April 10, 1984
Our Man in Havana
“Everyone who involves Cuba has been brainwashed. Skillful propaganda has advised them Havana is a haven of heaven.” That’s Steve Ryan talking; see his indispensable “Havana: Sucker Lure of the Caribbean,” revealed on your edification in the February 1957 situation of Exposed journal (the one with Diana Dors on the duvet). “Overlook the Maine” is Ryan’s message. Keep in mind the filth, the beggars, the shoeshine urchins, the porno postcard vendors, “the thin, ragged ladies carrying babies too hungry to cry,” the guy who makes his dwelling exhibiting a bedraggled, cawing perico educated to fireside a cap gun, the hordes of hookers who can barely anticipate dusk to allow them to “circulate over the town like a tidal wave in the hunt for americanos.”
What’s the story? “When Batista took over in 1952,” Ryan explains, “he sat on an empty wallet.” The ousted Carlos Prio “had scattered eight million in bribes during his time period and Batista was stuck with the tab. The one hope for solvency was to seek out an angel. Ninety miles away sat the USA . . . fat, pompous, intercourse pleased — and loaded.” Hey meester, you need muchachas, playing, 24-hour crap games, a daiquiri at Señor Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar, a night at Tropicana el cabaret más fabuloso del mundo, plus stay intercourse show in a three-peso lodge room? You identify it, you got it. “That is Cuba,” warns the implacable Steve Ryan. “Geared to American tastes . . . with ethical standards so low you’d want a submarine to succeed in them.”
Properly, a number of issues have modified since 1957, however Havana stays a cornucopia of ’50s imagery. It’s truly in style! Even modest bungalows out in the suburbs sport curlicue grillwork and harlequin mosaics, jazzily tapered columns brandishing kidney-shaped sun roofs. Half the automobiles on the street are Eisenhower-era De Sotos and Buicks, patched and repatched and painted tropical colors: mint green, dusty pink, scorching canary, blazing turquoise. Driving west along the oceanwall on the Malecón freeway you see the terraced towers of palatial lodges, blindingly white towards the diaphanous December sky. Vegas strip garish, Miami Seashore deluxe, they rose whilst Fidel and his bearded ones, los barbudos, have been making revolution in the Sierra. There’s the Capri with its rooftop swimming pool and Salón Rojo nightclub, the Riviera (constructed, they are saying, by Meyer Lansky) with its free-form fountain sculpture and ancillary, blue-domed one thing or other, as soon as a mambotorium inaugurated by Miss Ginger Rogers. Amazingly, the Hilton emblem continues to be decipherable on the glass doorways of the renamed Habana Libre. In fact, the former on line casino is now the Salón de Solidaridad, and there’s the inevitable Vietnamita exposition downstairs by the dollar store, where you should purchase a handstitched leather platter bearing the likeness of Che Guevara for less than $140.
The French have moved over to the Libre, however all the rest of us foreigners, here for 10 days for the fifth Havana Film Pageant, are holed up on the Lodge Nacional, across the nook from Casa Czechoslovakia, a block and a half from the spot where Sergio Corrieri picked up Daisy Granados in Reminiscences of Beneathimprovement, not far from the concrete umbrella of the individuals’s Coppelia Ice Cream Middle (extra flavors than Baskin-Robbins). Inbuilt 1927, the Nacional is a stately dowager with a flaming past. It was here that the officers of the previous regime resisted the primary coup staged by then-sergeant Fulgencio Batista. In 1957, Steve Ryan referred to as the lodge “a pile of money sitting on a rock overlooking the Malecón” with a “managed gaming room” as “hallowed as a church.” When the Nicaraguan revolutionary priest Ernesto Cardenal stayed here 13 years later, he famous with pleasure that “young professionalletarians” — white and black — have been chatting within the foyer “with the arrogance once possessed by millionaires.” Now the place is filled with Aeroflot personnel — beefy pilots and no-nonsense stewies taking their r&r . . . solely 90 miles away! The flotskis even have their very own lounge up on the fifth flooring, complete with fridge, TV, blackboard, and sure copies of Pravda.
