Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Third Cinema in Post-Revolutionary Cuba: Memories of Underdevelopment

Third Cinema in Post-Revolutionary Cuba: Memories of Underdevelopment
Theoretical discourse surrounding Third Cinema is a complex navigation though anti-Hollywood Third World aesthetics, the purpose of which is to combat passivity of both the indigenous viewing public and the world at large which promoting revolutionary ideologies. Film generated within post-revolutionary Cuba, for whom Castro claimed Communism, stretches the parameters of Third Cinema definition as outlined in the 1967 essay Toward a Third Cinema by two revolutionary minded Latin American filmmakers. Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s 1968 film Memorias del Subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment) simultaneously references and denies the convention of Third Cinema utilizing examples of Marxist theory, Italian Neo-realism, and European art cinema influences, as well as a strikingly effective semi-documentary “style”, placing the film within a realm of cinema cannot be classed in fairness to any one theoretical source, including Third Cinema. Alea, despite the mix of congestible elements, manages to create Memories of Underdevelopment with a masterful balance between message, artifice, and entertainment, resulting in a film that not only represents attitudes within Cuba at a specific historical moment characterized by uncertain transition, but also translates into a universal commentary that transcends time and place. Undoubtedly, Memories is an unusual narrative construction composed of unmotivated flashbacks, montage, and interior voice-over monologue; however, these innovations make the film difficult to categorize.
Memories of Underdevelopment had been grouped into Third Cinema just as Cuba as a nation had been claimed by Latin America, yet neither fits exactly into either definition. In order to deconstruct how Memories complies with and works against the conventions of Third Cinema, an understanding of the origins and purpose of Third Cinema is required. The term Third Cinema was coined in the 1967 manifesto Toward a Third Cinema by two Argentine filmmakers, Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino. The Argentinean president, Juan Peron, who was originally a supporter of indigenous filmmaking, neutralized the effectiveness of state sponsored subsidies by striking an unfavorable deal with the Motion Picture Export Association of America. Following Peron’s removal from power during the 1955 military coup, the newly established government abolished the existing film import restrictions and increased state subsidies in order to encourage the creation of a national cinema (Chapman, Cinemas of the World, p.306). It was this revolutionary environment, further aggravated by the execution of revolutionary poster-boy and fellow Argentine, Che Guevara, which fostered the essay Toward a Third Cinema. Solanas and Getino’s writing was subsequently published in progressive European and American journals such as Cineaste, Afterimage, and Framework where the essay was given the status of manifesto, and thus adopted by ‘first world’ theorists as a description for this new mode of film practice (Chapman, Cinemas of the World, p.306).
Similar to the state sponsorship of filmmaking within Argentina, Cuba, with a long history of indigenous filmmaking, suffered a repressed artistic response under the Batista regime, followed by the immediate formation of the Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematografios (ICAIC) by Fidel Castro in 1959. Headed by Che Guevara’s brother Alfredo, the ICAIC was committed to a national film policy that encouraged the continuation of revolution for all of Latin America. Alfredo Guevara is quoted as having said, “We do not direct ourselves only to a society that is building socialism, but also to a continent that fights for liberation as well as socialism” (Kernan, Cuban Cinema, p.46). The new Cuban government understood the power of film as an instrument for change, as later argued by Solanas and Getino:
Newspapers and other printed matter, posters and wall propaganda, speeches and other verbal forms of information, enlightenment, and politicization are still the main means of communication between the organizations and the vanguard layers of the masses. But the new political positions of some filmmakers and the subsequent appearance of films useful for liberation have permitted certain political vanguards to discover the importance movies. The importance is to be found in the specific meaning of films as a form of communication and because of their particular characteristics, characteristics that allow them to draw audiences of different origins, many of them people who might not respond favorably to the announcement of a political speech. Films offer an effective pretext for gathering an audience, in addition to the ideological message they contain. The capacity for synthesis and penetration of the film image, the possibilities offered by the living document and naked reality, and the power of enlightenment of audiovisual means make film far more effective than any other tool for communication (Toward a Third Cinema, p.274).
Even before the revolution, Cuba experienced a thriving cinematic response, however, after economic class balancing instituted by the socialist governments’ post-revolutionary policies, attendance increased. As suggested in Toward a Third Cinema, audiences gathered to embrace the communal power of the moving image. As a result, Cuba’s relatively small population of approximately 10 million attended the cinema an average of 17 times per person, per year (Michael Chanan, The Cuban Image, p.16). This now widely accessible medium became a cultural draw allowing for the ICAIC to provide and sustain funding to Cuban filmmakers who used the power of the film experience to express, as well as question, political, social and cultural ideologies. Freedom of speech, as it is understood, does not exist in Cuba, but an artist or individual may say, write, or create anything they wish, provided that the message does not contain counter-revolutionary, or anti-government, propaganda (Beiter, Memorias, p.100).
For the Westerner, the term “Third World” often implies a negative connotation, invoking images of rural poverty, underdeveloped societies, and a retreat from the Capitalist model. As stated by Teshome Gabriel, the term “Third World” refers to states within Africa, Asia, and Latin America which operate under “non-aligned” economic and ideological governances, remaining uncommitted to either Western Capitalism or Eastern Communism (Third Cinema and the Third World, p.121). Cuba, after the fall of Batista and the rise of Castro, flatly rejected the auspices of capitalist culture and economy, adopting socialism which in turn caused a mass exodus of Cuban bourgeoisie to the United States, a country likewise nervous about a communist nation so close to capitalist soil. Of Third Cinema and the Third World, James Chapman writes, “…the term ‘Third Cinema’, as it is used in film studies, is not synonymous with the cinema of the Third World. It tends to be used to refer to the radical filmmaking practices that emerged during the 1960’s principally in Latin America” (Cinemas of the World, p.305-6). Many Latin American countries, including Cuba, had stable national film production before the term “Third World” became a common reference for certain cultures. It is important to understand the meaning of “Third World” as plastic, especially in relation to Third Cinema, as the term itself and its relative associations are constructs of the ‘First World’ mind, a simple way of categorizing ‘otherness’.
Although Cuba was long committed to the fundamental ideas of a national cinema, Cuban cinema had been dominated by the Hollywood model. The purpose of Third Cinema was not only to offer an alternative, but a complete break from the form of cultural imperialism the Hollywood cinematic model forced upon the Third World. Teshome Gabriel, the predominant theorist on Third World cinema, offers a critical framework for Third World film which contains three phases: unqualified assimilation, the remembrance phase, and the combative phase. The first phase, unqualified assimilation, identifies a close association with the Western Hollywood film industry, characterized mainly by escapist narrative for the purpose of providing entertainment and generating maximum profits. Gabriel states that the purpose of producing entertaining film within the Third World allows for the existing national industry to sustain film culture, while conversely the assimilation of the Hollywood style by these Third World cinemas does not meet the needs of these cultures nor does it encourage serious social conversation through art (Towards a Critical Theory, p. 31-32).
The remembrance phase moves away from formulaic Hollywood domination toward a Third World aesthetic, returning to a sense of indigenous culture and history. While the unqualified assimilation phase focused on themes of comedy, romance and the musical, the remembrance phase centers on themes of rural verses urban life, tradition clashing with the modern, folklore and mythology. Gabriel writes:

