“BRAMADERO”— Watching Two Men

bramadero poster

“Bramadero “

Watching Two Men

Amos Lassen

Mexican Director Julian Hernandez’s short film “Bramadero” is about two men who meet at a half-completed building. Without words they fight, find love, have extremely explicit sex and dance. We see actual ex going on here in this film that is part performance piece. I had the impression that everything has great meaning but I have no idea what that is. This is a silent film that is totally ambiguous but beautiful to watch.

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One of the men admits that he is gay and there is an awkward silent with the other man having gay sex yet remaining in the closet and ultimately feeling guilty about what he has done. The ending is a shocker.

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I felt like a voyeur peeking at an intimate moment between two strangers at a construction high-rise somewhere in Mexico. The interaction between two exotically handsome men in their twenties is filmed so that it captures the essence of sexuality as they apprehensively explore their sexual prowess for one another. It is quite bold and allows the audience to visually experience the two men’s guarded lust for each other without being apologetic. Hernandez manages to maintain the sensual and erotic exchange between the two actors by arcing around his subjects and capturing sensitively the intense moments of their sexual exploration.

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Aside from the attempt at including violence in this, the film’s message of sexual intrigue, remorse and self-hatred was captured effectively. Hernandez achieved this by keeping it simple, real and believable and graphically honest.

“SEX IS…”— Fifteen Men

sex is...

“Sex Is…”

Fifteen Men

Amos Lassen

Marc Huestis brings us interviews with 15 men, including himself, around a set of topics starting with “what is sex?” The film was made in 1993 so it is quite dated but interesting nonetheless. men are gay, living in or near San Francisco. They talk about their first sexual experiences, the gay scene in San Francisco in the late 1970s, the pall cast by AIDS, the safe-sex movement, getting into serious relationships, the illness and death of partners, pornography, S/M and pain, race and stereotypes, personal fantasies, and bliss. Huestis has a thesis, that sex is going to be with us, so how best do we embrace it? There are 15 subjects, archival footage, clips from porn films, and looks at men loving men.

When it was released, the film was met with popular and critical acclaim throughout the U.S. and abroad and it placed amongst the top 5 grossing documentaries of 1993, according to Variety. Many claimed to never having seen anything like it before. It is “explicit but not pornographic, blunt but not titillating, this is unapologetic in its discussion of the often poignant reactions and adjustments to the AIDS crisis.”

Director Marc Huestis on the set of his film - Sex Is, February 8, 1992

Through graphic footage and surprisingly candid interviews, the film covers a range of gay male experiences from “monogamous bliss to bath house orgies” but it also takes a risk of getting stuck on director Mark Huestis’ fascination with S&M technology. It also takes a stand in defense of life over death as it offers a vivid chronicle of gay life before and after the virus.

This documentary covers the whole fascinating spectrum of what sex means in gay society. It looks at the issues of race, religion, monogamy/promiscuity, love, friendship, community, gender identity, “coming out, coming of age, coming…(!). We see the dichotomies of different stories as it weaves a whole patchwork of the makings of a community from the personal to the political. What makes the commentary interesting is not only its diversity but that each commentator tells us about some piece of ourselves. By including people of all ages, we learn something of our history (something which the current generation seems to be interested in forgetting).

Occasionally throughout we get clips of grainy gay porn and the men interviewed hold nothing back. The language and sexual talk is frank. Watching it today, I see that it has lost its shock value but it is still a fascinating film.

“DODIE AND CHERYL GET HITCHED”— Getting Married

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“Dodie & Cheryl Get Hitched”

Getting Married

 Dodie Pickerling, a bowling alley manager, and Cheryl Shook, a second grade teacher, are two small town Midwest middle-aged lesbians who’ve been together forever and lead a quiet modest life, accepted by the community because they keep their relationship to themselves. Dodie is fine with this arrangement, but after they attend a neighbor’s shotgun wedding, Cheryl finds herself longing for more. She wants to count too. When she’s denied hospital access to Dodie after a bad allergic run-in with a nut, Cheryl decides to dig out an old rainbow flag and boldly swaps it out with their Cincinnati Reds porch banner”.

