The 30 LGBT Short Films Competing for the 2014 Iris Prize Festival August 11, 2014

The 30 LGBT Short Films Competing for the  2014 Iris Prize Festival 

boygame-iris-prizeThe always worthwhile Iris Prize Festival is coming on October 8th – 12th in Cardiff, Wales, and with only a couple of months until the parade of some of the best LGBT-themes short films line up to try to take home the illustrious prize, the 30 shorts that will be competing this year have been revealed.

The prize, supported by The Michael Bishop Foundation, is worth £25,000 prize and offers the winning filmmaker funding and support to make another movie. It continues to be the world’s largest international gay and lesbian short film prize.

A late night search for Viagra by two aging strangers for a one night stand is just one of the stories tackled by the finalists for the world’s largest short film award. The shortage of the desired blue pill turns out to be a blessing in disguise as the two strangers get a chance to exchange the pleasures of the flesh with the pleasures of the heart.

“Once again the shortlist for the Iris Prize represents the best of the best. Half of the short-listed films have been nominated by our partner festivals – film festivals from around the world that have their fingers on the pulse of upcoming gay and lesbian filmmaking talent. I’m confident that amongst this year’s shortlist of live action, documentaries and three animated films we have yet another winner deserving of the Iris Prize,” said Andrew Pierce, Festival Chair.

“It’s great to see films from all over the world represented in the shortlist with entries for the first time from Cambodia and Chile joining work from Canada, Germany, Brazil, Israel, Norway, Ireland, India, Sweden, Australia, US, Belgium, Portugal, and the UK all making it through to the final. The US has once again secured the largest number of films in competition with an impressive seven out of the final 30,” said Andrew.

The winner of the Iris Prize will be announced on Sunday 12th October 2014 during the Iris Awards hosted by Amy Lamé. This year, alongside the main Iris Prize, a new Best Of British award is being offered. You can find out more about the films up for than gong by clicking here.

The 30 films competing for the Iris Prize are:

