The Truth About Goodbye” by Russell Ricard— The Final Goodbye

Ricard, Russell. “The Truth About Goodbye”, Wise Ink Creative Publishing, 2017.

The Final Goodbye

Amos Lassen

Sebastian Hart has said many goodbyes in his life. Now at a year after his husband Frank’s death, he still blames himself. He had started the argument that night over one of Frank’s former dates with someone younger than Sebastian.

When his friend Chloe told him to follow his dreams of becoming a choreographer, he realizes that has to deal with his romantic feelings for Reid, a new student in his tap class. He senses that Sebastian’s ghost is there warning him not to become involved with another man and this causes Sebastian to wonder if death is, indeed, the final goodbye. Sebastian sees that life is much like his chosen career of choreography and one just has to learn the steps or adlib when necessary.

This is a read filled with emotion as is life and we read about the good times and the not-so-good times. Writer Russell Ricard has written a book that looks at the basic themes of being left alone, sadness and grief, stereotyping and aging and re-finding love.

Sebastian Hart is quite a fascinating character. He is an experienced theater singer and dancer who loves classic cinema. We see him as being lost and he still feels that he was abandoned by parents and faces unresolved loss because of it just as he feels unresolved loss as a result of Frank’s death. We see though him that letting go is difficult regardless of the circumstances.

Ricard’s prose is clever and because of this and the well drawn and his multi-faceted characters, we are pulled into the story on the first page.

 

“13 MINUTES”— What If?

“13 Minutes”

What If?

Amos Lassen

In November 1939, Georg Elser’s attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler but he failed and he was arrested. During his confinement, he spoke about what led him to do what he did. “13 Minutes” is based on a little known piece of history— Georg Elser’s (Christian Friedel) failed assassination attempt of Hitler (Udo Schenk) in 1938.

Thirteen minutes refer to the amount of time between Hitler’s early exit from a Munich beer hall where he delivered a speech and Elser’s time bomb finally going off. This film, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, only spends five minutes at the film’s start and then the focus shifts to parallel stories of his interrogations by the Nazis, led by Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaußner), and the story of his love affair with Elsa (Katharina Schüttler), a married woman whom Elser rescues from her abusive Nazi-supporting husband. These narratives explain the motivations behind Elser’s assassination attempt on Hitler.

In 1939, Europe was on the brink of war because of provocations of one man. , who holds most of his Germany mesmerized by his oratory. Had it not been Hitler, World War II might have been averted and millions of lives would have been saved. people would have been saved.  Assassinating Hitler would have been a noble task yet only one man stepped up to volunteer to do so. He was a Communist sympathizer living in a small town and he acted alone.  Elser was quite the ladies’ man, a handsome fellow and a free spirit, one who believed in individual freedom and keeping the government out of the business of planning and executing senseless wars.

We see Elser sweating as he worked alone with dynamite that he assembled and placed just below a Munich speakers’ platform. He timed it to go off during Hitler’s address to a crowd of supporters.  The timer worked, but the explosion comes thirteen minutes after Hitler had already left the town hall.  Elser tried to flee to Switzerland, but was arrested by suspicious soldiers.  The rest of the film switches to his happier days in town and to an unhappy time when he is interrogated by the Gestapo and others in the German high command who firmly believe that the assassination attempt was  planned by a group.

While Elser’s only enemy before 1939 might have been Erich (Rüdiger Klink), the abusive, drunken husband of Else Härlen (Katharina Schüttler), the woman he was in love with, he did poorly after his arrest and was subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  He had to lay flat on springs and was repeatedly asked by head of criminal police Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaussner) and Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller (Johann von Bülow) for his name and date of birth, to which he remained silent and was beaten. However, when his family is threatened, he tells how he got the explosives and continues to insist that he worked alone.  Punishments increase incrementally under the orders of the SS Obergruppenführer (Simon Licht), who demands that the prisoner name his accomplices.

