And Now for Something Completely Different – Podcast Recommendation.

I’m going to do something a little different for this Towel Day and make a recommendation of a podcast that has been around for years but I’ve only recently started downloading.

Most Notorious is a true crime podcast hosted by author and historian, Erik Rivenes. In each episode Erik examines a certain moment, both well known and obscure, of history interviewing the authors who have written books about the event. Erik and his guests strip the mythology of the bygone eras away and get to the hear of . His linear style of guiding the conversation through the event discussed is engrossing. Since discovering this podcast my “to be read” pile has grown exponentially.

In an early episode, Erik interviews author Harold Schechter whose work of non-fiction Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness I reviewed last year (to read that review click here). The interview with Erik Rivenes focuses on Schechter’s book book Fiend, the subject of which is America’s youngest serial killer, Jesse Pomeroy (to check out the book’s Amazon page, click here). They discuss the recorded and likely reasons that the 14 year old sexual sadist chose his victims and what became of him after his conviction and the many years he spent in isolation. In another early episode, Erik interviews E. Don Harpe with a focus on his book The Harpe’s Last Rampage, the True Story of America’s First Serial Killers (to check out the book’s Amazon page, click here). E. Don Harpe, a descendant of the Harpe brothers, digs deep into his subject matter and opens up about the connection he felt to his ancestors when he visited the site of their hideout. In another episode, Erik and J.D. Chandler, author of Murder and Scandal in Prohibition Portland, discuss the Torso Murder and the police lack of action to find a missing woman who may have been more of a danger to local law enforcement officials than they might have liked. Why was the disappearance never investigated? Is the Torso found in the local river that of the missing woman? Will the recent reopening of her disappearance yield any results?

The host’s ease with his guests and his knowledge of each subject keeps the subject moving and really makes washing dishes and cleaning the bathroom in this time of isolation a delight. As with any true crime podcast, the subject gets heavy at times but the style of the host imbues a lighter tone while not robbing the bad that happened of its gravity. That is not to say, that all of the episodes involving bloody and horrible crimes (Nazi’s in America with author Arnie Bernstein was entertaining and will give listeners a new perspective on journalist, Walter Winchell).

Most Notorious is my new favorite podcast and if, like me, you love history and maybe tend to run a little bit behind the times, check it out. I think you’ll love it too. I am rapidly plowing through the 162 episodes currently uploaded and unlike some of my other podcasts, no break needed. I’m spending a ton of books and there are no regrets. Check it out today!

 

To check out the Most Notorious podcast go to their website.

 

The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen by Mark Shaw

Publication Date: December 6, 2016:

On November 8, 1965, 52-year-old investigative reporter and television personality, Dorothy Kilgallen, is found dead of an apparent overdose in her New York City home. Her files are missing and the air conditioning is running. She has been investing the Kennedy assassination and has told people she is poised to crack it wide open. Was she the reporter who knew too much?

 

 

Before he started investigating the Jack Ruby trial, Mark Shaw remembered Dorothy Kilgallen as a panelist on the syndicated CBS game show, “What’s my Line.” Digging into the records, Kilgallen’s name kept coming up and her interest and dedication to cracking the case sparked Shaw’s interest in the enigmatic and talented reporter and her mysterious death. Research for The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen took Shaw 12 years and justice for Kilgallen has become his calling.

Shaw lays out the facts of the scene for readers so that it takes little persuasion to convince readers that something was off. Kilgallen was found by her hairdresser in a room she didn’t typically sleep in with the air conditioner running on a cold November night in New York. The drink next to the bed was outside of the victims reach and the book next to her was laid in a way one wouldn’t naturally rest a book they were reading. Kilgallen was dressed in a peignoir with full makeup and wig, which was not her habit. Most peculiarly, all of her files related to the Kennedy case were missing and they were known to be copious. The glass next to the bed was found to contain a drug that was also found in the victims system, as Shaw discovered when he finally was able to locate the coroner report. Things clearly don’t line up and the reader can see that from the off which makes the mystery a compelling deep dive for the reader.

