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Almodóvar, A Filmmaker Without Borders / Miguel Iturria Savón

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Sunday, October 17, the All of Almodóvar cycle presented at the Chaplin Room of the Cinematheque Board of Cuba ended; it had from from the first Friday at 2:00 and 6:00 PM with a different film each day, and was the largest showing of the Spanish filmmaker in Havana, where he is known for its controversial approach to subject of homosexuals and the desecration of institutions like the Catholic Church and issues that are taboo in his country, though his dramas and comedies are not an argument against Spain nor the human race, but a reflexive and implausible game that invites viewers to joyful entertainment.

Pedro Almodóvar, who has created his films to suit himself is an icon of contemporary cinema, controversial and protean, loved and demonized, provocative and essential. The aesthetic development of his achievements marked a before and after in the seventh art in Spain and Latin America, where his films fascinate with their musical selections, the use of melodrama and lack of inhibition of human conflict in their stories, especially for shunned characters, recreated in all their nuances, miseries and attractions.

Almodóvar’s narrative pulse and atmosphere present embodiments of the decade of the eighties and nineties and early 2000s, surprising hundreds of moviegoers waiting for this all-encompassing show. Between old and new deliveries we enjoyed: What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984), for which Carmen Maura won acting awards; Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (1989), with Antonio Banderas; All About My Mother (1999), which received the Cannes Award, the FIPRESCI Award for best film and Oscar for best foreign film; Talk to Her (2002), an Oscar winner for best screenplay, music and Golden Globe for best foreign film; Bad Education (1995), nominated for the Goya and Oscar; and Broken Embraces (2009), a story dominated by fate, jealousy, betrayal and a guilt complex, very well received by critics and nominated for a Golden Globe and Goya.

Also shown were: Labyrinth of Passion (1982), Dark Habits (1983), Law of Desire and Matador (1986), High Heels (1991), Kika (1993), Live Flesh (1997), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1998), The Flower of My Secret, Return (2006) and Pepi, Lucy, Bom and Other Girls On The Heap.

If in the satirical melodrama Dark Habits, based on a play by Jean Genet, Almodóvar satirized to the Catholic Church, in Matador, as controversial and criticized as the previous attacks on the bullfighting art, he introduced the story of a retired bullfighter who begins a series of sex crimes.

More refreshing and better artistically were High Heels and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. In High Heels, a famous singer returns to Madrid after a long stay in America and discovers that her daughter, played by Victoria Abril, is marrying her former lover, which unravels longings and passions, punctuated by music and transvestism. In Women, considered an excellent gallery of outcasts, he also used musical melodrama and comedy.

Smiles and reflections greeted: The Flower of My Secret, one of his best dramas; the multiple prize-winning All About My Mother; The Labyrinth of Passion and gay-themed dramas Law of Desire and Bad Education.

Of greater human depth and artistic excellence are both, Live Flesh, based on the novel by Ruth Rendell; Talk to Her and Return. In the first, three men who meet in the residence of a diplomat in Madrid, are marked for the rest of their lives on setting of a brawl that leaves one of them in a wheelchair and the others in jail. The second recreates a chance encounter between two strangers who harmonize elsewhere in extreme circumstances. Return is a film of women, performed by notable actresses: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cruz, Chus Lampreave and Cuban Maria Isabel Diaz.

And speaking of the “Almodóvar Girls” we note, finally, that the autumn enjoyment of this season of the Spanish director’s films, focused in the Chaplin Room as many females as Knights Templar of transvestism.

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From the Mirror to the Vacuum / Miguel Iturria Savón

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

 

In 1992, at the conclusion of a conference on the writer José María Chacón y Calvo in the Office of the Historian of the City, during the symposium conducted by the Provincial Directorate of Culture, they gave me two tomes on the economic thought of Ernesto Guevara, one of the commanders of the guerrillas led by Castro, who was named as Chairman of the Central Bank and Minister of Industry for the Revolutionary Government before he went to the jungles of Africa and then Bolivia, to expand his communist ideas.

As the books seemed like a joke to me I left them on the table, but one of the organizers insisted on giving them to me; I had to tell him they weren’t originals, because Che was not an economist nor did he have time to write such pamphlets.

I suppose the scene has been repeated for decades, because each year the Cuban publishers discover and publish “unpublished” libels attributed to the guerrilla, as well as biographies about his life and work, leaving aside, of course, the black legend of his crimes, his ineffectiveness as a government official and his military failures in Africa and Bolivia, where he intended to establish dictatorships similar to that of his partners in Cuba, who have justified their long tenure in power for half a century with little anecdotes of freedom, the blockade and other myths.

