|The Movies of My Life
By Alberto Fuguet
Published by Rayo
October 2003; 006053463X; 304 pages
The tremor didn't come out of nowhere. Actually, nothing in this life does. Everything occurs just as it does in earthquakes: in a snap. We are those who live just a bit at a time.
How did I come to draw up a list of the movies of my life? Why did it occur to me? Why haven't I done anything other than mentally tabulate list after list since touching down at LAX and the thing I never thought would happen to me happened? How did I come to revisit this endless city in the backseat of an old green Malibu with a white-haired Salvadoran as my driver? What made my head spin in the brightly lit aisles of a store called DVD Planet full of solitary and obsessive freaks? Why have I returned to think -- to live, to feel, to enjoy, to suffer -- about facts and people and films chalked up to the oblivion (superceded, eliminated, erased) of my unconsciousness? Why am I remembering now, after so much time? Why, after years of not going to the movies, of seeing absolutely nothing, have I returned to the days when I used to devour them?
In other words, ¿qué fucking pasa?
What happens is terrible.
Well, not so terrible, but it is for me. I broke my commitment to the university, I've set aside my itinerary, I haven't arrived at the place where they're waiting for me.
I'm in Los Angeles, "Elei," the city of angels, in the San Fernando Valley, on Van Nuys, ver the horizontal fault of the Elysian Park System. What am I doing here?
Why am I still here? Why, instead of being in Tokyo, as was the plan, as we stipulated, am I now shut up in a room at the Holiday Inn with a panoramic view of the 405 freeway, writing like a madman?
It's already been four days like this, on the edge, to the max, sometimes in slow motion, other times in double fast forward. The 6:43 A.M. s, the dawn about to break, the hot Santa Ana winds rippling the surface of the pool below. The ice I went searching for down the hall is now melted. The carpet is covered in Twinkie crumbs and pumpkin seeds.
Have you ever gone into your kitchen, bored, tired, drowsy, like a zombie, with a dry, scratchy throat and verly ripe breath, dying to open a big, 2.5-liter bottle of ice-cold, refreshing Coke and drink it straight from the bottle, but just as you go to open it, without warning it occurs to you that someone (maybe yourself) has shaken it up, but now it's too late (it's always too late), and you unscrew the plastic cap, and BOOM, pafff, swoooooosh ... all the sweet, dark liquid, complete with foam and bubbles, explodes in your face like a fire hydrant in a crash, and you can't do a thing about it except to stand there and take it all in until the eruption subsides?
Well, that's more or less the state I'm in.
Honestly, though, it's worse. But it's not all bad.
Let's say that I'm the bottle of Coke and the person who shook me up is a woman who I'll probably never see again. It was she who looked me straight in the eye, she who made me laugh, talk, doubt, connect. It was she who opened up my mind and let loose the thick, viscous, gooey stuff that memories are made of.
An earthquake never comes alone.
-- Charles Richter
"Hi, Beltrán. It's Manuela, your sister."
"Ah ... what time is it?"
"Early. Sorry to wake you up. I've been waiting for hours to call."
"The alarm clock was already going off; I'm just a sound sleeper, is all."
"Were you dreaming?"
"I think so."
"How are you?"
"What are you up to these days?"
"Nothing much. I'm leaving on a trip to-night."
"A change of scenery is always good. Vacation?"
"No, no. I'm off to Tokyo. Tsakuba University."
"You've been there before, right? I read that somewhere."
"Years ago, yes."
"At least you'll be somewhere familiar. That's good."
"Yeah, but my Japanese is pretty bad these days."
"Will you be there long?"
"I envy your ability to just pack up and go places."
"One of the few advantages of being alone in life."
"The flight must take forever, I'd guess."
"Yeah, but they gave me a whole afternoon to relax in Los Angeles."
"You could go out to Encino. Or Inglewood. I still remember Ash Street."
"I don't think so, Manuela. You remember the pictures, not the place. They're two different things. We were just kids."
"Anyway, you could go . . ."
"I'm just going to lie down in the hotel room the travel agency got me. It's part of the package; I don't have to pay for a thing. I'm not going out anywhere. Why would I?"
"You've never gone back? You, who travels so much?"
"Yes, where we used to live."
"No. Well, I've been up north. Twice to San Jose and once to Palo Alto. I've had lay overs in L.A., but I never went out in the city."
"I don't know. . . . Maybe."
"Sometimes I enjoy going back."
"We were different people, Manuela. Kids. All that happened so long ago. It's not so hard to have good childhood memories. Those are the ones that stick with us."
"Perhaps. What do I know."
"I couldn't resist the temptation to visit."
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Beltrán Soler is from Chile, a land in constant movement. A seismologist who knows more about the science of tectonic plate movement than about life, he is cocooned in a world of seismic data, scientific articles, and natural disasters. Beltrán believes he can protect himself from the world around him by losing himself to theoretical pursuits, but thousands of feet above the ground he so meticulously analyzes, on a flight to L.A. -- the capital of film and the city in which he was raised -- he has a conversation that sparks in him a firestorm of nostalgia. Suddenly, Beltrán finds himself recalling the fifty most important movies of his life -- films both precious and absurd that affected him during his childhood and adolescence in the 1960s and '70s.
From Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to kitschy disaster films such as Earthquake!, as well as cult classics of '70s sci-fi such as Logan's Run, Beltrán connects with his past by remembering the films he saw, the people with whom he saw them, and even the theaters in which they were shown. Recalling one movie after another, he reconstructs the unusual history of his eccentric and dysfunctional family, coming to terms with his obsession with the movies that helped define him -- often whether he wanted them to or not.
Set in the oddly parallel worlds of Nixon's suburban California and Pinochet's Santiago de Chile, this ingenious novel throws us into the claustrophobic world of an adolescent who tries to escape from a tumultuous and fragmented existence, one caught between two languages, two cultures, and two families that watch the same movies. Written in the eloquent, compelling, and often hilarious style that has brought Alberto Fuguet world renown, The Movies of My Life is a book about film and about how movies embed themselves in our souls, helping us all share a blinding fondness for the magic of make-believe.(back to top)
Alberto Fuguet, born in Santiago de Chile in 1964, he spent his early childhood in California. He is one of the most prominent Latin American authors of his generation and one of the leaders of the literary movement known as McOndo, which proclaims the end of magical realism. Besides his work as an author and playwright, Fuguet has been a film critic and a police reporter. He lives in Santiago de Chile.