“Ukeire”: gay melodrama set in Appalachia takes religious homophobia to a precipice

Ukeire” (2015), is a disturbing small “real indie” film about religiously driven homophobia by J. J. O’Hearn based on his own short story, which might seem set up and contrived.  But the message of this film, which is somewhat stilted in acting and excruciating at times to watch, does indeed unfold in some light sheets or layers.  The title means “acceptance” in Japanese.  I would wonder if Reid Ewing, with his interest in Japan and Danganronpa and Japanese culture, has watched this.

A teenager, Brennan Akitsuki O’Dorcay (Pate Faulkner) has taken the bus from California back to his old hometown of Corbin, Kentucky, in the mountains near Cumberland Gap (which I visited in 2016, my photo above). We’re he lost family members to a house fire and then a murder in San Francisco and later Fresno.  Child Protective Services escorts him to his single dad’s (Brady, played by David Bingham) home, which seems rather nicely furnished physically. Brady somewhat reluctantly takes him in.   Brennan apparently has partly Japanese ancestry, although that’s not really obvious from his looks.

Then Brennan is enrolled in the local high school.  It seems sparsely staffed (is this really how it is, or a matter of the film’s budget) – teachers double up as assistant principals.   He quickly meets a best friend  Aidan (Austin Call) who seems like an intellectually and socially secure person in a poor environment – maybe even gifted. But the other kids seem tribal and lethargic, and homophobic, as we find out.  Two girls beat up Brennan for dressing and looking like a “fag” (or maybe a “gook” even).

The young male English teacher Mr. James Wilson (James Lanham) assigns the small class an assignment of rewriting a scene from either “Romeo and Juliet” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in modern context (with FinalDraft?) and acting it in class.  (Why not try, “The Tempest“?  Saw it on an arena stage in Dallas in the 80s and the young male sirens were appropriately polished.)  Brennan gets paired with Aidan, who is trying to help him adjust. Lanham’s voice and delivery reminds me of math teacher and whiz Deven Ware from AOPS at UCLA (on YouTube). I wondered if Deven could have been cast for this role!

After the beating, Brennan tells both Wilson and Aidan that he is gay.  The staff seems mildly supportive but not willing to do much to stop other students from bullying. Aidan is more supportive, and seems genuinely, maybe profoundly gifted and ready to go onto great things himself. Brennan decides to tell dad that he is gay, and slips it in to a dinner conversation. The father explodes, beats up Brennan, who runs out into the woods. Later Aiden finds him having slashed his wrists. It’s too late to save his life at the hospital.

Maybe the film means a parallel to a Shakespeare as a tragedy, although it’s not really a fit.  Brennan appears as a ghost from heaven a few times, as if it were a real place for the next life. Personally, I think the afterlife is a lot more fragmentary than that, but I won’t get into the Monroe Institute theories here. The dad explodes at the funeral again with rhetoric that sounds like the Westboro Baptist Church (“GHF”), complete with burning in hell.  But when he meets his son’s ghost near the coffin, he realizes how wrong he is and become profusely apologetic, as his whole concept of what is in the Bible must turn on its head.

There are other ways to interpret the suicide issue.  It could be seen as the person’s desire to punish those who taunted him, to say that the world is unworthy of being lived in.  So it might be seen as arrogant or even cowardly. Indeed many Christians believe that suicide means forfeiture of heaven and damnation instead. But what if gross harm is inflicted by a criminal or a foreign enemy.  What if someone is exposed to radiation by a terrorist or nuclear blast and decides to jump off a building to avoid dying of radiation sickness?  Or to avoid survival in a world, however changed by force by an enemy, in which he no longer fits in?

We could imagine a film whether the father commits suicide instead.  The father may be in the position of Job, so to speak. Much of his family has been taken away from him by disaster or violence perpetrated by others. Now his only son informs him, effectively, that he will never have any more lineage.

One, for comparison, could read the New Yorker article by Ian Parker, “The Story of a Suicide”, about 18 year old violinist and Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, in September 2010, three months before my own mother’s natural passing.

The film stays within PG-13 territory and has no explicit scenes.

The photography and lighting look sharp.  The music score seems trite and repetitious, however.

This might be a good film for Reel Affirmations (DC) to look at for an HRC showing. It would be nice if an innovative distributor like A24 took an interest in this film.

Corbin, KY photo (wiki).