Shaw doesn’t limit the possibility to Kilgallen knowing too much, he offers a number of suspects for the reader to explore. Kilgallen was a daring and dedicated investigative reporter who Ernest Hemingway called one of the best female writers in the world. She was also a woman with nuance and Shaw doesn’t shy away from her flaws. Kilgallen was a woman who loved men and prior to her passing the married reporter had an ongoing affair with a reporter from the Midwest who was many years her junior. She had enemies and Frank Sinatra notably loathed her allegedly because she was not shy when it came to talking and writing about his mob connections. Perhaps a most interesting alternative suspect is the reporter’s husband, actor and Broadway Producer, Richard Kollmar. Shaw reached out to the couples children when researching his work and they were understandably reluctant to speak with him.

Shaw has lived Dorothy Kilgallen and the passion for the case shows clearly in The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen. One of the chief criticisms in reviews on Amazon cite the author’s need to edit. Admittedly, Shaw does go on. For him, this work is clearly more than a book and with publication his quest has turned to education of the public for the goal of achieving some sort of closure to the case. Shaw turned over the evidence he’d turned up to the NYPD hoping that they would reopen the case. An officer was assigned and Shaw was hopeful until they abruptly closed the case. Shaw has also been on a quest to bring to light things he feels has been covered up about the Kennedy assassination and that Kilgallen, had she lived long enough, would likely have exposed.

I found The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen absolutely fascinating. I read Kilgallen by Lee Israel many years ago and have always been interested in the reporters life and mysterious death. Shaw’s research is through and his points well presented. He doesn’t claim to know exactly what happens but leaves reasonable doubt for the reader based in fact rather than gossip, and there’s a lot of gossip out there. The case of Kilgallen’s research and death is a case of truth being stranger than fiction. Shaw went to great lengths to interview people who were afraid to talk for many years as well as digging up documents that had long been buried. He tells us what he knows for sure and then leaves it to the reader to decide what they believe.

As a partner to reading The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen, be sure to check out Mark Shaw’s talk about the work at the Allen, Texas Library (click here to view the Youtube video). It’s a lengthy video but well worth the watch. Was Dorothy Kilgallen the reporter who knew too much or did one of her many other adversaries decide it was time to be done?

 

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The Mamba Mentality: How I Play by Kobe Bryant

Published on October 23, 2018

On January 26, 2020, sports legend Kobe Bryant and his oldest daughter, Gianna (13) died in a helicopter crash on the way to Gianna’s basketball game. Click here to read the Variety article. When Kobe retired he wrote “The Mamba Mentality” about his strategic view of the game and how it should be played combined with score of intimate pictures of Kobe in the game. On this tragic day, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play is a look at one of great minds of the game.

 

People who know me will wonder how it is that I came to read a book by a sports icon about the way the game is played. It’s simple. I was visiting Tennessee, my Ipad (where all my books are stored) was malfunctioning and someone had gifted my dad a copy of the book and it was on the bookshelf of the bedroom in which I was staying. As a much younger person frequently the Ann Arbor library, I read scores of sports biographies and autobiographies. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Billie Jean King, etc….I don’t remember any of the basketball icons of the day but I loved watching the Harlem Globetrotters. In the age of social media, the magnitude of celebrity has risen but the greats remain greats for a reason.

Bryant’s greatness was part talent, part determination and part intelligence in his chosen field. He knew not only how to play the game but how to stay in the game. The Mamba Mentality: How I Play is a dive into Bryant’s past and insight into the game highlighted with pictures taken by award winning sports photographer, Andrew D Bernstein. The stories were short and succinct and well suited to the bite sized adaptable inspiration offered. Kobe highlights his good and doesn’t shy away from the bad in his take what you will from the experience presentation.

I think if you’re a basketball player or even a basketball fan, you’re going to take more from this read than I did. You may be frustrated by the cocktail table book nature of the read. The stories were short enough that I didn’t get bored but, really, I read the book to fill time. I will say, it did feel like that there was something less abbreviated coming. That this sports icon had more to say. I don’t know if he wrote anything else but looking at his author listing on Amazon, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play appears to have been his only book, which is a shame. The Mamba Mentality: How I Play is really done, flows well and is engaging. The same year that Bryant wrote The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, he won an Academy Award for his animated short film, Dear Basketball which had been written and narrated by the sports star. The film is Bryant’s love letter to the game.  If you search Youtube, the film is easily found and well worth the view.