While the most positive aspect of this phase is its break with the concepts and propositions of Phase I, the primary danger here is the uncritical acceptance or undue romanticism of ways of the past. It needs to be stressed that there is a danger of falling into the trap of exalting traditional virtues and radicalizing culture without the same time condemning faults. To accept totally the values of Third World traditional cultures without simultaneously stamping out the regressive elements can only lead to ‘a blind alley’, as Fanon puts it, and falsification of the true nature of culture as an act or agent of liberation (Towards a Critical Theory, p.32).

Representations of Third World societies in the remembrance phase come closer to the ideas proposed by the Third Cinema, yet, as Gabriel asserts, cannot have effective critical artistic impact without drawing attention to ideological faults.
The third phase, the combative phase, transforms film production into a public service institution. Referred to as the ‘cinema of mass participation’, the film industry of the combative phase is owned by the nation and managed by and for the people. This phase refers to Julio Garcia Espinosa’s essay An Imperfect Cinema which states that within the developing or “Third World”, technical and artistic excellence cannot be the final aim of filmmaking but must incorporate a deeper ideological goal. The combative phase is exemplified by Cuba’s ICAIC. The ICAIC is a government funded collective of filmmakers whose primary objective is to create original works in order to communicate with the Cuban public. Film has thus evolved into an “ideological instrument (Gabriel, p.34)” and is concerned mainly with connecting to the Third World masses by communicating issues relevant to life in developing nations. Films of the combative phase are focused on the ideological “point of view” rather than the dominant Western convention of the single character “point of view” (Gabriel, Toward a Critical Theory, p.33-34). Understanding the evolutionary phases of Third World cinema clearly delineates the progression toward a Third Cinema in revolutionary Latin America and post-revolution Cuba. Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment is, by definition, a combative phase film, yet the film is not a Third World national product, but a film immerging from a country transitioning from one ideology to another. Alea’s dialectic narrative flows from a strong ideological source, centering on one man’s ephemeral thoughts, memories, and experiences, working to reflect the difficult transition to socialism in 1960’s Havana. To illustrate the shift in Third World phase perspectives to Third Cinema vantage points Gabriel writes:
This matter of “point of view” is in fact precisely where discourse in Third Cinema finds its dynamic wholeness. In Third Cinema, “point of view” does not function on a psychological or mythic level per se but rather takes up an explicit position with respect to an ideological or social topic. For instance, the “point of view” in Third Cinema is not a reflection of the consciousness or subjectivity of a single subject (a protagonist/hero); rather, the central figure in Third Cinema serves to develop an historical perspective on radical social change Third Cinema in the Third World, p.7).
It has thus been argued that the evolution of Third World cinema, particularly as Third World theory relates to Cuba and Cuban cinema, rejects the latent capitalist mode of Hollywood filmmaking and seeks to bring new life to indigenous topics beyond a simple nostalgia. The theory of Third Cinema immerged out of this shift in Third World representations in Latin America. Toward a Third Cinema outlines this shift by separating the intentions of First and Second Cinema, and then forging a pliable definition to the term Third Cinema. The tone of Solanas and Getino’s argument is clearly anti-Hollywood and the perception of a commodity culture and American cultural hegemony in general. Toward a Third Cinema articulated a new type of cinema, one intended for the people of repressed Latin American countries at varying stages of governmental and cultural development: a cinema of liberation.
Of First Cinema, Solanas and Getino write:

Until recently, film had been synonymous with show or amusement: in a word, it was one more consumer good. At best, films succeeded in bearing witness to the decay of bourgeois values and testifying to social injustice. As a rule, films only dealt with effect, never cause: it was cinema of mystification or anti-historicism. It was surplus value cinema. Caught up in these conditions, films, the most valuable tool of communication of our times, were destined to satisfy only the ideological and economic interests of the owners of the film industry, the lords of the world market, the great majority of whom were from the United States (Toward a Third Cinema, p.265).

Evident here, Marxist theory was embraced by the aberrant revolutionary socialist idealists advocating for change throughout Latin America. In order to move away from a purely hegemonic, domesticated world view present in First Cinema, demystified narratives focused on cause rather than effect moving cinematic practice toward an alternative labeled Second Cinema, found in groundbreaking movements such as the French New Wave pioneered by the likes of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. As innovative as these Second Cinema experiments proved to be, for a cinema of liberation, Second Cinema was limited in its scope. Toward a Third Cinema describes these limitations, “This alternative signified a step forward inasmuch as it demanded that the filmmaker be free to express himself in non-standard language and inasmuch as it was an attempt at cultural decolonization. But such attempts have already reached the outer limits of what the system permits” (Solanas and Getino, p.272).
Thus, having reached the perimeters of the defined Second Cinema theory and the inability of Second Cinema films to insight Third World change, a new alternative to the old alternative mode of filmmaking burgeoned organically in the theory of a Third Cinema. Solanas and Getino offer this thesis:

The anti-imperialist struggle of the peoples of the Third World and of their equivalents inside the imperialist countries constitutes today the axis of the world revolution. Third Cinema is, in our opinion, the cinema that recognizes in that struggle the most gigantic cultural, scientific, and artistic manifestation of our time, the great possibility of constructing a liberated personality with each people as a starting point – in a word, the decolonization of culture (Toward a Third Cinema, p.268).

