Monthly Archives: August 2013

“Left-Handed: Poems” by Jonathan Galassi— Love, Passion, Loss and Transformation

left handed
Galassi, Jonathan. “Left-Handed: Poems”. Knopf, 2013.

Love, Passion, Loss and Transformation

Amos Lassen

As the unnamed narrator tells the story which is a one-way dialogue with another character who is elusive. Here is a poetic novella which overwhelms as we are pulled into it. Poems take us to the streets on New York City, to a house “out in the country”, to the island of Naxos and to the Forum in Rome. They as modern and contemporary yet remind us of classical poetry in style. Galassi touches on romance, love and seduction. I

The genesis of this collection of poems seems (to me, at least) is when the poet discovered love with another man (literary agent Bill Clegg) although this is covert in the text. He left his wife and children for Clegg. He was infatuated with Clegg and we totally sense that here. He thinks about their relationship and puts those thoughts into his poems. He also seems to have lost himself in Clegg along with his lack of self-worth. These poems will last. The poems are highly personal and metaphorically perfect.

Galassi fell in love with Clegg who is a bit older than the poet. This is when he learned that he is gay. He was married for some 36 years and when he was divorced from his wife, he began to write these poems which are filled with raw emotion. Galassi’s poems are divided into three sections, “A Clean Slate” (before), “The Crossing” (during) and “I Can Sleep Later” (after).

In “A Clean Slate” morality and a lack of fulfillment are the themes. Galassi is the president of a major publishing house and Clegg is a literary agent. He tells us here that his own internalized homophobia is what kept from entering into and being a part of a same-sex relationship when he was young. In many of the poems in this section, the poet describes what caused his marriage to end and how he found a truer life with a man. Falling in love with a younger man forced him that he is indeed gay.

I left the lost
life all of it was ours is ours
was ours is ours was”.

The Crossing” the poems are addressed to Jude although the poem “Pretzels” is without a doubt for his wife. He says that his wife had twisted herself up like a pretzel as she tried to tolerate something that she hated in him. In this section he takes a walk down Seventh Avenue with Doug and Frank from Central Park West to Greenwich Village and he tells us of the people and the landmarks that he sees. Here is where he crosses from heterosexual to homosexual (I hate that word).

I Can Sleep Later” is about another relationship ending but this time it is with Jude (who we now know as Clegg). Jude is replaced with Tom and another love story takes wing.

Left Handed” is a collection about obsession and we feel the pain and anguish of two failed relationships and the embrace of a different sexuality. It is the gorgeous language that makes this collection of poems so beautiful but we must also concede that gorgeous language is only that way when there is something to write about. We do learn here that sometimes in order to live an authentic life, radical changes are necessary.



“Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family” by Joel Derfner— A Personal (and Fun) Look at Gay Marriage

lawfully wdded husband

Derfner, Joel. “Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family” (Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiography), The University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.

A Personal (and Fun) Look at Gay Marriage

Amos Lassen

I became a fan of Joel Derfner with his first book “Gay Haiku”. Then he wrote the delightful and wonderful “Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever” which holds a prominent place in my personal library. Now with “Lawfully Wedded Husband”, I am a proud Joel Derfner groupie. He manages to make the very serious issue of gay marriage a witty and very funny experience as he moves from history to reality on an issue that many of us never thought we would see.

Derfner’s boyfriend, Mike proposed to him but at that time there was nowhere in America that they could legally marry. That fact changed much more quickly than anyone could have anticipated and the two were able to marry and enter a life of connubial bliss. However, Derfner and hubby-to-be had to ideas how many problems they would face before walking down the aisle together. They had never considered that they would face the same issues that many other couples face as they prepare to start married life—what kind of ceremony, what to wear, who to invite, etc., etc. Aside from those they also had to consider the definition of the word marriage.

