“A Pride of Poppies: Modern GLBTQI fiction of the Great War” edited by Julie Bozza— Ten Authors—Thirteen Stories

a pride of poppies

Bozza, Julie (editor). “A Pride of Poppies: Modern GLBTQI fiction of the Great War”, Manifold Press, 2015.

Ten Authors—13 Stories

Amos Lassen

I have been sitting on my review of this book because I wanted to publish close to the date of publication so now I am feeling comfortable about posting it. The idea of the anthology looking at the different ways that World War I affected the LGBTQI community is novel. I was surprised to find some author whose works I have previously read and reviewed along with those I met here for the first time. Usually when I review an anthology I look at the work as a whole but this time I am going to go story to story.

 The book opens with Julie Bozza’s “No Man’s Land” in which we meet Drew who is turning twenty-one and considered to be an adult male. Every year he has a medical exam on or near his birthday and he has always hated them so now that he is an adult, he has decided that there will be no more. He has decided that he will not use the letter that his doctor has written for him so that he will not be drafted—he wants to join the service even though his lover and partner Henry (who has been to war) tries to convince him not to do so. Drew wants to serve his country even when he is being pulled in the other direction. There is much more to this story than I can tell you know but it will keep you reading from the very first sentence.

 We read of time moving forward in “I Remember” by Wendy C. Fries. We meet Christopher and James, best friends who have done everything together their whole lives who are not allowed to enlist in the service together. Jamie was alright but the British army said no to Chris and not because he could not hear (he had been born deaf); there was no specific reason given. Chris goes off to war and Jamie is worried that he will be forgotten. However, Chris is sure that won’t happen and the two exchange letters that only they can understand speak of the love that they share. This is a beautiful story of desire and longing that beautifully reflects time and place and the misery of separation.

 The pain of separation is also one of the themes of “War Life” by Z. McAspurren. Here we have a brother and sister. Everyone is sure that each of them has someone. Maybe she loved Patrick, her family friend who lived right down the road but that was not true. She was actually worried about her brother who went off to war. Actually brother and sister only really felt safe when they were together. In fact it was her brother who loved Patrick and they were off in France together. What happens next is for you to discover as you feel the effect the war had on a brother and a sister.

 Julie Bozza shares another story, “Lena and the Swan or The Lesbian Lothario” where we meet Lena Pearce, the postmistress who is something of a tomboy with attitude and who has decided that since the men are gone she will have a good time. She does just that with some of the women that she entertains when she brings their mail. But then a new woman comes to town, a Miss Cawkwell who is thin and lacks coordination that Lena is charmed by. I am sorry to leave you hanging but I do think you would prefer it that way.

 Eleanor Musgrove’s “Inside” is the story of Alfred Schuchard who ran his family’s bakery before the war and before he had been captured and held at Alexandra Palace interment camp. He had been at the camp for six months and then Viktor, a new prisoner was put in the bed next to him. The two men share a German background—Viktor was a German student studying in London while Alfred’s family had Germanic roots. Alfred comforts the young German who is totally upset about his interment. Where this goes will surprise you.

 Two men, Second Lieutenant Jay Lewis Taylor and Captain David Russell-Hansford-Barnes meet in no man’s land in Jay Lewis Taylor’s “Break of Day in the Trenches”. The two have been hit under debris and they speak to each other recalling their families and facts about their pasts and it is so interesting that they might never have come to know each other had the war not taken place and had each not forced to face his own mortality while being pinned down with the other.

Lou Faulkner’s “Per Ardua Ad Astra” uses the motto of the Royal Air Force as its title. Set in 1916, we get a look at what life in the force was like back then.

In “The Man Left Behind”, Eleanor Musgrove’s story we meet Henry or Henrietta, a man who is trapped in a woman’s body and who is unable to identify with the way he looks. Having always been something of a tomboy, she wants to go to war with the rest of the men yet she knows she can’t. Her brother Peter manages to find his sister work on a farm where she can dress and work as a man and it there that she meets Rosie who know she was actually a female. This is quite an interesting look at a time when transgender was not accepted and when little was k known or understood about it.

We are taken to the trenches in Charlie Cochrane’s “Hallowed Ground” and there we meet a doctor and a man of the cloth. In war, death is always close and while one of the man is spiritual, the other is scientific. The father (Padre) worries for the doctor who seems to have no faith. Here are two men who just might be facing the ends of their lives and we read how they deal with that and each other.