Title Director Country
Aban + Korshid – Inspired by true events, Aban + Khorshid is an intimate portrait of two lovers, glimpsing into the world in which they met, moments before their execution for being gay. Darwin Serink USA
All God’s Children – Brothers Asher and Charlie have just lost their father, and their already fragile relationship undergoes a test of almost mythic proportions when one of them commits an act of mindless cruelty against an eel as retribution. Brendon McDonall Australia
Barrio Boy – Haircuts, hip-hop and homo-sex on the down-low Dennis Shinners USA
Black is Blue – Black Is Blue is a short narrative that tells the story of Black — an African American Trans man, who works as a security guard inside an apartment complex. Cheryl Dunye USA
Bombshell – A ten year-old tomboy must weigh her loyalty to her trusted older brother as she becomes complicit in a hate crime to win his affection Erin Sanger USA
Boygame – John and Nicholas are 15 years old and best friends. They are both very interested in girls but feel insecure when it comes to a first sexual encounter with a woman. That’s why they decide that they will get some ‘practice’ on each other Anna Osterlund Nolskog Sweden
Camouflage – During a military exercise in the woods two soldiers cover each other’s faces in camouflage paint. In a delicate situation, in which every trembling of the finger is perceivable, Max does everything to get his friend to confess. Stephan Kampf, Andreas Kessler Germany
Chaleur Human (Human Warmth) Christophe Predari Belgium
Cigano (Gypsy) – Sebastian is a wealthy young man. He finds out he has a flat tire and ends up accepting help from a Gypsy passer-by. David Bonneville Portugal
Das Phallometer – A refugee is taken into custody at an open border crossing. During the interrogation, he admits to being gay and is subjected to an absurd entry examination, a so-called phallometric test. The story is based on facts. Tor Iben Germany
Disaster Preparedness – A hurricane racing toward their apartment pulls a couple out of their comfort zone and drops them squarely at the crossroads of commitment, disaster, and the art of being prepared. Melissa Finell USA
Einfach – Simple – ‘I just want sex!’ says Tanja to Benjamin. Markus Wende Germany
End of Season Sale – Late at night two aging strangers fail to obtain Viagra for a one night stand. The shortage of the desired blue pill turns out to be a blessing in disguise as the two strangers get a chance to exchange the pleasures of the flesh with the pleasures of the heart. Eli Glazer Israel
FH2: Faghag2000 – FH2: Fahghag2000 is a twisted take on co-dependent relationships in the technological age. Best friends Toshie and Casey learn the true extent of their togetherness after Casey attempts to replace his friend with an android called the ‘Faghag2000’. Em LaGrutta Australia
Gleisdreieck – Hedda crosses the city. Petra wants to see a movie. Zazie cares the orchids. The three of them likes cherries. Maria Jose San Martin Chile
Greco – Roman – Told partly through the form of an interview, Greco-Roman tells the story of Casper, the school bully, whose dream is to become a wrestler, just like his father. But when he discovers his father’s secret, his notions of masculinity is thrown into violent disarray. Aleksander Godø Alnes Norway
I am Syd Stone – A Hollywood heartthrob returns home to rekindle an old closeted relationship. Denis Theriault Canada
I Love Hooligans – The world of a homosexual hooligan, his sexual orientation is a well-kept secret. The match against the archrival is the highlight of the year. All matches end and he has to go home, where no one is waiting. This man’s dream: “To die in the arms of my loved one.” Jan-Dirk Bouw The Netherlands
Lives Under The Red Light – Under the red light focuses on the lives of four persons who work as sex workers in Phnom Penh Vanna Hem Cambodia
Living In The Overlap – Living in the Overlap is the improbably true story of two girls growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s, falling in love in the Midwest, and making a life together in North Carolina. Cindy Hill, Mary Dolton USA
Middle Man – Davie is a new-start in a call centre for the deaf. When his bosses turn up for an inspection he struggles to remain professional as he gets caught up in a heated lovers’ tiff. Charlie Francis UK
Mitraa – Based on the story written by the renowned writer and novelist Vijay Tendulkar, Mitraa is a short film about a strong girl with a different sexual orientation. Set in mid 1940s, her behaviour and feelings are looked down upon as unnatural by the society around her. The film concludes with India finally gaining Independence, however the LGBT community is still struggling to find their space even after more than 60 years of a free India. Ravi Jadhav India
Novena – Novena is an award winning documentary capturing a rare moment when two people who are gay and lesbian, are invited to give a speech at a Catholic mass in Dundalk, Ireland. Anna Rodgers Ireland
O Nylon da Minha Aldeia (Tissues from the Village) – In an isolated village in the South, two characters seek to survive. Marcelo who is deeply in love with Sergio who cannot accept the possibility of his affection. Only at nightfall when the river waters are released and the two figures meet by chance, is when everything seems to change. Possidonio Cachapa Portugal
One More Night – We all have that one person that we can’t get over, can’t get out of our minds. If you could have one last night with them, would you? Jeff Woodward Canada
Remission – Two young men and a boy roam the overgrown English countryside, seeking to escape a deadly virus. The two men are forced to take a horrific decision after the boy’s behaviour puts them in increasing danger – but is it too late to cheat death? ‘Remission’ is a brooding fable exploring the paradoxes of sexuality and survival. Christopher Brown UK
Surprise – A mother and son confess their secrets to one another’s surprise Leslie Bumgarner USA
The Package (O Pacote) – In the outskirts of Sao Paulo, the young Leandro is a new student in a new school. In the classroom, he meets Jefferson who introduces him to his new group of friends. Rafael Aidar Brazil
The Usual – In a small country pub three Irish farmers are enjoying an afternoon’s drink, when an unusual stranger walks in. His curious behaviour entertains them for a while, but they won’t want someone like him hanging around their local for too long. Ruth McNally Ireland
Zebra – One day the zebra ran against a tree. Julia Ocker Germany

“THE EROTIC FILMS OF PETER DE ROME— Porn or Art?

Porn or Art?

