On Watching Cine las Americas' La Hora Fria and John Huston's 'Under the Volcano'
While getting ready to go
When I dropped by the Cine las Americas International Film Festival office last week, Jacqueline Rush Rivera, programming director, was busy at her desk as evening fell. She planned to work into the night, though the event itself won't happen until April. CLA is expanding its year-round offerings, Rush Rivera said, and, as if to prove it, she handed me four short films – about an hour's worth – that were to screen as La Hora Fria, part of Rock n Roll Dia 07, at La Zona Rosa. I said I'd watch them and maybe write about them for our next issue and took off. Rush Rivera got back to work.
I got home and didn't. I was tired of working. I set the DVDs down, poured a glass of wine, and talked to my roommates for a while. I poured another glass of wine and watched an inning or two of game one of the World Series. Then I poured another glass and picked up a DVD next to the La Hora Fria DVDs I'd set down before. For what seemed like the 10th time since receiving it at the paper in early October, I found myself watching the Criterion release of 1984's Under the Volcano. I grabbed the bottle.
Adapted by screenwriter Guy Gallo from Malcolm Lowry's 1945 novel, shot by Gabriel Figueroa, and directed by John Huston, Under the Volcano stars Albert Finney as Geoffrey Firmin, a British consul ravaged by alcoholism, rendered irrelevant, and abandoned by his wife in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, on the eve of World War II. The story is of his 24-hour-long final descent – during Día de los Muertos, no less – marked by the hallucinatory return of Yvonne (Jacqueline Bisset) and a terrifying mescal-fueled misunderstanding.
Finney's Academy Award-nominated performance all but induces the shakes; fortunate and capable enough to chart the course of his life, his character leans so heavily into the wheel as to seem gleeful in flying off of it. Full of regret and sickened by addiction, he gives up, going down fighting his own demons. There's nothing romantic or heroic about it, yet nothing cautionary, either. In the hands of another actor and director, there might have been. Stretches of the audio commentary from producers Michael Fitzgerald, Wieland Schulz-Keil, and Moritz Borman address Finney and Huston's dynamic: a couple of guys who knew what they were doing, who the material meant something to, and who trusted each other. Don't see that combination around too much anymore.
Shoot. This sucks. I'm writing this piece way past deadline, not giving it my best, and it makes me mad. It's partly my own fault for putting it off until now, the last hours of my last press day at the Chronicle, and partly the Chronicle's for putting me in charge of sections that this week include the cover story ("ReReReReReopening Night," Screens) and a preview of the Texas Book Festival ("Temples and Playgrounds," Books). That's partly why I'm leaving after eight years: I want more time and energy to write (and read and think and live). But it's also because I'm not giving the paper my best anymore. I'm no good for it, and it's no good for me. As St. Louis Cardinal great Bob Gibson said about his retirement in 1975, "When I gave up a grand slam to Pete LaCock, I knew it was time to quit."
Sorry. I didn't set out to say goodbye in this space. It's intended for coverage of film, tech, gaming, and TV. Who cares about some crappy editor quitting? Spare me the gory details. Don't make me puke. I have to puke, but that might be the stress or the fact that I'm a little scared, and before I take off for a little town in Mexico – to stop drinking and start a book – I want to acknowledge how much this city, its artists and creators and audiences, and this paper, my co-workers and writers and friends, have meant to me. How much I admire many of them. How I'm grateful and lucky to have spent my 20s here. So, yeah, I hope that because I've so often indulged you, you'll indulge me. Just kidding. OK, I'm done. Thank you. Bye.
Wait. I did end up watching those shorts last weekend – two from Mexico and two from Brazil, three narratives and a documentary – that Rush Rivera gave me. They're freaky and great, and you should go see them this weekend. Daniel Castro's "Bestiario" is about a daughter whose chores include feeding her father raw meat in the basement; "Terra Prometida," by Guilherme Castro, is a mournful meditation on selling out; "O Maior Espectáculo da Terra" is Marcos Pimentel's 35mm ode to an impoverished traveling circus; and Daniel Eduvijes Carrera's "Primera Comunión" plays like a collaboration between Kubrick and del Toro. Not your thing? No problem. Cine las Americas is expanding its programming. They're working hard. They'll eventually do something you're into. Like the people sitting next to me or down the hall, they help the community build culture. People like them have always been my favorite part. Also the free books and DVDs.
La Hora Fria
Friday, Nov. 2, 7pm
La Zona Rosa