Addiction gets a human face
F5 is all about local and regional creators, so when Lester Rowe reached out to me on Twitter and asked if I would be interested in reviewing his book and documentary combo WiFi at Rock Bottom, I immediately said yes. When I realized the book was self-published, I admit I felt a little trepidation. My experience with self-published books has been decidedly mixed. Some have been engaging works of art, and some have been un-self-aware dreck. In which category would Rowe's book fall?
In the end, WiFi at Rock Bottom didn't fall squarely in either camp. The book, though honest and at times fascinating, has some issues. The film, though, is stark, compelling and thought provoking. But before I get into the details of the good and bad parts of the project, let's talk about the project, itself.
Amancha is a young acquaintance of Rowe, the writer/director of WiFi. She is addicted to meth and has been for quite a while. Rowe asks if he can do a documentary about her and her meth addiction. Amancha is receptive, but timing, rehab and a general lack of communication make it difficult for them to get together. The book portion of the project is mostly Rowe talking about the time and effort it took to finally get the interviews set up for the doc, interspersed with transcripts of email and chat conversations between the two and Rowe's philosophical thoughts.
The best parts of the book are the fascinating chat transcripts. Amancha is a straight shooter who's brutally honest about her addiction and what it's like. There are a few interesting tidbits scattered throughout, as well. (For instance: it's possible to orgasm from taking meth, and Amancha has.)
But overall, the book is quite flawed. Rowe admits right up front that he's not a writer by training or inclination, and so the reader is predisposed to forgive mistakes. But the mistakes are many, and encompass technique, grammar and content. One example: Rowe confuses "heroine" and "heroin", and more than once, so it's clearly not a typo. Also, Rowe spends a lot of pages talking about matters that are largely unrelated to the topic at hand. His thoughts on whether formal education is preferable to learning by doing add little to the project. The book does list an editor, but it doesn't seem like they added significant value.
But the documentary portion of the project is very, very good. The setup is simple. Amancha talks to the camera about meth addiction, what it feels like and the impact it's had on her life. Rowe rarely intrudes with an audible question, letting his subject talk about herself in her own words. She talks about rehab, her childhood and her repeated attempts to kick the habit. Rowe's sparse style, with a few limited reenactments of what shooting up meth actually looks like, works very well here. Amancha's open and engaging style helps a lot, too. She's honest and vulnerable and interesting, the last of which is very important if one is almost the only onscreen participant in a 30 minute documentary.
Overall, the project is saved by the merit of the documentary portion, and the book is helpful for setting up the context and the journey. But the book is by far the weaker half of the project, and should have been much more carefully edited and more focused , in general. But the pair are still worth checking out, if for no other reason than to put a human face to the abstract concept of "drug addiction."