Castro’s Cuba and the film critics

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Andy Garcia in The Lost City

If you’ve never heard of Andy Garcia’s 2005 film The Lost City, there’s a good reason. The movie – which Garcia produced, directed, and starred in, and which he spent 16 years trying to get off the ground – was rejected by the Hollywood studios, snubbed by the film festivals, savaged by the mainstream media, and banned in several Latin American countries.

Why? Because it actually presented a historically accurate picture of pre- and post-revolutionary Cuba – a picture utterly at odds with the images proffered for the last half century by Castro’s propaganda and embraced by useful stooges in the American news media, academy, and entertainment industry.

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Humberto Fontova

In a 2006 article and his 2013 book The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro, exiled Cuban writer Humberto Fontova took on the movie’s cockeyed critics. Among them was Stephen Holden of the New York Times, who called Garcia’s picture an “ode to the Havana of pre-Communist Cuba” and mockingly claimed that, in the film’s view, “life sure was peachy before Fidel Castro came to town and ruined everything.”

Nonsense: as one Cuban exile commented at the Amazon page for The Lost City, “The film makes no bones about the need to remove the (then) dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista but also unequivocally shows that what happened next was far worse for all involved.”

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Stephen Holden

Ridiculing Garcia’s focus on Havana’s “posh pre-revolution nightlife” and the relative invisibility of the “impoverished masses of Cubans who embraced Castro as a liberator,” Holden sneered that the film’s political dialogue was “of the junior high-school variety.” Fontova’s reply: “It’s Holden’s education on the Cuban revolution that’s of the junior high-school variety.” In fact The Lost City was written by Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1929-2005), a former Castro supporter who went into exile in the U.K. in 1965 – in other words, a man who knew a good deal more about Cuba than Stephen Holden does. Garcia, also born in Cuba, emigrated with his parents to Miami when he was a boy; he, too, knows more about Cuba than Holden does.

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Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Holden also sneered at what he called the film’s “buffoonish parodies of sour Communist apparatchiks barking orders” – his implication apparently being that the henchmen of Castro’s revolution couldn’t possibly have been so…well, so unpleasant. Fontova’s reply put Holden in his place: “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.”

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Michael Atkinson

But Holden wasn’t alone. Among the many other critics who ignorantly disputed the film’s historical accuracy (don’t worry: we won’t catalog all of them) was the Village Voice‘s Michael Atkinson. For him, The Lost City was “a pro-old-guard, anti-revolutionary elegy – —like a rumba-inflected Gone With the Wind.” (Note the twisted comparison of Castro’s revolution, which enslaved millions, to the Union victory in the U.S. Civil War, which freed millions of slaves.) The film, complained Atkinson, “bemoans the loss of easy wealth for a precious few. Poor people are absolutely absent; Garcia and Infante seem to have thought that peasant revolutions happen for no particular reason – or at least no reason the moneyed 1 percent should have to worry about.”

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Castro, Guevara, and their revolutionary comrades

Fontova’s reply: “What’s absolutely absent is Mr. Atkinson’s knowledge about the Cuba Garcia depicts in his movie. His crack about that ‘moneyed one per cent’ and especially his ‘peasant revolution’ epitomize the clichéd idiocies still parroted by the media about Cuba.” In fact, half a century of Castro propaganda to the contrary, the Cuban Revolution was no peasant uprising; it was engineered by students, engineers, and the like who belonged to the middle and upper classes. Aside from Castro’s own PR, as Fontova points out, most Americans’ major source of information about pre-revolutionary Cuba is the movie Godfather II, which erroneously depicts Batista as a U.S. puppet and his country a combination workhouse for the poor and playground for local billionaires and American mobsters.

More tomorrow. 

Robert Redford: glamorizing totalitarians

rrSince starting this site, we’ve talked about several of Hollywood’s most reprehensible stooges. But we’ve given short shrift to Robert Redford.

He’s been acting since 1960. He was the #1 money-making star for three years in a row in the 1970s; he’s won an Oscar for best director; he’s a top film producer; and he’s the founder and head honcho of the highly influential Sundance Film Festival.

