Monday, March 19, 2012

Bowling for Rum

I watched The Rum Diary the other night.  I knew not to expect much given the book was almost universally panned when it was released long after the fact in 1998.  I thought Depp, who seems to have become the executor of the Hunter S. Thompson estate, or at least his posthumous spokesman, might do something with it, but it seems he and director Bruce Robinson pretty much played this one by the book.

The story owes more to Men's Adventure magazines than it does Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which "Paul Kemp" constantly alludes to.  The time was apparently before Thomspon got heavy into drugs.  He relied mostly on highly fortified rum to carry him through the day, "pressed" by the wild-eyed Moberg, played to great comic effect by Giovanni Ribisi, but at the tail end of the movie we get a drug that appears like LSD in the form of eye drops.

Puerto Rico is presented pretty much as one big real estate scam with ex pats spending their time bowling or lolling around on the beaches.  The locals are portrayed as smarmy real estate developers, corrupt officials, wild-eyed natives and voodoo queens.  The story doesn't go much beyond snapshots until we meet up with some former Pentagon type who has the inside tract on a piece of government real estate up for grabs.

This was supposed to be Thompson's Great Puerto Rican Novel, but it seems he couldn't find a publisher for it till long after he penned it during those balmy days of 1959.  With all the political intrigue going on at the time, you would think a young Gonzo would have found more in the Caribbean than this tepid tale of bowling, rum and shady real estate developers.  I give this one a C-.


  1. Movies! Nice.

    Thanks for keeping this moving forward, Gintaras. I'm sure we'll settle in on a book soon.

    The three on my list right now, if anyone is interested in joining me:

    In American history:


    English history:

    To End All Wars:

    and this one, which should be a challenge for me, but I'm going to do my best:

    I tried to read Devil in the White City but found it a little over written for my taste. I can see why it was so popular though.

  2. Here's a Puerto Rican film, Maruja, released the year Thompson was in San Juan,

    nice slice of life.

  3. Hunter Thompson?

    He was a guy who loved surprises and he left a ''good'' one for his son and young grandson: he invites both into his home to spend a weekend - stays up that night pretending to be working on a writing of some kind. When his son and grandson go downstairs for breakfast the next morning they discover that the old SOB has croaked himself with a bullet to the head. Not a very thoughtful thing to do.

    His portrayals of those ex-pats living in San Juan may have some degree of truth. But I wouldn't count on that portrayal as being 100% true.

  4. ''Maruja"

    I just watched that blurb from youtube ~ interesting that much of it deals with upper class types. Note how upper and lower class folks deal with each other on a daily basis.

    Bobby Capó sang the movie's theme. He was an extraordinary singer and song writer who was well known throughout all of Latin America and Spain.

  5. Yea, old Hunter pulled a Hemingway in the end. Not very thoughtful as far as anyone was concerned, including his young wife, Anita. I guess this old world just closed in too tightly around him.

    I think it was a mistake to release this book. Not that it wouldn't have come out at some point, given how publishers like to cash in on the celebrity of an author, but it was pretty weak stuff, and his characterization of Puerto Ricans was awful. He treated it like a "banana republic." This was a manuscript that should have been burnt, like Hemingway's Garden of Eden. I would have thought Depp and Robinson would have tried to tidy up the story a bit, but they just played it as it was written.

  6. The problem with that film clip is that it is so good, I want to keep watching.

  7. I enjoyed The Devil in White City and didn't find it over written, although it certainly isn't written as a traditional history. Weird story.

  8. The clip is enticing, av, but be warned.

    Isn't The Devil in the White City about the 1892 Chicago World's Fair. I read quite a bit on it when I was doing my Master's thesis on Louis Sullivan, John Root and the Chicago School of architects. The modernists at the time were notably upset by how that fair turned out with Burnham making it into a neo-classical encampment. Sullivan felt it turned American architecture back 50 years.

  9. Thanks for the warning on the movie. I can't be trailing along the streets of Puerto Rico right now, as enticing as that might sound. (Your knowledge of obscure films is amazing!)