“As soon as the town realizes what it represents, the shit hits the fan. “DIKES” is spray painted across the girls’ garage (yeah – the offenders don’t spell so good…) Carried away with emotion, Dodie proposes to her lady friend in front of the small crowd gathered on their lawn. Cheryl is euphoric, but as the wedding plans get underway, Dodie’s enthusiasm wanes. Resentment quickly builds between the two, coupled with the community’s overtly anti gay sentiments. An ugly surge of hypocrisy questions if these supposed god-fearing folks are as righteous as they’d like to believe. Told in the vein of both John Waters and John Hughes, “Dodie & Cheryl Get Hitched” questions if the girls’ union will survive, and why they’d even want to be part of such a fucked up institution in the first place??”

“Director Coley Sohn (Sassy Pants) says the film, “is my ode to all the ugly heads that are rearing [against gay people and mariage equality] and also the ones that are buried in the sand. This ain’t no schmaltzy feel good Katherine Heigl rom com. Not that there’s anything wrong with those… It’s a funny, sometimes dark and disturbing look at an institution that gay or straight, is pretty fucked up to begin with.”

“MERCE”— Living with HIV (Musically)

merce

“MERCE”

Living with HIV (Musically)

Amos Lassen

We do not usually think of musical comedy when we think about a man living with HIV, but the reality is there’s no good reason why we should not. The people who made “Merce” did just that.

‘Being single, middle-aged and HIV+ in New York City isn’t always easy, but Merce couldn’t be happier!”  Merce follows the adventures of an HIV+ guy who sings and dances his way through life in search of self-acceptance and true love. Three gay guy fairies appear to him in musical fantasy sequences, as does his mother (on a webcam) and he has his best girl friend with him, and we see that he is going to be just fine. We see that life can be good even when someone is HIV positive.

“Merce” is the creation of openly gay, HIV+ writer/performer Charles Sanchez, who was inspired by the rich lives and bright spirits of people living with HIV today. He says, “One of my biggest gripes about any HIV movie or TV show is that it’s always tragic, always about 30 years ago when we were in the midst of the crisis. No one is really writing about what it’s like to have HIV today. Merce is a modern HIV story. There is an amazing negative stigma attached to HIV, and it’s outdated. It’s unbelievable how the mention of HIV can still invoke fear in people, and the reality is that it’s no longer the death sentence it was 20 or 30 years ago. It’s considered a manageable, chronic condition, and although it’s still serious, it’s totally possible to live a full, complete, healthy, sexy, fun life while managing HIV. I made the show a comedy because comedy is the best way to show truth, and is a great way to change people’s perceptions. Funny, like music or love, is an international language.”

“SISTERS OF THE PLAGUE”— A New Orleans Ghost Story

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“SISTERS OF THE PLAGUE”

A New Orleans Ghost Story

Amos Lassen

Jo (Josephine Decker) is the star of first time director Jorge Torres-Torres’s sinister New Orleans ghost story. She is a haunted house guide (and having grown up in New Orleans, I can tell you that the haunted house tours are very popular) whose sensitivity to spirits takes a dark turn when her sickly father visits the home she shares with her girlfriend, Kate (Isolde Chae-Lawrence). Feeling a sense of evil, Jo seeks the help of a medium’s help who warns her that she is facing a vengeful power beyond her control.

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Jo has been dealing with the occult practices in an effort to understand the untimely death of her mother. Jo’s New Orleans tours are a pastime for her to deal with the confusion over that death. When her infirm, alcoholic father Bob (Thomas Francis Murphy) moves in, she hopes to get some more definitive information from him about her mom. At the same time, she’s beginning to experience strange visions and waking nightmares and she finds these to be intriguing even though they disturb Kate.

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The physic tells her that she is in far more danger than she suspects and that there are emerging malevolent forces surrounding her. She is warned not to continue trying to access the spiritual realm but Jo insists on pursuing her makeshift occult activities. After meeting two self-described “witches” that leads to terrifying consequences, Jo again seeks out the  psychic, but a cleansing ritual only seems to intensify her disconnection from reality, as she withdraws from Kate in a frantic attempt to protect herself. I really wanted to love this movie because of my ties to New Orleans but it did not happen.

“SONG OF THE LOON”— Coming to Terms with Sexual Orientation

song of the loon

“Song of the Loon”

Coming to Terms with Sexual Orientation

Amos Lassen

I will never forget seeing “Song of the Loon” when it came out in 1970 because it made me feel my life had been validated. The film is based on Richard Amory’s 1966 novel of the same name and set in the mountains of California in the 1870s. An old mountain man, Calvin (Brad Fredericks), tells how he lost his lover, Royce (Ephraim MacIver), who was upset about the way other homosexuals kept changing partners. The young man went to see an Indian medicine man who told him that it was all right to have more than one lover. His mind at ease, Royce moved on to find others with whom to share his love, leaving Calvin alone in the mountains. For its time this was an excellent film about a man coming to terms with his sexual orientation.

