Skip to comments.Notes on a Movie (Nordlinger on a film about Cuba)
Posted on 11/10/2013 6:44:23 AM PST by Yardstick
Last week, I went to see a movie called Una Noche a movie about Cuba. I never would have seen it, but Charles Lane wrote about it, in an article titled Cubas hard truths exposed. Then Ron Radosh told me about it. (He would write about it here.) So I went.
I regard it as a bit of a miracle a movie that portrays Communist Cuba realistically. All of my life, I have seen movies whitewash Cuba. Indeed, whitewashing Cuba is one of Hollywoods minor specialties. I blinked in amazement at seeing Una Noche.
(We had a similar experience in 2000, with Before Night Falls.)
Ever since Castro seized power in 1959, really, the weight of American culture has been in favor of the dictatorship. Journalistically, academically, cinematically the weight has been on the dictatorships side.
I think of Herbert Matthews, the New York Timesman who did for Castro something like what his forebear, Walter Duranty, did for Stalin. In more recent times, I think of CNNs Anita Snow and the APs Lucia Newman. Those names are bitter in the mouths of Cuban democrats.
Academia? Well, let me quickly tell a story I have told before. When I was in grad school, they invited Armando Valladares to speak (which was a bit of a miracle). He was known as the Cuban Solzhenitsyn, for he was a writer who had spent 22 years in the gulag and lived to tell about it (in Against All Hope).
But the university would not let him appear alone would not let him speak to the kids alone. They had to pair him with a professor, to give the pro-Castro side (i.e., to whitewash).
And who, would you say, is the most frequently quoted professor in articles about Cuba? Id say Wayne Smith, by miles. It has been that way for, what? Twenty years? Supporters of the democratic opposition get much less ink.
#ad#The parade of Hollywood figures who have trooped to Havana to sit at Fidels feet and then promoted him and defended him around the world is too long to detail. Ill toss out a few names: Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss all the beautiful people.
You remember what Carole King did, right? She sang to Castro Youve Got a Friend. He sure does, countless of them, in free countries, especially in the United States.
Obviously, the hard Left has given the dictatorship its full-blown support. But the soft Left has done its part too. I mean people like the editors of the New York Times and Barbara Walters. They count more than some political-science prof at Bennington or wherever.
One of the reasons Una Noche amazed me is that I saw it shortly after the death of Saul Landau the American leftist who made films glorifying and lying about Castro. If you want to know more about Landau, see what Ron Radosh wrote about him, here. (The two knew each other.)
Obits about Landau, of course, whitewashed his beliefs and his career. The headline in the Times was Saul Landau, Maker of Films with Leftist Edge, Dies at 77. Leftist edge! Priceless! Leni Riefenstahl, Maker of Films with . . .
Landau, Oliver Stone, Michael Moore these are the kind of people who make movies about Cuba. They have covered up the reality of Castros island for years.
Bizarrely enough, Una Noche was shown in Havana. Someone in some ministry must have made a horrible mistake. The people went nuts for the movie. Then it was banned.
The movie was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Again bizarrely, the Cuban government let the actors in the movie (young Cubans) travel to the festival. Two of them defected during the stopover in Miami.
Ive often wondered why the dictatorship lets people go, ever. Baseball players, ballerinas, singers whenever they have a chance, they defect (many of them). Maybe the regime figures theyre more trouble at home than in exile.
#page#In Una Noche, life in Cuba is depicted as nasty, grim, and hopeless. Is it even worse than depicted? Oh, sure, for a great many. I am reminded of The Lives of Others, that masterpiece of a movie, which appeared in 2006. It is about East Germany and the Stasi. When I wrote about the movie, I heard from former East Germans who said, Life in our country was worse a lot worse than what that movie portrays. I mentioned this to the maker of the film, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. He said essentially this: Theyre right. But good luck finding a movie thats closer to the reality.
The same is true of Una Noche, probably.
The film is sickening in the depravity of the life it portrays. I was reminded of something a Cuban American once told me. I have never forgotten her words. This is close to verbatim:
It takes a martyr-level courage to live even as a decent human being in Cuba. Not to be on a block committee. Not to spy or inform on your neighbors. Not to lie or steal. Not to sell your body or buy somebody elses.
A martyr-level courage to live even as a decent human being. I was reminded of those words when watching Una Noche.
