“3 GENERATIONS”— Transitioning

“3 Generations”

Transitioning

Amos Lassen

“3 GENERATIONS” is the touching story of three generations of a family living under one roof in New York as they deal with teenager Ray’s (Elle Fanning) struggles with the body assigned to him at birth and his determination to start transitioning.

Ray’s single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), must track down Ray’s biological father (Tate Donovan) to get his legal consent to allow Ray’s transition. Dolly (Susan Sarandon), Ray’s lesbian grandmother is having a hard time accepting that she now has a grandson. Each character must each confront their own identities and learn to embrace change in order to ultimately find acceptance and understanding.

Co-writer and director Gaby Dellal looks at the troubles of guardianship over a combustible teenager to fuel most of the feature’s dramatic potential. At times “3 Generations” feels aimless and confuses core issues with behavioral messiness and performance indulgence. Dellal often seems like she doesn’t know what she wants to accomplish here and this affects the film throughout.

Ray was born Ramona and he has spent the majority of his life trying to be accepted as a boy. Now at 16 years old, Ray is looking to make a permanent transition to a male, requiring a consent form signature from her mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), to begin hormone treatments. Maggie is unsure about the finality of it all, and tries to accept Ray’s urgency, but she discovers a greater problem with the form she must fill out so that things can move forward. The form requires permission from Ray’s absentee father, Craig. Her ex, who’s moved on with a new family of his own and Maggie has to deal with difficult feelings of guilt and abandonment, trying to make peace with a man who doesn’t understand the essence of Ray’s needs. Overseeing the fight is Maggie’s mother, Dolly (Susan Sarandon), who’s also confronted with transition issues when partner Frances (Linda Emond) desires a change in their living arrangement, losing Maggie as a tenant.

Ray works very hard to be a teenage boy. Ray loves skateboarding around New York City, working on music and video projects that detail his inner life, and desiring companionship, all the while feeling like an outsider. He is about to move to a new school and this frustration guides most of the movie, thus causing Ray to be unrelenting in his need to get the consent form signed, and that shows itself in his bullying Maggie into submission. There’s a fine line between adolescent activity and mean-spirited behavior, and Dellal doesn’t seem to be aware of Ray’s somewhat ways, which often bring about major outbursts and arguments. That Ray needs to complete his journey is understood, but so is Maggie’s reluctance.

The story is a tug of war between Ray and Maggie, with the mother also forced to reopen old wounds when back in Craig’s presence, reuniting with a man she ended things badly with. It is also a tiptoeing approach to the physical realities of gender reassignment.

Maggie has raised Ray independently for years. bWhen we first meet Ray, he is in a doctor’s office being informed of the changes his body will undergo once he starts testosterone treatment. With him are mother Maggie, grandmother Dolly and Dolly’s longtime partner Dodo (Linda Emond). There is no doubt of the women’s support though each of them has some misgivings. Maggie is afraid of the implications of Ray’s decision and has serious misgivings about letting go of the girl she’s raised for almost 16 years.

Fanning conveys both Ray’s absolute confidence in embracing his true self as well as the panic that it might not happen at all. 

“UKRAINE ON FIRE”— Two Viktors

“UKRAINE ON FIRE”

Two Viktors

Amos Lassen

For many, many years, the Ukraine has been   Ukraine “at the center of a tug-of-war between larger powers vying to control it for geo-political advantage” and this is still happening today.

“Ukraine on Fire” is the story of two Viktors–Viktor Yanukovych, who barely won the presidency in 2004 due to loyal ethnic support in his country, and his opposition and Viktor Yushchenko, who was the candidate supported by the U.S.  The film investigates the U.S.-backed coup that led to the overthrow of Yanukovych and uncovers the Obama Administration players who pulled the strings.

Executive producer Oliver Stone gains Through the use of on-camera interviews with not only Yanukovych, but with Russian President Vladimir Putin, we begin to wonder whether what you’ve seen in the news is the truth or rather a campaign devised by Western superpowers to rule the world. 

This documentary is the closest thing we will have to what really happened and is still happening in the Ukraine. We clearly see that a coup ‘d’état that brought down the legally and democratically elected president resulted in a civil war. We see Stalin’s actions and learn about Ukrainian nationalist organizations. Throughout the film we see the influence of the US government and intelligence agencies on the lives of people in other countries. We clearly see how the media manipulated public opinion. Further, the film explains how the situation in Ukraine can affect anyone on Earth.

