Caribbean Cinema Night
In the last four decades, Cuba has created a beautiful repertoire of films that portray the social challenges of its people in an ever changing world. The following series gives the audience an opportunity to observe the development of this revolutionary society from the standpoint of the Cuban filmmakers of the 20th Century. Our eyes will be, among others, the ones of characters like the decadent bourgeois, the surviving prostitute, and the socialist idealist. The realities of these characters reveal the universal struggle of the fragile and unflagging human spirit.
When: Thursdays 7-9 pm
Las doce sillas (The Twelve Chairs):September
Coming in Spring 2001
1)Guantanamera on DVD.
Interviews regarding Cuban Cinema
Dir. Tomas Gutierrez Alea
1)This movie is one of the earliest fiction films made after the Revolution.
Dir. Mikhail Kalatozov
1)This movie is supposed to be Cuba's epic about the socialist revolution.
Some may feel that it is a bit propagandistic at times, but the way it
was shot and filmed is so beautiful, outstanding, and creative that Francis
Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese jointly presented it in several cities
of the US(the only time they have done this together). A cult movie for
film directors who have studied film, it has been quoted by many of them.
An example of this is Paul Anderson as he steals a scene from it in his
movie Boogie Nights(admitted by him in his commentary for the Boogie Nights
La muerte de un burocrata
(Death of a Bureaucrat) 1966
This movie is very funny but what makes it so important is that it establishes
Cuban Cinema's famous self satire. When Castro wanted censorship, many
people wondered why many Cuban writers and directors supported this. The
reason is that they think that you can criticize as long as you make constructive
observations which support the system at the end. They would see as decadent,
all the writers that want to destroy all the systems with their criticism
but without presenting options that are better. That is why one can find
self-criticism in Cuban cinema but with the purpose of bettering their
society and not completely changing it(after all, they really believe in
communism). This is a more slightly liberal approach than many other communist
countries had and I think that is why many people respect their cinema
as something more than propaganda(although everyone is guilty of creating
propaganda, particularly the US).
Dir. Humberto Solas
Lucia is actually three films in one, an historical survey of three periods in the modern day history of Cuba, seen from the perspective of three different women with the same given name who participate in the struggle for liberation which characterized these periods. In 1895, Lucia is seduced into betraying Cuban forces led by her own brother during the war for independence from Spain. In 1933, Lucia leaves her upper middle-class family and becomes involved through her lover in the overthrow of the Cuban dictator Machado and the ultimate betrayal of that revolution by the "pseudo-democracy" then established; a betrayal which leads ultimately to the establishment of the Batista dictatorship of the early 50's. In the 1960's, Lucia is taught how to read and write during Cuba's literacy campaign, and in the process she learns of her own rights as a woman under the new socialist dispensation, leading to a confrontation with her husband's macho attitudes. . . .(9)
This is a socialist analysis of Cuban history of the past ninety years as well as a discussion of the equality(or inequality) of the sexes placed in the context of that history. Despite the potential for propagandizing, the considerable artistic merit of the film(all three parts) saves it from such. . .(13)
Analytical Content Quality:
Lucia's greatest merit as a film is to show rather than tell--that is, it is a profound visual experience for viewers, who are consistently treated as intelligent and perceptive. The film's statements are made visually rather than verbally, using its cinematic resources to the fullest. For this reason it is a stunning film, wether or not one agrees or disagrees with its ideological viewpoints. . .(13)
I hope this info was useful. I will use this book for the movies that
apply and then I will write my own reviews for the newer ones(the book
Written by Vincent Camby in May 18, 1973
The time is 1961, not long after the Bay of Pigs, and Sergio(Sergio
Correri), the hero of Tomas Gutierrez Alea's superb Cuban film, Memories
of Underdevelopment, moves through Havana as if he were a scuba diver exploring
the ruins of a civilization he abhors but cannot bear to leave. The world
he sees is startingly clear. It is also remote. The sounds he hears are
"Everything happens to me too early or too late," says Sergio, an intellectual in his late thirties whose critical faculties have effectively rendered him incapable of any action whatsoever. After his estranged wife and his mother and father have fled to Miami, with the other bourgeoisie, he thinks he will write the novel he has always thought about, but then Sergio's standards are too high to allow him to add to the sum total of civilization's second rateness. He finds himself blocked.