#ad#As someone who was steeped in the media during the last stage of the Cold War, I am amazed to read about the Cold War about formerly Communist countries now. The other day, I was reading an article about Katarina Witt, the figure skater from East Germany. (I was in love with her, like everybody else was.) The article appeared on ESPNs website.
The writer said that Witt became the first East German athlete . . . to persuade the totalitarian government to let her turn pro.
Totalitarian government. Ladies and gentlemen, I cant tell you how amazing it is for someone like me to read something like that. When East Germany was actually up and running, the American media would never have been so candid about it. Ever. Journalists would not have wanted to give aid and comfort to the anti-Communists. They would not have wanted this was a big phrase at the time to poison the atmosphere of détente.
People often defended and hailed East Germany or the German Democratic Republic, as they called it. (The GDR, baby.) They said that East Germany had found a balance between two extremes: capitalism and Communism.
I heard it a thousand times: In the West, we have political rights, meaning the rights to speech, worship, assembly, and so on. But in the East, they have economic rights, meaning the rights to food, shelter, employment, health care . . . (Of course, people in Communist countries were as deprived materially as they were in other ways.)
For some, Erich Honeckers Germany was a kind of ideal. Bob Novak used to needle Al Hunt by saying, East Germanys your favorite country.
My question: After the Castros fall, will the media and our cultural elites at large speak honestly about Communist Cuba? Will they speak about Cuba the way our ESPN writer spoke about East Germany? I doubt it. They have too much invested in the myths about Cuba: the glories of its health care, literacy, and racial enlightenment.
Una Noche was made by a British director named Lucy Mulloy. (I believe she is British.) When people sympathize with the Cuban people, rather than the dictatorship, I often wonder why this is so. A basic humanity? Some special angle?
Googling around about Mulloy, I see that she is the daughter of two people who work in animation: Phil Mulloy and Vera Neubauer. The latter is Czech-born. There has long been an affinity between the Czechs and the Cubans (as there tends to be between peoples that have labored under dictatorship). I wrote about this many years ago now, in a piece called Solidarity, Exemplified.
Maybe the Mulloy children were taught about tyranny? Anyway, this is probably irrelevant. But not uninteresting, I think.
Im sure Im doing Lucy Mulloy no favors by praising and thanking her. Praise and thanks from conservative magazines are not a big help in her milieu. But I praise and thank her anyway. I will end the way I began: Una Noche is something of a miracle, a blow against deception and for honesty.
Yep, they circle Castro and his socialist paradise just like they circle Obama.
Thanks for posting this. I’ll be sure to look it up.
When I was a kid in ‘59, there was a song that was very popular on Cleveland’s Top Forty radio stations. It was, I recall, a whistling song, very much in the mold of the theme from Bridge Over The River Kwai. It was called “The Cuban Marching Song.”
Nobody in the general populace knew much about Castro back then.
Look at Venezuela since Hugo Chavez croaked. The dictatorship & peoples’ suffering have only gotten worse.
How will Cuba turn out any better? One word: “entrenched”.
Movie Critics Aghast at Andy Garcia’s THE LOST CITY
by HUMBERTO FONTOVA
Andy Garcia blew it big-time with his movie The Lost City. He blew it with the mainstream critics that is. Almost unanimously, they’re ripping a movie 16 years in the making. In this engaging drama of a middle-class Cuban family crumbling during free Havana’s last days, in which he both directs and stars, Garcia insisted on depicting some historical truth about Cuba—a grotesque and unforgivable blunder in his industry. He’s now paying the price.
Earlier, many film festivals refused to screen it. Now many Latin American countries refuse to show it. The film’s offenses are many and varied. Most unforgivable of all, Che Guevara is shown killing people in cold blood. Who ever heard of such nonsense? And just where does this uppity Andy Garcia get the effrontery to portray such things? The man obviously doesn’t know his place.
And just where did Garcia get this preposterous notion of pre-Castro Cuba as a relatively prosperous but politically troubled place, they ask? All the Cubans he portrays seem middle class? Where in his movie is the tsunami of stooped and starving peasants that carried Fidel and Che into Havana on it’s crest, they ask? Where’s all those diseased and illiterate laborers and peasants my professors, Dan Rather, CNN and Oliver Stone told me about, ask the critics?
Garcia—that cinematic bomb-thrower—has seriously jolted the Mainstream Media’s fantasies and hallucinations of pre-Castro Cuba, of Che, of Fidel, and of Cubans in general. In consequence, the critics are unnerved and disoriented. Their annoyance and scorn is spewing forth in review after review.
