Byrks, Rachmil. “May God Avenge Their Blood: A Holocaust Memoir Triptych”, translated by , translated by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, (Lexington Studies in Jewish Literature) Hardcover – April 15, 2020
Revisiting the Holocaust
Rachmil Bryks’ “May God Avenge Their Blood: a Holocaust Memoir Triptych” consists of three memoirs originally written in Yiddish. Bryks (1912–1974). In “Those Who Didn’t Survive,” Bryks gives us life between the World Wars in his shtetl Skarżysko-Kamienna, Poland and he does so with great detail that presents a portrait of a community that is no more. “The Fugitives” is about the confusion and terror of the early days of World War II in the city of Łódź and elsewhere. “From Agony to Life,” Bryks is about his time in Auschwitz and other camps. All three taken together is like taking a journey from Hasidic life before the Holocaust through the early period of war ultimately coming to the camps and the horrors that were there. The translations by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub allows the English reader to experience the memoirs for the first time.
Here three memoirs highlighting life in a twentieth century shtetl and the Jewish struggle for survival in wartime Łódź and in the concentration camps. Rachmil Bryks describes his experiences in the camps as well as offers an evocative description of the Jewish community destroyed by the Nazis. It was a society that was rich in tradition as change was taking over. There are stories about all aspects of life from “tales of Talmud to stories of elopement and entrepreneurship.” Life during the first weeks of the war make up the largest part of this memoir. Bryks describes everyone he encounters—Jews, Poles, Germans, peasants, writers, and others—with empathy.Thedeep antisemitism of many Poles is clear and we have all learned about it elsewhere but until now I have not read such details. they also show many examples of human kindness. There is no judgement or analysis, just description of what happened.
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub’s translation is rich and through it we get an in-depth look at life as it was before the War and during it. Bryks was one of the most talented young poets and authors who survived the Łódź ghetto and concentration camps and he recreates his experiences as he shows us the tragedy of Polish Jewry. and evoke the beauty, struggle, humor and tragedy of Jewish life in prewar and wartime Poland. Through descriptions of the many members of his extended family, we see real people facing dire fates. We are taken into their lives and become invested in the people we meet here. Almost all of them were brutally and cruelly murdered by the Nazis.) While this is Bryk’s story, it is also the story of so many others.
Smith, Howard Philips. “A Sojourn in Paradise: Jack Robinson in 1950s New Orleans”, University of Mississippi Press, 2020.
New Orleans Life and the Early Career of Fashion Photographer Jack Robinson
Jack Robinson was a sought-after fashion and celebrity photographer during the 1960s and early 1970s. His work was everywhere it seemed— from Vogue to the New York Times and Life Magazine. His personal life, however, was an enigma. Howard Philips Smith means to change that with “A Sojourner in Paradise” in which he studies Robinson and his work concentrating on his early life in New Orleans. It was in the Crescent City that Robinson found his passion for painting, photography, and the Bohemian life of the French Quarter. The book features more than one hundred photographs taken by the artist with a detailed commentary about Robinson’s life in New Orleans as well as excerpts from interviews with the people who knew him there. What we see here are the beginnings of the first gay Carnival krewes who made their own unique contributions to the rich cultural history of the city and read about the formation and beginnings of the Orleans Gallery, one of the earliest centers of the contemporary art movement that came into being America of the 1950s..
Jack Robinson dealt with inner struggles that brought him to New Orleans. The city became a haven for him and he was able to find himself, for a time, free from societal pressure. He was allowed to explore life on his own terms. New Orleans has that ability for people and I say that as a person who was born and raised there. Unlike many other American cities, New Orleans rests upon the joy of life grip and the diversity of the city allows for self-exploration.