“THE TAISHO TRILOGY”— Supernatural and Drama from Sieijun Suzuki

“THE TAISHO TRILOGY”

Supernatural Drama from Seijun Suzuki

Amos Lassen

“The Taishu Trilogy” is made up of three cryptic supernatural dramas set during the liberal enlightenment of Japan’s Taisho Era (1912-26). 

“Zigeunerweisen” (1980), is the story of two intellectuals and former colleagues from a military academy who involve their wives in a series of dangerous sexual games. “Kageroza” (1981), is about a playwright who is attracted to a mysterious beauty who might be a ghost and “Yumeji” (1991) imagines the real-life painter-poet Takehisa Yumeji’s encounter with a beautiful widow with a dark past. These three films are considered to be

Suzuki’s masterpieces. He gives viewers a dramatic turn from more his familiar tales of cops, gangsters and youth by his surrealistic psychological puzzles that are both exotic and erotic. They also capture the pandemonium of a bygone age of decadence and excess, when Western ideas, fashions, technologies and art were everywhere in Japanese life.

They explore familiar surrealist themes such as death, sexuality and identity and they are fantastic and bizarre and filled with amazing imagery that compliments the twisted narratives. 

SPECIAL FEATURES include:

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

– Original stereo audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray)

– Optional English subtitles

– New introductions to each film by critic Tony Rayns

– Making-of featurette

– Vintage interview with Seijun Suzuki

– Limited edition packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Corey Brickley

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring writing on the films by critic Jasper Sharp and more.”

“Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World” by Sarah Prager— A History Book for Young Adults

Prager, Sarah. “Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World”, illustrated by Zoe More O’Ferrall, HarperCollins, 2017.

A History Book for Young Adults

Amos Lassen

World history has been influenced and often made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals yet we have never heard of many of them. Sarah Prager is an LGBT activist who takes us into the lives of 23 such people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. Some of the names are familiar and there are many that we hear about here for the first time. These include a gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer, for example. Prager gives us true stories from all over the world and this basically is

the real story of the queer rights movement. I doubt that there is a queer history that is as much fun to read as this is. Prager makes thousands of years of fascinating. Prager’s research is amazing and she writes with wry irreverence.

It is important that the younger members of the LGBT community know that they are not alone and that they are following in the footsteps of agents of change who often put their lives on the line so that we can have the freedoms that we have today. I can only describe the writing as being conversational in tone as it shows us the diversity of real life and we see gender in different ways here.

 

“Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation” edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman— On the Occupation

Chabon, Michael and Ayelet Waldman (editors). “Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation”, Harper Perennial, 2017.

On the Occupation

Amos Lassen

I find that talking about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is a sure way for me to get into an argument and so I try to avoid the issue as much as I can. Authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman along with the Israel non-governmental organization Breaking the Silence (former Israeli soldiers who served in the occupied territories)and other illustrious writers to tell stories of the people in the contested territories. This essays put a human face on the situation.

Contributors include Colum McCann, Jacqueline Woodson, Colm Toibin, Geraldine Brooks, Dave Eggers, Hari Kunzru, Raja Shehadeh, Mario Vargas Llosa, Assaf Gavron, and the editors Chabon and Waldman. What we read here gives us unique insight into the narratives behind what we hear about and provide us with a deeper understanding of how those who live in occupied territories deal with.

The topic is always a difficult one for me since I served in the Israel Defense Forces and I love Israel. We are quickly approaching the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War in June and it is also the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian territories. During the last five decades there has been a great deal of violence on both sides. Former Israeli soldiers formed an organization in 2004 that allowed them to speak about what they experienced in that war. The group met author and editor Waldman in 2014 and they shared a tour of Hebron and she, along with her husband Chabon realized that something must be done to change the situation. They chose to work on storytelling and thus provide a personal view of those who face the situation every day. It was then that they invited twenty-four writers from all over the world to go to the West Bank and Gaza and then share their memories of what they saw. The stories are fascinating and the run the gamut of opinions. What we read is not only enlightening but also moving, sensitive and often infuriating. Together, these stories stand witness to the human cost of the occupation

 

 

 

 

“Nobody’s Watching”— Anonymity and Freedom, Pain and Loneliness

“Nobody’s Watching” (“NADIE NOS MIRA”)

