April 10, 1984
Our Man in Havana
“Everybody who involves Cuba has been brainwashed. Skillful propaganda has informed them Havana is a haven of heaven.” That’s Steve Ryan speaking; see his indispensable “Havana: Sucker Lure of the Caribbean,” revealed on your edification in the February 1957 problem of Uncovered magazine (the one with Diana Dors on the duvet). “Overlook the Maine” is Ryan’s message. Keep in mind the dust, the beggars, the shoeshine urchins, the porno postcard distributors, “the skinny, ragged ladies carrying infants 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 look forward to nightfall to allow them to “move over the town like a tidal wave in quest of 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 caught with the tab. The only hope for solvency was to seek out an angel. Ninety miles away sat the USA . . . fats, pompous, intercourse glad — and loaded.” Hey meester, you need muchachas, playing, 24-hour crap games, a daiquiri at Señor Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bar, a night at Tropicana el cabaret más fabuloso del mundo, plus reside intercourse show in a three-peso lodge room? You identify it, you bought it. “That is Cuba,” warns the implacable Steve Ryan. “Geared to American tastes . . . with moral standards so low you’d need a submarine to succeed in them.”
Properly, a number of things have changed since 1957, however Havana stays a cornucopia of ’50s imagery. It’s truly in trend! Even modest bungalows out within 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 colours: mint inexperienced, dusty pink, scorching canary, blazing turquoise. Driving west along the seawall on the Malecón freeway you see the terraced towers of palatial resorts, 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 within the Sierra. There’s the Capri with its rooftop swimming pool and Salón Rojo nightclub, the Riviera (built, they are saying, by Meyer Lansky) with its free-form fountain sculpture and ancillary, blue-domed something 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 casino is now the Salón de Solidaridad, and there’s the inevidesk Vietnamita exposition downstairs by the dollar store, where you should purchase a handstitched leather-based platter bearing the likeness of Che Guevara for less than $140.
The French have moved over to the Libre, however all the remainder of us foreigners, right here for 10 days for the fifth Havana Movie Pageant, are holed up on the Lodge Nacional, around the corner from Casa Czechoslovakia, a block and a half from the spot where Sergio Corrieri picked up Daisy Granados in Reminiscences of Beneathimprovement, not removed from the concrete umbrella of the individuals’s Coppelia Ice Cream Middle (more flavors than Baskin-Robbins). Inbuilt 1927, the Nacional is a stately dowager with a flaming past. It was right 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 cash sitting on a rock overlooking the Malecón” with a “controlled 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 lobby “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 . . . only 90 miles away! The flotskis even have their own lounge up on the fifth flooring, full with fridge, TV, blackboard, and sure copies of Pravda.
Outdoors the Nacional, brazen younger swindlers in Bruce Lee T-shirts supply to sell you pesos at twice, 3 times, four occasions — the report is seven occasions — the official fee of change. But for those who’ve read your Steve Ryan, you realize that “gambling in Cuba is about as protected as stepping in front of the Super Chief.” Each day there’s a 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 payments. 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 possibly can’t walk out of the lodge without being approached. These youngsters are persistent, too. Probably the most entertaining option to handle it’s to undertake the self-righteous persona of an American Communist. Some man gives you 5 to at least one and, in your sternest pidgin Spanish, you say Pero compañero, esto es contra la ley — However comrade, that’s towards the regulation. When he doubles over with laughter, you make your escape.
The truth is, there’s not so much to do here with pesos anyway. (“This can be a city 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 pleasure, but here there’s true pleasure.”) Havana’s scorching, dusty neighborhoods are dotted with curiosidad outlets that wouldn’t seem misplaced on Canal Road, selling miscellaneous pieces of hardware, previous radio tubes, and second-hand digital camera elements (as the ancient autos attest, the Cubans are masters of recycling). But most shops open late, shut early, and don’t stock much 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.