Books, films, articles, photographs, key chains, shirts, posters and radio and TV media make up the arsenal that supports this mythologized boutique hero, fabricated by the historians and the media in Cuba with the complicity of the liberal press of the United States and the Left in Europe and Latin America, whose greed knows no limits or shame.

In overestimating the likes of Guevara, the Castros or Hugo Chavez, the media affiliates itself with totalitarianism. Like those pre-Columbian Incas who worshiped the dead to enslave the living, the architects of the socialist propaganda distort the truth and legitimize anti-democratic dictatorships.

Faced with such manipulation it would be worth viewing the film Che: The Other Side of an Idol, by Cuban filmmaker Agustin Blazquez, who offered the testimony of some victims of the Argentine guerrilla, who shot scores of people on occupying the city of Santa Clara, as well as hundreds of soldiers of the former regime in the Cabaña Fort, where he ordered summary executions, without lawyers or witnesses, and collective trials with disproportionate sentences.

That Che was a Marxist and true to his ideals is fine; that he committed errors and made arbitrary decisions during the war, also fine; but to portray him as a humanist, liberator and Christian is a mockery of the guerrilla, who rejected the respect of his  worshipers in a letter to his mother from a prison in Mexico: “I am not Christ nor a philanthropist, I am quite the opposite of Christ. I fight for things that I believe in with every weapon at my disposal and try to kill the other so that he won’t nail me to any cross…”

Guevara was perhaps more honest than his Caribbean bosses and lacked the time to become corrupt and cling to power, because he left the island in 1965 in search of new adventures; which does not absolve him of the excesses of the Castro regime because his time in government posts helped destroy the Cuban economy and industry, which has subsequently been marked by improvisation, irresponsibility and extortion of workers.

Those who sanctify the guerilla who disappeared in 1968 ignore the testimony of his pride, arrogance and contempt for the lives of animals and people. They forget the participation of Guevara in Sovietizing Cuba. This architect of the violence nurtured in Moscow managed to install nuclear missiles on our island and when they were withdrawn he confirmed to the British journalist Sam Russell: “If the missiles had remained in Cuba, we would have used them against the very heart of the United States including New York City. ”

Every time I recall the overdose of images, books and speeches about the past of this protagonist what comes to my mind is the puppy killed on his orders, and the hundreds of useless sacrifices he ordered. I think, then, of his passage from the mirror to the vacuum, when the chaos of those who created him ceases.

Descending the Pyramid / Miguel Iturria Savón

October 17, 2010 Leave a comment

From all sides comes the news of layoffs in Cuba, some with the illustrious names and surnames of officials who rose to the top of the pyramid of power, where at times they renew the loyalties and new figures swear fidelity and allegiance to the gerontocracy perched on the top of the triangle.

Some days ago, a note in the newspaper Granma, and read on National Television News, railed against Yadira Garcia, replaced as Minister of Basic Industries, the agency in charge of sectors such as nickel, petroleum, cement and electricity.

The illustrious lady was appointed five years ago, following the exploits of her predecessor, a man named Marcos Portal, married to a niece of Commander-in-Chief, but with the reputation of a pragmatic and modern technocrat. No one commented on the incident; who cares about the ups and downs of the roller coaster?

We know that in the crowded roster of the Cuban bureaucracy officials compete for the favors of the despot; the more they humble themselves they more they receive, surviving in office or ascending to a higher position; which is obvious if we start from the immobility at the heights of the kingdom.

Among the highest and most subservient officials there is no shortage of females; some have already gone to a better life; others continue fighting it out administratively. Among the most famous ladies appear several guests of the Olive Green Inferno and Paradise, like Celia Sanchez Manduley, lover and secretary of the Commander-in-Chief, Vilma Espin Guillois, the now deceased wife of General Castro; Melba Hernandez and the suicide Haydee Santa Maria, wives the distinguished Jesus Montane Oropesa and Armando Hart Dávalos respectively.

Thus, between “the history of struggle” and undershorts of the husband — or lover — these women traveled from the top to death in decision-making positions in the chronology of despotism. Around Celia was spun the legend of benefactress of the poor and guardian of the roles of the Maximum Leader. She must have been in the habit of asking and “denouncing the evil done.” There are still the naive who write to the Council of State, as if to Saint Celia, who died in January 1980, could meet their demands.