 ”The Erotic Films of Peter DeRome” is a collection of short films that were originally made to titillate and excite rather than just to expound the sort of po-faced deep or artistic ideas (although De Rome’s film’s certainly aren’t just about sex) that the BBFC normally looks for if it’s going to give real sex an 18 cert.  There’s no doubt that at the time they were made they would have been seen as straightforward porn, even if they were of a somewhat interesting, homemade and sometimes intelligent bent. However since then a lot of history has happened, so that these underground films, made between 1969 and 1972, are now both slightly arty porn and sociological documents on gay sexuality, made at a time when looks at gay life were almost unheard of, and when candid views on gay sex were still potentially illegal.

While the films of Kenneth Anger and Paul Morrissey are more obviously arty early looks at gay sexuality, in many respects the works of Peter De Rome are just as fascinating and insightful, plus they’re a bit of a turn-on too!

The main programme contains eight shorts, which were first collected together in 1973, not long after Deep Throat ushered in the brief period of porn chic in the US. The first is ‘Double Exposure’, which is essentially just a rather fun little exercise in telling a circular story, with a little nudity thrown in. Next up is ‘Hot Pants’, which sees a man dancing, gradually getting naked, getting hard and then cumming (while never touching himself), with the camera sticking to his crotch and never showing his face. It has verve and you can see why it helped De Rome get noticed, even if there’s not really a lot to it – we could argue it’s about the sexual aspect of dance, but who are we kidding?

Things move on to ‘The Second Coming’, which is certainly the most international and potentially controversial of the movies, featuring guys travelling around the world, almost travelogue fashion, before things get overtly arty when we suddenly come across a young men nailed to a cross, who gets an erection and cums. Just don’t tell any ridiculously Christian people about this short, or they’ll get very, very upset.

The next film is ‘Daydreams From A Crosstown Bus’, which as the title suggests is about a man who sees a hot young guy from a bus and fantasises about what they could do together – which as you may have guessed by now, includes plenty of hardcore sex (along with walking hand-in-hand and engaging in the kind of romance porn rarely indulges in – indeed it’s one of the most interesting things about De Rome’s films, that while they are about sex, they also have a strong sense of connection, love and romance).

‘Mumbo Jumbo’ is a playful piece, featuring art-pieces made by one of De Rome’s friends, along with adverts, visual jokes, naked guys posing and various other bit and pieces. It comes across as a rather kaleidoscopic look at gay life in the early 70s, which ends with an explosion of cum shots!

‘Green Shorts’ is slower and more contemplative, with a guy enjoying running around in some verdant foliage, before getting overexcited by a tree and dry-humping it (we’re not kidding). This leads him to find pretty much everything about Kew Gardens sexy, with his fondling of plants intercut with him fondling himself. Is nature really that sexy? I don’t know, but De Rome’s not the first to say so.

The short ‘Underground’, like many of De Rome’s films, starts out with something many will be able to relate to before taking it to fantasised extremes. In this case it’s two men eye-flirting on the Underground, which leads to them having full-on sex in a deserted carriage. The final film is ‘Prometheus’ (and no, Ridley Scott’s upcoming film isn’t a remake, just in case you were wondering) which sees a man ending up in a room where a slightly Jesus-looking figure magically ties him to the floor, before a series of guy to engage in S&M with the tied up guy and basically have an orgy around and on him. It’s difficult to know what to make of this last short, as while there is an element of fantasy there’s also a disquieting suggestion of lack of consent.

The disc includes a few other De Rome shorts that weren’t in the original collection, including ‘Scopo’, which sees a peeping tom spying on someone having a wank; ‘Moulage’, which shows how someone can create a plaster cast of an erection; ‘Brown Study’, which is largely about the director’s fascination with and attraction to black men (it’s an interesting film if not necessarily politically correct); and ‘The Fire Island Kids’, which is a rather sweet tale of romance, connection and sex between two hot young guys on Fire Island in the days before it became a Gay mecca. There’s also ‘Abracadaver’, a rather cheesy horror short made relatively recently that features De Rome in an acting role rather being directed by him.

