Group Title: Sargasso (Río Piedras, San Juan, P.R.)
Title: Sargasso
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Title: Sargasso
Uniform Title: Sargasso (Río Piedras, San Juan, P.R.)
Alternate Title: Sargazo
Abbreviated Title: Sargasso (Río Piedras San Juan P. R.)
Physical Description: v. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: University of Puerto Rico (Río Piedras Campus) -- Dept. of English
Publisher: Sargasso
Place of Publication: Río Piedras P.R
Publication Date: 2003
Copyright Date: 1986
Frequency: twice a year[2002-]
two no. a year[ former 1984]
irregular[ former <1987>-2001]
Subject: Caribbean literature -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Caribbean literature -- History and criticism -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Puerto Rican literature -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Puerto Rican literature -- History and criticism -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Genre: review   ( marcgt )
periodical   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Puerto Rico
Additional Physical Form: Also issued online.
Language: Chiefly English, with some French and Spanish.
Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1, no. 1-no. 10 (2000) ; 2001-
Numbering Peculiarities: Volume designation dropped with no. 3; issue for 2001 lacks numbering; issues for 2002- called 2002, 1-
Issuing Body: Edited by the faculty and graduate students of the English Dept., University of Puerto Rico.
General Note: Title from cover.
General Note: Some issues have also distinctive titles.
General Note: Latest issue consulted: 2004-05,2.
General Note: Has occasional special issues.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00096005
Volume ID: VID00013
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 12797847
lccn - 85643628
issn - 1060-5533
alephbibnum - 002422411

Full Text


Film: Caribbean
Artistic Expression

9 'm


?,~> 99

i N,

2003-04, II


SARGASSO 2003-04, II

Film: Caribbean Artistic Expression


SARGASSO 2003-04, II Film: Caribbean Artistic Expression
Sargasso, a peer-reviewed journal of literature, language, and culture edited at the
University of Puerto Rico, publishes critical essays, interviews, book reviews, and
some poems and short stories. Sargasso particularly welcomes material written
by/about the people of the Caribbean region and its diaspora. Essays and critical
studies should conform to the style of the MLA Handbook. Short stories should be
kept to no more than 2,500 words in length, and poems should be kept to no more
than twenty to thirty lines. All correspondence must include S.A.S.E. For electronic
submission, write to:
Postal Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 22831, UPR Station
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-2831

Lowell Fiet, Founding Editor
Maria Cristina Rodriguez, Editor
Ian A. Bethell Bennett, Managing Editor
Sally Everson, Co-Editor

Editorial Board
Jessica Adams, Tulane University
Mary Ann Gosser-Esquilin, Florida Atlantic University
Peter Roberts, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados
Ivette Romero, Marist College
Felipe Smith, Tulane University

Antonio Garcia Padilla, President of the University of Puerto Rico
Gladys Escalona de Motta, Chancellor, Rio Piedras Campus
Jos6 R. Iguina, Dean of Humanities

Cover: Collage of cinemas in Rio Piedras, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Havana and Nevis.
Photos by Maria Cristina Rodriguez and Lowell Fiet.
Back cover: "Roosevelt Cinema" by Myrna Olivier. Courtesy of Dr. and Mrs. Marrero
Layout: Marcos Pastrana

Opinions and views expressed in Sargasso are those of the individual authors and are not
necessarily shared by Sargasso's Editorial Committee. All rights return to the authors. Copies
of Sargasso 2003-04, I1 as well as previous issues are on deposit in the Library of Congress.
Filed March 2004. ISSN 1060-5533

Table Contents

Maria Cristina Rodriguez
Film: An Integral Part of Caribbean Artistic Expression .......... vii

Sonia Fritz
Claves para una producci6n en cine y video ......................... 1

Robert Buckeye
The Film of the Novel: The Influence of Marker's La Jetde
on Jamaica Kincaid's At The Bottom of the River ................... 13

Karen J. Taylor
Can Imperialism and Feminized Patriarchy Find True
Happiness in the Wasteland? Some Thoughts on
Sam m y and Rosie Get Laid .......................................... .............. 21

RomAn de la Campa
Globalizaci6n y nostalgia: Buena Vista Social Club................ 39

Vivian Martinez Tabares
Compases para una suite cubana ........................ .................... 57

Rodolfo Popelnik
Changing Imaginaries or the Importance of the Independent
Indie for the Reconstruction of Caribbean Portrayals:
the Case of Raising Victor Vargas .............................. ............ 63

Gilberto Concepci6n SuArez
Posibilidad de un cine puertorriquefo ................................... 81


Frances Santiago
'Cinema Antillais:' Cine en las Antillas
Francesas- Guadeloupe y Martinique...................................... 89

Bruce Paddington
Caribbean Cinema: Historical Formation, Issues of
Identity and Film Practices ................................ .................... 107

Carmen Gloria Romero
A Selective Bibliography on Motion Pictures and
Documentary Films in the Caribbean ..................................... 117

SPECIAL SECTION: Remembering Edward Said
Introduction: The Solitary Blood of a Free Man
M aria Cristina Rodriguez ............................ ........................ 145

Remembrances by:
M aria de los Angeles Castro ........................ ....................... 147
Gervasio Garcia ............... ................................................ 148
Catherine Den Tandt............................................... ................. 149
Carmen Dolores Hernandez......................... ....................... 149
Juan Duchesne W inter................................................ .................. 150
M alena Rodriguez Castro ............................. ....................... 150
Nalini Natarajan .................... ................................................. 151
Sylvia Alvarez Curbelo ................................ ........................ 151
Rafael Bernabe ................. ................................................ 151
lan Anthony Bethell ...................................... ....................... 152
M aritza Stanchich ............... ............................................. 153
Omar Acevedo Gorrin .................................. ....................... 153
Sally Everson ................. ................................................... 154
Low ell Fiet ............................................................ ........ .......... .. 154
Rafael Acevedo ............. .......... ............................... .................. 155

LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS.................................... ....................... 157

Editor's Note

Film: An Integral Part of Caribbean Artistic Expression

In 1992, Sargasso's editorial staff thought it necessary to dedicate
an issue to Caribbean film; previous issues had dealt with poetry,
fiction, theatre, and politics and literature. It was very hard then to
gather material that would encompass the entire Caribbean region.
This time around we have been more successful in including essays on
the three major language regions: hispano-, franco-, and anglophone
Caribbean. We also include essays on film and literature as well as
analysis of important films that transgress the accepted stories and
styles of mainstream cinema. We contacted scholars, writers and film-
makers who were actively involved in the media and asked them to
become part of this project. We are grateful for their prompt response
and their solid writing.
Sargasso has a long tradition of placing an interview with an out-
standing cultural artist at the center of nearly every issue. In this issue
of "Film: Caribbean Artistic Expression," Sonia Fritz, Mexican by birth
and Caribbean by adoption, reflects on her trajectory as a
documentarist and short and long feature maker. As a feminist film-
maker with a keen awareness of women's places in Hispanic patriar-
chal societies, she has focused on women artists, women forgotten by
official history, and migrant women both in Puerto Rico and New York.
Robert Buckeye's essay brings together Chris Marker's La Jetee and
Jamaica Kincaid's first published book of stories, At the Bottom of the
River as a reflection on each other's "way of seeing." Karen J. Taylor
places the character Danny-Victoria, a Caribbean man living in Lon-
don, at the center of Stephen Frears' and Hanif Kureishi's 1987 film
Sammy and Rosie Get Laid to explore the meaning of home for each of
the main characters. Roman de la Campa analyzes the sense of nostal-
gia found in Cuban films such as Guantanamera, Fresa y chocolate, and
the film about Cuba that has received more awards outside the island-


Buena Vista Social Club. He uses a cultural studies approach to illus-
trate the role of the media in determining the success of a particular
film. Vivian Martinez writes a truly exceptional reflection on her view-
ing of Fernando Perez's pulsating film on daily life in Havana, Suite
Habana. Rodolfo Popelnik places the independent film Raising Victor
Vargas within the scope of post-World War II Italian Neo-Realism where
people's daily struggle for survival were the source of their stories and
style formation.
Gilberto Concepci6n, Frances Santiago, and Bruce Paddington give
us an historical perspective of Caribbean cinema from particular re-
gional positions. Concepci6n focuses on Puerto Rico and its inability,
despite extensive film production, to establish a film industry with a
continuous output whether for the big screen or local TV. Santiago, on
the other hand, singles out Martinique and Guadeloupe as islands
whose filmmakers are mostly well known outside of the Caribbean in
the francophone circuit. Paddington encompasses the entire region
giving us the crisscrossing of film production in the Caribbean which
is still regionally isolated for linguistic, economic, and political rea-
sons. This first section ends with a selected bibliography by Carmen
Gloria Romero, librarian of the Biblioteca del Caribe y Estudios
Latinoamericanos at the University of Puerto Rico, who on this occa-
sion includes the entire Caribbean region.
Finally, we include a special section dedicated to Edward Said, the
writer, critic, musician, and defender of the integrity of oppressed
people everywhere. He was a scholar who stimulated our intelligence,
who never separated theory and praxis, who dissected the language
of the center in his analysis of discourse. He fit in perfectly with col-
leagues and students who gathered to listen to his lectures and ex-
change ideas with him on literature and politics during his 1991 visit
to the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus. Like a vigil, each
voice a candle, professors and students briefly express their acquain-
tance with or feelings about Edward Said. We hope that together these
writings -essays and remembrances- shed light on Caribbean artistic
expression for our readers.

Maria Cristina Rodriguez
Editor, May 2004

Claves para una producci6n
en cine y video

Sonia Fritz
Sacred Heart University,
San Juan Puerto Rico

E ste articulo me obliga a reflexionar sobre mi process creative y

mi quehacer como cine/videasta desde que decidi abrirme un
espacio en un medio que hace veinte afios era principalmente
ocupado por varones en posiciones de decision. Desde entonces has-
ta ahora gracias a las escuelas de cine -en especial pienso en el caso
mexicano- cada vez aparecen mds mujeres en escena como directors
y productoras, pero por el 1980 esto era dificil. Desde que estaba a
punto de terminar mi carrera en Ciencias de la Comunicaci6n en la
Universidad Aut6noma de M6xico tome dos classes que me marcaron
para siempre: una fue Sociologia del Cine Mexicano con Emilio Garcia
Riera, donde descubri el cine mexicano de la 6poca de oro y me asom6
a un pais que se miraba a si mismo y al cual yo me acercaba por prime-
ra vez; la otra clase fue Teoria del Cine con Manuel Mitchel -co-funda-
dor del Centro de Capacitaci6n Cinematogrdfica- y con quien trabaj&
como asistente en dos documentales que me permitieron la entrada al
mundo "free lance" en los Estudios Churubusco. Ese fue el moment
en el que elegi dedicar al cine mi vida y future professional. Hago cine
y video para sentirme viva, para sentir que trasciendo.
Mi paso por la universidad me abri6 los ojos a la realidad national y
las injusticias sociales a las que me habia mantenido ajena como tanta
gente de la clase media urbana. Poco despu6s fue el movimiento femi-
nista el que me marc significativamente junto con mi participaci6n
en el Colectivo Cine Mujer, donde adem~s de hacer documentales dis-
cutiamos temas que nos tocaban directamente por nuestro g6nero: el
aborto, la violaci6n, violencia domestica, las luchas sociales como


aquellas lideradas por mujeres en colonies populares en defense de
terrenos invadidos o por mujeres campesinas que defendian su dere-
cho a una sociedad mis just. Por aquella 6poca las lectures de Simone
de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, Clarice Lispector, Elena
Poniatowska marcaron una toma de conciencia sobre mi g6nero y so-
bre mi process creative con el cual he tratado de ser coherente duran-
te todos estos anios.
Por todo ello los trabajos que me interest abordar en esta reflexi6n
son aquellos que son protagonizados por mujeres del pasado o del
present, histories individuals o colectivas con las cuales establezco
unas conexiones especialmente personales. Primeramente voy a citar
un antecedente important en M6xico antes de abordar los proyectos
puertorriquefios. En el 1981 y como parte del Colectivo Cine Mujer
dirigi mi primer documental titulado Yalaltecas que denuncia los abu-
sos del PRI (partido en el poder hasta la llegada de Fox en 1998) en una
comunidad zapoteca de la Sierra de Oaxaca asi como la lucha de la
Organizaci6n de Mujeres Yalaltecas por acabar con el cacicazgo y la
Aquella fue una experiencia de convivencia de ocho companferas
entire ellas la fot6grafa y sonidista, todas de la capital, con las mujeres
lideres de la comunidad que participaron en el gui6n y prestaron sus
testimonios, ademfs de que nos proveyeron el alojamiento y comida
durante los diez dias en que estuvimos viviendo en Yalalag para reco-
ger las imAgenes en 16mm que darian forma al documental. Es en esta
experiencia que encontr6 mi vocaci6n como director, oficio al que he
dedicado mas de veinte afios de mi vida, combinAndolo con la ense-
fianza. De hecho mi pasi6n por la direcci6n la descubri un poco antes,
despues de recorrer various roles dentro del medio, desde asistente de
direcci6n y asistente de producci6n hasta asistente de fotografia, y
culminar en la edici6n. En el cuarto de edici6n encontr6 la clave del
quehacer cinematografico pues es el espacio donde verdaderamente
se arman los proyectos, se estructuran, se aderezan como un platillo
al que se le van agregando los ingredients de mfsica, sonidos, titulos,
en fin, el ritmo y el sabor. De ser editor a pasar a la direcci6n fue s6lo
un paso, el mismo que recorri al pasar de la direcci6n del documental
a la direcci6n de la ficci6n.
Cuatro afios mas tarde vine a Puerto Rico siguiendo a mi marido y
pas6 dos afios criando a mi hijo y colaborando en proyectos antes de
lanzarme a dirigir el documental de la artist plAstica Myrna BAez titu-
lado Los espejos del silencio. Esos primeros afios en la isla fueron muy
dificiles a nivel personal porque sentia que no podia ser la mujer abne-


gada y ama de casa, que no podia dedicarme s6lo a servir y tratar de
ser la mujer perfect, sumisa y controlada; me debatia entire lo que
creia que era mi deber y opt6 por la sobrevivencia, por la separaci6n y
por re-encontrar mi identidad porque en la relaci6n me estaba aho-
gando. Dirigir el documental sobre Myrna fue clave porque a trav6s
de ella, de seguir de cerca su process creative, su entrega total a su
arte, me empec6 a re-encontrar; con su apoyo incondicional empec6 a
re-armar mi propio rompecabezas. Mirando a Myrna hacer bocetos,
tomar elements de la realidad para luego interpretarlos, crear mun-
dos interiores para personajes femeninos sugerentes y complejos me
nutrieron como persona, me obligaron a ser fiel a su retrato y mirdn-
dola, filmAndola, editindola me fui encontrando, con mis limitaciones
pero tambi6n con mi poder de contar con imagenes. De hecho, la es-
cena final del documental es Myrna mirando su pintura -la que habia
estado pintando a lo largo de la filmaci6n- mientras yo, a trav6s de la
camara, la veo reflejarse en ese mismo espejo; somos dos artists, re-
interpretandose frente al espectador. De ahi el titulo que encontr6
tambien hacia el final del montaje. Alli confirm que crear cualquier
arte es como el process filmico y de video que permit revisar la ma-
nera como reflexionamos, miramos y reorganizamos un material para
que comunique al mayor nhmero de personas posibles. Los espejos
del silencio se estren6 en una sala del Metro en Santurce con un lleno
total. De ese trabajo naci6 una profunda amistad con Myrna que con-
tinfa hasta el dia de hoy ademis de que tengo el privilegio de tenerla
como una de mis models creativas.

