the Bible have entirely new annotations / commentaries, by new authors, and they all have been revised to reflect new scholarship. The essays also have been revised and there are some by new authors as well as new essays that include topics such as the calendar and the place of the Bible in American Jewish culture.

Much current emphasis today is on the Persian and Hellenistic periods when the biblical canon and its earliest interpretation were just developing. The history and archaeology of these periods allow for a tighter hold on how Jewish identity was being formed. Because of this we get a better understanding of the way the biblical text developed and what it meant to the people of the time. There were many Jewish communities with differing views on certain matters, and ideas were reflected or suppressed with the Bible. Now we read them in their final form but we as are aware of and sensitive to the many and varied voices that went into the writing of the Bible.

With the tremendous advances in technology and archeology, it seems likely that will ne new discoveries that will aid us in understanding the literature of the times and maybe the debate dating it will finally reach an end with resolution. Jewish participation in biblical scholarship is relatively recent—in the last fifty years or so and it is probable that the new generations of Biblical scholars will discover new and exciting ways of bringing the classical and the contemporary together.

Finally, it is important to remember that Jewish participation in mainstream biblical scholarship began only half a century ago, and it is likely that in the coming decade Jewish scholars will find new ways of integrating classical Jewish sources with critical approaches.

To give you an idea about the nature of the essays here is what is found: there are even essays on Jewish interpretations of the Bible; eight on the Bible in Jewish life and thought; and nine essays on backgrounds for reading the Bible (some of which are adaptations of essays found in Oxford’s Annotated Bible). There is a timeline to help the reader get an approximate sense of when key biblical events occurred. There is also a chronological table of rulers listing rulers not directly referenced in the Bible and this helps the reader better place those that are. A 20-page glossary covers literary and theological terms (casuistic law, etiology, haplography, Oral Torah, etc.) as well as key names and terms from the biblical text.

Something like this can easily be esoteric and scholarly but this is not the case at all. It is reader friendly and a delight for the eye. We see modern scholarship throughout the book that indicates how a passage has been interpreted throughout the long history of Judaism and how a passage is used in Judaism today. Often the notes give alternatives to the meanings presented in the translation. The notes are far extensive and serve only as a bare introduction to the tremendous wealth of Jewish commentary on the Bible. Possible alternate readings from other sources are suggested as well.

 

“One Hundred
Great Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation” by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman— An Introduction to Jewish Reading

one hundred better

Hoffman, Rabbi Lawrence A. “One Hundred
Great Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation”, BlueBridge, 2011.

An Introduction to Great Jewish Reading

Amos Lassen

If you have ever belonged to a book group, you know just how helpful a book like this can be. We can stop searching for new titles when we have a list of one hundred great titles and with a number like that there will always be something to read. So here is an introduction to one hundred great Jewish books, arranged as a concise and thought-provoking guide to the Jewish conversation across many centuries. “Each of the entries features one work in its historical and cultural context, provides a summary of content and author, and reflects on its relevance for today’s readers”.

Yes, this is Rabbi Hoffman’s list of the books that he considers to be great Jewish books that are guaranteed to bring conversation as well as provide great selections for book clubs and adult education classes. The list is also a great place to start arguing which books are indeed great. Just because Rabbi Hoffman is noted does not mean we have to agree with him but I will say that his interpretations are lucid and eloquently written and the titles that he has included are wonderful for those searching to understand Judaism better and/or to see how it influences their lives and the way they think.

One critic has said that this is the ultimate Jewish book review and with that I must say that I do not agree simply because new Jewish books are constantly being published and literature like clothing is a matter of taste. The only time we can have the ultimate list is when nothing else is being published. But that is a minor argument to what is in this book. It is reader-friendly and wide-ranging and to undertake a task of whittling now the world of Jewish literature to one hundred titles is quite an accomplishment (especially if we consider how many people read one hundred books in their lifetime—excluding school books).

