Book review – Dissolve to: L.A. – A collection of action movie poems
Dissolve to: L.A. is a book of action movie poems by James Trevelyan, and illustrated by Emma Wright.
It is published by The Emma Press: an independent publisher dedicated to producing beautiful, thought-provoking books, and is the sixth in the series of the Emma Press Picks, which are short, themed and illustrated poetry pamphlets designed to be accessible and to appeal to people who might not usually pick up a poetry book.
A thirty-six page, twelve poem pamphlet, each composition in Dissolve to: L.A. focusses on a different minor character from an 80s or 90s action movie who did not always live to see the credits. There’s Amanda Hunsaker, whose fall from the top of her tower block kick-starts Lethal Weapon; Hawkins from Predator; and even “Lloyd”, the owner of the truck stop in T2 that advise Arnie’s Terminator that he “Can’t let you take the man’s wheels, son.”
Focussing on minor characters and theorising on their what-might-have-beens initially seems super niche and strange. But it is highly rewarding to realise that you know who all these players are, and sad and poignant to read these touching observations on their lives, and also their dreams, that will now go unfulfilled. For instance, we discover that Tony from Die Hard – the henchman that Hans Gruber asks “Tony, see if you can dispose of that”, after shooting Mr. Takagi – dreamed of being a dancer; and that “Helen”, one of the bus passengers in Speed, was in love with the driver Sam.
A lot of the characters you will recognise straight away – going to show how much of an impact these bit players actually had on us – but even if you don’t know them on first glance, there is either a wonderfully simple, but highly evocative drawing, or a quote, to help you twig. Worst case scenario: there is a detailed breakdown of the character, and the film they are from in the back.
The instant smirk of satisfaction at “getting it”, followed by a pang of regret from their demise when the poem brings home to you who they were, and who they could have been, is a disarming and satisfyingly bittersweet combination. The poems themselves are deftly written, with Trevelyan changing up styles and tone to suit who he is speaking for, even dropping any casing and punctuation for a stream-of-consciousness verse from Timmy – Newt’s brother in Aliens.
I would have loved to have seen more of the charming illustrations. Wright’s flair not only captures the characters, but where they find themselves in their final scenes, so it would have been lovely to have also seen her take on Steve Buscemi as Con Air’s Garland Greene, or the bulging eyes of the Admiral killed by Xenia Onatopps’s thighs in Goldeneye. I would actually love to have read more of the whole thing, and could have merrily leafed through a book ten times the size all day.
Dissolve to: L.A is a brief, but rare and delightful read that manges to invoke the joy of realising that all those hours in front of 80s and 90s action movies were not spent alone, or in vain. The works riffed on that are often regarded as disposable entertainment, but were important to you growing up, are deservedly given more gravitas by the thought and care put into this piece, and it ultimately leaves you sated and thinking that maybe you should do a double bill of Speed and Con Air tonight. And that you haven’t seen Hard Boiled for aaages.