Also definitely worth watching is ‘Fragments: The Incomplete Films Of Peter De Rome’. While the title suggests it’ll just be about some of his other shorts, it’s actually a more rounded documentary looking at the now elderly director and allowing him to discuss how he got his start, why he made the films – which were essentially just fun little pieces of erotica he made for himself and his friends – and why he stopped (perhaps unsurprisingly the AIDS epidemic had a profound effect). It’s a fascinating film in which De Rome seems to both love and somewhat reject the title others have given him of the ‘Grandfather Of Gay Porn’, while enjoying a rather unexpected role as an elder statesman of the gay scene.

While you can debate the artistic merit of De Rome’s films, they certainly make you think a lot more than most things that even their creator describes as porn. Nowadays they’re probably most interesting as rare, candid documents on gay life back in the late 60s and 70s. It’s unusual to see something that’s so upfront about gay love and sex, especially made at a time when the idea of two men together was still anathema to most people, and the thought that homosexulaity was about more than just sex was almost impossible for many to comprehend.

The films are also still pretty sexy, and while we’re used to putting our thinking hats on for the types of films the BFI releases, here you can think and also get turned on at the same time. I certainly think The Erotic Films Of Peter De Rome may have set a record for the greatest amount of cumshots on one disc that’s been rated 18 (rather than the sex-shop-only R18) by the BBFC!

Most of the shorts have been given a new score, as the original music choice was either not available or too expensive, with Augustin Bousfield providing fresh music that fits with the original ideas, while giving its own feel to the pieces. And as these were cheaply done 16mm, homemade efforts, there’s no dialogue at all, with ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ the only short with any spoken words, in this case a voiceover.

Overall Verdict: If you’re interested in the broad, grey area where art and porn meet – and whether something can be both – these shorts are fascinating, and also provide a rare glimpse into gay romance, intimacy and sex at a time when these things were hardly ever depicted on screen, especially with such casual eroticism.

 Special Features:  ‘Fragment: The Incomplete Films Of Peter De Rome’ Documentary,  ‘Scopo’ Short Film,  ‘The Fire Island Kids’ Short Film,  ‘Moulage’ Short Film,  ‘Brown Study’ Short Film, ‘Abracadaver’ Short Film.

Another Look at “I AM HAPPINESS ON EARTH”

“I Am Happiness On Earth”

Another Look 

 

 

The run of gay-themed films involving dancers as major characters (such as Test and Five Dances) continues with the Mexican drama I Am Happiness On Earth. The film comes from director Julian Hernandez, who found acclaim with earlier queer cinema arthouse faces such as Broken Sky (2006) and Raging Sun Raging Sky (2009). His new movie doesn’t veer off too far thematically from his earlier work, but once more offers an intense, erotically charged look at love and sex.

The movie takes us into the life of filmmaker Emiliano, who is capturing the bodies and expressions of some dancers. However his interest in the project seems less in the female dancer at the centre of the film and more in the sexy, young male dancers he can’t help looking at.

Emiliano begins a charged relationship with Octavio, which initially seems to be a good match for both. However the taciturn Emiliano is constantly looking for the next experience – whether through sex or mind-altering substances – and seems afraid that familiarity will inevitably become monotony, and so he encourages Octavio to allow him to bring rent boys into their bedroom, while also having other sexual experiences on the side.

The film initially follows the fallout of this from Octavio’s side, before jumping back slightly and showing us Emiliano’s life, and how his constant sense of dissatisfaction is affected both by his relationship with Octavio and his dalliance with a young rent boy who he initially tries to impress with him directing credentials but who refuses to merely be the willing acolyte the director may want.

Despite its title, I Am Happiness On Earth isn’t exactly a jolly film. It’s the type of movie that sometimes difficult and a little frustrating. Even it seems to realise it could be accused of pretentiousness, as it includes a scene where Emiliano defends the arthouse films he makes and essentially blames the audience if they’re not prepared to accept them. There are undoubtedly moments when the film is far too pleased with itself – and this isn’t the audience’s problems, it’s that the director’s self-justification threatens to tip into self-importance.