Outdoors the Nacional, brazen young swindlers in Bruce Lee T-shirts supply to sell you pesos at twice, 3 times, four occasions — the report is seven occasions — the official price of trade. But when you’ve read your Steve Ryan, you recognize that “gambling in Cuba is about as protected as stepping in entrance of the Super Chief.” Every single day there’s a brand new story making the rounds about some gringo shmegegge exchanging his dollars for a nugatory mess of Batista cash, Mexican pesos, or just a fats wad of paper sandwiched between two legitimate bills. Although trafficking in pesos begins on the Miami Airport — one couple on the tour swears that some Hare Krishnas tried to make a deal — you’ll be able to’t walk out of the lodge without being approached. These youngsters are persistent, too. Probably the most entertaining option to deal with it’s to undertake the self-righteous persona of an American Communist. Some guy presents you five to at least one and, in your sternest pidgin Spanish, you say Pero compañero, esto es contra la ley — But comrade, that is towards the regulation. When he doubles over with laughter, you make your escape.
The reality is, there’s not a lot to do right here with pesos anyway. (“This can be a metropolis that’s sure to please a monk, a meditator, anybody who within the capitalist world has determined to withdraw from the world,” Ernesto Cardenal noted. “Right here there isn’t any bourgeois joy, but here there’s true pleasure.”) Havana’s scorching, dusty neighborhoods are dotted with curiosidad outlets that wouldn’t seem out of place on Canal Road, selling miscellaneous items of hardware, previous radio tubes, and second-hand digital camera elements (as the ancient autos attest, the Cubans are masters of recycling). However most stores open late, shut early, and don’t stock a lot in addition to cotton shirts, low cost toys, translations of The Godfather frugally designed to save lots of paper, and jars of preserved Bulgarian figs.
Someday there’s a ebook truthful, and a fewone reveals a 1936 American tourist-guide referred to as Cuban Tapestry. We consult it like the I Ching and study that “Cuba, is overseas. Havana is overseas. No amount of contact with huge Tío Sam, throughout the Florida Strait, will ever make the island capital an American city. The Cuban likes his big good-natured ‘uncle,’ for alone among Latin People he senses no covetousness in our angle in the direction of him. He believes the USA his awkward, bungling, but honest champion. . . . ”
Freedom in Cuba might be outlined as freedom from america. Cuba shouldn’t be merely the primary Latin American nation to efficiently defy massive Tío Sam, it has brazenly opposed U.S. policies for the final 25 years. And, though the pressured reorientation of the Cuban financial system is a shock from which the island has but to recuperate absolutely, it’s definitely debatable that the U.S. trade embargo has helped Fidel Castro greater than it has harm him. The shortage of shopper items is a sign of revolutionary virtue. The American menace encourages national unity, permits complete mobilization, and fosters a heady sense of geopolitical journey.
Earlier than the revolution, Cuba loved one of the highest per capita incomes within the tropical world. However this obvious prosperity was based upon 25 per cent unemployment, landless peasantry, institutionalized political corruption, a continual oscillation between dictatorship and democracy, utter dependence on foreign capital, and the vagaries of the American market. Solely two years earlier than Cuban Tapestry was revealed, the American dollar was the lone paper foreign money utilized in Cuba. Until the Triumph of the Revolution, the U.S. ambassador was the island’s second most powerful man (at the least), and the U.S. safely regarded Cuba as its most reliable ally. The Cuban financial system was truly a subset of the American one. Cuba bought the U.S. sugar and purchased nearly eachfactor else — from nuts and bolts to TV sets and cars — on the firm retailer. People owned Cuba’s major banks and biggest factories in addition to 90 per cent of the island’s utilities. The U.S. exerted higher influence here than in any Latin American country, with the attainable exception of Panama.
Now handmade indicators on every block routinely excoriate yanqui asesinos, and — our naval base at Guantánamo aside — the official U.S. presence is lowered to the so-called “Interest Part,” situated on the bottom flooring of the previous American embassy, an incongruously giant glass constructing on the Malecón. Reverse the doorway is a lurid neon signal with a rifle-toting Cubano giving the raspberry to a frothing Tío Sam. Every time the Interest Part gringos stroll out their front door they get zapped in the face with the identical pink, yellow, and orange blinking message: Señores Imperialistas, No Les Tenemos Absolutamente Ningun Miedo! We’re not afraid of you! (Not exactly so: many Cubans are satisfied that if Reagan is reelected, he will definitely invade them. “We anticipate one other Vietnam,” one official advised me. “We’ve got the entire island prepared.”)
