“From Up River And For One Night Only” by Brett Josef Grubisic— A Hopeful Act of Creation

from up ne river and one night only

Grubisic Brett Josef. “From Up River And For One Night Only”, 2016.

A Hopeful Act of Creation

Amos Lassen

Dee, Gordyn, Em, and Jay are indecisive members of the greatest New Wave band to ever come from River Bend City. Before they graduate from high school and leave the town, they have their sights on making something from nothing as a test-run for planned careers of total glamour in New York City. The novel takes place between Labor Day 1980 and a Battle of the Bands contest in February 1981. It follows the band during their hopeful days of creation. Filled with dark comedy and autobiographical references, this is a story that looks at the “detours, setbacks, compromises, ethical quandaries, and illicit opportunities” that the band comes into contact with as it moves towards its e fifteen-and-a half minutes of fame.

It is the language and the writing that makes this a must read. It contains wild misfits, the drudgery of day jobs and dreams of stardom all told to us in Grubisic’s intoxicating, immersive language. We go on a road trip with no destination and this becomes a one-of-a-kind coming-of-age story.

“:A THIRD WAY”— Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors

athrid way poster

“A Third Way”

Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors

Amos Lassen

We are living in a time of polarization and conflict around Israel/Palestine and Judaism and Islam. In “A Third Way”, we get a story that inspires and educates as it humanizes the characters and gives us new ideas to think about. During a recent social justice movement protest, a new slogan emerged—“Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies.” This film looks at the reality behind such a slogan especially at it applies on the West Bank. It is there in the disputed territories that Jewish settlers (Israelis) and Palestinian Arabs continue to be locked in a struggle for their countries’ futures.

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Because of frustration with the direct negotiations with Israel yielding no results, the Palestinian Authority has petitioned the United Nations for recognition as a member state. The Israeli government vigorously opposed what they termed a “unilateral” act. The Palestinians also refuse to back down even in the face of U.S. opposition to their UN bid, including cutting off $200 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians by the U.S. Congress.

Meanwhile the diplomatic confrontation still continues with no results, and in the two countries there is a very tense atmosphere. Recent mosque desecrations has spread from the West Bank to Israel proper and the threat of Palestinian demonstrations looms large. This is the backdrop of increasing tensions that has brought about a movement of Israeli settlers and Palestinians to explore ways to communicate and co-exist. This movement known as the “third way,” is now struggles to stay alive.

These settlers and Palestinians have been meeting with each other in an effort to find a new road between domination and confrontation. The members of this small but slowly growing movement are pushing the norms of Israeli-Palestinian relations that sometimes puts them at odds with their respective communities.

Rabbi Meacham Froman, the rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa, is regarded as the spiritual father of the movement. Froman is famed for befriending Yasser Arafat as well as meeting several times in Gaza with the now deceased spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin. He has become a major voice of reconciliation.

Recently, settlers vandalized a mosque in the Palestinian village of Qusra following the Israeli Defense Force’s demolition of illegal houses in the Migron settlement outpost. In response, Rabbi Froman visited Qusra to a way to apologize for the deeds done by his co-religionists. Leading the crowd in chants of “Allah Hu Akbar,” the Rabbi “tried to show that the two sides belong to the same land and share the same destiny, whether or not they’re willing to acknowledge it”.

In the past few years, a new generation of settlers has arisen to continue on Froman’s path. Two of these are Nahum Pachenik and Eliaz Cohen whose activism is informal and individual. There is also a similar group, called Eretz Shalom, that meets semi-regularly. Eliaz Cohen lives in Kfar Etzion, the first West Bank settlement, founded in September 1967, and has been meeting with the mukhtar of a neighboring village. He has been pushing the local Israeli government to pave the single road in the village, as well as to give locals permission to repair the village minaret, which Israel has refused to do for almost 30 years.

Eliaz believes that there’s a struggle “for the soul” of the settler movement currently underway and there is new thought that challenges the old way of, orthodoxy that has characterized relations between settlers and Palestinians. Rabbi Froman proclaims that he is “a citizen of the state of God, it’s not so important who is the government.” There are others hold that, whatever the future political arrangement, it will not be relevant if Israelis and Palestinians can’t learn how to live together.