In short, he’s got power. And he uses it. How? To churn out shrill propaganda films that betoken useful stoogery of the first order.

lionsTake The Milagro Beanfield War, a 1988 tale of heroic Mexican peasants and evil U.S. landowners – directed by Redford and starring John Heard – that was breathtakingly cliche-ridden and one-dimensional. Or Lions for Lambs (2007), a numbing talkfest about the War on Terror, directed by Redford and starring him, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise, that the left-wing Guardian‘s reviewer Peter Bradshaw called a “muddled and pompous” dose of “fence-sitting liberal agony” and “injured sensitivity” that “gives liberalism such a bad name that on leaving the cinema, I felt like going out and getting a nude study of [right-wing editor] Norman Podhoretz tattooed on my inner thigh.”

The_Company_You_Keep_posterThen there’s The Company You Keep (2013), also helmed by Redford, which glamorized several aging former members of the Weather Underground, a Vietnam-era Maoist group that sought to bring down the U.S. with bombings, killings, kidnappings, mass imprisonment, and “re-education.” (The ex-terrorists were played by Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, and Redford himself.) Striking what the New York Times‘s Stephen Holden called “a scrupulously ethical balance in contemplating domestic terrorism” (what’s that supposed to mean?), the film was a morally reprehensible exercise in nostalgia for the ideologically rooted violence that marked “The Sixties” at their very worst. Redford freely admitted that back in the day he’d sympathized with this crew of creeps; after seeing the movie, Peter Collier, himself a recovered left-wing radical, asked a pointed question: “Weatherman was always radical, but how did it become chic? How did this group—proudly totalitarian in its day—get mainstreamed without ever having to undergo denazification? Why has it been allowed a rehabilitation without evincing at least a token of remorse?”

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The Weather Underground in its heyday

Deploring the film in the New York Post as a “rose-colored hagiography of bloodstained killers” that “defiles the memory of all those victimized by left-wing militants on American soil,” Michelle Malkin recalled the couple on whose story the movie was loosely based: 

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Boudin’s mug shot

In 1981, rich-kid Weathermen ideologues and lovers Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert joined forces with Black Liberation Army thugs and other ragtag commie revolutionaries to hold up an armored Brink’s vehicle in Nyack, NY….Two of the victims gunned down in the botched Brink’s robbery were police officers; one, a private security guard. All were veterans from working-class backgrounds….

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Boudin receives an academic award

Boudin and Gilbert were convicted and sent to prison. Prior to her arrest, she had been an 11-year fugitive from justice after an accidental homemade bomb explosion at her New York City townhouse resulted in the death of three people….Boudin was paroled in 2003 after convincing the parole board that she acted nobly out of “white guilt” to protest racism against blacks. Never mind that Waverly Brown was black.

Boudin, by the way, is now a professor in the School of Social Work at Columbia University; in 2013 she was also a Scholar-in-Residence at NYU Law School. (The useful stooges take care of one another.) 

These, then, are the kind of monsters whom Redford glamorizes in his films. Oh, and let’s not forget Che Guevara. We’ll get around to him next time.

South of the border

We’ve met some of the corrupt characters who made up Hugo Chávez‘s inner circle – most of whom are today part of (or very close to) the government of Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro.

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Hugo Chávez

A few months after Chávez’s 2013 death, the consequences of his and his cronies’ corruption were deftly described in the British Spectator by James Bloodworth. Under the headline “Venezuela: a shining example of how not to help the poor,” he summed up these leeches’ dubious achievement:

While Brazil is on the verge of global power status…15 years of “21st century socialism” has left Venezuela with one of the world’s “highest inflation rates, worst misalignment of the exchange rate, fastest-growing debt, and one of the most precipitous drops in productive capacity,” according to former Venezuelan minister Moises Naim. The country is also a more dangerous place to live than Iraq….

The real shame is that Hugo Chávez is no longer around to witness the Venezuelan masses pay for his government’s idiocy.

Michael Moynihan, writing last year in the Daily Beast, had a few questions for Western chavistas. To begin with: how would they react if the U.S. president, say, arrested an opposition leader, or shut off the Internet in politically unreliable cities, or had demonstrators murdered, or jailed a judge who ruled against his intelligence operations? How long would Americans allow their president “to run up massive inflation?” Or:

How long would it be considered reasonable – and not the president’s responsibility – to preside over 23,000 murders in a country of just under 30 million people, a rate that would horrify the average resident of Baghdad? How long could supermarket shelves remain bare of basic staples like bread and milk before The Nation or The Guardian would gleefully decide that America was a failed, kleptocratic state? Or if Bush or Obama’s economic policies meant that toilet paper could no longer be found on the open market?