The scenery is real and while the acting is the kind we see in “B” movies, it still tells its story with an honesty that was not found in American films until the late 1980’s. There is full-frontal male nudity and the film is erotic but is not pornographic.

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This film is available today but you have to search of it. If you do see it, it is wise to read the book first. Some of the actions in the movie are explained in the book so it makes better sense. If you watch this movie understanding when it was made and the attitude toward gay books and movies, it is amazing it was made at all. This is a love story about several men and shows the problems the characters had in the story still exist today.

Cyrus Wheelwright realizes he’s gay but has trouble coming to grips with it because of his ex. For its time this was groundbreaking. It’s probably the first gay coming of age story caught on film.. The script is interesting–some of the talks about men loving men are fascinating (for its time). There is a beautiful fireside talk between Ephraum and Cyrus leading to a tender kiss. The two sex scenes show absolutely nothing that could be considered hard core.

This is what came to be known as a ‘coming out drama’. The drama is played as an allegory, with the Loon standing in for the out gay man and the villains of the piece. “Song of the Loon” intersperses narrative with montage sequences, the latter mostly involving soft-core episodes of lovemaking. The film was clearly made on a low budget; much of the editing and all of the acting is fair but he film is very earnest – there is hardly a moment of humor in the entire running time. “As a cultural and historical document of the time it was made, replete with coy eroticism, free-love preachiness and enlightenment through hallucinatory vision-quests, this has considerable value”.

“COMING OUT”– A Stinker

coming out

“COMING OUT”

A Stinker

Amos Lassen

There is nothing remotely funny about ”Coming Out”, the story of a gay man who gets knocked over by a motorcyclist, becomes straight, gets hit on the head by a thug, goes gay and straight and pretends that he is a gay/straight set of twins, cleverly wearing heterosexual glasses, etc., etc., etc.

Erik is an openly gay radio personality with one of the top-rated talk shows in Hungary and is one of the most celebrated and successful members of the community. He is waiting to be elected the next President of Hungary’s leading gay rights organization and is also about to marry Balázs his partner of 5 years. Everything in his life was perfect until… he gets knocked down by a motorcyclist and wakes up in  hospital to discover that the biker is not only a woman, but she is also the Doctor who is looking after to him.  He discovers that the knock on his head has turned him completely straight. He forgets he has a hot loving partner and begins ogling women’s breasts and even getting an erection when he looks at a nudie magazine.

This is nothing more than Hungarian propaganda with the message that being gay is just another illness that can be cured. It is probably one of the worst pieces of crap to come out of the old Eastern Block of Countries for a very long time.  I understand that was funded for $1.25 million by the new right wing Christian government of President Orban for the purpose of making a family movie that would appeal to a majority conservative audience.  What is so sad is that it worked, and has become a major box-office hit domestically. And just to be sure that his becoming straight is not just a fluke, Erik

falls in love with the Doctor and replaces his lover with her. Save your money.

“Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times” by Anne C. Heller— A Woman of Contradictions

Hannah arendt a life

Heller, Anne C. “Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times”, (Icons), 2015.

A Woman of Contradictions

Amos Lassen

Hannah Arendt was one an intellectual and one of “the most gifted and provocative voices of her era” but she was also “a polarizing cultural theorist”. Many saw her as a visionary while other saw her as a poseur and a fraud. Arendt was born in Prussia to assimilated Jewish parents. She escaped from Hitler’s Germany in 1933 and is now perhaps best remembered for the controversy after the publication of her 1963 New Yorker series on the trial of the kidnapped Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Nonetheless, her seminal “The Origins of Totalitarianism” remains one of the most influential texts that is still used on college campuses today.

She was a woman of many contradictions. She was brilliant, beautiful when young, and men found her irresistible. She began writing in English at the age of thirty-six, and yet her first book on totalitarianism changed the way generations of Americans and Europeans viewed fascism and genocide. Her most famous and most divisive work, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” caused controversy that continues to do so even today and the fact that it was discovered after she died that

she had been the lover of the great romantic philosopher and Nazi sympathizer Martin Heidegger provided even more controversy. Anne C. Heller, in this new biography, looks at the source of Arendt’s apparent contradictions and her greatest achievements and follows the thought of the time to see why she was considered by some to be, what she called, a “conscious pariah”. She did not “lose confidence in ourselves if society does not approve us” and will not “pay any price” to gain the acceptance of others. She will always be remembered as an individual who marched to her own drummer.