To get inside the Curiosity Section — which I did, accompanying a good friend who had her passport stolen in an after-hours dive referred to as El Gato Tuerto, the One-Eyed Cat — you must first convey what you are promoting to the bored Cuban soldiers posted across the building, then convince the teenage American marine manning the reception space that you simply’re kosher (unattainable, truly; the fact that you’re in Cuba mechanically means you’re not). Whereas he deliberates, you apply your upside-down studying by noting the useful Spanish phrases taped to his desk: What is your identify? What would you like? Please go away! As soon as inside, you discover an ostentatiously over-air-conditioned ready room adorned with framed journey posters of San Francisco and Aspen, and furnished with a plastic Christmas tree and an costly load of ineffective, pseudo-oak cabinets. Not because the Miami airport have you ever seen such waste. The inside courtyard can barely include the satellite tv for pc dish (major league, albeit not as big as the one the Cubans use to watch American TV). Some nest of spies: the only secretary seems to be an worker of the Cuban government. Next to her desk she keeps an institutional-size can of Tang. Every week in Havana and this seems exotic.
After 24 years of embargo, trendy Americana is so uncommon in Cuba that you simply’re jolted whenever you see a Viceroy baseball cap, a bootleg Michael Jackson tape, or a cup original out of a Coca-Cola can. Solely probably the most obscure Disney characters — individual dwarfs out of Snow White, the rabbit from Alice in Marvelland — are to be discovered on walls and retailerfronts. The just about complete eradication of Mickey Mouse is not any much less putting than the absence of Jesus Christ. As you walk around Havana, gawking at the residencemade signs of a fanged Tío Sam devouring Grenada — Abajo el lmperialismo Yanqui! — that embellish each block’s Committee for the Protection of the Revolution bulletin board, individuals will inquire whether you’re Argentine or German or, most often, Russian. Whenever you tell them that you simply’re a norteamericano, they’re shocked or amused, sometimes nostalgic, however never, in my experience, hostile.
It’s astounding what number of Cubans appear to have lived on East 103rd Road between 1947 and 1949. There’s still an emotional bond; we do, in any case, share the identical nationwide sport. As soon as upon a time, Cuba had the Havana Sugar Kings — baseball club of Sandy Amoros, Vic Davalillo, Tony Taylor, Leo Cardenas, Bert Campaneris, Tony Perez, Camilio Pascual, Elio Chacon — Worldwide League farm workforce for the Cincinnati Reds. In 1958, the Sugar Kings have been mired in last place and all but bankrupt. After the Triumph of the Revolution, Fidel provided to bail the staff out. “The Sugar Kings are a part of the Cuban people,” he’s reported to have stated. “It will be significant for us to have a connection with Triple-A baseball.” The 1959 season was a tumultuous one and, as destiny would have it, July 25 turned to July 26 with the Sugar Kings and the Rochester Pink Wings tied Four-Four in the backside of the 11th. The patriotic Cubans started celebrating their revolution’s identify day. A party erupted, out came the congas, but when Pink Wing third-base coach Frank Verdi was grazed by a spent bullet, the sport was referred to as on account of gunfire in the stands.
There was a whole lot of indignant speak then of yanking professional baseball out of Cuba — the small print may be found in Howard Senzel’s Baseball and the Chilly Warfare — however the red-hot Sugar Kings went on to win the Worldwide League championship and then the Junior World Collection. This was the time of miracles — when the last might be first, and the revolution opened Cuba’s seashores, nightclubs, and parks to all. By the 1960 season, nevertheless, relations between revolutionary Cuba and the Republican mainland had grown perilously frayed. On July 6 — shortly after the American-owned oil refineries refused to course of the Russian crude that Fidel bartered for the sugar the U.S. wouldn’t buy — Secretary of State Christian Herter summoned baseball commissioner Ford Frick to Washington. Three days later, some evil alchemy reworked the Havana Sugar Kings into the Jersey City Jerseys. Severed from Triple-A, Fidel howled with rage. It was another act of treachery and aggression towards the Cuban individuals: “Violating all codes of sportsmanship, they now take away our franchise!”
So much for socialist baseball within the capitalist world. 9 years in the past there was speak of a U.S.-Cuban collection, however that received scotched by Henry Kissinger on account of the state of affairs in Angola. Meanwhile, Cuban novice teams have continued to dominate international play. Thus it’s with eager anticipation that we socialist baseball followers take a powder from the festival for a Sunday doubleheader at Latinoamerica Stadium. Free admission and open seating notwithstanding, the ballpark is emptier than Shea on a week-day in August. You just march right down to the first-base line and help your self to a field. Does this indifferent turnout indicate a scarcity of curiosity in two mediocre golf equipment — the Havana Metropolitanos and the Guantánamo Guantánamos, respectively 14th and 12th in the 18-team league? Yet, it is just December; the season is young. The primary recreation is a basic, with los Metropolitanos beating los Guantanamos 3-2, when R. Lopez lofts a J. Matos fast ball over the left-field wall for a jonrón within the backside of the 10th. (Guantánamo retaliates within the nightcap by peppering hapless R. Arocha for jit after jit to build a 7-Zero lead by the center of the third.)