Every word, as they say, is true. And then some. Yet there’s been no shortage of “cheerleaders” (as Bloodworth put it) willing to set the facts aside and sing the praises of what Bloodworth (quite properly) calls Chávez’s “clownish revolution.”

Consider these excerpts from a piece that ran on CNN’s website, no less, after the caudillo’s death:

Hugo Chávez was beloved by millions around the world. He changed the course of a continent and led a collective awakening of a people once silenced, once exploited and ignored. Chávez was a grandiose visionary and a maker of dreams.

An honest man from a humble background ….Chávez dreamed of building a strong, sovereign nation, independent of foreign influence and dignified on the world scene. He dreamed of improving the lives of his people…

President Chávez made those dreams come true.

The author concludes by recalling a statement by Chávez to the effect that he was “just a soldier.” Her comment:

Yes, Chávez, you are a soldier, a glorious soldier of a dignified, proud and kind people. And you are a maker of dreams for millions around the world.

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Eva Golinger

The piece – with its over-the-top, Pyongyang-style encomia for the Dear Leader, its mastery of the good old Stalinist cult-of-personality style – precisely exemplifies the kind of rhetoric about Chávez that his own regime promoted. No surprise, then, that its author, Eva Golinger, turned out to be a longtime professional chavista – a policy adviser to the Venezuelan government, editor of a newspaper published by the Venezuelan government, and a former head of the New York-based Venezuela Solidarity Committee.

But what is surprising – or should be – is the number of people who presumably aren’t on the government payroll but who, despite the disastrous repercussions of Chávez’s rule, have persisted in praising him. Among them are reliable Hollywood lefties Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, and Michael Moore.

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Hugo Chávez, Oliver Stone

We’ve seen how Stone – a writer and director of considerable talent but staggeringly poor political judgment – made not one, not two, but three documentaries in praise of Fidel Castro; as it happens, he’s also directed two pictures about Chávez, South of the Border and My Friend Hugo, the latter of which was released last year on the first anniversary of the dictator’s demise. The New York Times reported that the problems with South of the Border

begin early on, with his account of Mr. Chávez’s rise. As “South of the Border” portrays it, Mr. Chávez’s main opponent in his initial run for president in 1998 was “a 6-foot-1-inch blond former Miss Universe” named Irene Sáez, and thus “the contest becomes known as the Beauty and the Beast” election.

But Mr. Chávez’s main opponent then was not Ms. Sáez, who finished third, with less than 3 percent of the vote. It was Henrique Salas Romer, a bland former state governor who won 40 percent of the vote.

The Times’s Stephen Holden called South of the Border a “provocative, if shallow, exaltation of Latin American socialism”; Entertainment Weekly called it “rose-colored agitprop.” Confronted with a series of discrepancies between the historical record and the film’s account of it, Stone’s co-writer, Tariq Ali, explained: “We were not writing a book, or having an academic debate. [Our goal] was to have a sympathetic view of these governments.”

Yes, whether the facts warranted it or not.

stone_chavez2Time film critic Richard Corliss’s review of South of the Border was headlined “Oliver Stone and Hugo Chávez: A Love Story.” Commenting that Stone “sees the geopolitical glass as all empty (the U.S. and its world-banking arm, the International Monetary Fund) or all full (Chávez and his comrade Presidentes in South America),” Corliss summed up the film as follows:

Every step of the way, Stone is by, and on, on the President’s side. He raises no tough issues, some of which are summarized in Amnesty International’s 2009 report on Venezuela: “Attacks on journalists were widespread. Human-rights defenders continued to suffer harassment. Prison conditions provoked hunger strikes in facilities across the country.” Referring to the 2006 election in which Chávez won a third term, Stone tells viewers that “90% of the media was opposed to him,” and yet he prevailed. “There is a lesson to be learned,” Stone says. Yes: support the man in power, or your newspaper, radio station or TV network may be in jeopardy.

The good news about South of the Border? It tanked in – guess where? – Venezuela. “Despite round-the-clock promotion on Venezuelan state television and government-subsidized screenings in the capital of Caracas,” Stone’s nauseatingly hagiographic pic “grossed only $18,601 on 20 screens in the 12 days after its June 4 debut.”

stone_chavez3(By comparison, at around the same time, the Michael Jackson documentary This Is It took in $2.1 million from Venezuela audiences.)

Not that this poor showing dampened Stone’s outsized cariño for Chávez. When His Holiness kicked off, Stone eulogized him as follows: “I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place….Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chávez will live forever in history.”

Yeah. Just like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.