In Alea’s film Memories of Underdevelopment, the protagonist, Sergio, exquisitely exemplifies the struggle of a colonized mind in the process of becoming decolonized. While Alea’s beautifully constructed and conceived film is undeniably aligned with the ideologies outlined within the Third Cinema manifesto, the fact that Memories was made within post-revolutionary Cuba simultaneously links and diverts the interpretation. Solanas and Getino argue against critics who assert that revolutionary films can only be produced by societies and countries which have already achieved liberation, sighting specific instructions on how revolutionaries can work to produce a cinema exploring radical topics within colonized states. Memories subverts this argument. Though produced within post-revolutionary Cuba uncontested by censors or Castro himself, the process of decolonization and the implementation of a new system of government could not occur without a set of “causes and effects”, the likes of which are the subject of Memories. The title of the film itself alludes to the accomplishment of addressing both “cause and effect” in a liberated state. The word “memories” indicates the mind of the individual manifested visually through the use of flashbacks, voice-over monologues, and montages of news reel footage and still photography to construct an abstract psychology and shaping an individual reality. Likewise, the word “underdevelopment” relates specifically to pre-revolutionary Cuba within the Third World definition, but is also illustrates an intellectual underdevelopment explored throughout the film (Beirter, Memorias, p.101). The two words in juxtaposition allude to an even greater necessity in the process of change – the liberation of the colonized mind. Sergio becomes the personification of such a struggle.
The film Memories of Underdevelopment is an adaptation of a 1962 novel of the same name penned by Cuban author Edmundo Desnoes and is written in the style of a subjective dairy. The breadth of both film and novel spans the period of governmental transition, and the subsequent fear and uncertainty that occurred between the Bay of Pigs incident and the Cuban Missile Crises. Alea, searching for next project contacted Desnoes, who in turn expressed doubt that the book would adapt well into film. Alea’s response to Desnoes hesitation resembles the ideological language and intention apparent in the Third Cinema manifesto, perhaps not coincidentally written the same year as the manifestos publication. Alea’s is quoted as having said of the film:

What the film process could contribute to the novel was the “objective” vision of reality in order to make it clash with the subjective vision of the protagonist. Photography, direct documentation, fragments of newsreels, recorded speeches, filming on the street with a hidden camera on some occasions were resources which we could count on and needed to develop to the fullest…In this way, we were able to develop to a greater degree than the novel that thread which reveal the “objective” reality surrounding the character and which little by little tightens its grip until it suffocates him at the end (Schroeder, Tomas Gutierrez Alea, p.19).

The viewer meets Sergio as he says goodbye to his wife and parents at the Havana airport. They, along with many other members of the Cuban upper class and intellectual community, are fleeing to the United States directly following the rise of Castro and the promise of socialism. Sergio has made the decision to stay, a choice in opposition to his Westernized mentality, displayed immediately and throughout the film, in his clothing, his well-to-do apartment decorated with cultural artifacts, and his distasteful attitude toward Cuban women whom he continuously refers to as “underdeveloped”. Hence the viewer is introduced to the paradoxical nature of Sergio’s disposition. The conflict of the paradox displayed in Sergio is the central questions of the film: Philosophically, what is “underdevelopment” and how does the narrative attempt to define this state of being? Is it possible that “underdevelopment” is both an imperialist/colonial notion as well as a counter-point of revolutionary ideology?
First World theorists assert that in order to be categorized as Third World, a country will be in a state of underdevelopment, exemplified by poverty and poor social welfare. For Sergio, underdevelopment represents a different connotation. Equally negative in definition, Sergio views his young girlfriend, Elena, as the embodiment of a disinterested intellectual underdevelopment. In his attempts to force to become what she is not – Westernized – Sergio introduces her to places of cultural concern, such as the Hemingway house, where eventually, after noticing her indifference, he abandons her. In an authoritative voice-over monologue Sergio says, “I always try to live like a European and Elena makes me feel the underdevelopment.” In this respect, Sergio is implying that “to live like a European” is a more sophisticated, cultured life way of life, and because he attempts to mimic a European sensibility, he is therefore better equipped to negotiate the world than the primitive and naïve Elena. This being proposed, then why does he stay? Here inlay’s the paradox: he is torn between two modes of thinking. Sergio lives in disharmony and discomfort with his environment, thus suggesting similar tensions were in existence during the transformation of Cuba from a colonized cultural mentality to a liberated sense of self. Teshome Gabriel describes Sergio and his complacency in this way:

The repressive regime under which an alienated personality could develop has been replaced by a revolutionary government. Sergio, therefore, is an anachronism, and his intellectual conundrum us at odds with the contemporary revolutionary context. There is an entire underdeveloped country to develop, and millions of fellow Cubans to do it with. But instead, Sergio is locked in the past, a stranger to the present who stares blankly into oblivion (Third Cinema in the Third World, p.71).

From the vantage point of Sergio’s inability to relate to his changing surroundings, another form of underdevelopment emerges. Is not Sergio himself unable or unwilling to adapt? He can neither adopt nor reject the ideological and political changes destroying the familiarity of the petit bourgeoisie prevalent in pre-revolutionary Cuba. Sergio is educated to the justifications of revolution, yet he cannot let go of the “reactionary values of his class (Gabriel, p.71)”.
Sergio leaves the airport and returns to his Europeanized upper class apartment decorated with paintings, expensive furniture, and an incredible view of the city of Havana from a sprawling balcony. The apartment is in disarray, the bed is unmade, dirty glasses are left on tabletops, and Sergio discovers upon inspecting his birdcage that one of his two birds has died. The symbolism of the dead bird in easily understood, although in keeping with Third Cinema’s fight against passive viewing, this moment deserves greater deliberation. The caged bird is a well recognized, and understood today as a clichéd symbol of oppression and exploitation. For Sergio, one bird, still alive, represents the continued struggle for liberation from imperialist culture, while the dead bird Sergio unceremoniously drops like rubbish over the side of his balcony, represents the passage of the old class system. Sergio is whistling the anthem of the Mexican revolution as he navigates through his posh apartment, rendering the choice in song “irrelevant and out of context (Gabriel, Third Cinema in the Third World, p.72)”. This interpretation may be true, but the act of whistling mimics the flustered song of the live bird. The juxtaposition of the dead and living birds with Sergio’s whistling implies that Sergio is like a caged bid himself, trapped between two opposing ideologies. As Dennis West wrote for Cineaste, “He [Sergio] remains an indecisive intellectual caught in the middle: neither a revolucionario nor a gusano, an isolated and irrelevant figure who can only observe as the flow of history passes him by (p.21)”.
After disposing of the bird, Sergio looks out over Havana by means of telescope. In a contradictory statement that summarizes Sergio’s entrapment, the narration voice-over asserts that everything is the same. Then moments later everything has changed and the cityscape appears different, yet, nothing has shifted but his own perspective, thus rendering Sergio a walking contradiction. Though he lives with a European sensibility, he simultaneously accepts and rejects the European mind. The perceptual shift is exemplified by a moment on the balcony. The telescope sweeps across the cityscape and lands on an empty statue base where once stood a symbol of the old regime, now missing. Sergio then explains that Picasso, a supporter of the Spanish Revolution and creator of the politically charged, anti-war masterpiece Guernica, had promised to send a sculpture of a dove, the universal symbol of peace and unification, and once again a reference to birds, yet the statue had not come. The notion of a statue of a dove metaphorically reinforces Sergio’s position, as a sculpture remains stationary for all time. The absence of the dove could represent the continued fight for liberation of all Latin America as well as Cuba’s transition into a liberated society, as the dove has been promised, yet has not arrived. Sergio then criticizes Picasso by drawing attention to the artist’s monetary and celebrity status stating that Picasso must be comfortable being a millionaire back in Paris. This attitude denotes Sergio’s own duality. All of his possessions, and therefore his privileged status, will soon be confiscated by the government in order to affect a balance in the classes, yet by remaining inside Cuba, cooperative, and honest with official government appraisers, he has rejected his own status while simultaneously criticizing Picasso’s. In one moment, Sergio passively envisions and describes himself as a martyr to the cause, and then in the next is overwhelmed by disgust at the “underdevelopment” of his newly embraced fellows, his country, and his culture. In this way, Sergio becomes a classic host for the Third Cinema “point of view”, but rather than embodying the conflict of a vastly challenging ideological reinvention, the layers of his character and their visual interpretations construct a “point of view” that analyses Sergio the individual as a repugnant personification of several independent vantage points, and thus slipping away from the Third Cinema theory.
