some thoughts on the rum diary

I’ve long been a fan and admirer of Hunter S. Thompson’s work. I’m also a big fan of literary adaptations and so when a new version of Thompson’s work comes out, especially in wide release, I’m always excited. It began with Where the Buffalo Roam, the Bill Murray, Peter Boyle and Art Linson/John Kaye adaptation way back in 1980. I have to admit I saw that movie before I was familiar with the writing. I remember the “Fuck the Doomed” scene with Nixon and Murray’s Thompson. Really good stuff.

Later I would find out this movie was based on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the CampaignTrail. Two great books I have on my shelf and every once in a while pull and re-read. The last Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas film adaptation I saw was of course the Terry Gilliam, Benicio Del Toro and Johnny Depp version. This film was much truer to the book and showed so much of Gilliam’s imagination and wild visions—so similar to Thompson’s surreal take on journalism. And I have to say while I enjoyed that movie—especially the “Wave Speech” scene. I also enjoyed Gilliam’s direction. I mean I’ve been a fan of Brazil, Time Bandits and the Baron Von Munchausen trilogy.

And those movies are wild and surreal but I have to say I enjoy Thompson’s book Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail much more. I think the straight story telling of those books—I guess moreso in Hell’s Angel’s reflects a younger and developing writer. And I guess that is what I liked about the novel the Rum Diary. A young writer finding a voice.

Some of the reviews  I’ve read praised Johnny Depp and a straighter, less surreal story. And the movie was much straighter, I have to admit. The novel is straighter. But still reflecting Thompson’ humor and struggle to stay straight and sober in a wildly unjust world. For this novel that surrounding was 1960’s Puerto Rico. Of course the familiar Thompson themes are there—a fight against authoritarian rule and of course fight against poverty and greedy land development. Something I know Thompson fought against his entire life living in Colorado. The most memorable scenes are of Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Paul Kemp finding the true story of Puerto Rico. The poverty and corrupt US government land development. I have to say Rango and this film show me that Depp is a dedicated performer/comedian. Hard to remember so much since he’s so famous and is in some really bad films. I’ve only seen two of the pirate movies and wasn’t that impressed. Haven’t seen the Jolie/Depp movie that critics hated and probably won’t. But Depp really entertained me as a young struggling writer learning the corruption around him. I enjoyed the struggle with debauchery and excess as in all of Thompson’s work. What I didn’t like was what I interpret as making the movie marketable to mass audiences—the female character as sex pot and as a pretty one dimensional character. I think the film cut out some other female characters but the book was written in the sixties. I didn’t like what seemed as Thompson throwing in a bit of his 1990’s knowledge into a 1960’s era book. Things like knowing Kennedy would be killed and a few others. Nitpicking I guess.

I also didn’t like the ending and the final scroll over giving us a mix of the character of Kemp and Thomspon’s life. And I know a two hour film is so different from a 25 or so chapter novel but the third act of this film was a little anti-climactic and “clean” for me despite the R-rating. I mean the book is somewhat violent in the end but this vesion was a bit tame. Not as dark as I remember of the book. I’m nitpicking too hard I guess.

And D said that she thought it would be a bit more about writing and I agree. Oh and Giovanni Ribisi steals quite a few scenes as the alcoholic reporter Moburg.

Oh and found these videos about Thompson’s struggle to get the film made:

english studies meeting notes

Met with English Studies Club/Group yesterday and I put together a quick list of links to some websites and books I reference:

duotrope.com

everywritersreference.com

http://writingcontests.wordpress.com/

fiction:

Bringing the Devil to His Knees by Charles Baxter

the Art of Fiction by John Gardner

Writing Fiction: a guide to narrative craft by Janet Burroway

poetry:

The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo

Leaping Poetry by Robert Bly

 A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver

free writing

whetta girl’s clothes

When Lolo lost the gal he took around town, after she called someone and then had a ride out of the east side, he showed no emotion at all and piled her clothes into a garbage bag. Then he drank all night. Gathered up her furniture and books and threw it in a grocery cart. Those carts were always outside his door. Thought he’d take it down to one of the segundos out along 8th Street when he had the time but he got drunk and lost big on the Broncos and it slipped pat his thoughts. That’s when Patsy Vigil got into it and then some of the kids from the other side of the complex. He spotted Patsy throwing out some beer bottle and old magazines. The woman was wearing a pink camiseta the gal wore to her job. Lolo held in at first and then couldn’t take it. Who’n the hell gave you that shirt, he told her. Those are people’s clothes.

            She put her hands up in the air waiting to be caught and then Patsy was quick to laugh: They were just sitting out there and nobody claimed them. You don’t wear these clothes anyways. What’s the problem. Garbage is free and clear for people to take. If you throwing it out. What the hell were they doing out in a cart.

            Jesus Christ, Lolo spat as he weaved in between parked cars. People don’t respect a man’s things.

            Later when the cops turned up to inquire about the argument and the complaints from the neighbors he had the whetto officer fill out a report for one pink blouse. The officer mostly did it to shut the man up. Asked him if he was indigent.

            I have a home, mister man, Lolo spat drunkenly.

            He stayed up all night after that and wondered where some of the other clothes would turn up. He found the gal’s jeans and one of her sweaters on a junky looking girl down from the check cashing place. And then in the Lebanese deli he swore he thought the gal’s house dress and slippers were walking across the street into the Christian Center. Thought then when he stood up the gal’s corduroy pants were down at the corner market and then down along Colfax eating at the taco stand.