To our knowledge, the ascents of Yadira García differed and converged with the mentioned guerrillas; principally in her struggles with the seductive Commander in Chief, fascinated by her charms when she was studying engineering. Indiscreet officials count on “loyalty to the leader,” an amatory vocation and a passion for the great tasks of the courtesan. Thus, Yadira, like other famous ousted ones, rose from the Federation of University Students to the Bureau of the Communist Youth and thence to the Party Central Committee, which named her First Secretary in Matanzas and later Ideological Secretary, a kind of Ministry of Truth of the regime.

I suspect that her subordinates in Basic Industry will not be surprised, because in Matanzas she already got her comeuppance when she was leading the region. They had to replace her in 2000 following the uncovering of corruption in Varadero, but the Commander appointed her head of the “Battle for the Rescue of Elian,” and then consecrated her Minister. Maybe she will now re-emerge, like a phoenix, as she doesn’t lack experience, is attractive and wants to survive.

I think the daily Granma should not rail against the ladies and gentlemen who descend the pyramid of power. It would be better to say goodbye, thank you and good luck in the basement, where they join the legion of poor people who struggle every day without cars, mansions and money, like the old Mao Zedong when he led China, an ally of our Olive-Green Little Gods.

An Obsolete Argument

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

 

Cartoon: Soon you will recover from unemployment and we can return to uncertainty.

Unemployment is the topic of conversation in thousands of Cuban homes, the layoff plan like a bird of ill omen in the minds of half a million people who will be thrown in the streets by the end of 2010, plunging into uncertainty even the elderly retirees, who worry about the fate of a son or daughter who will hang up their gloves and lose their salary.

Not least because the layoffs announced by the government will reach one million three hundred thousand, although gradually, in three stages, with the Union supporting the State employer and without any rights to strike, prohibited since 1959.

Although the granting of permits to engage in self-employment in dozens of rural and urban occupants has been announced as a palliative, uncertainties remain. Some wonder: who will make the initial investment in a country were almost everyone depends on a state salary?

Many doubt the intentions of the bureaucracy to, in fact, authorize the new trades. They remember that three hundred thousand Cubans agreed to start their own business in 1994, and had to abandon them in the fast of a government offensive against the self-employed, besieged by an army of inspectors and by the impossibility of acquiring raw materials, destined for the network of state workplaces.

The most cynical believe that the government is looking for a way to get out of its predicament while avoiding public disorder. How can you trust them if just two years ago every workplace had to analyze General Raul Castro’s speech that denigrated the self-employed and lambasted them for the diversion of resources?

There are answers from all sides, some completely childish, like those elderly who are unable to retrain themselves to understand the reality. These people put an end to the household gossip, saying, “The Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 was necessary,” and “private property is the cause of exploitation,” or, “collectivism fails because of the egotism of a handful the shameless.”

I heard the last straw yesterday at the home of a friend who worked as an electrician at the West Indian Steel, in southeast Havana, where the layoffs will affect 500 workers by the end of 2010, although this metal monster already dropped four thousand workers between the late eighties and 2006.

The friend and his father-in-law were speaking calmly about the subject, when the old man recalled that he was the union leader at West Indian Steel and he knows that behind the problems of that country is the long arm of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Faced with such a long arm, my friend smiled.

Maybe he’s right, with the eloquence of an ostrich… But the elderly who wield childish arguments to justify the unjustifiable have nothing to contribute to the changes looming on the horizon in Cuba.

The Validity of our Anthem / Miguel Iturria Savón

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Since 1980, Cubans have celebrated 20 October as National Culture Day, in evocation of a local date of warrior exaltation, the triumphal entry of the small Bayamo Liberation Army, centered around the planter Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who on 10 October 1868 gave freedom to the slaves of his sugar mill and proclaimed the beginning of the struggle for the independence of Cuba.

As the colonial regiment commanded by Julian Udaeta surrendered before the cheering citizens, supporters of independence, Céspedes and his followers celebrated the victory in the Plaza of the Parish Church with a ceremony and a festive conga for the people.

At that time, Pedro Figueredo Cisneros distributed the verses of The Bayamesa, whose music and lyrics he had composed in the previous year with the help of his wife, the poet Isabel Vazquez, upon request of the illustrious Francisco Maceo Osorio, who later was the assistant Carlos Manuel de Cespedes along with Figueredo.

It has been said that amid the euphoria, the creator and Bayamese patriot improvised lyrics about his horse to sing in chorus for the first time, but the testimonies of his contemporaries reveal that music and the verses were known by many conspirators who had kept silent for their own safety. Perucho, they called Peter Figueredo, played the score at home to dozens of trusted friends and entrusted the orchestration of the piece to the maestro Manuel Muñoz Cedeño, who first performed it publicly in the main parish on the occasion of Corpus Christi, in the presence of the priest Diego José Baptista and the aforementioned Julian Udaeta, military governor of Bayamo, which faulted the instrumentalists for the subversive nature of the march.