Elser’s small hometown of Koenigsbronn was a zone for Communist activities but then aligned with the Nazis. Elser’s family was taunted by young men for being church-going Christians.  Because of the activities of these young people, we can easily see how a town like this could support the National Socialists. The youngsters are proud to be Hitler Youth with swastika banners virtually proclaiming that Hitler would transform his country into paradise.

There is a scene in which One of the cinematic pleasures is a scene in which Elser is given an injection of truth serum that only makes him hallucinate about happier days in his small town.  We are left with a mystery. We do not learn why Elser who was in Nazi custody from November 1939 through April 1945, was given preferential treatment in the concentration camps, or why he was even left alive for over five years after the assassination attempt. There is a lot to think about here.

“THE UNTAMED”— It’s All About Sex

“The Untamed” (“La región salvaje”)

It’s All About Sex

Amos Lassen

“The Untamed” is a Mexican-Danish-French-German-Norwegian-Swiss co-production and is a shocking film about the baser natures of society. It explores sexual desires on a level that we rarely see. I also see it as a film that leaves a mark on one’s psyche. These are the director’s views on reality especially the reality of a culture with deep Catholic roots that have caused discrimination that allows for the continued acceptable abuse of women and homosexuals.Alejandra’s (Ruth Ramos) life is about to be severely disrupted when her family meets an outsider, Veronica (Simone Bucio). While Alejandra cares for her two children while working part-time for her mother-in-law in a family owned candy shop, her brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio) is a local nurse who has been having an illicit affair with her husband Angel (Jesus Meza), even though Angel is very homophobic in his social dealings with Fabian. The injured Veronica befriends Fabian after receiving a potentially dangerous ‘love bite’ from a sexual partner. She bonds with Fabian because they’re both in toxic relationships. Veronica thinks Fabian would appreciate her lover, a creature residing in a barn on the outskirts of Guanajuato, something that is not quite human. But the creature reacts to everyone a bit differently, and soon Alejandra is forced to explore strange occurrences involving Fabian when his curiosity gets the best of him.

In the opening sequence, we see “a shriveled tentacle dragging itself out of Veronica’s vagina” and she is left severely wounded. This also begins a chain of events involving Alejandra and her brother Fabian. They both had left the degradation of Tijuana under vague circumstances with the help of Angel, who would later marry Alejandra. Angel and the monster are both creatures whose interactions with the siblings will determine their fate. Angel is complicated and a repulsive figure who is also a victim of his own circumstances growing up with religious, homophobic parents who have means to keep both him and his family comfortable thanks to their business.

The four main sexual partners are intertwined in interesting ways and sexual satisfaction is depicted as give-and-take and loss makes one particularly open and vulnerable. Thee mysterious creature that we have here is the result on an asteroid that crashed into the earth and whose moods depend on the excitement over sexual partners. Its tentacles are used for penetration yet it suffers from familiarity. Once the creature is bored with Veronica, she is tasked with finding new sexual partners for it and she becomes addicted to the job.

Veronica and Fabian meet while each is in a sexual relationship with someone else. Veronica feels as if she has lost her dignity and control and Fabian is plagued by guilty feelings after his encounters with Angel. Meanwhile, Angel becomes violent when the sexual relationship with Fabian goes bad using Alejandra is a temporary resolution making a winning fit for the creature, who demands complete emotional, mental, and physical surrender. As I pondered what the movie is trying to say, I decided that it has to do with our love of extremes regardless of reference to of this world or of another. The result is a kind of cannibalization as once the emotional and mental surrender returns, continued satisfaction requires a struggle for control.

Escalante shares his concept of social consciousness by showing how repressive and restrictive social constructions, traditions and attitudes are responsible for continuous hate and self-loathing, that can destroy individual processing of basic sexual drives for all orientations. Especially effective here is the mounting dread that we feel in the nature scenes of the film sequences that are as ugly as they are unforgettable making this film an “aberrant sexual odyssey” that is as perverted as it is subversive. We are certainly aware of the director’s ability to shock and traumatize his audience.

