24 April 2011

Book Review: The Hindus, An Alternative History

Wendy Doniger, is an Indologist and Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School, the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the Committee on Social Thought. Her book was a comprehensive history of the development of Hinduism and its major religious themes.

I decided to write a book review of this book here, which is not a book focused on sexuality and gender identity. Nevertheless, her observations about sexuality and gender identity are fascinating and if you are interested in taking a graduate seminar in the history and development of Hinduism, with some focus on sexuality and gender identity, read this book.

As a Buddhist, I found some of her discussion on the rise and fall of different Hindu gods to be fascinating. I was stunned when traveling in Himal Pradesh to be told by a Shaiva that Indra was a god of the mist when in our religion, Indra is the king of the gods -- which like humans, die and are subject to the laws of rebirth and suffering. But as it turns out, Indra is the king of the gods in the traditional Vedic system but was displaced by the Vaishnavas and the Shaivas under the later developments in Hindu thinking. So, in other words, Indra really is the kind of the gods except when he's not! It doesn't really matter for a Buddhist because we don't worship Indra. Indra and the crew also pray to various Buddhas like the Green Tara just as we do.

I have written previously about the transgender sex workers of Hyderabad in my book review of With Respect to Sex and the potential for postcolonial analysis of gender identity and sexuality. A fascinating anecdote in the book of this review, Doniger writes:
The cross-dressing men of the Third Nature in the Kama-sutra may be the cultural ancestors of the Hijras of contemporary India, cross-dressing and sometimes castrated male homosexuals, often prostitutes, who worship the goddess Bahuchara Mata.* Perhaps fifty thousand strong in India today, the Hijras descend upon weddings, birth celebrations, and other occasions of fertility, dancing and singing to the beat of drums, offering their blessing or, if they are not paid, their curse, which may take the form of lifting their skirts to display the wound of their castration. Their ambivalent ability to blackmail through a combination of blessing and curse eventually struck a resonant chord with some government agency charged with tax collection. As a result, in 2006 the Municipal Corporation of Patna, the capital of Bihar, one of India's most impoverished states, hired about twenty Hijras to go from shop to shop (later from house to house), asking the owners to pay overdue municipal taxes, which apparently ran into the millions. The new tax collectors met with considerable success from their very first day on the job, often settling the outstanding arrears on the spot; in lieu of salary, they received 4 percent of the amount they collected.
* Bahuchara, meaning "Getting Around a Lot," is the same phrase that the mother of Satyakama, in the Upanishads, used to refer to her promiscuity.
I found the discussion on Tantra fascinating, even the more recent discussions, in the book. We are Tantric and it was not until I became an adult did I understand that Tantra is associated with "libertine" sexuality but after reading this book, I fully understand -- a similar understanding developed about Vatsyayana Mallanaga's Kama-sutra.

How, at almost 700 pages, the book is not for the faint of heart. If you are not interested in linguistics, religion, philosophy, history of South Asia, or have no connection to Indic religions, you may not be able to brave the entire book. If this book had come out a decade earlier, it would have saved me a lot of reading in graduate school.

The version I read was a 800 page paperback published by Penguin (Non-Classics) (November 30, 2010), ISBN-13: 978-0143116691. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at amazon.com.

23 April 2011

Movie Review: Issues 101

Suffice to say, I had never heard of this movie when it came out. But I am familiar with many gay themed movies that came out in the early 2000s and I'm certain that this movie had to have been shot in the early 1990s with the dress and hairstyles.

Much of the acting was very poor -- very very poor. It was not helped by the poor direction and I suspect by the time it got to the editors they did the best they could. The plot itself had a somewhat interesting flow, but, well, none of the characters developed enough for it to be interesting.

The most interesting line, which came 2/3ds of the way through: "I'm sorry but I'll have to cancel my subscription to your issues." If homoerotic tension, unrequited puppy love and drama are your thing, then you'll enjoy this movie a lot.

16 April 2011

Movie Review: I Love You Phillip Morris

This has got to be one of the funniest romantic comedies I've ever seen. And it's quite disturbing that, it is, with a few dramatic changes, a true story. I do not recommend extensively reading about Steven Jay Russell or Phillip Morris before watching this film. I happened to read the short article in Esquire. But other than that, nothing.

As you can see, Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey play gay men who are in love. The story is about the crazy life of Steven Russell (played by Jim Carrey) and what kind of madness threads the life of a police officer who is married with child to gay con man, escape-artist felon. If you ever enjoyed Jerry Springer or Judge Judy and you like gay romantic comedies, this is the movie to watch.

15 April 2011

Movie Review: Dorian Gray

This movie, which was supported by Her Majesty's government in the funding department, is a cinematic revival of the haunting story by the late Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray. Although the bisexuality of Dorian Gray is toned down, I felt it still appropriate to relate my feelings on the film/story here.

If you have never read the Picture of Dorian Gray or heard about it. This is a classical negative puer eternus problem. Dorian, played by Ben Barnes, pictured below (not Colin Firth),
is a country bumpkin who comes to London and is trained by Lord Henry Wotton, played by Colin Firth, to be what we would popularly call hedonistic. He seeks his own pleasure without regard to the consequences to others or himself. And, when he first arrives in London, a portrait is painted of him to hang in his new digs which is hauntingly lifelike in its appearance of the dashing young man. During the painting, he is asked if he would sell his soul to the devil by having the portrait age and not him. He says he would and the mischief begins.