Rabbi Hoffman is a widely respected scholar and for me that is a great credential for something like this. I have learned during my life—and I have known and argued with many rabbis—that there is great fun in challenging those who claim to have chosen the hundred great works of Jewish literature and I am sure that Rabbi Hoffman would be more than willing to stand up for every book he has chosen. I also do not doubt for a second that he has read them all. What he really gives us a wonderful “introduction to Judaism in a new and exciting way: a conversation through the ages that his book opens up in a compelling and page-turning way.”

The most natural question is what makes a Jewish book great? Rabbi Hoffman tells us in his introductions to the titles why he has chosen the books included here and this is enough for me. What is really important is the books subtitle, “Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation”. Can a book that is not spoken about be considered great? That is surely something to think about. It is as id Rabbi Hoffman hold the door to his library open for us to walk through and while inside he tells us about his books. In other words, as we read we are part of a conversation. And this is not just about books, it is also about the very nature of Judaism.

Rabbi Hoffman describes his book as “an altogether new kind of introduction to Judaism, intended to enrich the explanations of Jewish history, thought, and practice that other books provide.” He then, in the introduction, defines what he means by a great book and unfortunately the word great is limiting. Hoffman says, “For the majority of Jews in Israel, religion is associated with Jewish fundamentalism and its ultra-Orthodox political parties that would return Judaism to the Middle Ages if they could.” I certainly can see how a statement like this could alienate some readers. Unless you have lived in Israel it is hard to really understand what a statement like this says. It is even harder to understand when we look at the nature of American reform Judaism with its emphasis on diversity, open-mindedness and inclusion for all. While this is true, we must concede that many American Jews practice their Judaism when it is convenient to do so, much as many Israelis do. Religion has come to have a tarnished name because of the way it has been mistreated and blamed for many ills in the world. What I think Hoffman is saying is that we can find out about Judaism in what we read and that those who have taken umbrage with that statement need to relax a bit and maybe even read a Jewish book.

Rabbi Hoffman does share that some of his choices for the book are personal and if I were to really argue anything about this list it would be why it ends at just one hundred. After all, we are the people of the book. And actually the list includes more than 100 books. Some multi-volume texts are counted as just one book, i.e. the Babylonian Talmud and the Midrash Rabbah.

Some of the interesting selections are the following: Solomon Schechter’s “Aspects of Rabbinic Theology” a brief commentary on the Talmud, Freud’s “Moses and Monotheism” which although outdated and questionable still has a place, Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” a highly controversial and now proven deeply flawed analysis of the Nazis’ war against the Jews telescoped through the trial of one of its chief perpetrators, I.J. Singer’s “The Brothers Ashkenazi” and I.B. Singer’s memoir, “In My Father’s Court,” both classics of 20th century Jewish literature are here to name just a few. The book really shines in the area of contemporary Jewish literature.

“Herzl’s Vision: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State” by Shlomo Avineri, translated by Haim Watzman— The Man and His Dream

herzl's vision

Avineri, Shlomo. “Herzl’s Vision: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State”, translated by Haim Watzman, BlueBridge, 2014.

The Man with the Dream

Amos Lassen

 Theodor Herzl had been a successful Viennese journalist and a less successful playwright with no political ambitions. However, his life changed drastically in 1896That changed in 1896, the year he published “The Jewish State”. The book and the idea therein resonated widely with Jews in Europe and the response was that Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, and this was what founded the Zionist Organization in order to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine that was to be recognized and guaranteed by public international law.

Herzl has totally transformed himself in a very short time from a writer and editor at the fin-de-siècle into the leader of an international political movement. Herzl had to learn politics and diplomacy while he was in the midst of dealing with them. Even though Herzl was not the first to call for the establishment of a Jewish nation-state, his activity was crucial for creation of the institutional and organizational structure which helped to bring the idea of a Jewish state to the attention of world leaders and international public opinion. His efforts were successful in gaining broad support for the creation of the state. On his own he met with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the German Emperor Wilhelm II, Pope Pius X, British, Russian, and German ministers; as well as a tremendous number of other government and public opinion leaders of most European countries. Herzl died when he was just forty-for years old in 1904 but he had already changed the public Jewish discourse and opinion and was responsible for making the return to the land of Zion a reality among the politics of the world.