For as long as I can remember, New Orleans has been a gay destination for many just for that reason. It takes a writer like Howard Philips Smith whose own love affair with gay Mardi Gras to tell us Robinson’s story and provide us with previously unseen photographs of prominent New Orleanians and of Carnival in that period. We see a portrait of a city and an era that is gone forever but whose influence extends to the present day. I do not remember much about New Orleans of the 1950s but the memories I have were reinforced by what we have here. By the time I was finally able to live in the French Quarter, many of the personalities that we read about here were already gone but their stories lived on and in some cases still do today.
Robison was a member of a group that included artists, writers, designers, musicians, preservationists, illustrators, restaurateurs, travel agents, and antiquarians. New Orleanians will recognize the names of George Dunbar and Robert Helmer, Dusti Bongé, Jean Seidenberg, Katherine Choy, Lee Bailey, Leonard Parrish, Tilden Landry, Clay Shaw, Yvonne Fasnacht, Ella Brennan, Jack Beech, Bruce Butterworth, Claire Evangelista, Elmo Delacroix Avet and of course Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and New York art dealer Betty Parsons. “A Sojourn in Paradise” is a visual feast that is filled with wonderful tidbits of the period.
Washington, Bryan. “Memorial: A Novel”, Riverhead Books, 2020.
Love, Family, Anger and Grief
Benson is a Black day care teacher and Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant They’ve been together for a few years but now they’re not sure why they’re still a couple. Everything seems good and they love each other but….
When Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, he flies across the world to say goodbye. While in Japan he is transformed when he discovers the truth about his family and his past. Back in Texas, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates in a strange domestic situation that ends up meaning much more to each of them than they could ever have thought. Without Mike’s pulling at him, Benson begins to push outwards, beginning to realize that he might just know what he wants out of life and be able to get it.
Both men will change in a myriad of ways that will either make them stronger together or destroy everything they’ve ever known. Maybe they’ll all be okay in the end. This is a storyabout family in all its many forms, vulnerability, becoming who you’re supposed to be, and the limits of love. What Washington does so brilliantly is to show thatthe mundane, thoroughly lived life can be filled with joy and hope because of its diverse origins, the queerness of its onset, and the wonder it finds in surviving grief and loss. Here is “a new vision for the 21st century novel, made me happy.”
The characters are complex, interesting, and three dimensional, and we quickly care about them. Sadness and love come together as we earn what having a home really means. The novel looks at “what we do and what we say, what we need and what we allow ourselves to have.”
Buttigieg, Chasten. “I Have Something to Tell You: A Memoir”, Atria Books, 2020.
Growing Up Gay
Chasten Buttigieg’s “I Have Something to Tell you” is an honest and moving memoir by the husband of former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. He shares what it was to growi up gay in his small Midwestern town, his relationship with Pete, and his hopes for America’s future.
In the past year, Chasten Glezman Buttigieg has come on to the national stag. He left his teaching job in South Bend, Indiana, to travel cross-country supporting his husband during Pete’s groundbreaking presidential campaign. During the campaign we read his social media posts and got a behind-the-scenes look at his life with Pete and the moments he shared were both surprising and mundane, but above all, they always came from his heart.
Chasten recounts his journey to finding acceptance as a gay man. Growing up, he knew he was different and he indeed he felt different from his father and brothers. He tells us his coming out story and shares how he’s healed from telling his secret to his family, friends, community, and the world. Here is the story of meeting his boyfriend, whom he married and who becomes a major and important Democratic leader. His story is an inspirational look atgrowing up in America and finding and accepting embracing his true self.
Chasten writes with humor, heart, and humility as he shows how one person’s story and his active engagement in fighting for change can be so important in mobilizing others to see themselves in their future. We are reminded that by telling our stories and being there for one another, empowers others to shre their stories.
Bibbins, Mark. “13th Balloon”, Copper Canyon Press, 2020.
A Personal Elegy
Mark Bibbins in his fourth poetry collection, “13thBalloon” looks at the American AIDS epidemic. He has dedicated this collection to Mark Crast, his former lover and friend who was a victim pf the epidemic and died when he was just 25-years-old. Here is a look at his persona loss against the larger societal tragic event. We read of intolerance, and “the intimate consequences of mismanaged power.” There are still really no words to express how we were affected by AIDS and Bibbins helps us understand that there is value and importance in continuing to wonder what to say and how to grapple. Bibbins dares to say what so many of us cannot utter.