Mujeres que cruzan fronteras

Una vez que recre6 una historic personal de una artist decidi abor-
dar la de un colectivo, es decir la de las mujeres dominicanas que al
igual que yo habiamos emigrado a Puerto Rico en busca de unos sue-
flos y unos anhelos. Por aquel entonces me preocupaba el prejuicio
que habia contra las dominicanas basicamente por desconocimiento
y por ello decidi hacer un documental que le diera voz a unas mujeres
que no la tenian, que contara la historic desde sus puntos de vista y no
el de la prensa, que ayudara a comprender la compleja realidad de las
migraciones en el context de un mundo globalizado; de ahi surgi6
Visa para un sue io (1992). Mi preocupaci6n coincidi6 con que en 1991
la Universidad del Sagrado Coraz6n, bajo la edici6n del Dr. Jorge Duany,
public el libro Migraci6n en la semi-periferia, incluyendo un ensayo


de la Dra. Luisa Hernandez Angueira que enfocaba precisamente en
las mujeres dominicanas. Consegui que Sonia Castro, una joven domi-
nicana, asistente de la investigaci6n en el libro, participara conmigo
en la producci6n del video. De hecho ella fue una de las varias mujeres
que dan su testimonio en este documental. Ella tambien nos brind6
acceso a su familiar en Gaspar HernAndez, lugar donde filmamos las
escenas de recreaci6n de la salida en yola.
Por entonces Juan Luis Guerra era muy popular en Puerto Rico, es
decir que habia parte de la cultural dominicana que era aceptada, valo-
rada y apreciada y por ello utilic& su m6sica como hilo conductor, ade-
mcs de que su lirica cuenta en parte la misma historic que yo estaba
contando. El contrast entire lo que aceptamos y bailamos con aque-
Ilo que rechazamos o nos causa problema me pareci6 interesante para
el proyecto. El documental se estren6 en el Teatro Emilio S. Belaval en
un Ileno total y hubo una segunda tanda para que las personas que se
quedaron afuera pudieran verla. De esa experiencia con las mujeres
dominicanas aprendi su determinaci6n para superar sus limitaciones
y su ferocidad para lograr su cometido tanto aqui como en Nueva York,
como descubri un poco mds tarde. A pesar de que han pasado trece
afios desde su realizaci6n este documental se utiliza constantemente
en colegios y universidades en Puerto Rico y Estados Unidos debido a
que la comunidad dominicana sigue en constant crecimiento.
Pasaron un par de afios y realice otras producciones pero el tema
de la migraci6n parecia volver como algo recurrente y de preocupa-
ci6n muy personal. Durante la filmaci6n de Visa para un suefio habia
entrevistado a una mujer que posteriormente se fue a Nueva York, igual
que otras que utilizaban a Puerto Rico como puente. Por eso decidi
producer un segundo documental Suedos atrapados, la migraci6n do-
minicana a Nueva York (1994) que narra la culminaci6n de esa migra-
ci6n de la periferia hacia la metropolis, en especial a la gran manzana
donde ya habia una comunidad dominicana en crecimiento. Esta vez
la investigaci6n estuvo a cargo de la Dra. Ramona HernAndez quien
ensefiaba en City University of New York (CUNY) y estaba trabajando
su tesis doctoral precisamente con el tema de las mujeres dominica-
nas y era colaboradora del Centro de Investigaciones Dominicanas en
City College, CUNY, en el alto Manhattan. Para la filmaci6n hicimos
una selecci6n de aquellas mujeres que representaban distintas expe-
riencias de migraci6n, asi como de trabajo, de situaci6n personal y
familiar. Recuerdo especialmente a una que tenia un negocito de
chimichurri en una van y que habia sido deportada cuatro veces. Tam-
bi6n me impresion6 la taxista, una mujer sola con dos hijos, uno de


ellos en escuela superior y otra en universidad. Para ella, haber emi-
grado si habia representado una mejora en t6rminos del future que
podia ofrecer a sus hijos. Igual que Visa para un suefio este documen-
tal tambien incluye escenas grabadas en la Repiblica Dominicana, pero
esta vez en la zona franca, para establecer el tipo de explotaci6n del
trabajo femenino en la maquila y por ende la migraci6n como una al-
ternativa. El documental fue estrenado en CUNY con un teatro lleno
de estudiantes y personas de la comunidad y la discusi6n posterior
result por demas interesante. The Cinema Guild en Nueva York se
encarga de su distribuci6n en circuitos bAsicamente educativos y al-

Mujeres lideres en la historic de Puerto Rico

Luisa Capetillo, mujer de principios del siglo veinte cruz6 las fronte-
ras de las convenciones sociales asi como las geograficas al lanzarse a
Nueva York y luego a Tampa y Cuba como parte de la organizaci6n de
los trabajadores hispanos en la metropolis. Fue en el aflo 1993 que
descubri en Cronopios del Viejo San Juan el libro Luisa Capetillo, histo-
ria de una mujerproscrita de Norma Valle Ferrer. Luisa Capetillo habia
sido una mujer adelantada a su 6poca y por ello muy incomprendida.
Por otro lado representaba todas las causes que yo apoyaba como
mujer y como una persona comprometida con la justicia social. Ella
habia sido la primera feminist del pais, habia organizado a los/as tra-
bajadores de la cana y del tabaco, habia escrito ensayos y obras de
teatro y habia sido periodista. Como lectora en las fabricas de tabaco
habia educado e informado a la clase trabajadora sobre el acontecer
politico y econ6mico en Puerto Rico asi como en otras parties del mun-
do. Fue una mujer coherente con su pensamiento anarquico y su creen-
cia en el amor libre, habia parido dos hijos fruto de su amor incondi-
cional por un hombre de otra clase social quien al poco tiempo la aban-
don6. Fue una mujer que vivi6 muy sola las causes que defendi6, fue
criticada y marginada por las convenciones sociales de su epoca y es
todavia injustamente desconocida por muchas puertorriquefias a pe-
sar de su enorme contribuci6n. S61o existe una foto de ella vistiendo
pantalones y corbata y otra en la que compare como inica mujer con
un grupo de hombres, entire ellos Santiago Iglesias Pantin, lider de la
Federaci6n Libre de Trabajadores.
Gracias a este docudrama fui invitada a participar en el Festival de
Mar de Plata, Argentina, organizado por Maria Luisa Bemberg, directo-


ra a quien admiraba much y a quien afortunadamente conoci breve-
mente durante mi estancia. A la distancia pienso que el reconocimien-
to que recibi6 Luisa Capetillo, pasi6n de justicia en dicho festival res-
ponde a que esta lider boricua es tan especial como cualquiera de
las protagonistas de las peliculas de Maria Luisa Bemberg, y posible-
mente tambi6n a que en Argentina el movimiento anarquista fue muy
Con Luisa Capetillo aprendi que el rescatar personajes femeninos
del olvido nos permit mirar nuestro present al comparar nuestra
situaci6n con decenas de afios de por medio, podemos mirar los lo-
gros alcanzados como g6nero pero a la misma vez tambi6n aceptar
que todavia hay much por hacer. Presentar el docudrama en escue-
las y universidades permitia hacer una reflexi6n sobre la situaci6n de
la mujer en el pasado y compararlo con el present; funcionaba a ma-
nera de provocaci6n y result efectivo. Por ello tres afios mas tarde
realic6 otro docudrama sobre Maria de las Mercedes Barbudo, la pri-
mera independentista puertorriquefia, quien fue encarcelada por sus
ideas political y desterrada sin derecho a juicio ni a fianza alrededor
del 1820; de ahi el titulo de El destierro de Maria de las Mercedes Barbu-
do(1996). El personaje me parecia interesante y vigente en un momen-
to en que en Puerto Rico se debatia el tema del carpeteo asi como del
derecho a la fianza. Ademas muy poca gente y ciertamente ninguno
de mis estudiantes sabia quien era esta destacada lider que aparece
resefiada en dos finicos pdrrafos en el libro Hombres y mujeres ilustres
de Puerto Rico. Lo efectivo que result la mezcla de escenas de archi-
vo y fotos con recreaci6n en Luisa Capetillo me inspire para recrear
otro personaje hist6rico de un siglo antes. Sin embargo la falta de
fotografias de 6poca, de financiamiento y lo caro que result recrear
una 6poca pasada con los escasos recursos de escenografia, vestuario
y utileria me oblig6 a simplificar el proyecto y dejarlo en 15 minutes
con una intenci6n mas de estimular al pfiblico a investigar que de re-
crear la vida de esta interesante mujer.
Nuevamente trabaj6 con Ineabelle Col6n quien habia actuado como
la mamA de Luisa Capetillo, con Reni Monclova quien es uno de mis
actors favorites, con Pedro Adorno y con Laura Magruder quien se
interpreta a si misma como la fot6grafa que en el present investiga a
este personaje hist6rico. Magruder result una especie de alter ego,
de la artist y periodista que en el present busca en el pasado claves
de una mujer de vanguardia que supo vivir fiel a un compromise que le
signific6 dejar la isla para siempre.


Mujeres sobrevivientes

Mujeres contemporaneas, maltratadas son las protagonistas del
documental Julia en tres tiempos (1996) comisionado por Casa Julia
de Burgos, sobre la violencia dom6stica. Los testimonios honestos y
director de las mujeres que sufren uno de los grandes males sociales
que aquejan al pais forman la estructura de esta pieza. Cuando esta-
ba haciendo la investigaci6n para el gui6n fui a presentarme con las
mujeres que en ese moment estaban albergadas en Casa Julia para
convencerlas de la importancia de contar su experiencia en cAmara.
Ellas primero cuestionaron mi interns en utilizar sus caras en el vi-
deo asi como mi posici6n personal con respect a la situaci6n que
estaban viviendo; pas6 la prueba y contest todas sus dudas y enton-
ces aceptaron ser parte del proyecto. Este video ha sido efectivo
puesto que otras mujeres victims de maltrato puedan aprender de
aquellas que prestaron su testimonio y encontraron la manera de
romper el circulo de maltrato de la violencia dom6stica. El titulo del
documental estA tomado de la poesia de Julia de Burgos que tambi6n
sirve de estructura y motivo grafico y visual. Producir este docu-
mental fue un process personal doloroso, fuerte pero tambi6n de
much crecimiento.

Otras mujeres en la lucha

En el 2000 estaba terminando mis dos afios del grado de maestria en
Bellas Artes (Master Fine Arts) en Norwich University en Vermont. Para
colaborar y poner un granito de arena en la lucha por recuperar los
terrenos que ocupaba la marina en Vieques y como parte de mi tesis
de maestria produje el documental Cruzando fronteras, Alianza de
Mujeres Viequenses. Dos afios antes de la salida de la marina mis cole-
gas estaban haciendo various documentales sobre el process:
Vieques...un largometraje de William Nemecik; Vieques: metdfora de
Puerto Rico de Ivonne Soto y Yolanda Velasco; y Cuando lo pequeho se
hace grande de Mariem Perez. Yo decidi concentrarme en las mujeres
que hacian el trabajo de base en el Campamento de Justicia y Paz fren-
te a la entrada de Camp Garcia mientras continuaban atendiendo a sus
families. Durante aproximadamente cinco meses estuve viajando a la
isla de Vieques a grabar el process. En el campamento conoci a Judith
y a "Chiquita" que acabaron siendo las dos protagonistas del video y
continfan hoy dia como lideres de su organizaci6n.


Para la presentaci6n del video en Vermont mont6 tambien una ins-
talaci6n que me ayud6 a conceptuar Ardelle Negretti de la Escuela de
Artes PI~sticas. Hasta entonces yo no me habia aventurado a hacer
instalaciones pero fui impulsada o mis bien presionada por mi direc-
tora de tesis, Berta Jottar, una performer mexicana que vive en Nue-
va York. Para que los norteamericanos pudieran comprender la lucha
de Vieques, recree un mapa en el piso con unas cercas que simulaban
las verjas que separaban a la poblaci6n civil de los dos terrenos que
ocupaba la marina y con unas bolsitas de plastico llenas de agua y
unos soldaditos y tanquetas -contribuci6n de Aron Salabarrias- mar-
caba la ocupaci6n del ejercito norteamericano en la isla. Una compu-
tadora con impresora y las imAgenes que circulaban por internet so-
bre la lucha en Vieques completaban la instalaci6n en la que las perso-
nas podian interactuar seleccionando una imagen, imprimiendola y
colgandola con pinchos a las redes de la instalaci6n para despues en-
viarlas al entonces Presidente de Estados Unidos, Bill Clinton. Esta
misma instalaci6n la mont6 meses despues, con la ayuda de Berta Jottar,
en la Sala de Facultad de la Universidad del Sagrado Coraz6n. A este
estreno asistieron seis mujeres viequenses que compartieron sus con-
movedores testimonios con las estudiantes. La emoci6n que genera-
ron entire el p6blico estudiantil era tal que muchas lloramos por las
injusticias y humillaciones que relataron a flor de piel.

Las ficciones o recreaciones son todas protagonistas

En 1985 senti que estaba lista para hacer taller dirigiendo ficci6n, mas
allA de los cursos cortos que habia tomado en los Film and Video
Workshops en Rockport, Maine. Por ello adapt tres cuentos de Mayra
Santos Febres. (Hebra rota, Dulce pesadilla, Abnel y Nightstand), cada
uno con 10 minutes de duraci6n. Los tres cuentos tienen a mujeres
como protagonistas: una mujer maltratada que busca su identidad
como mujer negra, una mujer clase media sexualmente reprimida que
da rienda suelta a su "voyeurismo" y sensualidad, y una mujer incapaz
de una relaci6n a largo plazo y que s6lo busca un "nightstand". Hebra
rota fue el primero y el que Mayra supervise de cerca pues era el que
mas le interesaba. Lo filmamos en 35mm para pasarse en el cine y
efectivamente estuvo dos semanas en cartelera en el teatro Fine Arts
como preAmbulo a las peliculas. Los dos cortos restantes fueron
grabados en video por falta de presupuesto. Fue interesante y a la vez
retante trabajar estas adaptaciones porque los cuentos funcionan muy


bien leidos pero es muy dificil conseguir el mismo efecto en pantalla
por la famosa vuelta de tuerca de los cuentos. Lo important fue que
me probe en la direcci6n de ficci6n y en el trabajo con actors y conoci
mis alcances y limitaciones pero sobretodo me senti preparada para
acometer un largometraje.
En el 2000 se estren6 El beso que me diste, basado en la novela Por-
que el beso que me diste no lo olvidar] jamds de Stella Soto. La historic
me gust6 porque tiene otra vez una mujer periodista como protagonis-
ta -con quien obviamente conecto- es madre de un hijo que es secues-
trado por el papa de quien ella se ha distanciado, dato con el cual
tambien siento empatia. El otro punto de interns es el planteamiento
de la situaci6n political de Puerto Rico que nos obliga a reflexionar
sobre si la isla puede ser autosuficiente dentro de un mundo
globalizado. El esquema de trabajo fue de una pelicula de bajo presu-
puesto pero de much mAs que cualquier producci6n que yo habia
hecho. La filmaci6n se realize con mas gente y mas equipo del que yo
hubiera querido y eso me pes6 en el control del proyecto. Hoy dia
haria las cosas distintas sin embargo la pelicula se exhibi6 en Fine
Arts en Miramar durante tres semanas y posteriormente se pas6 por
Telemundo. La pelicula fue invitada al Festival Latino de Chicago, al
Festival Latino de Los Angeles, a Montreal, a Massachussets y various
festivales mas y esta en DVD en los video clubes de Estados Unidos.
RGH Lions la distribuye a nivel international y Vanguard lo hace en
Estados Unidos. Actualmente estA disponible en DVD a trav6s de

De vuelta al documental

Especialmente las artes visuales pero tambien la m6sica han sido
motivo de various documentales mios y mediante los cuales he regis-
trado importantes aspects o personajes que gracias a la imagen y el
sonido permiten rescatar, reordenar y presentar parte de una realidad
desde mi personal y subjetivo punto de vista. Despues del de Myrna
BAez dirigi el documental Los series imaginarios de Susana Espinosa en
1996, que trata nuevamente de una gran ceramista y escultora que es
observada y re-interpretada por otra mujer y cineasta. Con Susana
me unia el arte y el hecho de que es una emigrante igual que yo. Hoy
cuando escribo este articulo termino el documental Toni Hambleton,
memories en el barro sobre otra ceramista, esta vez mexicana, tam-
bien parte del grupo Casa Candina. A Toni me une una profunda amis-


tad y quiza esto hizo mis complejo el process de edici6n. Cuando yo
pens6 que el documental estaba terminado los otros miembros de Casa
Candina sentian que por mi cercania con ella habia favorecido la face-
ta personal y no la artistic. Esto me oblig6 a hacer ajustes radicales,
a integrar un narrador -aunque no me gusten- y re-editar dejando ahora
a la artist en pantalla mientras que la persona, aunque alcanzamos a
tocarla, no la conocemos verdaderamente. Otra vez fue interesante
entrar al process creative de una mujer que al igual que yo acomete
cada trabajo como si fuera el primero. ,Y por qu6 es asi? Creo que
porque no hay formulas y porque cada vez tienes que correrte el ries-
go de contar nuevamente otra historic, de otra mujer, en un moment
especifico de su vida.