That said, ‘verbosity’ is not the word you might first think of while watching the movie, as there isn’t a huge amount of dialogue – it’s just that the film has more issues when it is literally speaking than when it isn’t. Instead it’s more interested in thought, feeling and the effect of small actions, where the aesthetic is more important that what the people are saying. Luckily, while Hernandez does often seem a little too self-regarding (particularly as Emiliano often seems like a cipher that’s supposed to allow the director complete introspection, but is too often used to deflect criticism), he also has an immense talent for mood and style.

This allows I Am Happiness Of Earth to be incredibly sensual and erotic, with its use of sex and the male body to create something that is sexy and edgy, pulling you in by using the prurient to explore the characters and their situation. It could easily have come across as base and pandering to a gay audience, but it never does, with the movie treating the passion and hurt of sexual desire in the same way as it does the filming of the dancers.

It’s impressively affecting, so that even while pretention flits across the surface there’s a tension, sensuality and struggle that holds you. It’s very good at bringing the viewer into the intimacy and conflicted emotion of interpersonal relationships, even if it’s less certain what to say about them on an intellectual level.

Overall Verdict: I Am Happiness On Earth may not be perfect, but on an emotional and sexual level it’s a lyrical, erotic and highly affecting movie that captures the internal conflict of sexuality even if it does flirt the edges of pretension to get there.

“Rest Home Runaways” by Clifford Henderson— Taking Care of Dad

rest home runaways

Henderson, Clifford. “Rest Home Runaways”, Bold Strokes Books, 2014.

Taking Care of Dad

Amos Lassen

Morgan Ronzio’s hands are full with the trouble in her marriage and she certainly was not expecting a call telling her that her father, Mac, 86 and half-blind, escaped the rest home where he was living and stole a car. Just as he is alerting her wife, Treat, she learns that three 80 something females have taken the rest home’s van and are off to rescue Mac. However Morgan knows something that no one else does and that is that her father is listening to instructions from his dead wife’s ghost. He had promised her that before she died. Morgan, needless to say, is quite worried and starts out toward Santa Cruz in the hopes of finding Mac before he gets hurt or even worse than that.

While this may sound like a comedy, it is filled with emotion. Mac is really a helluva guy and it is very hard not to like him. He loves his daughter but he has not been the best father he could be and knows that he has trouble letting others know how he feels about them except for his dead wife.

Morgan was not the easiest daughter in the world. She appears to be preoccupied with herself and her weight problem and she tends to avoid important issues and does not seem to have much respect for herself. Eventually she comes around but it took a crisis.

Then there is Cora who can tell stories about her life at the drop of a pin. Yes, Cora is concerned about Mac and goes off looking for him with friends from the rest home.

We see that we have three distinct groupings of people: Mac, a group of one, is the past—he lives there and spends time speaking to his dead wife as if she were still alive. Cora and friends represent the present and they live each day as it comes while Morgan represents the future—she is more worried about the tension in her marriage than she is about the fate of her father. When these groups come together we get quite a read. I have worked with elders and pretty much understand how they think so this book spoke to me and I think it will to everyone regardless of age.

“THE LAST STRAIGHT MAN”— A 12 Year Long One Night Stand

the last straight man

“The Last Straight Man”

A 12 Year Long One Night Stand

Amos Lassen

“The Last Straight Man” is going to be one of the movies of the year, I predict. Director Mark Bessenger (“Bite Marks”) sent me at advance copy and I watched it last night. It has been on my mind ever since. Evidently I am not alone in praising the film because this morning 8/10/14 it won the Alternative Spirit Award Grand Prize at the Rhode Island International Film Festival! This the first year they’ve split the features away from the shorts, into separate categories.

last 1

Now this is going to be a bit difficult to describe the film without giving something away but I will say that this is a movie filled with surprises. It is all about a one-night stand that lasts for 12 years. I must admit that after the first few minutes of the film I thought I had it all figured out but to my chagrin it took a totally different direction than what I expected.
The film opens at Cooper’s bachelor party and we see some exotic dancing from a hired female stripper but we also notice that one of the party guests does not get involved. Moving a bit forward we are in Lewis’s (Mark Cirillo) hotel suite and with Lewis (the one who did not get involved with the lap dancing) and Cooper (Scott Sell). They are talking about life will be different once Coop gets married and he talks Lewis into having a couple of tequila shots and playing the game, “Three Questions” which is important because we will see it recur later.