Another less overt example of Memories exploration of the colonized mind conforming and rebelling to the decolonized world, takes place within the roundtable sequence. The scene itself is a bit of an ‘in-joke’ between the filmmakers. Present at the televised roundtable discussion titled “Literature and Underdevelopment” is Edmundo Desnoes, the author of the original novel Inconsolable Memories. The use of the rather old fashioned platform of round-tabling with known intellectual and cultural contributors, conflicts with the ideological ‘every-man-ism’ of the socialist doctrine, an idea Alea purposefully chooses to play with in this scene. Desnoes makes a comment regarding class and racial inequalities within the non-liberated systems, using his own experience. Margot Kernan in her article on Cuban Cinema quotes Desnoes in this scene, “I am really a Southern Negro, oppressed by the great white dream of the United States”, elaborated by “although he looks white, [but] since Americans call him a ‘spic’ (p.46)”, he must be such. Despite the obvious statement against injustice, to the left of Desnoes a uniformed “Negro” servant fixes and humbly serves drinks for the panel of speakers. The presence of the servant is a not so subtle device for drawing attention to the unequal views of class and race existent inside the revolutionary system. Desnoes comments are rendered hypocritical and myopic.
Solanas and Getino write, “behind such watchwords as ‘civilization or barbarism!’ manufactured by Europeanized liberalism, was an attempt to impose a civilization fully in keeping with the needs of imperialist expansion and the desire to destroy the resistance of the national masses, which were successively called the ‘rabble’, a ‘bunch of blacks’ (Toward a Third Cinema, p.269).” Solanas and Getino are suggesting that the United States was built on the backs of the oppressed supporting a ‘white’ world order, and Third Cinema is the cinema of the oppressed, the cinema of liberation, literally and metaphorically. With the sharp contrast presented in the juxtaposition of Desnoes statement and the African servant, Alea draws attention to the double standard and problems of progressing toward a new mentality. The roundtable format of the discussion is another example of the challenges of inciting change whilst shackled to the old comfortable illusions of order. An American play-write within the scene stands and asks if he could address the panel in English, though he obviously understands Spanish, drawing attention to the dysfunction of the format. Solanas and Getino further articulate, “On the one hand, fantasy, the imaginary bourgeois universe replete with comfort, equilibrium, sweet reason, order, efficiency, and the possibility to ‘be someone’. And, on the other, the phantoms, we the lazy, we the indolent and underdeveloped, we who cause disorder (Toward a Third Cinema, p.275) Subverted and exposed, it is the American ‘imperialist’ who exposes the revolutionaries and the intellectuals gathered there in an attempt to further incite change, and move toward a liberated Cuba, to the relegation of a bourgeois method.
Alea’s non-linear use of image ‘collage’ expands the depth of the environmental field in which Sergio must intellectually navigate. Sporadically throughout the film, segments of newsreel, still photography and clips of speeches, along with Sergio’s internal narration, break through the action unfolding within the backdrop of a Westernized Havana. These slices delineate a ‘memory’ associated with the non-Western “point of view” of revolutionary Cuban politics. Third Cinema asks that old Westernized modes of thinking regarding the world at large, particularly imperialist propagandized views of Latin America as a threat or a civilization of barbarians, become realigned. Naturally, representations of historical events become flavored by the dominant ideologies of the nation which creates or reports them. Toward a Third Cinema asserts, “The cinema of the revolution is at the same time one of destruction and construction: destruction of the image that neo-colonialism has created of itself and of us, and construction of a throbbing, living reality which recaptures truth in any of its expressions (Solanas and Getino, p.275)”. These semi-documentary constructions, ‘memory collages’, represent Sergio as the Third Cinema “point of view”, begging the interpretation as Sergio’s bias and inability to connect with the current moment unfolding within the diegetic Cuba.