Anonymity and Freedom, Pain and Loneliness

Amos Lassen

Nico (Guillermo Pfening) is a young Argentine actor in his mid-30s who is fighting against odds to find fame. His life and the film are about the struggle of self-imposed exile; how the pleasures of anonymity and freedom contrast with the pain of loneliness and loss that shapes immigrant experience. NICO, mid 30’s, is a young Argentine actor fighting to build a career in the US, without assistance, or connections and he is always near heart-breaking failure, but often blinded by the hope of immediate success. He left a promising acting career in Argentina after a tumultuous fight and break-up with his mentor/producer and comes to New York, believing that his talent will help him find success “on his own” and prove his self-worth. However, that’s not what he finds. He sees that he is too blond to play Latino but his accent to strong to play anything else. He realizes that he is stuck between identities: that of the successful South American actor, and temporary immigrant needing to work odd jobs and take under-the-table employment as he searches for the ever-elusive role part that will provide an adjustment of status.

In Argentina people saw him as famous and so nice that people used to take selfies with him right on the street. But now he is in the United States with an uncertain future, working as a nanny, stealing goods from stores, and keeps lying to his friends about non-stop offers he receives from well-known producers. In reality there was nothing happening.

We learn that Nico is not only running away from Argentina, but rather from a complicated relationship with Martin and from his own inability to find a balance between him and his marriage. Nico seems to be in love with Martin, but he is also in love with acting. Yet, despite having a likable look for the camera, the actor from Argentina is not so in demand in New York.

The story moves very quickly. We see him as a very anticipated viewer who went to watch a movie expecting it to be great but in the end got really disappointed. It is always interesting to know what actors do or not do while nobody is watching them but after seeing Nico’s situation, we may not want to know this ever again. What Nico does everyday is awaken to say good morning to dreams he has not yet accomplished. He bids farewell to fame and faces the uncertainty of life that not many can deal with. We learn that Nico’s character from a telenovela was put in coma in order allow the actor to embark himself on a journey towards his dreams but in reality, Nico was in coma as well until he arrives in New York. But by the time he wakes up, he will have to see the world the way it is and whether or not he does so you will learn only by seeing the film.

It is disheartening to fall from having been a much-loved actor in Argentina to being someone that no one notices in New York. With each role Nico takes on, he puts on a new persona in order to fit in. He performs the ideal bartender, the up-and-coming actor, the friend, and the father figure. But when old friends from Buenos Aires come to visit, he needs to juggle the image of his old life with the reality of the struggling actor in New York City.

Julia Solomonoff has given us a portrait of immigrant solitude. Nico faces the difficulty of finding not only a home, but himself as the film looks at how we adjust when we lose our audience. Guillermo Pfening just won the Best Actor Award at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival for his role in this film.

“Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster” by Boze Hadleigh— A Different Hollywood

Hadleigh, Boze. “Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster”, Riverdale Avenue Books, 2016.

A Different Hollywood

Amos Lassen

“Hollywood Lesbians” is a rare and no-holds-barred collection of exclusive interviews with Hollywood icons from the Golden Age of movies and TV—Dame Judith Anderson, Barbara Stanwyck, Capucine, Ann B. Davis, Nancy Kulp, Sandy Dennis, Agnes Moorehead, Edith Head, Patsy Kelly among others open the film world’s closet door into the past, and brings this volume full circle to the present with new material. We see here that a number of the most talented screen icons were lesbian, bisexual or queer. When this was first published in 1994, it was a fun read and featured interviews that Hadleigh conducted with stars and designers. In this new edition, published this past fall, Hadleigh adds chapters on Greta Garbo, Jodie Foster, Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell and he evaluates their contributions as queer women who changed their industry. There were others he wanted to interview but they would not be interviewed and many did not want to appear in print. Those who agreed to interviews were guarded if not hostile. A furious Barbara Stanwyck ended the interview and asked Hadleigh to leave her house when he speculated that her marriage to Robert Taylor was one of convenience. We see that Edith Head was intimidating and gave Hadleigh an 8-page contract with the stipulation that the interview not appear during her lifetime. Hadleigh maintains that all the women interviewed were deeply conflicted and closeted. The older generation of women just didn’t want the reality of coming out. They came from a time when Hollywood had no and they came from a time that had nothing to do with reality.” Some actors are that way even today, such as Jodie Foster. Her kind-of-coming-out at the 2013 Golden Globe Awards has been followed by silence.

