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Cuban Cinema

Michael Chanan
Volume: 14
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition, Second
Pages: 560
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsb59
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  • Book Info
    Cuban Cinema
    Book Description:

    Michael Chanan provides a comprehensive and absorbing account of Cuban cinema both before and after the revolution, deftly setting individual films and filmmakers within the larger framework of Cuba’s social, political, and cultural history. The only book-length study of Cuban cinema written in English, this indispensable work offers a unique perspective on the Cuban experience in the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9066-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Coppola on Cuban Film
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Forty Years On
    (pp. 1-22)

    Early in 1998, an extraordinary situation unfolded in Havana that would demonstrate that almost forty years since the Revolution of 1959 and the creation of a state film institute, Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC; Cuban Institute of Film Art and Industry), cinema in Cuba continued to be a highly charged political issue. Fidel Castro, in the closing speech of the February session of the National Assembly, raised a series of questions about the power of Hollywood and the huge budgets employed to ensure that Hollywood movies conquered screens throughout the world; he cited the example ofTitanic,...

  6. PART I Before the Revolution:: Cinema at the Margins

    • CHAPTER ONE For the First Time
      (pp. 25-37)

      The screen comes to life. Three men wearing the working clothes of a tropical country are grouped around the front of a truck with its hood open. One of them stands more or less facing the camera, another is sitting on the fender, and the third is working on the engine. An unseen questioner is asking them about their job, and, as they speak, the picture cuts to the interior of the truck, to show us the fittings they describe, including projection gear and stowaway beds. For this is acine móvil,a mobile cinema unit, and the job consists...

    • CHAPTER TWO Back to the Beginning
      (pp. 38-55)

      In 1972, a full-length documentary appeared ironically titledViva la República(Long live the republic), directed by Pastor Vega. A historical compilation juxtaposing a variety of old newsreels, photographs, political cartoons, and similar visual material, and narrated with a wit that makes the most of the very crudeness and limitations of such stuff, the film elegantly traces the history of the republic set up under U.S. tutelage at the beginning of the century, following the expulsion of the Spanish after their defeat in the Cuban-Spanish-American War in 1898. Close to the start we see two of the very earliest newsreels...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Nineteenth-Century Heritage
      (pp. 56-67)

      José Casasús and Enrique Díaz Quesada were not the only Cuban film pioneers who made commissioned publicity films. In 1906, Manuel Martínez Illas made a picture about sugar manufacture calledCine y azúcar(Cinema and sugar). It was sponsored by the Manatí Sugar Company, which was in the process of trying to raise further capital. Now sugar was Cuba’s principal crop. The island was not quite monocultural; tobacco and coffee were also important export crops. But it was above all sugar that was responsible for Cuba’s economic deformation, the imbalance in its productive forces that created so much poverty and...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Melodrama and White Horses
      (pp. 68-89)

      Two Cuban investigators of early cinema in their country, Rolando Díaz Rodríguez and Lázaro Buria Pérez, have divided the years 1897–1922 into three periods. The first, 1897–1905, is the period of cinema as simple spectacle in as yet unequal competition with theater. The second, 1906–18, is the stage of the consolidation of cinema both as a spectacle and as a business, but under European domination. In the third period, 1919–22, the spectacle becomes increasingly ideological in nature, the Europeans are displaced by the North Americans, and the incipient national cinema is killed off.¹

      Early exhibition in...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Amateurs and Militants
      (pp. 90-114)

      “Perhaps more interesting than the professional cinema,” according to an article titled “The Cinema in Cuba” in the North American magazineFlim Culturein 1956, “is the experimental cinema in 16 mm and the intense action of the cine-clubs.”¹ The author of this article, Néstor Almendros, the son of an exile from Franco’s Spain, was himself a member of this movement. Like most of theaficionadoshe was writing about, he worked at the Film Institute when it was first set up, but he was also one of the first filmmakers to leave Cuba as a result of disagreement with...

  7. PART II The Revolution Takes Power:: A Cinema of Euphoria

    • CHAPTER SIX The Coming of Socialism
      (pp. 117-143)

      The victory of the Revolution on January 1, 1959, brought about a flurry of documentary filmmaking. Two commercial producers brought out feature-length compilation films,De la sierra hasta hoy(From the Sierra to today) andDe la tiranía a la libertad(From tyranny to liberty), the latter an expanded version of a film first seen the previous year under the titleSierra Maestra. Shorts to celebrate the Revolution were produced by bodies such as the municipality of Havana (A las madres cubanas[To Cuban mothers]) and the ministry of education (Algo más que piedra[Something more than stone]), the former...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The First Feature Films
      (pp. 144-162)

      It was in 1960 that ICAIC made its first feature films. The first to be shown, at the end of the year, though it was completed second, wasHistorias de la Revolución(Stories of the Revolution), a film made up of three episodes directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. Originally, it was intended to comprise four episodes, two by Alea and two by a director born in Spain and living in Mexico, José Miguel García Ascot, all four photographed by the Italian neorealist cinematographer Otello Martelli; Martelli’s camera operator was the son of another leading Italian neorealist, Cesare Zavattini. García Ascot’s...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Beyond Neorealism
      (pp. 163-183)

      In an interview he gave to a Peruvian film magazine toward the end of the 1960s, Julio García Espinosa spoke of the way the rapid development of the Revolution took Cuban filmmakers beyond neorealism. Even those who had madeEl Megano,he said, who had been imprisoned and gone to work in clandestinity for the overthrow of Batista’s government, had believed that they were preparing only for a multiclass government with the participation of leftists alongside the bourgeoisie, and with a national program. Nobody thought at first the outcome would actually be a socialist government—even if that is what...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Documentary in the Revolution
      (pp. 184-217)

      The historical moment of the Cuban Revolution was also, by coincidence, a period of aesthetic revolution in documentary cinema. Within the space of a few years, 16 mm, previously regarded as a substandard format like 8 mm or half-inch video today, was relaunched. Technical developments, inspired by the needs of space technology as well as television, stimulated the production of high-quality 16 mm cameras light enough to be raised on the shoulder and in due course equipped with fast lenses and film stocks that reduced or even eliminated the need for lighting. They ran quietly and could be matched with...