Contrary to Senzel’s reminiscences of the Sugar Kings (“a slick and speedy ball club and so colourful,” “they used to bunt rather a lot, hit and run so much, attempt to steal house, and execute different daring feats”), the video games are low-keyed to the purpose of somnolence. The fans are virtually all men, many seem to be pensioners basking in the sun. Our entrance causes a light stir, and – qué coincidencia! — right here’s one of many pageant guides remarkably unsurprised to see us. “Sit anyplace,” he invites us. “How about here?” It is curiositying to note that whereas the Cubans employ low cost and durable aluminum bats (illegal in the major leagues), they have — regardless of the embargo — adopted the designated hitter, el bateador designado.
There’s no cerveza available; as an alternative, distributors sell hits of candy black coffee in the type of tiny paper cups mental hospitals use to dispense Thorazine. Might that be why, despite some atrocious calls – together with a foul ball down the third-base line that goes for a two-run Guantánamo double — there are neither rhubarbs on the sector nor razzing from the stands? Or does the crystal mild of the four o’clock sky have everybody dazzled? Removed from capturing off machine-guns, the fans are so nicely socialized they scoop up the foul balls which might be hit their method and toss them back onto the sector.
In Revolutionary Cuba, not simply sporting events however health care, public teletelephones, and burials are free. Day care, too, for the youngsters of working mothers. Schooling is universal and compulsory. Cuba-watchers say the agricultural areas have been developed at the expense of the cities, and Havana continues to be doing penance for its sinful past. The capital is shabby however clear, delapidated yet orderly. You’ll be able to drive your rented Russian compact completely off the map, out to where the pavement ends by the cement manufacturing unit in the deepest estuary of Havana Bay, and the hovels you discover are solely hovels — small, run-down stucco homes that look like electrified. They’re not tin shacks stacked up on cardboard packing containers fronting on a uncooked sewage canal. Even in this alley of poverty, the youngsters look healthy and well-fed, enjoying baseball on the street and wondering what on the planet you’re doing there. If this have been Mexico Metropolis or Rio de Janeiro, you may worry in your life. But Havana isn’t Port-au-Prince, let alone New York. You’ll be able to strolt for miles at midnight by means of the central city, the darkish streets illuminated only by the blue glow of TV units, and by no means expertise the slightest nervousness. Mugging Russians, we joke, have to be a capital offense.
Just as Soviet communism will all the time endure from the truth of the Russian winter, so Cuban communism will all the time profit from the island’s eternal summer time. Typically, as you walk, you get a whiff of salsa and catch a glimpse of some steamy front room, crowded with dancers. Each open window yields some incredible arrangements of plastic flowers, porcelain animals, crumbling plaster, and icons of Che. Revolutionary martyr, advocate of the New Socialist Man, Che is a much more fashionable household deity than Fidel; his resemblance to JC can’t be denied. Bus drivers maintain his picture on their decal adorned dashboards, subsequent to footage of their novias, commemorative pennants, and plastic kittens with bobbing heads.
There’s an orange neon portrait of Fidel on the Malecón advising that La Revolución can by no means be crushed, but his most generally distributed image is that of public servant supreme — a silk-screened poster of the chief dressed in fatigues, a rifle slung over his shoulder and the ambiguous command Ordene! Order Me!
The Catholic Church appears to have been driven completely underground — or else to Miami — however there are vest-pocket shrines to José Martí in every neighborhood, and lots of Cuban documentaries attest to a burning spiritual fervor. Such movies are not any more goal than a PepsiCola spot and no much less revealing for his or her blatant artifice. Che hoy y siempre (Che In the present day and All the time) is the newest in a series of graphically progressive shorts by the Chilean exile Pedro Chaskel. They’re formal variations on a sacred theme, not in contrast to medieval altarpieces. Miguel Torres’s Condenadme, no importa (Condemn Me, It Does Not Matter), taking its title from Fidel’s “Historical past Will Absolve Me” speech, is one other type of holy relic. Its extremely well-faked “documentary” footage purports to report the failed Moncada raid of July 26, 1953, Fidel’s trial and subsequent imprisonment. The filmmaker has already made one previous pseudo-documentary, Crónica de una infamia, concerning a 1949 incident by which a drunken U.S. marine desecrated a statue of José Martí together with his yanqui urine. He plans one other such “reconstruction of a history that has no documents” to have fun the January 1959 Triumph of the Revolution.