Growing up in a Jewish home for many meant identification with some kind of Jewish youth group, most of which had Zionist leanings. I was a member of Young Judaea and quite early we regarded Herzl as our hero even though we only knew what we were told about him. It was not until much later—my college years—that I began to explore Herzl myself and read as much by him and about him as possible.

Now we have this concise new biography by Shlomo Avineri, a noted Israeli political scientist and intellectual who gives us his version of Herzl. This is both an intellectual and spiritual look at the man by a modern political leader. We see that Herzl was not accepted by man and that he was in fact marginalized. We learn what made Herzl such a staunch advocate of a Jewish state and we see that it was just the Dreyfus Affair that drew Herzl in but it was also because of the political crisis of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire that was torn apart by contending national movements, which convinced Herzl of the need for a Jewish polity.

Author Avineri draws extensively on Herzl’s diaries as well as his published works and he shares with us how Herzl became, “with the Zionist movement that he founded, a player in international politics, and how he harnessed the power of the word to his goals as no other statesman before him had done”. We can never forget that it was Theodor Herzl and his combination of his visionary idea with practical action, that brought about the policies and institutions that paved the way for the Jewish state.

This book is so readable that once I began I could not stop reading and I attribute that to the author of the book and to the magnetism and charisma of Herzl himself.

“THE HANGING GARDEN”— Coming Home

the hanging garden

“The Hanging Garden”

Coming Home

Amos Lassen

William (Chris Leavins), a once obese and troubled teen, returns to his family’s home in Nova Scotia after being gone, without a word, for ten years and finds it (and his family) haunted with his past. He had moved to the city and become a fit, well-adjusted gay man, but during his visit home, he becomes unhinged as the newly remembered reasons for his miserable adolescence come to life.

He has come home for his sister’s wedding and now he is 200 pounds lighter and out of the closet. Yet for all the changes he has experienced, William discovers that his family is still the same dysfunctional mess he left behind. His father is an abusive drunk whose love is limited only to his well-tended flower garden, his grandmother is senile and incontinent, his mother is a passive punching bag, his sister is a foul-mouthed wise-ass, and the groom is an old friend who keeps coming on to him. What is really strange is that Most everyone in the family seems to know they’re screwed up, and the constant conflict surrounding William is symbolized by the manifestation of a horrible vision of his younger and fatter self, hanging lifelessly near the garden for all to see. Mysteriously enough, everyone sees the swinging, bloated body, which appears to be a part of everyday life.

the hanging garden1

This is a movie that reflects the complexity and depth of good literature that is filled with humor, tragedy, and emotion. Beautifully composed with an eye for the colors of the all-important flower garden, the film uses quite an interesting premise—all of the characters are named after flowers in the garden and the time of year when they bloom and this adds yet another surreal aspect to the plot. Thom Fitzgerald directed this, his debut film, poetically and quietly crazily. Fitzgerald also produced the film and wrote the script.      

Past, present, and future all share the stage individually and collectively in “The Hanging Garden”, a homecoming story in which a gay son’s return to his dysfunctional family after a 10-year absence proves that you can indeed return home again or maybe you can think you can until it happens. The film is both amazingly compelling and maddeningly illogical, built on an uneasy blend of stylistic elements: kitchen-sink realism and magic realism. When these merge, William sees not only the shape of things in the present but also the living traces of things that occurred in the past. The strategy works wonderfully for the first half of the film, but then it depicts an event in the surreal realm that is literal, definite and unambiguous and this undermines the narrative and everything suddenly becomes elusive. This error just hurts the film a bit and we get however an absorbing and a rich study in the ways in which we are all tied to our family histories, no matter how much we try to ignore them.