If you have ever been struck by the archetype of the puer eternus and you have never heard of this story, you can cheat (puerile trait) and watch this movie. Her Majesty's government was not let down in the execution of the script. It is just unfortunately that it would grossed $20 million world-wide. But then again, we are really a puerile global culture these days and with global warming and overpopulation, we are struggling with our own demons of the shadow negative puer. Definitely worth the watch.

14 April 2011

Movie Review: Strange Fruit

I did not have an understanding of the phrase "Strange Fruit" until after watching the movie. The movie itself is about a gay lawyer who has left his small Southern town in favor of a New York City. He returns, however, when gay high school friend has been killed lynching style. It's a suspense movie so I won't give any more details which could spoil the movie if you wish to see it.

What I found interesting is that the writers of the film show, in what ways, homophobia and anti-gay violence is similar to xenophobia or anti-Black violence. In other blogs, I have talked about how Southern evangelical ministers in the 1950s used various interpretations of the Bible to condemn racial integration and inter-racial marriages and how those same Biblical passages and interpretations have been moved over to use against LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. This movie does not look at the issue in such a direct political way but challenges the habit of Southern culture which has turned to the gay man as the new Other.

It is too bad that the movie didn't have more money because the story might have been helped a bit by Hollywood levels of funding. It's still a good movie given those constraints.

11 April 2011

Movie Review: Boys Life 7

I remember some of the previous Boys Life and, well, it's been a few years. I know that in the 1990s when the first two Boys Life came out, it was just what someone grouping up in the province needed. Yes, full length feature films about same-sex attraction and homosexuality were available. However, because of the capital-intensive nature of full length feature films in the 1980s and 1990s, the subject matters were quite limited (Gregg Araki's Totally F**ked Up and Doomed Generation perhaps being the two exceptions).

However, Boys Life, Boys Life 2, etc., opened up and avenue that is mostly eclipsed by youtube and other content providers of film shorts. Nevertheless, these short films where outside the narrow range of what was high on the return-for-investment and opened my eyes to the power of film in general and also the possibilities of life outside the provincial model and the alternative narrow bland cosmopolitan model presented by mass produced milquetoast films about same-sex attraction.

In Boys Life 7, the first short, "The Young and Evil" is disturbing in the way I imagine classical Tantric masters roamed the mountain kingdoms of the Himalayas overturning Vedic and post-Vedic hierarchy with their talk of divine sex and ritual consumption of bodily fluids. The second short, "Spokane" reminded me very much of undergraduate college years and the unspoken tragedy of sex with a straight-identified guy (in other words, without intimacy).

The third short "First Date" is hilarious because when the 90s occurred, I recall going on a few internet dates with crazy people like this and I identified with the young, overweight Asian guy in the story. It is a dark comedy but hilarious and this in itself is worth watching the entire show. And finally, the last short, is an exemplar of how I recall the Boys Life series, "Raw Love" is the latest commentary on high school unrequited love. If you identified with Tong in first scenes of make-out/sex between Tong and Nathan in Lihim Ni Antonio, you will likely have some kind of affective response to this short. You can see, from the movie poster, that "Raw Love" was the show stealer.

I would definitely watch to get an idea of the kinds of stories today's film makers are creating about a "boys life".

08 April 2011

Movie Review: Men in the Nude (Férfiakt)

I made the unusual mistake of not writing a review of this movie within a day of watching it. A big mistake, for the first time. I can't remember almost anything about the movie except there is this old guy that finds inspiration for life by picking up a 19 year old prostitute. It looks like his depressed life is about to turn around until the prostitute actually speeds up the unraveling. The fact that I can't remember much about this movie other than that, may give you some insight into why this review is so short. Nevertheless, some people like watching movies where the supporting actor is a young 19 year Hungarian prostitute.

05 April 2011

Movie Review: Patrik, Age 1.5

The plot of this movie is fairly straight forward and can be discerned by looking at the three image-clusters on the movie poster. 15 year old boy, typewritten text saying Patrik, Age 1 1/2, and then two gay men looking at a paper stunned. It was a light-hearted romantic comedy of sorts.

Two subtle techniques in the film that I found disturbing were (1) the ascetic/masochistic Christian principle that would drive a gay couple to accept a delinquent 15 year old boy in lieu of what they wanted, an infant; and (2) the redirection of surveillance techniques for infants used by a gay couple on a 15 year old delinquent boy.

Now, the movie progresses along and may be a nice date movie -- that is, so long as you don't have any deep commitment or abandonment issues. Curl up with a cup of hot chocolate or calamansi juice and watch. It has just enough surprises (if the two exceptions above don't repulse or creep you out) to make it enjoyable without being predictable.

02 April 2011

Movie Review: La León

Let me be the first to admit that I did not give this movie my undivided attention. As you know, there is this unspoken rule in movie making about the first ten minutes. The viewer needs some bait. And well, this movie turned out to be too formal for the bait. I was actually struck by the intense sex scene later in the movie because it seemed to break with the formal tone of the movie.

In any event, I watched the whole thing because the cinematography of an Argentinian jungle was too good to pass up. I could have watched it without the subtitles and the sound and I might have even enjoyed it more. It is also possible that failing to give the movie my undivided attention I missed the enchanting aspects of it and, therefore, can only praise the cinematography.