last2

In the course of the evening Lewis comes out as bisexual and he does so in the answer to one of the three questions. One thing leads to another and adding alcohol, the new men exchange oral sex. According to Cooper this will never happen again yet it does every year on the same date for the next eleven years. Over the course of twelve years, we see four additional nights that depict how the two men grow and how their friendship changes as they mature and age—Coop becomes a father, Lewis remains a loner and so on. There are certain rules to their meetings—booze, cigars, condoms and lube and eventually Lewis moves from bottom to top Cooper who never admits to being gay. He is a married man but we hear very little about the wife and I had the feeling that the reason that Coop married her was because of societal expectations.

last3

We see a total of five nights (including the first) that the two men spend together and how their relationship changes. Sexuality is a complex subject and in this film you see how much that is true. It is also of the few films in which the leads begin as bisexuals yet we only see them act on their gay desires. In fact, when we first meet Lewis and Coop they are both closeted—Lewis has at least acted on his desire but Coop will act the first time with his best friend.

The two men decide to meet secretly in the same hotel and on the same night with the pretext of catching up with their lives but they actually further explore their sexual desires.  We see the changes in friendship and relationship over the passage of twelve years.

last1

I really believe that this will be one of the films of this year if not the one that is most talked about. Everything about it is wonderful from the actors to the situations and if any of you have lusted after someone you will find yourself here. Bessenger has made yet another film of which he can be proud and we can be entertained and left with something to think about. I rarely rave about a film but this one is really one to rave about.

“Fuhrer Cult and Megalomania” and “Siege of Leningrad”— Two New World War II Documentaries

“Fuhrer Cult and Megalomania” and “Siege of Leningrad”

Two New World War II Documentaries

Amos Lassen

It is very rare that I review two movies in one review but these two film are so loosely related that it makes it much more interesting to see how they influence each other. For as long as I can remember, First Run Films has been one of the companies that has worked hard to restore old films of that WW II period and find new ones and bring them to us. These two films come to us from director Michael Kloft.

fuhrer

“Fuhrer Cult and Megalomania”

Adolph Hitler told architect Albert Speer, his protégée that he planned to build tremendous building that would dwarf the pyramids. In 1929 when Hitler decided to make Nuremberg the city where he would have rallies for the Nazi Party and also for the city to become “a symbol representing the greatness of the German Empire in medieval times”, an estimated to 1.5 million people converged on Nuremberg. This was for a party rally that lasted eight days and became “an indispensable platform for the Nazis once a year – with a gigantic propaganda machine, brochures and books, recordings, radio and films”.

We can still see the size of buildings from the age of Hitler and we learn here that they were build so large as to satisfy his megalomania as well as a way to show his determination to dominate the world. Michael Kloft who directed this documentary has found rare film footage and we, for the first time, see what it was like during party rallies and how rabid anti-Semitism gave rise to the Fuhrer cult. The film is from 1936 and is color and was taken by an amateur.

the siege of leningrad

 “The Siege of Leningrad”

Hitler ordered his German Army to enter Russia and invade the country. They seemed to be racing to get to Leningrad where the Bolsheviks began their revolution. The city was quite strongly and did not fall as quickly as expected. The Siege lasted from September 8, 1941 and continued almost three years until January 27, 1944. The German Army surrounded the city for 872 days and those Russians who were inside he city fell into despair and depression. Some starved and others resorted to cannibalism. Over a million people were lost during the siege. This is the story of both heroes and failures and to this day remains one of the worst atrocities of the war. If the people did not have a strong will they would not have made it.

Kloft uses here interviews with historians and  eyewitness accounts to tell the story. He also had access to the files of the Russian secret police and was able to piece together what actually transpired during the siege. The film footage is rarely seen and there also secret diaries and documents that add to the story.

“Chanah’s Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women’s Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening” by Haviva Ner-David— Feminism and Orthodoxy

chanah's voice

Ner-David, Haviva. “Chanah’s Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women’s Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening”, Ben Yehudah Press, 2013.