The legacy of this icon is yet to be seen but his loss is surely felt by those left behind; family, friends and fans. To everyone personally affected by this loss, my sympathy is extended to you. We lose people in our lives every day but the loss of those who inspire and who we attain to be can be especially sweet and for adolescents and young adults who grew up  watching Bryant play the game and aspiring to be like him, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play will be a treasured read.

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Song of Nümenstar by AJ Feagin

Publication Date: August  25, 2019

When a group of Daejic students disappear, Commander Karawn Kross and the female Mystik Ka’myla Ad’uar embark on a mission to find them. What they find instead while searching catacombs beneath the highly secure city of Soaleste can change everything.

 

A lot of authors attempt to boost their writing credibility by saying that their stories are like those of popular or bestselling authors and seldom can the similarity been seen by the reader and when it is, it comes off as a poor copy. Not the case in Song of Nümenstar by AJ Feagin. The Amazon entry likens Song of Nümenstar to Dune and Star Wars and I can see the likeness. The similarity falls in the incredible work Frank Herbert did in building the world of Aarkis. It’s in the pageantry and diversity of Star Wars.

From the first sentence, a character’s “Sonarum” is warning him of danger and the reader is sucked in. Like the aforementioned Dune, Feagin isn’t talking down to her readers. Explanations come and are folded into the story in a way that is natural and doesn’t stop the reader. If there’s a glossary, I missed it and, really, it’s not needed. Readers learn the world and it is complex by accessible. There is the forest world and the great walled city reminiscent to this reader of a somewhat more sinister Oz.

There are a lot of things I loved about Song of Nümenstar and probably chief among them is the idea of the Daejic students. It doesn’t spoil the book to tell readers that the students have “extraordinary gifts.” Their job is to serve and protect and readers of this blog will know that I am a bit of a superhero fangirl. It is with them that the book is opened and it is they that have disappeared and require the skills of the honorable and cunning Commander and the gentle and diplomatic Mystik.

Another truly enjoyable aspect of Song of Nümenstar is how fast paced a read it is and how enjoyable the plot twists are. Sci-fi, especially as detail heavy as this read is, can be plodding but Feagin keeps it moving. Rather like Barry Eisler’s Rain series, her detail is action. There was a point in the novel where I stopped and just pictured an author with charts all over her walls to keep every detail straight. When you think about the work that went into this novel, it’s daunting but it’s not something that is visited upon the reader. Readers of this blog will know that I often give leeway to the first book in a series as the author will improve as they get to know their characters. Feagin has lived with her characters and knows them intimately. She is a part of the world of Song of Nümenstar. No excuses needed. Song of Nümenstar is a work of art.

Is it strange that I’ve said very little about the main characters? Like the house in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, is maybe the world the main character? While I’ve called back to many authors in this review, Song of Nümenstar is truly a one of a kind read. I’ve read thousands of novels – no exaggeration – and when I finished Song of Nümenstar, I couldn’t think of any book that I’d read that is truly like this first book in the Daejic Saga. I am so eager to see where this series goes.

If you’re looking for a uniquely wonderful sci-fi read or you’re someone who appreciates generally good fiction, pick Song of Nümenstar up today.

 

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Blogger note: Covers will be restored shortly.

Reviving the Commander by Nadine C. Keels

Publication Date: June 4, 2019:

Opal, to the outside world, seems to be happy, carefree and content with her spinsterhood. When she meets the Commander Exemplar of Diachona’s Army, a man who longs for his late wife, she feels an undeniable and yet hopeless attraction. The Exemplar is the first man she’s felt a pull with in a long time but he’s the father of the King and she has a dark secret. Is Opal destined to live her life alone?

 

Reviving the Commander is part of the Movement of Crown’s series. I have read the first book but that was long ago and I’d be lying if I said that I remembered anything about the book. Clearly, it would be helpful but not necessary to read the book before embarking on Opal’s story.

