It was exactly what we didn’t want to see on the local news in the holiday season at the end of 1993, and so, of course, Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir have produced, directed, and edited a cable documentary about it, The Brandon Teena Story (Monday July 26; 11 p.m. to 12:35 a.m.; Cinemax), that scalds the eyes and wounds the brain. Teena, born a girl in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1972, decided to grow up a boy, dressed as a boy, dated girls, and even proposed marriage to one. When rumors of her/his secret began to circulate, she/he – the designations are used almost interchangeably by everyone interviewed on camera – moved to Falls City; hooked up with a couple of ex-cons, John Lotter and Tom Nissen; fell in love with Lana Tisdel; forged a couple of checks; and got arrested – after which the rumors from Lincoln reached Falls City. John and Tom were so outraged at this deception that they beat up and raped their former friend, who was encouraged by Lana to go to the police, who did nothing until manly John and manly Tom murdered womanly Brandon/Teena as well as the single mother, Lisa Lambert, who had given him sanctuary, and a luckless stranger who just happened to be visiting her farmhouse that New Year’s Eve.
Muska and Olafsdottir talk to Lana, John and Tom, Teena’s mother and Lisa’s father, the girls “Brandon” dated in high school, a sheriff and a U.S. marshall. We listen in to audiotapes of police interrogations. Meanwhile, like a stream of gray polluted consciousness, accompanied by a soundtrack of country songs about love gone wrong, images flow by of big sky, bereft highways, sinister cornstalks, wasted barns, and windmills. We are left with a sort of punk bafflement.