We see that the number of states does not matter but what does matter is that without good relations between people, nothing would work. There are those settlers and Palestinians who are interested in being good neighbors even though they risk being censured. The Palestinians fear censure not just from their families but also from the Palestinian Authority as well.

Mohammed A. lives in a Palestinian village just south of Gush Etzion, the first of the settlements where there is a permanent Israeli guard tower and gate at the main entrance to the village that is often closed during times of tension with the neighboring settlements that are located on three sides of the village. Nonetheless, for several years now, Mohammed has been meeting with settlers as often as he can. He tells them the story of his grandfather, who was killed on May 15, 1948, the day after Israel declared its independence. For many Israelis, the Lone Tree of Gush Etzion is a symbol of Israel “regaining” control over the settlement after the 1967 war and this is where Mohammed’s grandfather was killed. For Mohammed and other Palestinians, the tree has a different meaning altogether. But it is by describing his grandfather’s connection to that place to Israelis that Mohammed hopes that there will; be a new understanding and new thoughts about what is going on there.

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While the filming of this documentary was taking place, we learn that this group of Israeli settlers and Palestinians on the West Bank has challenged some of the pre-conceived notions that some people hold about the conflict, so much so that the word “settler” has become quite an explosive word. The significance of the West Bank, the “cradle” of biblical Judaism, has added a religious element to the conflict and made a rational solution difficult to imagine. Add to this what we are taught about hospitality for he stranger and it becomes even more complicated. We “were strangers in the land of Egypt” and this has taken on a very real meaning for us and for the people we’ve met. These settlers are predominantly religious and they have taken this decree to heart.

There are tremendous difference between the two groups and we really see this when looking at the fact that while some settlers have reached out to visit Palestinians in their homes, the Palestinians by and large haven’t reciprocated. The imbalance is symbolic of the larger situation — Israelis have more freedom of movement than their Palestinian neighbors.

The film documents some of this face-to-face work to establish a more equal relationship. These few brave Israelis and Palestinians may be at the forefront of a movement whose end result even they cannot know.

Nahum and Ziad met through the work of Rabbi Menachem Froman, the notorious “settler for peace” (who himself was a friend of Yasser Arafat), and we could say they’re both Froman’s protégés. They believe that, whatever the eventual future of Israel/Palestine, the smartest idea is to become friends now. Ziad and Nahum meet as equals. Nahum has visited Ziad’s home many times. They’ve walked together near Ziad’s town and they’ve broken bread and mutual fasts together. But on a political/social level, they are not equals by any means: Nahum chooses to live in the West Bank, and he could choose anytime to move to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Ziad has no choice. His family and ancestors have lived in their town for more than four generations. And for now, Ziad can’t visit Nahum’s home in his settlement.

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Nahum himself takes it little by little. He wants to know if there’s an Arab minority in Israel, why can’t there also be a Jewish minority in Palestine? A few months ago, he organized a demonstration, confronting Israeli soldiers, when several Palestinian homes were demolished in Ziad’s town. The relationship is unequal now, but we can hope that one day Ziad and Nahum may be able to meet as complete equals.

We meet Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian from Beit Ummar (near Hebron), and Shaul Judelman, an Israeli who grew up in the United States and moved to Israel 14 years ago, spending much of that time in settlements: first to Bat Ayin and, a few months ago, to Tekoa.

The story of what brought them together goes through Tekoa, which was home to Rabbi Menachem Froman (who died two years ago). As I said earlier, Rabbi Froman believed in dialogue and connection with his neighbors. He held meetings with Hamas figures, with whom he found it possible to talk from one religious person to another. This documentary is the story of his work in the last five years of his life, and an examination of the legacy he left behind.

, “A Third Way – Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors” was directed by Harvey Stein. Stein, who moved to Israel from New York close to a decade ago and first met Froman in late 2008 to make a small film about him, and was taken with the way he was building bridges in a place full of disconnect. Stein describes the rabbi as

“totally irreverent. I remember him asking me once, ‘What’s a settler?’ Then he made his hand like a claw and went grrr. He was able to hold contradictions and say that he loves his neighbors. My Jewish tradition told me to love my neighbors, and so I do.’”