Just as world events, like wars, terror attacks, economic depressions, and environmental disasters can change and shape society, these events can likewise effect an individual at differing levels of intensity. Thus these events become psychic baggage, sometimes flavoring a new, less naïve, perhaps even cynical, outlook on the rest of the world. These ‘memory collages’ are obstinate flashbacks in which Sergio and the old Cuba melt into one tortured mind, rejecting and accepting convention, constructing and deconstructing meaning. For instance, in one sequence images of extreme poverty, malnutrition, disease, starvation, and death are juxtaposed intermittently with images from a debutant gala. Solanas and Getino write of experimental French filmmaker, Chris Marker, who gave groups of workers some basic film equipment and asked them to film whatever they thought was important to be seen, “The goal was to have the worker film his way of looking at the world, just as if he were writing it. This has opened up unheard-of-prospects for the cinema; above all, a new conception of filmmaking and the significance of art in our times (Toward a Third Cinema, p.275)”. In this vein, Alea has expanded the concept to include Sergio’s colonized, European mind as a filter for the reality of revolution. “Imperialism and capitalism, whether in the consumer society or in the neo-colonized country, veil everything behind a screen of images and appearances. The image of reality is more important than reality itself. It is a world peopled with fantasies and phantoms in which what is hideous is clothed in beauty, while beauty is disguised as hideous (Solanas and Getino, Toward a Third Cinema, p.275)”. The images of deprivation and suffering become the unmasked images of reality, highlighting the beauty of the revolution, and the benefits of socialism which will endeavor to end this type of unbalanced hardship, while the images of the debutant gala seem decadent and detached from reality when positioned next to the latter.
While the roundtable scene comments on class, race and the dysfunction of the old ruling class system of public information and discussion, the ‘memory collage’ flashback begs the viewer to see class differences in the naked and grotesque reality of extreme suffering in contrast with extreme wealth. Both scenes, however, belie a greater message. The draw to the island of Cuba by the citizens of the United States for its sugar-cane and Havana’s wild night-life, allowed for the small country to become exploited by U.S. businesses, and individuals alike spurning anti-imperialist sentiment and ultimately, revolutionary solutions. In a scene involving Hemingway’s house and museum, exists another example of the deconstruction of colonized exploitation. Sergio takes his young girlfriend Elena to the Hemingway House in an attempt to lessen her underdevelopment through cultural understanding. Though today Hemingway is regarded by many Cubans as “one of our own”, in Memories Hemingway is symbolic of American and European encroachment upon Cuban culture and society. Sergio believes Elena’s trouble of underdevelopment would be benefited by learning about Hemingway’s work, but as it happens, this attitude simultaneously attracts and repels Sergio’s interest and demonstrates his confusion regarding his ideological standing in the new Cuba. Again, Third Cinema has something to say about this type of subversion, “…revolutionary cinema is not fundamentally one which illustrates, documents or passively establishes a situation: rather it attempts to intervene in the situation as an element providing thrust or rectification. To put it another way, it provides discovery through transformation (Solanas and Getino, p.277)”.
Memories of Underdevelopment provides a rich platform for the study of film as art, for understanding the evolution of revolutionary cinema in the Third World, and as an example of Third Cinema theory in practice and in its most basic subversion. Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s black and white, multi-genre film became a paradigm of political filmmaking within Latin America. Alea, who has a cameo appearance as a film director within Memories, playfully called his work “a collage that will have a bit of everything”, the result of which is a complex film whose “momentary uncertainties are quickly resolved by verbal commentary or the narrative situation (Bordwell, Film History, p.542)”. While cinema, even revolutionary cinema, was produced in Latin America even before the term Third World was coined, the discourse sighted by Solanas and Getino on Third Cinema bring new life and ideology to the act of filmmaking. This gives films like Memories of Underdevelopment a greater purpose than entertainment and thusly lends to its sustained importance and appeal.