Garcia blew it. If only his characters had spoken with accents like John Belushi’s as a Saturday Night Live Killer Bee! If only they’d dressed like The Three Amigos! If only they’d behaved like Cheech and Chong! If only they’d mimicked the mannerisms and gait of Freddie Prinze in Chico and the Man! If only the women had piled a roadside fruit stand on their head like Carmen Miranda in Road to Rio! If only the cast had looked like the little guy who handles my luggage when I visit Cancun! Or the guys who do my lawn! Everybody knows that’s what Hispanics look like!
If only masses of Cubans had been shown toiling in salt mines like Spartacus, or picking crops like Tom Joad or getting lashed by a vicious landlord like Kunta Kinte, or hustling for a living like Ratso Rizzo!
“In a movie about the Cuban revolution, we almost never see any of the working poor for whom the revolution was supposedly fought,”sniffs Peter Reiner in The Christian Science Monitor. “The Lost City’ misses historical complexity.”
Actually what’s missing is Mr. Reiner’s historical knowledge. Andy Garcia and screenwriter Guillermo Cabrera Infante knew full well that “the working poor” had no role in the stage of the Cuban Revolution shown in the movie. The Anti-Batista rebellion was led and staffed overwhelmingly by Cuba’s middle— and especially, upper— class. To wit: in August of 1957 Castro’s rebel movement called for a “National Strike” against the Batista dictatorship —and threatened to shoot workers who reported to work. The “National Strike” was completely ignored.
Another was called for April 9, 1958. And again Cuban workers blew a loud and collective raspberry at their “liberators,” reporting to work en masse.
“Garcia’s tale bemoans the loss of easy wealth for a precious few, “ harrumphs Michael Atkinson in The Village Voice. “Poor people are absolutely absent; Garcia and Infante seem to have thought that peasant revolutions happen for no particular reasonor at least no reason the moneyed 1 percent should have to worry about.”
What’s “absolutely absent” is Mr Atkinson’s knowledge about the Cuba Garcia depicts in his movie. His crack about that “moneyed 1 per cent,” and especially his “peasant revolution” epitomize the clichéd idiocies still parroted by the chattering classes about Cuba.
“The impoverished masses of Cubans who embraced Castro as a liberator appear only in grainy, black-and-white news clips,” snorts Stephen Holden in The New York Times. “Political dialogue in the film is strictly of the junior high school variety.”
It’s Holden’s education on the Cuban Revolution that’s of the “junior high school variety.” Actually it’s Harvard Graduate School variety. Many more imbecilities about Cuba are heard in Ivy league classrooms than in any rural junior high school.
“It fails to focus on the poverty-stricken workers whose plight lit the fires of revolution,” complains Rex Reed in the New York Observer.
You’re better off attempting rational discourse with the Flat-Earth Society but nonetheless I’ll try to dispel the fantasies of pre-Castro Cuba still cherished by America’s most prestigious academics and its most learned film critics. I’ll even stay away from those “crackpots” and “hotheads” in Miami. In place of those insufferable “revanchists” and “hard-liners” I’ll use a source generally esteemed by liberal highbrow types, the United Nations.
Here’s a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) report on Cuba circa 1957 : “One feature of the Cuban social structure is a large middle class,” it starts. “Cuban workers are more unionized (proportional to the population) than U.S. workers. The average wage for an 8 hour day in Cuba in 1957 is higher than for workers in Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany. Cuban labor receives 66.6 per cent of gross national income. In the U.S. the figure is 70 per cent, in Switzerland 64 per cent. 44 per cent of Cubans are covered by Social legislation, a higher percentage then in the U.S.”
In 1958 Cuba had a higher per-capita income than Austria and Japan. Cuban industrial workers had the 8th highest wages in the world. In the 1950’s Cuban stevedores earned more per hour than their counterparts in New Orleans and San Francisco. Cuba had established an 8 hour work-day in 1933— five years before FDR’s New Dealers got around to it. Add to this: one months paid vacation. The much-lauded (by liberals) Social-Democracies of Western Europe didn’t manage this till 30 years later.