“A Rooted Sorrow” by Adam Fitzroy introduces us to Mrs. Mercer and Miss Woakes, two women who would enjoy tea and conversation together. Mercer is a widow whose only son, Simon, was killed in the war. Alfred, his friend, came home with hands ruined by battle and blind. Simon and Alfred loved war and each other and Simon had kept meticulous notes about the times they spent together. Simon’s mother takes those diaries to Alfred even though she knows he cannot read them and thinks that perhaps she can read them to him. Here is a story of those who stayed behind and lost their loved ones. As Simon’s mother reads those diaries to Alfred we get quite a look at the way things were once and this is a beautifully well-written story that makes us weep as we read.

Jay Lewis Taylor also gives us “At the Gate” and this is about Sub-Lieutenant John Davis the ship’s doctor on the Arion. Lieutenant-Commander Alan Kershaw is his senior officer and the ship’s surgeon and had once been the best friend of Davis’s uncle Grant who was lost to war. Because of his uncle, David joined the navy  but he did not know of Grant and Kershaw’s relationship or that they were lovers. When the assignment to go to Zeebrugge came through, Davis start to feel nervous. Kershaw is taking care of his as he promised Grant to do and he senses the nervousness. Where the story goes from here you can find out by reading it.

Doctor Robert Wallace is the main character in Sam Evan’s “After and Before”. The nurses all take good care of him. Sam has not had an easy life and because of a motorcycle accident there are braces on his legs and he needs a cane to walk. He has done ok so far and now he is serving his country by taking care of soldiers injured in the war. They come to him at his family home. As he thinks about his life before his accident, he shares those thoughts with us. He remembers how disappointed his father was when he had the accident that made him ineligible to serve in the army. He never really accepted this and it bothers him all of the time. Were it not for his lover Will, his life would be total misery. Will is a worker on the family estate and the two men have been together some fifteen years. Before the war they spent a lot of time together but there came one night when Will tells him that he has enlisted. Robert really does not want him to go and it hurts that he cannot go as well. Once again we get a look at the war from those who stay behind and the fears that they deal with.

The final story “Anh Sang” is by Barry Brennessel, the only author in this group that I had read before, His is also the only story not set in Europe. It captures innocence beautifully. It all began when Minh helped another boy chase a pig. The boy, Ngo Cong Thao lets the pig go free even though he knows that his father will punish him. The pig was merely an excuse to bring the boys together and here began a romance. The story moves forward to 1917 with the war raging in Europe. They are now both twenty-one years old and they are now able to tell each other how they feel. Again, I do not want to spoil the read for anyone so I will stop here.

This is an anthology in which every story is an excellent read and a look at an age that none of us experienced personally.

“THE CHILDREN’S HOUR”— A Classic that Was Ahead of its Time

the children's hour

“The Children’s Hour”

A Classic that Was Ahead of its Time

Amos Lassen

What a surprise to see Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour” released in a fabulous blu ray disk. It was originally staged in the 1930s but took another 30 years until it became a prize winning classic film. I just find it amazing that Hollywood dared to make a film with such an adult theme as early as 1962. It is still considered to be on of the best-developed dramas ever made and it brought in five Academy Award nominations.

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Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) are the headmistresses of an exclusive school for girls. When they discipline a malicious little girl, the vindictive child twists an overheard comment into slander and accuses her teachers of questionable behavior. Soon the scandalous gossip engulfs the school’s community, with repercussions that are swift, crushing… and tragic. The lesbian plot is there in all of its boldness but the real theme is about the power of a lie. The entire plot is based upon a lie from one of the students and it brings about emotional revelations between the leading characters and finally in a portrait of society that attacks any one perceived as different in any way. We indeed see that the ultimate result of that lie was death. Of course at that time, most movies and books that dealt with gay characters.

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Little Mary Tilford is a troublemaker as we see from her very first appearance in the film. When one lie get her into trouble she adds another that is devastating for all concerned. It is absolutely fascinating that the film is never predictable and the relationship between Karen and Martha remains a question throughout (and in my mind that is because of the brilliant performances of the two leads). Because we are really not sure of how the women feel about each other, little Mary’s lie makes us wonder about the validity of what she had to say.