In the future there’s a e-book truthful, and a fewone reveals a 1936 American tourist-guide referred to as Cuban Tapestry. We seek the advice of it like the I Ching and study that “Cuba, is overseas. Havana is overseas. No quantity of contact with huge Tío Sam, across the Florida Strait, will ever make the island capital an American metropolis. The Cuban likes his large 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, however honest champion. . . . ”
Freedom in Cuba could be defined as freedom from america. Cuba shouldn’t be simply the first Latin American nation to efficiently defy huge Tío Sam, it has brazenly opposed U.S. insurance policies for the last 25 years. And, though the pressured reorientation of the Cuban financial system is a shock from which the island has yet to recuperate absolutely, it’s definitely debatable that the U.S. trade embargo has helped Fidel Castro more than it has harm him. The shortage of shopper items is a sign of revolutionary virtue. The American menace encourages nationwide unity, permits complete mobilization, and fosters a heady sense of geopolitical adventure.
Earlier than the revolution, Cuba loved one of many highest per capita incomes within the tropical world. But this apparent 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. Only two years before Cuban Tapestry was revealed, the American dollar was the lone paper foreign money utilized in Cuba. Till the Triumph of the Revolution, the U.S. ambassador was the island’s second most powerful man (a minimum of), and the U.S. safely regarded Cuba as its most dependable ally. The Cuban financial system was truly a subset of the American one. Cuba bought the U.S. sugar and purchased nearly everything else — from nuts and bolts to TV sets and cars — at the company 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 potential exception of Panama.
Now handmade signs on each block routinely excoriate yanqui asesinos, and — our naval base at Guantánamo aside — the official U.S. presence is lowered to the so-called “Interest Section,” situated on the bottom flooring of the former 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 walk out their entrance door they get zapped within the face with the same pink, yellow, and orange blinking message: Señores Imperialistas, No Les Tenemos Absolutamente Ningun Miedo! We’re not fearful of you! (Not exactly so: many Cubans are satisfied that if Reagan is reelected, he will certainly invade them. “We anticipate another Vietnam,” one official advised me. “We’ve the whole island ready.”)
To get inside the Curiosity Part — which I did, accompanying a pal who had her passport stolen in an after-hours dive referred to as El Gato Tuerto, the One-Eyed Cat — it’s a must to first convey what you are promoting to the bored Cuban troopers posted across the constructing, then convince the teenage American marine manning the reception area that you simply’re kosher (unattainable, truly; the truth that you’re in Cuba mechanically means you’re not). Whereas he deliberates, you apply your upside-down reading by noting the useful Spanish phrases taped to his desk: What’s your identify? What would you like? Please go away! As soon as inside, you discover an ostentatiously over-air-conditioned waiting room adorned with framed travel posters of San Francisco and Aspen, and furnished with a plastic Christmas tree and an expensive 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 dish (main league, albeit not as big as the one the Cubans use to watch American TV). Some nest of spies: the only secretary turns out 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 rare in Cuba that you simply’re jolted once you see a Viceroy baseball cap, a bootleg Michael Jackson tape, or a cup usual out of a Coca-Cola can. Only probably the most obscure Disney characters — particular person dwarfs out of Snow White, the rabbit from Alice in Marvelland — are to be found on partitions and storefronts. The just about complete eradication of Mickey Mouse is not any less hanging than the absence of Jesus Christ. As you walk round Havana, gawking on the residencemade indicators of a fanged Tío Sam devouring Grenada — Abajo el lmperialismo Yanqui! — that embellish every block’s Committee for the Defense of the Revolution bulletin board, individuals will inquire whether you’re Argentine or German or, most often, Russian. Once you inform them that you simply’re a norteamericano, they’re stunned or amused, sometimes nostalgic, but by no means, in my experience, hostile.