This collection is not about the gay rights movement or AIDs but about his lover and friend who died, and for whom he continues to grieve. Bibbins shares his own background as a gay youth and a gay man. His writing comes from a place of deep personal pain and experience. Injustice is at the center of the collection and it is the reason that we have these gorgeous poems.
In each stanza, Bibbins tries to put his soul back together and to reconnect with his loss. Both a discussion of loss and a commentary on the AIDS crisis, the poet is both personal and political. He shares what it means to lose someone physically and how we carry them with you into our own future, and the cost of remembering.
Nemerever, Micah. “These Violent Delights: A Novel”, Harper, 2020.
Two Troubled Young Men
Micah Nemerever’s compulsively readable “These Violent Delights” is a story about two college students, each with his own troubled past and whose escalating obsession with one another leads to an act of unspeakable violence. Paul and Julian meet as university freshmen in early 1970s Pittsburgh and they are immediately drawn to one another. A talented artist, Paul is sensitive, insecure talented artist whose working-class family does not understand him. He is almost inconsolable after his father’s recent death.
Paul sees Julian as his only intellectual equal and as an ally against the world that he finds is suffocating him. He idolizes his friend confidence but as charismatic as is, Julian is also extremely volatile and cruel. We see that admiration isn’t the same as trust.
As their friendship becomes intimate, Paul is desperate to protect their shaky bond, even he realizes that pressures from the outside world are nothing compared with the brutality they that they inflict on one another. They cannot be separated and as their world becomes smaller, their hold on one another becomes stronger and they are drawn to an act of violence that will force them to confront a shattering truth at the core of their relationship.
This is an unsettling read that unfolds quickly and with furor as it explores human desire. Nemerever gives us a look at intimacy, desperation, and the damage that it can cause.
Filled with themes of obsession, belonging, normalcy, morality, and lies, I must say that this is one of the most intense novels I have ever read. The final act of revelation that happens between Julian and Paul is heart-stopping. Even when we learn the truth of their relationship, we enjoy watching them completely take over each other’s lives and not let anyone or anything else in.
It is impossible to truly write about the plot without spoiling it and so I will not even try. It is enough to now that Julian and Paul have such an unbelievable ability to grab the worst of each other and make it meaningful. There are strong philosophical underpinnings that explore moral and ethical dilemmas, particularly the agonizing events that define Paul’s own internal conflicts with himself and the world surrounding him. We feel the pain that Paul feels and as we do, we begin to look within ourselves. We are pulled into the story that will not let go forcing us to question ourselves. The universal themes are those we choose not to speak about.
“YES, GOD, YES”
Masturbation for Girls
“Yes, God, Yes” is the film debut of Karen Maine and it is a confident, biting look at a teenager discovering her own body and beliefs. When Alice (Natalia Dyer) re-watches the sex scene from the film “Titanic”, she feels unsure what her body is telling her while she watches this scene over and over. She, however, is sure that she’ll be going straight to hell if she acts on them om how she feels about what she sees.
Early on in the film, Alice and her friends are lectured by their teacher, Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) that boys are like microwaves and girls are like ovens, they take longer to turn on. The film presents a unique and thoughtful look at a woman discovering her body and what turns her on. in the all so funny awkward teenage ways.
Sixteen-year-old Alice has always been a good Catholic girl. But when an AOL chat turns racy, she discovers masturbation and becomes filled with guilt. She navigates the weird wide spectrum of AOL chat rooms and meets a man who sends her photos that begin her sexual awakening.Seeking redemptionas she attempts to question her sexuality, Alice attends a weekend camp designed to make her feel closer to God and to gain more meaning in her life. She tries to suppress her urges, but it isn’t easy, especially after a cute boy starts flirting with her. Alice’s sense of shame grows when she uncovers a shocking truth about the retreat’s most devout people. Desperate and confused, she flees and meets an unlikely ally who offers an alternative view of what it means to be good. For the first time, Alice realizes she can decide for herself what to believe and finally gets the release she needs.