The Bayamo Anthem, played on 20 October 1868 and published on 22 and 27 of that month and year in The Free Cuban, embedded itself in the minds of the independence fighters, who often sang it in combat or to start sessions of the House of Representatives, a sort of parliament in the jungle.

Although José Martí praised what happened on that October 20, 1868 and reproduced in Patria the stanzas of the Bayamo Anthem, in June 1892, and on January 21 and October 4, 1893, it was the Constituent Assembly in November 1900 which declared it a national symbol.

In October we commemorate other historic ephemera, such as the discovery of America – 12 October 1492 – and the arrival of Christopher Columbus on our shores days later, an event of great significance for the encounters of peoples and cultures, and international mobility that erupted between Europe and the so-called West Indies.

More than a fact of cultural consequence, the evocations of October 10 and 20, 1868, signals the warrior affinity of those who rule the island like those Captain Generals appointed by the Spanish overlords until 1898.

The story gallops in the memory of the people, but does not model the culture, it complements it. We will have to rewrite the story of war, unilateral and simplistic, that creates myths and masks the oppression. Today, as in 1868, the stanzas of the Bayamo Anthem, turned into the National Anthem, represent a dilemma of our reality, but no one calls to combat nor thinks about guns. Is it that we fear a “glorious death” or that we have gotten used to “living with shame and ignominy”?



Translator’s Addition:

A Poet of “Sumptuous Sensuality”

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Like Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Camaguey, 1814-Madrid, 1873), the great poet, essayist and journalist Gaston Baquero Díaz (Banes, Holguin, 1918 – Madrid, 1997) moved between Cuba and Spain, where he went in March 1959, when the revolution toppled the social pyramid to which his talent had elevated him, despite poverty and racial prejudice. Unlike Madam Gertrudis, who triumphed in Spain and was then became known on the island, Gaston was a goldsmith of letters and a character in the press at the time he abandoned the tropics. For him, Spain was the great stage, the ultimate creative landing stage.

Gastón Baquero belonged to the Origins generation, centered around José Lezama Lima, Eliseo Diego, Fina García Marruz, Cintio Vitier, Gaztelu and other writers of memorable work, united by their creative diversity and art as an essential reason.He began its intense cultural activity in the thirties, despite graduating as an agronomist and sugar chemist. He wrote poems, articles, essays and translated authors from English and French, such as T. E. Eliot, P. Valery, H. Aldmgton and G. Santayana. His first poems and writings have appeared in Havana newspapers and magazines: Social, Verbum, Baraguá, Grafos, Espuela de Plata, Revista Cubana, Orbe, Clavileño, Poeta, América and the celebrated Origins. From 1945 he worked as Chief Editor of the Journal of the Navy, where he wrote the sections “Panorama” and “Compass Needle.”

The poems “Park” and “Dead Girl” announce his adolescent precocity, but the significance of Baquero begins with the poignant Words Written in the Sand for an Innocent (1942), although he had published decenas such as “Federico García Lorca” “Sonnets of Death“, “Song“, “Adam in Paradise” and others included by Cintio Vitier in Ten Cuban Poets (1948), which include “Prelude to a Mask,” “The Knight, the Devil and Death” and “Testament of the Fish,” well-regarded by the critics. And evoking this luminous stage, María Zambrano said, “that the sumptuous richness of life, the delusions of the substance are first that the void …” Hence, he highlighted in the intuitive and precocious poet the “sumptuous sensuality” of his poems.

Before these anthology texts Baquero released Poems of Another Time (1937-1944), including “Sing the Lark at Heaven’s Door“, “Cassandra” and some which were not reissued; they remain bright and airy creations, which will diminish with his entry into professional journalism and public activities.

Gaston Baquero’s Spanish stage, marked by the industrious scriptural silence and some intellectual ostracism despite working at the Institute of Hispanic Culture and for Radio Exterior of Spain, he was prolific in journalism and literature. This period corresponds Poems Written in Spain (1960), Memorial of a Witness (1966), Spells and Investments (1984), Invisible Poems (1991), Autoanthology (1992), and the essays Hispanic Writers of Today (1961), The Development of Marxism in Latin America (1966), Dario, Cernuda and Other Poetic Themes (1969), Indians, Blacks and Whites in the Cauldron of America (1991), Approaching Dulce Maria Loynaz (1993), The Inexhaustible Source (1995) and two volumes of his poems and essays prepared by Alfonso Ortega Carmona and Alfredo Pérez Alencart and edited by the Hispanic Foundation.