I think anyone reading the title of this story knows where it’s going. The Exempler is a man lost in grief. Opal is a woman lost in fear. Like many of us, she walks around with her public face of sweetness and light and inside the demons are at work. She’s fearful and ashamed and worried that if people knew her for who she really is, she would be hated and reviled. The unique charm of Reviving the Commander is that the characters are so authentic. Often, in romance, the male character is older, a bit of a man-whore and a throwaway cutout. Staid, (yes, that’s his name) is solid and caring. When we meet Opal, she’s simply enamored. Her infatuation has come to an all consuming point but she knows that if the King’s father is looking to marry again (or entertain himself) it won’t be with someone no one else wanted.

This is not a snap-together part connection. Keels gives a solid base for why these people should be together and why her audience should cheer for them. They are sweet and in conversation and development of characters, Keels shows herself as a student of human nature. Reviving the Commander  is economically arranged but well written. The craftsmanship of the work is especially impressive when one considers that it is set in a completely fictional world.

Reviving the Commander is a novella standing at an easy read of 172 pages. There are some surprises and turns readers may not see coming but, ultimately, Reviving the Commander is a story of love and faith. As a wholly non-religious person I can appreciate the biblical connection that isn’t overbearing for the reader.

If you like sweet fairy-tale like romantic stories, Reviving the Commander  is the story for you.

 

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Good Omens (2019)

“Good Omens” is based on the novel by Nail Gaimon and Terry Pratchett. Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and Crowley (David Tennant) are an Angel and Demon who are quite fond of humanity and, grudgingly, of each other. They have had off the books meetings for centuries and have perhaps each influenced the other in a way that their supervisors wouldn’t condone. When Crowley is called upon to deliver the Antichrist, he knows the end is near. The demon and angel agree to each stay close to the child and try to influence him but what happens when it’s the wrong child? And what happens when Heaven and Hell are both willing to do whatever it takes for the ultimate face off to happen?

 

Nail Gaimon wrote the screenplay and worked in the role of showrunner for the production and it shows. I think this may be the most true translation of novel to screen that I’ve seen. From the perfect casting to joyful irreverence, this show is a pure pleasure to watch. I’ve seen it three times all the way through and have plans to watch a fourth time and am willing to bet that I’ll see a host of things of hidden jokes and sly references. A demon and an angel who have lived long among the humans and developed an affinity for humanity have a crisis of divine purpose vs what they really want. Early on there are two great scenes. In the first great scene, the Archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) finds Aziraphale in a sushi restaurant and question why he’d want to foul his mortal shell with ickiness. In another scene, Crowley roars up in his classic car to take delivery of the baby Antichrist and his fellow demons go over their accomplishments in securing souls. Crowley gives this off-hand high tech explanation of his mass frustration of humanity as they stand there dumbfounded. The humor in both scenes is pure Pratchett. Tongue in cheek, setting up the beings with whom we’ll spend the length of the miniseries and highlighting their hesitance to give up the comfortable lives they’ve established.

Good Omens is a complex story. In part it’s about the Prophesies of Agnes Nutter and her descendants carrying on her tradition, in part it’s the story of an impending war between heaven and hell and it’s also part the story of a great friendship of opposites formed outside of the gates of the Garden of Eden as two immortals ponder God’s ineffable plan. Narrated by God herself (voiced by Frances McDormand), it’s a mostly linear story that bounces through time. Aziraphale and Crowley do their best for the little Antichrist but, in the end, their efforts are pointless.

As one would expect from the cast, the acting in Good Omens is outstanding. Micheal McKean as Witchfinder Shadwell is just comic genius. Jack Whitehall as Newton Pulcifer/ Adultery Pulcifer is just probably the best performance this actor has turned out. Sam Taylor Buck as Adam Young (the Antichrist) is convincing in fighting his dangerous side. The scenes with Adam and his group of friends are as interesting as the playful byplay between the more seasoned Michael Sheen and David Tennant. These young actors have great futures ahead of them.

Good Omens is simply amazing. To say too much would involve spoilers. I know that there’s been some backlash against the production because it’s considered blasphemous and, if you’re religious, I’m sure it is but only in the best way. How nice must it be to be so absolutely sure that things that are unseen in life exactly as you think they are. That God is a long haired white dude and not some cheery lady with an American accent and a sly sense of humor. This is fiction, it’s not literal and I’ve always been of the opinion that if you don’t like it, don’t buy it, but that’s me.  It is tongue in cheek and clever. The rare talent that comes along in literature and thank goodness for Neil Gaimon translating it to the screen because it was the production was just a joy. To see some of the best scenes from the book acted out and exactly as one would have pictured them is just delightful. Agnes Nutter throwing open the door and facing Adultery Pulcifer was just beautiful.  Will there be more? I don’t know but given that Pratchett died after the publication of this first novel, I can’t see Gaimon going back to that well. Gaimon is an author that seems to respect legacy and as talented as he is, I would think that Gaimon would hesitate to continue without his original co-author’s cooperation.

