Monday, August 9, 2010

Malcolm Lowry and "Volcano"

By Eric Jessen August 9, 2010

The London Times said of Malcolm Lowry's first book Ultramarine (1933) that “if the art of writing is imitation, then the author has mastered it.”
Since his death in 1957 countless theses have been written on Lowry's life: some claim he was a homosexual, others claim he was impotent, all search for an explanation for his drinking, his masterpiece Under the Volcano (1947), and his subsequent failures as an author. Though not an authority on Lowry's life – having only read Under the Volcano and seen the award nominated biographical documentary “Volcano” by Donald Brittain - I would hypothesize that perhaps his true sorrow came from knowing he was an impostor.
It seems from an early age Lowry had already decided he was a failure. According to the documentary, his childhood could be summed up by a series of complaints: his mother was not loving enough, he was constantly ill, and despite his father being a body builder he was considered a sissy in school. (The Hollywood depiction of his life would immediately cut to a flashback in black and white of an overweight woman threateningly wielding a frying pan around the kitchen as little Malcolm cowered in the corner, then a shot of several kids pointing their fingers at Malcolm laughing deprecatingly.)
It seems his pain and suffering became his obsession. He drank continuously until he convinced himself he was an alcoholic. He brooded and sulked until he convinced himself he was depressed. At one point he wandered endlessly outside Bellevue Hospital, drunk and spouting gibberish, until he convinced himself and the doctors he was insane. He desperately sought his own suffering. His actions indicate not as much a cry for help but a cry for attention.
By the time Lowry was writing Under the Volcano in Mexico his obsession with his own suffering had reached a type of arrogance. He saw a sort of divine significance in his own drunken misery. When at first his novel had trouble finding a publisher, he could cope. But once Under the Volcano became a huge success, hailed worldwide as a masterpiece and a work of a genius, his life truly started to fall apart.
Afterword he drank in between struggling to come up with new ideas for novels. Not another was finished the rest of his life. He once again visited therapists and mental hospitals. After years of disappointing fans and publishers he became somewhat of a disgrace. His misery became a reality. Finally, and sadly fittingly, he died in a pool of his own vomit having downed a half bottle of gin. Too bad it wasn't Mescal.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Inception (2010)

By Eric Jessen August 2, 2010

Not since Christmas Eve when I was ten years old have I been so eager to call it a night. Thanks to Christopher Nolan's Inception, I don't think I've ever been so excited about dreaming since I first learned about Freud.
Inception may be the first movie in a long time deserving of its place atop the box office. It's like a cross between Mission: Impossible and The Matrix cut together with as much boldness and flashiness as Nolan's Memento. (You can already give Lee Smith the Oscar for Best aka “Most” Editing.) Although I was a little disappointed the movie was easier to follow than I was led to believe. The pieces of the puzzle, the dreams within dreams within dreams within dreams actually fit together quite nicely. With the help of some rather lame explanations, of course. I would suggest instead of having these explanation scenes a word bank be printed on the back of our ticket defining "inception," "extraction," "kick," "limbo," "totem," "forger" etc. That would just about cover it – then straight into dreamland. Which leads me to my even bigger gripe. Why does every character in the end have to prefer reality when the dream world is so clearly more interesting?
But really I can't criticize Inception. It was a lot of fun. Some may say it's too literal minded, the characters are shallow, the dialogue is weak. It's not very witty, a little too dower like it doesn't know it's supposed to be fun. (And then again, it's fun anyway.) And all of those things may be true. But show me a movie with as complicated a structure, as many layers of story that also has well developed characters and great dialogue, all while sparing time to dazzle us with special effects. Maybe, in our dreams.