The Notebook (“A nagy füzet)
Learning from Evil
Despite its unfortunate American title, aligning it with a certain Nicholas Sparks adaptation, János Szász’s “The Notebook” is a thoroughly provocative WWII film. The protagonists are twin boys, played with convincingly deadened spirits by András and László Gyémánt, whose plight could easily degenerate into banal emotive cues. This is the story of twin siblings who endure the harshness of WWII in a village on the Hungarian border and look at their survival by studying and learning from the evil surrounding them.
The film opens during the latter years of the war, as the adolescent Hungarian boys are handed over to their grandmother (Piroska Molnár), known by local villagers as “the witch”. Their mother, (Gyöngyvér Bognár), feared for their safety under the threat of impending air raids and so took them away. The grandmother is strict, stern and vulgar from the moment she takes in the boys She calls them names and assures them that their mother won’t be coming back for them. The grandmother’s presence seems to be something from a fairytale but this is not fairytale of a film. It is more of a sensory exploration of wartime atrocities, something the boys become convinced they need to adapt to in order to survive.
The boys tell their father that they are keeping a notebook because he demanded they write down only the truth. Szász uses this concept as a kind of irony since the film expresses that which can never be absolutely true— the dramatic reenactment of catastrophe. It becomes even more ironic because the twins cannot be held up to a reasonable standard of discerning fact and fiction. We see this when the boys start beating each other and starving to make themselves impervious to the impending punishment they anticipate.
But his is not sadistic humanism and we understand that what really happened could have been much worse than what we see here. By using a somewhat tender style the twins go through a series of challenges to their bourgeois innocence. These include a German officer whose interest in the twins is purely pedophilic, a thieving woman with a cleft lip, and a woman who insists upon bathing with the twins, only to end up caressing, washing, and masturbating with one of their feet. Granted these seem to be lurid but Szász shows them as inevitable consequences of power gone awry. We see that true terror resides in its mimetic effects and transforms sensibility and desire just as thoroughly as it rips through flesh.
Sending children from the city to the countryside was a common one during World War II. In this film, it’s the catalyst for the degradation and corruption of two adolescent boys. While the boys’ father, a soldier, goes back to fight, their mother begs her own mother (who she hasn’t seen in 20 years) to take her children in, promising to come back when the war is over. The two boys are put to work, chopping wood, and drawing water. They attempt to nourish themselves by continuing with their lessons, studying the Bible, and writing an account of their lives in a notebook that their father gave them. They are to record their experiences for him during his absence.
There is not much plot— the film is comprised mostly of stark, difficult-to-watch vignettes in which the boys are subjected to painful or bizarre situations. Not only do they take abuse from their grandmother, the brothers are severely beaten when they attempt to track down a thief who’s stolen their wares. Then there is a starving German soldier they try to help who dies of cold and hunger in the woods near their home, and they see firsthand examples of anti-Semitism. There are also some dark sexual scenes here— a German officer living next door takes an odd interest in them, and a beautiful woman takes obvious pleasure from bathing with them (an act that seems to leave the boys mostly puzzled). Their best friend, a girl referred to as Harelip (Orsolya Toth), informs them that an easy source of cash is blackmailing the lecherous deacon.
The two brothers quickly become used to and tainted by their surroundings, almost reveling in their ability to toughen themselves. A particularly gruesome scene sees them punching and hitting each other in order to become immune to pain, and they begin killing insects and small animals, as well as standing up to their grandmother (who begins to look on them with a newfound respect)—and they only get worse from there. Big eyed and smooth skinned, they’re the picture of budding youth, yet both have truly hardened themselves. Their dead-eyed stares add an almost macabre sense of eeriness.
The film is visually stunning. Though Grandmother’s house and the village are marked by poverty, the scenes are gorgeous to behold, contrasting sharply with the violence and abuse taking place. There is very effective use of symbolism, though it’s rarely subtle. The opening shot of the boys sleeping nestled against each other and breathing in sync, for instance, emphasizes their seeming innocence, while several shots of the dead insects is a frightening example of how twisted they’re becoming and a stand-in for the implied, off-screen deaths we aren’t seeing.
Their motivation, however, is not fully developed. Their parents’ apartment was bourgeois and attractive and when they get to their grandmother’s things turn horrible. The two boys are seemingly well-grounded adolescents who snap—in fact, many of the worst things they experience happen after they’ve already turned. Viewers may find themselves questioning quite a lot when the credits finally roll: there’s a lot to unpack. This may not the most original treatment of the death of innocence and the corrupting influence of war, but overall this is a gripping and chilling work, taut and explosive.
Referred to as One and the Other, twin actors Andras and Laszlo Gyemant are the unfortunate weak points in the film. Their performances are one note, the transgression from privileged, spoiled children to browbeaten, cold blooded killers is hardly depicted with any sort of emotional range by the twins, who seem either vacant or surly, with nary a modulated expression in-between. They appear too well kept when we consider the undesirable conditions they’re placed in for so long.
Martin, Anna, B. Snow, Blain D. Arden, Kit Mullender, Liam Livings, MJ O’Shea and Tia Fielding. “Bedtime Stories: An Anthology”, Wilde City Press, 2014.
Something for Everyone
How can we ever forget those wonderful times in our youth when we went to sleep at night listening to bedtime stories? There was something magical about lying in bed while someone read to us and now we have the chance to do the same as adults. Seven writers have come together to give us an anthology of stories that remind us of long ago and they range from the supernatural to the classic but there stories are for adults. I understand that this collection was “designed to be read one at a time, at bedtime”. They are “gay romances that are sure to leave you ready for a night of sweet, lingering dreams”.
In “Whiskey Wishes” by Anna Martin we meet Jim who lives in Ireland in a small town where whiskey is distilled. He decided to try his luck in Dublin but things were too expensive and he has returned home to Kilbeggan. He was able to get a job working at the distillery and he loved it but he had a problem with the town’s attitude toward gay people and so he remained closeted. An artist, Aiden, took a room above the pub where Brigitte, Jim’s sister worked. When the two men met, it was magic but Brigitte also had set her cap for Aiden. The two men carried on in secret and they finally moved in together. What makes this story special is the way it is written and we get a look at love as it comes into being.
Tia Fielding’s “Flickers” is all about denial. Benjamin did not want to admit his sexuality and he had his own personal feelings for that. He claimed to himself that he didn’t care for being looked at by other men and he really disliked the way the ghost beside his bed looked at him. He decided to do something about it and with the help of the apparition looked for ways to die. I am not saying anymore about this story so you will just have to read it yourselves.
In “Click Your Heels Three Times” by Blaine D. Arden we get a fairytale about a prince and his lover who have been separated. Prince Theo denied General West’s feeling that he needed to advance politically and personally in the Royal Family. The queen totally trusted him and no one ever considered him to be guilty of betrayal. But Theo learned that was the case when he was sent to the forest and separated from his lover, Wynstan. And there is magic here like all good fairy tales.
MJ O”Shea brings us “Charmed” where we meet Kelly, the head bartender at Cosmic. He is a good worker and totally trustworthy and reliable. He seldom played while on the job and if he had the desire to do so, he waited until his shift was over. He really wanted to be with one special guy and he did not like that his job put him around so many available men that he could not socially react with. He longed for a fairytale romance and had just about given up until he met Luke.
In “Torch” by Kit Mullender we meet Jem, a hard working doctor. He always looks forward to Thursday evenings when he is off and he can relax at home and he could listen to a jazz singer who lived somewhere near him.. Then there was Elias who also is the hospital’s head pharmacist. Elias is good-looking but Jem felt he was a bit too forward was not making things easier. Nothing happened until one night Jem and some friends went to a jazz club and he came face-to-face with the singer.
“Miles to Go” by B. Snow is about Joe whose life seemed to be falling apart around him. When his wife learned that he is gay, she left him and he insists that he is straight. Joe loves his wife and their son and he felt that they all had a great life together. Joe was determined to prove that he is straight and so he agreed to a challenge his wife set up—he had to go on a date with a man chosen by his wife or get a divorce. He chose the date but he knew he had to find a baby-sitter for his son. Whet the sitter, a guy named Danny, walked in, there were sparks but Joe was wallowing in his own problems. His dates with men were awful and he talked to Danny about them and through this, he was able to discover who he really is.