Froman sometimes went to great lengths to show the love he felt. We see him visiting a West Bank mosque that was torched and vandalized by settlers, who also spray-painted insulting messages about the Prophet Mohammed on the walls. Wearing his kippah and tefillin (phylacteries), Froman stands on the stairs and calls out repeatedly to the Palestinians waiting below, “Allahu Akbar!”

One of them was Ali Abu Awwad. Raised in a politically active family in Beit Ummar, he was a teenager during the first intifada and jailed twice by Israel because he threw stones. However, after losing his brother to the conflict, he began to embrace nonviolence and became one of the pivotal members of the Bereaved Families Forum, speaking locally and internationally with Israelis who have lost loved ones. He demanded that both Arab and Israeli turn a new page.

Many Palestinians quietly started coming to meetings organized by Froman and his Hasidic followers and they were impressed that Froman met with Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza in 1998 – as well as Yasser Arafat. Awaad says that what prevents us from having rights are not the left-wing camp in Tel Aviv. It’s the right wing in the settlements,” Abu Awwad says at Roots, the center he is establishing with Judelman, Froman’s widow, Hadassah, and several other Israeli and Palestinian activists.

Abu Awwad and Froman and his wife met some seven years ago at Sulha, a gathering of Arabs and Jews whose name is based on the traditional Arab form of reconciliation between sparring parties. He liked what Froman had to say but not where he lived.

Abu Awwad met Judelman, an environmentalist and the two became friends. At about the same time, John Moyle, an American clergyman became involved in trying to help Awwad and Judelman build a grassroots peace movement. In January 2014, they founded a movement with a shack on land owned by Abu Awwad’s family. Since then they’ve been holding meetings at people’s homes around the West Bank . They have brought together Israeli settlers and Palestinians and say that they are not involved

in a political plan, but rather deal with human beings and breaking down stereotypes.

“Nine Lives of Morris: Great Tales from One Cool Cat” by Morris L. Taylor— A Memoir

nine lives of morris

Taylor, Morris L. “Nine Lives of Morris: Great Tales from One Cool Cat”, Arts & Antiques, ; 2016.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

“Nine Lives of Morris: Great Tales from One Cool Cat” is a memoir told in an amazing collection of short-story style memoirs, watercolors and poetry. Writer Morris L. Taylor takes us on a voyage of life with all of its struggles, surprises, sadnesses and joy. He begins life as a poor child who is taken in by Starting out poor and taken in by Christian fundamentalists and he explores and discovers who he really is. He becomes a professional musician, father of family of four, college professor and then later a gay man, and leather man who becomes a leader in the leather community. Morris is a great guide. The journey contains wonderful watercolor works that comment on and accent the story.

We might call this a flash memoir made up of thirty narratives that tell the episodes from his childhood in the Great Depression of the 1930’s to his eighty-fifth birthday. Morris writes in the first person, present tense thereby giving us a feeling of immediacy. A dozen poems are shared throughout the prose along with forty of his original watercolors. There are also four photographic montages picture that show various aspects of Morris career as a concert pianist, a professor of music, a watercolorist and gay leather man. In he first memoir, Morris tells about finding his biological father’s family in Appalachia and in the last memoir we learn about his marrying a man. We are so pulled into the story that we do not want to stop reading. As a child Morris discovers many aspects of who he is. Through experiences in the U. S. Army and World War II, Morris tells his tales. We share the sorrow of soul upon the fatal accident of his wife and the suicide of his gay son, Leonard. We are with him as he shares the spiritual journey as a Seventh-day Adventist in raising up a church only to find out how difficult it is to find his own place as a gay man. Morris shares the adventures of his retirement years when he joins the leather community with vigor and starts a new career as a watercolor artist. Even when he is diagnosed with bone marrow, the author maintains his equilibrium and honesty. Morris thrives as he brings together his roles as a child, pianist, artist, soldier, father, missionary, professor, gay man, master and leather man. Everything about this book is first class and we see that those who are wounded must take heed to heal themselves. Taylor’s stories are told gracefully and we become members of his family while we read.

