“Kathleen and Frank: The Autobiography of a Family” by Christopher Isherwood— Parents and Son

kathleen and frank

Isherwood, Christopher. “Kathleen and Frank: The Autobiography of a Family”, FSG Classics reprint, 2015.

Parents and Son

Amos Lassen

“Kathleen and Frank” is one of Christopher Isherwood’s pivotal books in that it tells as much about him as it does about his parents. Christopher Isherwood’s parents met in 1895 and were married in 1903 after his father had returned from the Boer War. His father was killed in an assault on Ypres in 1915, which left his mother a widow until her own death in 1960. This book is a family memoir as well as a social history of a period of striking change. Isherwood paints a portrait of the world that shaped him and that he rejected. The story is told through Kathleen’s diaries and Frank’s letters. Their courtship was long and it went against the wishers of Kathleen’s father.

This is the true story about the author’s parents— a detailed account of their prolonged courtship that went against the wishes of Kathleen’s father. Frank was quite a man who managed to see beauty wherever he was. He was a lover of art and literature as was Kathleen. Perhaps their close ‘friendship’ and mutual interest in literature and art was what stopped them from becoming intimate much sooner. Kathleen’s father was only concerned with his future son-in-law’s finances. He felt that Frank would never be good enough for his daughter and he made sure that Frank was aware of this, often.

In Kathleen, Frank had met his match. She was a strong willed woman with defined and well-informed views of the world around her. Isherwood shares his words in-between the diary entries and the letters. He analyzes the meaning behind the correspondence and adds his own well-informed perspective on the situation and he does so with great refinement and nuance. What we get are three distinct narratives that work together extremely well and pull us into the lives of Frank and Kathleen.

The historical aspects of the story are wonderful—it was a time of great change and here we read about that as the love story grows. Christopher Isherwood’s contentious relations with his mother are here and Isherwood analyzes this with every detail. I was led to wonder what if Frank had not died in battle and I wonder if the relationship with all of its intensity would have lasted. Below are a couple of blurbs from when the book was first published:

“Shows a deeper understanding of much that he had once rebelled against.” ―The Guardian

“A moving account of his parents’ marriage based on their letters and diaries.” ―The Independent

“A social history of the first half of the twentieth century and a study of artistic megalomania . . . Christopher writes about Christopher with fine, clear, cool precision.” ―The Spectator

“Joy Ride: Show People and Their Shows” by John Lahr— Sharing the “New Yorker”

joy ride

Lahr, John. , W.W. Norton, 2015.

Sharing “The New Yorker”

Amos Lassen”

“Joy Ride” is a collection of John Lahr’s “New Yorker” profiles and reviews and when read together we get a history of the modern theatre. John Lahr introduces us to the mainstays of contemporary American and English drama through people like Arthur Miller, Tony Kushner, Wallace Shawn, Harold Pinter, David Rabe, David Mamet, Mike Nichols, and August Wilson. We learn of the writing process that playwrights go through and we learn of how they once lived as compared to how they live now. By juxtaposing biographical information with critical analysis, we get a different view at those who keep drama alive. Many not only wrote plays but also brought about stage worlds through their creations.

In its juxtaposition of biographical detail and critical analysis, “Joy Ride explores with insight and panache not only the lives of the theatricals but also the liveliness of the stage worlds they have created. Lahr relates this in a way that it sounds like gossip and he is a witty and opinionated writer. We become very aware of his passion for the theater.

What makes this an important book is that while what is here is charming and fun to read, Lahr wrote it all with perception, insight and love. It is both an entertaining and educative read that reminds us just what theater can be—exciting, historical and vivid. Not only is Lahr enthusiastic; he is also analytical and extremely perceptive. His subjects are playwrights and directors and we sense the affection that he holds for them. We come to see Lahr as not just a critic but a confidant as well. I am amazed that he even had the time to put this together after having published his massive biography of Tennessee Williams just last year.

It is one thing to be a critic and it is something else to be thoughtful and this is where John Lahr excels. This is a big book with its 500 plus pages yet every page has importance. He tells us that it is his job to keep theater in the news; in the public discourse and this is what we see in this book.

“SWORN VIRGIN” (“Vergine giurata”)— Life in Albania

sworn poster

“SWORN VIRGIN” (“Vergine giurata”)

Life in Albania

Amos Lassen

Hana Doda is but a girl but she is well aware of what awaits her soon enough and so she runs away from being a wife and servant. This is what is expected of women in the mountains of Albania. First she appeals to the law of the Kanun and swears her virginity forever thus becoming a sworn virgin. She becomes a man, takes up a rifle and becomes Mark Doda. In exchange for this, she is allowed to be considered as one of the guys. What this means is that she must rebel what had been her fate as a female and she must also reject every kind of love. This later becomes a prison for her. She spent some ten years in the mountains as a man and this has made her hard and brutish. She has had to work hard but something has happened to her and she decides to change life and painstakingly regain her body. She knows that leaving the mountains is the price she will have to pay to be able to do so.

sworn virgin

Director Laura Bispuri’s first feature film looks at one woman’s struggle to escape the confinement of a strict patriarchal society by making a radical choice. While still a teen, Hana uses an old Albanian law, which allows women who take an oath of eternal virginity and this gives the opportunity to enjoy the entitlements of the patriarchy and live freely as a man. These are known as sworn virgins.


When Mark leaves the mountains of Albania to visit his sister in Italy, he begins to explore his lost femininity and newly awakened sexuality. Actress Alba Rohrwacher as both Hana and Mark gives a wonderful performance. The film uses the themes of femininity, gender dynamics, identity and freedom.


The film is set in Albania where female-to-male gender transition is a tradition. The audience is left to piece together the specifics of Albania’s “burrnesha” (sworn virgin) tradition through observation and implication before the practice is discussed more directly about halfway through. The film does not give explicit judgment on a custom born out of more problematically ingrained sexism; the script’s perspective is more anthropological than political.


Hana has lived for some thirty years as Marc and has had the right to drink alcohol and carry a rifle. Meanwhile, the memory of her estranged sister, Lila (Flonja Kodheli), who escaped to urban Italy 14 years ago for a conventional heterosexual marriage, is a constant what-if reminder of a path not taken. Leaving home for the first time, Hana falls on the mercy of, whose teenage daughter, Jonida (Emily Ferratello), is particularly wary of this unannounced (and evidently never explained) family arrival.

The two sisters’ reunion encourages Hana to tentatively pursue a reversal of her vows even though her sexual inquiries aren’t really answered. Through flashbacks we see the sisters’ unhappy adolescence in the village, shedding light on the oppressive circumstances that drove each young woman to an alternate identity of sorts. We watch the gradual dismantling of Hana’s masculine alter ego as Marc.


Undoubtedly there will be viewers who feel that Hana’s rejection of transgender life is an endorsement of traditional gender definitions even though her choice came about because of a system of forced gender inequality. Rohrwacher carefully plays Hana/Mike as a person who never seems quite comfortable in either skin. The film shows us the journey back from the decision and it does so with caution.

Bispuri cuts between the past and present building each carefully to a crescendo giving us abalanced look at a rarely seen social practice and this is underscored by a powerful central performance.


In these remote communities like the mountains of Albania, men are the dominant sex and women are expected to bow their heads and place themselves second in every situation. The only way for a girl to obtain a man’s freedom is to permanently renounce her femininity and to swear never to have sex, in a creepy ceremony in front of the stone-faced men of the village.

“SNERVOUS TYLER OAKLEY” — Tyler Oakley’s Version of “Truth or Dare”


“Snervous Tyler Oakley”

Tyler Oakley’s Version of “Truth or Dare”

Amos Lassen

Tyler Oakley has more than 7.7 million subscribers to his YouTube channel and now he has made a documentary film that goes behind the scenes of his Slumber Party Tour (in which he takes the stage in various onesies). The film looks at his family life and the work that goes on to create his YouTube channel, along with his LGBT advocacy. We hear from his mother and father here who react to his fame and his sexual orientation.

Oakley’s mother and father weigh in on his sexual orientation and his fame as well.The film was directed by Amy Rice and it offers a more intimate look at Oakley than what you’ll find on his YouTube channel. The film will have a limited theatrical release on December 11 and will also be online


Three New Films to Watch For:


“Unconditional” by actor turned director Kent Igleheart is a touching story of Bradley a black gay teenager who is literally thrown out on to the streets of Atlanta one cold Thanksgiving Day by his deeply religious family who refuse to accept his sexuality. It’s a known fact that kids like him have 48 hours in these situations before they start the spiral downhill.   The question is, will Bradley manage to survive and come through?  

rule of thumb 1“Rule of Thumb”  from Israeli filmmaker Almog Gurevich tackles an aspect of gay life that is rarely talked about.  It is the story of a young man who moves out of his parent’s home to navigate his new found sexual freedom in Tel Aviv’s gay scene.  Life however is not so great on his own as his struggle with bulimia starts to ruin everything for him.




“Nerdesin Askim?” (“Where Are You My Love?”) is a tragic tale that reflects how tough life still is for transgenders in Turkey which has one the highest hate crime records against LGBT people in the whole of Europe.

“STRAIGHT BOYS GAY BOYS 4: MADE FOR EACH OTHER”— A New Installment in the Popular Toby Ross Series


“Straight Boys Gay Boys 4 – Made for Each Other”

A New Installment of the Popular Series

Amos Lassen

The word is out about Toby Ross’s new film, the fourth in his “Straight Boys Gay Boys series. This one is made up of four short films.

One is about Mr. Clean, a house cleaner who is hired by a lady with a sexy boyfriend. The woman had to visit family back east and Mr. Clean is being bossed around by the domineering boyfriend. The second is about an American pilot shot over Syria and subjected to a brutal humiliating and sexual degradation as his sexy captor whips his naked body. The third film is about Julio, a cute exchange student from Brazil who is spending his first night in America. As bad weather brings thunder and storms, Julio asks permission from his sponsor (who just happens to be a hot male in his 40’s) to get in bed with him as his older son watches. The fourth short is about two young lovers experimenting in pushing the limits of their already precarious relationship.

If you are familiar with Toby Ross, you know that you will meet some hot men here as well as exciting nudity. If you do not know Ross’s film, here is a good place to start.

“NO HOME MOVIE”— Mother and Daughter


“No Home Movie”

Mother and Daughter

Amos Lassen

Chantal Akerman’s “No Home Movie” places her mother in the center, but the real star is death. We sense it omnisciently throughout the film making itself felt more acutely in the sad light of the filmmaker’s recent presumed suicide just days before she was scheduled to present this film at the New York Film Festival. We are reminded while we are connected by love and memories, death silently waits to swallow us all. Akerman mixed calm, sadness, and onscreen suffering making the response to death almost more than we are able to bear.

no home1a

Akerman was known for her use of the long shot filmed conversations with her quite elderly mother, Natalia. She filmed her conversations with her elderly mother in her mother’s Brussels apartment. She also recorded their chats over Skype. She said she did so to prove that there is no distance in today’s world. However, there is distance and we see this when Akerman cuts from interiors to a series of exterior shots whose emptiness and desolation contrast with the interiors’ intimacy. The pull between inside and outside is filled with extreme tension.


When the two are together in the apartment, we see a poignant connection and their small talk and deeper reminiscences are absorbing. We see Natalia Akerman as a dignified, kind woman, inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt, affectionate not just with her kin but with the caretakers who attend to her needs, and always respectful of her daughter’s high spirits and intelligence. Madame Akerman has been marked by death; she and her husband survived the Holocaust, but just barely, and that brush with fate seems to have given her a sturdy, philosophical outlook on life.

no home2a

The camera films Madame Akerman’s home and possessions and this gives us a nonverbal sense of who she as we see her intensely observed personal environment. This seems to have something to say about whether we exist or not. Madame Akerman clings to life, daily taking her all-important walks. When she leaves the apartment, the camera stays focused in the temporarily and we know that it will eventually be empty for good for Natalia. As she fades, we feel broken hearted. At one point, she nods off to sleep in a chair and Akerman and her sister try to keep her awake and engaged with humor and baby talk. She struggles to respond, but we can see she is just not totally. The daughters’ attempts to reach her and even though we know that they mean well, they instead come across as cruel, well-meaning as they are, seem almost cruel. There are some of the cruelties of life in the exterior shots. The camera pans over the gray Israeli desert out of a car window, first steadily and then jerks back and forth, creating a mood of desperate flight.

no home movie

It is clear why Akerman was such a polarizing artist in her long career. These scenes feel like guilt, or punishment. Near the end of the film, water appears on the screen with Akerman’s silhouette reflected on its surface. The water moves calmly and this is in contrast to Chantal Akerman’s suicide. We hope that she felt some calm and beauty in those few moments.