Mi quehacer me ha permitido asomarme a histories de mujeres que
de otra manera no podria penetrar, me ha permitido con cada una apren-
der algo mis sobre mi misma, sobre mi pasado, sobre mi present, so-
bre mi quehacer. Mi profesi6n me ha permitido viajar llevando mis pro-
yectos, desde diversos puntos en Estados Unidos a Guadalajara, M6xi-
co, Mar de Plata, Argentina, Copenhague y Repuiblica Dominicana.
Cada proyecto ha implicado investigar una realidad distinta y para
mi eso es un privilegio porque me permit asomarme a otros mundos,
oficios, maneras de ser mujeres, a otros tiempos y espacios que de
otro modo no conoceria. Trabajo los temas motivada por unos intere-
ses intelectuales y emocionales asi como por mis preocupaciones so-
ciales; trabajo para sentirme viva porque darle coherencia a las histo-
rias -en pedazos de celuloide o cada vez mas, en cuadritos de video-
ilumina mi vida y le da sentido, encuentro coherencia en un mundo
cada vez mas injusto, desigual y violent.


Largo y corto metrajes de Sonia Fritz

Carnavales del Caribe, documental 56 min., 2004 (work in progress)
Fiestas de Puerto Rico, documental 30 min. (work in progress)
Arecibo, ayery hoy, documental 30 min., 2003.
Toni Hambleton, memories en el barro, 24 min., 2003.
Las caras lindas de Tite CuretAlonso, documental 30 min., 2003.
El suelo Americano, documental 30 min., 2003. Original en espafiol e
El universe de Jose Rosa, documental 30 min., 2003.
gJusticia para quienes?, documental 15 min., 2003.
Los espectadores de Myrna Baez, documental 24 min. 2002.
El beso que me diste, largometraje 90 min., 2002.
Hay golpes en la vida, documental 24 min.
Los Santos Reyes Magos, documental, 15 min. 2000.
Puertorriqueios de aquiy de alld, documental 25 min., 2000.
Los series imaginarios de Susana Espinosa, documental 20 min., 1997.
Dulce pesadilla, Abnel y Nightstand, cortos 10 min. 1998.
Hebra rota, corto ficci6n 10 min., 35mm, 1997.
Camino sin retorno, el destierro de Maria de las Mercedes Barbudo,
docudrama 15 min., 1996.
Un retrato de Carlos Collazo, 24 min., 1996.
Bernardo Hogan, artist del torno, documental 15 min., 1995.
Julia en tres tiempos, documental 24 min., 1995.
Suefos atrapados, la migraci6n dominicana a Nueva York, 24 min.,
El Puente sobre el Caribe, desarrollo econ6mico y social en Puerto
Rico, 45 min., 1994.
Tito Henriquez, compositor de siempre, documental 24 min., 1993.
Luisa Capetillo, pasi6n de justicia, docudrama 45 min., 1993.
Puerto Rico, arte e identidad, documental 54 min., 1990.
Visa para un suefio, La migraci6n de las mujeres dominicanas a Puer-
to Rico, documental 24 min., 1990.
Myrna Bdez, los espejos del silencio, documental 25 min., 1989.

The Film of the Novel: The Influence of Marker's
La Jetee on At The Bottom of the River

Robert Buckeye
Writer and independent scholar

There have been two things that really got me inter-
ested in writing. One was a French film called La Jetee.
It's very modernist and certainly avant-garde for its
time. It's all still photographs, in black and white; it
turns out it was made by an American living in France.
Anyway, it's still photographs, and somewhere in the
middle of this film there is actual movement, and then
it goes back to still photographs. I used to watch it
over and over-I was incredibly moved by it.'
Jamaica Kincaid, in an interview

Of course, it is Elaine Potter Richardson, the name her mother
gives her, the name she hates, who has left Antigua to work as
an au pair in New York and enrolled in a photography class at
the New School who sees the film Kincaid comments about. But if it is
Elaine Potter Richardson who sits down, it is Jamaica Kincaid who
gets up, and her experience of it, which led her to writing, recapitu-
lates that of the protagonist of Kincaid's first book, At the Bottom of
the River, who says (in that book's last sentence), "I claim these
things then-mine-and now feel myself grow solid and complete,
my name filling up my mouth."2 If Chris Marker's La Jet&e becomes
the vehicle through which Jamaica Kincaid can be acknowledged,

I Interview, Caribbean Women Writers, Essays from the First International
Conference (Calaloux Publications, 1990), 222-223.
2 Kincaid, Jamaica. At the Bottom of the River (New York: Plume, 1992), 82. All
further quotations will be from this text.


then, At the Bottom of the River is our evidence that she has, "my
name filling up my mouth."
Although it would appear at first glance that Marker's avant-garde
science fiction film has little to do with Kincaid's life, there was, as her
comment indicates, a powerful reaction- "I was incredibly moved by
it"-and it is my argument in this paper that we can find reasons why
her response was as strong as it was by reading her first book against
the film. Kincaid saw in a post-nuclear Paris in an indeterminate fu-
ture, I believe, echoes if not reflections of her own life, even if these are
not immediately apparent. These revolve around memory, and, in par-
ticular, the place of memory in exile. She saw in the Marker film that
her life was a story that could be told. That the subject of the film is
the past and that its protagonist goes back into the past in order to
save life in the present would resonate with Kincaid, who left Antigua
for a new world in America where she had to establish both place and
identity. That the film, with one exception, is a series of photographs
underlines the importance of the past, since photographs are always,
in effect, memento mori.
More crucially, she also saw how she might tell it. The once-upon-a-
time seamless narrative of her post colonial childhood did not permit
such a telling, and the narrative had to be found elsewhere. A life in
fragments-a fractured life-could only be put together in fragments.
("The history of catastrophe," Kamau Brathwaite notes, "requires such
a literature to hold a/broken mirror up to broken/nature.")3 Thus she
could not use story in the conventional sense, and she could tell it
only by refusing such conventions. La Jetee, a film of still photographs,
is an analogue, if you will, for discrete images arranged and ordered by
montage and juxtaposition rather than narrative.
Marker's film takes place in Paris in some future after a nuclear ho-
locaust has devastated the world, and those who believe themselves
to be victors have had to go underground to escape the radioactive air
of the surface. However, it is only a matter of time before they, too, are
doomed, unless they find a way to survive, and some of them begin to
conduct a series of experiments with those they have imprisoned. If
they could contact those in the past or the future to come to the aid
of the present, they might live, and they look for those with strong
imaginations or minds who might leap beyond their time to the future
or go back into the past, where they might speak to their ancestors or

3 Brathwaite, Kamau. Contemporary Poets (Chicago and London: St. James, 1991), 94.


successors. "If they were able to conceive or to dream another time,"
the narrator comments, "perhaps they would be able to live in it."4
It is an age-old utopian dream, and after a number of failures to
reach beyond the present (those who fail to do so are executed),
they find one man whose imagination is powerful enough to go both
into the future and back into the past, and his story is that of the film.
It is the story of his childhood, of the love that he has lost, of the
moment of his death, "a man marked by an image from his childhood"
(Marker, 1). But one cannot escape time, and in the climactic scene
of the film, the boy sees a murder on the observation deck-lajetce-
at Orly airport in Paris. It is, in fact, the moment of his own death,
which he sees foreshadowed in childhood, of himself rushing across
La Jetee towards the woman he loves when he is shot down. "This
moment he had been granted to watch as a child, which had never
ceased to obsess him," the narrator comments, "was the moment of
his own death" (Marker 245). Marker's decision to use only photo-
graphs in a medium dependent on movement emphasizes then not
only its concern with the past but also the role photographs play as
reminders of one's mortality.
We need to remember that the events of At the Bottom of the River
are in the past, kept alive by the protagonist's memories of her island
childhood (even those of her life in New York are understood in the
context of Antigua), and the seminal event of this narrative is her de-
parture from the island. "One picture of two women standing on a jetty,"
Kincaid describes it. "One picture of the same two women embracing,
one picture of the same two women waving goodbye" (Kincaid, 12).
These are descriptions of stereotypical photographs of departure (with-
out captions to give them meaning), and they sever one life from a
later one, even if one never leaves the earlier life behind. The narrative
of such journeys is always broken. (We might even see Kincaid's choice
of the more archaic English term jetty instead of pier or dock to be
directive. In order for her protagonist to put her childhood behind her,
she has to reject the English colonial presence in it, just as she must
reject both Richardson, the English colonizer's name, and Elaine, that
of the Lebanese woman her mother named her after, who had come to
Antigua, like the English, to take something from it. "When I was nine,"
Kincaid comments in an interview, "I refused to stand up at the refrain

4 Marker, Chris. La Jetde (New York: Zone Books, 1992), [46]. All further quotations
will be from this text.


'God Save the King.' I hated 'Rule, Britannia,' and I used to say that we
weren't Britons, we were slaves.")5
Memory becomes the fulcrum around which the narrative unfolds
in two ways. In the first place, Kincaid must, like the man in the Marker
film, enter the past through the power of her imagination, so that she
may live in the present. The past must be part of the present-in Marker's
terms, come to the aid of the present-and she can neither deny it nor
romanticize it. Those who deny the past, as Santayana reminds us, are
condemned to repeat it. Those who falsify it cannot live in the present.
In the second place, the events of the book must be told as memory tells
them, not as they are told in linear narratives. To take memories and
straighten them out into a B following A as it precedes C is to destroy
not only their force and power but also their truth.
Memory is often involuntary, unpredictable, as Proust understood
so well; it may be obsessive, a burden we cannot free ourselves from;
it may be repressed, only to surface later transformed, in shattering
ways; it may be imagined, invented whole cloth, but be more truthful
than fact; it often has the character of dream, and metamorphosis is
its defining quality. The narrative of memory, then, is dependent on
image, recurrence, juxtaposition. Its pace is intermittent-a drift, if
you will-and its structure is based upon montage-like a book of pho-
tographs, each photograph next to another (or in a film like La Jetee).
Transformation is the governing principle. To talk about such a book
is to talk about it more in terms of poetry than fiction. If memory is
used to help us understand the present, then we must also see the
transformative power of the imagination to retrieve from the past what
are, in effect, object lessons for the present. It is no accident, I think,
that the first section of At the Bottom of the River, titled "Girl," is house-
hold advice from mother to daughter, an effort by the mother to both
protect her daughter as well as to assert control over her. The trajec-
tory of the book follows the daughter's efforts to control her own life.
We can see most clearly in that opening section, I believe, how
Kincaid uses one method of La Jetde to great effect. In this one-sen-
tence, three-page story, the mother offers household advice and in-
structs the daughter about the world:

Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap;
wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline

5 Kincaid interview, 215.


to dry; don't walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in
very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them
off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it
doesn't have gum on it, because that way it won't hold up after a
wash; soak salt fish overnight before you cook it; is it true that you
sing benna in Sunday school?; always eat your food in such a way
that you won't turn someone else's stomach; on Sundays try to walk
like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming ....
(Kincaid, 3).

Of course, if such advice is intended both to protect and educate, it
is also meant to control and inhibit. The mother must keep the girl a
child, as the colonial country must maintain its colony. It is, so the
reasoning goes, in her best interest (the pronoun here, as in all such
circumstances involving power, is deliberately uncertain). However,
the girl interrupts the mother's litany twice, in passages Kincaid itali-
cizes. If we might say in one way that the girl's comments-one a de-
nial that she sings benna in Sunday school, the other a question about
the baker-are an assertion of herself against the mother's power and
knowledge, rebellion no matter how timid or unaware, they are in an-
other way disruptive. They interrupt the discourse of the mother, and
have the same shock effect as movement in Marker's film of otherwise
still photographs.
Here we need to understand how interruption functions if we are to
see how Kincaid makes use of it in this opening section. In the first
place, interruption disrupts context and permits us to see something
removed from its original place and thus see it from a different angle,
as we do when we take a quotation from its text (and context). In the
second place, interruption is always a shock, no matter how slight or
expected, and often has the effect of an emergency brake on a run-
away train. Such shock forces unexpected recognition, unanticipated
understandings. Finally, interruption becomes the means by which a
counter-narrative enters a narrative. It is the fissure through which we
may see other possibilities, and counteracts any illusion a controlling
narrative may produce. Kincaid's use of it in the first section of the
book is foreshadowing. It suggests that At the Bottom of the River is a
counter-narrative to the narratives of control and power; that it re-
moves events from their conventional and predictable understandings
so that they can be understood in new ways; and that shock is often,
necessarily, the only means by which we may awaken from that which
keeps us asleep.


In a section titled, "Holidays," Kincaid describes a summer vacation
in what we assume from another context to be Michigan:

The deerflies, stinging and nesting in wet, matted hair; broken bottles
at the bottom of the swimming hole; mosquitoes; a family of skunks
eating the family garbage; a family of skunks spraying the family dog;
washing the family dog with cans of tomato juice to remove the smell
of the skunks; a not-too-fast-moving woodchuck crossing the road;
running over the not-too-fast-moving woodchuck; the camera
forgotten, exposed in the hot sun; the prism in the camera broken,
because the camera has been forgotten, exposed in the hot sun;
spraining a finger while trying to catch a cricket ball; spraining a finger
while trying to catch a softball.... (Kincaid, 33)

If we can say that this summary is the characteristic shorthand of a
teenager on vacation or the notes of the writer who would later turn
them into a narrative, we can also say that it is standard jump-cut film
technique, in which image follows image, and the viewer pieces the
story together him/herself. Such montage is, of course, the overriding
principle of Marker's film of still photographs (or of any photograph
album), and it functions much like interruption in a text. First of all, it
interrupts the context of the linear narrative and forces us to see things
in new ways through the juxtaposition of elements which might not,
normally, be placed near to one another; the shock of the unexpected
forces us to consider matters in different ways. It is also shorthand, if
you will, and that, in the first place, speeds things up and, in the sec-
ond, reduces them to isolated particulars. Thus montage, as Sergei
Eisenstein demonstrates, is inherently shocking, disorienting, unset-
tling. Kincaid finds that through the use of it she can insert her story
into the coming of age narrative in a subversive way. We might add
that the vacation described here undercuts or demystifies character-
istic narratives of vacations in a way Kincaid pulls us away from the
tropes of an island in the tropics.
There are powerful elements in At the Bottom of the River that obvi-
ously do not come from the Marker film. Kincaid employs dream to
great effect, although we cannot discount the parallels between dream
and memory. She utilizes obeah, particularly the jablesse, to give her
possibilities that a realistic, straightforward narrative would not per-
mit. (I do not mean to suggest by this statement that obeah is not part
of the real world.) I might argue that science fiction, the genre Marker
draws on in La Jetde, functions in the world of technology much as


magic does in the pastoral world of Kincaid's childhood, but I find no
evidence of influence here. However, I think if we read At the Bottom of
the River against La Jetie, we can see how Kincaid saw ways in which
memory might be used and how she might tell her story.
Kincaid makes one error in her comment about the Marker film. Chris
Marker is not an "American living in France," but a native-born French-
man. It is significant, however, that she see him to be an exile. Living
in Manhattan and wrestling with memories of an Antigua she both
wishes to keep and to let go, Elaine Potter Richardson sees in the Marker
film how she might keep the memories of a land she can no longer live
in while living in a land she will never be at home in, and it is Jamaica
Kincaid who does not forget. "For the man who no longer has a home-
land," Theodore Adorno comments, "writing becomes a place to live."6

