Grandma Turns Superhero

A few years ago, the French photographer Sacha Goldberger faced a distressing problem. His 91-year-old Hungarian-born grandmother, Frederika, felt lonely and depressed.

His innovative solution was to turn “Mamika” into a larger-than-life superhero and photograph her. According to a post in My Modern Metropolis, “Grandma reluctantly agreed, but once they got rolling, she couldn’t stop smiling.”

The story went viral, even leading to talk of a movie deal. It’s easy to see why. Goldberger’s pictures convey the warmth and sense of wonder that made many of us love the superhero genre in the first place.

Additionally, the images are a reminder that for such a seemingly superficial thing, unique personal aesthetics can have a lot of power. It does everyone good to be a character, if just for a little while.

Of course, there’s also this:

Frederika was born in Budapest 20 years before World War II. During the war, at the peril of her own life, she courageously saved the lives of ten people. When asked how, Goldberger told us “she hid the Jewish people she knew, moving them around to different places every day.” As a survivor of Nazism and Communism, she then immigrated away from Hungary to France, forced by the Communist regime to leave her homeland illegally or face death.

Costume or no, heroes are in the most unexpected places. More photos, below the cut.

Stunning Vintage Photos from Sydney’s Police Museum

Recently, the French photography/arts blog, La boite verte, posted a breathtaking series of vintage photographs of dusty, down-on-their-luck Antipodeans passing reproachfully through their country’s penal system back in the day.

They’re pictures from the Sydney Justice & Police Museum archives. Some of the documented lawbreakers seem sad, ashamed, or a bit mentally unhinged. Other portrait subjects remain defiantly cheerful–  chins up and shoulders back as if to say “So it goes. I do what I have to do.” All of these images are a mule-kick to the heart.

Many more after the jump. Peruse the full series here. Via m1k3y, thanks.

EDIT/ADDENDUM: The original text of this post has been corrected. These are “photographs of commitment” from the Syndey J&P Museum’s archive (1912 – 1964). “The portraits were taken on glass plate negatives and analyzed with high resolution to show the quality of the photograph of the police.” [via]

Related Coilhouse posts:

Was this gent perhaps arrested for cross-dressing? Such a surreal, timeless photo…

The FAM: Frontline: The Dancing Boys Of Afghanistan

Welcome to the first FAM of 2011, as we pick up after the Bacchanalia that saw us sputtering and wheezing like an overweight asthmatic through the last few weeks of the previous year. In celebration of its (not so) triumphant return we offer you the greatest gift a FAM can give its reader. I speak, of course, of Frontline. You may say that last bit is a matter of opinion, but as a Frontline junkie I would counter that, no, you are wrong. Then I might, perhaps, throw in a dig about your mother. But seeing as we are in polite company I will allow you your obviously wrongheaded perceptions and get onto the video linked above.

“The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan”, a report filed by Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi and originally broadcast on April 20, 2010, examines the re-emergence of an ancient Afghan custom known as “bacha bazi” — literally “boy play” or “playing with boys”— in which boys as young as 11, mostly from the poorest segments of Afghan society, are purchased from families or taken off the street by their “masters” who dress them in women’s clothing and train them to sing and dance for the entertainment of wealthy and powerful men. According to experts, they are also used as sexual slaves.

Quraishi does an amazing job in this piece, gaining an impressive level of access to some of the people involved in this illicit trade, uncovering a world mired in corruption and abject poverty. It makes for a fascinating but horrific documentary. Most importantly, and most uplifting, is Quraishi’s valiant attempts to save a young boy purchased by his contact Dastager. It may very well represent a breach in separation of reporter and subject but it is impossible to fault him for doing something so noble and represents, at least, a modicum of justice.

As mentioned, the practice had died out for many years, or at least dug itself further underground, but has re-emerged. The reason for this remains unexplained but the practice does relate to one, recent event. On December 2, 2010 the Guardian published an article related to a US Embassy cable from June 24, 2009, made public by Wikileaks. The cable details a meeting between Assistant Ambassador Mussomeli and Minister of Interior Hanif Atmar regarding an incident that took place in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan in April of that year. The event, as it is referred to in the document, led to the arrests of two Afghan National Police and nine other Afghans, including an undisclosed number of DynCorp language assistants. DynCorp is a private, US contractor tasked with training Afghan police. Atmar was hoping to charge them with “purchasing a service from a child,” but was also concerned that the release of video of the incident would become public, urging US officials to “quash” the story.

Interestingly, as the Houston Press’s John Nova Lomax pointed out on December 7th, DynCorp has a bit of a history with this kind of thing:

As we mentioned, this isn’t DynCorp’s first brush with the sex-slavery game. Back in Bosnia in 1999, US policewoman Kathryn Bolkovac was fired from DynCorp after blowing the whistle on a sex-slave ring operating on one of our bases there. DynCorp’s employees were accused of raping and peddling girls as young as 12 from countries like Ukraine, Moldova and Romania. The company was forced to settle lawsuits against Bolkovac (whose story was recently told in the feature film The Whistleblower) and another man who informed authorities about DynCorp’s sex ring.