Name:  “Ukeire
Director, writer:  J. J. O’Hearne
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  YouTube free, 2018/1/6
Length:  82
Rating:  NA (seems PG-13)
Companies:  self-distributed as far as I know, Emerald Shamrock Studios
Link:  imdb

(Posted: Monday, January 8, 2018 at 1:30 PM EST)

National Safety Council’s multi-media “Defensive Driving Course”

Here’s a brief review of a useful app, if you want to call it one. That is, the National Safety Council’s six-part online Defensive Driving Course (DDC), which some auto insurance companies provide link to in exchange for a discount on premiums upon completion and passing a final exam, which comprises 25 multiple choice or true-false questions and requires a score of 80%.

The sessions present a variable number of panels (from 16 to 147) that play videos or easel-like lists. Some break into subpanels which take longer.  The entire course is supposed to take four hours, but it is likely to be closer to take six.  You may want a full weekend day or two successive evenings.

Defensive driving means a driver’s preparation to avoid collision even given conditions beyond the driver’s control, including other driver behavior, road hazards, and weather.

The second part places a heavy emphasis on vehicle care and encourages car owners to be able to check their own oil and all other fluids, as well as belts and battery connections, frequently.  I usually leave these to scheduled oil changes at a dealer.

There are some interesting points along the way. For example, there is no such thing as a “right of way”.  There is only a “duty to yield right of way”.  Also, road rage is presented as more related to stress than to hostility or mental illness.  And excessive speed is seen as contributing more to fatal collisions than failing to yield right of way or running lights.

There are some areas I think the course should have covered.  I’ll mention a few.

Although the course covers the problem of blind spots well, it doesn’t cover the best lane to drive in.  In some states, like Pennsylvania, it is illegal to stay in the left lane of a divided highway except to pass.  But when you are on a freeway and see someone trying to merge from a short lane, should you get over, or simply slow down and let him in?  I don’t like lane changes until necessary.  But many localities have many disappearing lanes and require sudden lane changes (too abrupt).  Many states fail to inform you which side of a highway you need to be on to exit (as often there are exits to the left or merges from the left in Virginia and Maryland).

Occasionally some highway accesses have no merge areas but have yield rather than stop signs. This needs to be covered, as these locations cause read end collisions.   US 175 (the North Central Expressway) in Dallas was one of the nations worst (near downtown Dallas) in the 1980s. Another problems is that when trying to merge or change lanes some drivers do not slow down and let you know that it is all right to merge;  some expect to race to beat them, and there may not be room to do that.

Another topic that could be covered better is particularly readiness for cyclists riding the wrong way (salmoning).  Still another is right turning on red.  Sometimes right turn is prevented where the sight distance really isn’t sufficient for the speed of traffic.  I will refuse to turn right on red in such situations, and drivers behind will honk. In one or two cases, road rage nearly resulted, and once a driver barely missed a wreck turning around me (and then got caught and ticketed).

Another topic needing more coverage is “stale green” and how to deal with the idea that a light goes yellow at the last second.

The Venus Williams accident in Florida, where it has not been possible for police to charge anyone and where liability is very much in question, could use attention in a course like this.  The course does cover the Princess Diana accident in France in 1997 in Part 2.

(Posted: Saturday, January 6, 2018, at 1 PM EST)

“This Dangerous Book”: by the founders of the Museum of the Bible

I visited the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC near Federal Center SW on the first day of Winter, Dec. 21, and after the visit noticed the book by Steve and Jackie Green, founders of the museum, in the museum gift shop. The title, on a brown dust jacket, caught my attention. That is, “This Dangerous Book: How the BIBLE Has Shaped our World, and Why It Still Matters Today”.

My first thought was that Milo Yiannopoulos titled his book “Dangerous” and names his own publishing company that (he has published Pam Geller), and now his own main website, that.  In terms of world history, the Bible is a lot more dangerous than Milo’s work!  I really wondered if this title duplication was more than a coincidence.  As a matter of law, titles cannot be copyrighted, and normally they only become trademarked if they become a series.  (That raises a question about my own “Do Ask, Do Tell”). Business company names (like publishing companies) normally can be trademarked.  So sometimes their accompanying domain names are, too.

Steve and Jackie are part of a larger family, David’s, that founded the Hobby Lobby, which became controversial in refusing to cover the “morning-after pill” for employees claiming it was an abortifacient. So here we go, into the area of how much religious beliefs should affect your treatment of other people (like employees) on their private decisions.

