Archive for December, 2010

“Midsummer Madness”–a Latvian culture clash

“Midsummer Madness”

 

A Latvian Culture Clash

 

Amos Lassen

There are surprise parties and there are parties that bring about surprises. “Midsummer Madness” is about the latter. In Latvia, St. John’s Night is an occasion for families and friends to come together to eat, drink and have fun. Tradition says that this is the holiday for people to fall in love but there is a catch—in order to fall in love, the magic fern must be found. We have six stories about falling in love here and a lot of fun watching what happens. Curt, an American has made his first trip away from his family and out of the country and he is in Latvia. He takes a taxi, driven by Oskars whose unceasing talk and personal questions almost drives Curt crazy.

A second story is about two firemen who love their football and they have come to Latvia to meet with other firemen and discover something else. The there is a cook, Yuki, who is bored with his girlfriend/lover, Aida. Another story is about Leonid who is about to have his career so into high gear and discovers that Karl, the man who is to bring him the success he needs, has feelings for Leonid’s girlfriend. Then there is a female poet, Livia, who has two lovers after her husband dies and there Foma and Janis who work with gas and are planning a big enterprise. An interesting fact is this Latvian film is not about Latvians but about other nationalities that come to the country.

This is a busy film with a lot of things going on and most of it is very funny. We don’t often get Latvian films so for me this was reason enough to see this. Directed by Latvian, Alexander Hahn, some of the jokes may not seem funny to us but, by and large, I enjoyed the experience.

 

 

 

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“Gay Bookstores: A Dying Breed”–an article by Jesse Monteagudo

Since Amazon has become the major distributor and seller of books and film about the GLBT community have we forgotten our own bookstores? Think twice before you purchase from Amazon and remember that when you buy from a GLBT bookstore the money goes back into our community.

Gay Bookstores: A Dying Breed

Jesse Monteagudo

Like many lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or transgender people, I came out of the closet with the help of gay books and gay bookstores. Though we didn’t have a gay bookstore in Miami when I came out in the early1970s,

Oscar Wilde Bookshop

I took advantage of the mail order services provided by the newly-established bookshops.

My first visit to the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in Greenwich Village (1977) was like a religious pilgrimage; an experience that I repeated two years later when I first visited Lambda Rising Bookstore in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. Both Oscar Wilde and Lambda Rising were part of a chain of independent bookshops that dotted the gay ghettos of North America: Glad Day in Boston and Toronto, Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, Outwrite in Atlanta, A Different Light in West Hollywood and San Francisco, Little Sister’s in Vancouver and, of course, Lambda Passages in Miami.

Sadly, the quantity and quality of exclusively gay bookstores have declined during the first decade of the 21st Century. In 2009 the Oscar Wilde Bookshop drew its last breath; and just last month Deacon Maccubbin, the founder and still co-owner of Lambda Rising Bookstore, announced plans to close his stores in Washington, D.C. and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Maccubbin’s reasons are understandable: he and Jim Bennett, his partner and co-owner, want to retire after 35 years in the book business. But their departure will leave a gap in our community that may never be filled.

The demise of Oscar Wilde and Lambda Rising bookstores (among others) leave behind only a handful of exclusively GLBT bookstores, including Giovanni’s Room, Outwrite, Little Sister’s and Lambda Passages, all teetering on the edge of insolvency. These and other stores can not compete with major chain stores like Barnes & Noble or Borders, or mail order houses like Amazon.com.

Though the existence of a GLBT book section in a major chain store is of course a step forward for our community, it cannot take the place of our small, independently-owned, queer bookshops. Long before B&N and Borders took notice, our community bookstores were making GLBT books available, supporting GLBT authors and fostering good GLBT literature. Deacon Maccubbin criticized gay writers who put links to Amazon and other online sellers on their Web sites: “I wonder if they really think they would have been published at all if not for the gay bookstores that sprang up around the country in the 1980s and 1990s. . . . In the 1970s, that literature barely existed.”

But gay bookshops do more than sell books. According to Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia, “gay and lesbian – and feminist/women’s – bookstores have traditionally served as informal community centers, offering everything from space for bulletin boards to tourist information to legal and medical referrals. Many also provide space for meetings, performances, and readings.”