Something else that hides queer women in plain sight is often their bisexuality, which is more common among Hollywood women than men, says Hadleigh. Many Hollywood biographers impose their own morality on the subjects they admire and history becomes more bent than the star in question. Hadleigh tells us regarding Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy is that we will never know if their affair was real or staged. “Tracy was a good cover for Hepburn. It has since come out that Tracy was bisexual and so chronically alcoholic he may have been impotent and not able to have sex after a certain age. Yet Hollywood made up its mind up about Hepburn. Like her role in “The Aviator” as interpreted by Cate Blanchett, we saw her as a neurotic heterosexual and not the bisexual that she actually was.

Hadleigh says that with Garbo, we know that she was basically lesbian but as to her being bisexual, we do not always know. Hadleigh feels that outing a star is not ethical or very effective. It’s much more difficult to get it out that these people were bisexual because they were so loved.

The new generation is making a difference and is so much more open about their sexuality, especially the women. As I read the interviews, I was a bit uncomfortable with the way Hadleigh seemed to want each interviewee to publicly come out and he often pushed hard. Nonetheless I have a great deal of respect for the women here.

“BUTTMITZVAH”— Oy, Gay

“Buttmitzvah”

Oy Gay

Amos Lassen

London has a queer Jewish club night that puts “Oy Gay!” into the ancient teenage Jewish ritual, Bar Mitzvah. Josh Cole, the founder, says, “I am gay and have a strong Jewish identity. I wanted to bring both together. Also, I really wanted to capture the incredibly camp and joyous elements of a Bar Mitzvah and bring people together for something incredibly inclusive. Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs [for girls] have become very over-the-top events. It’s a lot like a wedding but with a lot of 13-year olds having the party of their lives”.

A live klezmer band is on hand to accompany some traditional chair dancing. One very lucky person will even be chosen as “Buttmitzvah” boy or girl, hoisted onto a chair and presented with a ‘mildly inappropriate’ version of the Bar Mitzvah speech to read aloud.

“Buttmitzvah” is possibly also the first night to combine bagels, Barbara Streisand (or someone who looks a lot like her) and drag kings dancing to Hava Nagila.  The club is open to all and when publicized it invited ‘Jews & Non-Jews, Chosen Ones & Unchosen Ones, Boys, Chicks & Boychiks, plus all those clever enough to have transcended gender’. 

“Buttmitzvah” is a queer Jewish extravaganza and the ultimate coming of age party, combining live music, comedy, theatre, drag and chair dancing.  There is delicious kosher-style catering, a sexy shofar competition, mass chair dancing, and an exclusive round of Have I Got Jews For You. A team of professional matchmakers THE YENTAS are there to make your romantic dreams come true, and their resident Rabbis who sooth spiritual woes with Torah inspired wisdom.

For young gays like me who grew up Jewish in traditional communities, it’s easy to end up compartmentalizing each aspect of one’s self. There’s little to no crossover between the gay and the Jew.

I have always felt that the best part of being Jewish is the sense of community, and the same can be said for being gay—but these rarely come together. “Buttmitzvah” means to change that.

“MEMORIES OF THE EICHMANN TRIAL”— From Testimony to Truth

“Memories of the Eichmann Trial”

From Testimony to Proof

Amos Lassen

David Perlov’s hour-long documentary film, “Memories of the Eichmann Trial” captures how a formative event in Israeli history continues to shape the Israeli experience. Perlov approaches the trial not as a formative event that brought the story of the Holocaust into Israeli consciousness, but as a formative event that turned into a memory itself and this memory continues to influence the Israeli experience and shape its development to this very day.

In a scene about the establishment of Holocaust memory, Perlov asks photographer Henryk Ross (whose photos are now on display at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts) to describe how he was able to secretly take dozens of photos of life in the Lodz Ghetto, where he and his wife Stefania (who is also interviewed in the film) lived. We see Ross wearing a hat, and wrapped in a coat and scarf, which hide the camera he is holding underneath. He shows how he quickly drew the camera from behind an opening in the coat, shot the picture, and with the same haste returned the camera to its hiding place.

This reenactment of how he documented a reality that became a memory of both presence and absence is one of the most beautiful, moving and significant moments in the history of film.