    • CHAPTER TEN The Revolution in the Documentary
      (pp. 218-246)

      We have seen how it came about that a generation of filmmakers emerged in Cuba in the early 1960s who were not only committed to the Revolution but also to the task of revolutionizing cinema. The very naïveté of the film culture they inherited became an elemental factor in their development. Through theconcientizaciónthat the encounter with the popular audience brought about, they found themselves questioning their own naïveté, and thus became involved in questioning the production of the image. Because of the sense of urgency that the Revolution imparted, they had to do this not so much theoretically...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Current of Experimentalism
      (pp. 247-272)

      A revolutionary cinema committed to the demystification of its medium is sooner or later bound to confront the question of the image of the hero and the revolutionary leader in all its aspects. The first to explore the image of heroism was García Espinosa inEl joven rebelde,which created an anti-militarist paradigm. The idea of heroism was to be actively deconstructed in the early 1970s by Manuel Herrera in his major documentaryGirón.At the moment when Álvarez madeHasta la victoria siemprein 1967, something different was required. The film’s very function was to eulogize the heroic revolutionary...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Four Films
      (pp. 273-304)

      Of the fiction films released by ICAIC in 1968, the most closely related to the figure of Che Guevara himself is Jorge Fraga’sLa odisea de General José.Premiered at the end of February, it was one of the first of a group of films around the theme of the hundred-years’ struggle for independence, which also includedLucíaandLa primera carga al machete,the short fictionEl desertor(The deserter) by Manuel Pérez, and two documentaries, Saderman’sHombres del mal tiempoand1868–1968by Bernabé Hernández. These films were more than a celebration of the anniversary of the...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Imperfect Cinema and the Seventies
      (pp. 305-331)

      It was at the end of the 1960s, arising from the experience ofJuan Quin Quin,that García Espinosa wrote the essayPor un cine imperfecto (For an Imperfect Cinema),a polemical reflection on the whole practice of revolutionary film, which is not only a powerful credo for Cuban cinema but one of the major theoretical statements defining the scope of the New Cinema of Latin America.¹ Much misunderstood, the essay starts off as a warning against the technical perfection that, after ten years, now began to lie within the reach of the Cuban filmmakers. Its argument, however, is more...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN One Way or Another
      (pp. 332-352)

      In 1974, Julio García Espinosa got involved with the Italian film critic Guido Aristarco in an altercation about what was going on in Cuban cinema. The occasion was the Rencontres Internationales pour un Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal, a gathering of some seventy-five radical filmmakers from all over the world, together with critics, distributors, and political activists given to using film. There were, reported John Hess in the North American film journalJump Cut,several areas of awkward political disagreement that came to light during the course of the event, especially a series of misunderstandings between European and Latin American participants...

  8. PART III New Generations:: A Cinema of Readjustment

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Reconnecting
      (pp. 355-394)

      Despite the alteration of the political climate in Cuba in the 1970s, the lessons of the Revolution’s first decade remained vigilant. According to Ambrosio Fornet, literary historian turned screenwriter:

      At the triumph of the Revolution, the first thing we found was that for the first time we had the means of disseminating our culture, that is to say, we had publishers, a Film Institute, centers of investigation—but the question was, Now that we’ve got these resources; what culture shall we disseminate? What concept of culture, what concept of the relationship between the writer, the intellectual, and the people? Because...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Return of the Popular
      (pp. 395-443)

      Shortly before becoming Alfredo Guevara’s successor as head of ICAIC, Julio García Espinosa returned to the concept of imperfect cinema:

      Just as we have to learn things even from the metropolis which is so much ahead of the underdeveloped countries, so we have to learn from their cinema too. But just as in our social aspirations we’re looking for better means of human self-fulfillment, so we have to search for the appropriate cinema. For me, the societies of the great metropolis are marked by an economy of waste, and to this economy of waste there corresponds a culture of waste....

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Wonderland
      (pp. 444-496)

      Perestroika began to destabilize the Cuban economy well before Castro declared the “Special Period in Times of Peace” in 1990, the year before the collapse of Soviet communism. In 1987, as perestroika brought unintended disruption in the USSR, Cuban imports from the Soviet Union, which had grown steadily for nearly three decades, suddenly went into reverse, and economic activity began to contract (Miami Herald, March 10, 1988). By the middle of 1988, diplomatic sources in Havana were suggesting that the differences between Gorbachev’s perestroika and Castro’s rectification were becoming deeply political, and foreign journalists reported that Castro was “out of...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 497-518)
  10. Distribution Information
    (pp. 519-520)
  11. Index of Film Titles
    (pp. 521-528)
  12. Index of Names
    (pp. 529-538)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 539-539)