Perhaps if the revolution had happened earlier, he tells himself, he might have understood. Sergio makes half-hearted little efforts to mantain his old ways. He picks up Elena(Daisy Granados), a pretty, bird brained girl who wants to be an actress, and he tries to educate(he says "Europeanize") her. He takes her to art galleries and buys her books but her brain remains unreconstructed and birdlike. "She doesn't relate to things," he tells himself. "It's one of the signs of underdevelopment"
He takes Elena on a sightseeing tour of Hemingway's house. "He said he killed so as not to kill himself," Sergio remembers, looking at some mounted antlers. "In the end he could no resist temptation". Even suicide is beyond Sergio. All he can do is observe, much of the time through a telescopeon the terrace of a penthouse apartment he must give up, sooner or later.
Memories of Underdevelopment is a fascinating achievement. Here is a film about alienation that is wise, sad, and often funny, and that never slips into the bored and boring attitudes that wreck Antonioni's later films. Sergio is detached and wary, but around him is a hurricane of life.
Gutierrez Alea was forty when he made Memories(in 1968), and he is clearly a man, like Sergio, whose sensibilites are European. Yet unlike Sergio, and unlike the director of Eclipse and Red Desert, he is so full of passion and political commitment that he has been able to make an essentially pro-revolutionary film in which Castro's revolution is observed through eyes dim with bafflement.
The result is hugely effective and moving, and it is complete in the way that very few movies ever are. I haven't read Edmundo Desnoes' original novel(publishd here as Inconsolable Memories), but I like the fact thta Desnoes apparently likes the film that, in his words, had to be "a betrayal" of the book to be a good film. Gutierrez Alea says the author, in the film's program notes, "objectivized a world that was shapeless in my mind and still abstract in the book. He added social density . . ."
Memories of Underdevelopment was one of the films scheduled to be shown here last year at the aborted Cuban Film Festival. It finally opened yesterday at the First Avenue Screening Room where it will play one week and then, I hope, it will move to another theater for the long run it deserves.
This film has won many awards and it is considered very avant-garde. Especially innovative is the blending of historical video archives with the fictional main character. Also important is the use of sound and the non linear narrative. One interesting thing about the review above, is that he talks about the "aborted Cuban festival". Because of political reasons, it is always very difficult to get to watch these films so that is why all of you should take advantage of this fest as it is very difficult to get access to the films that I will be showing in this semester and the next. I hope that the FBI hasnt tapped my phone yet! By the way, this film is the only Caribbean movie to make the 360 film hall of fame created by the British Film Institute(Which has been critized for being too white male European oriented) so if it made it in this list it must be great. Anyway, I really hope to see you there if you have time as this is really a great movie.
This movie is available in the US in VHS and is distributed by New Yorker films.
Dir. Tomas Gutierrez Alea
This movie is based on a true story as John Mraz describes in his article: "Recasting Cuban Slavery: The Other Francisco and the Last Supper": ". . . The Last Supper is based on an anecdote about a slaveholder who in 1790 decided to replicate Jesus' act of washing his disciples' feet. Gutierrez Alea found the account in a work by one of Cuba's most eminent historians, Manuel Moreno Fraginals:
His Excellency the Count de Casa Bayona decided in an act of deep Christian
fervor to humble himself before the slaves. One Holy Thursday he washed
twelve Negroes' feet, sat them at his table, and served them food in imitation
of Christ. But their theology was somewhat shallow and, instead of behaving
like the Apostles, they took advantage of the prestige they thus acquired
in their fellow-slaves' eyes to organize a mutiny and burn down the mill.
The Christian performance endedn with rancheadores(hunters of escaped
Another account of the film is found in A Guide to
Cuban Cinema: "The Last Supper is both an allegory and satire
on Christianity in an opresive society. The film is actually based on an
incident which occurred
1)This movie can be very powerful as it confronts all the injustices
made in the name of Christianty. It touches deeply the hearts of Christian
viewers as we feel guilty of knowing that our society never applies completely
Jesus's teachings and that many times we use his credo for our convenience
Dir. Juan Padron
When I went to Cuba, one of the funniest jokes I heard was the fact that the kids hated the propagandistic Russian animation(note: there is some wonderful Russian animation out there. So not all of it is bad) and loved Disney's films(another form of propaganda but maybe more entertaining). They despised the Soviet versions so much that their parents would say to them: "If you dont behave well, I will make you watch Russian animation". That says it all. Anyway, Juan Padron(who is Cuba's Walt Disney)created Elpidio's character for a comic book serial that appeared in the Newspapers and Magazines. He finally got to do the film version and it became so succesful that it has become a classic of Latin American cinema. The film is very, very entertaining. It is cute for the kids, but at the same time it is grim and violent and this usually amuses the adults. The achievement of Padron, is the fact that he has combined two worlds. The beauty and cuteness of Disney films with the dogma and realism of Socialism. Still, you shouldn't think that the movie is about communism particularly. I think the main message is against the imperialism that is based on capitalism. The movie takes place before Communism existed but it is sort of implied that it is the system that could save the world from the European and American imperialist forces.