I rarely say that a certain story from an anthology is my favorite but this time I am breaking my own rules and saying that Liam Livings’ “Frangipani Kisses” really stole my heart. In it we meet John who just lost his job as an accountant. He decided that until he was ready to look for another position that he would so some volunteer work at a cancer charity shop and he soon made some new friends through this. Keith, his partner, was there for him and John so appreciated it. However, John did feel the desire to make money and Keith told him to use his skills as best he could—not only was John a good accountant, he was a fine baker. What is so lovely in this story is that we meet two men who love and trust each other. This is a love story but without eroticism and we see here that it is indeed possible to depict love without including sex. One lover helps the other and we see more than just love, we see true friendship.
The stories are diverse and different but they do share the idea that comfort comes from reading and we see that dreams do come true.
Handy with So Much That You Need to Know
During my adult gay life, the town of Provincetown, Massachusetts has always been legendary. When I moved to Boston, I found that legend to be very true. If there is a gay heaven, it is Provincetown. This complete guide is composed of eight chapters that tell you almost all you need to know about Ptown. I say almost because the magic and spontaneity of Provincetown have to be discovered on a one-to-one basis. The chapter divisions include:
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
What to See and Do
Shopping and Services
There is also an index and a list of other guides and books by Stapleton.
Ptown has it all– lodgings, restaurants, attractions, outdoor sports, tours and excursions, shopping and everything else you’d want to do there and this guide has been edited with an emphasis on the gay traveler. It is short and too the point. To quote someone else, “One good thing about this handy guide is that it’s not ‘just gay. It’s got loads of listings that any gay traveler would find interesting even though they are not specifically gay-related.”
The film is centred around how the unconventional and rather brusque Turing cracked the German Enigma code – which the Axis forces thought was completely secure – using an early computer that was able to sort through the millions upon millions of possible ciphers to decode the original messages.
In an article called ‘Imitation Game Demands Oscar’s Attention’, Variety says that the film ‘is clearly an awards contender: Complex, impeccably executed and unique. The film’s offbeat approach to an oddball character will be its greatest strength — and its challenge.’
THR adds that the film is ‘Engrossing, nicely textured and sadly tragic…’, adding that the distributor ‘has several angles it can play to build this prestige production into a considerable commercial success.’Deadline agrees, saying ‘this one just has Academy Award nominations written all over it.’
However while some believe Morten Tyldum’s film may be too ‘conventional’ for Best Picture success, all seem to agree that Cumberbatch is very impressive as Turing, with Indiewire saying, ‘It’s a reserved, almost conservative performance, and in holding so much back so much of the time, Cumberbatch makes his few outward displays of emotion far more impactful.’
In THR’s words, ‘dominating it all is Cumberbatch, whose charisma, tellingly modulated and naturalistic array of eccentricities, Sherlockian talent at indicating a mind never at rest and knack for simultaneously portraying physical oddness and attractiveness combine to create an entirely credible portrait of genius at work.’
Variety meanwhile refers to Cumberbatch’s performance as ‘masterful’, adding ‘The Imitation Game doesn’t need its banal catchphrases to show us that Turing is a savant who sees and feels the world differently than most other people, because it’s there in every inch of Cumberbatch’s performance.”
Film Freak Central is also impressed, saying ‘Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing, truly’, while Hitfix eulogises, ‘Cumberbatch does a wonderful job bringing this characterization to life and it’s often his performance that overcomes some of the film’s melodramatic tendencies’.
Many seem to believe the film could bring Benedict his first Oscar nomination.
There was worry before the film started shooting that The Imitation Game would sideline or ignore Turing’s sexuality, with suggestions that some versions of the script almost made it a romance between the computer genius and young cryptographer Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley).
However most of early reviews suggest this isn’t too much of a problem, with the entire movie framed by a key situation after the War in the early 1950s. Turing was robbed and when he told the police the culprit was likely to be a friend of his young male lover, rather than being helped by the authorities as he’d expected, he was charged and convicted of gross indecency. He was then chemically castrated (it was either that or go to prison) and his career destroyed. He later killed himself.
It was an astonishingly tragic end for a man who Churchill said made the greatest contribution to ending World War II. However his contribution to both the war effort and to computing in general was kept secret for years, both because how he broke the Engima Code was considered a state secret and because his sexuality made him an ‘undesirable’ by the social code of the time. He was eventually officially pardoned by the UK Government from the Gross Indecency charge, but not until a couple of years ago.
The reports on “The Imitation Game” from Telluride say the film includes a gay romance in Turing’s teenage years, as well as talking about the fact he’s had affairs and male lovers. While the movie does include that he proposed marriage to Joan (which did happen in real life), the reviews suggest this is put properly into the context of what he was trying to do during a time when homosexuality was illegal.