The Museum is quite objective and neutral, covering both Judaism and Christianity well, but Islam much less because Islam has its own texts.

The book is partly about the history of Biblical codices and manuscripts (through the significance of the innovation of the printing press), and partly about the Green family’s own journey of faith and perspective on it.  The Green’s talk about their early life expenses of debt, and how it is hard to avoid when you have five children. (Note: single people, and in the past, many gays, tended to taken on fewer responsibilities for others that can lead to debt.  That’s changing with longer life spans, demographics, eldercare, and marriage law.)  Later they talk about prayer in whether to adopt a child from China, which turned out to be tricky legally.  The oldest natural sibling seemed to think that the parents were morally obliged to try to do so.  This is emotionally a close-knit family, in a way that I haven’t experienced.

I recall a particular moment, the first time I entered my tenth grade English classroom in September 1958, and saw a lot of classic books on a shelf, with a young adult male teacher. (Yes, he had played football but he was academically very well prepared.  This reminds me of a college athlete I met on a Metro in 2014 as he read a philosophy text.  Yup, a lot of “jocks” really are smart, too.  And that happened about the time of GWU’s annual Day of Service.  A lot flashes through the mind.)  Ever since then, I’ve wondered if some books deserve to be thought of as “good” and having more credibility to be believed by the public than others.  I can wonder that about my own “Do Ask Do Tell” series.

I can recall a 90’s book, “The Good Book” (legacy review), by African-American Harvard religion professor Peter Gomes, who also describes his coming out as gay.  I remember reading this book when I wrote my own first DADT book.

So then, I ponder, as the Green book explores, do you look at the Bible as a source of authority on moral judgements?  The Greens get into that, and try to maintain some flexibility.  The assorted literary forms in the Bible (especially New Testament letters) add to the authority.  (The remarks about John’s account of the Revelations seem particularly challenging.)  But for Christians this comes down to a personal “relationship” with and faith in “Him”.

Consider this: for most of my life, Jesus has usually been depicted visually as a slender, physically fit young adult white male.  As a gay white male myself, that image is what I would tend to want “upward affiliation” (to borrow a term from George Gilder) with. Suppose I encounter a young adult white male somewhat like an extension of the teenage Clark Kent in the WB “Smallville” series.  What if the individual shows “powers”.  Actually, I can think of two such persons now.   No, I won’t identify them (and, Milo, sorry, he’s not you). I am very careful about my connection to such a person, not wanting to blow it.  For example, nothing gets carried out on social media (so far). (As far as I’m concerned, we don’t know that “Smallville”, with the help of a nearby wormhole to deal with the speed of light, is impossible.  The legal rights of personhood for an “alien” like Clark Kent would an interesting question for the courts, and challenging to Donald Trump.  We have not treated orcas well.)  But a “Clark Kent” would never ask anyone to drop everything an “follow me”.

For someone who lived and experienced his own personhood at the time of Christ however, the miracles, including resurrection and ascension, would seem to be unchallenged and ultimate factual truths. There would be no other frame of reference for knowledge, like modern physics and cosmology. And there could be no nuclear weapons. No dependence on technology to be wiped away by an enemy with some unprecedented act.

I want to note with some interest that the authors consider the course of American history as underlined by the contents of the Bible, from the American revolution (they even make observations about the end of the French and Indian Wars) to the story of Amistad (the book and 1997 film by Steven Spielberg, legacy review), two decades before the War Between the States.

Here is my legacy review of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life” (2002). The problem is, sometimes, it really needs to be “about me.”

Author: Steve and Jackie Green, with Bill High; Foreword by Rick Warren
Title, Subtitle: “This Dangerous Book: How the BIBLE Has Shaped our World and Why It Still Matters Today”
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0-310-35147-4
Publication: Zonervan (Harper Collins); 5 Parts, 18 Chapters, 251 pages, hardcover (also audio and ebook); many color photos and color maps.
Link: publisher 

(Posted: Friday, January 5, 2018 at 1:34 PM EST)

“The Life and Times of Jumper Maybach: A Pilgrimage to End Hate, Bullying and Intolerance”, guest post

Guest post by Joey Amato and Relevant Communications, “The Life and Times of Jumper Maybach: A Pilgrimage to End Hate, Bullying and Intolerance”.

Ben Workman, aka Jumper Maybach, was born in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1963. He knew something special had taken place when his grandfather applied a white face on him the first time. It was then within an instant that Jumper was born.