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Audrey Hepburn is stunning as a character that is so unlike the darlings she usually played. Karen is deeply bothered by her predicament, and her emotional distress is brought to life by a wonderful and masterful performance. The character of Martha is definitely the more interesting, especially in the final act, and Shirley MacLaine’s performance is a thing of beauty. She created a character that was so likable and so infectious who never losing her dark secrets and guilt ridden conscience. We felt the revelations before they were revealed, yet she never gave them away too early.

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 The supporting performances are also excellent all around. James Garner is impressive as Joe, Karen’s fiancé, but this movie uses him more as a prop than anything else. Fay Bainter received an Oscar nomination for her performance, and rightfully so, for her devilish mix of inhumanity and uncompromising maternal love is outstanding. Young Karen Balkin is perfect as Mary, the young child you love to hate.

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William Wyler directed with grace and style and this is a film that will stay with you for a very long time. More than just a film, this is a character study that leaves us breathless and that has well earned its place as a masterpiece.

“MEDUSA”— Jorge Ameer Summon’s the Spirit

POSTERmirrorMEDUSA

“MEDUSA”

Summoning the Spirit

Amos Lassen

What I love about Jorge Ameer’s films is that I am always left with something to think about. I have been hearing about “Medusa” for sometime now but had not been able to learn much about it. Therefore I was super pleased when I had the chance to have a private look.

JACK at cabin OFFICIAL PRESS PHOTO

In the film we meet mythology professor, Jack Peruci (Jeff Allen) who has managed to get his hands on an antique mirror from a very shady witch doctor, Kao (played by director Jorge Ameer). What Peruci did not know was the mirror is haunted and he learns this by examining it closely when he gets it home. As he studies the mirror, he has several supernatural experiences and the more time that he spends with the mirror, the more involved he becomes with the strange forces behind it. Because of his field of study, he think he understands what is going on until it turns evil and he realizes that he might be in danger.

MEDUSA1

A dedicated mythology professor (Jeff Allen) finds an evil witch doctor (Jorge Ameer) that summons the spirit of the gorgon Medusa. The gorgon Medusa tries to take his soul and she does whatever possible to react that end. At this point in the film, the viewer must suspend disbelief and let him/herself go and just become part of the film. Since we live in a modern world, we sometimes have trouble believing in the supernatural but I can tell you this film is so convincing that I do not see how it is possible not to believe. It is Ameer’s skill as a director that he uses to pull us into the action and it happens without our even realizing it.

MEDUSA official PROMO still

Medusa uses her supernatural powers to gain Jack’s soul and she wants it so badly that she goes as far as to manipulate Jack’s surroundings and this causing chaos in his life and thereby hoping to be able to enter his world. He is to be, for her, a vessel of resurrection. She manages to affect Jack’s dreams and turn them into nightmares and as they become stronger, Jack seeks help. He turns to his friend, Stephen Craig (Tom Stuckhoff), a psychologist whose field is hypnotherapy hoping that will help him to understand what is going on and to solve the mystery of Medusa. But things do not work out as he had hoped and when Craig examines him, he discovers that is Peruci’s bloodline is what is causing the nightmares and this quite simply hurts his ability to fight what is happening since it is already a part of him.

MEDUSA CANNES still 2 promo

Ameer gives us a contemporary gothic thriller and he succeeds in not only winning our attention but also has us begin to believe what we see on the screen. Crafted with style, there is a darkness that is frightening, riveting and  keeps us on the edge of your seats . After its world premiere at the Cannes Film on May 17, 2015.

“THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN”— Catching the Killer

the town“The Town That Dreaded Sundown”

Catching the Killer

Amos Lassen

Sixty-five years ago a masked man who was a serial killer terrorized the town of Texarkana, Arkansas for three months in 1946 and now suddenly the murders have started anew. It was believed that the killer (known as the Phantom) walked the streets of Texarkana until his assumed death. Now there is a new version of the story about today’s Texarkana. Every year on Halloween, the original movie is shown at the drive-in theater but this last time, a killer was incited to take up where the movie left off. This new masked assailant commits gruesome murders that are eerily similar to those decade ago.  A high school-age girl named Jami (Addison Timlin) is the first to encounter the second Phantom Killer after witnessing her boyfriend being brutally murdered by him in a woodsy area on Halloween night and she and another close friend attempt to track down the history of the original Phantom Killer, right down to the son of Charles B. Pierce, the director of the original “Town That Dreaded Sundown,” in order to optimistically find answers about the current Phantom Killer.

