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Screening Cuba

Screening Cuba: Film Criticism as Political Performance during the Cold War

Hector Amaya
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 248
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    Screening Cuba
    Book Description:

    Hector Amaya advances into new territory in Latin American and U.S. cinema studies in this innovative analysis of the differing critical receptions of Cuban film in Cuba and the United States during the Cold War. Synthesizing film reviews, magazine articles, and other primary documents, Screening Cuba compares Cuban and U.S. reactions to four Cuban films: Memories of Underdevelopment, Lucia, One Way or Another, and Portrait of Teresa._x000B__x000B_In examining cultural production through the lens of the Cold War, Amaya reveals how contrasting interpretations by Cuban and U.S. critics are the result of the political cultures in which they operated. While Cuban critics viewed the films as powerful symbols of the social promises of the Cuban revolution, liberal and leftist American critics found meaning in the films as representations of anti-establishment progressive values and Cold War discourses. By contrasting the hermeneutics of Cuban and U.S. culture, criticism, and citizenship, Amaya argues that critical receptions of political films constitute a kind of civic public behavior.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09002-8
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxiv)

    The venue for the first Festival of Cuban Film in the United States was the Olympia Theatre in New York City where, from March 24 to April 2, 1972, seven feature films and fifteen documentaries, all of which had received international prizes and acclaim, would be exhibited for the first time in the United States. The event was noteworthy not only because it marked the debut of Cuban film in U.S. theaters, but also because it signaled a potential shift in the strained cultural exchanges between Cuba and the United States. According to the film critic of theNew York...


    • Chapter 1 Cuban Culture, Institutions, Policies, and Citizens
      (pp. 3-30)

      In 1955, Italian neorealism entered full force in the political culture of Cuba. In that year, the young filmmaker Julio García Espinosa directedEl Megano,a documentary that denounced the living conditions of charcoal burners in the Zapata Swamps region. The film gained immediate fame when Cuba’s president, Fulgencio Batista, decided to seize it right after its first showing at the University of Havana. Espinosa was interrogated and set free only when he promised to bring the film to the authorities. Surrounded by a strong and independent filmmaking community organized around Nuestro Tiempo (a social and artistic group that organized...

    • Chapter 2 The Cuban Revolutionary Hermeneutics: Criticism and Citizenship
      (pp. 31-60)

      U.S. film dominated Cuban screens before 1959. This changed with the advent of the revolution. With Cuba moving away from capitalism and from American cultural products, Cuban movie theaters, to great box-office success, began substituting Hollywood fare with films from other nations and their own (Halperini 1976, 196). On December 12, 1963, the newspaperHoy,which was considered the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and was headed at the time by Blas Roca, published a critique of Fellini’sLa Dolce Vita(1960) that argued that the film could not be considered wholesome entertainment for the Cuban working...

    • Chapter 3 The U.S. Field of Culture
      (pp. 61-75)

      A huge historic fluke frames the reception of Cuban film in the United States, a fluke that gives significance to this chapter and this book. The Cuban Revolution coincided with the sixties in America, and just as the revolution shaped the culture of criticism in Cuba, the sixties deeply influenced the U.S. culture of criticism. Though in Cuba the 1960s was the decade in which the revolution showed its brightest promise, the sixties in the United States was an epoch of radical cultural changes that included changes to notions of citizenship and to ideas of freedom. I see these changes...

    • Chapter 4 U.S. Criticism, Dissent, and Hermeneutics
      (pp. 76-104)

      The rise of foreign film distribution and art house exhibition during the 1950s onward helped constitute the field of professional film criticism in America. By the 1970s and 1980s, the decades in which the Cuban films were reviewed, criticism had a defined place in the field of culture and in the film world, and so did critics. In 1973, the year that the first postrevolutionary Cuban films were distributed and exhibited in the United States,Newsweekmagazine published a small piece in which Arthur Cooper commented on the film critic as superstar (Cooper 1973, 96). Cooper was not referring to...


    • Chapter 5 Memories of Underdevelopment
      (pp. 107-124)

      Memorias del Subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment,1968), directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, develops in Havana in 1961, at a time when the nation was undergoing profound changes and just before the Missile Crisis. Sergio, an educated, middle-class, thirty-something white man has seen his family and friends leave Cuba. Left behind, almost alone (except for his friend Pablo, who continuously criticizes the social changes the revolution is bringing), Sergio walks through the city observing with melancholic interest and, at times, with disdain the altering force of the new order. Through inner monologues, the viewer learns of Sergio’s feelings of superiority. Rooted...

    • Chapter 6 Lucia
      (pp. 125-143)

      Lucia (Lucía,1968, d. Humberto Solás) is composed of three stories of three women named Lucia. “Lucia 1895” narrates the story of a wealthy, single, white, sexually conservative Cuban woman in 1895, at a time when Cubans were engaged in a war for independence from Spain. Lucía wants to marry and she is happy when a Spanish man, Rafael, begins to court her. Though Lucía’s allegiances are with the independence fighters, who include her brother, she pursues her relationship with Rafael who, lying about his romantic intentions, tricks her into giving him the location of revolutionary forces. Promptly, the the...

    • Chapter 7 One Way or Another
      (pp. 144-157)

      De Cierta Manera (One Way or Another,1977), directed by Sara Gómez, extensively mixes a fictional narrative with documentary footage and the lives of real Cubans. The narrative, which develops at the beginning of the revolution, tells the story of Mario and Yolanda as they become romantically involved. Mario, a mulatto from Havana’s poor shantytown, faces challenges at work because of his relationship to Humberto (Mario Limonta), who has asked Mario to lie on his behalf so that he can justify a lengthy work absence. Humberto is having an affair with a woman who lives in another city. Mario is...

    • Chapter 8 Portrait of Teresa
      (pp. 158-178)

      Retrato de Teresa (Portrait of Teresa,1979), directed by Pastor Vega, narrates the story of Teresa, a textile worker, wife, and mother of three, whose political and work commitments produce a rift between her and her husband, Ramón. He becomes increasingly resentful at Teresa’s after-hours engagements that include leading a dance troupe organized by the union. Arguing that she is not fulfilling her roles as wife and mother, Ramón convinces Teresa to take a leave of absence from work. Pressured by the union leaders, who argue Teresa’s skills as leader are required for the dance troupe to succeed at the...

  7. Conclusion Film Criticism in Cuba and the United States
    (pp. 179-196)

    The goal of this study has been to understand the politicized critical reception ofMemories of Underdevelopment, Lucia, One Way or Another,andPortrait of Teresain two national/cultural contexts (Cuba and the United States) and relate this reception to the performance of political identities. I have taken this approach because it allows me to tie together the cultural, epistemic, and institutional conditions of the production of criticism together with its actual textual traces: the review. The conditions for the production of criticism provide the staging cues to the social actor, the critic, to carry on her/his political role. I...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 197-200)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-214)
  10. Index
    (pp. 215-222)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-224)