6 Adorno, Theodore. Minima Moralia (London: NLB Books, 1978), 87.

Can Imperialism and Feminized Patriarchy Find
True Happiness in the Wasteland?
Some Thoughts on Sammy and Rosie Get Laid

Karen J. Taylor
College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio

In the midst of taking off his clothes for a long-awaited sexual
encounter with Alice (the sweetheart of his youth), and complaining
about children, Rafi grumbles, "Love is sought everywhere but in
the home. What is wrong with home?" Says Alice, "Usually it's the people
who live there" (Kureishi 41).1 So begins the "climactic" centerpiece of
Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, screenwriter Hanif Kureishi's and director
Stephen Frears' subtly-drawn critique of life in the wasteland that was
post-colonial London in the late twentieth century. Although scholars
and reviewers have focused on the race, class, and gender aspects of
this film, none have presented them in the context of the metaphor
Kureishi himself chose home.2 Kureishi repeatedly turns our gaze

All quotes are from the film, but I cite the corresponding page number for
Kureishi's screenplay to encourage readers to look at the screenplay because there
are minor differences between the film and screenplay dialogue, and Kureishi offers
important commentary in his Diary.
2 Nityananda Deckha comes closest to such an analysis where she argued that
this film and the Bloomsbury Group "share a concern for a politics of the private
sphere, anchored by the physical and social space of the house." She bases her
argument on the notion that the house "mediates an ethics of affect, whereby
aesthetic, erotic, and political enjoyment are interwoven in the making of identities"
(154). The house, then, becomes the place where, in "crises of affect," people try to
work out new ethical ways of relating to one another. My argument focuses more
on the notion of home as the site of the reproduction of social and political relations
in a Marxist sense. While it is about "ethics" in Deckha's understanding of the
relationships between radical politics and the transformation of society, I am more
interested in this film's representations of the ways men's and women's efforts at


home: London is Sammy and Rosie's home, it is the home of imperialism;
it is a site of home-lessness, and it is the place Rafi hopes to make his
home after fleeing his own homelandd, an unnamed "Asian" former-
colony of the British empire.3 In this essay I argue that, through a
melange of love stories, Kureishi and Frears invite us to see that home,
the basic unit of social order, has become the site of imperial struggle.
Imperialism "the highest form of capitalism," according to Kureishi -
has reconfigured human values and roles as a contest between
domination and self-determination, a contest enacted between men
and women as well as between people of different races and classes
(Kureishi 82). Because home has always been the place where family/
society reproduces values and roles, it has become ground zero for
that contest. While in essence it is a struggle between domination and
equality, because post-industrial capitalism is based on consumerism,
the men and women of Sammy and Rosie's world have conflated their
desires to be dominant/equal with the right to consume and the right
not to be consumed. As Alice suggests, these people imperialists,
patriarchs, anti-imperialists, feminists, and the colonized are mostly
trapped by that conflation, and thus they are what is wrong with
London. As in most homes, getting laid provides a temporary truce,
and the newest members of the household are often the ones who see
what is happening most clearly.
Kureishi and Frears introduce us to the state of that struggle between
domination and self-determination in the imperial homeland, England,
in the opening moments of the film. The voice of white patriarchy
- Margaret Thatcher which begins the story of The Wasteland as a
voice-over, suggests that feminism has triumphed. London is no longer

transformation become re-encoded in the already-established gender, class, and
race roles which script people's understandings of themselves and therefore shape
their behavior. For other work on Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, see: Pat Aufderheide;
Samir Hachem; Terrance Rafferty; Bert Cardullo; Peter Porter; Alexander Walker;
Colette Lindroth; bell hooks "Stylish Nihilism ...;" Gayatri Spivak; Ranita Chatterjee;
John Hill; or Brenda Silver. See "Works Cited" for full citation.
3 Although reviewers consistently referred to Rafi as "from India" or "Pakistani,"
nowhere in the screenplay or the diary does Kureishi clearly identify any of the
characters ethnically. Reviewers' confidence in naming ethnicity/nationality is
fascinating because it demonstrates that audiences read "race" and "ethnicity"
through stereotypes, but Kureishi's non-identification allows Rafi to become an
allegorical signifier of colonized-but-powerful men. For commentary on the way
race operates in film see Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, or Robyn


the site of Victorian female domesticity and Christian gentlemanliness
and knightly valor. But women's consumption of power has clearly
changed nothing. In the film's first action scene, a sequence that mimes
scenes from Cry Freedom (1987), A Dry White Season (1989), Cry, the
Beloved Country (1995), and many other films about colonial terrorism,
a black woman is murdered by white English policemen (paired
momentarily with a mad, or at least very upset, dog).4 That scene is
based, Kureishi tells us in his diary, on an actual event, the shooting of
"Cherry Groce, who was permanently paralyzed after being shot during
a police raid in which her son was being sought" (102). This is
imperialism policing its colonized, but if feminism has triumphed, why
does imperialism still exist?5
Kureishi and Frears answer that question through their presentation
of characters and the race and class contexts of the plot. The major
characters are all struggling for self-determination: the female
characters all feminists want freedom from male domination; the
male characters all colonized men want freedom from imperial
domination. The contexts of the plot suggest that men and women
fight for those freedoms (for the right to self-determination) from their
race and class positions, and that those positions determine not only
how they fight, but who they fight.
The major women characters in this film personify the stereotypical
feminisms of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: the "civilizing"
imperial wife (Alice), the radical activist-reformer social housekeeper
(Rosie, Rani, and Vivia), the liberated sexual adventurer (Rosie and
Anna), and the lesbian (Rani and Vivia). Alice and Anna give us the old
and new versions of patriarchal, imperial, women's gender roles as
moral guardians. Alice, a child and widow of imperialists, feels superior
to the younger women because she exerted her moral influence on her
husband: "Loyalty and honesty were important things for us. Not

4 bell hooks astutely points to the fact that a policeman shoots this woman only
after she has flung hot oil in his face, and that this undermines Kureishi's intention
"to expose viewers to the cruelty and indifference of white police as they raid this
building where mostly black people live" by making it seem that they had
provocation ("Stylish Nihilism" 158). While I agree with her, I think this is evidence
for the fact that Kureishi rarely allows anything to be uncomplicated.
5 Although there are many kinds of feminism, as a feminist I understand feminism
to be the fight for human equality rather than just gender equality. For an excellent
discussion of the various different kinds of Second-Wave feminism, see Hester
Eisenstein, Contemporary Feminist Thought (G.K. Hall & Co., 1983).


attraction. Not something called pleasure. ...We didn't have
exaggerated expectations of what love and sex could offer, so we didn't
throw each other over at the first unhappiness" (Kureishi 36-37).6 But
she harkens back to a colonial past in which she was raised by an
Ayah, and although she closed her eyes and thought of England for
her husband, that mothering made it possible for her to love and
dream of "civilizing" Rafi. Anna, a white American journalist, is a
representation of "do-me" feminism, and although she claims to be a
"free spirit," she is still deeply wedded to patriarchal traditions: she is
the flirt who, like traditional patriarchal wives, wants Sammy to grow
up and settle down.7 "How many lovers have you had in the last two
years?" she screams at him, annoyed because he's thinking of his wife,
Rosie. When he admits to "twelve or so," she continues: "For you,
pursuing a woman is like hang-gliding! They're a challenge, something
to be overcome! It's fucking out of date, man! It's about time you learned
how to love someone!" (Kureishi 43).
Rosie, Rani, and Vivia are more sexually liberated. Rosie, "doesn't
believe in" two things: "getting the dinner on and sexual fidelity"
(Kureishi 3). Rani, an "Asian" English woman, and Vivia, an "African"
English woman, are liberated from men because they are lesbians,
and thus eschew the most sacred bond of the patriarchal home:
heterosexual sex. For them, heterosexual lovemaking "You know,"
says Rani, "that stuff where the woman spends the whole time trying
to come, but can't, and the man spends the whole time trying to stop
himself from coming, but can't?" is the essence of patriarchy (Kureishi
33). "You didn't have you own lives," Viva tells Alice, "you lived through
men. The penis was your lifeline" (Kureishi 37).
While these women enact female empowerment from different per-
spectives, they all reject male domination. For them, Rafi, the film's
only true patriarch as measured by family tradition and his recent posi-
tion as a colonial dictator, epitomizes all that is wrong with patriarchy.

As John Hill observed, "Through her encounters with younger women ... [Alice]
comes to resent the 'denial' that was expected of her class and generation" (212).
7 In the film, this claim to be a free spirit makes her sound as shallow as Rafi
accuses her of being; in the screenplay she is more articulate: "I am for self-
development above all. The individual reaching her fullest potential through a
wide range of challenging experience" (Kureishi 36). For an entertaining foray into
the world of "do-me" (meaning, generally, the right to be sexually provocative and
still be a feminist) feminism, see Karen Green and Tristan Taormino, eds., A Girl's
Guide To Taking Over The World: Writings From The Girl Zine Revolution (St. Martin's
Griffin, 1997).


In an elegant restaurant, Rosie accuses him of torturing his own people
(an accusation borne out by evidence collected by Rani and Vivia) but,
after biting into a human finger that is inexplicably part of his chicken
dinner, Rafi defends his past behavior as the essence of manhood: "A
man who hasn't killed is a virgin, and doesn't understand the impor-
tance of love! A man who sacrifices others to the benefit of the whole is
in a terrible position. But he's essential!" (Kureishi 28-29). That defense
of manhood convinces neither Rosie nor her friends. Alice's rejection of
Rafi is most telling: "I waited like a fool for you to come back and take me
away like you said you would. What I wanted was a true marriage, and
you wanted power!" (Kureishi 50). Rani, Vivia's lover, is tied to her colo-
nial roots by Rafi, whom she knows by reputation. "We want him out of
the country," she tells Rosie. To Rani and Vivia, Rosie's toleration of Rafi
is "liberalism gone mad" (Kureishi 38). The ultimate blow to Rafi, the
conquering oppressor, comes when he is reduced to ignominious re-
treat from "castrating lesbians" (Rani and Vivia). That uniform rejection
of male domination suggests that in England, the home of imperialism,
women have achieved self-determination and are engaged in a battle
against both imperialism and exploitation.
Rafi's downfall signals an entirely different circumstance for men.
The central male characters in this film Rafi, Sammy, and Danny-
Victoria do not seem able to recognize a common enemy in their
fight for self-determination. Kureishi and Frears' pairing of Rafi and
Danny-Victoria schematically, as the center of the film's first and last
scenes, and thematically, as men attempting to resist imperialism as
"outsiders," both places Sammy in the middle of men's confusion and
demonstrates that colonized men have few options.
From Rafi's perspective as a man whose self-determination was based
on his imperial, patriarchal behavior, the fact that he is no longer
respected as a patriarch is the problem. A first-generation colonized
"Asian" man, Rafi learned when he was at university in London that
England is the home of everything worth having. He has come "home"
to England (which he defines as "hot buttered toast on a fork over an
open fire. And county fingers") to enjoy the fruits of his labor as a self-
styled, anti-imperial freedom-fighter. There he hopes to live out his
days with Sammy (his son), Sammy's wife, Rosie, and his grandchildren.
He also hopes to reunite himself with Alice, who fell in love with him
when he was a student. But he finds Sammy and Rosie in the throes of
crafting a "polyamourous" marriage as independent, feminist people,
not only childless but too fully-occupied with the fascination of living
in the inner city to have much time for Rafi.


Rafi sees clearly what is wrong with his would-be home. Awakened
from a fitful sleep on his first night in London, Rafi's first sight is a
burning portrait of Virginia Woolf. When he runs out to get help, he
finds his son indulging himself in an orgy of consumption hamburger,
shake, cocaine, pornography, and the CD-rendering of an opera.8
Desperate to see for himself what is happening, Rafi runs outside (with
Sammy tagging along, milkshake and hamburger in hand) and discovers
a full-scale revolt in progress, in the midst of which is Anna, Sammy's
girlfriend, playing journalist/self-satisfied voyeur. From Rafi's
perspective, then, (flaming) feminism, consumerism, and middle-class
romanticism are responsible for the collapse of patriarchy, or, as Joseph
Kupfer has argued about the film Fresh (1994), "social relations are
worn thin by the selfish transactions of money, drugs, flesh, and
violence."9 As Rafi tells Anna, "You young international people mystify
me. For you the world and culture is a kind of department store. You
go in and take something you like from each floor. But you are attached
to nothing. Your lives are incoherent, shallow" (Kureishi 36).
As a middle-class accountant and a feminist, Sammy has a different
view. Asked by Rafi what he could possibly like about London now,
Sammy embarks on a rhapsody in yuppie progressivism:

"On Saturdays, we like to walk on the towpath, and kiss, and argue.
Then we go to the bookshops and buy novels written by women. Or
we walk past the Albert Hall and up through Hyde Park. Then things
really hot up. If we can get cheap seats, we go to a play at the Royal
Court. But, if there's nothing on that hasn't been well-reviewed by
The Guardian, we go to the alternative cabaret in Earl's Court, in the
hope of seeing our government abused. Or if we're really desperate
for entertainment, we go to a seminar on semiotics at the ICA, which
Rosie especially enjoys. We love our city, and we belong to it. Neither
of us are English we're Londoners, you see." (Kureishi 32-33)

Kureishi refers to it as "the scene where Sammy wanks, snorts coke, and sucks
on a milkshake all at the same time" (70).
9 Joseph H. Kupfer, Visions of Virtue in Popular Films (Westview P, 1999), 155. As
Brenda Silver argued, "[w]ithin the context of a (patriarchal) sexual discourse ...
Rafi has clearly defined fears of Virginia Woolf." ("British Graffiti" 169). Stephen
Frears noted that "Hanif put Virginia Woolf in both as an homage to Feminism (the
poster would belong to Rosie) and as a reminder of the nightmare of Feminism
(Sammy's life is made miserable by Rosie's liberation) ..." (As quoted from a letter
from Frears in "British Graffiti" 169).