I recomend this movie for:
1)Latin American Studies
These are a few images of the Cuban comic book:
Elpidio guns down an evil Spaniard
Retrato de Teresa (Portrait of Teresa) 1979
Elpidio Valdes contra Dolar y Canon (Elpidio
Valdes vs Dollar andCannon) 1982
Febrero 11 del 2000
Campamento de Coquito del Guayabal
Querido Capitan Elian:
Todas las noches, antes del toque de silencio y despues de limpiar nuestros yerritos y contar las balas, nos comemos unos boniatos mambises y hablamos de usted. Tendria usted que ver a Palmiche, rechinando los dientes y pateando furioso las piedras! Que rabia, compay, nos entra -hasta en las tripas- cuando vemos las cosas que hacen contigo: disfrazandote de murcielago prieto, envolviendote en otra bandera! Son una partida de patones y rayadillos! Pero, como siempre, los vamos arroyar con la caballeria.
Manana, con la fresca, vamos a cargar de nuevo al machete. Quiero que sepa que cuando el enemigo este formando en cuadro y yo le de a Pepito la orden de tocar a deguello, Maria Silvia, Eutelia, Oliverio y hasta el mas pinto de la paloma, te vamos a estranar. Pero, que se creen que te van a separar para siempre de nosotros! Que va! Eso habria que verlo, Compay!
Un abrazo de todos nosotros y de su,
Coronel Elpidio Valdes
Ejercito Libertador de la Republica de Cuba en Armas
1)I just received Guantanamera on DVD! The picture is very good and the sound has been remastered in a very high quality. This is the second Cuban movie released on this format. I am Cuba was the first one, although because of source material problems, the picture and sound are not as astounding. The Guantanamera DVD was released by New Yorker films and you can buy it in any online store(usually stores do not carry foreign films). Congratulations to New Yorker films for bringing these non-mainstream movies(another example is Fire, which is banned in India) to DVD!
2)If any of you go to Cuba, you can buy the movies in any music/video store. They sell them in NTSC and PAL, so be careful and choose the correct system for your video backhome. In the Cuban Film Institute(ICAIC), there is a wonderful store that sells film related stuff like: videos, posters, books, memorabilia, and Cuban Cinema journals. The price for each film is 15 dollars. Expensive in Cuban terms but very cheap for us(you can get them in the US for 100 dollars each).
3)Because of the embargo, American citizens are not allowed to go to Cuba as tourists. The only way is through academic means and this is what you should do if you want to go to something as the Latin American festival that takes place every December in Havana. First, you contact(e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org) them and tell them that you are interested in going to their festival. They will send you an official invitation by fax and this will certify that you are going to something academic. This will allow you to buy an airplane ticket in the US and you can go through New York, Jamaica, Mexico, or Panama. DO THIS WITH TIME! The best place to stay are not the hotels, but the private residences. The hotels are expensive and not worth the money(around 100 dollars per day). The private residences cost between 20-30 dollars a day and have air conditioner, private bathrooms, and you could eat in their homes for a little extra money(4-5 bucks per meal). Also you get to live with the Cubans and that makes it more realistic than being in an expensive hotel. Some Americans fear going over there, but to tell you the truth, I felt safer than in the US. The police are very protective of tourists(an important income after all) and the only annoying thing are the hustlers that try to get money from you with fake stuff. This is not that bad as you find this also in Europe and other countries. So to finish this, the last thing I had to mention is that going to Cuba is very cheap and is really worthy to experience one of the last Communist countries of the world.
5)The reason for canceling Up to Certain Point,
is because I just got another very important Cuban film that is called
De cierta manera. This movie was the first one dealing with feminist topics,
and it is the only Cuban film that has been directed by a woman. Up to
a Certain Point is very influenced by Sara Gomez's film and it makes more
sense when you watch it after viewing De cierta manera. That is why I decided
to show both of them at the beginning of the Spring semester.