The late John Preston, writing in The Big Gay Book (1991) called gay bookstores “the one single most consequential element in the development of gay culture. These stores have been willing to stock our books when others wouldn’t have them. They represent a distribution system for our journals and newspapers. They are often the first stop that isolated gay men [and lesbians] make when they get to a major city, desperate for a gay cultural fix.”

Preston’s statement holds true almost two decades later. The surviving GLBT bookshops, especially those that have coffee shops, provide a social outlet for our community members, especially queer and questioning youth. Unlike bars, bookstores are alcohol- and stress-free and are accessible to all segments of our community. They provide us with hard-to-find items produced by gay-owned, small book, audio and video publishers.

In lesbian and gay bookstores we get personalized service from knowledgeable, gay or gay-friendly staff members who know their merchandise and who are part of our community. Many of these shops have Web sites and/or catalog services that makes it is as easy for us to buy from them as it is to buy from Amazon.com.

Sadly, the rise of gay-friendly chain stores and online sellers has been fatal to gay bookshops everywhere. Many surviving shops have had to diversify in order to survive, by selling or renting DVDs, t-shirts, greeting cards and jewelry along with books and magazines. Independent gay bookstores, like other “Mom and Mom” or “Pop and Pop” businesses, can only thrive by providing their customers with products and services that the major chains can’t or won’t provide — such as adult videos or DVDs that are not available elsewhere.

Only that – and a loyal customer base – will allow our few remaining bookshops to live long and prosper.

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“Sordid Lives: The Series”–a black comedy about white trash

“Sordid Lives: The Series”

“A Black Comedy About White Trash”

Amos Lassen

It’s finally here—the series we have been waiting for and now you can get it on DVD. What can I say except that it is a laugh riot and if you loved the movie you will love the series. Beth Grant, Bonnie Bedelia, Olivia Newton-John and Leslie Jordan are joined by new cast member Caroline Rhea and Rue McClanahan in the prequel to “Sordid Lives: The Movie”. We get twelve episodes of fun and the hairdos are as big as the laughs. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time and this is one DVD (actually there are three) that I have been waiting on. Grab a beer and a seat and enjoy six hours of fun.

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“Rivers Wash Over Me”–harrowing yet lyrical

“Rivers Wash Over Me”

Harrowing Yet Lyrical

Amos Lassen

“Rivers Wash Over Me” is a beautiful film about the travails of s black teenager, Sequan, who has to adjust to life rural Alabama after his mother’s death. Sequan is something of an intellectual who had the misfortune of being sent to live with relatives in the hostile and alien South.
Derrick Middleton is Sequan who is so self-effacing that he alienates everyone. His cousin, Michael (Cameron Mitchell Mason) is a star athlete and the two share a room. Michael brutally rapes Sequan in an effort to hide his own closeted homosexuality. Sequan is a follower of the writings of James Baldwin and when he talks about him in English class, he disgusts his teacher as well as gains the enmity of fellow classmate Ahmed, a drug dealer, who refuses to go to college thereby denying his own intelligence. All of the school kids feel contempt for Sequan and they beat him up regularly. All he has is his cousin Charles (Darien Sills-Evans) who is the new town sheriff and who tries to maintain integrity with the racial politics of the town.
The film deals with lies, cover-ups and compromises in a small Southern town. What goes in this town is shocking and although we all know we are living in an era of change, it is shocking to see how some people still live. This film will open your eyes about injustice and racism as well as homophobia. It is well done and keeps the viewer engrossed for the entire film.

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“Saturday Night at the Baths”–uncut and remastered

“Saturday Night at the Baths—the Director’s Cut”

Uncut and Remastered

Amos Lassen

“Saturday Night at the Baths” (WaterBearer Films) is entertaining, sincere and uplifting in the spirit of the late 60’s and early 70’s when bathhouses were the vogue. It is not, by any means, a great movie, but it was, when it was made (1975) a step forward for American movies. I remember the Continental Baths of the 70’s and it was an amazing establishment. It was a pleasure palace with great lighting juice bar and coffee shop. An elevator, an indoor pool and sex, sex, sex. Bette Midler got her start there as did many young gay men. It was liberating and a place where sexuality could be expressed openly. The movie, however, does not capture the spirit of the bathhouse but it does catch the spirit of the time.

When the movie was released in 2005 on DVD, the releasers were under the impression that they had the only remaining master of the film but it was later discovered that the producer/director had a fresh master in his vault and here it is—complete and unedited. It is the same story but with added footage.