 This is an excellent introduction to her writings; as well as an extremely readable description of her lifetime. The book begins with an introduction to her writings about the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. She saw Eichmann as a normal person who was basically stupid, and who never had a thought of his own.

“DRAG KING”—Documenting the Transformation

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“DRAG KING”

Documenting the Transformation

Amos Lassen

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In honor of International Drag Day director Ben Churchill has released his short documentary Drag King this week, documenting the oftentimes overshadowed art of drag kings. In the film we watch as drag king artist Mady G.  explores her motivations for her performance art along “with an examination of her techniques, including an interesting segment regarding “packing,” on how she transitions into her masculine persona”.

“THE CHAMBERMAID”— Intense Fetishism

the chambermaid

“The Chambermaid” (“Das Zimmermädchen Lynn”)

Intense Fetishism

Amos Lassen

Lynn (Vicky Krieps) is a chambermaid in a hotel and probably one of the dullest people around. She has sex with her boss mechanically and clinically when he needs sex and together they are not a pretty picture. Then there is the fact that she likes to spy on the hotel guests…by hiding under their beds as they go about their daily business. While she is creepy, she is also dumb. But something is about to change.

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Ingo Haeb’s bringing together an obsessive-compulsive chambermaid and an androgynous dominatrix is liberating for Lynn. I have seen several films with fetishes within them but nothing that is played with such intense attention to detail as this. It is obvious that Haeb does not try to draw viewers into his heroine’s point of view— he simply observes her strange behavior, with a remarkable lack of prurience or judgment, as Lynn explores the private minutiae of other people’s lives.  Cleaning is less of a job for shy, unprepossessing Lynn than a true vocation since her all-consuming passion is living through others. She rarely interacts with others, yet is endlessly curious about how others live, inspecting their habits with a strange kind of interest generally reserved for other species. Yet, she tries on their clothes (men’s as well as women’s), examines the pictures in their wallets and reads the inscriptions on their rings and she even hides beneath their beds to observe them unseen.

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One day, Lynn watches an exchange between a hotel guest and a prostitute, her floor-level vantage point shows a woman’s black stockings and stiletto heels, which run up and down the man’s bare leg before pressing down hard into his unprotected foot. Intrigued and excited by what she has glimpsed, Lynn hires the woman, the dominatrix Chiara (Lena Lauzemis), to visit her at home.

What follows has less to do with Sade/masochism than with a slow, careful initiation into intimacy. Chiara seems to know just how to gently nudge her client into accepting, then welcoming, her touch and soon their sex-for-hire transactions become something deeper with their lovemaking becoming a unique blend of force and tenderness. Lynn learns to interact directly with another human being while Chiara discovers a genuine liking for her pupil. Chiara finds Lynn’s strictly regimented routine amusing and Lynn is bemused by the lack of structure in Chiara’s freelance lifestyle.

The two actresses complement each other physically as well as psychologically. At first, Lynn’s old-fashioned hairstyle and mousy appearance is in contrast dramatically with Chiara’s blonde coif and leather ensembles. Chiara’s attraction to Lynn leaves her more vulnerable until Lynn gains a level of parity.

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Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps gives a terrific performance as Lynn and I am sure she will be mentioned around award time. This is the story of a mind numbing yet comforting routine of a mousy hotel cleaner that becomes upset when she finds herself hiding underneath the bed of a guest during a session of light BDSM.

It’s clear that Lynn’s sexual relationship with her boss is nothing more than a business transaction entirely devoid of any feelings. She feels that as long as she can stay busy, she is useful and has a sense of self-worth.

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We see Lynn as someone who needs to cling to what she knows in order to at least feel safe, though routines, places and objects initially seem preferable to people. However, as the film progresses and Lynn is seen handling guests’ objects and then secretly begins to spy on them in their rooms, it slowly becomes clear that she’s starting to find other people fascinating.

Through Chiara, Lynn learns that pain doesn’t necessarily have to be negative and that intimacy can happen in a context that’s a lot more controlled than in real life.