From the very beginning when we see Veronica having sex with one of the creature’s tentacles, we realize that this is going to be a very strange cinematic experience. In his domestic world, Escalante has the themes that have to do with love and sex, and what happens in a bad relationship. The creature is symbolic of Alejandra’s own desire, the longing to escape from reality and return to a more primitive state yet the creature she seeks to have sex with does not simply provide happiness. Rather it threatens to disrupt and to kill.

The film is unsettling as it brings together sex and death through melodrama as it follows a set of interwoven characters and stories that culminate with an creature; a sex object that is hidden away in a barn in the countryside. While the creature is not much to look at, it has the capability to bring “unthinkable sexual pleasure to anyone who comes in contact with it”. The characters are deeply flawed: the homophobic Angel is borderline abusive; Veronica lures people into possible danger; Fabian seems gentle but is, after all, carrying on a secret affair with his sister’s husband.

It’s a sickly, character-driven mix of horror and humanity that makes for something unique. “The Untamed” at its core is an examination of the strange otherworldly nature of desire and shows how sex is often out of joint with our desires and expectations and even with our identities.

“HE’S WITH ME”: SEASONS ONW & TWO— Friends

 

“He’s with Me”: Seasons One & Two

Friends

Amos Lassen

“He’s With Me” is about friendship but especially the unlikely friendship between gay theatre critic Martin (Jason Cicci) and Ted (Bradford How), a straight advertising man. The two men met at a friend’s wedding and became good friends. The friendship allows them to learn about each other and to care. They also learn how to be “manly”.

The show is a semi-autobiographical look at screenwriter Jason Cicci’s own life and is about maintaining a friendship when sexualities are different. Some of the situations between a straight man and a gay man friendship are amusing, opening a chance for conversation about how comfortable men are with being there for each other in a sophisticated way giving us a series with both humor and heart.

This is a funny and meaningful comedy about modern life and tells a unique story about the changing climate men find themselves in. Cicci says that he always found it hard to not only define what a man is but to then live up to the definition. In today’s world it can be hard to keep up, accepting yourself and maintain friendships.

In season we meet a group of decidedly modern men and women who try understand modern issues of friendship. Season 2 looks at the impact of the friendship that Martin and Ted share.

Ted is a recent transplant from the Midwest, and works for a New York boutique ad agency, and begins a close friendship with gay theatre critic Martin whose personality is insufferable. That friendship opens problems for Eddie (John Cramer), a New York cop who is friendly with both men.

Eddie’s wife Val (Darcie Siciliano) tries to help Martin in his search for true romance. At the same time, Val and Eddie both seek to find personal happiness and fulfillment in their own lives.

In season 2 we meet Benny (Ryan Duncan) who is determined to always be the center of attraction and at the same time tries to let Martin see how much he cares for him.

Cicci and director Sebastian LaCause have worked together on the series and the characters and situations we see in each episode reflect the struggles and successes that many people deal with on a daily basis. It is really about how we deal with what life gives us. We rarely see “men being comfortable showing emotion to another man in a supportive way.” The female characters in the series also question how they fit in with the men in their lives and what they want to achieve.

“FINDING KIM”— Transitioning

 

“FINDING KIM”

Transitioning

Amos Lassen

It is impossible these days to not hear something about the transgender community in this country yet very few know much about it. This film by Aaron Bear is one way to learn about what transgender is all about and it gives us quite an entertaining and provocative educational experience. We are with Kim B. as he starts his transition from female to male and we learn that he never really wanted to be female, always feeling that he was male. We immediately take to Kim and I believe that is because he is candid and open in front of the camera; we sense his honesty as well as his insecurities and we laugh at his wonderful humor.

As he transitions, he learns about the person he has always felt that he was meant to be. Kim is 50-years-old when he realizes that there is a possibility of gender reassignment. Watching this realization alone makes this is a fine film yet there is also so much more than that. I love that Kim has shared his personal journey so openly with us and watching him begin to reach his goal is a special treat.

We also hear from some of the icons of the trans community including Jamison Green and Buck Angel, Calpernia Addams and Carmen Carrera as well as Dan Savage and these interviews have a lot to say about their personal experiences. It is important, I believe, to note that coming out as transgender is not a one-time experience. Coming out continues on a daily basis throughout life. We also have interviews with those who are close to Kim and we hear how they feel about his transition. The cinematography by Gabriel Bienczycki captures all of the important moments.