Then there was the issue of the reality show. “Girls Who Like Boys who Like Boys” that they were appearing on and the seemingly non-ending trail of documents that had to be signed and then notarized. And of course, there are the families. When one marries, he does not just get a spouse but usually a family as well. Both men has fabulous families and family members–“adulterers, arms smugglers, and poisoners; and discussions of civil rights, Sophocles, racism, grammar, and homemade Ouija boards”. (I had to quote my friend Phil Gambone who wrote this as a blurb and it is just perfect—winking at Phil).

This is not just the story of a gay marriage but it is also a look at “what it means to be human”. It really bolsters what I have always said about our community—we are just like everyone else except in bed. By reading this we can learn how to be happy, how to stay happy, how not to lose our wits and how to be honest in every situation.

We get an extra little gift with the book, something that in Louisiana is called “Lagniappe”. Appended to the text is “A Brief and Highly Biased Legislative History of American Marriage Equality with Respect to Sexuality” which is a tongue-in-cheek look at how far we have come.

While this is Derfner’s personal story it is also a look at the historical and political aspects of gay marriage and the realities of two people coming together. It is good to be able to laugh at ourselves once in a while and when we can do so with the wit of Joel Derfner, we are all better off.



“HIDDEN HILLS”—Coming Soon from Dan Steadman

“Hidden Hills”

Coming Soon

Amos Lassen

A year ago I was watching “Lover Come Back” and “Pillow Talk” for the umpteenth time and the thoughts occurred to me: “What if Rock Hudson had been able to be himself in the early 60s and had been able to star as a gay leading man in film?” “What if Doris Day’s character didn’t roll her eyes at her effeminate male co-worker who liked his lavender floors?”

 I can’t do anything about film history – or anything about the way the world was at that time. But I knew I could write and direct a film that pays homage to that era. Unlike “Down With Love” I wanted my project to have something to say. So in March of this year, partnering with Out of the Closet Entertainment, I shot “Hidden Hills.” It’s a world where nearly everyone is gay. Straight people are closeted. Aging is in. Fat is sexy. Everyone is in a mixed race relationship.

 It’s a non-threatening comedy that’s obviously for the gay community. Our 1960s romp comedy, at last. But also – its a non-threatening film that appeals to straight audiences. It shows mainstream America that there is more to gay life than Cam and Mitch’s bickering on “Modern Family.”

 Over 235,000 have watched the trailer in a matter of weeks. What’s exciting is, we’ve decided to GIVE THE MOVIE AWAY for free – to the whole world on October 11, in time for National Coming Out Day. (It’s also screening all day Oct. 3rd at Regal Cinemas, downtown at LA Live.)

“Paris Was the Place” by Susan Conley— Love and Its Costs

paris was the place

Conley, Susan. “Paris Was the Place”, Knopf, 2013.

Love and Its Costs

Amos Lassen

 Willie Pears teaches at a center for immigrant girls who hope to get asylum in France and as she hears the girls’ stories she finds herself teetering between teaching and being a mother. She had come to Paris to start a new family by finding and reaching out to Luke, her brother and Sara, a friend. Before this really takes hold, she meets Macon, a charming and passionate French lawyer and soon she has the family she was looking for. Just at the same time she becomes involved with Gita, a young girl at the center who is determined to find a better life and Luke becomes ill with a disease that had not yet been named. Because of this Willie reconnects with her father and begins to consider how far one can go for others, especially those she cares about.

The book paints a portrait of the importance of family, the importance of country and the importance of belonging and how belonging can make a difference in terms of survival. Looking at parenthood, family, love and sex, four of the most beautiful aspects of human existence, we get a story of affirmation of that which binds us together.

We also sense Conley’s love affair with Paris. She describes so much in great detail and the city comes to life in her narrative.

There are here the central issues of immigrant girls who come to France to seek asylum and since immigration is so much in the news, the book is very timely. With all of the representation in the media, something has been missing and that is the human element has been forgotten. Conley’s immigration story could be set anywhere—there are those who are unwanted in every country. Many teens have escaped their homes and come to other countries and we are now hearing of the expense of incarceration and deportation and in many cases these young people are treated without mercy and/or justice. We have begun to realize that refuges have little chance and few even get into a courtroom to be heard.