It’s astounding how many 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 same 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 group for the Cincinnati Reds. In 1958, the Sugar Kings have been mired in final place and all however bankrupt. After the Triumph of the Revolution, Fidel provided to bail the staff out. “The Sugar Kings are part of the Cuban people,” he’s reported to have stated. “It is vital 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 4-4 within the bottom of the 11th. The patriotic Cubans began 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 variety of indignant speak then of yanking skilled baseball out of Cuba — the small print may be present in Howard Senzel’s Baseball and the Cold Struggle — however the red-hot Sugar Kings went on to win the International League championship and then the Junior World Collection. This was the time of miracles — when the final could possibly 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 process the Russian crude that Fidel bartered for the sugar the U.S. wouldn’t purchase — 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 yet one more act of treachery and aggression towards the Cuban individuals: “Violating all codes of sportsmanship, they now take away our franchise!”
A lot for socialist baseball in the capitalist world. Nine years in the past there was speak of a U.S.-Cuban collection, however that acquired scotched by Henry Kissinger on account of the state of affairs in Angola. Meanwhile, Cuban novice teams have continued to dominate worldwide play. Thus it’s with keen 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 simply march right down to the first-base line and help yourself to a field. Does this detached turnout indicate a scarcity of interest 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 oceanson is younger. The primary recreation is a basic, with los Metropolitanos beating los Guantanamos Three-2, when R. Lopez lofts a J. Matos quick 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 construct a 7-Zero lead by the center of the third.)
Opposite to Senzel’s reminiscences of the Sugar Kings (“a slick and speedy ball club and so colorful,” “they used to bunt lots, hit and run so much, attempt to steal house, and execute other daring feats”), the games are low-keyed to the purpose of somnolence. The fans are virtually all males, 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 notice that whereas the Cubans employ low cost and durable aluminum bats (illegal in the major leagues), they have — despite the embargo — adopted the designated hitter, el bateador designado.
There’s no cerveza to be had; as an alternative, distributors sell hits of candy black espresso in the type of tiny paper cups mental hospitals use to dispense Thorazine. Might that be why, regardless of some atrocious calls – including 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 4 o’clock sky have everyone dazzled? Removed from capturing off machine-guns, the fans are so properly socialized they scoop up the foul balls which might be hit their approach and toss them back onto the sector.
In Revolutionary Cuba, not simply sporting occasions however well being 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 on the expense of the cities, and Havana continues to be doing penance for its sinful previous. The capital is shabby however clean, delapidated but orderly. You’ll be able to drive your rented Russian compact completely off the map, out to the place the pavement ends by the cement manufacturing unit within the deepest estuary of Havana Bay, and the hovels you find are solely hovels — small, run-down stucco houses that look like electrified. They’re not tin shacks stacked up on cardboard bins fronting on a uncooked sewage canal. Even on this alley of poverty, the youngsters look healthy and well-fed, enjoying baseball on the street and wondering what on the earth you’re doing there. If this have been Mexico City or Rio de Janeiro, you may worry on your life. However Havana isn’t Port-au-Prince, let alone New York. You’ll be able to strolt for miles at midnight by way of the central city, the dark streets illuminated solely by the blue glow of TV units, and by no means experience the slightest nervousness. Mugging Russians, we joke, have to be a capital offense.
Simply 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 everlasting 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 implausible arrangements of plastic flowers, porcelain animals, crumbling plaster, and icons of Che. Revolutionary martyr, advocate of the New Socialist Man, Che is a far more widespread household deity than Fidel; his resemblance to JC can’t be denied. Bus drivers hold 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 never be crushed, but his most generally distributed picture is that of public servant supreme — a silk-screened poster of the leader dressed in fatigues, a rifle slung over his shoulder and the ambiguous command Ordene! Order Me!
The Catholic Church appears to have been pushed 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 films are not any more objective than a PepsiCola spot and no less revealing for his or her blatant artifice. Che hoy y siempre (Che Immediately and All the time) is the newest in a series of graphically revolutionary 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 sort 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 during 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 rejoice the January 1959 Triumph of the Revolution.