Luis Felipe Bernaza’s Aquí y en cualquier parte (Here and in No matter Place) is a “love track” to “the brand new heroes of the Revolution,” the young Cuban soldiers in Angola. Lyrical photographs of fight training are combined with choreographed guerrilla rituals and the vocal accompaniment of some dulcet compañera. Along with Israel, Cuba have to be some of the extremely mobilized societies on earth. Militia manuals can be found in all e-bookstores. The ministries, politburo, and central committee are dominated by military men. The military has a film studio as nicely, and produced Belkis Vega’s España en el corazón (Spain in the Heart), a history of the Cuban worldwide brigade through the Spanish Civil Struggle. Not surprisingly, the film eschews nostalgia and stresses historic continuity (though it fails to notice that revolutionary Cuba developed close financial ties with Franco’s Spain). In fact, most of Cuba’s Spanish Civil Warfare vets have been additionally veterans of the pre-1959 Cuban CP, an outfit which had opposed Fidel Castro until six months before the Triumph of the Revolution. Perhaps that’s why it’s Raúl — all the time a Communist — Castro and not brother Fidel who palms out the medals on the vets’ reunion. As for those Cubans who fought within the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, they aren’t mentioned at all.
Che hoy y siempre was greeted with warm applause, Condenadme, no importa obtained a standing ovation, Aquí y en cualquier parte rocked the home with rhythmic clapping. However the documentary hit of the pageant was Estela Bravo’s Los Marielitos — a film shot by a North American crew and edited in Havana — by which 11 Cubans who left the island during the mass exodus of 1980 examine their previous lives with what they present in America (visualized primarily as Florida focus camps and Lower East Aspect squalor). The themes, naturally, are doozies. “In Cuba, I couldn’t drink. In Cuba there isn’t a freedom,” one rumdum hiccups. Another rationalizes his flight as a perverse act-of loyalty to Fidel. Everyone has rather a lot to complain about, from shitty health care to the American habit of smoking marijuana on the street. For the finale, the filmmakers produce a successful engineer who stands outdoors his Miami ranch home and admits that he’s depressing.
Los Marielitos was telecast through the pageant and Cubans typically asked about it with pity and marvel. “Is it true that there are individuals sleeping within the streets of New York? And you can get killed for· money at 10 o’clock in the evening? Are rents actually so high and for asidements corresponding to those? Why are blacks not permitted in the same hospitals as whites? Are there that many individuals who haven’t any jobs?”
Twenty-five years in the past, less than three months after los barbudos entered Havana, the revolutionary Cuban regime enacted its first cultural reform, creating the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematograficas, ICAIC. Headed by Fidel’s previous school buddy, Alfredo (no relation to Che) Guevara, ICAIC appropriated cinemas and studios, taking charge of all Cuban movie activity. Official mythology has it that, though Cuba has all the time been a movie-mad island, there was no Cuban cinema earlier than the revolution — only ersatz Mexican musicals, dangerously made copies of Hollywood detective films, bogus Argentine melodramas, and sleazy pornography. Within 10 years, ICAIC films have been famous everywhere in the world.
First there was Santiago Alvarez — the director of the “Latin American Newsreel” collection, producing one noticiero per week, a filmmaker who pulled collectively a Che Guevara obit lower than 48 hours after the news of his dying, and who once stated, “Give me two pictures, a movieola, and a few music, and I’ll make you a movie” — the best revolutionary documentary-maker since Dziga Vertov. Then came Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Reminiscences of Underdevelopment, mixing Antonioni alienation with revolutionary pachanga, whilst Julio Garcia Espinosa’s The Advertventures of Juan Quin Quin and Manuel Octavio Gómez’s The First Charge of the Machete conjoined formal innovation and revolutionary politics with a fervor unseen because the Soviet faculty of the ’20s. And after the epic Lucía gained a gold medal on the 1969 Moscow Movie Pageant, 26-year-old Humberto Solás was hailed as the new Eisenstein. (A current ballot of Cuban audiences listed Potemklin, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, The Gold Rush, and Trendy Occasions because the 5 most vital films of all time. Lucía, ending 15th, was the very best ranked Cuban work.)