The only problem Sammy sees is that Rosie does not spend enough
time at home with him.10
Danny-Victoria has neither middle-class prosperity nor imperial
power as a foundation for his perspective, but as a man (presumably
though not specifically identified as an African Caribbean immigrant)
living in a caravan on a wasteland promised by government officials
to "fat white men with bad hair cuts," he identifies imperialism and
racism as the obstacles to self-determination and the problem with
home. Kureishi and Frears set us squarely in the context of the 1980s
revolts (which law-and-order pundits called "riots") of poor people
- and especially African-Caribbean immigrants against the
repression and exploitation that accompanied Margaret Thatcher's
attempts to, in historian Geoffrey Pearson's words, "dismantle the
welfare state [by imposing] the virtues of self-help and the free
market." Such 'Victorian Values' would guarantee that Great Britain
was great again.""1
Danny-Victoria is the first person we see, and the perfect guide
through that reconstruction. Called by people who like him,
"Victoria," a queen of a name earned by his preference for the
Victorian Line of the London tube, he is also a linguistic and symbolic
interrogation of Thatcher's "Victorian Values." Joining us in the first
moments of the film, he beckons, smiling, through dancing "natives" -
a band of musicians of all races and genders leading us to the murder
of the black woman, the "woman who raised" him. Because he is the
first person we see and he leads us immediately to the murder of a
black woman, we are prepared to perceive "whiteness" as terror,
oppression, and violence.12 This is significant because it prefaces all
that we are about to see in such a way as to highlight the fact that,
although we (viewers) are not likely to succumb to what Richard Dyer
calls "the invisibility of whiteness" that "masks whiteness as ... [an

10 As Brenda Silver notes, "almost all the reviewers agree ... [that Sammy] would
like more from Rosie than she is willing to give" ("British Graffiti" 169).
11 Geoffrey Pearson, "City of Darkness, City of Light: Crime, Drugs, and Disorder
in London and New York," in The Other City: People and Politics in New York and
London (Humanities P, Inc., 1995), 93. See also Philip Jenkins, Intimate Enemies:
Moral Panics in Contemporary Great Britain (Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1992).
12 The "experience" of this scene supports bell hooks' argument that "black folks"
associate "whiteness with the terrible, the terrifying, the terrorizing" not because
of stereotypes but because of experience. ("Representations of Whiteness in the
Black Imagination," in Black Looks... 170).


imagistic] category," for all the characters in this film but Danny-
Victoria, not only whiteness but race itself seems to be invisible.13
Danny-Victoria is what James Snead called "a unifying metaphor"
because, through his interactions with other characters, he becomes
"an object of cultural identification and ideological bonding" as a
non-white and anti-imperial man.14
Kureishi and Frears thus align the central characters' perceptions
of the impediments to their self-determination and the generally
conflicted state of home/London with issues of feminism, class, and
race. The brilliance of this film is that Kureishi and Frears intervene in
our perceptions with a consciousness-tripping barrage of cross-cuts
that illuminates the interstices of gender, class, and race relationships
that both bind the characters together and make imperialism resistant
to men's and women's best efforts to dismantle it.
Rafi's perception that the commodification of human experience is
the problem at home is validated by the fact that most characters in
the film, members of a hip, racially mixed, middle-class avante gard of
intellectuals, social activists, and entrepreneurs, can relate to the chaos
of London only as, in Sammy's words, "a mass of fascination."'5 Literally
witnesses to colonialism, these people are, as Gina Marchetti has argued
about Asian immigrants in the films of Clara Law, a "polyglot generation
... marked by class and class aspirations, defined by consumption and
[their] ability to consume, forging an identity out of commodities."'6
Poor people are being consumed by the interests of social workers,
journalists, radicals, policemen, Margaret Thatcher's government, and
colluding politicians and capitalists. For Sammy, Rosie, and Anna, poor
people are a romance and a job; for Vivia and Rani, a cause. Their class
aspirations blind them to the role they play as consumers of the poor
people with whom they commiserate."7 These people are colonized by
their desires and they, in turn, colonize by consuming the objects of
their desire including not only each other, but the appearance of

13 Richard Dyer, "White," in The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation
(Routledge, 1993), 143.
14 James Snead, White Screens/Black Images, eds. Colin McCabe and Cornel West
(Routledge, 1994), 124.
15 Sammy's words: "Leonardo Da Vinci would have lived in the inner city ...
because it is a mass of fascination." (Kureishi 14)
l Gina Marchetti, "The Gender of GenerAsian X in Clara Law's Migration Trilogy,"
in Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: Gender in Film at the End of the Twentieth
Century, ed. Murray Pomerance (State U P of New York, 2001), 72.


social and political equality. To Sammy, the poor people's revolts that
are tearing the metropolis apart are, as Rosie says, "a celebration of
the human spirit" (Kureishi 14). Though Rosie experiences the tragedy
and suffering of the poor in her efforts to help them, and she is working
to make the world better, she measures her success in terms of her
own comfort. Against the backdrop of London in flames, she greets
Sammy with a kiss and says, "I had a good day at the office, Dear. I only
had one suicide" (Kureishi 22).
Sex is the ultimate consumable in Sammy and Rosie's home. Alice,
Anna, and Rosie connect Rafi, Sammy, and Danny-Victoria to the
romance of an idealized life of white privilege. The filmmakers'
depiction of these women urges us to conclude that heterosexual desire
constitutes complicity in the construction of imperialism because it
impels colonial men to desire the rewards of colonial-imperial
respectability as personified by white women. Sex is the daisy chain
that constitutes imperialism's greatest power (the consumable/ideal
other) and its greatest vulnerability (the possibility of attaining mutual
human equality).
For Rosie, sex is simultaneously a mechanism of personal liberation
and an invitation to equality (which Danny-Victoria reads as "downward
mobility"). Faced with Rafi's thinly-veiled disapproval of her, she gives
him a demonstration of her "Intelligent Woman's Guide to Kissing in
History," a study of snoggingg as a socio-economic, political, or physical
event, sunk in a profound complex of determinations" (Kureishi 25).
She uses sex not only as a performance that destabilizes categories
and creates fluid notions of race and class, as Judith Butler has argued
in other contexts, but in Robert Stam's words, as a "subversive ...
violation of sexual taboos [that attacks] the socially established
hierarchies of the dominant order."18 But Rosie's unremittingly romantic
view of the world turns both her sexuality and her feminism into a
kind of grotesque slumming. That is painfully evident in the scene where
she emerges from Danny-Victoria's caravan and smiles with perfect
(white-privileged) benevolence at the people in Danny-Victoria's home

17 As Deckha noted, this is an inability "to realize how each of their own positions
and forms of enjoyment imply a certain nonknowledge, an ignorance, of their own
historical and ideological formations" (171).
18 Robert Stam, Subversive Pleasures (Johns Hopkins U P, 1989), 168. Stam was
describing pornography, but the description fits. See also Judith Butler, Gender
Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routeledge, 1990).


in the Wasteland: poor women trying to cultivate a garden and
mimeographing flyers.19
Rosie's inability to see that her individual sexual freedom is neither
a liberation of the people with whom she has sex, nor a step along the
path to genuine human equality, is the result of her gender, race, and
sexuality.20 As the personification of desire, romanticism, and feminism,
Rosie is both the nexus for the confrontation between white imperialism
and non-white, colonized men, and the postmodern "New Woman"
whose liberation from the cult of true womanhood is as tantalizing to
black and brown men as the unattainability of Victorian women was,
because they promised the respectability that symbolized white
imperial happiness. Her convictions about equality and liberation come
from her own experiences with men: her father's abuse of her left her
a legacy of "difficulty in coming to terms with men's minds," though
theirer bodies are all right;" she sees any kind of commitment as "fatal
hugging" (Kureishi 40, 52).
Although Alice, Anna, and Rosie are engaged in a struggle against
male domination, as white female heterosexuals, their primary power
is control of their own sexuality, which leaves them either self-
condemned to "sleeping with the enemy" or forced to abandon men
altogether. As the film progresses they each reiterate their rejection of
male domination, suggesting that white women are no longer willing
to provide a haven in men's quest for power. But ultimately Rosie cannot
sever her ties with men, as Rani and Vivia have, because of the pain
occasioned by colonialism: in the end, Rosie and Sammy rediscover
their commitment to each Other only because of their grief over Rafi's
Thus white heterosexual women's rejection of male domination does
not signal the end of patriarchy, and by extension, imperialism. In this

19 Kureishi and Frears actually disagreed about what Rosie should wear in this
scene because Kureishi thought the corset (which she did end up wearing) would
make her look "like a gangster's moll from a Western." But Kureishi also worried
that he was being "sentimental about the woman the character was based on, a
more dignified and sensitive person than the one signified by the corset." Frears
argued that "it liberates Rosie from do-gooding; she looks bizarre, anarchistic, and
interesting, not earnest or condescending." (99) For me, it emphasized her
preoccupation with herself, and her obliviousness to the pain and violence she
was witnessing.
20 Although Gayatri Spivak thought "[y]ou cannot really be against Rosie," I find
it very hard not to be annoyed by her. Spivak, "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid," 245.


film feminism has claimed men's hearts and women have claimed men's
power, but the result is feminized patriarchy (as Sammy says, "the
bosom"), not equality.21 Sammy is consumed (colonized) by the
romance Rosie represents, but he can use his feminism neither to resist
his father's patriarchal attempts to buy his fealty with inheritance, nor
to convince Rosie to bear a child so that he can gain access to that

21 Quote from Kureishi, 32. I am here extending Ann Douglas' argument about
the feminization of American culture. [Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American
Culture (Knopf, 1977)] In the 150 years that passed between the beginning of the
feminist movement and the end of the twentieth century, feminism transformed
women's gender roles. Because law and custom dictated that women did not have
rights equal to men's, and white men held highest status in the hierarchies of
wealth and power that structured the U.S. and other industrialized societies in
the nineteenth century, feminists demanded that women have equality to (white)
men. Achieving that "equality" became the goal of both the women's rights/
suffrage/liberation movement and other civil rights movements. Although many
people continued to criticize white male behavior, in order to obtain the rights
white men had, people agitating for rights had to be as competitive, acquisitive,
and violent as white men. In the sense that many women now hold power, control
wealth, and demand equitable treatment for women, patriarchy has been
"feminized." Many women across the world and still in the U.S. continue to
struggle against unequal status, though we now technically have, in the U.S. and
other industrialized nations, legal equality. But "feminized" patriarchy has obscured
the fact that patriarchal male behavior competition, acquisitiveness, "justifiable"
violence is now "normal," that is, not gendered, behavior. For discussions of that
process see Barbara Welter, Dimity Convictions: The American Woman in the
Nineteenth Century (Ohio U P, 1976); Barbara Berg, The Remembered Gate: Origins
of American Feminism, The Woman and the City, 1800-1860 (Wesleyan U P, 1978);
Sharon Harley and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, eds., The Afro-American Woman: Struggles
and Images (National University Publications, 1978); Carol Hymowitz and Michaele
Weissman, A History of Women in America (Bantam Books, 1978); Carl Degler, At
Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (Oxford
U P, 1980); Charles Rosenberg, "Sexuality, Class, and Role in Nineteenth-Century
America," in The American Man, eds. Elizabeth Pleck and Joseph Pleck (1980)
Catherine Clinton, The Other Civil War: American Women in the Nineteenth Century
(Hill and Wang, 1984); Dorothy Sterling, We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the
Nineteenth Century (W. W. Norton and Co., 1984); Glenda Riley, Inventing the American
Woman: A Perspective on Women's History (Harlan Davidson, 1986); Sara Evans,
Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America (Free P, 1989); Nancy Shoemaker,
ed., Negotiators of Change: Historical Perspectives on Native American Women,
(Routledge, 1995); Ellen M. Plante, Women at Home in Victorian America: A Social
History (Facts on File, Inc., 1997); S.J. Kleinberg, Women in the United States, 1830-
1945 (Rutgers U P, 1999); or Nancy Woloch, Women and the American Experience,
3rd. ed., (McGraw-Hill, 2000).


But Rafi's consumption of power as an answer to imperialism in
his homeland is no more effective than Sammy's consumption of
feminism. Like Thatcher and the central white female characters,
Rafi has assumed that having the rights of white men will guarantee
his self-determination and thus his happiness. But Rafi himself cannot
live with what he has done. Everywhere he goes he is followed by
The Ghost of his past (one of his torture victims), who consummates
their relationship by forcing Rafi to stand a few moments of his own
punishment. Kureishi and Frears emphasize the futility of imperial
male behavior using violence to fight for freedom and save the
helpless early in the film when Danny asks Rafi, "But how should
we fight?" Rafi, cannot answer that question (though he soothes
himself by saying, "If I lived here ... I would be on your side") because,
by using imperial behavior to fight for self-determination, he has
become his own version of an imperial power, a colonial dictator
(Kureishi 21).
Kureishi and Frears explore the tensions between failed male
domination and failed feminism most vividly in their choice of
background characters and the race of central characters. While Rafi
embodies collapsed patriarchy, he is an "Asian" man and therefore
theoretically not capable of exercising self-determination against
imperial power. But the only representations of the men who are
supposed to be in control white men are policemen killing black
mothers or goggling at interracial sexuality and ghosts, muscle-bound
half-wits, skulking politicians and businessmen, and derelicts, which
confirms the fact that male-dominated patriarchy has collapsed. Rosie,
the white epitome of feminism, is oblivious to the injustice around her:
Rosie will not acknowledge Danny-Victoria's pain when he tells her,
"Nobody knows the shit black people have to go through in this
country," even when he confesses it in the intimacy of lovemaking
(Kureishi 42). Thatcher the invisible white female patriarch is
inflicting his pain.
Kureishi and Frears emphasize feminized patriarchy's continued
exploitation in their depiction of black and white characters. They
juxtapose the murder of Danny-Victoria's "mother" to sexualized white
womanhood as embodied by Anna (or more precisely, the twin "W"s
tattooed on her buttocks that spell "WoW" when she bends over) in
bed with Sammy, and it is from that perspective that we enter the
"white" post-colonial world occupied by Sammy and Rosie.
Besides Vivia, all the black women in the film Danny-Victoria's
murdered "mother" and his wife/girlfriend (mother of his child),


or extras in riot and Wasteland scenes are dead, mute, or running
and screaming. Because the only two (besides Vivia) who have
"identities" are wife/mother, they reverberate as vestiges of old
patriarchy, and conform to what bell hooks calls "the violent erasure
of black womanhood."22 But Vivia (and Rani who by British racist
standards would be "black") are the most perceptive and vehement
feminists in the film. Their dialogue forces us repeatedly to think
about "maleness" as irresponsibility and violence, and women's
complicity in it.23
The filmmakers' symbolic presentation of black and white background
characters (suffering and oppressed black people and terrorizing,
corrupt, or degenerate white men) highlights both the "business as
usual" aspect of feminized patriarchy and the continuing struggle
between men and women that contributes to their inability to recognize
their own complicity in their problems. Aside from Danny-Victoria, the
only other black men we see are shouting in the street revolts ("angry
blacks"), or, dressed in cap-and-gown or colonial military uniforms,
crooning "My Girl" in accompaniment to the sexual coupling between
Danny-Victoria and Rosie, Sammy and Anna, and Rafi and Alice, that
forms the film's "climax." The inconsequence of those acts is verified
by Rosie-and-friends' casual amusement, in the comfort of Rosie's
kitchen, as they discuss the government's routing of Danny-Victoria
and the other inhabitants of The Wasteland. Their obliviousness to
men's pain in the face of men's ineffectual attempts to solve the social/
political/imperial problems that they (feminists) too would like to
eradicate is underlined by the fact that, as they sit and joke, Rafi
hangs himself.
The choices available to these people would seem either dismal (a
return to old patriarchal order) or pathetic (personal freedom through
consumption/commodification under feminized patriarchy) if it were
not for the presence of Danny-Victoria. What he signifies African
Caribbean immigrant, "black," man, father, and dissident is easily
identifiable (as with Rafi, because of the vocabulary of years of racial
stereotypes we "know" who Danny-Victoria is) but also amorphous:
who is Danny-Victoria and what will become of him? The answer to

22 Hooks, "The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators," in Black Looks, 119.
23 Ranita Chatterjee argued that this film "resists easy readings of otherness and
difference because of those characters in the film who occupy the margins of
perception: Danny, Rani, and Vivia" ("An Explosion of Difference" 169).


that question is important because Danny-Victoria is the film's almost-
invisible hero.
Danny-Victoria is the seer of the film. He is the classic male Other
made popular in adventure and frontiersman tales from the eighteenth
century on, a literary figure as old as British imperialism because, as
Robert Martin argues, Other (colonized) men represented a superior
manhood that white men felt they had lost to civilization. In such works
white men learned how to become better than their "civilized" (soft-
ened, corrupted) counterparts through the guidance of "noble savage"
sidekicks.24 Although Danny-Victoria is neither savage nor sidekick,
he highlights both the quandary of late-twentieth-century masculinity
and the failure of feminism. His liminality (his "office" is the London
tube, he crosses through police lines and ruling-class gardens with equal
inconsequence, and his colonized body is literally host to Rosie in her
quest for experience in that "OZ"25 that has become internal colonial
space) makes him simultaneously the most visible presence in the film
and the character most clearly in the process of "becoming."26
Paradoxically, Kureishi and Frears use stereotypical "emasculation"
cues (Danny-Victoria grasps Rafi's wrist suggestively, he dons a flow-
ered straw hat, he says to Rafi, "I'm with you now, aren't I?") to give
Danny-Victoria a gender fluidity that offers a possibility of new man-
hood.27 By positioning him repeatedly as the (stereotypical) male hero,
however, their depiction of him (Kureishi called it "idealized") trans-
gresses "emasculated" black male stereotypes.28 Not only does he save

