Monday, 6 December 2010
Ignacio Ortiz's film 'Mezcal'
Director Ignacio Ortiz's film 'Mezcal' takes a page from Malcolm Lowry's 1947 novel
By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
MEXICO CITY -- There's a saying that people here use when knocking back a shot of mescal, the spirit distilled from the agave plant with a fiery sting like the devil's own pitchfork: "Para todo mal, mescal. Para todo bien, también." For everything bad, mescal -- and for everything good, as well.
Malcolm Lowry, the British author whose 1947 novel "Under the Volcano" is easily the best book ever written about mescal and whose own battles with the bottle were the stuff of legend, undoubtedly would have toasted to that judicious proverb.
Set in 1939 in the Mexican provincial city of Cuernavaca (which Lowry called by its Aztec name, Quauhnahuac), "Under the Volcano" chronicles the final tragic hours in the life of Geoffrey Firmin, a dipsomaniacal British consul unable to shake his personal demons. Miraculously reunited that morning with his estranged actress-wife, Yvonne, the consul squanders his last chance at redemption and, through a string of inebriated misunderstandings, is killed and flung into a ravine.
Critics repeatedly have declared "Under the Volcano" to be one of the 20th century's literary monuments. Lowry's prose has provoked many imitators, and his masterpiece inspired a 1984 movie adaptation directed by John Huston, starring Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bisset. Though written by a Cambridge-schooled Englishman, "Under the Volcano" is revered by many Mexicans for being among the most discerning modern depictions of their country's convulsive and incendiary character, along with Juan Rulfo's "Pedro Páramo," published eight years later.
"It's an English novel, its point of view, but it's a Mexican tragedy," says Mexican screenwriter and director Ignacio Ortiz, who first read Lowry's book 30 years ago. "For me, it's the great modern Mexican tragedy about Mexico."
Now Ortiz has become the latest artist to borrow a page, or several, from Lowry, who died 50 summers ago. In his feature film "Mezcal," which finally has reached theaters here after repeatedly being rejected by distributors, Ortiz uses "Under the Volcano" as a jumping-off point into his own sulfurous odyssey.
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