Luis Felipe Bernaza’s Aquí y en cualquier parte (Right here and in Whatever Place) is a “love track” to “the brand new heroes of the Revolution,” the younger Cuban soldiers in Angola. Lyrical photographs of fight coaching are combined with choreographed guerrilla rituals and the vocal accompaniment of some dulcet compañera. Together with Israel, Cuba have to be probably the most highly mobilized societies on earth. Militia manuals can be found in all guideshops. The ministries, politburo, and central committee are dominated by military men. The military has a movie studio as nicely, and produced Belkis Vega’s España en el corazón (Spain in the Heart), a historical past of the Cuban worldwide brigade in the course of the Spanish Civil Warfare. Not surprisingly, the film eschews nostalgia and stresses historic continuity (although it fails to notice that revolutionary Cuba developed close financial ties with Franco’s Spain). In fact, most of Cuba’s Spanish Civil Conflict vets have been also veterans of the pre-1959 Cuban CP, an outfit which had opposed Fidel Castro till six months earlier than the Triumph of the Revolution. Perhaps that’s why it’s Raúl — all the time a Communist — Castro and not brother Fidel who arms out the medals at the vets’ reunion. As for these Cubans who fought within the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, they aren’t mentioned in any respect.
Che hoy y siempre was greeted with warm applause, Condenadme, no importa acquired 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 movie shot by a North American crew and edited in Havana — during which 11 Cubans who left the island during the mass exodus of 1980 examine their previous lives with what they found in America (visualized mainly as Florida concentration camps and Decrease East Aspect squalor). The themes, naturally, are doozies. “In Cuba, I couldn’t drink. In Cuba there isn’t a freedom,” one rumdum hiccups. One other rationalizes his flight as a perverse act-of loyalty to Fidel. Eachone has so much to complain about, from shitty health care to the American behavior of smoking marijuana in the street. For the finale, the filmmakers produce a successful engineer who stands outdoors his Miami ranch home and admits that he’s miserable.
Los Marielitos was telecast in the course of 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 that you could get killed for· cash at 10 o’clock in the evening? Are rents really so excessive and for apartments akin to these? Why are blacks not permitted in the identical hospitals as whites? Are there that many individuals who haven’t any jobs?”
Twenty-five years ago, 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 cost of all Cuban film exercise. Official mythology has it that, although Cuba has all the time been a movie-mad island, there was no Cuban cinema before the revolution — only ersatz Mexican musicals, dangerously made copies of Hollywood detective movies, 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 together a Che Guevara obit lower than 48 hours after the news of his demise, and who once stated, “Give me two pictures, a movieola, and a few music, and I’ll make you a film” — the greatest revolutionary documentary-maker since Dziga Vertov. Then got here 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 Cost 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 Film Pageant, 26-year-old Humberto Solás was hailed as the brand new Eisenstein. (A current ballot of Cuban audiences listed Potemklin, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, The Gold Rush, and Trendy Occasions as the five most vital movies 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, but 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 Nationwide Congress on Schooling and Tradition — introduced the directors right down to earth. Documentaries have been privileged over fiction films. There was a 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, though 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 Approach or One other and Pastor Vega’s Portrait of Teresa) have made a lot impression on the international scene. But who knows what goes on within the heart of Havana? This 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.
Speedy disappointment: Vega’s La Habanera — stated to concern the love life of a Cuban shrink — just isn’t yet completed, while Alvarez’s Refugees from the Cave of the Lifeless — his first fiction movie, 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. Consideration shifts to the premiere of Humberto Solás’s Amada, and with good purpose. Two years in the past, 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 viewers as properly. Maybe not coincidentally, ICAIC chief Alfredo Guevara was relieved of his submit, shipped off to Switzerland as the brand new ambassador to UNESCO, and changed at ICAIC by Julio Garcia Espinosa, writer of the well-known manifesto “For an Imperfect Cinema.”