24 Robert K. Martin, "Knights-Errant and Gothic Seducers: The Representations
of Male Friendship in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America" in Hidden from History:
Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, eds. Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and
George Chancy, Jr., (Penguin, 1989).
25 Danny-Victoria urges Rosie to "Come on, then, follow me up the yellow brick
road" (39).
21 On the notion of "becoming," see for example George .1. Sanchez, Becoming
Mexican-American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945
(Oxford U P, 1995); Louis A. Perez, On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality and
Culture (Harper-Collins, 2001); or Allison Weir, Sacrificial Logics: Feminist Theory
and the Critique of Identity (Routeledge, 1996).
27 Quote from Kureishi, 21.
21 In "Feminism, the Boyz, and Other Matters" [in Screening the Male: Exploring
Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema, eds. Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark (Routeledge,
1993)], Robyn Wiegman traces the evolution of black male stereotypes in the U.S.
from the "bumbling, ineffectual minstrel coon" to his "servile and metaphorically
castrated" twentieth-century counterpart, an image that is juxtaposed to an equally
unpleasant "hypermasculine" rapist, criminal and, most recently, blood-thirsty,


Rafi from rioters early in the film, but as the character representing
the poor people who inhabit The Wasteland, he unites three important
tropes in a story of self-determination: racial oppression, exploitation
of immigrants and the poor, and homelessness. It is Danny-Victoria
who appears larger than life in the highly-romanticized scene where
government officials evict him and his multiracial "family" from The
Wasteland: he departs amid flags and banners, "victorious" (the scene
mimes footage from countless old newsreels and films about libera-
tion movements), atop his caravan. The stylized (almost mocking)
nature of that scene, particularly as it is paired with Rafi's defeat by
The Ghost, alludes to the futility of traditional male responses to impe-
rialism, but Danny-Victoria's gender fluidity suggests the limitations of
feminisms focused on equality as equal-to-men.
He is not perfect; he too is infected by imperial dreams. He cannot
see Rafi for who he is because he has consumed Ghandi as the colonial
stereotype of Indian liberation, so Rafi becomes one of the "you guys"
who sat down to resist.29 He cannot resist Rosie, and perhaps would
have abandoned both his wife and child and "his people" in The Waste-
land had Rosie invited him to. But as an immigrant from the Carib-
bean colonial margin, Danny-Victoria is unprivileged enough un-cen-
tered enough to question the reliability of what imperialism offers.3"
"For a long time," he says to Rafi, "I've been for non-violence. Never

tough-guy/cop, all of which act as a "disavowal of "sameness" between white and
black men, and protect white men's supposed gender superiority. But Danny-
Victoria's positioning as hero disrupts that continuum, and instead of creating "a
political context of distrust, alienation, and paralysis," invites (rather than inhibits)
"affiliations across categories of identity and difference." (175-180). See also bell
hooks, "Reconstructing Black Masculinity," in Black Looks.
29 Danny-Victoria: "After all, you guys ended colonialism non-violently. You'd sit
down all over the place, right?" (Kureishi 21).
3o This demonstrates Stuart Hall's suggestion that "marginality ... has never been
such a productive space as now." The film's concentration on heterosexual sex
(Kureishi originally wanted to call the film "The Fuck") resonates in Hall's words:
"[T]here's nothing that global postmodernism loves better than a certain touch of
ethnicity, a taste of the exotic, as we say in England, 'a bit of the other.'" But Kureishi
and Frears have managed to break "the vast silencing about the West's fascination
with the bodies of black men and women of other ethnicities" by making those
dominated bodies both symbolically and literally central. Stuart Hall, "What is
This 'Black' in Black Popular Culture?" in Representing Blackness: Issues in Film and
Video, ed., Valarie Smith (New Brunswick, NJ.: Rutgers U P, 1997), 125. See also
Peter Stellybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca:
Cornell U P, 1986).


gone for burning things down. I can see the attraction but not the
achievement. ... We have a kind of domestic colonialism to deal with
here, because they don't allow us to run our own communities. But if
a full-scale civil war breaks out we can only lose. And what's going to
happen to all that beauty?" (Kureishi 21).
Kureishi and Frears' use of the home as metaphor forces us to re-
read imperialism. Like the dysfunctional family it mimics, imperialism
depends for its survival on the cooptation and collusion of the people
who live in it. Both feminists and anti-imperialists have bought into
capitalist imperialism, redefining self-determination in such a way that
it becomes the right to male power, money, and sexual freedom.
Therefore, class, race and gender roles are no longer fixed by
hierarchies of male domination, the patriarchal paradigm that
traditionally anchored both the home and British imperialism. But
Kureishi and Frears demonstrate that feminized patriarchy, and the
consumerism that is the post-colonial role of the home, are equally
effective anchors for imperialism. Danny-Victoria helps us recognize
the paucity of imperial desires, and urges us to resist the notion that
self-determination equality can be found in sexual liberty, the ability
to choose and purchase the accoutrements with which to perform
identity, or the power to exploit and destroy people.


Works Cited

Aufderheide, Pat. "Love in the Ruins: Laying Foundations." In These
Times October 7-13, 1987.
Balibar, Etienne and Immanuel Wallerstein. Race, Nation, and Class:
Ambiguous Identities. New York: Verso, 1991.
Bhabha, Homi. "The Other Question: the Stereotype and Colonial
Discourse." Screen 24.6 (1983): 18-36.
Cardullo, Bert. "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid." Cineaste 3 (1998): 41.
Chatterjee, Ranita. "An Explosion of Difference: The Margins of
Perception in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid." Between the Lines: South
Asians and Postcoloniality. Eds. Deepika Bahri and Mary Vasudeva.
Philadelphia, PA: Temple U P, 1996.
Deckha, Nityananda. "The Ethics of Affect: The Public Politics of
Intimacy in the Bloomsbury Group and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid."
The Ethics of Kinship: Ethnographic Inquiries. Ed. James D. Faubion.
Totowa, NJ: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2001.
Kureishi, Hanif. Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, The Screenplay and Writer's
Diary. New York: Penguin, 1988.
Hachem, Samir. "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid." Hollywood Reporter
October 27, 1987.
Hill, John. "'Race' and Cultural Hybridity: My Beautiful Launderette and
Sammy and Rosie Get Laid." British Cinema in the 1980s: Issues
and Themes. Gloucestershire, Gloucester, UK: Clarendon P, 1999.
hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Cambridge, MA:
South End P, 1992.
"Stylish Nihilism: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies."
Yearning. Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. Cambridge MA: South
End P, 1990.
Lindroth, Colette. "The Waste Land Revisited: Sammy and Rosie Get
Laid." Film/Literature Quarterly 17/2 (1989): 95-98.
Porter, Peter. "Polemical Pairings." Times Literary Supplement January
28, 1988.
Rafferty, Terrance. "Films." Nation November 21 1987.
Sammy and Rosie Get Laid [Motion picture]. Screenplay by Hanif
Kureishi. Dir. Stephen Frears. UK: Hallmark Home Entertainment,
1997, 1 hr., 41 minutes.


Silver, Brenda. "British Graffiti: Me, I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf and
Sammy and Rosie Get Laid." Virginia Woolf Icon. Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 1999.
Spivak, Gayatri. "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid." Outside the Teaching
Machine. New York: Routeledge, 1993.
Walker, Alexander. "Lovers Overlaid." London Evening Standard January
21, 1988.
Wiegman, Robyn. "Race, Ethnicity, and Film." Film Studies: Critical
Approaches. Eds. John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson. Oxford,
UK: Oxford U P, 2000.

Globalizaci6n y nostalgia:
Buena Vista Social Club'

Roman de la Campa
State University of New York, Stony Brook

Este trabajo forma parte de un studio sobre la nostalgia cultural
en el contorno del nacionalismo cubano, tanto en la isla como
en la diaspora, particularmente a partir de 1989.2 Se observa a
partir de ese moment un entorno indefinido entire el ocaso del imagi-
nario socialist y el brote de un capitalism incipiente pero altamente
equivoco; todo ello impulsado considerablemente por la dolarizaci6n
parcial de la economic national cubana. Desde entonces se puede
advertir tambien en la isla una bisqueda nostalgica de las raices cul-
turales que antes s6lo se nutria en el exilio miamense, en este caso
una mirada hacia la 6poca anterior al 59 como horizonte perdido, o al
menos maltratado. Esto se constata claramente en las dos peliculas
finales de Tomas Guti&rrez Alea, sin duda uno de los artists mas influ-
yentes del period revolucionario cubano.3 Me refiero a Fresa y Choco-
late, y a Guantanamera, ambas dirigidas con la colaboraci6n de Juan
Carlos Tabio a mediados de la d6cada de los noventa.

Una version temprana de este ensayo apareci6 bajo el titulo de "El sublime
encanto de la nostalgia cultural," Temas (La Habana), no. 27, octubre-diciembre,
2001, p. 126-132. La version actual "Globalizaci6n y nostalgia: Buena Vista Social
Club," apareci6 originalmente en el volume Fronteras de la modernidad en America
Latina, Hermann Herlinghaus y Mabel Mora, editors. Institute Internacional de
Literature lberoamericana, University of Pittsburgh, PA, 2003. p. 143-156.
2 Abordo mas a fondo algunos aspects constitutivos de esa nostalgia en un
reciente libro titulado Cuba On My Mind: Journeys to a Severed Nation, (Londres)
Verso, 2000. En este ensayo busco llevar el tema a un context mas global.
: Tombs Guti6rrez Alea falleci6 en 1996 a los 67 afios.


El primero de estos filmes, quizA el mas conocido, conduce a pensar
sobre la mediaci6n de la gramatica y el amor en la cultural national.
Parte de un encuentro entire un joven revolucionario, militant y
homof6bico, y un artist homosexual: David, campesino con ambici6n
de escritor, becado en la universidad de la Habana, conoce a Diego,
artist, gay, habanero, disidente y perseguido, al igual que patriota y
sabedor de la cultural burguesa, tanto la cubana como la occidental.
La direcci6n de Gutierrez Alea coquetea por un rato con la posibilidad
de una escena seductora entire estos dos personajes, pero abandon
prontamente la idea. El tratamiento limitado del tema gay en este fil-
me, muy discutido por la critical, pasa rApidamente a otro plano me-
nos observado: la preocupaci6n por el future del lenguaje national y
la transmisi6n de valores culturales anteriores a la revoluci6n. Lo que
queda entire David y Diego no es una amistad plat6nica, sino toda una
reorientaci6n en torno a la cultural national. David no solo encuentra
un lector atento a los errors gramaticales y los temas trillados que
plagaban su escritura, tambien descubre el amor con una santera, ex-
militante y ex-prostituta, intima amiga de Diego. Los tres caen en la
lista negra del regimen, pero pasan las tardes juntos en la relative feli-
cidad de un estar mas alli de las consignas political, explorando la
oculta belleza de una Habana casi en ruinas, insinuando un nacionalis-
mo cultural distinto que se busca en el pasado de la repiblica.
Guantanamera, iltimo film de Gutierrez Alea (tambi6n co-dirigido
con Tabio), convida a una reflexi6n inesperada sobre la 6pera y la za-
fra en el contorno cultural cubano, particularmente en la zona oriental
del pais. Fallecen dos personajes, primero una cantante de 6pera, dis-
tinguida sefiora de Santiago de Cuba cuya familiar desea enterrarla en
la Habana; y luego un anciano, negro y an6nimo, tambi6n del oriented
de la rep6blica, a quien nadie reclama. Impulsado por la incapacidad
burocrAtica y la escasez de gasoline, el filme nos invita a seguir los
pormenores del transport de ambos cadAveres hacia la Habana. Van
de provincia en provincia en el mismo f6retro, justamente el rumbo de
todas las peregrinaciones fundacionales cubanas, es decir, el camino
de Santiago hacia la Habana, el mismo que Severo Sarduy marcara con
De Donde Son Los Cantantes, siguiendo el paso conocido de la guerra
de independencia y la revoluci6n del 59. Todo ello alcanza una dimen-
si6n plenamente tragic6mica cuando los dos cadaveres quedan con-
fundidos en uno de los multiples relevos entire provincias. Finalmen-
te, los entierran en el cementerio Col6n de la Habana sin poner en
claro la identidad de cada uno. El juego interno de la pelicula no pue-
de ser mas simb6lico; quedan intercambiadas, ignoradas y sepultadas


dos de las matrices que dieron vida a la cultural republican: la fuerza
laboral del negro olvidado y el refinamiento aburguesado de la casta
blanca provinciana.
Esta investigaci6n inicial tambien me llev6 a una lectura mas deteni-
da de la visit del papa Juan Pablo II a la isla en el afio 98, ocasi6n que
consagr6 el retorno triunfante de la voz del vaticano al scenario na-
cional cubano, a pesar de que el protestantismo y las religiones
afrocubanas quiza constituyan una mayoria de practicantes actualmen-
te. Importaria observer mas detenidamente las dimensions cultura-
les de este conocido event, las cuales quedaron traspuestas ante la
especulaci6n political que deriv6 del mismo, pero no me voy a detener
ante ese complejo espectdculo en esta ocasi6n, sino en otra manifes-
taci6n reciente y de mayor relieve ain.4 Me refiero a la aparici6n del
film Buena Vista Social Club, ya que propone dimensions much mas
amplias, digamos globales, del tema de la nostalgia cultural cubana,
debido al 6xito que 6ste ha tenido en el mundo entero desde el 1999.s

Buena Vista Social Club

~C6mo explicar el exito global de Buena Vista Social Club? Se cal-
cula que en t6rminos de ventas e interns publicitario, no hay disco,
film u obra artistic comparable en la historic cultural cubana. El
premio Grammy del 97, otorgado al CD que lleva el mismo titulo, no
fue sino el primer indicio de un acontecimiento destinado a reclamar
la atenci6n del mundo a partir del 99 con el estreno del film. Los
nombramientos y premios internacionales que este ha recibido ya

4 El libro ya mencionado contiene una lectura detenida del Pentecostalismo
Posmoderno que encierra esta visit.
5 La primera exposici6n oral de esta investigaci6n sobre Buena Vista Social Club
ocurri6 en abril del afo 2000 con motivo de la conferencia especial del Instituto de
Humanidades de la universidad de Stony Brook, New York, en conmemoraci6n de
nuestro colega Michael Sprinker, recien fallecido. Agradezco las conversaciones
sostenidas en esa ocasi6n con Perry Anderson sobre el fen6meno de Buena Vista
Social Club, al igual que la oportunidad de escuchar una sugerente presentaci6n de
Julio Ramos sobre el mismo tema en Birbeck College, Londres, en junio de ese
mismo afio. Quisiera igualmente reconocer las conversaciones sostenidas en La
Habana en junio de 2001 con el critic de cine cubano Rufo Caballero, al igual que
el manuscrito de su pr6ximo ensayo sobre Buena Vista. Quedo finalmente
agradecido por los datos que me ofreci6 el antrop6logo Peter Wade, de la
universidad de Manchester, Inglaterra, en noviembre de ese afio.


suman unos treinta, entire ellos el de finalista en la categoria de mejor
documental para el Oscar." La cinta cinematografica tambien ha moti-
vado mis de una centena de resefias en Europa, Estados Unidos y
America Latina, todas ellas extraordinariamente laudatorias, aunque
en su mayor parte s6lo atestiguan una sensaci6n de encanto que nun-
ca llega a dilucidarse por complete.7
Actualmente hay docenas de paginas Web dedicadas a BVSC en di-
versos idiomas, cada cual con multiples referencias visuales, musica-
les y textuales-casettes, CDs, films, libros, fotos, y DVDs-toda una in-
dustria de products derivados entire si, en muchos casos de conteni-
do id6ntico ( Pero mas que una mues-
tra de historic musical, o un film sobre una orquesta, BVSCcircula por
las redes de producci6n informatica como la articulaci6n mas dinami-
ca, y hasta futurista, de la cultural national cubana. Cabe preguntarse
si hay una forma de acercarse a un fen6meno tan sibito y de tal magni-
tud, es decir, si existe una estetica o political cultural capaz de apreciar
sus complejidades culturales, artisticas y comerciales, tanto en el con-
torno national como el transnacional.
La critical dedicada a este fen6meno mas mediatico, en su mayor
parte, ha insistido en la celebraci6n de lo obvio. No hay duda que la
actuaci6n de grandes int6rpretes de la tradici6n musical cubana, en-
tre ellos Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer y Omara Portuondo provee
muchos aspects de interns human y calidad artistic a la cinta musi-
cal, al igual que al documental. Tambien se observa prominentemente
una escenografia de calls y edificios de una Habana descascarada o
destefiida, esa irresistible est6tica del derrumbe que tanto intriga al
director cinematografico Wim Wenders. Y luego, o mejor dicho, sobre
todo, se registra ese ambiguo pero inagotable deseo de ver, oir, y sen-