The film is Akerman’s unsentimental love letter to, her recently deceased mother. The camera is focused on Natalia as she moves around her apartment. Instead of pairing words with images, Akerman often rests her camera in Natalia’s apartment, to record epitomizing moments or even conventionally meaningful revelations. Natalia is simply there and oblivious to being filmed. The film is a chronicle of Natalia’s gradual deterioration and eventual off-screen death.

no home movie1

The film begins in a desert where wind fiercely blows at the one solitary tree there. We see its strength and whatever enters the wind’s path is forced into a vortex from which there is no escape and no exit. The tree is a symbol of Natalia’s life, both in Brussels and in Auschwitz. Like the tree, Natalia bends but she does not break. Akerman’s initial instance of isolation becomes a visual leitmotif and the film shows other examples of iterations of singular personages— a man on a bench or a lawn chair in the backyard and they become functional equivalents for Natalia’s disintegrating self. Akerman presents no definition of her mother nor does she gives us biographical details. This is not an eulogy for Natalia and Akerman dignifies her mother by presenting her as a fresh idea.

When Akerman is at home with her mother, she prompts several discussions, including Natalia’s recollections of her own parents, studying Hebrew prayers, and Akerman’s being pulled out of Hebrew school by her father, who wanted to leave orthodox Judaism. Their talks persistently move toward religion and ideology. At dinner she how her father was “a bit of a socialist,” and debates with her mother the leanings of those in power during World War II, which forced the family’s immigration to Sweden. The camera holds them and we get a sense of being removed from Akerman’s directorial hand, as if these moments simply came into being by accident.

no home3

As discussions are about ethnicity and politics, we go back to the opening of the desert. There is a strong sense of desire for movement away from a place but no matter, death is on the horizon. Natalia dies and soon after so does Akerman.
Akerman has had a nomadic career that comprehensively grapples with an existential division between self and place. Her drama centers around a lack of temporal continuity—a consistently faulty and unreliable immediacy. This film is not a time capsule and neither is it an attempt to actually capture anything. For Akerman, there can be no home, there can be no movie, and there certainly cannot be a combination of the two, since it would constitute a flagrant disavowal of the catastrophic realities created by manmade transgression. Natalia who was a witness to the horrors at Auschwitz, silently carries them with her with in every lasting step and breath.

no home movie2

The film feels very much like a montage of home movies randomly coming together but brilliantly so.

“Inside Time” by Rabbi Yanki Tauber— The Soul of Time

inside time cover1

Tauber, Rabbi Yanki. “Inside Time”, Meaningful Life Center, 2015.

The Soul of Time

Amos Lassen

Time is one of the great mysteries of the world—it has a soul and for the Jewish religion that soul is directly tied to the Torah or the Five Books of Moses. In this three volume set, noted Lubavitcher rabbi, Yanki Tauber explores that soul as expressed in the Torah and then he illuminates it with Chassidic thought that comes from the teachings of another great Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. This was no easy task and it took three volumes to do so. In the three books, we get an exploration of the essence of time from its very beginnings in the phases of the creation of the world and we go through the cycles and systems that not only characterize time but define our lives in relation to it along with the qualities of time that we become very aware of with holidays and festivals as we move through the year according to the Hebrew calendar. In volume one we get the mystical view of time and time cycles, volume two looks at the holidays beginning with Rosh Hashanah through Purim and in volume three we have the holidays from Passover through the month of Elul, the twelfth month of the Jewish year.

Time is not always defined the same by different professions and skills and certainly what was considered time at the time the Torah was written is not the same kind of time we know today. Mystics see time as the first of God’s creations while physicists see time as the fourth dimension, Olympic runners see time as a hurdle to be jumped and others see it as a way to determine what must be done. Regardless of who we are we also agree that time is something we all face—- it is “an indomitable force that drives us from a receding past through a fleeting present to an ever-elusive future”.