Understandably defensive, Solás seems to have taken probably the most militant (that’s to say, anti-European) aesthetic stance of all the directors who contributed statements to the current concern of Cine Cubano. His place is sensible once you see that his film totally contradicts it. Solás could also be skating on skinny ice: Amada turns out 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 audience. In his post-screening remarks, Solás careworn his competence (mentioning that whereas Cecilia took 15 months to shoot, economical Amada was completed in a mere eight weeks) whereas gamely insisting on the movie’s political content material — the frustrated love is “a mirrored image of the disaster within the battle for independence.”
Almost half of ICAIC’s new documentaries are movies with musical topics, a bid, some assume, to supply more overseas trade. “Just as Hollywood administrators must make the compulsory western,” Julio García Espinosa has instructed, “Cuban filmmakers must be required to make a musical.” Espinosa himself began 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 film was evidently structured as a collection of rehearsals for a musical revue on the Tropicana that by no means fairly 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 well-liked culture as a vanguard type, and his Patakín — which takes its title from an African phrase for fable, its discreet crane photographs and Jerome Robbins choreography from the Hollywood musicals of the 1950s, its strident colors 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 start to rumba — while his nemesis, Ogun, is a staid mannequin employee who drives the tractor on a collective farm.
With musical numbers extra bossa nova than salsa, Patakín establishes a sure amiable innocence, abetted by a Tashlinesque humorousness and some seashore scenes that might hardly appear out of place in How To Stuff a Wild Bikini. The movie pokes delicate enjoyable on the bureaucracy and regularly waxes reflexive. (“Aren’t you listening to the picture?” characters ask one another when the plot grows convoluted.) However in addition to reclaiming a style for Cuban moviemakers, Patakín makes a political level, being probably the most candid research of machismo of the several the pageant provides. Although 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 pal tells him. “Not even you need to be Ogun.”
Though the Cuban viewers seems to adore Patakín, it’s predictable that not all Oguns will find it so amusing. Indeed, it is the solely Cuban premiere to get a day somewhat than an evening slot. There’s a streak of proletarian puritanism in the Cuban Revolution, and positive sufficient, Patakín is panned in the second-string CP every 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 “insufficient use of expressive modes of cinema,” it’s an altogether disappointing effort from a director of Gómez’s stature. That the critic takes Patakín to process on formal grounds — fairly than partaking its ideological line — solely underscores the film’s political content material. However you possibly can’t really recognize Patakín until you’ve seen Tropicana.
Tropicana! El cabaret más fabuloso del mundo, situated in an outside jungle backyard! It’s part of every 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! Formerly run by yanqui gangsters utilizing George Raft as their front; the One and Solely Tropicana isn’t simply 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 whereas flashing practiced smiles at bewildered Vietnamitas. The chanteuse on stage threatens to show us the way to love. The espactáculo begins. Omigod, is that capering bellhop truly sporting black face? Compañera, cross the rum. Is that this quantity really 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 name 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 movement planted bombs right here. Now they deal with the place like a nationwide 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 here driving on an elefante. Yes, 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 Once more.” The present’s not over but, people: it’s time for La Habana Conga! A multicolored waterfall is descending within the background. The palm timber are scintillating with pink, 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 inform us they are a collective. They thank some visiting Rumanians, the Central American boxing champs, a Yugoslav commerce delegation. They offer a fraternal hand to the Soviet individuals. You supply a fraternal hand to the closest dwelling creature and go off to bop La Habana Conga your self.
Compared to Patakín, the new Gutiérrez Alea, Hasta Cierto Punto (To a Certain Level ), is fairly predictable stuff. Alalthough superbly paced and edited, it’s a small movie that, as Alea himself observes, owes quite a bit in its mixture of drama and verité to Sara Gómez’s One Approach or One other. A married, middle-aged dramatist, working on a script concerning the problems of girls within the labor pressure, gets concerned with a young compañera who works in the port, elevating a variety of not too startling questions concerning the relations between the sexes (as well as the courses ). Still, it was satisfying to see the film win the grand prize. Everybody was relieved that one of many hometown boys had come by means of.
Few things are duller than movie pageant award ceremonies. The halls the place they’re held are often embarrassingly empty. The Cubans clear up this drawback by making invites to a reception hosted by Fidel Castro contingent on attending the ceremonies — that are worse than most, since every ovation is a standing one in every of militant solidaridad. Afterwards, there’s an extended wait over at the Palace of the Revolution, however finally the doors open, you’re on line, and there he’s — 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 inexperienced gown uniform. A quick hypnotized handshake and on to the perfect unfold we’ve seen: lobster, shrimp, skewered chunks of barbecued hen and pork, mounds of spicy cornmeal casserole, broiled pink snapper, large breads baked in the shapes of alligators. (“Now I know why they wouldn’t let us convey cameras,” someone cracks.)
Everyone is busy gorging themselves, washing the meals down with 30-year-old rum — clean as satin and straight to the cerebral cortex — when it abruptly becomes apparent that . . . He’s in the room! It’s Fidelmania! Overlook Pete Seeger, the evening’s other celeb and possibly the only man in Havana sporting a flannel shirt, Fidel is instantly besieged by a frantic mob of filmmakers desperately flacking their films. “Hey, Fidel! Did you see my film? I’ll get you a particular screening, man!” Methodically making his approach around the room, Fidel seems to have come alive working the gang. Solely 5 minutes before, individuals have been criticizing the Cubans for utilizing actresses handy out the awards — so cheesy, 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 endlessly. Seasoned feminists tremble like schoolgirls, stuff napkins in their mouths, and shriek, “He touched me!” Canny pol that he is, Fidel does have an eye fixed for the ladies — patting their heads, kissing their cheeks, whispering of their ears.
Performing on automated pilot, I’ve blundered into wonderful area place simply as Fidel comes across the bend. He spots the engaging compañera subsequent to me, and as he rushes over to shake her hand for the third time, she tells him, “This man has a question for you.”
“Right,” I say. “It’s about beisbol.”
Beisbol. The entourage stops lifeless. Abruptly it’s me and Fidel and the translator and the bodyguards and the compañera within the bizarrely world-historic eye of the storm. “Yes,” I say. “I need to know why Cuban baseball uses the designated hitter.”
The translator interprets. Fidel considers the question and begins framing his reply. It’s like a serious coverage assertion. “The designated hitter,” he says by way of the translator, “is part of the official international guidelines of baseball. As a member of the worldwide group, Cuba, in fact, should adhere to those 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 rules of baseball. Solely one of many main 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, but I don’t know what to say subsequent. Pitcher is Fidel’s position. Should I ask him how he likes giving up his flip at bat? (Ordene!) Or would that seem unduly provocative? Should I inquire how this specialization matches in together with his conception of the New Socialist Man? Too theoretical. Cautiously, I determine to venture an opinion. “Speaking for myself, I feel the designated hitter ruins the strategy of the game.”
But now Fidel has formulated a line. Shortly he begins talking by way of 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 video games have to be referred to as into question.” Now Fidel is starting to prepare dinner: “For instance,” he says, “I feel we should always make new rules for basketball. I propose we’ve three kinds of basketball. One for people who find themselves underneath five ft tall. Another for people who are 5 and a half ft tall. And a 3rd 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 in the past! I jumped all over Fidel’s first pitch, but this curve ball has me baffled. The Cubans snicker. I giggle. Fidel grins: He pumps my hand vigorously and the cult of character strikes on. I’m immediately surrounded by a minicult of Brits and People. What did he say? What did you say? What’s a designated hitter, anyway? Some guy truly needs to arrange an interview. Mañana for that, compañero.
Mañana, I’m on the aircraft wishing I’d spent more time at the seashore and still questioning what that riff meant. In conveying up baseball was I reminding Fidel of Cuba’s cultural hyperlinks to the USA? 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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