We meet Rajiv who is an advisor to the asylum and he is totally outdone by the system and there is little good to come out of the system. It is the stories of the girls that keep them sane. They write them down and in this way they can leave the degradation in which they are forced to live as they write and these stories are important to the French justice system because through them, when told in court, can they gain freedom.

Willow meets Macon through Gita (he is her lawyer). Gita faces deportation to India and to return to the men who raped her. By using romance, Macon is able to get Willie involved in Gita’s case and as Macon and Willie navigate the system just as Luke is diagnosed with AIDS. Gita’s attempt for freedom will put Willie in a scandalous situation that could close the immigration center and destroy her relationship with Macon.

Aside from the girls and Macon, Willie is also involved in the lives of her brother Luke, who she loves dearly and his partner, Gaird. We get to know Willie by reading about her emotions and we are very aware that her life has been filled with love and disappointment. She has never been afraid to extend herself and to help those in trouble.

The one problem I have with the book is the subplot about her brother and his illness which I immediately understood to be AIDS. Willie discovers that he is ill yet she does not seem to understand what the matter is. In 1989, there were so few people who were not aware of AIDS and given her intelligence, it was surprising that she did not immediately see that this is what made Luke so ill. There are so many subplots here but that does not mean that the novel is difficult to follow. The opposite is true—it immediately draws us in. Conley gives us a beautiful world that is not always just and the characters she draws are large. I really believe that the focus of the book is all about helping others and reminds us what a good story is all about.


“The Wolves of Midwinter: The Wolf Gift Chronicles” by Anne Rice— The Tale Continues . . .

the wolves of midwinter

Rice, Anne. “The Wolves of Midwinter: The Wolf Gift Chronicles”, Knopf, 2012.

The Tale Continues . . .

Amos Lassen

It is early December, Yuletide, in Northern California at Nideck Point and Reuben Golding is drawn to a spiritual presence, the Morphenkinder who live in the woods near the town. These spirits are ageless and have long and fantastic histories and possess dark and magical powers. A ghost appears but it cannot speak even though it can show affection and desire. Reuben cannot help himself. In her second novel in the Wolf Gift chronicles, we find ourselves with Reuben and his other werewolf companions just as they are getting ready for the midwinter holiday.

Reuben learns that his girlfriend, Laura, has decided that she too will join him as a werewolf. However, Reuben also learns that his ex-girlfriend, Celeste, is pregnant with his child. He marries her to guarantee legitimacy for the child. To top all that, he begins to see the ghost of Marchent, his former lover who turned him into a werewolf and was then murdered by her brothers. Reuben realizes that Marchent still has a hold on him and still roams the physical world. Because of this, Reuben wants her protected as he continues using his werewolf powers to help those in need.

Yes, Anne Rice is back and we wholeheartedly welcome her. She left us for a while when she returned to Catholicism which she left because of its homophobia. Now with a new series, she takes us once again to the supernatural and paranormal. Here we get the back story of Reuben, the Man Wolf. He and the other gentlemen wolves live in the mansion at Nideck Point. We are with them as Reuben celebrates his first Christmas as one of the Morphenkinder and he discovers that they have their own rituals to celebrate at this time of year. Their festival will be held in the woods but as they prepare Reuben is having a hard time keeping his focus because of a warning that he cannot understand that was sent to him via a ghostly presence.

The reader also questions just who are the Morphenkinder and what their purpose is and herein is the major theme of the book which also contains other subplots. How appropriate the book is out before the fall holidays and the preparations for Christmas (with maybe a touch of Halloween). Now we just have to wait a year for the next volume.




“Gore Vidal: A Biography” by Fred Kaplan— The Elusive Vidal

gore vidal

Kaplan, Fred. “Gore Vidal: A Biography”, Doubleday, 1999, 2013.