In Jewish tradition there is a more intimate experience of time that empowers us to delve beyond its homogeneous expanse to see a world of great diversity—a world that is marked by a weekly cycle of creative workdays and Shabbat rest that also has with annual landmarks throughout the year—Rosh Hashanah with its sense of awe, Passover and freedom, Chanukah with light and Purim with joy. There are designated hours for the daily prayers, lighting Shabbat candles and the ritual of Havdalah, we are able to as well as through other time-specific observances. Within time we are able to see the nature of how we live and what we do in all of its facets and potentials.

inside time cover2

Our Jewish lives are defined and determined by our calendar and time and we see that what is true of humans is also true of time. Time, while inanimate, has a body and a brain as well as a persona and a mind. If we can learn how to be sensitive to time as a structure, we will be able to transcend the timeline of our lives that is sequential. It is up to us to give time a certain quality, we can thus stimulate time’s potential and affect our lives and experiences and it makes no difference if those experiences are in our or have not come to be.

As I write this I see myself standing again in front of a college philosophy class. I thought I had retired from academia but this set shows me that in time, I remain what I set out to be—a philosopher and only death can take that from me. Looking at metaphysical inquiry, I must say that Rabbi Tauber has taken on an enigmatic and paradoxical (and difficult) areas. He is able to explain it all to us with wonderful clarity even as he presents it comorehensively in all of the depths of time. He gives us such wonderful knowledge and examples that will cause me never to see time in the way again. I can only imagine how it would be to sit in one of his classes. It has been a while since I have something that has affected my thoughts as this has.

“Written on my Heart: A Novel” by Morgan Callan Rogers— Facing Challenges

written on my heart

Rogers, Morgan Callan. “Written on My Heart: A Novel”, Plume, 2016.

Facing Challenges

Amos Lassen

When Florine Gilhan married Bud Warner in Maine, it was quite a celebration in the fishing village where they both grew up. As they begin their married lives, Florine thinks about her mother, Carlie, who disappeared when she was just twelve-years-old. Clues about what happened begin to come to light and Florine and Bud find challenges as they try to figure out what happened back then.

The marriage of Florine Gilham and Bud Warner is a cause for celebration down on The Point, the Maine fishing village where they grew up. Yet even as the newlyweds begin their lives together, Florine is drawn back into the memory of her mother, Carlie, who vanished when Florine was twelve. As unexpected clues regarding her fate come to light, Florine and Bud face the challenges of trying to solve an old mystery while building a new marriage and raising a family.

This is a rather difficult book to review without giving something away—aside from being a wonderful love story this is also a mystery—the kind of book that has you turning pages as quickly as possible. Rather than say anymore about the plot, let me say that the prose is gorgeous and reflects the time when the story is set— the 1970s. There were a good many social issues back then and these include the war in Vietnam, a shaky American economy and a changing dynamic regarding family. Florine, herself, is a tough woman but there is also vulnerability within her. She is he kind of woman with whom it is easy to fall into love and I found hers and Bud’s challenges not to be too far to far removed from my own. They want a strong marriage but the other challenges hinder them from building it right now.

Morgan Callan Rogers’s characters are what drives the novel forward and as we go along with Florine on her journey, we also take one of our own. The real beauty of the book is how we are drawn into the story from the very first page.

Needless to say, it is difficult to build a strong marriage and when these new challenges are added it makes it even more difficult.

Florine embarks on a journey and it includes learning more about love, family and how we stick to one another. What we really see here are the shifting dynamics of family life.

“Until My Heart Stops” by Jameson Currier— A Personal Look at Jameson Currier

until my heart stops

Currier, Jameson. “Until My Heart Stops”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2015.

A Personal Look at Jameson Currier

Amos Lassen

Jameson Currier has been very important to me in my life as a reviewer. Not only is he one of the first writers I reviewed, he is an author who never disappoints and a new book from him is always a treat that I look forward to.

