José Manuel López speaks about John Huston
16 December | 16:30h | Teatro Principal
We could say that John Huston’s last film is an elegy for times past. Or, if we wanted to use a term more in tune with the tradition of the country that accepted him as a citizen in 1964 –his beloved Ireland–, we could say that it is a ballad –a ballad on the mass and the pass of time, sang like one would sing the words of an epitaph: with melancholy. Unlike in other last films, this touch of melancholy was not unintentional. It was embraced by Huston, who was, at the time he filmed it, severely ill. His farewell party is a tribute to James Joyce’s The Dead. He invites his daughter Anjelica to play the role of Gretta Conroy, the lady who listens to a troubling melody brought to her –as Terence Davies would say– by the distant voices of the dead. Distant Voices, Still Lives in the old mansion of the Morkan sisters in Dublin. The story takes place in 1904, at an Epiphany party thrown by the two old ladies. One of the guests is their nephew Gabriel Conroy, who is also Gretta’s husband. All is calm in this film in which nothing seems to happen… The camera focuses on the delicacies served on the table, the banqueters’ conversations, their dances, the poetry readings, the musical recitals. However, something is dormant below the surface. A quiet quake, a seismic uneasiness… whose true face is, of course, the past. An old love story, never forgotten: Gretta’s big what if –what would have happened if that young man she deeply loved (and who loved her) wouldn’t have died? Michael Furey was his name, and the memory of him haunts Gretta when she hears an old tune he used to sing to her, The Lass of Aughrim… the same song that is being played that night at the Morkan’s. A living man is singing it, but the voice is that of a dead one. A troubled Gabriel Conroy witnesses his wife’s transformation into a sacred icon by the power of love… an event that triggers nothing less than the end of the world. The end of the world as Gabriel knows it, of course, as he realizes that the love he shares with his wife will never be comparable to what she once had with Furey, but also the end of world in the strict sense of the term: time just goes by, quietly falling like snowflakes on an Ireland where everyone, from his two old aunts to himself “are turning into shadows”…just like Huston himself was during the filming of his immortal epilogue. “And me, transient as they, flickering out as well into their grey world” are the words that Joyce put in Gabriel’s mouth. Since that day to the last fade to black of the world, The Dead will be the film that survives all films, the story that survives all stories.
José Manuel López is the founder of the seminal film magazine Tren de sombras, part of the editorial committee of Spanish film magazine Caimán Cuadernos de Cine, coordinator and collaborator in various publications, López has a extensive experience as a film critic and proffesor, he offers workshops on cinema at different institutions, museums and art centers, such as MARCO in Vigo and CGAC in Santiago de Compostela, and has given talks at LAV Master’s, ESCAC, CGAI, and Málaga Film Festival.