Feminism and Orthodoxy

Amos Lassen

Chanah was the mother of Samuel in the Bible and the invention of prayer is attributed to her. Now a rabbi, Haviva Ner-David looks at the spirituality that exists in domestic life while struggling with Jewish law that is heavily systematized. As she does she welcomes a new generation of Jewish feminism. With the fact that Orthodox Judaism is a patriarchal religion., the idea of feminism might seem to be incongruent but Ner-David finds it and shares it with us in this new memoir. She wrestles both with God and herself and she struggles with Torah at the same time.

I call this a memoir simply because it is indeed the author telling us how things are with her but it is something a bit more than a memoir and I find it difficult to classify. We see Ner-David here as vulnerable as she tries to attain holiness. By looking at the ancient precepts and concepts of Judaism, she then adds new meaning in order to make them more personal. Judaism, having been around for thousands of years, is not always adaptable to modern times and this is what Ner-David deals with—-looking at those ancient rituals and giving them new meaning and hence new importance.

The beauty here is in the writer’s original thoughts and re-envisioning of classic Judaism. She includes stories about her family bringing everything closer to home. In that this book is basically about her, it is not so much a biography as it is a theology and anthropological study of the Jewish religion. Because she writes in the first person, the book is that much more personal and I believe that anyone who struggles with God and Torah will find something here to help him/her in that struggle. I am amazed at the breadth of Ner-David’s knowledge on things Jewish but especially love that she takes us into her world. I do not believe that I had ever heard before the meaning of the name Chanah that appears on the cover of the book and is used as part of the title.

The name Chanah is an acronym for the three commandments given to women: Challah, the taking of an offering from baking dough; Niddah, separation during menstruation followed by immersion; and Hadlakat HaNer, lighting the Sabbath candles.

 

“Kids Gone Wild: From Rainbow Parties to Sexting, Understanding the Hype Over Teen Sex” by Joel Best and Kathleen A. Bogle— Looking at Our Teens

kids gone wild

Best, Joel and Kathleen A. Bogle. “Kids Gone Wild: From Rainbow Parties to Sexting, Understanding the Hype Over Teen Sex”, NYU Press, 2014.

Looking at Our Teens

Amos Lassen

The media seem to know everything about everything and sometimes they apparently know about an event before it even happens. As for the sex lives of our young people, they seem to be all  over the television and print media. Discretion in America seems to have “gone with the wind”.

Today we hear about teen girls “sexting” explicit pictures of themselves to boys they like and they even go as far as to wear sex bracelets that show how far they have gone and what sexual activities they like or will engage in. They go to what are called “rainbow parties” where girls have sex with boys who are willing in groups and they have take oaths with friends to all become mothers at the same time. It surely is different from when I was a teen and a girl who fooled around was an outcast.

Stories of our teens’ sex lives are everywhere but is this any kind of proof of what really is going on? Are most teenage—or younger—children really going to sex parties and having multiple sexual encounters in an orgy-like fashion?

Researchers who have studied this say that this is not the case and teen pregnancy is at a low number. If that is indeed the case, “why do stories like these find such media traffic, exploiting parents’ worst fears? How do these rumors get started, and how do they travel around the country and even across the globe?”

The authors of “Kids Gone Wild” use these stories to  look at what we know about contemporary legends and how the media and now the Internet keep these rumors alive. Authors Bogle and Best look at how these stories spread and then go back to their sources and follow their paths. What they find is that in American society, the idea and view of kids becoming out of control has unforeseen and drastic consequences. They give impetus to the sex education debate and actually affect decisions on everything dealing with sex from who is included in registers of sex offenders and the availability of the morning after pill.

What we see in this book is the truth behind the sensationalism we hear so much about. This book is honest and is a rallying point for our society that seems to relish hearing the worst about its young people.

 

 

 

“Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal” edited by Cognard-Black, Goldthwaite and Nestle— Literature and Food

books that cook

Cognard-Black, Jennifer, Melissa Goldthwaite and Marion Nestle (editors). “Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal”, NYU Press, 2014.