And get this Maxine Waters, Barbara Walters, Andrea Mitchel, Diane Sawyer and the rest of you feminist Castro groupies— Cuban women got three months paid maternity leave. I repeat, this was in the 1930’s. Cuba, a country 71 per cent white in 1957, was completely desegregated 30 years before Rosa Parks was dragged off that Birmingham bus and handcuffed. In 1958 Cuba had more female college graduates per capita than the U.S.
The Anti-Batista rebellion (not revolution) was staffed and led overwhelmingly by college students and professionals. Unemployed lawyers were prominent (take Fidel Castro himself.) Here’s the makeup of the “peasant revolution’s” first cabinet, drawn from the leaders in the Anti-Batista fight: 7 lawyers, 2 University professors, 3 University students, 1 doctor, 1 engineer, 1 architect, 1 former city mayor and Colonel who defected from the Batista Army. A notoriously “bourgeois” bunch as Che himself might have put it.
By 1961 however, workers and campesinos (country folk)-made up the overwhelming bulk of the anti-Castroite rebels, especially the guerrillas in the Escambray mountains. And boy, would THAT rebellion make for an action-packed and gut-wrenching movie! If by some miracle it ever got made you can bet these learned critics would pan it too. Who ever heard of poor country-folk fighting against their benefactors Fidel and Che?
The New York Times’ Stephen Holden also sneers at Garcia’s implication that “ life sure was peachy before Fidel Castro came to town and ruined everything. “
In fact, Mr Holden, before Castro “came to town,” Cuba took in more immigrants (primarily from Europe) as a percentage of population than the U.S. And more Americans lived in Cuba than Cubans in the U.S. Furthermore, inner tubes were used in truck tires, oil drums for oil, and styrofoam for insulation. None were cherished black market items for use as flotation devices to flee the glorious liberation while fighting off Hammerheads and Tiger Sharks .
The learned Mr Holden is also annoyed by “buffoonish parodies of sour Communist apparatchiks barking orders.” Apparently, Communist apparatchiks should be properly depicted as somewhat misguided social workers, or as slightly overzealous Howard Dean campaign staffers.
It’s no “parody,” Mr Holden, that the “apparatchiks” Garcia depicts in his movie incarcerated and executed a higher percentage of their countrymen in their first three months in power than Hitler and his apparatchiks jailed and executed in their first three years. As well complain that the guards and police in Schinldler’s List , Julia or The Diary of Anne Frank come across as hackneyed caricatures. Instead let’s portray them with more “complexity,” as misguided idealists who followed a leader who unshackled the German working class from it’s subserviance to snooty barons, who eradicated Germany’s unemployment and who ended Germany’s national humiliation at the hands of Europe’s premier Imperialist powers.
Andy Garcia shows it precisely right. In 1958 Cuba was undergoing a rebellion not a revolution. Cubans expected political change not a socio-economic cataclysm and catastrophe. But I fully realize such distinctions are much too “complex” for a film critic to grasp. They prefer boneheaded clichés. Garcia might have followed the laudable examples of “historical complexity” and “accuracy” shown in previous movies on Cuba. Take two that these critics compare (favorably) to The Lost City, Havana and Godfather II.
In Havana, the brilliant director Sydney Pollack casts Fulgencio Batista with blond hair and blue eyes. In fact Batista was a Black. In Godfather II, Francis Ford Coppola, to show Havana streets on New Years Eve 1958, casts more people than marched in Los Angeles last week and depicts them in a battle scene right out of Braveheart. In fact Havana streets were deathly quiet that night.
I don’t presume to the exalted position of a film critic. So I don’t comment on the dramatic and cinematic criticisms made by these august critics. I’m not saying, or even implying, that The Lost City is a better movie than the Godfather II. I’m simply criticizing the critics on their criticism of The Lost City’s historical accuracy. In these reviews we see—in all it’s classic splendor—the Mainstream Media’s thundering and apparently incurable stupidity on matters Cuban.
Humberto Fontova is the author of Fidel; Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant, described as “absolutely devastating. An enlightening read you’ll never forget.” By David Limbaugh. Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart says, “Humberto Fontova has done a great service to all those who wish to discover the truth about the only totalitarian dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere.”
There was a great book called hollywoods dictator. You’ll love hollywood even more.
Thanks for posting that!
Righteous anger well expressed and directed at liberal morons — the ones who consider themselves our moral superiors as they make ignorant excuses for tyranny — is a beautiful thing. I wonder if any of them had the guts to reply to Fontova’s review of their reviews.
Fontova’s book on Amazon: