ESSAY IN PROGRESS
Andy Garcia's Thoughtcrime
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 tearing apart a movie 16 years in the making, which Garcia both directed and stars in. In this engaging drama of a middle-class Cuban family crumbling during free Havana's last days, Garcia insisted on depicting some historical truth about Cubaa 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.
"Where did Garcia get this preposterous notion of pre-Castro Cuba as a relatively prosperous but politically troubled place?" ask the critics. All the Cubans he portrays seem to come from the middle class. "Where in his movie is the tsunami of stooped and starving peasants that carried Fidel and Che into Havana on its 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 has seriously jolted the Mainstream Media's fantasies and hallucinations of pre-Castro Cuba, Che, Fidel, and Cubans in general. In consequence, the critics are unnerved and disoriented and their annoyance and scorn are spewing forth in review after review. "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 middleand especially, upperclass. 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 ignored 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 reasonÑor 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 clichd falsehoods still parroted 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 fails to focus on the poverty-stricken workers whose plight lit the fires of revolution," complains Rex Reed in the New York Observer.
Here's a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) report on Cuba circa 1957 that dispels the fantasies of pre-Castro Cuba still cherished by America's most prestigious academics and its most learned film critics: "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 1933five 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 until 30 years later.
Cuba, a country 71% 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. 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. Whoever 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. 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 too "complex" for a film critic to grasp. They prefer cliches and fantasies of revolution. 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 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 seein all their splendorthe Mainstream Media's thundering and apparently incurable ignorance on all matters Cuban.
May 1, 2006
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