24 January 2014

Movie Review: Love Free or Die

This is Gene Robinson, and the documentary Love Free or Die, is the telling of the story of troubles in the Anglican communion through the biography of Gene Robinson. In 2003, Gene Robinson was elected bishop of the (Episcopal) diocese of New Hampshire, USA. In 2008 when Rowan Williams convened the Lambeth Conference for all the bishops in the Anglican Communion, Robinson was not invited. Robinson went anyways and held dialogs with those bishops at the conference who would listen.

Robinson's consecration sparked a crisis for the Anglican communion when conservative American bishops withdrew from their dioceses and attempted to establish a non-local all-USA diocese of conservative churches. They attempted to take their Anglican church property with them and learned, as did Gregorio Aglipay in November of 1906, that hierarchical churches, such as Roman Catholicism and even more loosely hierarchical churches such as Anglicanism, are the title owners of their church property and the existence of a particular human bishop only holds a beneficial, possessory interest even if legal title to property resides in the name of a particular bishop. In other words, you can leave but the church stays, father.

It should be noted that in 2006 Anglican Americans elected a woman to be primate, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United State, Katharine Jefferts Schori. She was the first woman to be elected to such a post, further infuriating conservative Anglicans.

Subsequent to the Lambeth conference in 2008, American Anglicans installed Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian as a suffragan bishop of the diocese of Los Angeles. This led to outrage by the conservative African bishops. Americans went a step further to adopt a policy permitting the consecration of openly gay bishops and permitting the blessing of same-sex unions where recognized by law.

This is a great documentary that tells this story with narrative focus. It's worth watching as a matter of understanding and history how those with strong religious beliefs deal with their brethren with regard to sexuality.

23 January 2014

Movie Review: Let's Get Frank

Barney Frank served in the US House of Representatives from 1983 to 2013 and is considered to be the best known openly gay politician in the United States. In 1987 he came out of the closet and shortly thereafter, he referred a relationship he had with a male prostitute to the House Ethics Committee to clear his name. The Committee cleared Frank of any wrong doing that had been lodged against him by his ex-boyfriend although it did recommend a public reprimand for helping his ex boyfriend fix 33 parking tickets. Before 1987, he was seen as the prime candidate to be the first "Jewish" Speaker of the House. However, after coming out, that prospect became dim. Some Republicans, led by then Representative Larry Craig (later becoming famous in 2007 for his arrest for lewd conduct involving "foot tapping" in a bathroom stall in a Minnesota airport), pushed to have him censured and expelled from the House.

Frank ended his career as the Chairman and then ranking minority member of the House Financial Services Committee.

Okay. Enough with the history lesson which summarizes most of this movie. The movie actually focuses on another special role Frank had in the history of the US House of Representatives. He was a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee when it proceeded to recommend filing articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton. Frank was Clinton's most vociferous defender.

This is a documentary about Frank's life from the vantage point of Clinton Impeachment Period.

22 January 2014

Book Review: Love, Sex and Tragedy

Simon Goldhill is Professor in Greek Literature and Culture and fellow and Director of Studies in Classics at King's College, Cambridge. He is also Director of CRASSH, the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities at the University of Cambridge.

After reading this book, I feel like my eleven years and several advanced degrees in graduate school could have been compressed in half had I read this book when it was first published. But I guess the real question would be, would I have understood the implications?

One of the things I find entertaining is discussing the existence of God with people who believe in it with certainty, especially when my interlocutor is highly intelligent. When they are not intelligent, its boring. This book expands the topics with which one may discuss the existence of something believed to be eternal, immutable or universal. He adds love, sex and democracy to the equation.

For example, the ancient Greeks are one of the "great" origin civilizations of modernity. In debating issues involving sexuality, it never fails for both sides of any debate to raise the ancient Greeks. The theory goes that Greeks engaged in homosexuality on a fairly universal scale and thus, it cannot be deemed "evil" but only bad because of recent historical developments regarding cultural norms. The opposing argument is that Greek civilization "fell" because of its shortcomings and permitting and promoting such "rampant" homosexuality was one of those causes.

Goldhill gives us much more context on this issue. For example, the exemplary homosexuality of ancient Greece is not the exemplary homosexuality of late capitalist modernity. The favored homosexuality of today assumes that two partners are equal or near equal in status, social standing, age, etc., and that a long-term committed partnership will develop into a same-sex marriage.

The favored homosexuality of ancient Greece was of older men (free, slave-owning citizen kind) leering at post-pubescent, pre-facial-hair teenage boys/gym bunnies (the sons of free, slave-owning citizens). The older men would engage in a lengthy courtship of these teenage boys and in the end, usually engage in sticking their cocks between the boy's thighs to get off. If the boy was virtuous, he would not be aroused by this activity. When facial hair appeared, he would cease the activities and at some point become the pursuer. The older men were supposed to "mentor" the teenage boys on virtue and being an upstanding citizen. Being what we would call gay, as a free, slave-owning citizen, was disfavored not because of the gender, but because of the focus on desire - which Greeks saw to be mostly dangerous. Having sex with your wife for pleasure was a greater sin. And the greatest Greek sin of the time was to be a bottom. As a highly misogynistic and patriarchal culture, a man receiving man love was the ultimate violation of manhood. Of course, as a slave or other non-citizen, there was no real violation because you weren't an embodiment of symbolic manhood. But for a citizen to bottom, that was the most unvirtuous thing to be done.