the hanging garden2

William remains haunted (figuratively and literally) by the obese, sexually confused teenager he was when he left the family and each character we meet is full of bogus melodrama. “Sister Rosemary (Kerry Fox) makes a less than romantic bride in her white gown as she curses, swigs beer, and wages constant battle with her ungainly bridal train. Tomboy sister Violet (Christine Dunsworth) is even less starry-eyed about the whole affair. The groom Fletcher (Keller) is the teen who first seduced young William and then rejected him. Mom Iris (Seana McKenna) is a cryptic figure, who mysteriously takes a powder following the ceremony. Dad Whiskey Mac (Peter MacNeill) more than lives up to his name, a gardener and a drunk who fluctuates between moments of aggression and tenderness. Grandma’s (Joan Orenstein) up in her room, a religious fanatic whose Alzheimer’s-related senility causes many an inappropriate scene”. As if that is not enough, even the family dog has gone blind and now falls down and walks into walls.

We have some very fine performances here especially Troy Veinotte as the sensitive, overweight teen version of Sweet William, Sarah Polley as the teenaged Rosemary, and Seana McKenna as the inscrutable mother. There is a very big secret at the very end and even once you learn what it is, nothing is made clear. Yet as a movie that gives a story about how the present is influenced by the past, this is a wonderful film.

the hanging garden3

There is one unsettling message that the film conveys and that is that no matter how drastically one may overhaul his/her physical image, beneath the bright and shiny new shell, a wounded, frightened child still lurks. All one has to do to find him/her is to go home again. As the movie skips around in time and shows its grown-up characters observing their younger selves, it suggests that as we grow up we become like redwood trees: all the layers of our lives down to our very cores exist at the same time.

Thom Fitzgerald has delivered such a unique take on dysfunction that the film is occasionally uncomfortable to watch yet quite compelling at the same time.

“ULTRASUEDE : IN SEARCH OF HALSTON”— A Man for All Seasons

ultrasuede

“ULTRASUEDE : IN SEARCH OF HALSTON”

A Man for All Seasons

Amos Lassen

Halston was the first American first haute couturier to be taken seriously.  He progressed from milliner to revered iconic fashion designer in a very short time. He was a flamboyant and fun-loving man who firmly put his sartorial stamp on everything in the Studio 54 era so that his ‘star’ on Fashion’s Walk of Fame in New York says rightly that “The 70’s Belonged to Halston”. Unfortunately this movie by socialite Whitney Smith does not do him justice.

 Smith was totally unversed in fashion but he managed to get some interviews with industry luminaries such as Andre Leon Tally, Diane von Furstenberg and Stephen Burrows but s his own personal agenda caused these great opportunities to be wasted.  He even failed to listen to Liza Minnelli when she pleaded with him to go do some research into Halston’s life and work.

 Nonetheless Halston’s legacy still manages to come through with some wonderful archival footage that reveals exactly how truly wonderful the clothes he created were.  In his public private life, Halston was a dedicated partygoer and showman that ran with a very fast crowd but his innovative and elegant fashion that he produced on the Runway was stunningly chic and totally wearable. Because he was dressing a young Jacqueline Kennedy as First Lady at the same time as he clothed some of New York society’s dowagers and as well as the party girls at Studio 54 says a great deal about his talent.

It seemed appropriate that he be chosen to be the first high-end designer to make a mass-market collection for J C Penney’s which sadly failed but he did  pave the way for all the designers of today who cannot wait to do work for the likes of stores such as Target and H and M.

He loved life to the fullest, having the most strikingly beautiful contemporary house designed and built in Manhattan and he was known to spend some $100,000 a year on orchids alone shows the kind of person that he was. His boyfriend was Victor Hugo and it is said that he was the crazier of Halston’s group. Looking at how they lived them makes today seem so mild and tame.