In Michael Chanan's The Cuban Image: Cinema and Cultural Politics in Cuba, excerpts of an interview conducted to famous director Francis Ford Coppola in 1975 are reprinted because they deal with Cuban Cinema. (pages 9-10):
Robert Scheer interviews Francis Ford Coppola, City of San Francisco, 2nd December 1975.
Were you able to see Cuban films down there?
Any films we wanted to see. We would just sit in the screening room and they would run anything we wanted.
What did you think of them?
I thought they were very good. I have been traveling around and I know very well the pain of a country like Australia that's a wealthy civilised place and yet has no film industry, because it's cheaper for them to buy our old television shows and our old movies. You see them struggling to have a little bit of a film thing. Yet here you have Cuba, which is a small place by comparison, and they have healthy, real, ambitious films.
Are they doing experimental things?
A person who considers himself an artist approaches a socialist society worrying about, well, the art has to be really simple and follow a certain line and make a certain point, but my impression was that there's a lot of latitude. The Cuban authority acknowledges the complexity of the human experience and their films explore that. My first impression when I saw Memories of Underdevelopment years ago was that it was complex and had different shades of feelings about the Revolution. They acknowledge that. They're very eloquent about it. They're not pretending that it's just child's play to put together this new kind of society; it's really hard. And for all their successes, they've had many failures. But they feel they're right, so it's worth pursuing it.
They know that it's hard on people- the man at the mental institution says that the incidence of neurosis is much higher than before the Revolution. They are very honest about the difficulties of creating the socialist society- people rethinking questions of property, the fact that you're not rewarded monetarily. They have a very elaborate system of competition which does reward workers materially. If you do better at your job than the next person, you get to buy the washing machine. The lowest paid person might make 150 pesos a month and Fidel makes 700 pesos a month. So, I mean there are some differences in pay. We asked most of the smart-ass questions. For example, let's say you don't want to be a street cleaner anymore. How do you get out of it? And the key word was education. If you're a street cleaner and you want to be a draftsman or an electronic engineer, you have the opportunity to study three hours a day; you don't get paid any less. The state encourages it. It's made available to them and they are not docked in pay. That, to me, is a really exciting idea. . .
Did you ask questions about the problem of artisitic freedom?
Yes. No one is permitted to criticize the goverment, other than through the channels that are provided for them. If you're a worker or if you're a writer, you can do it in your various worker's groups. In a factory they get together a couple of nights a week and discuss problems- how to make things better, what's unfair and stuff like that. So in other words, there are channels that allow you, not to criticize the idea of the society, but to figure out how to make it better. I like the honesty of it. They say no, you cannot criticize the goverment- that freedom, no, you don't have.
Here in America you can write or say anything you want- and many people in Cuba are very impressed when you tell them this. They are surprised when they see something like Godfather II . They wonder: 'How can you make a film that says nice thing about the Revolution?' But the truth is, I believe, that the freedoms we have here are possible because they do not even come close to jeopardizing the real interests that govern our country. If there were someone who really come close to jeopardizing those interests, I believe our freedoms would vanish, one way or another. If there were a man, a political candidate, who was elected to office and began implementing real programs that were counter to the big interests, there would be a coup or a murder or whatever was necessary.
In Cuba they don't even have the ilussion of that kind of political freedom. It's as thought they are saying, 'Our revolution is too fragile, it has too many enemies, it is too difficult to pull off to allow forces inside or outside to work to counter it.' I understand the implications of what I am saying, the dangers. But I put it to you: If they are right- if their society is truly beautiful and honest and worthwhile- then it's worth protecting, even with this suspension of freedom. In Chile, that newborn, elected society was not protected in this way, and so it was destroyed. Ironically, the goverment that replaced it is not taking any chances and is controlling the press and opposition in a way that Allende did not.
It seems that what you're saying is that in Cuba, for instance, people suddenly had the freedom to do something very positive like create a mental institution or a school, which in some sense is a freedom we don't have. Basically our freedom is still limited freedom.
We don't have the freedom to live in a society that is healthy. That is real freedom. We don't have the freedom to live in a society that takes care of people. . .
Francis Ford Coppola's most famous films are:
Recommended Books and articles(more will be added in time)
Adelman, Alan. ed. A Guide to Cuban Cinema.
Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 1981. (Out of Print)