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“The Town That Dreaded Sundown” is a surprisingly effective sequel and is informative enough to be considered a worthy piece of analysis into The Phantom Killer. It is also dark and haunting enough to live up to the standards set forth by its predecessor. Yes it is gruesome and violent but it also sticks to the history of the story and it even questions whether it ever happened or not.

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 Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon uses dark direction and an uncompromising notion to depict brutality and horror in its most chilling sense. The movie opens with Jami Lerner (Addison Timlin, and her date Corey (Spencer Treat Clark) leaving a Halloween drive-in screening of “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” because Jami does not like the film’s violence. They go to a local make-out point where a masked man appears and forces them out of the car, murdering Corey and letting Jami live as long as she “makes them remember Mary.” The traumatized girl makes her way back to the drive-in where the film is showing and soon the town is caught in a real grip of fear as the locals believe The Phantom has returned. Whether he is truly back or someone is imitating the killer from real life and the 1976 film, the result is the same, soon the bodies begin to gruesomely pile up. Worse for Jami, is that the killer has chosen her to be his messenger as he threatens to kill more unless she delivers his message of remembrance. But, Jami decides to go after the Phantom and begins to investigate the original case to try to find out who is the one actually stalking her and murdering innocent townsfolk and why.

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This is a stylish and sometimes strange movie chillingly references real events and playfully references the original film, even cleverly having the original director’s son Charles Pierce Jr. (Denis O’Hare) as a character. There are some brutal and disturbing sequences depicting the killer’s wrath and Gomez-Rejon gives us some nice suspense throughout, especially in the last act when Jami and the masked killer reunite. Not only does the director have a nice visual style to enhance his story and off-kilter storytelling but, gives the film a nice atmosphere of foreboding and bravely paces the film more moderately, much like the original film and the films of that era were paced. The killings are quite gruesome at times and have a lot of impact and the FX portraying them are well rendered and makes this overall a very effective slasher whether it be a remake/sequel. There is real suspense in the form of a high-profile murder investigation but it is the acting that makes this movie so watchable.

“The Indivisible Heart” by Patrick Roscoe— Murder Most Foul

the indivisible heart

Roscoe, Patrick. “The Indivisible Heart”, Bold Strokes Books, 2015.

Murder Most Foul

Amos Lassen

When a horribly mutilated body of a young man was found in Seville, Spain an investigation began. This murder has not only personal implications for two of the men handling the case—detective Manuel Arroyo and Oliver Joaquin Ortega, the forensic pathologist but it seems to be a psycho-sexual case. As the case gets underway, we read the victim’s thoughts on the last days of his life as he speaks about being followed and stalked by a psychopath who was with him wherever he went. We do not learn of his reason for murder and try to understand whether he is indeed a psychopath or were there other reasons that caused him to take the man’s life.

I have not read anything else by author Patrick Roscoe but after reading this, I definitely plan to. He has the ability to not only pull the reader into the story but to also make him feel as if he is right there at the scene of the action.

We have two separate and distinct stories going on at the same time and as we read there seems to be something else going on as well. Yet this is not a complicated read and I actually enjoyed the experience.

 

 

 

 

 

“BURGER”— Eating Late

burger “Burger”

Eating Late

Amos Lassen

From Norway comes Magnus Monk’s eleven minute short film looks at both gay and straight couples at a late night burger bar. The place is a convenient stop-off point for the gay / straight, male / female, couples / singles, or just friends styled clientele who come through its doors. The idea is simple but it does give an interesting look at the sexual diversity of life. We eavesdrop on individual conversations, crosscutting from a group of three men, one of whom is clearly gay, to two girls in the middle of relationship issues, only for one of them to be subject to a bit of drunken flirtation by the leader of a trio of new arrivals, even if his chat-up lines are well past their sell-by date. There are also Irishmen eating and we feel as if we are also there.

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While the language is quite crude, the acting is uniformly excellent. We get the feeling that a fight could happen at any moment especially when the gay customers asks another what he is looking at. The object of that question is a guy who thinks he is tough and speaks loudly and with machismo. He is upstaged by his girlfriend who shows him who is the real boss in his life. The short is quite a look at human interactions.