6 Para una lista detallada de premios, v6ase Tawards?0186508>.
7 Hay pocos trabajos que abordan el fen6meno BVSCdesde perspectives amplias
y sopesadas, vase entire ellos: Davis, Darien J., "Buena Vista Social Club," The
American Historical Review v. 105, no 2 (Abril 2000), pp. 657-659; Michael Chanan,
"Play It Again, or Old-time Cuban Music on the Screen," New Left Review, 238, Nov/
Dec, 1999; y Alma Guillermoprieto, "Cuban Hit Parade," New York Review of Books,
January 14, 1999. Para una discusi6n amplia y sugerente, ver tambien la mesa
redonda "Buena Vista Social Club y la cultural musical cubana," Revista Temas, no.
22-23, 2000.
8 Un ejemplo seria la pagina buena_e.html>. Ella sola contiene mas de 100 links. Otras notables son:>.


tir la Cuba actual, impulso tdcito que se trasluce por todo el proyecto
de Buena Vista Social Club.
Hay, sin embargo otros aspects menos atendidos hasta ahora. Uno
de ellos apunta hacia las diversas e imprecisas huellas sobre la historic
del proyecto que suple Ry Cooder, productor musical; esa voz opaca que
se deja escuchar en various moments claves del film para darle cierto
trasfondo narrative a la sucesi6n de imAgenes y canciones. Otra pista
prometedora se halla en los estrechos vinculos entire el CD y el film, al
igual que entire Cooder y Wenders. Amigos y colaboradores desde los 80
en conocidas peliculas como Paris, Texas y Wings of Desire, ambos perte-
necen a la generaci6n nacida just despues de la segunda guerra mun-
dial. De esa primera epoca del rock hist6rico proviene el innegable ante-
cedente de un documental basado en el 6xito de un gran disco; me refie-
ro a Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Pero la deuda de ambos
realizadores con los sesenta tambi6n parece cefiir dos impulses aparen-
temente contrarios: un interns de vanguardia por el arte y la cultural
mundial que marca toda la carrera musical de Cooder y la cinematografia
de Wenders, al igual que una profunda inquietud, hasta ahora inexplorada
por la critical, por la preservaci6n de valores artisticos que hoy pare-
cen desertados o arriesgados por la globalizaci6n masmediAtica de la
salsa, el rap, y sus correspondientes industries de musica y videos.9
No creo que las intenciones de los creadores agoten el sentido de
sus obras; de hecho con el tiempo tienden a desprenderse de las mis-
mas, como bien observa la historic literaria del inaudito Quijote con-
certado por Borges en nombre de Pierre Menard. Pero tampoco me
sumo al horizonte interpretativo de lectores o consumidores que pre-
tenden esquivar sin mas la compleja gesti6n del creador y su contorno
social. Se pierde much con tales encierres. N6tese que el 6xito del
proyecto BVSC, ain despues de los premios recogidos por el disco y el
film, sigue siendo un profundo misterio para ambos realizadores. Has-

9 En una entrevista con Peter Kemper, Cooder ha declarado que la mfsica rap,
para e1, equivale a decir "no voy a ser una persona, de verdad me siento como un
arma. Es como decir, voy a hacer desaparecer todas las cualidades humans, la
magia que puedan tener, y las voy a reducir hasta que s6lo tengan un element,
algo asi como el plomo o el carb6n." En "Music needs room to breathe" (The
Companion Book to the Film Buena Vista Social Club, teNeues, pp. 117-122, editado
por Wim y Donata Wenders, Nueva York, ). Wenders ha
declarado su preferencia por la m6sica de los sesenta. No conocia la mfisica cubana
antes de que Cooder le propusiera el proyecto. Al oir el disco por primera vez
crey6 que era una orquesta de j6venes cubanos. Ver "The Heavens over Havana,
interview with W. Wenders, Sight and Sound, no 9 y 10, 1999.


ta la fecha, Wenders y Cooder han rehusado ahondar sobre el sentido
artistic o cultural que se pueda derivar del product final, limitando-
se a sefialar que todo se debe a la autenticidad de los cantantes cuba-
nos, al poder trascendental de la mosica criolla, o al valor intrinseco
que tiene esta tradici6n para la 6poca actual.10 Pero esta postura, pru-
dente y quiza admirable en cierto sentido, podria tambi6n parecer algo
ingenua. No hay duda que la deferencia a la sabiduria innata y a los
artists locales confirm una sensibilidad apreciable hacia la otredad
cubana, tema central del proyecto. Pero tambien corre el riesgo de
congelar la historic musical cubana en un pasado inmutable y cefir
indefinidamente la critical que merece BVSCal aplauso de un feliz acci-
dente, como si no hubieran disehos artisticos y empresariales por
medio, como si la confluencia de miradas-de Cooder, Wenders y de
interlocutores locales menos celebrados-no confiriera otra performan-
ce que tambien deja huellas dignas de andlisis y comentario.
El relato del documental hace de Cooder todo un protagonista, a
veces con tanto o mas relieve que la ciudad de la Habana y las voces
de los mfisicos. Este no s6lo organize la puesta en escena del eje mu-
sical que organize la pelicula; tambi6n particip6 activamente en la edi-
ci6n final de la misma, e introdujo a la trama su historic personal, in-
cluyendo a su hijo. Wenders, por su parte, ha declarado que si bien no
tenia una idea muy concrete de lo que iba a hacer en Cuba, no le im-
portaba, puesto que se sinti6 inmediatamente contagiado por el entu-
siasmo y el sentido de aventura que Cooder sentia hacia el proyecto.1"
Cooder nunca sospech6 que su hallazgo de una vieja tradici6n musi-
cal cubana pudiera cobrar tanta vigencia en el plano international, y
Wenders reitera no saber a ciencia cierta si su product final es un
film, un "musi-documental," u otra version de las cr6nicas de viajes
que orientan su cine desde los aios setenta. El conocido director pa-
rece esquivar toda referencia a los videos musicales, quizA porque esa
nueva forma, tan popularizada, contiene riesgos seductores para un
artist receloso de la cultural global. No obstante, no perdi6 la oportu-

10 Cooder provee un resume de la importancia de BVSC en los siguientes
t6rminos: "La gente que toca una gran musica. ZQue los provoca a hacerlo? En esta
6poca del consumerismo, qu6 nos llega de la gente que ha crecido fuera del sistema
global mundial." "Cuba, Cooder and the Club," Sam Adams, , World
Socialist Web Site.
Ver el Foreword de Wim Wenders a The Companion Book..., pp. 11-15, op. cit.,
al igual que "Behind the Scenes with Director Wim Wenders" en


nidad de Ilevar la nueva tecnologia video-minicam y digitalizaci6n-a
BVSC. Podria decirse que su narrative filmica sobrepasa las dimensio-
nes de muchos videos comerciales pero tampoco se aleja por comple-
to de los mismos. Digamos que combine la historic del 6xito comer-
cial del CD que precede al film con el hallazgo de algo perdido, con un
viaje a una semilla musical aparentemente olvidada por Cuba misma,
y por el mundo. Y luego queda la participaci6n propiamente cubana
en este proyecto global mAs allA de los mfisicos y cantantes que prota-
gonizan la historic filmada. ,Qu6 papel juega Cuba en la producci6n
artistic y commercial de BVSC?
Estas exploraciones motivan las pr6ximas paginas. Se trata de un
intent de desatar una meditaci6n mas critical en torno a BVSC, parti-
cularmente entire los diversos relatos que encierran sus diversas tra-
mas, abordandolos desde various Angulos implicitos no s6lo en la con-
fecci6n artistic de sus realizadores sino tambien en la cultural cubana
y el contorno que tanto lo ha celebrado.

La ficci6n poscolonial

Se podria postular que BVSC tropieza con algo que buscaba
intuitivamente: la oportunidad de introducir el son cubano al contor-
no global, de sondear una suerte de redescubrimiento del valor de la
mfisica romAntica para mitigar el dafio al plano afectivo que puede pro-
ducir la crasa comercializaci6n de la cultural contemporanea. La musi-
ca impulsa la introspecci6n, el viaje de regreso, una mirada implicita a la
relaci6n entire la afectividad y la raz6n. Varios relatos interns condu-
cen a esta lectura, aunque no todos en la misma direcci6n. Uno de ellos
atafie a la companiia britanica World Records, la cual invita a Cooder a ir
a Cuba en el 96 con un grupo de misicos de Mali y otros paises de Africa
occidental. La idea inicial era reunir a los invitados con various int6rpre-
tes de m6sica guajira cubana en una especie de descarga o "jam session"
en la Habana, y luego observer los resultados. Nick Gold, director de
World Records, concibi6 el plan con Cooder, seg6n las declaraciones
que este provee en el film y varias entrevistas.12

12 VWase las dos secciones sobre Cooder en The Companion Book.op. cit. Una
de ellas recoge y amplifica su propia declaraci6n en el film, pp. 94-95, y 117-122. Ver
tambien "Hora de volver al 'Buena Vista Social Club' de Pablo Gamba, abril de 2000,
donde se encuentra una breve discusi6n del interns de Cooder en la etnomusicologia,
(pAgina web del
diario El Mundo, de Venezuela).


No abundan los datos al respect, pero lo que hay permit entrever
el bosquejo de una especie de experiment etnomusical guiado por
un disefio de gestaci6n commercial, es decir, un intent de regenerar el
poder constitution de las fuentes musicales cubanas. Si 6sta proviene
de una mezcla de impulses africanos y campesinos, que pasaria si se
reemplaza la africanidad criolla con otra de procedencia directamente
africana. El prop6sito inicial, se deduce, no era Ilevar la m6sica cuba-
na como tal a la escena global, sino reproducir la formula que la engen-
dr6 alterando la procedencia del component africano. Pero se intuye
afn mas, puesto que se trata de un moment en que la salsa se ha
globalizado y la posici6n de Cuba para entrar en la producci6n y el
marketing de su propia tradici6n musical era, y sigue siendo, d6bil.
Podria decirse que estamos ante un proyecto que busca la transcultu-
raci6n al piano de la ingenieria videomusical, o concertar un eje de
producci6n mas transnacional para el son.
Se sabe que Cooder acudi6 a la cita en la Habana pero los mfisicos
africanos invitados no lo lograron. Permanecieron en Paris por diver-
sos motives. A partir de ese contratiempo surge el plan alternative
que poco a poco va definiendo el proyecto final: grabar mfsicos y can-
tantes cubanos de antafio, figures estelares que van apareciendo casi
fortuitamente. Pero la gestaci6n ideada inicialmente contiene otros
matices dignos de atenci6n. La idea de World Records pudo haber sido
una mera intuici6n creative, una especulaci6n commercial, o una combi-
naci6n de ambos impulses, pero tambien sugiere una suerte de ficci6n
poscolonial, destinada a conjugar creativamente tradiciones del lla-
mado tercer mundo, en t&rminos de alternative o resistencia cultural
dentro del capitalism posmoderno.
Hay, sin embargo, otro relato interno al proyecto que sugiere una
dimension mas local. Se trata del testimonio de Juan de Marcos
GonzAlez, en muchos sentidos el protagonista oculto, tanto del film
como del CD. Su participaci6n se puede rastrear de una entrevista
que s6lo aparece en el DVD de BVSC. Joven, bilingiie, negro, empresa-
rio, director musical, y de larga historic con World Records y Nick Gold,
Juan de Marcos conocia o habia trabajado con todos los misicos que
aparecen en BVSCantes del viaje de Ry Cooder en el 96. Su actuaci6n,
apenas visible en el film, incluye el papel de int6rprete-lingilistico y
musical-entre Cooder y los misicos cubanos. Tenia, ademas, su pro-
pia orquesta "Afro-Cuban All Stars" y su propio CD con World Records
tituladoA Toda Cuba le Gusta, grabado junto al de Cooder en el 97, con
muchos de los mismos misicos. Desde la perspective de este otro
relato omitido del film, se deduce que la trama protagonizada por


Cooder es una autobiografia ficcionalizada que cuenta con la compli-
cidad de Juan de Marcos y la institucionalidad cubana, sin duda moti-
vada por el 6xito international que prometia el proyecto con la partici-
paci6n del misico norteamericano y el director alem~n. La dimension
testimonial de Cooder constitute una apuesta creative confirmada en
el acierto commercial posterior. No hay duda de que ha abierto muchas
puertas a mhsicos cubanos en los mercados culturales de paises capi-
talistas. Queda, sin embargo, la duda de si el 6xito global del film se
hubiera sostenido con un protagonista como Juan de Marcos GonzAlez
o si buena parte de su 6xito depend de la ficci6n en torno a Ry Cooder.
Las modernidades truncas cobran un nuevo valor en el creciente
mercado de producci6n afectiva, puesto que la ficci6n poscolonial no
descarta el pasado modern o pre-moderno, ni los territories ante-
riormente relegados al margen de la gran modernidad; al contrario,
los transport integros al future posmoderno, permitiendo que el ana-
cronismo no s6lo se haga rentable, sino que prometa una especie de
political de resistencia promovida por el mismo orden global. La Cuba
musical de los treinta, cuarenta y cincuenta queda asi imprecisamente
citada al mismo tiempo que las ruinas fisicas de la Habana de los no-
venta. Por otra parte, la ingenieria original de BVSCcobra otro relieve
en el plano de los mercados globales de misica: convocar una fusi6n
alternative de ritmos afro-caribefios inspirados por la virtuosidad vo-
cal e instrumental de otra 6poca y orientarlos a competir afectiva y
comercialmente en el mercado de la producci6n en masa de ritmos
masificados como el rap, la salsa, o hasta la timba local.
Con el hallazgo de grandes int&rpretes cubanos de antafio, aparen-
temente olvidados en su propio contorno national, se abandon el
proyecto de regenerar o reinventar la mfisica cubana. No obstante,
queda latente la idea de redescubrirla desde una perspective global,
es decir, de aquilatar su nuevo valor de resistencia o alteridad en el
creciente mercado global de la subjetividad afectiva. Entre los recuer-
dos narrados por Cooder se escucha que su primer viaje a Cuba habia
ocurrido en los afios setenta. Habia escuchado various discos de esta
mfisica en Estados Unidos y queria conocerla mAs de cerca. Aparente-
mente el viaje fue un 6xito, pero en aquel moment "no sabia qu6 ha-
cer al respecto" de lo cual se puede inferir que no tenia todavia los
medios para armar un proyecto commercial de alta envergadura. En el
96, su segundo viaje, ya contaba con much mAs experiencia musical,
presupuesto, y todo un equipo de trabajo proveido por World Records.
Pero hay un recuerdo especial que enlaza significativamente estos
dos moments. De regreso a Cuba, al oir la melodia que brotaba de la


guitarra de Barbarito Torres, Cooder descubre que ese sonido era el
que le habia llamado la atenci6n veinte afios atrds. Era el toque arabi-
go del laud lo que siempre le habia fascinado entire todos los sonidos
del son cubano.
N6tese que la predilecci6n por la musica y los instruments orien-
tales caracterizan la carrera musical de Cooder,13 sin duda inspirada
por su interns en la etnomusicologia. Entre los 70 y los 90 Cooder lleva
a cabo experiments con mfsicos de Africa, Jap6n, La India, Siberia y
Hawaii antes de su retorno a Cuba. Esto explica el manejo de la "slide
guitar" hawaiana que marca su participaci6n como misico en la or-
questa de BVSC, al igual que la importancia, a veces preponderante,
de los instruments musicales-origen hist6rico, rigor de aprendizaje,
magia sonora-a trav6s del film. Si bien la autobiografia de cada misico
o cantante constitute una buena parte de la filmaci6n, la atenci6n ex-
plicita a sus instruments a veces la subordina. El tres de Eliades Ochoa
Bustamante y el piano de Ruben Gonzalez, por ejemplo, a ratos pare-
cen protagonizar sus propios relatos, y las voces de los cantantes se
escuchan como instruments que sobreviven fuera de sus respecti-
vos cuerpos. N6tese tambien que la actuaci6n de Joachim, el hijo de
Ry Cooder, responded directamente a esta fascinaci6n por la genesis
musicol6gica. Este toca un tambor udu, de procedencia Nigeriana, fun-
damentalmente ajeno a la m6sica cubana.
Hay, sin embargo, toda una escena muy coreografiada, casi mistica,
que recoge la voz introspective de Ry Cooder a orillas del mar en las
afueras de La Habana. Se trata de un trio improvisado por Joachim
Cooder, Orlando L6pez Cachaito y Amadito Vald6s. Es sin duda el mo-
mento mas significativo del relato personal de Ry Cooder que organize
la filmaci6n. Reclinado en una c6moda silla, fumando lentamente un
sabroso puro, reflexiona sobre el 6xito de su proyecto en Cuba, mien-
tras observa a su hijo tocando el udi con los maestros cubanos de
contrabajo y percusi6n en el trasfondo. La ficci6n poscolonial encuen-
tra ahi su moment mas introspective ya que el retorno de Cooder a
Cuba en los 90 parece suscitarle un nuevo horizonte ontol6gico: su
voz y su mirada de pronto atisban una dimension de trascendencia en
un lugar donde el future es totalmente incierto, o donde no parece