Halston’s story ends sadly— greedy corporations bought and sold Halston’s business several times thereby denying the man himself the right to use the very talents that they had paid big bucks for. After that Halston became one of the first of the famous casualties of the AIDS epidemic in 1990. Maybe the day will come when we have the kind of film that does justice to the man and his name.

“DECODING ALAN TURING”— Remembering Turing

decoding poster

“Decoding Alan Turing”

Remembering Turing

Amos Lassen

2014 has been a good year for Alan Turing and it is too bad that he is not around to appreciate it. We lost Turning to death by his own hand because he could not deal with the punishment that the British government gave to him –medical castration or life in prison. Turing was a brilliant mathematician, logician, cryptographer, computer scientist and a world-class runner. He was a Cambridge graduate, who was fundamental to cracking the Nazi’s Enigma Code during World War II and who’s momentous paper, “On Computable Numbers” created the basis for the modern programmable computer.

Alan Turing was also a gay male. He was a victim of the intolerance and legal prosecution of his time. He went though hormone therapy in attempt to change his behavior and suffered their side effects – and the consequences. His death was shrouded in mystery and was a tragic loss to Great Britain and the world. Who knows where his mind would have taken the science of Mathematics or the world of modern computing?

Posthumously, he has been lauded. Universities around the world have programs and buildings in his name. He has earned an English Heritage Blue Plate on his childhood home. And, since 1966, an award in his name has been given each year by the Association for Computing Machinery, widely considered to be the computing world’s equivalence of the Nobel

 On September 9, 2009 UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology on behalf of the British Government for the treatment and persecution of Alan Turing and recognizing his invaluable contributions to the world. Queen Elizabeth also pardoned him posthumously.

Turing affected modern society more than any other individual to date. Turing was drafted into service during WWII to work at Bletchley Park and helped crack the Nazi Enigma Code and turn the tide of WWII for the Allies. A hero many times over, he was later persecuted by the same country he fought to protect for being a homosexual. It is rumored that the Apple Computer logo— the apple with a bite missing that adorns so many of our most prized electronics is a nod to those in the know about Alan Mathison Turing, an English Mathematician (widely hailed as the father of the modern computer) who was found dead at age 41 with a poisoned apple laying next to his bed.

Like so many, Turing grew up gay and felt alone and different. Little did he know what a role model he would become.

“JULIAN”— Who was Julian?

julian

“Julian”

Who was Julian?

Amos Lassen

Julian has been called many things— a philosopher, a hedonist, a sage and a charlatan.  Friends, associates and scholars lend their opinions in this look into Julian’s controversial ideas, his secrets and his public persona.  Was he a cult leader or simply a clever performance artist?  He was cut down at the height of his fame, vanished and presumed dead yet Julian is still the enigma today that he was in the prime of his short career. The film, “Julian”, directed by Michael Yates,  is about a failed attempt to revive the primitive role of art as a means of worship; much like the pagan Emperor Julian (“Julian the Apostate”) tried to hold back the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of Rome.  This is a movie about failure yet it is very interesting. Movies about failure aren’t that popular, but I think they’re often more interesting.

Julian had brains but he did not really know how to deal with his intelligence. He was an intellectual with a humanistic worldview and tried  being a cult leader in order to reach an audience beyond academia and mainstream culture. He really had no formal education and he did not need followers but they came.  

His philosophy combined Carl Sagan, Gore Vidal, Norman O. Brown, Marshall McLuhan and Alan Watts.  It is opposite to the apocalyptic paranoia of Manson and Jim Jones, and it was not inherently compatible with a discipleship. This is from where the main tension comes in this film—somewhere between the aspirations of Julian and the reality that falls short.  It was not about this character as much as about the perceptions that others had of him.

 The film is loosely structured and intuitive.  It is not a narrative drama and is difficult to classify. It is part scripted, part improvised, part mockumentary, and part video essay.