His vast work is barely known in Cuba, where his name was removed from the publishing world for extra-literary reasons, until 1999 when Efraín Rodríguez Santana, who received a scholarship in Hispanic studies and gained the confidence of the author in Madrid, published the anthology Gastón Baquero The Sonorous Homeland of Fruit, which contains much of his verse, a Bibliography and an Appendix on his life and work, with texts by Eugenio Florit, Emilio Ballagas, Lezama Lima, Cintio Vitier, Fina García Marruz, Eliseo Diego , Francisco Brines, Jose Kozer, Pius E. Serrano, Felipe Lázaro and others.

The postmortem tribute brought young artists back to the great lyricist, described by Lezama Lima as a sonorous poet “with an incorruptible vocation,” living in “the house of poetry.” Other members of the Origins group shed light on the poet from Banes. To Cintio Vitier, “the mulatto with the face of an African prince,” was a “stunning island behind the fog”, who “oscillates between life and imagination, between emotion and invention, between poetry and the person.”

Critics and supporters of Gaston Baquero carved out the universal coordinates of his poems and literary reviews, which reflect his philosophical and aesthetic principles, marked by eloquence, conjurers of death, Catholicism as a vocation, fantasy and culture, and the premise of the poem as a legitimate character of poetic creation.

As Gaston noted that one should have the courage, at the end of the road, to keep two or three poems representative of the intention he had to write, I will say which I would choose as his fabulous legacy. For the reader, I am sure that the transcendent journey, the rescue of the city, and the poetic play with history, will encourage you to go in pursuit of his verses.  My choices are these:
* Words Written in the Sand for the Innocent.
* Testament of the Fish.
* Brandenburg 1526

The Idiots’ Dinner / Miguel Iturria Savón

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Two signs about 30 inches wide by six feet long were displayed by state officials in many offices and shopping centers in Havana and in other cities in Cuba. They both have the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) logo. One says: “Caring for the neighborhood, vigilant and united”; and the other says, “Combative and united with the Fatherland.”

These signs are dedicated the “official holiday” for the fiftieth anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, founded by Fidel Castro on September 28, 1962. His purpose was to persecute, betray and control the enemies of his government, then understood as collaborators of the former regime, but later expanded to include anyone suspected of speaking out against the decisions of the Maximum Leader.

From the outset, the CDR became a kind of Neighborhood Inquisition, with a management structure at national, provincial and municipal levels, in turn subdivided into Zones, urban blocks and rural villages; all ready to expose a neighbor, shout slogans, assign tasks and carry out the many directives and orders that might occur to the government mandarins and the single party.

For half a century the history of this grassroots organization has had a record of vileness impossible to calculate. Through it, many things became widespread: coercion at home, collective snitching, the “secret operational work of the police,” surveillance of the neighbors, family distrust, the mobilization of the people to mass political rallies, agriculture, health campaigns, acts of repudiation, and support for the so-called People’s Power elections.

With the CDRs the Castro regime acquired a “flexible entity” of unquestionable auxiliary value. Perhaps the secret purpose of its creation at a time of social disintegration was to make the people accomplices and hostages of their own repression and to harness them to “Revolutionary tasks.” This organization, decimated but visible, marked the lives of millions of Cubans, who still depend on the “endorsement” or “good opinion” of the president of their block’s CDR to obtain a local position, a job as a custodian or a grocer.

To not belong to the CDR is a challenge that inscribes your name in bold type on the political police blacklist. Whoever says “No” when they knock on the door falls out of favor, however much of a “combatant” they may have been, however virtuous or humane. Failure to pay your CDR dues or to attend their worthless meetings is equivalent to untying the strings of the lackluster Revolutionary fanfare, whose icons continue on despite the passage of time, along with the police reports and the dependence of thousands of unfortunates who felt important before “the call of the Fatherland.”

The CDRs are as discredited as the  Cuban Workers Center (CTC), the only labor union allowed, the Federation of Cuban Women, the Association of Combatants, and other organizations that move no one, but which play a role in the bureaucratic structure of a regime that came to power in the name of freedom and eliminated all the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Now that the government is dismissing half a million people, the CDR leaders will explain the need for a “labor adjustment” as if they were idiots invited to the table of power. Many will eat the soup on the 27th, waiting for the 28th, with their hands in their pockets wondering when they will return to work. Perhaps with the help of the CDR, that takes care of the neighborhood, “combative, vigilant and united for the Fatherland,” just like in 1962.  Congratulations!