Jumper’s grandfather served as a volunteer clown within various charity organizations for 25 years and at the time of his death in 1977, at the age of 84, he served as the official clown for the Corpus Christi State School. The young Jumper moved to Houston, Texas in 1977 with his family and embarked on various learning studies that have contributed to the diversity in his paintings.  However, it wasn’t until a religious experience during a painful time in his life enabled his vision to fully take shape. “This is the part that a lot of people wrote me off as crazy,” states Jumper. “I was being sexually harassed at work and was at a really low point in my life. One afternoon I went into a deep meditative prayer and that’s when what I call a ‘spark’ rushed into me that raised up Jumper. I truly believe God was talking to me and directing me in the mission through my art. I never painted before that spark.”

Jumper believes it is a person’s traumas that define an individual. He releases his joys and pain into the art and becomes the storyteller of the creations. Jumper’s techniques are self-taught through intense experimentation leading to an end result which is truly unique and representative of the artist. It’s about understanding love, peace and the transformation of an individual.

“Please forgive me if I talk about Jumper as a separate entity within me but that is the case. I have learned to accept the ridicule from almost everyone,” he jokes. “When Jumper began his painting, it began from a vision which he titled ‘Alien in the Box’.  It was a story of Jumper in the circus and helping children understand they are loved unconditionally.  Jumper’s painting evolved rapidly from childlike to the amazing abstracts he is known for today.”

Jumper’s art is a constant evolution of color and complete abandonment of the paint. It is an unplanned performance that creates the extraordinary works. The complexity within Jumper’s art comes from within. Jumper is unashamed to teach the world a lesson in compassion. His art is a beacon for ending hate, bullying, and intolerance in the world.

Not long after Jumper began his career as an artist, he started to receive national and international recognition for his work. In 2013, Jumper held his first gallery show, which ultimately led to an exhibition at Art Dubai. It was there that Jumper received a documentary film deal and was dubbed the Jackson Pollock of the 21st century.

“I was told by the Minister of Arts and Culture, ‘you’re the 21st Century Jackson Pollock with a lot of color.’  I was intrigued by the statement and a friend gave me a copy of Pollock’s documentary when I returned home. I viewed the film and was amazed at Pollock’s talents. I’m honored to be compared to Pollock,” recalls Jumper.

Shortly after Art Dubai, Jumper had the opportunity to present 39 pieces of art in Venice, Italy.  Another career highlight occurred when Jumper was invited to exhibit his art at the Galerie Du Louvre. “I made a series specifically for Paris. It was a great honor to have my art in the Louvre. It all seems so surreal.”

Jumper appreciates the opportunities he has been given and takes time to give back to multiple LGBTQ organizations around the country through both financial and artistic contributions. He and his partner David actively support GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, AIDS Foundation Houston, The Montrose Center, Houston Gay Pride and the Trevor Project in addition to other local and national charities.

Jumper believes one of the largest challenges facing the LGBTQ community is the community itself. “We can’t fight intolerance and bullying when we play along with the bigots. I know so many LGBTQ friends who are out in our “safe” community but at their workplace they play “straight”. This is a cause for alarm. When you can’t live a free healthy life at work, then you’re in an unsafe work environment.”

He goes on to explain that this form of environment creates an atmosphere for bullies. “If you discover your environment as unsafe after coming out, then sue or leave. I must say, see my documentary “The Jumper Maybach Story” to understand what being outed can lead to. I personally chose to stay and fight. If we all did this, change would occur. It takes tremendous strength and courage to fight bullies.”

Jumper also offers words of encouragement to other developing artists. “LGBTQ artists should be free to be themselves. Art is a very personal experience. A great artist knows why they create their art. Sometimes the art is created from severe personal pain and at other times, it could be happiness.  I would urge artists to reach deep within and discover that reason.  If they can’t discover that reason, then their art will never make it to greatness. Art is not easy. It’s a gift from your soul.”

In the next decade, Jumper would like to actively pursue his mission of ending hate, bullying and intolerance through art. “I want my art to cause the viewer to step back and realize why Jumper created it. If it causes the viewer to take a breath and let Love enter their heart, then Jumper has fulfilled his mission.”

To learn more about Jumper Maybach, visit www.jumpermaybach.com.

Imdb link for “The Jumper Maybach Story“.