“LOVE IS THE DEVIL: A PORTRAIT OF FRANCIS BACON”— A Strange Love Affair

love is the devil remastered

“Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon”

 A Strange Love Affair (Newly Remastered)

 Amos Lassen

While this is not a new film, we now have a new remastered edition of it (from Strand Releasing) which makes watching it quite a pleasure. When Daniel Craig was cast as the new James Bond there was a lot of interest in “Love is the Devil” because of his frontal nude scene in the film. The film, itself, is a somewhat short look at the very strange love affair between Francis Bacon (Derek Jacobi), an artist and his model/lover George Dyer (Daniel Craig). Dyer was the model for some of Bacon’s most famous works and the film gives us an impressionist look at the relationship between the two men. Jacobi gives quite the performance embodying some of the artist’s real quirks including interaction with some very strange friends, brushing his teeth with ammonia, his masochistic bend and his sheer audacity. Visually and through characterization the movie is quite brilliant in its abstractions, darkness and cruelty.

       Bacon is presented to us as a man who is disturbed and uncaring but he is also a genius who is not completely in control of himself. He used people, including Dyer, in order to succeed in the art world. However, his life plays second fiddle to the art scene at the time.

“Love Is the Devil,” directed by John Maybury takes us back in time to the decades when Francis Bacon presided over a roomful of bohemians–some rich, some poor, some gay, some straight, all drunks. It somewhat documents the life of one of the greatest modern English painters as a dour and bitter ordeal and of a bitch artist.

Jacobi is as usual wonderful and Craig as Dyer is also excellent as he falls victim to Bacon’s strange ways as he becomes the artist’s muse. As Dyer falls into alcohol and drugs as well as an abusive relationship, we become aware that he is heading toward the final fall—suicide.

       Aside from the stars and the appearance of Jarman’s muse Tilda Swinton, it is the photography of the film that is outstanding even though the film does appear pretentious at times. Obviously, this film was made for a more intellectual group than the man on the street but all in all, I found it completely interesting.

Looking at a Francis Bacon painting gives a good idea of the man who painted it. In an era of Abstract Expressionism, he defiantly painted the figure, because he wanted there to be no mistake: His subject was the human body seen in anguish and ugliness. We see flesh clinging to the bones of his models, the faces are often distorted into grimaces of pain or despair. His subjects look like mutations with their flesh melting from radiation or self-loathing. His sense of color is strange and uncanny, his draftsmanship was powerful and unmistakable. By and large, his art gave an overwhelming sense of the artist.

There are no paintings by Francis Bacon in “Love Is the Devil.” Permission was refused by the estate. It is an advantage to the movie, actually, to do without the actual work; Maybury doesn’t have to photograph it devoutly, and the flow of the film is not interrupted by our awareness that we are looking at the real thing. Instead, Maybury and his cinematographer, John Mathieson, make the film itself look like a Bacon. They use filters and lenses to distort faces. They shoot reflections in beer mugs and ashtrays to elongate and stretch images. They use reflections and I am quite sure that a viewer who has never seen a Bacon would be able to leave this film and identify one instantly in a gallery.

Jacobi’s Bacon is a cold and emotionally careless man, a man who occupies a studio filled with the debris of his art. One night while he is sleeping, a burglar breaks in through the skylight. The paintings inside are worth millions, but this burglar, named George Dyer knows nothing of Bacon or his paintings—he’s looking for something to pawn. Bacon wakes and makes him a deal by telling him “Take your clothes off and come to bed. Then you can have whatever you want.”

George stays on as Bacon’s lover. Bacon is a masochist in private, a sadist in public; at first he is touched by George’s naiveté but eventually he tires of him. George is somewhat neurotic, always obsessively scrubbing his nails. Whether “Love Is the Devil” is an accurate portrait of Bacon, I have no idea.

       As for Craig’s nude scene, let me just say that he measures up but ultimately the film is neither illuminating even though it is eye opening.