Anyhow, Goldhill goes into many topics related to sexuality today. He looks at the origins of romantic love. He also spends about a third of the book going into the origins of Christianity -- as a reaction to Greek and Roman cultures in antiquity. If you don't know anything about early Christian views of the flesh, this would be a great introduction. Then he moves onto politics and democracy -- which was the slowest part of the book for me, surprisingly. Nothing like nineteenth and twentieth century European politics to bring things to a bore.

The version I read was in English at 352 pages in cloth published by the John Murray Publishers Ltd (May 10, 2004) with an ISBN-10 of 978-0719555497. The least expensive version I found online was at amazon.com

21 January 2014

Movie Review: Yossi

Yossi is the sequel to Yossi and Jagger. It was filmed and takes place a decade after Yossi and Jagger. In this film, Yossi has left the Israeli Defense Forces and is a closeted doctor at a hospital and has gained some weight. He struggles with his homosexuality. One day, he notices a fellow doctor will be performing some kind of examination on someone he wants to do the examination for. He does and the woman vaguely recognizes him but doesn't.

As soon as she leaves the examination, he tries to run to her in the elevator but misses the door. He runs down the stairs, gets in his car and offers her a ride home. She accepts. He drops her off. We come to learn that this woman is Jagger's mother. He eventually decides to go to Jagger's parents' house and tell them the truth about he and Jagger before his death. The father accepts it while the mother asks Yossi to leave.

Yossi decides to go to Sinai for holiday -- where the security situation is lacking. Along the way, he watches some young soldiers interacting, with one that is gay, and invites them to ride with him until their destination. Against the rules, they do. They encourage him not to go to Sinai and after denying their entreaties, he decides to book a room at the resort they are getting their R&R at. He is smitten by the gay soldier, Tom. Eventually after some majorly awkward closet-gay stalking, Tom and Yossi go on a sort-of-date which ends when Tom, having stripped, frolicking in the ocean naked, steps on a sea urchin. They go back to Yossi's room where he takes the spikes out and maybe sews up something.

This has to be the longest part of the movie especially given Yossi's social awkwardness regarding dating, courting, etc.,. I will leave the ending for you to see for yourself, but this is much a better ending that the extremely tragic Yossi and Jagger.

This movie very powerfully presents how the closet deforms the soul and creates social and developmental disabilities for those trapped in its prisons. But it also provides hope that such deformations can be remedied.

19 January 2014

Movie Review: Christopher and His Kind

This movie was BBC made-for-television bioflick. It's about the story of British-American writer Christopher Isherwood during his time in Berlin of the early 1930s. Isherwood was a mentor of another famous British-American writer, W.H. Auden, who has occasionally been described as the most important writer in English of the twentieth century.

Isherwood follows Auden to Berlin where the Nazis are on the rise. He makes friends and tutors English to make his living. He tutors a wealthy Jewish store owner who encourages him to take a stand against Nazism, which Isherwood refuses to do because it is outside of the artistic "sensibility." Isherwood has fallen in love with a street sweeper named Heinz. Because he helps Heinz financially, Heinz's mother tolerates the relationship and Isherwood's other friends. But when she leaves for the sanitorium, Heinz' Nazi sympathizing, unemployed older brother, bans Isherwood and his kind from the house. Nazism becomes more prominent in the story. The wealthy Jewish store owner's house and stores are ransacked and subject to a Nazi boycott, etc.,. Isherwood decides to leave Berlin and take Heinz with him. When Heinz is unable to secure permanent residency in Britain, Isherwood promises to get him back.

(Douglas Booth plays Heinz)

The movie fast-forwards to the early 1950s where Isherwood and Heinz reunite in Berlin. Heinz is now married and has named his son after Isherwood. Heinz says his wife is understanding and will accept Isherwood "joining" the family so that he doesn't have to grow old alone.

Isherwood declines but they remain in contact until Isherwood publishes this very autobiography to which, we are told at the end of the film, causes Heinz to end his communication with Isherwood. Isherwood entered into a life-long partnership in California, around the same time as reuniting with Heinz, with Don Bachardy who is a now well-known artist.

Since I didn't know much about the life and times of the literary greats of the twentieth century, this movie was interesting. I had only vaguely heard of Isherwood's name before watching it so I felt like it was education. My only concern is the narrative inevitability of Nazism's rise in 1930s Germany. Isherwood was disengaged from politics and much of social life at the time until he witnessed book burning and had an awakening. I would like to see more filmic work on the conditions of Nazism's rise. This movie provides some of that but more is needed.

One last note, Matt Smith does an excellent job performing a socially awkward, nerdy Isherwood.

13 January 2014

Movie Review: Yossi and Jagger

I actually reviewed this film several years ago but for one reason or the other, it wasn't posted -- hiding among the posted blogs receding farther and farther down the list of posts until it had fully disappeared.

Yossi is the commander of a fighting unit in the Israeli Defense force, Lior is his second in command -- although the unit calls him Jagger because he sing and imitates like Mick Jagger. The two engage in a secret love affair on the front lines. One day a colonel appears with two women -- his lover and another -- with plans of a night time attack. Yossi opposes the attack plan because it will occur on a full moon night. The plan goes ahead where Jagger is fatally wounded. In Yossi's dying arms, Jagger freely and completely expresses his love of Yossi. Sad, but worth the watch.