(Posted: Thursday, January 4, 2018 at 11:30 AM EST)

“The Florida Project”: how the poor really live near the big theme parks (especially the kids)

The Florida Project”, directed by Sean Baker, confronts the viewer with the “real life” of poor people living in transient motels near the Disney theme parks in Orlando.

In the past, we could have gawked and scorned.  We probably can’t get away with that now.

Halley (Bria Vinnaite) is a single mom raising a seven year old, Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and, as the film opens, taking care of two other kids.  The kids are always annoying other residents and getting into trouble, and Halley becomes combative in trying to defend them when the motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) challenges her and repeatedly threatens to evict her.

Bobby has a tough job, implementing rules demanding by corporate, and uses his people skills to the fullest.  One of the most telling scenes occurs about 40 minutes into the film when he chases an old man off the premises once he suspects the man is a sex offender.

But mischief occurs constantly. The kids somehow get into the power room and turn it off.  Later, they set fire to a nearby vacant motel to watch the fire department come. Toward the end, the police will get involved with CPS as to whether Halley is a fit mother, which means a need for foster care.  But the kids may get to see the Magic Kingdom.

The film shows the quasi-attractions around the parks for low income people pretty well.

Picture: My trip, July 2015  (Pulse would happen in 2016.)

Name:  “The Florida Project”
Director, writer:  Sean Baker
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark West End, 2018/1/3, afternoon show, surprisingly well attended, appears to be young adults from GWU
Length:  115
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, January 3, 2018, at 8 PM EST)

“The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”: biography of a gay “real writer”

The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”, directed by Jennifer M. Kroot, aired on PBS Independent Lens New Years Day, and in parallels yesterday’s film about Joan Didion as another biography of a “real” career writer.  Why does the title remind me of Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Tanglewood Tales” (and even “Twice-Told Tales“), and American literature in 11th grade English?

Armistead grew up around Raleigh, North Carolina in the shadow of conservative senator Jesse Helms.  He first learned southern plantation values, including saying “ma’am” and “sir” (something I found degrading before my own Army days) and a certain embed of segregationism.  He then worked as a journalist in Charleston S.C.  But his life changed when he got a job with the Associated Press in San Francisco in 1971 and personally discovered Castro Street.  He was born one year later than me, and his “coming out” occurred at about the same time as mine (Chapter 3 of my 1997 “Do Ask, Do Tell” I book).

He soon got an opportunity to write a series about San Francisco, “Tales of the City”, for a Marin County paper.  Eventually the series wound up being published by the San Francisco Chronicle. The series would morph into a series of novels, with situations involving both gay and straight characters, sometimes the boundaries of the straight world being breached, perhaps by bisexuality.

Armistead would meet Rock Hudson and eventually out him, when Rock was diagnosed with AIDS in the mid 1980s (and died). Gradually, the idea that some major Hollywood staples are gay would become evident.  Armistead would become involved with the gradual inclusion of gay material in mainstream television, and even its funding by PBS, which would enrage social conservatives over “family values”.

Armistead wrote his “Tales” at work on a typewriter.  In those days, that is more how writers actually worked (as in the Didion film).

I came to writing a totally different way, as I had an income-producing career in information technology.  So I wrote from my own narrative what I thought had to be said.  I may have been ego-centric or deluded, but when I was in the Army I thought my 1960 cursive diary “The Proles” (also DADT III Chap 7) was the most important expose in the world, even if it was my own world (of “chicken man”).

Castro district in San Francisco (wiki).  My most recent visit: Not since February 2002.  Need to get there again.  I remember going to a poetry reading at the bookstore (Dog Eared Books) shown in the film.

Name:  “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”
Director, writer:  Jennifer M. Kroot
Released:  2017/3
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS 2018/1/1, 10:30 PM
Length:  90
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Tuesday, January 2, 2018 at 11:30 AM EST)

“Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold”: biography of a “real” writer

Griffin Dunne’s biographic documentary “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” (2017) presents a reasonably straightforward documentary of the American writer, now 83 and living in Sacramento, CA, near where she grew up. It often presents her now speaking for herself.

The title of the film is a bit enigmatic, but her own philosophy seems to stress atomization and quantum-like unpredictability of life.

Didion’s writing philosophy is a bit like mine , with her “new journalism”, where she presents non-fiction narratives as if they were novel plots, using irony wherever if occurs. But she was able to do this with subject matter other than her own life, which I have not.  She has been an old-fashioned professional writer, hired to do pieces (on typewriters in the pre-computer days), as on her first job with Vogue, where her first assignment was about self-respect or self-concept.

The most interesting part of her output, as presented in the film, seems to be a personal account, “The Year of Magical Thinking” (2006), which she would adapt as a stage play.  I haven’t read it (yet) but is sounds a bit like the way I approached my own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book (1997).

But she wrote a number of novels, getting very much outside of herself. The most interesting of these seems to be “Play It as It Lays” which she adapted to a screenplay. She also authored “Panic in Needle Park”.

The film shows her interest early in life in the welfare of California farm workers, including migrants. In New York, she took an interest in The Central Park Five case (which Ken Burns made into a documentary film in 2012, legacy review), and the film quotes a younger Donald Trump.

A possible fiction comparison would be provided by the Coen Brothers 1991 film “Barton Fink” (Fox), with John Turturro.

Name:  “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold”
Director, writer:  Griffin Dunne
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Play, 2017/12/31
Length:  94
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  Ebert

(Posted: Monday, January 1, 2018, at 11 AM EST)The

“Tom of Finland”: biopic of the artist who created leather culture

Dome Karukoski’s film “Tom of Finland” is a workmanlike biography of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonone, better known as the movie title.  Touko is credited with creating the artistic basis of the gay male leather community and of cis-male “muscle culture” within the gay community.

“Tom” (played by Pekka Strang) was born in 1920 and his first major life event was his experience in the Winter War between Russia and Finland (the 1998 film “Ambush”) where he served as an artillery or anti-aircraft officer and had a male relationship or two.  This, of course, would feed into the past debate on gays in the military.

Once in civilian life he pursued his artistic career of erotic drawings, which could attract hostility. He gets arrested, supposedly for not paying a hotel bill in Germany, and later finds private parties subject to police raids.  Finland is indeed one of the world’s most progressive countries today, but it was not so in the early 1950s.  There is a scene where Tom meets his old friend from the Russo war, and the friend wants conversion therapy so that he can have children!

Toulo gradually established a business of publishing “muscle magazines” in the US through contacts in California.  Explicit gay photos could not be published until a 1962 Supreme Court ruling that they were not obscene. I definitely remember the way muscle magazines provided a covert fantasy outlet for gay men back in the 1960s.

The film has a few nice shots of the lake areas in Finland;  some of the southern California sequences seem to have been shot in Spain.

The film is in German and Finnish, and sometimes English.  Despite the mysterious Asiatic origins of the language, the people look similar to those in the rest of Scandinavia.

Here are a couple of films for comparison: “Interior, Leather Bar” (2014, directed by James Franco) (legacy review); “Age of Consent” (2015, about “The Hoist”, review), and “Kink Crusaders” (2011, review).

This may be good place to mention a mysterious assassination in the town of Imatra, Finland, near the Russian border, in 2016, with a scandal that sounds like Russia’s “Pizzagate”.  This incident could turn out to have more serious implications if Vladimir Putin has aspirations in the Baltics and later Finland in the future.

Finland map (Russo-Finnish war)


Finnish lakes

Name:  “Tom of Finland”
Director, writer:  Dome Karuloski, Aleksi Bardy
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark West End, Washington DC, 2017/12/30
Length:  115
Rating:  R
Companies:  Kino Lorber
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2017 at 12 noon)


“The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima”: was she an angel warning us?

The 1952 film “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima”, by John Brahm, is of some special interest to me right now, with my own fiction project.  The film, in “Warnercolor”, predates the religious spectacles that would start a year later with “The Robe”, when Cinemascope would introduced;  this film is in the old 4:3 aspect.  And it looks a little hokey by modern standards.

The film opens in 1910 with the revolution and establishment of the First Portuguese Republic, which was definitely authoritarian, with mixtures of fascism and communism. Most notably, it as anti-Church.

Fast forward to 1917 when the Catholic churches have been begrudgingly allowed to reopen. Three grade-school-age shepherd children one day in May encounter, in a dry thunderstorm, an apparition hat seems to be the Virgin Mary or some related angel. The angel warns them to say their rosaries and to be careful but to return regularly.  Media accounts often maintain that she was the Virgin Mary.

The family and local priests try to get the kids to remain quiet, but word gets around and soon pilgrims start to arrive to the hill to see the angel again, especially in October.  The kids are arrested and jailed and terrorized, and told they will be responsible for the deaths of their families (a common tactic of totalitarianism). But Hugo (a very hairy-chested Gilbert Roland) gets them out of jail, and the authorities cannot stop the pilgrimage, which assembles in another storm in October 1917. The angel appears and warns everyone that a second great war may happen even though the current World War will end soon.