There have been wonderful changes for the LGBT community yet the transgender component can be intimidating if we do not learn what it is all about. “Finding Kim” is a very special film for me as my niece, at age 41, transitioned into my nephew and the very questions that I often thought about are answered for me clearly an honestly in this documentary. Director Bear has documented the entire process of Kim’s transition but even more important and just as interesting is that has also documented Kim, the person and his journey to self-acceptance and self-discovery.

The film is set in Seattle, Washington and it truly explores gender identity as well as the process of knowing oneself.

“Sex Cultures” by Amin Ghaziani—Talking About Sex and Sexology

Ghaziani, Amin. “Sex Cultures”, Polity, 2017.

Talking about Sex and Sexuality

Amos Lassen

Amin Ghaziani gives us a thought filled introduction to the field of sexuality studies through a distinctively cultural lens. Instead of focusing on sex acts, we look at sex cultures in diverse contexts that give meaning to sexual pursuits and practices. Unlike sex, a biological expression, the word “sexuality” is about “how the materiality of the body acquires cultural meaning as it encounters other bodies, institutions, regulations, symbols, societal norms, values, and worldviews. The conclusion reached is that sex + culture = sexuality.

“Sex Cultures” is a case study and debate-driven approach to sexuality that uses examples from all over the globe and across disciplines and in doing so it destroys stubborn assumptions that put sex and society at odds.

It is a teaching resource that moves through cultural codes, political programs, and moral debates. It is “a comprehensive and engaging overview of the field of sexuality accessible to beginning students that also provides a concise and updated review of the field for graduate students”. The text places major theoretical perspectives and empirical questions in case studies and this makes what we read here to be particularly valuable.

Ghaziani uses several contemporary and up to date case studies in order to explain the complex processes by which sex and culture come together to create sexuality.

“Poets of the Bible: From Solomon’s Song of Songs to John’s Revelation” by WillisBarnstone— Restoring Lyricism and Power

Barnstone, Willis (translator). “Poets of the Bible: From Solomon’s Song of Songs to John’s Revelation”, W.W. Norton, 2017.

Restoring Lyricism and Power

Amos Lassen

Every time I pick up my bible, I am astounded how it always reads differently and how I am transported to many places and events by its magical language. Because so much of the bible comes to us in prose form, we seem to forget that some of the greatest poetry in the world is in the holy writings. Willis Barnstone does not want to let that continue and he goes back to both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible and restores the lyricism that we lost in the prose translations thus showing us the power of poetry in the texts that are centuries old.

In the Hebrew Bible, we have new translations of Song of Songs, Psalms, Job and Isaiah. The Christian Bible’s poetry is in the speeches of Jesus speaks, Paul and John of Patmos. roars majestically in Revelation, the Bible’s epic poem. Barnstone’s book contains major biblical poem from Genesis and Adam and Eve in the Garden to the last pages of Alpha and Omega in Paradise.

While reading these passages in poetic form we discover new lyricism, clarity and even mystery. The sheer beauty of the word astounds the ear and the mind and I found that at times I was reading passages that were brand new and I love that.

Barnstone has brought scripture to new dimensions by taking away translations into prose and rendered them into poetic form in which humanity takes over. There is no more need for literalist translations.

These new translations from the Hebrew and the Greek bring new language and meanings to passages we have read since childhood. Additional Barnstone provides introductions to each poet that are also new in that the author’s research brought him to learn about those who wrote these passages initially.

“Willis Barnstone shows us the religion in poetry and the poetry in religion, and, best of all, how poetry flows from one religion to another.

“My Father’s Closet” by Karen McClintock— Learning About Dad

McClintock, Karen. “My Father’s Closet”, Trilium, 2017.