The Elusive Vidal

Amos Lassen

Fred Kaplan has now updated his 1999 biography of Gore Vidal and until the definitive biography is written, this is one of the few books about the elusive writer. Gore Vidal was a man of many faces and Kaplan shows most of those to us. We begin with Vidal’s birth in 1925 and find ourselves almost immediately in the political arena–Vidal’s grandfather was an American senator. Kaplan looks at the author’s nonfiction and fiction and we quickly remember that Gore Vidal had been an observer of America and wrote of it astutely and sardonically. We learn of Vidal’s private life and his defense of gay rights and that even though he was a gay man himself, he refused to let that define him or his writing. He seemed to always be fighting with someone and some of his feuds were quite famous (William Buckley, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote). His life was filled with people and he was both a political scientist and an excellent writer. Even more exciting is that there are new tidbits to learn here. He was able to have a claim in many different worlds and succeed in them all. Because of this, he is difficult to write about and perhaps difficult to understand.

Through Vidal we get to meet the enfant terribles of the 50s, who came out of the war years and took the literary establishment by the horns. It’s worth reading for the politics and social history of the 60s and 70s. Kaplan has stated that he prefers to write about dead people yet he wrote this originally when Vidal was still alive but now has been able to update it since Vidal’s death.

For me there are two thoughts about the book—first, it is written with erudition (yet very detailed and almost encyclopedic) and secondly is the way Kaplan wrote about Vidal’s personal relationships, friendships and feuds with Joanne Woodward, Christopher Isherwood, Tennessee Williams, Norman Mailer, William Buckley and others.



“Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments” by Gina Perry

behinddthe shock

Perry, Gina. “Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments”, The New Press, 2013.

Controversy and Fascination

Amos Lassen

Social psychologist Stanley Milgram invited volunteers to take part in an experiment at Yale in 1961. No one expected the worldwide sensation that this would cause. Milgram reported that 65% of the volunteers repeatedly had administered electric shocks of increasing strength to a man that they believed was in severe pain and even suffered from a heart condition that threatened his life just because a figure in authority had told them to do so. This behavior was eventually linked to the atrocities that ordinary men during the Nazi reign of terror and the world now listened. The Milgram experiments are still controversial and fascinating today.

In this new book, Gina Perry gives the full story about these experiments for the first time and as I read, I could not help but be reminded what Hannah Arendt said about Adolf Eichmann which I will get to in just a bit. Perry interviewed the original participants, many of whom are still haunted by this and she also went deeply into Milgram’s personal archives. Using these two sources, she is able to give a full picture of these experiments and the result is alarming and much more troubling that what was originally known. These results lead Perry to question the validity of the 65% statistic and what the claims originally revealed about human nature. Perry is able to put a human face of those who unwittingly participated and were put to the moral test of the shock machine and we see one man’s ambition and learn of an experiment that shocked the world.

Perry’s task was not easy especially since most of those who participated in the experiment had already died. Yet she still manages to come up with some startling observations as she tries to give the complete picture of the experiment that dealt with obedience. Perhaps the most important thing that we learn here is that scientific experiments can have long term consequences for their subjects and the reason that strong protocols and strict ethical guidelines are in place for good reasons.

Perry’s thesis is that some of the “teachers” that were involved in the experiment suspected that it was not real (that they really were administering electrical shocks) and she bases this on the interviews that she conducted. She claims that the experiment put these teachers under severe stress and that in the years since, they have not been able to truly reconcile that stress and use excuses to do so. She finds Milgram guilty of perpetuating a fraud. This just does not sit well with many— “the original study may have had 50 participants but the literature shows 780 participants when one looks at the various combinations and permutations (the experiment was replicated with different levels of contact with the controller, in different countries, etc.)”. By watching the videos of those experiments, it is indeed apparent just how distressing the teacher role proved to be. The videos also include the debriefing when the teacher gets to learn the shocks were not real and meets and shakes hands with the learner. Perry seems to ignore or gloss over this. The other problem with the book is that it is repetitive and while it starts off being exceedingly interesting but later dwells on the same topics over and over again.

It seems to me that Perry looks at the experiments as an act of civil disobedience as it shows humans at their best and at their worst. As for Arendt using this experiment to classify Eichmann as banal and just following orders, I find this highly suspect. My verdict on both Arendt and Eichmann is still out and I am not sure I will ever really know how I feel. Even more important is that I am still not sure how to define the word “evil”.




“The American Jewish Story through Cinema” by Eric A. Goldman— The Realities of the American Jew

the american jewish story

Goldman, Eric A. “The American Jewish Story through Cinema”, (Jewish Life, History, and Culture), University of Texas Press, 2013.

The Realities of the American Jew

Amos Lassen

Cinema can be a valuable tool especially when it comes to telling a story. Jews in America have been linked to the movies from a very early time and when we look at the industry we see one that has been strongly influenced by Jewish filmmakers who have been responsible for what kinds of films are produced. We also see something of the social, political and cultural realities of American Jews as well as the evolving nature of the American Jew and his impact on American cinema and how Jews are represented on the silver screen. Goldman in his book looks at selected mainstream films from the beginning of sound films and helps us understand the American Jewish experience through those films.

The first half of the twentieth century in Hollywood was dominated by Jewish movie moguls who chose not to project a Jewish image on the screen lest they be too identified by it. As time moved forward, however, they grew more comfortable with the concept of a Jewish hero and as Israel became a military hero so did the depiction of Jews in the movies. The Holocaust became the single event that had the greatest effect on American Jewry’s identity. Now, it is safe to say, Hollywood Jews (producers, screenwriters and directors) due to this, provide the movies that are about Jewish protagonists, Jewish experiences and challenges to the Jewish people.

While this is an academic text, it is totally readable and should bring the reader to the point that he will be able to rethink the Jewish experience in cinema. There are also the stories of some of the Jewish icons in film such as Barbra Streisand and others.

Goldman’s research is extensive as is his analysis. The book is basically a history of Jews in cinema from assimilation to renewal and it approaches its subject from two angles—the American Jewish experience itself and its relationship to popular culture. Goldman brings together the history of cinema, religion and culture. His interviews include information about the process of making films and the motivation for doing so.



“With a Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah” by Amy Ehrlich with illustrations by Daniel Nevins— Beauty, Drama, Mystery

with a mighty hand

Ehrlich, Amy. “With a Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah”, (with illustrations by Daniel Nevins), Candlewick Press, 2013.

Beauty, Drama, Mystery

Amos Lassen

I compulsively study Torah or the Five Books of Moses (what Christians call the New Testament) and I am always on the lookout for new translations, commentaries and interpretations. What is so amazing about the Torah is that it can be read and reread again and again and it always has something new to say. In the most basic definition, it tells the story of the beginnings of the Jewish people and of their relationship with God. From the time of Adam and Eve through Abraham, the father of Judaism and Moses, the leader of a nation freed from slavery who traveled to the promised land, it is a collection of stories that has been studied and loved throughout the generations for some 3000 years when it was first written down.

Amy Ehrlich gives us a new and lyrical adaptation of the original texts and she does so in a continuous narrative that does not stray from the original and is accompanied by David Nevins’s beautiful paintings. The Torah gains new breath here and we are so lucky to have this version.

Ms. Ehrlich tells us, “I’ve always been fascinated by the Torah — both as an object and as a work of literature. When I set out to create a version of the Torah, I wanted to make a bridge between the little fables that are presented as ‘Bible stories for children’ and the complete (and often impenetrable) text of the Torah. To do this I focused on the characters and events in the narrative and wrote it as free verse to bring forward the poetry and beauty of the language.”

I am pretty sure that all of us remember the first time we saw the Torah and for some of us it was nothing more than a scroll wrapped in velvet and decorated with silver trappings. We did not realize at young ages what it really was and what it means to the Jewish people. For most boys like myself it meant giving up our afternoon when we could have been playing but instead had to go to “cheder” to learn the mystical language with which it was written. It was, for me, at least, not until years later, that we truly realized the importance of Torah and today I cannot imagine my life without it. No matter what the occasion, whenever I approach the Torah now, I do so with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Last year when I was called to read from the Torah on Yom Kippur, I began to weep openly even though I knew what I was to chant by heart. I was later told that he who weeps while reading Torah shall have a good life.