He is the author of five novels and four collections of short fiction and has won and been nominated for many literary awards. His short fiction has appeared in many literary magazines and Web sites. Now with “Until My Heart Stops”, Currier brings us more than fifty works of nonfiction that he has written over the last forty years. This collection is very personal and driven by feelings and emotions and very much reflect the Jameson Currier that I have been fortunate to know. As I read, I separated the entries into three categories—those that were written and published when the AIDS epidemic was devastating our community, those are about Currier’s own personal life and as an author finding his place literarily and the entries that deal with the culture of the world in which we live. As I said, I have been fortunate to meet Currier and although we have never had the chance to spend a lot of time together (the times we met had to do with literature), I never realized how little I knew about him until I read this. I could tell that he was a sincere and caring person but I had no idea of his back-story or his love life. He does not shy away from sharing his life with us.

I anxiously read “Rock Hudson’s Vacation: because I wanted to see if Currier knew more about the man than many do and because he was a common bond between us and I found our reactions to him to be very similar. I did not know that he had ever met Hudson and I never told him my adventure with the star. When I was living in Israel, I was walking through a public park in Tel Aviv and this very tall and good-looking man was sitting on a bench. I knew he looked familiar but had no idea who he was but he certainly had caught my eye and I saw him looking back at me with an interesting glint in his eyes. I was on my way to teach a class at the university but I decided to have a seat opposite him and forget about teaching that day. As we sat opposite each other, another guy came along and said, “Nice to see you, Mr. Hudson”. Mystery solved and the interest quota rose quickly. Hudson come up and walked toward the Hilton hotel but glanced over his shoulder several times to see if I was following him which at that point I was too nervous to do. Eventually after receiving a very long and sexy stare, I indeed walked after him thinking won’t my mother have something to share with her Mah Jongg game back in New Orleans. When we finally spoke to teach us, I learned that he was in Israel making what became his last movie, “The Ambassadors”. The news had already sprung with the fact that he had AIDS and I knew that but went to have coffee with him at which time he shared the news of his diagnosis and state of health. (Remember this was at a time that we knew little about the disease and many gay men chose to set themselves apart from those who were sick). That was as far as we got and I respected him for being so honest. Three months later he was dead. The reason I included all of this is because Currier and I share the same feelings bout Hudson. He was a man who touched both of our lives. I was thousands of miles away from America and unlike Currier, the AIDS epidemic did not have much effect on the state of Israel yet my eyes has been opened to this terrible epidemic. For Jameson Currier, his knowledge of Hudson was the beginning of public awareness about the disease, for me it was an awareness that was far removed from the reality of the place where I was living at the time.

I was surprised how open Currier is his about his love and sex life and from sharing his emotions with us in his beautifully written prose. He writes of the time he spent working in the theater, his boyfriends and how he dealt with love and romance and let me tell you from what I know about Currier, he is quite the catch and has definitely had a fun and active life of romance. There was a revelation for me in that I had no idea that he had been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a condition of excessive thickening of the heart muscle and for which there is no apparent cause or cure. But then again there was no reason that I should have known that. I also did not know about his relationships and his boyfriends. For some reason, I had this picture in my mind of a saintly man and I suppose that came from having read his beautiful “Where the Rainbow Ends”. I also had little knowledge of the effect of the AIDS epidemic in America until I came for a visit in 1989 and discovered that almost every gay male I had known in New Orleans was dead as a result of it.

I am so pleased that Currier has included some wonderfully written articles about AIDS and his reaction to the seemingly constant deaths of so many people he had known. This is so important to have these articles since we should never allow ourselves to forget that time and the people we lost, I am purposely avoiding the political aspects of the disease in this country and instead looking at the brilliant writing that Currier gives us about it. In several of the chapters, my eyes were constantly filled with tears.

We both share a love for New Orleans—my hometown and a place that Currier, after a couple of bad experiences has come to love. In fact I met him for the first time in New Orleans when I had come from Little Rock, Arkansas for the Saints and Sinners literary festival. And now I am living in Boston and Currier in Manhattan and we are both closer geographically than ever before yet we have seen each other on the street once and that was because we had both been to the Lambda Literary Awards some three years ago. Now if I see him again, I know a great deal more about him that ever before and that is because of this wonderful book. I love being able to pick it up, read a quick chapter and then go on to something else that I am working on. I feel that with this new book there is a part of Currier with me and he can be found as easily as opening the covers of it.

(By the way—the cover is fantastic).