Indeed many suggest that it’s Turing’s eccentricity and his sexuality that are the overall theme of the movie, with Film Freak Central saying that ultimately the movie proposes that, ‘different is good, and you shouldn’t criminalize homosexuality, because what if a gay guy is the saviour of the free world and you just chemically-castrated him and caused him to kill himself?’, while Variety adds ‘The film ultimately celebrates anyone who is not “normal.”’
However the consensus is not universal and Hitfix comes to the opposite conclusion, feeling that the film whitewashes his sexuality far too much, saying ‘The more I ponder the ending of the film the more frustrated I become. In effect, much of Turing’s gay life is completely washed over. He says he had numerous affairs/lovers, but the film pushes the central relationship between his one-time fiance Clarke as the most prominent. That’s somewhat odd after Turing justifies the entire engagement as his way to keep her working on the secret project. Let’s be clear, Turing was one of the greatest gay men of the 20th century whose life was destroyed by an archaic charge in 1952. It’s almost head-scratching how the film could be structured to diminish this part of his life.’
Dennison, Poppy and MJ O’Shea. “Coconut Cove Episode 1: Life’s a Beach”, Wilde City Press, 2014.
Young and In Love
Coconut Cove is the place where you’ll always find oiled beach bodies, palm trees, tropical drinks, and plenty of drama. In actuality it is a new sensation— a drama about gay teens with plenty of young sexy stars that become involved with a lot of action.
We meet a rising star, a hunky guy, a nice guy with a sordid past, a diva with lots of attitude and we learn of secret affairs and sexy demons. The closets in Coconut Cove are not for gay people but rather for how they behave.
Flynn Wright senses that he has lost his job on a movie set because of his ex who suddenly ended their relationship. Wright’s agent gets him a job on “Coconut Cove” and this enables him to leave Los Angeles and Bennett his hateful former lover. He is to play the part of Mack, a gay teen who moves to Coconut Cove with his fathers. The filming is to be in Key West and his first night there, he and some of the other cast members go out to dinner together at Pirate’s Booty. There Flynn meets Seth, the bartender who is disgustingly rude and wonderfully sexy.
So as we find ourselves behind the scenes of the new drama, a lot happens. Bennett makes an appearance of course and Seth has some things to do and say; none of which I dare not tell you for fear of spoiling a fun read.
Prepare yourself, leave the day free when you want to read this because you will not stop reading until you have closed the covers. This is just a fun read with delightful characters, sexy escapades and a well-developed plot. You know that this is the first of a series and you will want the rest of it right away but it has yet been published. In that sense it is kind of like a soap opera that just when you get to the good parts, you have to wait for the next episode. There is heartache and lots of drama as well as catastrophes. There is also romance and a look at some very strong life lessons.
McNamara, Frances. “Death at Chinatown”, (Emily Cabot Mysteries: Volume 5), Allium Press of Chicago, 2014.
Making the Decision
It is 1986 in the summer and Emily Cabot, an amateur detective meets two Chinese women who have medical degrees who have had to make very difficult choices in order to pursue the career they wanted. But then one of the women was accused of murder by poisoning a Chinese herbalist. Emily soon is involved in the murder examination. Aside from that Emily has her own personal problems to deal with—she and her husband have had a quarrel, a political uprising has begun and her family has received threats. There are also those never ending issues—restrictions on immigration, the conflict between Western and Eastern medicine, and women’s struggle to balance family and work.
Even though this is fiction, there are several very real historical characters: Mary Stone and Ida Kahn are two real Chinese women doctors, and descendants of the Moy family are still in Chicago.
This is McNamara’s fifth novel in the Emily Cabot series. Cabot also has to deal with her own guilt in leaving her family to work on the case even though she has her husband’s full support. She hesitates having to leave her two children with a maid as she studies sociology and criminology. We actually feel that we are on a very real visit to 1896 America.
Beaini, Jean. “For the Love of Mohammad A Memoir: With Mohammad Khordadian”, ADS, 2014.
Two Young Dancers
The ill-fated marriage of two young dancers is the focus of “For the Love of Mohammed”. The book is set against the backdrop of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Jean Beaini has written the true story of a journey that is dramatic and filled with complexes.
