Archive for category Film
A Note on Reviewing
Now that i have entered a new website, I thought I would share my thoughts on book reviewing and react to several comments I have received. I have been asked several times how I select the books I review. My selections are based on two sources. I have been reviewing for years now so publishers send me review copies. There is also the option that I use that if I see a book that I think looks interesting and I have not received a free review copy, then I buy it and if it is worthy of a GOOD review, I report on it.
I have also been asked why I never give a bad review or if I do I balance it with good points. My purpose in reviewing is to incre4ase awareness of a larger world. If a book does not deserve a good review, I choose not to write about it. My ultimate purpose is to get people to read and if I write about book that has no redeeming value I defeat my purpose.
The other remark that I have received and I have expected it is “Why am I so “hung up” on the Jewish gay issue. There are several reasons for this but by and large it is because I am Jewish and gay and know what I went through reconciling that. It is not a question of being a Jewish issue, it is a religious issue and I have tried to make my reviews read so that any religion or minority group can be interchanged with the word “Jewish” and what the books that I review say can apply to any situation, any minority, and any religion. I am sure some think, “there he goes again with that Jewish business” and to some degree you are right. Just substitute yourself for the word “Jewish” and I think you will understand what I am trying to say. I have also been awarded a grant to write a book about growing up Jewish and gay in the South so quite naturally I spend a lot of time reading books about the subject. My reviews are an exercise for me to voice my opinion and if you feel they do not apply. Just skip over them.
Books for women? I know I have not written much here but I have finally begun to receive books on the subject, so stay tuned. I have a review I am working on now and hopefully there will be more in the future. In the meantime let me just say keep reading.
I have had one major disappointment. I am in contact with many authors and publishers and when I see raw talent, I will go above and beyond so that people are aware of the author. Recently I met a new vibrant young author, a poet who had just self-published his first book. I felt that people had to get to know him and I pushed that book like I have never done before and quite naturally the writer and I became good friends–or so I thought. I introduced him to many, many writers via facebook and other means. I wrote to people I know and told them that they had to read this book and I even went as far as to name it number one on a list I prepared for Lambda Literary Foundation. Shortly afterward my life hit a crisis with the infamous Amazon affair and I really needed a friend. Where was he? Nary a word from him yet his book continued to climb to the tops of many lists and he did so well that he opened his own press and managed to get a nice group of writers to publish with him. We are were scheduled to have lunch to discuss the rift between us when he decided that he had to go away for the weekend and was never heard from again. His poetry recently appeared in major publications and he won a place on the American Library list for which I nominated him and so on and so on. Am I bitter? I guess I am a bit but I learned that when someone writes a book and wants me to review it, I will but I will never go out of my way again and then get slapped for it. We all have our day and his will come.
On a positive note, I am currently moving over 5000 reviews of GLBT movies and books to this site so be patient. This will be the official archive of my reviews. Thanks for reading.
“The Whore’s Son”
Accepting the Truth
Coming-of-age films seem to be the thing lately and “The Whore’s Son” (Picture This) takes a new approach—how does a child learn to accept the fact that his mother works as a prostitute. How will a son feel when he finds out that she was a prostitute before he was born and has remained in that profession his entire life? The sad thing is that this question gives an interesting premise for a film but it is not realized under the direction of Michael Sturminger. He seems to do everything right—his actors are good, the script is literate, the cinematography is beautiful but these things for some reason just do not fit. The dialog is so bad that it is often embarrassing. The story which is great falls short and everything that happens is totally expected.
The title makes us expect a look at the seamy side of life—it is a tame film that looks at a young boy’s feelings toward his mother. Ozren (played wonderfully by young Stanislav Lisnic) has somewhat of a crush on his own mother, Silvija, who loves her son but in quite a moody way. Ozren believes she works as a waitress and as Silvija goes to work each night, Ozren is left with her widowed sister and he is usually in bed before she returns from work.
Politics also plays a part in the film. Silvija’s brother, who also cares for Ozren occasionally, is a loyalist to Tito. The adults in the film try to keep the boy unaware of his mother’s occupation but as he reaches puberty he begins to question her work. He has already been called a whore’s son by the driver of one of Silivja’s tricks and he begins to understand what the word “whore” means. As Ozren matures, he becomes more and more infatuated with his mother and she, meanwhile, begins to attract a more upscale clientele. As she gains wealth, Ozren begins to lust after her. She finally moves into a more expensive apartment and Ozren takes a job cleaning at a strip club. It is then that he realizes what his mother is.
From this summary, it is easy to see what a wonderful movie could have been but what we get seems to be both unfinished and underdeveloped. The movie covers fourteen years as it tells the story of the son and the mother who are Croatian refugees living in Germany. The standout of the film is Ozren who comes across as sensitive and his performance is indeed worthy enough to warrant seeing this film.
The Story of Bathhouses
I just finished watching a new documentary that is amazing, “The Shvitz” (Docurama) a documentary by Jonathan Berman. This is the story of the bathhouse in America and how it is not our exclusive property. “Shvitz” is a Yiddish word for “sweat” and therefore, quite naturally, “The Shvitz” is Yiddish for bathhouse. For those of you who do not know what Yiddish is, it is a language spoken by the Jews of Eastern Europe which is now a dead language. Many of the words we use today come from Yiddish—schmuck, delicatessen, schnooze (as in “I am going to take a short schnooze”). It seems that we have thought that one of the contributions gay society has made to the civilized world is the bathhouse. Not so. The Eastern European Jews who came to American brought the idea of the sweat house with them and lovingly nicknamed them “shvitzes”.
Life in the “shvitz” was unlike life anywhere else. There was a sense of comradie, a sense of belonging and going to the baths was, in most cases, a ritual usually observed at the minimum of once a week. Unlike gay men, people went to sweat and get clean, to meet with friends and to exchange the news of the world. Nudity was the rule; men would sit for hours, buck naked, and enjoy each other’s asexual company. It is hard to imagine a group of gay men sitting around naked and just talking. For us the bathhouse is a symbol of unbridled sex and orgiastic activity.
Jonathan Bergman has created a look at the bathhouse as we never have known it. This is a funny and lively look at a world that is no more. We go behind the bathhouse doors to explore the atmosphere of the last American steam baths. The cinematography is gorgeous and the cast of characters is not one you will likely forget. There are butches and lawyers, models and rabbis, gangsters and gay and they are all naked. The one thing they all do in common is “shvitz” (sweat).
The bathhouse is largely an Eastern Europ0ean tradition that has by and large disappeared from the landscape of America. Yet there is a secret world of the bathhouse that still exists in large cities where there may be one or two “Shvitzes” left. Now basically coed, they are a remnant of a world that seems to be gone forever. They are the opposite of the high tech spas and fancy gyms that have sprung up with the maturing of the baby boomers who do not want to be identified with the world of their fathers. In the past, bathers would take a break form the routine life and wash away their troubles. They would find conversation, rejuvenation and unlikely friendships. (Unlike gay bathhouses where one can find little conversation, lots of sex, and unlikely friendships that usually dissipate after orgasm). The “Shvitz” reflects the evolution of modern life and is now little more than a passing resemblance to what it was.
“The Shvitz” captures the spirit, the warmth and the togetherness of an age old ritual that is quickly becoming a passing memory. For that reason alone, this is a worthwhile film to see.
Also on the DVD are two short films, “The City” ( a look at the changes in urban life) and “The Third Avenue El” which gives a picture of the modern city that most of us will never have the opportunity to know.