It is a terrible practice to be sure, one that, overall, Afghan authorities seem to be unwilling to acknowledge, let alone stamp out. Thankfully, the issue has been given some media coverage since Quraishi’s Frontline episode. Hopefully with increased scrutiny comes a change to that indifference.

The FAM: VBS Meets Issei Sagawa

Warning: This film is not for the faint of heart, the faint of stomach, or the easily offended. Make the decision to click the play button accordingly.

On June 11, 1981 a Dutch student named Renée Hartevelt arrived at an apartment at 10 Rue Erlanger She had been invited there by a classmate at the Sorbonne Academy in Paris, France. The classmate was 32 year-old Issei Sagawa. Not long after she arrived he shot her in the neck with a rifle while she sat at a desk with her back to him. Afterward he had sex with her corpse and, over the course of the next two days, proceeded to eat much of her body.

He was held without trial for two years after his arrest until he was declared legally insane (and thereby unfit to stand trial) by French psychiatrists and confined to a mental institution. While there, his account of the crime was published in Japan as In The Fog. His new celebrity was no doubt a determining factor in the French authorities’ decision to extradite him to Japan. There, he was examined once again by psychiatrists who declared him sane but “evil”. Due to a technicality, in which Japanese authorities cited the lack of certain papers supposed to have been provided by French courts, they found it impossible to hold him and on August 12, 1986 Sagawa checked himself out of the mental institution.

For the past 24 years he’s been living in Tokyo. He is still a minor celebrity and has written over twenty books, mostly having to do with his own crimes or commentary on the crimes of others. He’s also been in a few exploitative films and sells his paintings, most of which are portraits of women. This is where VBS meets him then, seemingly running out the tail end of his notoriety and not particularly hopeful for the future. Vice does a commendable job in staying completely out of the way and letting the man speak for himself. Sagawa, for his part, has spent most of his life reflecting on one event and, as is usually the case with interviews of murderers, he has no real answers to provide.

Throughout, Sagawa speaks at length about his disgust both with himself and the public whose interest in the macabre has allowed him to flourish for so long. The last few minutes are of him describing how he would like to die in excruciating pain. It would have been easy for VBS to leave us with that sentiment; the image of the fiend undone by the horrors he has committed. Instead, the last image we see is of Renée Hartevelt, from whom everything was taken and whose death has made everything in Issei Sagawa’s life possible.

The FAM: De Laurentiis Double Feature

Legendary film producer Agostino (Dino) De Laurentiis passed away this Wednesday at the ripe old age of 91. De Laurentiis’s credits include over 160 films, including Dune (1984), Army of Darkness, Blue Velvet, Manhunter, Serpico, Conan the Barbarian, Barbarella, King Kong (1976), and Orca just to name a few. Two of the films he produced were Oscar winners: La Strada (1954) and Nights of Cabiria (1957) — both by Italian master Federico Fellini. Today The FAM honors this movie titan with two of his schlockier offerings: 1987’s Evil Dead II, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell and Bruce Campbell’s chin, and 1973’s Death Wish starring Charles Bronson , directed by Michael Winner.

First up is Evil Dead II, Sam Raimi’s remake/re-imagining/sequel/whatever to 1981’s The Evil Dead, featuring 100% less tree rape. De Laurentiis had approached Raimi about directing Thinner, part of a multi-movie deal with King which included Maximum Overdrive and Cat’s Eye but Raimi turned it down and instead directed Crimewave a crime/comedy he co-produced with the Coen Bros. It turned out to be a flop and Raimi subsequently had trouble attaining funding for Evil Dead II. King found out about this and personally appealed to De Laurentiis to fund the venture. A cult classic in the truest sense of the word, Evil Dead II is a love it or hate it sort of film. I personally love it and can’t help it if you don’t, Philistine.

Secondly is Death Wish, (based on Brian Garfield’s 1972 novel of the same name) Michael Winner’s brutal, exploitative revenge thriller about a pansy-ass liberal whose wife is murdered and daughter raped in their apartment, sending him off on a journey to gun down the punks who did it. This movie was originally set to be released by United Artist’s who had Sydney Lumet set to direct and Jack Lemon to star which would have been…interesting. Lumet had other obligations though and UA began to reconsider the nature of the story they had on their hands and eventually De Laurentiis and Paramount took over.