The memoir of two young dancers from vastly different cultures, tells of their ill-fated marriage during Iran’s Islamic Revolution. The main characters are a young English girl who lives in a Middle Eastern country that is torn apart by an Islamic revolution and war and a young Iranian man struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality after being manipulated into marriage. He just happened to be in love with a man. On one hand this is not a love story and on the other hand it is a story about love as well as so much more.
As the world continues to struggle with human rights issues, in particular the human rights of the LGBTQ communities in such countries as Iran, Uganda, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Russia and often in our own backyard here is a story that speaks out for those who have their voices silenced. The book contributes to the awareness of their situation and carries with it a message of hope and courage by demonstrating how, with the power of love, courage and understanding, life’s adversities can be overcome.
Our characters met because of their love of dance and their story shows how people love one another and how this pure love can become misconstrued and tainted by the influence of religion, culture, politics and society. We see the sensitive struggle that the two face and the courage they must summon to deal with it. It is all about maintaining love in the face of both human and political conflict.
Lahr, John. “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh”, W.W. Norton, 2014
America’s Greatest Playwright
John Lahr brings us the definitive biography of Tennessee Williams; the man many feel is America’s greatest playwright. My review copy came yesterday and I stayed up all night reading and this is not a short book—it comes in at 765 pages. Some of you know that I know Williams—my senior year at college I worked a bit for him when he was in New Orleans so I am always anxious to read a definitive biography of him. However, he was a man who was so complex that I doubt that there will ever be a “definitive biography”. There always seems to a lost page or some interesting information turning up about Williams. However this is the most complete biography I have yet to read about him and I have read them all.
Lahr takes us into the mind of the playwright. Williams was responsible for so much but I really believe that his greatest accomplishment was the way his dramas reshaped the theater of this country as well as the way Americans felt about themselves.
I have always thought of Williams as something of a contradiction. He had triumphs which were epic and he failures that were also epic, he was a gay man at a time when homosexuality was spoken of in whispers yet he managed to create some of the most wonderful female characters that the theater has ever know. He suffered great guilt and he projected some of his life into his works. He had numerous love affairs but only two real loves. His death reflected the way he lives even though it was misreported and his estate caused problems among his heirs and his non-heirs.
This biography is written through Williams’ plays and we see what he went through with each new offering. Lahr gives us an unforgettable look at the man and we learn some interesting secrets. There have been several other biographies of Williams so some of you may wonder why we need another one—the answer is simple. There is a great deal of new material here—new interpretations, new photographs (there are 80 photos in the book, new information and new ways to look at Williams output.
We have letters and interviews with Pancho Rodriguez, the man who was the model for Stanley Kowalski. There are letters from Frank Merlo, the man who shared Williams’ heart and his bed. Eddie Dowling who was in the original production (as well as produced and co-directed) of “The Glass Menagerie talks about the opening night night. We learn about Laurette Taylor and her legendary performance as Amanda Wingfield. We get to read the letters that Williams wrote while he was committed to a psychiatric ward in 1970. The facts of his death and of the craziness that went on with his estate is here as is the true story of Williams’ break-up with his long time agent, Audrey Wood. There is information on how legendary director Elia Kazan influenced the productions that he helmed. Marlon Brando has something to saw about co-star Anna Magnani. Included are previously unpublished poems and deleted passages from some of the playwright’s writing. Included are never before seen letters between Williams and Kazan, Wood, Magnani, Katherine Hepburn and Brooks Atkinson, drama critic of “The New York Times”. We learn about the autopsy performed on Williams and the medical reports of his sister, Rose, who suffered a lobotomy. There is also new information about Williams’ psychoanalysis and original interviews that John Lahr conducted with Gore Vidal, Dotson Rader, Dakin Williams (the playwrights’ brother) and with several directors including Sidney Lumet and John Hancock.
Here is Williams’ public persona and his backstage life. It reads like one of Williams’ own dramas but above else this is a compelling biography of a compelling man that is written by a compelling author.
Of course this has repursussions for his whole family, including his kids – he’s a trans parent, see what they did there?
Along w Tambor, there’s a great supporting cast including Judith Light, Gaby Hoffman, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, Carrie Brownstein, Kathryn Hahnand Bradley Whitford.
You can take a look at the full trailer below, to get you ready for the series’ premiere on Amazon Prime on September 26th.