Learning About Dad

Amos Lassen

Whenever I read something like Karen McClintock’s “My Father’s Closet”, I realize just how far we have come in this country regarding the LGBT community. Karen never really knew her gay father and as she searches for information about him some thirty years after his death, we are pulled into the story as a family deals with secrets, losses and infidelities yet there is still love there.

McClintock’s parents fell in love and married, while overseas in Germany and the man whom Karen believes became her father’s lover was concealing his Jewish and gay identities in order to escape to America. Through a set of her father’s journals and correspondence between her mother and father during World War II as well as by way of a painting, we find a secret.

Children yearn for the parents that are not there for them and sometimes this leads to complex feelings of abandonment. We see the McClintocks as resilient even with hidden lovers, nosey neighbors, and surprise lovers. On the outside, the McClintocks looked to be a wholesome and Midwestern in Columbus, However, on the inside, “a bewildering emotional vacuum” was coming into being and “taking a complicated toll”. We learn of the details of her father’s double life as Karen writes from a loving heart and an open mind. She shares the pain that was a result of her father’s “closet” life and she writes with compassion. She understands how it must have been for her parents and that together with her love for them, allowed her to reach a place of forgiveness.

For much of her life, McClintock thought her father, Charles, might be gay, even though he remained married to her mother. Karen tells us that she never really knew the man she called my father. In writing this memoir she attempts to discover her father’s hidden side using his journals and speaking with those who knew him. Many men and women live these secret lives, hiding their sexual orientation–even from themselves–until the attraction to someone of the same sex can no longer be denied.

We must remember that at the time this all took place, the world was quite different. There were very few public images of gay men and the word “gay” was still new in the vocabulary. Karen’s father, Charles was in college during the McCarthy era’s when communists and homosexuals were considered as subversive and there were few people who were open about their sexuality. The gay life that took place back then was underground and hidden from public view.

When he was 19, Charles wrote in his journal that he thought that life with Alice would always be “lovely and uncomplicated.” However, many of our most important decisions are made without enough information. We want to know, as did Karen, when the change came from women to men but there was not a specific date or event. This sexuality happens when sexual desire, sexual behavior and sexual identity come together that one discovers his true sexuality or so I have been told. For a married man to deal with this is quite serious. Does one break the marriage vow (remember the time) and leave the family? Is it better to remain married and essentially live a lie?

When attraction, desire and behavior come together and do not remain static, evolution into something complex begins. What makes this different than other books written by “betrayed” spouses is that this comes from an adult child of a parent who comes out.

Karen McClintock writes with her heart as she struggled to understand and become close to her father, the man who kept her at a distance in order to protect necessary illusions. We see here the price our society has brought from its gay people (and their families) who “refused to marginalize themselves simply because the absolute truth of their hearts did not fit the accepted mold.” 

Here is a book with both sadness and love that beautifully explores the fears of being different and where those fears often lead. The book is beautifully written and we feel the pain and the sadness that Karen McClintock has had to deal.

 

 

 

“Sparkle Boy” by Leslea Newman— Casey Shines and Sparkles

Newman, Leslea. “Sparkle Boy”, Lee & Low Books, 2017.

Casey Shines and Sparkles

Amos Lassen

I always look forward to a new book from Leslea Newman who was once of the first authors I reviewed when I started doing this some ten years ago. From “Heather Has Two Mommies’” to Matthew Shepard, we have seen Newman’s versatility and sincerity in her writings. It is interesting that on the day “Sparkle Boy” arrived in my mailbox, I had just finished reading an article on why glitter should be banned from Pride parades and had really never thought much about it aside from the fact that it is really difficult to clean up when those shiny little specks are everywhere. Yet glitter is something else since it makes us shine and in its own way, it emphasizes the differences in us all. When I opened the mailer in which “Sparkle Boy” was mailed, the first thing I noticed was that the cover had glitter on it. Knowing Newman’s writing style, I already knew that the story within would sparkle as much, if not more than the cover.