Critics and theatergoers alike were shocked by the violence in Death Wish which made it quite the box-office hit. In cities like New York, where crime had hit startling numbers in the 70s, it was especially popular. Critics, including Brian Garfield, were less impressed and reviews were mixed. Garfield disliked the film so much that it spurred him to write Death Sentence a sequel that focused on the increase and lunacy of vigilantism. Still, it’s considered by some to be a landmark film — the first to portray a citizen taking up arms against criminals in a modern setting. In addition to appearances by Olympia Dukakis, Christopher Guest, Saul Rubinek, and Hope Lange, Death Wish features the debut of Jeff Goldblum, as one of the hooligans who assault Paul’s wife and daughter (specifically forcing his daughter to perform fellatio on him, making for a performance creepier than his usual, creepy norm) and Denzel Washington as an uncredited punk-who-wants-to-rob-Charles-Bronson-but-gets-shot-instead (see Part 5 around 8:50 in the above play-list).

Perhaps there are better, more well-respected films that could represent Dino De Laurentiis’ career (see the aforementioned Fellini) but I’ll always remember him for having the willingness to get behind movies that others were too timid to touch even when the movies were complete bombs (see the aforementioned Dune). When no one else wanted to deal with the headaches of the image of a man cutting his own hand off with a chainsaw, amateur vigilantes, or Dennis Hopper, he was able to see the their value, in turn making the careers of people like Sam Raimi, David Lynch, Charles Bronson, and Dennis Hopper. He was one of the last of the old guard, financing films in less than upstanding ways and throwing money at directors purely on instinct. It may not have been the best way to go about business, but it certainly made of interesting results and for that, he will be missed.

La Santa Muerta (Saint Death) Documentary

“Trailer for the documentary La Santa Muerte (Saint Death), directed and produced by Eva Aridjis, narrated by Gael García Bernal, distributed by Seventh Art Releasing. Film synopsis: In Mexico there is a cult that is rapidly growing- the cult of Saint Death. This female grim reaper, considered a saint by followers but Satanic by the Catholic Church, is worshiped by people whose lives are filled with danger and/or violence- criminals, gang members, transvestites, sick people, drug addicts, and families living in rough neighborhoods. “La Santa Muerte” examines the origins of the cult and takes us on a tour of the altars, jails, and neighborhoods in Mexico where the saint’s most devoted followers can be found.”

Whoa… the DVD was only officially released on October 7th, but quickly checking Amazon, I see the distributor’s already run out of stock! Hopefully they’ll have it back in, soon.

Savage’s “It Gets Better” Movement Gains Momentum

As many of you already know, it’s been a heartbreaking month in the US for the LGBTQIA community. The tragic story of 18-year old Rutgers student, Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge to his death, is the most high profile in a series of suicides in recent weeks of young people believed to have victims of anti-gay bullying and outright hate crimes. There was Billy Lucas, 15 years old, who hanged himself in a barn in Greensburg, Ind. Asher Brown, 13, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in Houston, TX. Seth Walsh in Tehachapi, CA, also 13, hanged himself from a tree in his backyard. Of course, those are only recent deaths we’ve heard about.

Writer, educator and activist Dan Savage wrote this for his Savage Love column late last month:

Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids.

“My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas,” a reader wrote after I posted about Billy Lucas to my blog. “I wish I could have told you that things get better.”

I had the same reaction: I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.

But gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don’t bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.

So here’s what you can do, GBVWS: Make a video. Tell them it gets better.

Since September 23rd, when Savage posted that initial video of himself and his husband Terry telling their stories and urging kids to hang in there, the “It Gets Better” video outreach project has been growing in leaps and bounds, gaining coverage, support and involvement from all over the place, including NPR, the ACLU, and hundreds of vloggers on YouTube. On Thursday, Ellen Degeneres aired her own “It Gets Better” segment and updated an End Bullying page on her website.

This wonderful project was launched specifically to help LGBTQI youth get through the hard times, but as many participants have noted, it’s a sentiment that can be applied more broadly to freaks, geeks, weirdos, outcasts and oddballs of all stripes. Hang in there, kittens. It really does get better. Meantime, there are tons of resources to tap into: The Trevor Project, Scarleteen, We Give a Damn, We Are The Youth, I’m From Driftwood, PFLAG, We’ve Got Your Back, and a wide assortment of National Crisis Hotlines, for starters. You are not alone.

To share your story of how you got through the rough shit and how life really, truly did get better, create your video, post it to YouTube, and send the URL to mail (at) They’ll review it and post it to their FAVES section. Bless you, Dan Savage. You’re a mensch.


