Archive for July 31st, 2010

Rope’s End

(In the 1990s, while working for Moon Publications, I offered to assist another editor with Puerto Vallarta Handbook. There I encountered a sidebar that presented a seriously bollixed up version of director John Huston’s legendary presentation of gold-plated derringers to his film’s principals prior to shooting The Night of the Iguana. I happened to know a lot about this tale—Iguana, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire, my favorite transformed-Tennessee Williams films—and in an excess of zeal I rewrote the sidebar . . . and then went completely out of control, adding about five pages of additional material. I thought the author would be pleased. Wrong. He huffily rejected my effort, and I stuck it in a drawer. Where it re-mained until I was up against a deadline for one of the shooting-star newspapers I worked for later in the decade; I dug out the Puerto Vallarta thing, entered it into the tubes, and thereby was done for the week.

(When that paper’s website went dark, together with the paper, I figured the piece was lost. Then today, looking for something completely different, I stumbled across it in this strange ghostly wormhole on the tubes. I don’t know how long it’s going to persist in that place, so I’m bringing it here.

(I am charmed by loose location stories like this one, because they remind me of the lubricious, bibulous mayhem I experienced while working with other young rebels in putting out fine and feisty “alternative” newspapers, back in the day. Of course, no one can live forever in such a manner—the Iguana people who went at it hardest (Gardner, Burton) were the first to leave their bodies. It’s not really necessary, I know now, to live like that at all. William Blake, for instance, managed to behave himself, and he did alright, art-wise. He was even visited by angels.)

Without John Huston’s 1963 film The Night of the Iguana there would not exist today the gringo tourist mecca of Puerto Vallarta. Before Huston & Co. arrived to transfer the prizewinning play of Tennessee Williams to the big screen, Puerto Vallarta was an unknown, “undiscovered” village just entering the age of electricity. As The Night of the Iguana became one of the most publicized film shoots in the history of the movies, the town was transformed from a sleepy backwater on the heat-plagued west coast of Mexico into one of the most attractive jetset destinations on the globe.

Ray Stark brought the Iguana property to Huston. The rookie producer had put but one film upon the screen when he acquired the rights to the play, believing it “would make a wonderful picture, especially in Mexico. John, of course, was the guru of Mexico. I just got him at a lucky time when he wanted to go back there.”

Huston had shot The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Unforgiven in Mexico and had planned to lens The Misfits there until overruled by that film’s writer/producer, Arthur Miller. Williams had specified Acapulco as the location of his play, but Huston scoffed at the notion of staging his film there. He sought a place more wild and forlorn, one that would reflect the torment of the work’s characters, par-ticularly protagonist T. Laurence Shannon. This defrocked clergyman, locked out of his church for fornicating with a young parishioner, finds himself adrift, awash in alcohol, reduced to escorting elderly churchwomen on fourth-rate bus tours through fifth-rate sites in Mexico and the southwest US. The Night of the Iguana is, in Huston’s words, the story “of a man, desperate and full of despair, at the end of his rope.”

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The Heart Of The Matter

The light ahead grew larger, brighter, but there were no drafts, sounds, or smells from that direction. The emotions, the plans, the feelings, the objectives I had seen swirled like floodwater through the city of facts I was slowly erecting on the grave of my other self, and though an act is an act, in the best Steinian tradition, each wave of interpretation that broke upon me shifted the position of one or more things I had thought safely anchored, and by this brought about an alteration of the whole, to the extent that all of life seemed almost a shifting interplay of some never to be attained truth. Still, I could not deny that I knew more now than I had several years earlier, that I was closer to the heart of matters than I had been before, that the entire action in which I had been caught up seemed now to be sweeping toward some final resolution. And what did I want? A chance to find out what was right and a chance to act on it! I laughed. Who is ever granted the first, let alone the second of these?

—Roger Zelazny, The Hand of Oberon

Head Case

Malaysia is a Muslim-majority nation struggling to accommodate people of differing religious faiths. While Islam is the state religion, the country’s constitution guarantees religious freedom. Malaysia, like Turkey and Indonesia, at least attempts to function, in many areas, as what we in the West might recognize as a secular state.

Perspective is important. Malaysia as a nation is barely 50 years old. When the United States was 50 years old, it gave birth to the “Know Nothings,” politically powerful Anglo-Saxon Protestants who sought to disenfranchise and expel the country’s Catholics. When England was 224 years old, it rounded up all its Jews, stole all their money, and then shipped them to the Continent.

Even when non-Muslims get a little sneaky, in attempting to bypass the country’s prohibition against pros-elytizing to Muslims, Malaysian authorities may decide in their favor. As I noted here, on December 31 of last year the Malaysian High Court ruled in favor of the Catholic Herald, a paper serving the country’s small Catholic population, and which had insisted upon the right to use the word “Allah” to refer to its version of the Abrahamic deity.

And now Muslims who last summer took to the streets to make mischief—publicly abusing a cow’s head in protest of the construction of a Hindu temple—have been told to knock it off by a Malaysian judge, who admonished and fined them, and sent one of them to jail.

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When I Worked

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