Beiter, Nancy. Memorias Del Subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment) in 24 Frames: The Cinema of Latin America. Alberto Elena and Marina Diaz Lopez (ed). London: Wallflower, 2003. p. 98-107.
Bhabha, Homi K. The Commitment to Theory in Questions of Third Cinema. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (ed). London: BFI, 1989. p. 111-32
Birri, Fernando. Cinema and Underdevelopment in Twenty-five Years of the New Latin American Cinema. Michael Chanan (ed). London: BFI, 1983. p.9-12.
Burton-Carvajal, Julianne. South American Cinema in The Oxford Guide to Film Studies. John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson (ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. p.578-94.
Chanan, Michael. The Cuban Image. London: BFI, 1985.
Chapman, James. Cinemas of the World: Film and Society from 1985 to the Present. London: Reaktion, 2003.
Cook, David. A History of Narrative Film. NY: WW Norton, 2004. p.814-19.
Desnoes, Edmundo. Inconsolable Memories. London: Lowe & Brydone, 1968.
Espinosa, Julio Garcia. For an Imperfect Cinema in Film Theory: an Anthology. Toby Miller and Robert Stam (ed). Oxford: Blackwell, 2000. p.287-97.
Gabriel, Teshome H. Third Cinema as Guardian of Popular Memory: Towards a Third Aesthetics in Questions of Third Cinema. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (ed). London: BFI, 1989. p.53-64.
Gabriel, Teshome H. Third Cinema in the Third World: The Aesthetics of Liberation. Essex: Bowker, 1982.
Gabriel, Teshome H. Towards a Critical Theory of Third World Films in Questions of Third Cinema. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (ed). London: BFI, 1989. p.30-52.
Getino, Octavio and Fernando Solanas. Toward a Third Cinema in Film Theory: an Anthology. Toby Miller and Robert Stam (ed). Oxford: Blackwell, 2000. p.265-86.
Hart, Stephen M. A Companion to Latin American Film. Suffolk: Tamesis, 2004. p.47-53.
Helminski, Allison A. Memories of a Revolutionary Cinema. 1999.
Kerman, Margot. Cuban Cinema: Tomas Guiterrez Alea in Film Quarterly. Vol.29, no.2. Winter 1975-6. p.45-52.
King, John. Magical Reel: A History of Cinema in Latin America. London: Verso, 1990. p.145-67.
Levin, Julia. Tomas Gutierrez Alea. May 2003.
Miller, Paul. Memories of Underdevelopment, Thirty Years Later: An Interview with Sergio Corrieri. Cineaste. Vol. 25, no.1. Dec. 99. p.20-23.
Sanjines, Jorge. Problems of Form and Content in Revolutionary Cinema in Twenty-five Years of the New Latin American Cinema. Michael Chanan (ed). London: BFI, 1983. p.34-38.
Schroeder, Paul A. Tomas Gutierrez Alea: The Dialectics of a Filmmaker. New York Routledge, 2002.
Shaw, Deborah. Contemporary Cinema of Latin America: Ten Key Films. London: Continuum, 2003. p.9-35.
Thompson, Kristin and David Bordwell. Film History: An Introduction. London: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
West, Dennis. Memories of Underdevelopment. Cineaste. Vol. 25, no. 1. Dec. 99. p.21.
Willemen, Paul. The Third Cinema Question: Notes and Reflections in Questions of Third Cinema. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (ed). London: BFI, 1989. p.1-29.


Memorias del Subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment). Dir. Tomas Gutierrez Alea. Perf. Sergio Corrieri and Daisy Granados.

No comments:

Post a Comment