The late ’60s have been the halcyon days of the New Cuban Cinema, however Fidel’s 1968 endorsement of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, the 1970 failure of the 10 million-ton sugar harvest, and the next yr’s First National Congress on Schooling and Culture — introduced the directors right down to earth. Documentaries have been privileged over fiction movies. There was a marketing campaign towards “foreign tendencies,” “elitism,” and homosexuals in cultural affairs. ICAIC continued to be run by the filmmakers themselves, but formal experimentation declined. Since then, although Cuban movie attendance has continued to rise and the Cuban film business at present spends much more per function than some other in Latin America, only two films ( the late Sara Gómez’s One Means or Another and Pastor Vega’s Portrait of Teresa) have made much influence on the international scene. But who knows what goes on in the coronary heart of Havana? That is an anniversary yr and all of the heavies — Tomás Gutierrez Alea, Humberto Solás, Santiago Alvarez, Pastor Vega, Manuel Octavio Gomez — are scheduled to premiere new movies.
Quick disappointment: Vega’s La Habanera — stated to concern the love life of a Cuban shrink — is just not but completed, whereas Alvarez’s Refugees from the Cave of the Lifeless — his first fiction film, a docudrama of the Moncada raid — is so universally considered disastrous that, alalthough Santiago is a member of the central committee, the movie isn’t even out there to be screened within the pageant market. Attention shifts to the premiere of Humberto Solás’s Amada, and with good purpose. Two years ago, Solás’s mega-peso adaptation of the 19th century Cuban basic Cecilia Valdés consumed the lion’s share of ICAIC’s resources. Unveiled at Cannes, the film sank like a stone, then bombed with the house audience as properly. Perhaps not coincidentally, ICAIC chief Alfredo Guevara was relieved of his publish, shipped off to Switzerland as the brand new ambassador to UNESCO, and replaced at ICAIC by Julio Garcia Espinosa, writer of the well-known manifesto “For an Imperfect Cinema.”
Understandably defensive, Solás appears to have taken probably the most militant (that’s to say, anti-European) aesthetic stance of all the administrators who contributed statements to the current challenge of Cine Cubano. His position is sensible when you see that his movie completely contradicts it. Solás may be skating on skinny ice: Amada seems to be an elegantly mannered, Viscontian period piece detailing an unconsummated adulterous affair between two members of the fin-de-siecle Havana bourgeoisie. A car actually for the superb Eslinda Núñez (the domestic in Reminiscences of Underdevelopment and the second “Lucia”), Amada was not generously acquired by the Cuban viewers. In his post-screening remarks, Solás careworn his competence (mentioning that while Cecilia took 15 months to shoot, economical Amada was completed in a mere eight weeks) whereas gamely insisting on the movie’s political content — the frustrated love is “a mirrored image of the disaster in the struggle for independence.”
Almost half of ICAIC’s new documentaries are movies with musical topics, a bid, some assume, to supply more overseas change. “Simply as Hollywood directors should make the obligatory western,” Julio García Espinosa has advised, “Cuban filmmakers ought to be required to make a musical.” Espinosa himself started a musical round 1978. Titled Son o no son (a pun on the identify of a Cuban musical mode and Hamlet’s “to be or to not be”), the movie was evidently structured as a collection of rehearsals for a musical revue on the Tropicana that by no means quite jells. Son o no son stays incomplete, nevertheless, and so the primary director to simply accept the problem is Manuel Octavio Gómez. Like Espinosa, Gómez has an extended interest in common tradition as a vanguard type, and his Patakín — which takes its title from an African word for fable, its discreet crane photographs and Jerome Robbins choreography from the Hollywood musicals of the 1950s, its strident colours and slangy, innuendo-ridden dialogue from Cuba’s 19th century Teatro Bufo — transposes two figures out of Yoruba mythology to modern Cuba. Shangó, the thunder god, is right here an irresistible lumpen layabout — when he exhibits up in his neighborhood, even octogenarians begin to rumba — while his nemesis, Ogun, is a staid mannequin employee who drives the tractor on a collective farm.
With musical numbers more bossa nova than salsa, Patakín establishes a sure amiable innocence, abetted by a Tashlinesque sense of humor and a few seashore scenes that may hardly seem misplaced in How To Stuff a Wild Bikini. The film pokes delicate fun at the bureaucracy and steadily waxes reflexive. (“Aren’t you listening to the picture?” characters ask each other when the plot grows convoluted.) However in addition to reclaiming a genre for Cuban moviemakers, Patakín makes a political point, being probably the most candid research of machismo of the a number of the pageant presents. Alalthough the virtuous Ogun defeats Shangó in a climactic boxing match — the finale has showgirls storming the ring with balloons and confetti for a mass cha-cha-cha — Shangó’s attraction isn’t denied. “All males need to be Shangó,” Ogun’s woman good friend tells him. “Not even you need to be Ogun.”