Gaze upon the glory of Krackoon a film about unchecked urban development and political corruption. It may also be about a bloodthirsty raccoon which happens to be addicted to crack cocaine. In fact, it is most definitely about a bloodthirsty raccoon addicted to crack cocaine; a plot perhaps unparalleled in its maniacal greatness. It is unfortunate then that this trailer features only the slightest glimpse of the ring-tailed drug fiend in the form of what appears to be a hand-puppet entangled in offal. Instead, we are treated to a number of gentlemen in varied locales addressing the camera. This strikes me as a grave misjudgment. I realize that a trailer should leave the audience wanting more and it would be a mistake (one filmmakers too often make) to include the best parts of your film only to have little left over for the feature; but for fuck’s sake, your film is about a raccoon that kills people and is addicted to crack. Certainly, it deserves more screen time than what we get here. Still, it’s enough to pique my curiosity in what Bronx Times columnist Fish Altieri has dubbed “[…] an instant cult classic”; a sentiment that I could not agree with more.

Via Videogum

Vassilis Paleokostas: The Greek Robin Hood

Paleokostas being taken to prison. Captions by Teacher Dude’s BBQ.

Here at Coilhouse, we’ve covered all manner of crackpot visionaries: mathematicians, authors, filmmakers, taxidermists, conspiracy theorists, culture jammers and other cognitive dissidents. But you know what we’ve been missing in this category? Straight-up hardcore CRIME. And thus we present the tale of Vassilis Paleokostas, a well-intentioned Greek bandit who kidnapped politely, gifted ransom generously, and accomplished the miraculous double rainbow of prison breakouts: two escapes from Greece’s toughest penitentiary, spaced three years apart, by helicopter both times. Take the highly entertaining Badass of the Week write-up excerpted below with a grain of salt, but note that most of the facts below have been confirmed by multiple news sites:

Vassilis’ story starts back in the early 90s, when he went on an insane crime spree of delicious armed robbery, blackmail, extortion, and kidnapping.  Basically, his modus operandi was to kidnap a super-rich bastard, hold him for a ridiculous ransom, and then sell him back to his stupid family in exchange for giant piles of cold, hard cash.  Then, he’d take that bling, keep a small percentage of it for himself, and distribute the rest of his newly-acquired wealth to impoverished farmers of the tiny rural province in which he grew up.  The dude quickly made a name for himself as the Robin Hood of Greece, and was beloved by fans of badassery, the people of the lower classes, and pretty much anybody else he wasn’t in the process of robbing or extorting for money.  Shit, even the fucking people he kidnapped came out later and said that he was very polite and respectful to them while they were in captivity, and that it was pretty much the most pleasant kidnapping they’d ever experienced… he also made a vow never to harm a member of the public in his criminal escapades.  He’s been true to his word.

Paleokostas was eventually caught, arrested, and hauled off to a “federal pound-me-in-the-ass penitentiary known as Korydallos Prison,” one of the harshest prisons in Greece: “a mix between Andersonville, Oz, and that stupid plastic box they keep Magneto inside in the X-Men movies.” No one who went inside Korydallos ever came out, except for Vassilis Paleokostas:

In June 2006, Paleokostas’ older brother (another pathological criminal who is now serving jail time on 16 counts of armed robbery) commandeered a helicopter, and landed it right in the middle of the fucking exercise yard of the prison in broad daylight. The armed guards at Korydallos, not expecting to be subjected to such an unbelievable display of gigantic steel-plated testicles, assumed that this chopper belonged to the warden or the Chief of Prisons or something, and instead of investigating it they all decided to make sure their shoes were appropriately spit-shined so as not to incur a citation from their wrathful bosses. Vassilis (who had orchestrated the entire operation from the beginning) … simply walked up to the helicopter, hopped inside, and lifted off.  By the time the guards got their heads out of their asses and started firing their guns at the bird, it was already too late. Paleokostas had escaped.

After his escape, a nationwide manhunt was declared. Paleokostas evaded the law for two and a half years, hiding in the mountains and orchestrating another high-profile kidnapping, “snatching a powerful jackass CEO industrialist, ransoming him for a huge wad of cash, and once again distributing the loot to local farmers and families.” He was then caught by the Greek police, and once again sent to Korydallos prison, where he awaited trial. Except that the second day that he was at Korydallos…

ANOTHER FUCKING HELICOPTER showed up in the skies.  It flew over a large tower of the prison, lowered a long rope ladder, and Vassilis Paleokostas and Alket Rizai climbed up into the chopper.  As the helicopter flew off into the sunset, the prisoners of Korydallos cheered. Greek police opened fire on the chopper as it flew off, but a woman returned fire with an AK-47 assault rifle… the police eventually tracked down the helicopter, and found that it had ditched on the side of the road outside Athens with a bullet hole in the gas tank.  According to the pilot, Paleokostas and his associates left the chopper and drove off on totally sweet motorcycles to an undisclosed location.  They also popped some totally bitchin’ wheelies while doing so.

After this incident, the Greek authorities fired the country’s Chief of Prisons, the Inspector-General of Prisons, the warden of Korydallos, and three prison guards. Paleokostas remains at large.

[via raindrift]