Casey is a young boy who loves his playthings— his blocks, his puzzles and his toy truck but he also loves things that boys are not “supposed” to love such as those that sparkle and gleam like his sister’s Jessie’s bracelet, glittery nail polish and her skirt that shimmers. Casey wants things like that yet even though his parents and his grandmother are okay with that, Jessie is not. It seems that young Jessie has already formulated her ideas on gender but that changed when two older boys teased him because of what he was wearing. This made Jessie realize that her brother had every right to be who he is and wear what he wants. I love seeing that Casey’s family embraces his rebellion against a dress code based upon a social construct dictated by society. Jessie wants that she and Casey can both love things that sparkle

Casey loves to play with his blocks, puzzles, and dump truck, but he also loves things that sparkle. We all have the right to be whoever we want and dress however we want as the gender binary becomes more and more outdated every day. For some it might take a sweet and heartwarming story like this one to realize that. After all, life is about acceptance, respect, and the freedom to be oneself. With beautiful illustrations by Maria Mola, Newman wonderfully captures the innocence of youth and envisions a world where we can all be ourselves. We also see the pleasures of a family that cares and lets us know that we can each shine in our own ways. Isn’t it fascinating that Jessie teaches us about acceptance and understanding and that it was actually a part of her own learning process.

What I really appreciate about Leslea Newman is that we never know it advance what will be the next topic she will write about and regardless of what it is, she glitters and gleams like Casey. There is always some issue in society that needs to be addressed and we can be pretty sure that Newman will be there to introduce them in her own inestimable way. I always seem to ruin into Leslea a couple of times each year, after all, we both live in the same state, and the next time I see her I will have glitter on somewhere and she and I, like Casey, can sparkle together.

“About Economy and Sustenance: Judaism, Society and Economics” by Aharon Ariel Lavi— Economics and Society

Lavi, Aharon Ariel. “About Economy and Sustenance: Judaism, Society and Economics”, ContentoNow, 2016.

Economics and Society

Amos Lassen

It is impossible to look at society without looking at economics since it is one of the strongest forces of said society. There is commercial activity in every purchase, sale, and commercial and even reading a book is an economic activity. Economic activity is what shapes society and we are all aware that there are many ways to manage and examine the economy through ethical decisions on cultural, social and spiritual problems. Here we learn of the contribution of the Jewish cultural world to economic thought and to understanding the structure of society. We find new answers for the most basic questions that shape economic activity and society in general as we look at questions such as “what is property? What is efficiency? What is trade? How do human beings make economic decisions, and how do these concepts dictate the relations between man and material, man and man, and man and God?”

The book is composed of articles written by different authors, of which the majority are leaders in their respective fields. With the coming together of Judaism and reality, there is much to be learned.

This is an eclectic and intellectually engaging selection of essays on Jewish thought and economic life. These theologically constructive explorations have important contributions on both methodological and substantive levels. We live in n era of looking for practical and existential approaches that came to be due to extreme forms of capitalism and collectivism. We see how the Jewish way of life, laws, philosophy, and culture have contributed to economic thinking and the way the world works. The observations that we read here are astute with deep insight. Here is a

discussion on all things financial, and the thoughts within the world “of Jewish and rabbinic literature on creating a sound economy based on empirical evidence as well as moral, Torah-values”. We see how the history of Jewish thought influences the assessment of capitalism and its alternatives. The authors explore their own distinctive arguments and ideas and do not advance a single line of argument about how Jewish thought relates to capitalism. Instead, they leave us with questions to think about and to decide if capitalism is consistent with traditional morality. The basic question is if, “the capitalist economy also be a moral economy”.

Twenty articles regarding the ways in which traditional Jewish theology can deepen our understanding of economic reality are presented and they were collected between 2007 and 2008 in Israel and translated from the original Hebrew.

The first and second sections are the sabbatical year and the “internal structure of society in light of Jewish Mysticism.” The third and final sections are detailed discussions of Halachic approaches to the business world and include topics such as interest rates, welfare, charity, and inheritance laws. We see that on the one hand “extreme capitalism” has generated rapid development at the cost of alienation and devastation of the environment while, on the other hand, we see the contrasting system of “socialism-communism” has often come together with totalitarian methods that have brought about the collapse of entire countries.