Though the Cuban audience appears to adore Patakín, it’s predictable that not all Oguns will discover it so amusing. Indeed, it is the solely Cuban premiere to get an afternoon moderately than a night slot. There is a streak of proletarian puritanism within the Cuban Revolution, and positive enough, Patakín is panned in the second-string CP day by day, Juventud Rebelde (Insurgent Youth). The music and dance are “inorganically inserted into the plot,” the film is crammed with “pressured jokes” and “stereotypical conduct.” Making “inadequate use of expressive modes of cinema,” it is an altogether disappointing effort from a director of Gómez’s stature. That the critic takes Patakín to process on formal grounds — slightly than partaking its ideological line — solely underscores the film’s political content. But you’ll be able to’t really respect Patakín until you’ve seen Tropicana.
Tropicana! El cabaret más fabuloso del mundo, situated in an outside jungle backyard! It’s a part of each package deal tour, and it’s greatest seen with a gaggle of American leftists. Think about las contradicciones! Sexist? In fact — y un poco racist también. Tropicana! Previously run by yanqui gangsters using George Raft as their entrance; the One and Only Tropicana is just not merely el paraíso de las estrellas — the paradise of the celebs — it’s the Pasty World of Atlantis, the story of Cuba in music and dance con mucho más razzmatazz, it’s el teatro del embarrassment revolucionario!
Feathered chandeliers floating overhead, showgirls in prime hats and sequined bikinis strut down the aisles dodging the frozen-faced waitresses with nimble precision while flashing practiced smiles at bewildered Vietnamitas. The chanteuse on stage threatens to show us learn how to love. The espactáculo begins. Omigod, is that capering bellhop truly sporting black face? Compañera, move the rum. Is that this quantity actually a Yoruba ceremony celebrating the top of slavery — boys in silver lame pants and Day-Glo doo-rags? Did the Taino Indians really sing like Yma Sumac and cavort about just like the June Taylor Dancers? And dig that wild and crazy Czechoslovakian at the next desk. Will he make like Desi and call on Babaloo? Oh no! It’s caballero y dama time. Lace mantillas, fluttering followers, lotsa “mi corazón,” castanets. Más rum par favor.
Tropicana! Directly ridiculous and impressive, finally infectious. In the course of the revolution, the July 26 motion planted bombs here. Now they treat the place like a national museum. (Ask a Cuban Communist what he thinks. Watch him snort and inform you that when he was a juventud rebelde he noticed Liberace make his grand entrance right here driving on an elefante. Sure, and he was enjoying the piano.) With a most of mucho mass flouncing, the whole chorus appears in pink Flash Gordon jumpsuits singing “By no means Again.” The present’s not over but, people: it’s time for La Habana Conga! A multicolored waterfall is descending in the background. The palm timber are scintillating with purple, blue, and silver lights. Dry-ice geysers are capturing up at our ft. Everyone is singing Yo soy Tropicana! (“What’s this about orange juice?” a drunken gringo needs to know.)
The performers tell us they’re a collective. They thank some visiting Rumanians, the Central American boxing champs, a Yugoslav trade delegation. They offer a fraternal hand to the Soviet individuals. You supply a fraternal hand to the nearest dwelling creature and go off to bop La Habana Conga yourself.
In comparison with Patakín, the brand new Gutiérrez Alea, Hasta Cierto Punto (To a Certain Level ), is fairly predictable stuff. Although superbly paced and edited, it’s a small film that, as Alea himself observes, owes quite a bit in its combination of drama and verité to Sara Gómez’s One Means or Another. A married, middle-aged dramatist, engaged on a script concerning the problems of girls within the labor drive, gets concerned with a young compañera who works within the port, elevating various not too startling questions concerning the relations between the sexes (as well as the courses ). Nonetheless, it was satisfying to see the film win the grand prize. Everyone was relieved that one of many hometown boys had come via.
Few issues are duller than film pageant award ceremonies. The halls where they’re held are often embarrassingly empty. The Cubans remedy this drawback by making invitations to a reception hosted by Fidel Castro contingent on attending the ceremonies — that are worse than most, since each ovation is a standing certainly one of militant solidaridad. Afterwards, there’s an extended wait over at the Palace of the Revolution, however lastly the doorways open, you’re on line, and there he is — giant and graying with an unhealthy-looking ruddy complexion and deep wrinkles round his uncannily glowing eyes — el último diablo, the Cuban of Cubans in a spiffy olive green gown uniform. A quick hypnotized handshake and on to the most effective spread we’ve seen: lobster, shrimp, skewered chunks of barbecued hen and pork, mounds of spicy cornmeal casserole, broiled purple snapper, large breads baked within the shapes of alligators. (“Now I know why they wouldn’t let us convey cameras,” someone cracks.)