            Thought he saw a pair of boots and skirt running into the Kinkos. It became so often and common that afternoon he thought the girl had multiplied to get inside his bad thoughts. He grabbed an open container down at the 7-11 and when back at home he pulled what was left of the cart into his apartment and the images from the relationship stuck in his head. He thought of burning up the clothes and keeping the memories still that way. Went as far as pouring starter fluid from his Bic onto the pile. He kept seeing the gal with her arms around him. Seeing her kisses down his shoulder and chest. Saw her mess of hair on his shoulder and then down beside him on the couch watching TV. Heknew he was never gonna know her anymore but he decided along that mass of fluid and potential flame he was going to love her anyhow.

            Poor, Lolo, the Compadre Guzman said that afternoon as they bought each other shots. What the hell you think she’s wearing now?

            Fuck you, Guzman.

            A sight to see I bet travelling without no clothes, no?

            Then the two men decided to walk downtown. This helped Lolo keep it together for the most part. He smoked and walked. Decided to stay a while in Guzman’s company even though the man was a fucking loser in Lolo’s mind and had no sense for ball games or sports scores whatsoever. Had no taste in liquor or weed.

            That Guzman will smoke anything, Lolo always described. Uncured brick packed shit from Juarez. Knows no better, Lolo would always tell people.

            But that day he put up with the man and his stinky cigars and wacked out fro just to have someone to talk to. Just to have someone to distract him.

            Hate to see you all lonely and shit, Guzman pressed at him nearly all afternoon. What you gonna do about rent? What you gonna do about them clothes? You gonna burn them all up?

            In the low light of afternoon the two sat in the State near the huge plate glass window and staring at all the passersby.

            Everything you say makes me want to crack your head against this bar, Lolo said as he sucked at the foam of his draft.

            We gotta get out of Denver, Guzman added. It’s this Goddamn city that’s killing. Probably reason she moved on, you know.

            Drop it.

            Probably no big romance neither. Bitch probably out getting religion in New Mexico. Aint nothing in Colorado no more for anybody but meth and hate around here. No work neither. Probably out in New Mexico.

            What the hell do you know about women, Guzman?

            I know women. I was married for nearly eighteen years. Couldn’t get things right thought but I was married. I tell you nothing destroys the soul than living with a woman. Like suicide or some shit. I tell you you’re better off.

            What the hell do you know anyhow?

            Then the two men pulled out their cards and dealt a hand which the owner of the bars never liked. Always broke it up no matter how much beer or shots the two men ever bought. Loraine came out and shut it down pretty quick. Told the two men to take their game out to the park. Jesus, she said. How many times I gotta tell you if I get ticketed for card games. I ain’t gonna lose no amount of money over you’s.

            We just have cards, Guzman said.

            It’s the money for Christ’s sake. If they come in and see your money on the table I’m out five hundred bucks in fines, she explained and sent them out without finishing their drinks.

            I’ll tell you why the worlds going to hell, Guzman explained as they walked.
Lolo said, I don’t want to know.

            A man used to go into a bar with a stack of dollar bills and be seen as somebody.

            Oh shut up. You don’t know nothing.

            I’m telling you know everyone does what the devil pleases and they write you a goddamn ticket for whatever and there’s not a thing a man can do about it.

            Whatever.

            I got booted from the park for falling asleep in the part yesterday. Just sleeping and resting in the shade. Ain’t no kind of city for me and you.

            You were trying to live in that goddamn park if I know you, Guzman.

            Ain’t right the way they treat people anymore is all I’m saying. And the problem with you is you hate people too Goddamn much. You gotta love. I’m telling you, Lolo.

            That’s all you saying.

            Yeah, that’s all I’m saying. Piss poor world is what I’m saying. Hey you think the girl’s coming back. You think I can get her books and shit. I hear she’s got books.

            Later that afternoon Lolo traded Guzman for a thesaurus and a collection of love poems the whetto gal picked up in Colorado Springs. This was something he immediately regretted. Lolo remembered they drove down with her sister and when they found her favorite bookstore closing down after a dozen years in business the whetta gal broke down. Cried right out in the street and when Lolo tried to console her near Palmer Park she just cried and cried. Almost nonsensically explaining her love for the place when she was living in a halfway house around the block and would come in and rest and read books in the place or hours. Lolo had nothing to say so he walked across the street and bought her the love poems…

           

mary gaitskill lecture notes

A few weeks back I typed up some notes from Amy Hempel’s workshop I attended. I found my notes on Mary Gaitskill’s portion of the workshop and finally had the chance to type them up.

I remember she was intense but I got some good notes down on how workshops can be “imperfect” she lectured but also can be energizing. She began by saying workshops can be like twelve heads or dreams barging into your dream. I like the idea of a fictive space as a dream. And I guess this analogy or metaphor appropriate since she also lectured on the writings “inner quality” as she called it. The subtle and strange feeling that exists beneath plot, character and theme. This quality makes the best writing “live or die” she stated. She called it the guts and she called it the soul.

One of her examples: “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor. And as I would find later I believe her work is a strong example of this idea.

She went on to lecture this feeling or mood came from the irrational level—the feeling or the tone coming from language. She stated this was beyond psychology—the soul of the book. In the story it is what cannot be manifested in life. It’s all created by phrase and tone. She kept referring to it as the soul or the unseen. The idea is to use something not important to take yourself and reader somewhere very deep. Language creating images and the subliminal to radically enhance what we see.

All this made me think of Tracy Daugherty and the idea that language and phrasing creates the skin of a character. It made me think of Stanley Kubrick movies where the most minor or insignificant detail or thread at the right place and time can enhance the atmosphere or feel of a piece of writing.

Found this clip of Gaitskill’s reading–beginning around 37 minutes in. I think she gives a great example of the ideas she lectured on: