Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The film about a revolution that should have revolutionized film

Before you read any more, please watch this excerpt, shot around 1962-63:

Soy cuba - procession - procesión

If that didn't make your jaw drop, then skip the rest of this post.

OK, now that it's just those of us who really love film and are intoxicated by images, you should stop reading this post and add I Am Cuba (1964) to your Netflix queue right away. This astounding film was not seen in the United States until 1992, which was a good thing for a lot of conventional filmmakers. Because if it had been seen in 1964, it would have radically changed film from thereon, bringing in ideas and images that didn't arrive until 20 or 30 years later; and then where would we be by now?

The film was a co-production between the Soviet Union and Cuban film propaganda organizations to celebrate and publicize the Cuban Revolution and foster support for it within Russia and presumably elsewhere thereafter. But they made a mistake. They sent artists to do a propagandist's job; specifically director Mikhail Kalatozov, cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, camera operator Alexander Calzatti , writers Enrique Barnet and Yevgeny Yevtushenko (yes, that Yevtushenko) and composer Carlos Fariñas. The team created a dream about Cuba, told in four slightly interlinked parts with minimal dialogue and maximum imagery packing extreme emotional content. It feels as much as if it were inventing a new visual language as some of the early work of Griffith and Eisenstein.

It wasn't seen because the Soviets found it too beautiful, too poetic. There was not enough straight-forward propaganda, and a little too much romance about pre-Revolutionary Cuba. But clearly these artists love all people, good and bad; and that is not good politics. So the film was shelved in the Soviet Union and the director died in 1970 without it ever receiving a full public airing. It started to appear on the festival circuit in the 1990's, and if you want to see it, avoid the Image Entertainment DVD and go for the Milestone version, which is restored from excellent pre-print materials with a clean Spanish track (that is, without spoken Russian translations). The Ultimate Edition even has a feature-length documentary that explains how that shot I posted above was done. But I'm not going to say--I don't believe in giving away magician's secrets!

(If you'd like to see how I Am Cuba could have influenced other film, take a look at this review at the Onion AV Club which compares a famous shot from the first sequence of the film to a similar sequence in Boogie Nights.)

No comments:

Post a Comment