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Observations Under the Volcano (1984)

Documentary on the making of the movie "Under the Volcano."
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1 nomination. See more awards »

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A penetrating behind-the-camera glimpse at the making of the film version of Malcom Lowry's intense novel about a British diplomat in a Latin American country destroying himself professionally and personally with alcohol. Albert Finney delivers a harrowing performance with Jacquelne Bissett and Anthony Andrews contributing to the ensemble cast under John Huston's expert direction. Written by duke1029

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filmmaking | independent film | See All (2) »

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Documentary

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October 1984 (USA)  »

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References The Fugitive (1947) See more »

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A triumphant ode to movie making
28 September 2016 | by See all my reviews

"Under the Volcano" was a labor of love of John Huston, a treasure to be filmed and conquered, one that was deemed unfilmable and one that got on the hands of many other respected directors out there who failed to bring Malcolm Lowry's novel to the screen due to many obstacles, from getting a good script to actually getting the money to make it. Huston got everything right, with Guy Gallo's excellent script to the amazing performances of Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bisset, going all the way to find the perfect locations in Mexico. Unlike contemporary hot shot directors who like to expose the makings of their films, most notably the ones who use the most advanced special effects, Mr. Huston and Christian Blackwood made this in a time where those kind of documentaries were strange rarities except for those made with TV crews following brief moments of shooting. And the director of "The Maltese Falcon" had other goals to accomplish with the behind the scenes of his film, he was more concerned about revealing about his passion and commitment for this project, very special to him, a testament of how he pulled together, at age 77, what would become of one of his greatest moments and the forces that made him as the most suitable man for the job.

"Observations Under the Volcano" is pure and simple a documentary following cast and crew in Mexico making "Under the Volcano". But it's more than that. It truly shows how you make a movie, all the stages during production and shooting, and above all, the most frightening aspect to some film directors out there, it shows the difference between a screenplay and what's actually filmed, not in the sense of just cutting things but also adding aspects that haven't been thought out before because the written word is a particular dimension and you add up to excellent actors, a notable director and all the other things the environment brings out to you, the human element during filming decides that that's more to be done. Even the smallest of projects like this one was (compared to other ones Mr. Huston developed over the years) the monumental effort to putting everything right is a daunting task.

A brief glimpse on the things I liked. Mr. Huston directing Finney and Bisset on a restaurant sequence (note how the actors present their ideas to the director and how one small and apparently pointless gesture makes the whole difference in a scene); an improvised bullfight that took some time to be filmed and with courageous actor Anthony Andrews close to face some dangers in that sequence; the careful planning and shooting of the conclusion sequence, so word of advice, watch the documentary after the movie, because essential plot points (and the ending!) are revealed in a certain amount of detail. Also worthy of mention is about all the involved getting interviewed, sharing stories and about what brought them to make the movie (which includes a senior gentleman used as bit part but in reality he worked as Huston's driver) and they don't talk in that phony Hollywood marketing "we all loved each other, this guy was the best or that woman is so special and so forth" like they do it all the time lately. No, they're very genuine about everything they're doing, you can sense that.

A true essence is captured best when you're seeing a trustworthy and happy collaboration between everyone involved on a project that, despite drenched with qualities and award nominations, didn't took off all that much and was a financial failure, than seeing a showy behind the scenes about a successful project that wasn't all that great to shoot and people pretend they loved doing it. That's another attractive that makes those observations a real film treasure. The real intention is to reveal the complex mechanisms of a movie and nothing more, with Mr. Huston succeeding where everyone else had failed.

The only thing missing here was that we don't follow the film's trail with promotion, critics, awards and even box-office. A word of praise from the people outside of the film would be interesting to see.

Paul Thomas Anderson has said one time that he learned more about movies hearing an audio commentary by John Sturges that frequenting a film school. And the point he makes is truly remarkable and passionate about movie making. A documentary like this feels exactly like those words. You can learn a lot about cinema just by watching it than sticking to classes and scholars. It's real life brought to you, a magnificent experience of epic proportions. 9/10


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