Writer/director Karen Maine has a keen eye for comedy in a form that we don’t see too often. Set in 2001 during the AOL/AIM era where you didn’t know who the hell you were chatting with, Alice reaches her sexual awakening through the power of AOL. Once Alice opens a chat and sees a sexual act, her hormones scream out and her awakening is immediately followed by guilt as a child of God and translates into her school life, which is not only full of hypocrites, but also very gossipy where Alice becomes the target of a rumor involving a sexual term that she has no idea about.
Natalia Dyer performs with restrained comedic brilliance that showcases the uncomfortableness of high school and the interesting self-discovery that follows. The film is filled with sharp writing that takes more than a few pokes at the idea that sex outside of marriage (even masturbation) will send one to hell. The film finally gives young women a movie that shows it’s okay to figure out what you like and believe in on your own terms.
The film is short, smart, and it gets to the point in just 78 minutes. The script is strong and director Maine goes deep into the parts of our adolescence that we’re often afraid to express and share. What makes the film even more hilarious is the religious aspect. Whenever raunchiness is applied, it’s an authentic surprise to progress the story and the results are hysterical but never sacrificing charm as it captures the awkwardness and non-certainty of adolescence in a swiftly-paced story.
The emotional details are right on, as Alice bears witness to the contradictions and outright hypocrisy of those around her in abiding God’s will and while the confusion may be temporarily painful, the need to form her own opinion will prove invaluable later. “Yes, God, Yes” captures the uncertainty of those post-pubescent years. It’s a “naughty but nice” coming-of-age story.
“Tahara” begins as a narrative of two best friends Carrie Lowstein (Madeline Grey DeFreece) and Hannah Rosen (Rachel Sennott) as they are in the midst of adolescent self-discovery. Director Olivia Peace explores the coming together of female friendships, sexual identity and rejection through the polarity of these two characters. “Tahara” looks at each defining moment through the demise of the girl’s friendship. Set over the course of one day and during a classmate’s funeral, what Carrie wanted to believe was a bond is turns out to be Hannah’s manipulation as a tool for her own gain.It takes place in the synagogue during a funeral and grief class held after, the characters’ grief for the loss of Samantha Goldstein to suicide, the film examines the “real” issues in their life. The funeral is simply a location for the teenagers to carry out their sexual agendas and use the tragedy as a platform for their moral campaign.
Carrie is frustrated with Hannah’s insistent pursuit of one out of the two guys in their grief class (the second guy being completely high on pot brownies the whole time) during what is supposed to be a time of reflection. Carrie and Hannah end up on a couch in the Synagogue’s bathroom where Hannah brags about her sexual resume and Carrie shares her minor experiences. So that she can validate her own skills, Hannah pressures Carrie into kissing her as “practice.” Hannah’s intention is self-serving, but the moment engulfs Carrie, and we learn that who was once her childhood friend is and has always been her quest through her as a black, Jewish and queer teen.
Hannah is quite sneaky when it comes to catching any and all opportunity to seduce her male suitor. When identifying Carrie’s feelings and her crush’s coincidental interest in Carrie, Hannah sets a trap in the Synagogue’s library to bring about a three-way. Hannah wields Carrie’s affection and loyalty to finally hook up with the mildly attractive dunce she had been after this whole time. This ended in a love triangle of rejection with each of them leaving hurt and confused but most of all, Carrie feels the consequences.
“Tahara” looks at the potential of toxicity in friendships that take place early in life and favors the idea of disconnecting from these bonds no matter the time invested in Carrie’s childhood. The film sheds light on the imbalanced sense of self-identity both teenagers and adults face, and the role that those closest to them have in changing things.