Everyone is busy gorging themselves, washing the food down with 30-year-old rum — clean as satin and straight to the cerebral cortex — when it abruptly becomes obvious that . . . He’s in the room! It’s Fidelmania! Overlook Pete Seeger, the night’s other celeb and possibly the one man in Havana sporting a flannel shirt, Fidel is immediately besieged by a frantic mob of filmmakers desperately flacking their films. “Hey, Fidel! Did you see my movie? I’ll get you a particular screening, man!” Methodically making his method around the room, Fidel seems to have come alive working the gang. Only 5 minutes before, individuals have been criticizing the Cubans for using actresses handy out the awards — so tacky, so macho. Now, it’s as if Robert Redford had turned up at your neighborhood Pathmark. Reserved Brits clutch souvenir swizzle sticks and swear to treasure them eternally. Seasoned feminists tremble like schoolgirls, stuff napkins of their mouths, and shriek, “He touched me!” Canny pol that he is, Fidel does have an eye fixed for the women — patting their heads, kissing their cheeks, whispering of their ears.
Performing on automated pilot, I’ve blundered into wonderful area place just as Fidel comes across the bend. He spots the engaging compañera next to me, and as he rushes over to shake her hand for the third time, she tells him, “This guy has a question for you.”
“Proper,” I say. “It’s about beisbol.”
Beisbol. The entourage stops lifeless. Out of the blue it’s me and Fidel and the translator and the bodyguards and the compañera in the bizarrely world-historic eye of the storm. “Yes,” I say. “I need to know why Cuban baseball uses the designated hitter.”
The translator translates. Fidel considers the question and begins framing his reply. It’s like a serious policy statement. “The designated hitter,” he says by means of the translator, “is part of the official international rules of baseball. As a member of the worldwide group, Cuba, in fact, must adhere to these guidelines . . . ”
“Wait a minute,” I hear myself say. This have to be the 30-year-old rum speaking. “The designated hitter isn’t a part of the official guidelines of baseball. Solely one of many major leagues even uses it — the American League. Why ought to Cuba copy the American League?”
Throughout us Cubans are starting to snicker. Did the yanqui catch Fidel? Clearly, the ball continues to be in my courtroom, however I don’t know what to say subsequent. Pitcher is Fidel’s position. Ought to I ask him how he likes giving up his flip at bat? (Ordene!) Or would that appear unduly provocative? Ought to I inquire how this specialization matches in together with his conception of the New Socialist Man? Too theoretical. Cautiously, I determine to enterprise an opinion. “Talking for myself, I feel the designated hitter ruins the technique of the sport.”
But now Fidel has formulated a line. Shortly he begins speaking via the interpreter. “That’s regressive,” he maintains, cocking his head earnestly. “We should not be afraid to vary the prevailing rules. The principles of all games have to be referred to as into query.” Now Fidel is beginning to prepare dinner: “For instance,” he says, “I feel we should always make new rules for basketball. I suggest we’ve got three kinds of basketball. One for people who are beneath five ft tall. One other for people who are 5 and a half ft tall. And a third for people who find themselves over six ft tall.” Fidel is watching me intently. “And that approach,” he concludes, “the Vietnamese will have the ability to win a basketball recreation!”
The Vietnamese! What is that this, 1968? The Vietnamese gained their basketball recreation 10 years ago! I jumped all over Fidel’s first pitch, but this curve ball has me baffled. The Cubans snicker. I snicker. Fidel grins: He pumps my hand vigorously and the cult of character strikes on. I’m instantly surrounded by a minicult of Brits and People. What did he say? What did you say? What’s a designated hitter, anyway? Some man truly needs to arrange an interview. Mañana for that, compañero.
Mañana, I’m on the aircraft wishing I’d spent more time on the seashore and still wondering what that riff meant. In delivering up baseball was I reminding Fidel of Cuba’s cultural hyperlinks to america? And in invoking Vietnam was he alluding to the restrictions of U.S. energy? The Cuban identification with Vietnam is complete. Was Fidel suggesting we decide Cuba by itself terms? And is that a novelty People can’t bear? ■
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