See Good Omens. See it now. It is wonderful, amazing and fully worth binging over and over.

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Honor Killing: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i by David E. Stannard

Publication Date: May 2, 2006

In 1931, Thalia Massie stumbled from the brush into a car when she accused six Hawaiian men of gang raping her. When the accused went to trial and walked away due to a hung jury; Thalia’s mother and husband kidnapped and killed one of the subjects launching a highly contested trial. If aristocratic white folk exacting a revenge killing in a racially charged environment wasn’t enough to attract the attention of the world, Clarence Darrow for the defense in what would be in last case, was certainly a draw.

 

This retelling of the Massie case paints the picture of a flighty and somewhat spoiled woman whose marriage to a Navy officer stationed in Hawaii was on the rocks. The author broaches slightly the idea that Mrs. Maisse wasn’t raped but rightly doesn’t dwell on the matter because that’s not the point. The point is that there was serious grounds for doubt that the five accused were guilty of the crime. In fact, witnesses saw the accused Hawaiian men far away from where Mrs. Maisse was found on the night of the alleged rape. It certainly seemed to be a case of suggestion when they were identified. Suddenly the woman who claimed not to have been able to see her attackers clearly, identified them without a shadow of the doubt. It bears mentioning that men who have been locked up for years for crimes for which they were convicted by eyewitness testimony have been found to be innocent because people simply cannot be relied upon to remember things in detail.

The plan that Grace Fortescue, Thalia Massie’s mother and Thomas Massie, developed was that they would kidnap the newly freed accused men and torture them until they admitted their crime. The kidnapped Horace Ida and beat him badly but that didn’t satisfy Mrs. Fortescue’s thirst for vengeance. They next kidnapped Joseph Kahahawai, a prizefighter; and in the course of questioning, someone shot him. They were caught pretty much immediately and that’s when the oddest thing happened – people rallied behind them. They were sent flowers and gifts and had it not been for one brave Judge; they would not have been tried for the crime at all. Stories started to travel to mainland of the lawless of Hawaii and the “Hawaiian problem.” There were tales of Native Hawiians roaming the streets and  terrorizing innocent women. Filmmakers who had worked in Hawaii rose to the defense of her people. Grace Fortescue had suffered some financial bad luck but was able to use her newfound fame and sympathy to raise money to hire the best lawyer she could find – Clarence Darrow – champion of the underdog. So why would he take this case, you wonder? The author goes into the motivations and also the damage Darrow’s reputation took in certain circles for what could be seen as selling out.

Honor Killing: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i is an engrossing work on non-fiction. It starts slowly going over Thalia Massie’s life and some what damaged relationship with her husband. He behavior when she stumbling out of the brush was confounding. She said to the driver of a car she flagged down; “Are you white people” before climbing into the car on to the lap of the couple’ teen son and demanding to be driven to her home. When the revenge killing happens, the story picks up pace and the jaw dropping nature of it’s place in time engrosses the reader. I think many of us have probably said; “If anyone hurts my daughter, I’ll be the one to wind up in jail” but would we carry through? Would we be as proud of our actions as Fortescue certainly was. I don’t think there’s any question that she believed she had the right man but certainly the benefit of looking back at a full picture leads the modern reader to know that this poor Hawaiian man very likely died without purpose.

Stannard presents the readers of Honor Killing: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i  with a painstaking researched work that is one of the stories that is stranger than fiction. That a crime that impacted Hawaii in the way it did is not more widely known is confunding to this reader. If you enjoy true crime or legal history, pick this one up today.

Buy 

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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Publication Date: May 1, 2009

Its 1985 and the fictional world is parallel to our own and someone is kidnapping literary characters. Its the job of Thursday Next, occupant of our world but detective in the Literary Detective Division, to find the culprit and stop them before its too late.

