Watching & Reading

Nothing big this time, just some reviews/write-ups. Let me know what you think of this kind of post if you feel like it.

This will be published on Inauguration Day, which I hope will be as boring and pro forma as all the other inauguration days have been. -SL


Small Axe, a series of five short films by Steve McQueen. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

The five films that make up Small Axe are not connected by plot or characters, but by time, space, and themes. They are all set in the Caribbean communities of London in the late 1960s through the early 1980s.

I mostly want to write about Lovers Rock, the second part of the anthology, but I realized that, of the five films, this is the one that deals least with white supremacy and police/state violence which are very prominent themes in the other films, all of which are more closely based on historical events. Mangrove tells the true story of the community around the Mangrove restaurant which was a favorite target of racist police violence, and the “Mangrove Nine” activists who were put on trial for spurious charges of rioting. Alex Wheatle is the story of a young man’s political and cultural awakening, while Red, White, and Blue (the only one of the films that I felt fell a little flat) is about a Black Londoner who joins the police force to try and reform it from within. Education is apparently based on McQueen’s own experiences in school and depicts how Black children were removed from functional schools and put in schools for the “educationally subnormal” where they weren’t educated at all. Performances in all the films are great, and Kenyah Sandy who plays the 12 year old Kingsley in Education didn’t feel like a “child actor” at all to me, he was so convincing.

Lovers Rock takes place over about 24 hours from the sound system crew setting up for the all-night house party through the post-dawn bike ride home of a couple falling in love. The plot is somewhat thin, which doesn’t stop the characterizations and performances from being strong. But the film is driven more by the music (the soundtrack/playlist for the series is so good) and the movement of the characters through the party all night. I thought it felt more like watching modern dance theater, where the dialog is often minimal but the story and emotional pull comes through movement that is by turns sensual, exuberant, aggressive, joyous, and exhausted. I don’t normally like to watch movies more than once in a short period of time, but I watched Lovers Rock a second time just two days after the first time, and I’ll probably watch it again soon.


My Friend Dahmer, a graphic novel* by Derf Backderf

Back in the mid-1990s when I got into zines, I found there was a prominent strain of dudes into alternative literature who were also into serial killers. Zines like Murder Can Be Fun and Jim Goad’s ANSWER Me! projected an edgy persona that mostly didn’t resonate for me. I wonder if that fascination with mass murder is still a thing for young men, or if it has been replaced by straight up fascism: in Goad’s case it sure has (cw for anti-trans, white supremacy, etc. etc. etc.).

So I would not have picked up My Friend Dahmer had a friend not recommended it. It helps that while the comic depends on our knowing who Jeffery Dahmer is and on our having some morbid sense of fascination about him, the actual story mostly covers Dahmer’s teenage years before he became a serial killer.

The book’s author and illustrator, Derf, really did go to high school with Dahmer and they were friends, of a sort. Derf writes about he and his buddies enjoyed Dahmer’s odd affect and transgressive sense of humor, but he also reveals that Derf and friends treated Dahmer as more of a freakshow than a friend, sneaking him into yearbook photos where he didn’t belong, or taking him to the mall where Dahmer would fake spastic attacks and freak out the normies. Of course they were teenage boys, ill-equipped to deal with a kid who had the kind of problems that Dahmer had.

The book is really well-written as Derf combines a personal memoir with a reconstruction of aspects of Dahmer’s life that he couldn’t have known at the time from interviews and other sources. The art is excellent too, playing both sides of the line that divides the cartoony from the grotesque.

* I don’t really like the label “graphic novel” as a rule especially since (as in this case) many “graphic novels” are actually memoirs or other types of fiction or nonfiction rather than “novels.” But that’s what it says on the cover of this comic so oh well.