 

“WE ARE ANIMALS”— A Fable

we the animals

“We Are Animals”

A Fable

Amos Lassen

Dominic Haxton’s short, “We the Animals” is a fable set during the 1980s AIDS crisis and is an alternate history fable that tells the story of a closeted young man who finds himself in the midst of an anti-government coup.

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The film is a nightmare scenario of a world descended into chaos and of a government that will go to any means, no matter how extreme, to stop the spread of a killer virus on its shores. However, in the United States things did not happen quite that way even though the populace was gripped by fear and anger. The president, Ronald Reagan, looked away. In the film we see the administration did the unthinkable and set up quarantine camps and compulsory castration for anyone who was found to be HIV+. Living in fear of being rounded up like infected cattle, gays have all but resorted to drugs in order to suppress their homosexual urges – their very identity; apart that is from a handful of rebels with a cause. The film is a strike against the state and this was done by the Pink Panther resistance movement whose leader of the pack was due to be castrated and he finds himself sexually interested in the male nurse who cared for him.

This is a powerful short film that leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. We see the commonalities between quarantine camps and the concentration camps used by the Nazis.

Peter played by Clint Napier who wonderfully captures the rebellious spirit of the film in a role that is nicely countered by Daniel Landroche as Nathan, the gay boy whose animal instincts are destined to be set free.

“A YEAR IN CHAMPAGNE”— Pulling Back the Curtain”

a year in champagne

“A Year in Champagne”

Pulling Back the Curtain

Amos Lassen

Martine Saunier, famed wine importer takes us on a tour of the real Champagne as we go to six houses where it is manufactured. We learn right away that the year 2012 had threatened to be the worst year for champagne but I was surprised to learn that most champagne is not the result of specific years and weather. The champagnes that are produced in these six houses are creations that have been developed behind closed doors and in the cellars beneath the regions. It is fascinating to see that the drink that causes so much happiness is actually produced in cold, dark places with sad histories.

Director David Kennard looks at the progression of each house over the course of one year and it is during this period that each tries to perfect their grapes so that they can make the “ultimate champagne.”

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We immediately see the rivalry between the houses and Kennard tries to tone that down but it continues as we hear wineries being spoken about as family possessions and heirlooms that are passed from generation to generation. The bragging is really something to see. We move on to the harvest season and we see immigrants from Turkey and Algeria prepping the lines and rows to pick the grapes. We hear procedure-oriented narratives in which neither class nor race are considered and then we are reminded that those we see drinking champagne in the film are all white. These racial and historical inaccuracies are emphasizes throughout the film. The film actually comes across as something between an advertisement for the drink and a look at the snobs who drink it.

Nonetheless it is fun to watch as a reflection of those who make the champagne and those who drink it. We do not usually hear from vintners so I am somewhat willing to excuse their racism and their snobbery this one time.

 

 

“Portal to Logres: The Chronicles of Logres, Part One” by Phillip Ambrose— Stranded

portal to longres

 Ambrose, Phillip. “Portal to Logres: The Chronicles of Logres, Part One”, Wilde City, 2015.

Stranded

Amos Lassen

Marcus and Toby, two students find themselves stranded in the parallel universe of Logres, a world where intrigue and danger are everywhere. There is no one trust and those in power simply pull the strings of those who are not. There is evil on the horizon and it seems to be coming right at them and they know that they do not have the power to face and deal with it much less fight it. All they seem to have going for them is their love for each other. They know that they must find a way to get through this experience and alien world and the fate of the kingdom actually is theirs.

Let me state that this is not my usual reading fare and because of that I never could really get into it. I do not want my prejudices to influence a positive response to be book which is well written but just not for me.

“A Shot of Malaria” by Charles Souby— The Realities of Addiction

a shot of malaria

Souby, Charles. “A Shot of Malaria”, Infinity, 2014.

The Realities of Addiction

Amos Lassen

Daniel Martin is a young man who is addicted to heroin, alcohol and his own delusions. He lives in San Francisco during the 1990s and he tells us his story with ironic humor perhaps to cover the realities that he faces. As if it is not enough for him to deal with his own demons, he also tries to understand and deal with the world around him. He learns from the people around him but it is indeed questionable that he will become the man he really wants to be and this is just one of the issues that he has to face.

Daniel’s life is one of questions and these are not so different than the questions that many of us have. The difference is that Daniel cannot face them or find answers. I love that this book makes us think about who we are. While Daniel is some kind of everyman, he is lost and will probably never find what he searched for even if he knows what it is.