For Reel


Under the Volcano (1984)
February 29, 2016, 3:39 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John Huston
3 Stars
Under the VolcanoDirector John Huston had a pesky desire to film the unfilmable, struggling throughout his career to adapt works of literary fiction that, for one reason or another, were not thought of as being the kinds of stories that would adapt well to film. In the case of Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry’s writing was praised for articulating the complex interior world of a drunken, broken man. On film, Albert Finney plays the consul extraordinarily well, but regardless it is a performance that plays out the external tragedies without getting to the core of the interior–it is clear that he is deteriorating, but not how he got there or why the relationships with those around him play out in the way that they do. If Huston’s adaptation is not particularly satisfying as a character drama, it has a remarkable sense of place, with Huston returning to Mexico for the third time after The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Night of the Iguana. Small, dingy bars comprise much of the film, with the locales detailed in scenes such as a nearly slapstick diversion in which Finney rides a fairground ride with a drink in his hand. The way that children wait to collect (and eventually return) the change that falls from his pockets is one of the great small touches Huston details as a means of adding character to the world. This dizzying ride sequence, coupled the opening titles in which Dia de los Muertos puppets seem to come to life in hallucinatory montage, shows Huston relying on external symbols as a means of articulating the consul’s disorientation. Finney, however, is completely adept at getting across his character’s daze, and Huston doesn’t have an answer for where to take the character from there. Regardless, Finney’s performance is one of the great portrayals of a drunk, not relying on slurring but on trying a little too hard to enunciate, and the location shooting provides a compelling atmosphere.



The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
January 31, 2016, 11:25 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John Huston
5 Stars
The Treasure of the Sierra MadreArticulating the experience of watching The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a faulty endeavor, so intoxicating it is as a piece of narrative fiction that it all but eschews the need for critical analysis. Many who write about the film discuss it in similar terms. In his glowing review for The Nation, James Agee praised John Huston as, along with Charlie Chaplin, the most talented man working in American film, insisting that The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a towering achievement that rises to the level of “folk art.” What Agee gets at, and what the film’s legacy insists, is that Huston was remarkably gifted at making films that have near-universal appeal due to his gifts as a storyteller and, specifically, his insistence on character. The action scenes all function as a means of advancing certain character traits–when the three prospectors (Walter Huston, Humphrey Bogart, and Tim Holt) plot to kill a man that has come across their enterprise, the scene works not only as a means of creating suspense, but as a cataloging of the mental states of the characters. In fact, Huston throughout creates a delicate balance between how much is revealed and how much is temporarily obscured as it relates to the characters’ motivations, necessitating these moments wherein action determines how deteriorated their morality has become. The final act of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre exists as sublime poetry, and those who have seen the film will know that the best way to respond to any bad turn of fate is simply to laugh, having been made newly aware of their cosmic insignificance.