Literature and Food

Amos Lassen

”Books that Cook” is not what you think (at least not what I think you think). It is a collection of American literature written on the theme of food: “from an invocation to a final toast, from starters to desserts”. Here is literature that owes something to cookbooks and each section of the book begins with an excerpt from an American cookbook. (“progressing chronologically from the late 1700s through the present day, including such favorites as American Cookery, the Joy of Cooking, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking”). The literary works included in each section are “an extension of these cookbooks, while the cookbook excerpts in turn become pieces of literature—forms of storytelling and memory-making all their own”. Not only do we get wonderful recipes but also an assortment of poetry, prose, and essays. The selections all include at least one tempting recipe to lure and convince readers to cook this book. Some of the authors included are Maya Angelou, James Beard, Alice B. Toklas, Sherman Alexie, Nora Ephron, M.F.K. Fisher, and Alice Waters, among many others

We see here the various ways that writers incorporate recipes. Sometimes the recipe flavors the story and other times the story adds spice to the recipe.  I love that the book unites food and reading and I am quite sure that students and teachers of food studies and/or literature and everyone else who enjoys a good meal will love this book. as well as any epicure who enjoys a good meal alongside a good book. Here we see the human condition as it relates to food, eating, and cooking while at the same time we learn how forms of literature can also be used as cookbooks.

“Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal” the title intrigued my interest, demanding a perusal. The editor gathered a wide assortment of writings centered around foods and dining. Presented in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, memoir, essay and recipe formats; all is organized as courses of a fine meal, starters to desserts. Here we can read about

“James Beard opining about chicken jelly, Fannie Flagg on Sipsey’s buttermilk biscuits, M.F.K. Fisher’s memories of fried egg sandwiches, Nora Ephron discusses the comfort of potatoes, Alice Waters offers her views on composing a menu, and Maya Angelou recalls her grandmothers Caramel Cake baked, “…to tell you how much we love you and how precious you are.” Sherman Alexie shares a poem on canned meals and there’s even a memoir from Laurie Colwin remembering repulsive dinners in her past”.

So there is obviously something for everyone here—food for the mind, food for the soul and food for the stomach. Also included  are selections from historical cookbooks that educate us, for example, on how to prepare various meat dishes.

“A View from the Bottom: Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation” by Hoang Tan Nguyen— Male Effeminacy and Radicalization

a view from the bottom

Nguyen, Hoang Tan. “A View from the Bottom: Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation”, Duke University Press, 2014.

Male Effeminacy and Its Radicalization

Amos Lassen

 Hoang Tan Nguyen presents a major critical reassessment of male effeminacy and its radicalization in visual culture in this new book, “A View from the Bottom”. It looks at portrayals of Asian and Asian American men in Hollywood cinema, European art film, gay pornography, and experimental documentary and with this Nguyen Tan Hoang explores the cultural meanings that have been attributed to sexual positions. Cultural fantasies around the position of the sexual “bottom” over determine and refract the meanings of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality in American culture in ways that both enable and constrain Asian masculinity and Nguyen shows how this has been done. He challenges the way “bottoming” has been associated in the past and gives us suggestions of new ways to think about the bottom position; ways that provide pleasure and afford agency. He goes on to show “bottoming” as a capacious conception—not only as a sexual position but also as a “social alliance, an affective bond, and an aesthetic form” that has the potential power “to destabilize sexual, gender, and racial norms, suggesting an ethical mode of relation organized not around dominance and mastery but around the risk of vulnerability and shame”.

In looking at “bottoming” in this way, we find it is put into a critical category that “creates new possibilities for arousal, receptiveness, and recognition, and offers a new framework for analyzing sexual representations in cinema as well as understanding their relation to oppositional political projects”.

 Here is the Table of Contents:

Preface  ix

Acknowledgments  xi

Introduction  1

1. The Rise, and Fall, of a Gay Asian American Porn Star  29

2. Reflections on an Asian Bottom  71

3. The Lover‘s “Gorgeous Ass”  111

4. The Politics of Starch  151

Conclusion  193

Notes  207

Bibliography  253

Videography  271

Index  27