Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cuba and the Tree of Knowledge

My whole life, I've listened to the pros and cons of Cuba, Castro, and the Cuban Revolution. Paying attention to conflicting worldviews is a little like plucking from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of course, plenty of artistic types have been tempted to make something out of Cuba and its "example" for the world. Given that today is filmmaker Richard Lester's birthday (he's 76), now is as good a time as any to trot out three outsider films trying to sort out some of Cuba's complexity. All of them are B movies -- if there's an outsider's Cuban movie masterpiece, I've yet to see it.

Note: I like all three directors.

Topaz (1969, based on the Leon Uris novel) -- Alfred Hitchcock. Erik's Choice: B-
Cuba (1979) -- Richard Lester.
Erik's Choice: B+
Havana (1990) -- Sydney Pollack. Erik's Choice: B

All three films use the same device: outsider man comes to Cuba, finds an imperilled (and alluring) flame caught up in Cuban turmoil, comes to some knowledge about the nature of good and evil, and finally must choose among difficult options. Not exactly the Adam and Eve story, but close enough.

Cuba has the advantage of featuring Sean Connery in good form, with Brooke Adams as Alexandra Lopez de Pulido, Cuban insider. Dernholm Elliot and Martin Balsam provide extra entertainment. Even now, I can picture Balsam as one of Batista's generals, driving over parking meters, stealing every last coin he can get his hands on.

Topaz plays like a low rent James Bond film. Watching it now gives the viewer a glimpse into the inanities of Cold War distortions. The Cubans are cartoonish villains, the acting worthy of a second rate TV movie. Still, Topaz has its moments, features "Bond girl" Karin Dor as Cuban double agent Juanita de Cordoba and the Cuban Missile Crisis as backdrop. (Incidentally, I wish XTC's "Living Through Another Cuba" was available on YouTube . . .)

Finally, there's Pollack's Havana. In this one, Robert Redford plays the outsider (who frequents Cuba's famed casinos); Lena Olin plays Roberta Duran, wife of a Cuban revolutionary and the Redford character's love interest. Alan Arkin also plays a part in the shenanigans. Not bad, but proceeds at an almost torpid pace.

Ultimately, these three outsider films about Cuba are interesting, but not as compelling as ones I've seen made by insiders. At the end of the day, whereas Topaz paints the Cuban Revolution as evil (and banal), Cuba and Havana are more empathetic.

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.

Hasta La Vista!


Charles Gramlich said...

Haven't seen these.

Johnny Yen said...

A friend put it in perspective. Whatever Castro's and his regime's faults, compare the last 50 years of Cuba to the last fifty years of Guatemala. No comparison. Guatemala was a charnel house and is still reeling from the brutal right-wing dictatorships that wiped out whole populations of indigenous people. When Castro is gone, I think that Cuba will become a prosperous, peaceful place. I think, ironically, it compares to Spain's Franco-- he was a dictator but put the infrastructure for democracy in place.

I learned an interesting fact reading Tad Szulc's bio of Castro years ago: Castro's father and Franco grew up near one another in Spain. I think that the old spanish caudillo, the "godfather" was a model for both men, one right, one left.

Erik Donald France said...

Johnny -- great comparisons that make sense. Cool.

Dr.evil said...

I'd rather have Castro as our president than Dubya.

Jilly said...

You forgot Red Zone Cuba (MST3K).


Erik Donald France said...

Dr. Evil -- I'd rather have Castro as dictator than Bush, but I'd prefer Castro to step down rather than be like a Supreme Court justice who hangs around too long. He should have held elections for a successor a long time ago. As for Bush, I'm counting down the days. . .

Jilly, that one looks priceless ;)