Coming of age so often feels inauthentic, especially when it’s stylized. Here, the teenagers talk like teenagers — they don’t always agree, they tease one another lovingly, and they examine their own insecurities. They complain about how their school tries to make them confront grief, and they lash out about their feelings. They’re young and they’re still finding out more about themselves, and Hannah doesn’t even want to approach how she feels, even if Carrie has confronted her.
Here is the queer Jewish experience boldly expressed at a young age. The film’s title refers to a Jewish ritual act of purifying the body after death. Not only is this discussed in a classroom scene, but the death of a classmate is what purifies the relationship to the simplest shared feelings for the two girls. “Tahara” is completely about the girls and not the power structures surrounding them. They question their faith and how it tells them to grieve, but as a setting and not as a conflict.
Visconti’s Last Film
Luchino Visconti, the great Italian film director, brought the world his final film in 1976, and it just happens to be one of the auteur’s very best. “L’Innocente” (1976) is an intricately woven study of a marriage coming undone, coming together and coming undone again. It is is a portrait of power that shows how jealousy can be a defining characteristic for a person. Tullio Hermil (Giancarlo Giannini) is a well-to-do man in 19th-century Italy who enjoys fencing and deciding which of his inherited estates to reside in. His wife Giuliana (Laura Antonelli) lives the good life as well. She goes to recitals and stands by her husband’s side. Tullio may have loved Giuliana at some point, but when the audience first meets him, he is having a tryst with mistress, Teresa Raffo (Jennifer O’Neill). He falls so madly in love with her, and how different she is from his wife, that he decides to come clean and propose an open marriage. What surprises him is that Giuliana is not simply going to play the part of the scorned woman; she has an affair with the novelist Filippo d’Arborio (Marc Porel), Tullio’s fencing partner.
Tullio refuses to end his marriage to Giuliana, especially when he finds out that his wife is pregnant with Filippo’s child. His jealousy overcomes him, and he falls back in love with his wife and obsesses about her living a life without him.
This quite easily could have become a melodrama but instead Visconti’s film goes for something deeper. On an elemental level, this is a deconstruction of power dynamics. Tullio believes he has the upper hand at all times, even though reality would seem to say otherwise. It is impossible to control how life will evolve but he’s willing to try.
There’s a lot of romance in the film with real sensuality to Tullio and Giuliana’s on-again-off-again relationship, and they have fascinating conversations before and after making love. Through these discussions and fights, we see that the marriage is not one of equality. Giuliana must face the discrimination of the times (her husband can have an affair, but she cannot) and the mad antics of Tullio. As he takes his obsession to some dark places, she is seemingly stuck, unable to get a divorce and unable to recognize her own husband anymore.
The costumes and set design are exquisite and. The women’s dresses are intricate and colorful; the men’s suits are stylish. The estates where Visconti has the action play out are wonderfully filled with detail and authenticity.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Giannini and Antonelli having the juiciest characters. He has an intensity and rage that can be frightening, yet he’s also tender and loving. He is like a chameleon that makes his moves uncertain and potentially dangerous. She is strong and independent, but stuck in a societal and religious prison, with her husband dictating decisions.
“L’Innocente” shows Visconti’s directorial dedication and his artistry. This familial drama is captivating and shows qualities far the word “innocent.” The film is based on the controversial 1892 novel by Gabriele d’Annunzio, who flirted with Fascism when it arose in its early stages and was co-written by Visconti, Suso Cecchi D’Amico and Enrico Medioli. This is a tragic film about sexual double standards and was the inspiration behind Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence.”
Visconti directed the film from a wheelchair, following two strokes and a broken leg. He remained as painstaking as ever, spending hours getting everything in the film just right. It is available on Blu-ray for the very first time in North America. Bonus programming includes a video essay and 16-page collectible booklet.
About Film Movement
Founded in 2002 as one of the first-ever subscription film services with its DVD-of-the-Month club, Film Movement is now a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide. Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci and Ettore Scola. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.