 

 

Every book claims to be like the work of a better selling author. They’ll up the ante saying that the work is by a author who is the modern version of the author to whom they’re likened. Usually they could not be less like the author whose name they use to promote themselves. In the case of Fforde, it would be in no way inaccurate to liken him to Douglas Adams. It would also not be inaccurate to say that they are nothing alike. Fforde and Adams share a well defined imagination with a lightness of being. Their worlds are intricate. Fforde is clearly extremely well read. The characters created by others in his story are wholly within character. The description of the fictional world is beautiful and complete.

Thursday Next is a complex character. The Eyre Affair is part time travel and part fantasy. History is rewritten, extinct species are not as extinct as one might think (Thursday has a pet Dodo). Her father can slow time and has been hunted by the Chrono Guard. There is simply too much to outline when it comes to this wonderful character. In the book world, characters play role. Jane Eyre is married to a fictional character not from her own book. There is an incredibly intricate bureaucracy in both the real world and book world and a delicate ecosystem in both. There are bookworms that eat prepositions and poop punctuation. Yes, it’s just crazy, but it works so beautifully well.

The Eyre Affair is a dance. There is chaos and just when you think there could be no resolution to anything it all comes together and things fall into place. Fforde gives a master class in creativity. His world is stunning. Kids trade cards of authors instead of baseball players and whole religions grow up around favorite works of fiction.  Perhaps the “He who shall not be named” bad guy is a little weak but in the end it makes sense. The Eyre Affair is exciting and poignant and there’s a hint of romance but not so much that it distracts from the master world building.

Despite his weak entrance, Archeron Hades is a brilliant bad guy. He is a sophisticated Snidley Whiplash, twirling his mustache and doing bad simply for the joy of the evil act and the satisfaction of a well crafted and executed plan. It;s not just a job for Hades, it’s a calling and he’s determined. Hades is not the only bad guy by a long shot. The Goliath Corporation may not be as innocent as they seem and just might complicate life more than people might like.

Ultimately, Thursday is a Mary Sue for those of us who love books. She travels through storylines and keeps the peace for favorite characters. Who wouldn’t want that job? The Eyre Affair is my Unicorn. It is the perfect book in that its so different than anything you’ll ever pick up that it is like discovered Adams and Pratchett again.

If you like quirky fiction, The Eyre Affair is 100% for you. Pick it up. There are no regrets.

 

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Paris is Burning (Documentary) by Jennie Livingston (Director)

On December 31, 2018 Hector Xtravaganza, Grandfather of the House of Xtravaganza (one of the early Latino drag families), died at the age of 60. Hector was featured in Paris is Burning and served as a consultant on the Ryan Murphy show about the New York gay ballroom scene of the 80s. Pose.

DVD Publication Date: February 22, 2012

Paris is Burning was filmed in the mid to late 1980s and chronicles the ball culture of New York City’s Black, Latino, Gay and Transgender community.

Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning follows the largely African-American Ball scene in New York City. Livingston became interested in the scene when she met a group of young gay men doing what they called “voguing” in Washington Square Park. Thinking the ball scene would make an interesting University project, the men suggested she contact the creator of the vogue moves, Will Ninja, who introduced her to the ball scene where contestants would have walk off competitions in a variety of categories. Contestants would be scored on a number of categories including realness of drag whether it be boy drag (banjee – or passing as straight), girl drag or androgyny. In exploring the ball scene, Livingston connected with many individuals and highlighted their stories.

As a parent, this documentary tore at my soul. On the one hand there’s the pageantry and over the top nature of the ball scene. A place to be accepted and celebrated for people who normally found themselves on the outside of 80’s mainstream society. A celebration of acceptance, open hearts and love. In the ball setting of everything goes live people who want to be who they are. They want love and happiness and the societal idea of normalcy. Venus Xtravaganza is a trans woman supporting herself as a call girl while dreaming that one day she’ll have the life she’s always wanted. People who love and accept her. People who see her as the woman she knows herself to be. Her longing for a life she’d never have was heart stirring. In my review of this movie I don’t wish to pontificate on gay rights but my heart broke for Venus in her dreamy desire for a life she would never have (not to give anything away). What we’re left with is a clear, unvarnished look at a woman who is hurting no one in her longing for the life of a suburban lady who lunches. Her end is heartrending and tragic and I will admit to wishing that things had worked out differently for this compelling young person.