Rafi Eitan, who ran the operation that led to the capture of Eichmann, is the first person interviewed in the film and we see him leafing through a series of photos of Eichmann who was inside his glass booth during the trial. Eitan sat beside Eichmann (who under a blanket in the back seat of a car) after his capture and had even visited the former Nazi in his jail cell. Eitan looks at the photos tranquilly, almost with a smile.

In one of the pictures, Eichmann is seen in his jail cell, wearing house slippers, leaning back in his bed and examining some kind of document. In a second photo, his naked back is to the viewer as he washes himself at the sink in the cell. Moving to the end of the movie, we are told that Ross never took another photograph after he was released from the Lodz Ghetto. The film ends with a series of photos of a young, smiling Stefania Ross, accompanied by an argument between her husband and Perlov playing on the sound track. The two immigrants both speak Hebrew with heavy accents, each according to the country of his birth.

The banality of evil has itself become a banality. A recent biography of Otto Adolf Eichmann by Bettina Stangneth has rekindled the debate over Hannah Arendt’s portrait of the Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer, logistician, and executor of the Final Solution as an apathetic, bureaucratic functionary “who never realized what he was doing.” Perlov’s gives us reminiscences by trial witnesses, Holocaust survivors, Israelis of the second generation, and others who were directly involved in the Eichmann case. Perlov is considered the father of Israeli nonfiction cinema, having given it his deeply personal, artistic sensibility. This is what makes this film so striking and unforgettable.

“THE CONSTITUTION”— Four Neighbors

“The Constitution”

Four Neighbors

Amos Lassen

“The Constitution’ is set in contemporary Zagreb in a large apartment building which has seen better times. Living there are four people who have been neighbors for several years, but have been careful to remain complete strangers to each other.

Vjeko (Nebojsa Glogovac) is in his fifties and is a Croatian teacher who has been ostracized and ridiculed because he is gay. His only respite comes when he wears his favorite and remembers the good times he spent with his late fiancé, who died a premature, painful death. His father, who was once a high-ranking Ustasha (a neo-Nazi group) officer during the Second World War, has never accepted his homosexuality and has worn his son down yet, Vjeko now looks after him, reminding him of all the hardships he put him through while growing up.

One night, as Vjeko walks the streets of Zagreb as Katarina, he is attacked by a pack of haters and is taken to the hospital, where he is welcomed by his neighbor, Maja (Ksenija Marinkovic). She not only helps him to recover from the beating but also replaces him as a caretaker for his father, who is laid up in bed after having endured an above-the-knee amputation to both legs. As a thank-you, Vjeko agrees to read the Croatian constitution to her dyslexic husband, Ante (Dejan Acimovic), who needs to pass an exam in order to keep his job as a police officer. Since Vjeko is Croatian, he is prejudiced against Ante because of his Serbian origins, but as the two get to know one another, they both gradually learn the true meaning of the Croatian constitution.

“The Constitution” explores a series of social, political and ethnic issues still unresolved in the former Yugoslav territories. Vjeko is a plucky, finicky teacher and a kind friend, but he has spent his life pretending to be someone that he is not because he has been afraid of being physically persecuted and stigmatized. This has made him quite bitter. Ante and Maja are a couple who are low on cash and are trying to get all of the permissions they need to adopt a child. Our four characters all live in the same building, but share very different backgrounds and takes on life and this is a wonderful metaphor for modern-day Croatia. At the core of the film we find hubris and prejudice and we see these as the main causes of a society that was founded on wrath and hatred. Even the nicest people fall victim and harass and oppress good people.

Writer-director Rajko Grlic shows us a slice of Croatian society without didacticism. Now what is really unique here is that Vjeko is not just openly gay but he shares his father’s extreme right wing and Ante is really offended by his bigotry. When he finds that nothing has officially been done about the attack, he takes it upon himself to investigate and bring the guilty persons to justice  to prove that all Serbs are simply not as bad as charged. 

At just about the same time, a local psychopath who has been planting dog sausages with glass in them all over town and Ante is worried about his pet dog which is his child substitute.

We also see that the anger and hatred directed at ethnic Serbs seem to be worse than the physical violence against members of the LGBT community. The cast is extremely talented and the actors do an excellent job portraying the resentment that seems like it will never stop completely even if the fighting has ceased.  This is a subtle and totally compelling film.