I was so taken in that I read the book in one sitting and I know that I am not alone in that.

“New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway” edited by Edna Nahshon— Remembering

New York Yiddish theater

Nahshon, Edna (editor). “New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway”, Columbia University Press, 2016.

Remembering

Amos Lassen

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a vibrant theatrical culture that took shape on New York City’s Lower East Side. Original dramas, comedies, musicals, and vaudeville, along with sophisticated productions of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Chekhov, were staged for crowds that rivaled the audiences on Broadway. Even though these productions were in Yiddish and catered to Eastern European, Jewish audiences (the largest immigrant group in the city at the time), they had wonderful artistic innovations, energetic style, and engagement with politics and the world around them. These productions influences all facets of the American stage.

“New York’s Yiddish Theater” is wonderfully illustrated and contains essays from leading historians and critics. It tells the story of the heyday of “Yiddish Broadway” and its vital contribution to American Jewish life and crossover to the broader American culture. The shows struggled with Jewish nationalism, labor relations, women’s rights, religious observance, acculturation, and assimilation. They was a full range of dramatic genres that ranged from tearjerkers to experimental theater. The artists who came of age in this world include Stella Adler, Eddie Cantor, Jerry Lewis, Sophie Tucker, Mel Brooks, and Joan Rivers. The story of New York’s Yiddish theater is the story of creativity and legacy and of “immigrants who, in the process of becoming Americans, had an enormous impact on the country’s cultural and artistic development”.

“BIKES VS CARS”— The Bicycle as a Tool for Change

bikes vs cars

“BIKES VS CARS”

The Bicycle as a Tool for Change

Amos Lassen

“Bikes vs. Cars” is an award-winning documentary by Fredrik Gertten that explores the efforts of bicycle activists in cities across the world to keep the roads safe for bicyclists, and the struggle against car traffic on crowded city streets. We see the bicycle as an amazing tool for change and as the instrument that highlights a growing conflict in city planning. The bicycle supports a diverse city with a human scale, while the car brings about urban sprawl and reliance on fossil fuels.

Director Gertten takes us to Copenhagen to Los Angeles via Sao Paolo as he explores the ongoing efforts of bicycle activists, who are fighting for their right to ride on city streets against the forces of multi-billion dollar auto, oil, and construction lobbies, that are determined to keep our cities dependent on automobiles.

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The film advocates for bike-friendly cities in the 21st century and it has been inspiring a new approach to urban planning that could lead to better designs, smarter political decisions and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

Together with the film, a companion app will help cyclists track how much they reduce their CO2 imprint and oil consumption for every mile they ride instead of drive. The app is a campaign tool to support activists and cities to work towards bike-friendlier cities. The documentary shows how more bike-friendly cities benefit everybody, not only cyclists.”

 

“Bikes vs. Cars depicts a global crisis and how every person can contribute to the solution by riding their bike”. The film focuses on the issue that bikes can be the key to solve enormous problems related to traffic, pollution or global warning but we also see that strong economic powers exert pressure on both politics and media are tackling the transition to a possible new system.The automotive industry has invested a lot of money to protect their interests but not to make the world a better place to live in.

Those in the documentary share their personal experiences on the roads of different cities from different places all around the world to the audience that they hope will become their allies. We are asked to imagine a world in which more people bike than drove.

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In Los Angeles, Dan Koeppel traces the paths of old bikeways and dreams about what it was like when the bicycle ruled the streets In São Paulo, Aline Cavalcante rides between cars that are stuck in traffic jams and agitates for infrastructure that will keep her fellow cyclists (250,000 in a city of 7 million cars) from being killed. Then-mayor of Toronto Rob Ford decries the “war on cars,” spending $300,000 to remove two-year-old bike lanes because he feels that no one bikes anymore.

The activists’ fights aren’t waged against any single person or entity but against the global driving culture. It’s not that anyone (except maybe Ford) is opposed to bikes; they’re opposed to anything that might threaten the profits of car manufacturers and oil companies. Brazilian urban planning professor Raquel Rolnik explains that changing the paradigm is a long and thankless struggle.We watch a teacher lead a group of schoolchildren around busy Bogotá on their little bikes teaching them how to safely navigate their city on their own power, you might feel hopeful for the future of eco-friendly transportation.

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As we deal with the climate crisis and rising congestion, we become aware here of the war playing out on the streets that could be the decisive battle of our time.

“Bikes vs. Cars” looks at the commonly held idea that traffic is just a necessary part of urban life and that cars are the most rational choice for getting around and upends it.

Of course, we see that the rich are more powerful than the poor and this gives us a sense of hopelessness. Why even try when powers are working so hard to prevent success? This is the question that we need to answer.

Bonus features include an interview with director Fredrik Gertten, “The Invisible Bicycle Helmet” (2012) – a short film by Gertten, and the trailer.

“The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love, and Loss” by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt— Mother and Son, Son and Mother

the rainbow comes and goes

Cooper, Anderson and Gloria Vanderbilt. “The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love, and Loss”, Harper, 2016.

Mother and Son, Son and Mother

Amos Lassen

Most of us know that Anderson Cooper is the son of Gloria Vanderbilt but we do not know that although they consider themselves close to each other, until recently did not have much time to spend together. When his mother (now 91-years-old) suffered a serious illness, mother son resolved that they would spend more time together and they began a conversation that ran for a year and was totally honest, deep as they discussed their lives with each other. Each shared what mattered to them the most, what they wanted out of life and what they still want to know about each other. We are pulled into their lives and read fascinating life stories and learn of each person’s tragedies and triumphs. They share their most private thoughts and the truths they’ve learned along the way. It is really interesting to see how Cooper’s journalistic outlook on the world is a sharp contrast to his mother’s idealism and optimism.

I think we might label this as an inspirational memoir that celebrates the relationship between parent and child. We get a reflection on each character’s life and we are reminded that there is plenty to be shared regardless of age. As I read, I wished I had had this kind of a chance with my mother. When we reach adulthood, we tend to not discuss important things with her parents for whatever reasons and think that one day we will have a chance to do so but that day never really comes. We realize this when our parents are already gone. Cooper says that he did not want

there to be anything left unsaid between his mother and himself so he decided to start a new kind of conversation with her, a conversation about her life. Ultimately this changed their relationship and brought them closer together than they could have ever thought possible. Quite basically this is a book about a mother and a son who want to know more about each other.

Cooper asks his mom questions about her childhood, and the people she knew, and, in turn, Vanderbilt gives detailed answers. One of the topics is death and Vanderbilt tells Cooper that when she goes, she would like him to out some of her ashes into his father’s grave. Both mother and son are famous in their own right but this is not a book about famous people but about a mother and a son. When Cooper asks his mother if she has any regrets, Vanderbilt says that she has many.

Cooper simply asks questions and then talks about his answers and he mentions that he was afraid to tell Vanderbilt that he is gay because he had no idea how she would react and also because there have been rumors that Vanderbilt herself is gay. Vanderbilt tells him that she already knew because all of his friends are gay because of the rumors that her own mother was gay and she then discusses her mother’s sexuality and her own views on sexuality, that have changed over the years. There are wonderful little chats about family members and how they lived and accumulated wealth. They discuss everything and I love that they share this with us.

“Sex with Shakespeare: Here’s Much to Do with Pain, but More with Love” by Jillian Keenan— The Bard and BDSM

sex with shakespeare

Keenan, Jillian. “Sex with Shakespeare: Here’s Much to Do with Pain, but More with Love”, William Morrow , 2016.

The Bard and BDSM

Amos Lassen

Jillian Keenan’s literary debut comes with “Sex with Shakespeare” that looks at two of her passions— the Bard of Avon and BDSM. She shares how Shakespeare’s plays helped her examine and come to terms with her unusual sexual identity, why she identifies with Caliban from “The Tempest” and that she thinks is the most overrated of Shakespeare’s character.

She tells us that when she was growing up she had no guide to teach her about love and then she saw a production of “The Tempest” that woke up feelings with her. She says that it was drama that helped her accept her sexual identity. Using the works of Shakespeare, she explores love and sexuality in all of its forms. She finds sexual masochism in Helena in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, bondage, domination and sadomasochism in “The Taming of the Shrew”, criminalized sexual identities in “Macbeth” and she sees that Lear could be a sexual predator.

Keenan moves through Shakespeare’s canon and she sees his words as love and it is through Shakespeare that she finds herself involved in important conversations about many aspects of sexuality. She writes beautifully with humor and perception and this is quite an original take on Shakespeare gives us new insight into his plays and challenge us to look at then through different eyes.

This is also the author’s memoir and it is quite explicit and she gives us a new kind of definition of sexual identity. I read one review that said this is a raunchy book but I have to disagree because I do not want to equate honesty with raunchiness. What is really interesting is that we do not often have people with fetishes and kinky sexual lifestyles tell of them to others.

 

“Saving Montgomery Sole” by Mariko Tamaki— Being Different

saving montgomery sole

Tamaki, Mariko. “Saving Montgomery Sole”, Roaring Brook Press, 2016.

Being Different

Amos Lassen

Montgomery Sole does not fit in his small town where he is forced to go to a school full of jocks and girls who don’t even know what irony is. He would be miserable if it weren’t for her best friends, Thomas and Naoki. The three are also the only members of Jefferson High’s Mystery Club, dedicated to exploring the weird and unexplained, from ESP and astrology to super powers and mysterious objects.

Monty bought the Eye of the Know, a crystal amulet, online that she hopes will help her know what the future might bring as well aid her in fighting those who make fun of Thomas for being gay and help as well take care of those that have unkind thoughts about Monty having two mothers who are lesbians.

Mariko Tamaki knows how to write about the teen especially the confusion that they feel. We read about mysticism and emotion side by side because they are both part of Montgomery Sole, a teen girl who is trying to unravel both the mysteries of the universe and of other people. Monty was an angry girl and for good reason but she also knew how to forgive.

The book is smart, funny, sad, frustrating, and just plain cool. It is not easy for a teen to live in a small town with a pair of lesbian mothers. Monty has the mystery club to escape to but then when Reverend White comes to town with his holier than thou attitude and is very open about cleaning up the town and chasing out people like Monty’s family. To say anymore about the plot would ruin the read. This is a very special book and we do not have many about the children of same-sex couples.

There aren’t enough stories about everyday lives of children of same sex couples. There is a touch of the supernatural and the characters are diverse. It looks at bigotry and belonging in ways we have not seen before.

“THE COMPANION”— AIDS and Isolation in Cuba

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“The Companion”

AIDS and Isolation in Cuba

Amos Lassen

“The Companion” is a Cuban drama directed by Pavel Giroud that is the tale of struggling against the political system, against disease, and against the past. In the opening credits we learn that during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s the Cuban government decided it would be a good idea to set up Los Cocos, a sanatorium on the outskirts of Havana where all the island’s HIV patients would live. The problem could therefore be easily contained. Each patient was assigned a ‘companion’ whose real job was to inform the authorities about their habits.

the companion

One of the patients in this bizarre establishment that is run with an iron hand by the chilling Doctor Mejias (Yailene Sierra), is Daniel Guerrero (Armando Miguel), a lively, cheekily smiling rebellious type whose new companion is the former boxing champ Horacio (Yotuel Romero) who is being punished by the system for drug-taking.

At first, their relationship is wary, but it quickly becomes clear that Horacio’s allegiances are not with the system and he is unwilling to reveal Daniel’s secrets to Mejias (including the fact that Daniel makes regular nocturnal escapes from the sanatorium). The film is partly about issues of who we can and cannot trust and these are indeed big issues in surveillance-run states. We also meet other characters— pathetic nurse Boris (Jazz Vila), a small man with a surprisingly big punch who will later fall victim to the virus himself, and Lisandra (Camila Arteche), who takes a shine to Horacio and on whose account Daniel will later become Boris’s mortal enemy.

The most interesting plotline involves Daniel’s attempts to escape. He is aided by a mysterious woman, Cheli (Yerlin Perez), who wants to infect her husband with Daniel’s blood so that she can get him transferred from jail to the sanatorium. Blood therefore becomes a medium of exchange and has powerful impact on what we see. There is also the subplot involving the comeback of a fading boxer. Daniel inspires Horacio not to just abandon his career and so the boxer sets about a return, aided by his weather-beaten old coach Vicente (Salvo Basile).