As a longtime viewer of RuPaul’s Drag Race and follower of drag culture, watching Paris is Burning shined a light on how much the fore-bearers of the ball scene influence gay culture. The drag houses of the film still exist and thrive and the sense of community shines in the artists appearing on our screens weekly. Livingston showed the good and the bad. The nurturing “families” and the danger of daily survival. I searched wikipedia for many of the key players in the film after finishing and many of them lived on their terms and, sadly, met an early end. Hector Xtravanganza became a key player in HIV/Aids activism.

Paris is Burning is engaging, enlightening, joyful, heartbreaking and informative. It is a must see for humanity. Check it out today. I don’t know why I waited so long.

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American Horror Story: Asylum

Aired: October 17, 2012 – January 23, 2013

Set mostly in 1964, Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is accused of killing his wife (Britne Oldford) and locked up in Briarcliff Manor, an asylum that houses the criminally insane. Court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Oliver Threadson (Zachary Quinto) is assigned to asses Walker’s ability to stand trial. Reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) requests access to the asylum as she sees exposing the mistreatment of the patients as the making of her career. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) denies her access so Lana sneaks in and is injured. Jude initially uses the injury and then Lana’s homosexuality to keep her locked away. Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) is using the patients to make the ultimate human beings. Dark forces are at work. In modern day in the ruins of Briarcliff will history repeat itself?

Asylum is the second show in the American Horror Story series.

 

There is a lot going on in Asylum. There are serial killers, alien abduction, demon possession, war criminals, the list goes on. The show tackles homosexuality, interracial marriage, unchecked medical practices and the abuses that occurred unchecked in asylums of the era. People treated as sub-human and disappeared easily. Each character is deeply complex and unique in their own right and few are truly evil, simply misguided in their approach to what they think is best for the world.

As would be expected from the calibre of performer to appear in a Ryan Murphy production, the acting is beyond reproach. I read a tweet not long ago that lauded Evan Peters as the Meryl Streep of the modern age and I can’t say that I disagree. He is an absolutely phenomenal artist. In Kit he is traumatized, confused and desperate. Kit is a man fighting for his life and the audience believes the urgency of his dilemma. Lily Rabe appears in this second outing as Sister Mary Eunice, a nun imbued with childlike innocence who turns evil. Frances Conroy appears briefly as an angel of death of sorts and her brief appearances are simply breathtaking. Though there are sex scenes in Asylum, they are less pronounced than in Murder House though, I must warn viewers that might be triggered, there is a pretty brutal rape scene that is in no way gratuitous.

Because of the many directions in which the stories go, some of them simply aren’t done very well. I know that there are lines throughout that will connect in the final season, perhaps the very poorly executed alien story-line that seems like an afterthought will re-emerge in Apocalypse. The backstories of the varied inmates (woman accused of killing her family, sex addicts, Anne Frank,  Pepper – a nonverbal patient who appears as a main character in the later installment Freak Show, etc…). Each character is explained and their motivations explored. Innocent and guilty melted together and forced to survive. Sister Jude rules the roost but she’s at odds with Doctor Arden believing that the experiments Briarcliff’s founder, Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), has given Arden the space to perform is against nature but she soon finds herself with a greater adversary…her past.

I expected to be deeply uncomfortable with the cruelty of the Asylum and was but was intrigued with where the story would go and was not disappointed. The tie in of the past storyline with it’s present counterpart was expected but really well done. Adam Levine and Jenna Tatum are perhaps not the strongest actors in the piece but their brief appearance certainly makes its mark. Sarah Paulson especially was a standout as a later life Lana Winters. 

To say much more would be giving away the story so if you are one of the few people who haven’t seen this series and enjoy well acted drama, check it out. Let me know what you think.

 

American Horror Story Asylum is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.

Amazon U.S.   Amazon U.K.   Amazon CA

Title American Horror Story Murder House
Director Ryan Murphy (and others)
Actors Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto (and others)
Length 13 episodes
Rating NR
DVD Release October 8, 2013