The Sun comes through the cloud as if it were going to burn up the landscape and then recedes. This conclusion reminds me of the end of a short film “Anton Bruckner’s Ultimate Finale” (Dec. 3, 2016) where an angel or extraterrestrial appears over Vienna with blazing light, burning off a young man’s chest hair in the very last shot.

The style of writing in the script, however, emphasizes simple, almost naïve Christian faith and loyalty to the authority of the Church, with no respect for independent thinking — this stands in contrast to the stark warning of the film.

The film has an epilogue in 1951, showing the modern day church and grounds at Fatima, which I visited myself in April 2001.  The grounds are massive, and various pilgrim groups appear.  There are unusual candles in large quantities.

The music score by Max Steiner is impressive, with choral passages that remind me of Vaughn Williams.

There are various Catholic churches around the world for which claims of miracles around Virgin Mary statues are made.  Two of these are in Aliquippa and Ambridge PA, north of Pittsburgh;  I visited the Aliquippa church briefly in 1989.  Another may be in Harlingen, Texas (near Brownsville), which I think I visited with the help of Southwest Airlines “peanuts fares” when I was living in Dallas, in 1980.  The Church generally does not verify these claims or continue to publish them.

Catholic churches and schools, to a Protestant, seem to have their own world. I can tell that from visits to an “Our Lady of Good Counsel” school in northern Virginia for “Chess for Charity” Sunday afternoon events in the past couple of years.

Fatima church and grounds today (wiki).

Aliquippa (wiki)

Harlingen (wiki)

Name:  “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima”
Director, writer:  John Brahm
Released:  1952
Format: 4:3  WarnerColor (an old proprietary process)
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/12/29
Length:  102
Rating:  NA (probably PG-13)
Companies:  Warner Brothers
Link:  Washington Post 2007 article on the Miracle


(Posted: Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 at 10 AM EST)

“Burning Sands”: a drama about hazing in a black college fraternity, with catastrophic consequences on Hell Night

Burning Sands”, directed by Gerald McMurray and written with Christine Berg, dramatizes hazing in American college fraternities, and tries to look for a balance between group loyalty and safety for the pledges – when does one tell or snitch?

The film, shot near Petersburg VA (there is one shot of downtown Richmond) seems to take place at a black college.  I would expected the film to show a reasonable racial mix at a modern college, including white, black, native and Asian.  I personally don’t know whether the Greek system still has a lot of racial segregation in southern states.

The film takes place over six labeled days, leading to a Hell Night on a Saturday.

Much of the film is seen through Zurich (Trevor Jackson) who starts out dealing with the 6 AM military-like drills and pushups, and attends class during the week.  English professor Hughes (Alfre Woodard) assigns a paper and at one point says, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”. Zurich is quite troubled and late with his term paper and consults with an alumnus and Sean Richardson (Steve Harris) who still consuls loyalty to the Greek system.

The hazing gets more brutal, with some blindfolded water torture in a swimming pool.  Finally, one of the pledges gets boxed on the ears.  I’m surprised this would create a serious head injury, but soon the pledge is frothing the mouth. The upperclassmen take the boy to an emergency room in Richmond and run.  Zurich, at the end, calls his father.  One is left with the impression that the boy dies.  Zurich says something like “Now I decipher who my tribe is and live a life to know what the other side is”.

There is another film on Youtube about ragging in a college in India, called “The Punishment” (legacy review), and it is somewhat homoerotic and homophobic at the same time, legacy review.   This short seems to build on the idea of physical body shame and comparison to other men in a group.

During my last first fall freshmen semester at William and Mary in 1961, the freshmen boys (all of them, not just fraternity pledges) were supposed to go to a “tribunal” the last Friday in September, where some of the boys would have their legs shaved.  I skipped out on this, and I wonder if that contributed to my eventual confrontation with the Dean and my expulsion.  I cover all that in my DADT-1 book.

There was an incident at Louisiana State University where a student died, apparently of alcohol poisoning, in a hazing incident, covered on CNN here.

Name:  “Burning Sands”
Director, writer:  Gerald McMurray
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant, 2017/12/28
Length:  102
Rating:  R
Companies: Mandelay, Kino, Netflix
Link:  Kino

(Posted: Friday, December 29, 2017 at 11 AM EST)