Just who is Mr Fish? It sounds like the name of a James Bond villain, and there are probably some people out there who would categorise Dwayne Booth as a villain. However, it could well be that Mr Fish is the last great hero of freedom of expression; whose satirical cartoons are what we all need right now in order to keep us sane in this insane world.
Mr Fish: Cartooning From The Dead End is a very personal documentary that follows the controversial political cartoonist as he struggles to provide for his family and stay true to his creativity.
There’s a chance you may not be aware of Mr Fish as a person, but I suspect you have at least odds are you’ve probably seen a cartoon of his. There’s the infamous parody of Norman Rockwell’s self-portrait in which a man sees his real self in a KKK robe in the mirror, yet paints his delusional self as Captain America. Mr Fish, goes beyond the panels to explore the man behind the pen.
Director Pablo Bryant allows his subject to speak his mind and express his own opinion without any filters. Bryant also interview prominent members of the media print and publishing world; which allows the viewer to have access to other opinions about the current situation in the media and in society.
The documentary begins with Booth recalling an act of defiance during his childhood, where at the age of 7 years old, he threw paper planes out of the window which had the words ‘F*ck your ass’ written on them. Even as a child Booth was defying authority and rebelling against the system. This was a small-town New Jersey white boy who wanted to be Angela Davis when he grew up.
As an adult, Booth has become an esteemed cartoonist whose work has been seen in Harper’s, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly and The Village Voice, as well as online outlets. Mr Fish’s work proved to be a little too much for Harper’s who discontinued his contract, but this only adds to his reputation as a ‘bad boy.’
Mr Fish is a fascinating subject; but his work isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Booth is frank and honest about his views, and this documentary may offend some who just don’t understand Booth’s work. Booth is a liberal, but he calls out the government and the politicians on both sides, as he states ”I want cartooning to be dangerous. Do I want my art to be a threat to the dominant culture? Yes.” and admits that he has received hate mail for his cartoons.
The documentary touches on the still very raw subject of the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre by Islamic terrorists three years ago, which left a lasting shadow on the world of satirical cartoons. You can’t help but admire Mr Fish’s determination to keep going, many would have thrown in the towel by now, and he is vastly becoming to only fish left in a pond that is drying up.
The documentary is most interesting when we see Booth’s life at home, with his wife (Diana) and children. The relationship between husband and wife is something to admire, as despite their different upbringings and backgrounds, they have a connection and a sense of understanding for each other.
Although, life isn’t always easy for the couple, especially when Booth is laid off, leaving Diana worrying about making ends meet. Booth also reveals how having children changed him, as he puts it ”Having children reminded me how precious life is.” this reveals a soft side to the bad boy, and seeing Booth interact with his daughters gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. And, as we explore more of Booth’s childhood; we discover that he was the child of alcoholic parents.
It’s understandable why he as rejected the mainstream and the capitalist system. Life is too short to worry about money; but money is what makes the world go around.
Mr Fish is a great documentary that was an absolute delight to watch. It did what everything good documentary should; it discussed an interesting subject and allowed the viewer to gain a unique insight into a world many of us aren’t necessarily aware of. It’s also a very funny and well crafted documentary; with animated scenes from Mr Fish himself.
The film won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at Slamdance and the Rome International Film Festival, as well as an Audience award at the Austin Film Festival, and Special Jury Prize at the Ashland Film Festival; proving that there is still an audience out there for Mr Fish’s work. Right now, we need someone like Mr Fish around.