I look at the Torah in the way that Amy Ehrlich does in her rendering—it is a gift to be studied and loved, to be shared and treasured. We do not have to believe every word or story but we must acknowledge what it has brought to the world. Judaism forbids the worship of images or idols and the Torah is a sacred object, revered as the Word of God. Its name in Hebrew means “Teaching” or “Law.” It is the history of our people and it contains all of God’s commandments—not just the ten basic ones but also the 613 laws and prohibitions about every aspect of life. It includes profound assumptions about human beings and how we should treat one another. The Torah states that we are created in God’s image and therefore we share God’s nature. It says human life is sacred and it is also a system of ethics that has continued to be honored for thousands of years. It is both old and new and it brought the belief in one God, a concept we share with other religions.

Ehrlich has chosen to retell the stories of the Torah without commentary or interpretation (which is almost an impossible task for everyone inserts himself into the Torah when it is retold just as every translation is a commentary). The Torah is filled with mysteries and there are some very unsettling stories—Abraham’s binding of Isaac, Joseph being sold into slavery, Jacob wrestling with the angel, Moses being forbidden to enter the land. Some of these have been debated throughout time and conclusions have not always been reached. We have no answers and never will. I find the Torah to shock and make us think whenever we read it and we read it over and over year after year. When we finish it, we start again on the very same day. (And it never bores).

There have been times in my life when I have left the Torah—as a graduate philosophy student I had no need for “Jewish fairy tales”, as an early settler in Israel I did not need Torah; I was in the land. But I always come back—it is the symbol of my faith and it has brought me into my religion. Now that I am older and maybe not much wiser, I cannot imagine going a day without reading Torah.

Ehrlich has kept the beauty, the drama, the surprise and the mystery of the Torah in her rendering. Her verse is beautiful and the stories contain the same strong message as always; the language is “poetic, rhythmic, sophisticated, and accessible” and we feel her respect for and love of the Torah. The artwork is gorgeous and I got the feeling that the book was inviting me to read, not the same old stories, but beautiful stories handsomely retold.

As I sat writing this review, I was reminded of what I went through just last week as I sat to write my d’var Torah for my temple this Rosh Hashanah. Once again I pondered over the story of the Binding of Isaac trying to find something new. I brainstormed, I read and reread and read again and I drew a blank. Then it was as if I had been touched by a mighty hand and I found something. I call what I wrote, “When God Said Please”. I won’t say anymore than that except to look to find where God said please and you will discover something wonderful just as I did. That is the beauty of Torah.






Daniel Radcliffe & Dane DeHaan Take Centre Stage In A New “Kill Your Darlings” Poster

Daniel Radcliffe & Dane DeHaan Take Centre Stage In A New Kill Your Darlings Poster


After much hype surrounding Kill Your Darlings’ Sundance premiere (and Daniel Radcliffe’s gay sex scenes in the movies), the movie is finally heading towards its US release on October 18th (with a November 8th UK date set).

Ahead of that a new poster has been released, featuring Radcliffe and co-star Dane DeHaan, who are both looking extremely yellow.

Based on a true story, Kill Your Darlings charts how a murder helped shape the lives of a group of young men who went on to become the beat generation. Chronicle star DeHaan plays Lucien Carr, the man who introduced Howl writer Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe) to the likes of William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston).

During these early, hedonistic days, a man called David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) fell for Carr, with his infatuation becoming increasingly obsessive and unhinged – the gay Ginsberg once discovered Kammerer trying to murder Jack Kerouac’s cat. It eventually resulted in Carr stabbing Kammerer to death him and going to prison for his murder. The violent event is said to have indelibly changed all the people involved and etched its way into the published works of the Beat writers.

Take a look at the poster above, and click here to check out the recent trailer.

Daniel Radcliffe & Dane DeHaan Take Centre Stage In A New Kill Your Darlings Poster from Big Gay Picture Show