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The film opens the debate about machismo and attitudes to homosexuality (a former soldier, Daniel has contracted his virus from straight sex in Africa, and it was encounters between the Cuban military and African prostitutes which opened the Cuban door to the disease). However, there’s nothing truly distinctive about Horacio’s story, or the way it’s told — though it does briefly touch on the issue of how Cuba’s non-participation for political reasons in the LA and Seoul Olympics ruined the dreams of a generation of Cuban athletes. Cuba famously takes care of its citizens’ bodies whilst depriving them of their civil liberties. We see a lot of those bodies here.

If the patient conformed and behaved they were allowed out on a visit home once a week accompanied by an official ‘companion’ to ensure that they would return.  This film is a fictionalized narrative based on one such patient who was being troublesome to authorities and constantly escaping and jeopardizing the facility’s security.

Both men have their own dreams.  Daniel wants to be able to arrange to be smuggled out of Cuba to a new life elsewhere, a fact that he keeps secret from Horacio.  The boxer on the other hand wants to be re-instated back into the National squad and finally be given a chance to compete in the Olympics.  It is too bad that there are forces working against the two. When Horacio first takes up the job at the hospital he is overly cautious about mixing with any of the patients or even touching anything with his bare hands for fear of being infected.  It is something he eventually overcomes, enough to even start having a relationship with Lisandra, one of the female patients. The doctor has been forcing patients into having sex him and it is discovered that he too has contracted the virus and is immediately forced into now being an inmate.

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The movie is an unusual take on the AIDS pandemic in that the focus is less on the degenerative effects of the disease on these HIV patients, and much more on how their freedom has been curtailed because the Authorities believe this will stop it spreading in their country. It seems that the patients were given all the drugs that the Cuban Authorities had at their disposal without a second thought. In fact in this tale it isn’t until the very end when Daniel has the ravages of full-blown AIDS, that we are faced the horrible reality of how terrible AIDS really was.

Two powerful performances from Gomez and Romero make this movie not just another AIDS melodrama and it gives us an exceptional and  unique viewpoint on that very troubled time in our recent past.

“You Only Live Twice: Sex, Death, and Transition” by Chase Joynt and Mike Hoolboom— Two Artists

you only live twce

Joynt, Chase and Mike Hoolboom. “You Only Live Twice: Sex, Death, and Transition”, (Exploded Views), Coach House Books, 2016.

Two Artists

Amos Lassen

 “You Only Live Twice” looks at explores two artists’ lives before and after transitions: from female to male, and from near dead to alive. There are those among us who believe that we live more than once. Some have religious reasons for saying so—-think how many times you have heard people say that they were looking forward to spending their other lives with Jesus. Here we meet artists Chase Joynt,

trans writer and media artist Chase Joynt and HIV-positive movie artist Mike Hoolboom. They come together over the films of Chris Marker to exchange transition tales, confessional missives that map out the particularities of occupying what they call ‘second lives’: Chase’s transition from female to male and Mike’s near-death from AIDS. The two bring together cultural theory with memoir and media analysis and the reader is asked intimate questions about what it might mean to find love and hope through conversation across generations.

The two men give each other space to tell important stories of each other’s life to someone who is attentive and wants to listen. Even more than they—they are impassioned to hear each other. What we as readers get is a gift—an exchange that is

“nuanced, idiosyncratic, finely rendered examination of biopolitical experiences which, in many ways, define our times”. Their words are poetry as they speak about their second lives and the new possibilities they find. The prose that we read is strong and filled with surprises. It is like watching a ballet filled with grace and style. The two met in Paris at Orly Airport for an impromptu gathering on the day that Chris Marker died. The two had been pen pals that had come to pass because of their feelings for Marker and something beautiful came out of that. It is no matter that you do not know who Chris Marker is or was because you will learn through what you read not only about Marker but also about Joynt and Hoolboom. Their stories are told with beauty and love and we are the benefactors of that.

“The unspoken promise was that in our second life we would become the question to every answer, jumping across borders until they finally dissolve. Man and woman. Queer and straight”.