Michael, our main character, finds himself desperate for a job and agrees to taking a gig as piano player at the baths and even though he considers himself to be straight, the advances he receives from the club’s manager, Scotty, have him questioning his sexuality. Michael, his girlfriend and Scotti become close friends and ultimately the two men find each other as their desires take hold of them.

The plot of the film is thin but who needs a plot in a bathhouse? The ending, for the time it was made, is shocking. Two men, completely naked get into bed and kiss and this is something not seen in American cinema.

I have read several serious criticisms of this movie—that the editing is poor, that the acting and the script is bad. This is an independent film made at a time when Indies were few and far between. No major American studio would have made a movie on the subject of gay bathhouses back then so we should be glad we have this. It is an accurate look at gay life of the period and it is both gentle and hard. It shows the sordidness of the times and does so with wit and honesty. The realism of the characters shows a certain dignity. They were all looking for love wherever they could find it.

“Saturday Night” lets the audience know how we lived before AIDS decimated our numbers and this makes it important. Now that bathhouses are barely existent, it is good that we have a record of them. They were once an integral part of gay life and cannot be ignored. The movie may be short on plot but it is large on entertainment. We see professional drag queens, guys dancing in their underwear or just in towels and there is one hot shower scene. More than anything else though, “Saturday Night” allows us to have a glimpse of what was going on in gay life in the 70’s.

An added bonus is a conversation with director Buckley who puts the film into perspective and gives us a bit of history.

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“Winter Kept Us Warm”–a student film

“Winter Kept Us Warm”


A Student Film


Amos Lassen


There are certainly many student films made each year but few of them are regarded as important. “Winter Kept Us Warm” is the first film from Canada that was invited to the Cannes Film Festival. It is also important as it is an early film (1965) that deals with the topic of homosexuality. , David Secter’s first feature broke ground in terms of independent filmmaking–its story of a close (but not quite too close) friendship between two college boys is circumspect even for the times, although when one ditches his girlfriend to take the other to a Harry Belafonte show, the codes aren’t too hard to understand. Filmed in black and white, it has the feel of an intimate look at life.
It’s the 1960’s at the University of Toronto and Doug is a well-liked senior with a popular girlfriend. Peter is a shy freshman new to the big city. Peter and Doug become best friends and soon go to concerts, out for drinks and they play in the snow together. When Doug brings Peter to a steam bath and washes his back, the friendship seems to head to a new level (in Doug’s mind, at least). However….

This film was shot at Sir Daniel Wilson Residence at the University of Toronto with a cast of amateur actors. Some of what was sensational in 1965 looks quite mild today but it is an important film in terms of where gay films are today. It is amateur but we must consider when it was made, I feel it should be a part of every gay movie collector’s library but we must remember that it is over forty years old.

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“HOWL”–James Franco as Allen Ginsberg

“Howl”

Franco as Ginsberg

Amos Lassen

 

James Franco is poet Allen Ginsberg in “Howl”, a new film by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Franco’s performance is amazing as he becomes the poet.

Franco’s readings from the then-infamous, now-landmark, poem, “Howl” are very but sometimes there is animation on the screen and this takes away from the depth of the poem. Ginsberg’s poem is a highly personal and transcendent poem that speaks to each person differently. Franco’s interpretation of it is powerful and it probably would have been the most effective if the camera was just on him. Even with the animation, this is one of those movies that you do not want to end. When I finished watching I immediately began to look up information on Ginsberg. I wanted to know more about his relationships with other men and how he and his lover Peter Orlovsky (played by Aaron Tveit) got along. Orlovsky, incidentally, died not long ago.

The film is made in four segments—interviews, the trial, the coffeehouse scene, and animation. This is more than a film, it is an experience and it shows how language can affect people. “Howl”, the poem, certainly did that when it was published in 1956 and an obscenity trial soon followed and the dialog in the film comes from the court transcripts and we get to see actors like Jon Hamm and Treat Williams, Jeff Daniels and Mary-Louise Parker. However this is Franco’s film. Franco is good at portraying gay men as we saw in “Milk” and here in “Howl”. At the time that Ginsberg lived, the closet was home to many and homosexuality was considered to be a mental disease. Ginsberg, himself, was in a mental treatment facility. Ginsberg became a champion of the lonely and the marginalized. Because he was labeled as different, he appealed to all those who could not find their places. He was a hero even though he did not fit in a world where he was not considered to be “normal”.

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