13 Entre los proyectos internacionales mas conocidos de Cooder se encuentran
los que realize con Ali Farka Toure, de Mali, y Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, de la India. Ver,
"Havana Great Time" de Richard Gehr, en gehr.php>.


haber pasado el tiempo, un contorno que revitalize el sentido de sus
peregrinaciones musicales por Africa, Asia y las Americas con la sabi-
duria de las tradiciones populares fuera de su propio tiempo.
Hay, podria afiadirse, otro aspect de interns en esta important
escena. Me refiero al toque hemingwayesco que nutre la relaci6n en-
tre Cooder y su hijo, una transferencia de masculinidad ritualizada,
puesto que se trata de un viaje al tr6pico sin mujeres para la familiar
Cooder. Joachim no s6lo toca un instrument aparentemente ex6tico;
su cuerpo juvenile, el unico del trio, tambien marca el compas de un
ritmo cuyo sentido profundo s6lo 61, o su padre, parecen intuir. Cuba,
observa Joachim en la siguiente escena, es la Meca de la percusi6n,
pero nunca dejan de haber beaches o vacios que su propio tambor no
pueda suplir, sonidos que segfn su padre "corresponderian a una or-
questa extrafa de los sesenta que nunca existi6."14 N6tese que ese
rejuego hemigwayesco conlleva su propia ambivalencia hacia el ima-
ginario del izquierdismo masculino que ha sostenido el capital simb6-
lico de la revoluci6n cubana.15 Se intuye, claro estA, que este imagina-
rio se vuelve un poco mis juguet6n en los 90, y que la relaci6n entire
Ry y Joachim podria verse a partir de una teoria del macho d6bil, que
se sabe en crisis pero busca todavia alimentar cierta nostalgia en tor-
no al heroismo mitol6gico de la masculindad revolucionaria. El patri-
monio que recibe Joachim es mas afectivo e introspective, pero sin
llegar a perder la memorial del tambor y la motocicleta.

Angeles y Espectros

La mirada filmica de Wim Wenders siempre se ha caracterizado por
la presencia de Angeles y otros tipos de personajes que viven "fuera
del tiempo" pero que son capaces de retornar o reaparecer intermi-
tentemente. Casi todas sus peliculas, entire ellas Paris, Texas, Until the
End of the World, Wings of Desire, Faraway So Close, y Lisbon Story son-
dean la dislocaci6n temporal desde diferentes lugares y perspectives.
La mAs conocida y exitosa antes de BVSC ha sido Wings of Desire de

14 Ver la secci6n dedicada a Joachim Cooder en The Companion Book... op. cit.
p. 92. .
15 La puesta en escena de la masculinidad revolucionaria se observa tambien
en la primera escena del film que expone solo una de las fotografias hist6ricas
(Che, Fidel, Hemingway, pesqueria) de Alberto Korda. El DVD de BVSC contiene
varias escenas complementarias que fueron editadas.


1987, cuyo titulo original El cielo sobre Berlin recoge mas claramente
su interns por esa capital. El 6xito de la pelicula reclam6 una version
norteamericana que se estren6 en el 98 con el titulo de City of Angels,
tomando por referencia la ciudad de Los Angeles.
Wenders se acerca a estas urbes con una vision oblicua. Sus Angeles
y otros personajes andan casi siempre por el mundo a la deriva, ates-
tiguando la profundidad de deseos incumplidos, una historic inagota-
ble cuyo archivo podria decirse que data desde el comienzo de la hu-
manidad. Su film sobre Lisboa convoca un encuentro que nunca se
cumple entire un director de cine y su especialista de sonido para un
proyecto destinado a permanecer frustrado. Sin embargo, cada cual
concluye su trabajo independientemente, permitiendo de tal modo
reflexionar sobre la pureza de la imagen cinematografica en su 6poca
silent, al igual que sobre las infinitas posibilidades de una dimension
sonora que s6lo depend de si misma. Los personajes de Wenders no
son s6lo testigos del deseo, sino tambien de la inconsolable soledad
de Dios. A veces se paran en altos edificios con una mirada omnimoda,
a veces se desviven por el mero deseo de sacar colors interesantes
de una vida incierta. En Wings of Desire, por ejemplo, el personaje Da-
niel quiere hacerse mortal solamente para ver el color rojo. No son
Angeles bellos, ni querubines, sino series mortales, en muchos casos
envejecidos o marcados por el tiempo. No pueden cambiar nada, pero
acompafian, dan esperanza, y son capaces de enamorarse de la gente.
Habitan un cine no tanto impulsado por la trama o la acci6n, sino por
los resquicios del ser, la ontologia, y la duda sobre d6nde, o cuAndo,
comienza el tiempo y terminal el espacio.'"
La realizaci6n fantasmatica no es un tema nuevo para el cine, la lite-
ratura y otras artes, pero ha alcanzado una vigencia inesperada re-
cientemente. Jacques Derrida, uno de los fil6sofos mas influyentes
de las iltimas d6cadas, postula que el intellectual necesario hoy dia
no es el que se rie de los fantasmas presuntuosamente, sino el que
sabe hablarles, o hacer que hablen. En su conocido libro Specters of
Marx, traza la historic de la modernidad partiendo de tres moments
claves articulados desde una concepci6n fantasmatica: la dramaturgia
de Shakespeare, el pensamiento politico-filos6fico de Marx, y el r6gi-
men masmediAtico global de hoy.17 Observa que cada uno anuncia el

163 La resefia de Roger Ebert sobre Wings of Desire present varias sugerencias
valiosas, en .
17 Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, London: Routledge, 1994.


sintoma de una disyunci6n internal a la cultural de su 6poca: Hamlet y
la precaria modernidad del siglo 17, Marx y los espectros del comu-
nismo del 19, y la fantasmagoria implicita a nuestra 6poca, la cual ha
visto decretado el fin de todo-historia, ideologias, cultura-dejando
atrds solamente un espejismo triunfal de mercados sin textos socia-
les. Derrida afirma que la filosofia espectral es la unica respuesta a
una 6poca que se consider a si misma "fuera del tiempo," y que
ello tambi6n exige una estetica del duelo, la invocaci6n y el encan-
tamiento artistic, que oscilard indefinidamente entire la memorial y
el deseo. Queda por verse si ello solamente implica el lamento de
valores perdidos, o si tambi6n invoca la reaparici6n de promesas
En BVSC, el lirismo et6reo de Wenders gira hacia La Habana, con un
trasfondo final neoyorquino que no se puede perder de vista comple-
tamente. Los personajes de otro tiempo han retornado, aparecen como
del aire, en este caso acompafiados de calls, edificios, y autom6viles
que distancian e invitan al mismo tiempo, testigos de infinitas combi-
naciones de verdes, azules y rosados que desvelan y enhebran los sen-
tidos simultdneamente. No es un mundo surrealista, sino posrealista,
o espectral, que prefiere no decidirse entire el pasado y el future.
Ibrahim Ferrer sale como de la nada, lo encontraron en Regla un dia y
en menos de 24 horas ya estaba grabando en los studios del Egrem.
Compay Segundo aparece otro dia en Marianao, trajeado y montado
en un convertible, con la pretension de buscar al viejo club, sabiendo
que en realidad no importa encontrarlo. Omara Portuondo camina por
las calls canturreando con sus vecinas, recordando la lirica y mar-
cando el paso de otra sensibilidad. Ruben Gonzalez se coloca ante la
camara sosteniendo una foto suya de hace mas de medio siglo, por si
hace falta confirmar el milagro de su reaparici6n entire los incr6dulos.
Amadito Valdes entra en la pantalla como la personificaci6n de un
motivo et6reo que se ha sustentado estrictamente con la teoria de la
percusi6n. Y hasta la misma entrada en la Habana de Ry y Joachim
Cooder es toda una aparici6n: paseando en una moto con "sidecar,"
vieja pero juguetona, portan sonrisas profundamente conscientes del
valor est6tico del anacronismo.
Las escenas finales en Nueva York-Carnegie Hall, Times Square,
Empire State-permiten diversas lectures. Wenders se distancia aqui
un poco mas del libreto dominado por el CD de Cooder. La actuaci6n
estelar de los misicos en una Cuba espectral pasa de pronto a la
el&ctrica monumentalidad de Nueva York, dando a entender que los
grandes interpretes del son han encontrado el destino final de la apro-


baci6n-una peregrinaci6n triunfal a la gran megalopolis. Pero esta
mirada contiene implicaciones que el filme parece dejar en el aire. El
asombro ante los rascacielos y otras zonas turisticas obligatorias por
parte de los musicos sostiene esa mirada afieja de testigos de otra
6poca, pero su paseo por las calls de Manhattan pierde algo del en-
canto de series fuera del tiempo que tenian en Cuba y que a6n preser-
vaban en el teatro Carnegie Hall. De pronto se palpa la avanzada edad
de muchos de ellos, su memorial se vuelve mas precaria, y el meneo
juvenile de sus cuerpos en el teatro da paso a un cancaneo
septuagenario. Se quiebra la burbuja en las calls de Manhattan, esa
otra capital de la salsa con sus propios mercados y exigencias quiza
imprevistos por Wenders y Cooder.
El concerto en Nueva York marca un 6xito equivoco por sus posibi-
lidades implicitas, muy distinto al de Amsterdam, donde se celebra el
primer viaje del grupo al exterior, del cual salen algunas tomas al co-
mienzo del filme. No hay duda que Europa viene descubriendo la sal-
sa en las filtimas d&cadas, pero todavia carece del c6digo referencial
de Nueva York, cuya iconografia actual remite tanto o mis la salsa que
a los rascacielos. Esta urbe norteamericana, ya profundamente latina
tambien, recibe a estos m6sicos sin asombro por el sonido que traen.
Su marco de recepci6n de mfsica caribefia (no s6lo cubana) nutre toda
una industrial est6tica que la incorpora a la cultural del baile, esa comu-
nicaci6n gestual entire cuerpos de todas las edades que nunca aparece
en BVSC. En ese sentido el viaje a Nueva York agrieta la mirada
nostalgica de BVSC. Los cuerpos envejecidos de los cantantes pare-
cen perderse en una urbe veloz, juvenile, rodeada de otros int6rpretes
estelares del son, viejos y j6venes-digamos Celia Cruz y Marc Anthony,
por ejemplo-que tampoco aparecen en el filme, ni siquiera como citas
de un mapa monumental.
La fisicalidad neoyorquina desordena la ambiguiedad que nutria la
nostalgia en torno a una Cuba postsocialista, cuyas posibilidades como
objeto sublime del nuevo turismo ex6tico queda bellamente expuesta
en este filme. Se complica el encanto desde ese moment. Las Iltimas
tomas que cierran el filme retornan a La Habana, pero ya es otra, mas
dindmica, mas political, mas dentro del tiempo. En cierto sentido ha
cobrado mis rapidez, mas present: un joven gira un barril incendia-
do como si fuera un trompo, otro se pasea en bicicleta con toda la cara
repleta de anillos, portando una joyeria como si fuera una mascara, o
un tatuaje metalico.


La nave del olvido

El contorno de la subjetividad humana ha pasado al centro de los
disefios comerciales, acercando ain mis la estetica a la producci6n
de capital. Se ha expandido extraordinariamente el marketing del
"affect," aquello que Raymond Williams llamara "estructura de senti-
mientos" en un afan de precisar la constituci6n subjetiva del ser para
las ciencias humans. Toda esa gama de sensaciones, deseos, ondas y
estados espirituales ahora participa activamente en el imaginario del
capitalism global. La mirada acad6mica apenas resisted. Podria decir-
se que la ontologia, aquella rama de la filosofia que se encargaba de
estudiar el ser, ahora incorpora una industrial de imaginarios que des-
dobla constantemente esos espacios de la subjetividad, facilitando la
expansion del "affect" transnacional por medio de la red informAtica y
de la tecnologia videomusical. El interns por ciertos aspects de las
cultures del antiguo tercer mundo-telenovelas, instruments, ritmos
musicales, prActicas religiosas-no proviene solamente de la curiosi-
dad antropol6gica, o del multiculturalism solidario, sino tambi6n del
auge s6bito que ha cobrado el comercio global de sentimientos, zona
en cierto modo definida por la producci6n cultural posmoderna y la
ficci6n poscolonial.
Este nuevo contorno, o nueva est6tica si se quiere, a veces convoca
elements contradictorios a las identidades nacionales, como se pue-
de observer con la creciente importancia de la m6sica latina en Esta-
dos Unidos, la cual no s6lo acompafia la expansion del espafol y la
presencia latinoamericana en este pais, sino que hasta propone una
relaci6n con el cuerpo distinta a la que ha sostenido la cultural
anglosajona hist6ricamente. Pero al mismo tiempo esta contradicci6n
obtiene valor de novedad en el piano ontol6gico comercializado, puesto
que le insinfa al ciudadano la ventaja de una exploraci6n mas aventu-
rada en el Ambito de la otredad, entendida ahora como territorio de la
subjetividad global. Todo se vuelve material possible para nuevos pro-
ductos, siempre y cuando parta de un montaje de relatos visuales y un
imaginario profundamente afectivo.
En BVSC se ven calls, edificios y autos de La Habana en estado
avanzado de deterioro, pero casi nada de la vida humana que le co-
rresponde: Cuba y su cotidianidad ha desaparecido. S61o permanecen
las ruinas escogidas por Wenders consignadas por una est6tica del
derrumbe que de algin modo compagina con la romAntica dulzura de
los sonidos musicales orquestados por Cooder. Se adquiere la sensa-
ci6n de que estamos ante un pais que pertenece a otro tiempo, que


sus cuerpos y sus voces significativas viven fuera del tiempo, y que su
cultural sostiene una afectividad que esta mas alli del tiempo. Aparece
asi un son asincr6nico, liberado de sus contornos espacio-tempora-
les, capaz de proveer toda una series de retos equivocos a la contem-
poraneidad: borrar la distancia entire la edad de los artists y el mo-
mento originario de esa musica, sostener la energia vocal e instrumen-
tal de los interpretes por mas de medio siglo, y llevar el rigor de instru-
mentos musicales, la santeria y la fertilidad sexual que revelan diver-
sos personajes, a una uni6n indistinta de impulses afectivos. Una rea-
lidad afieja pero virtual.
BVSCprovee un ejemplo singular de esta est6tica. Tomando a Cuba
como trasfondo, se postula la recuperaci6n de un pasado sentimentali-
zado cuya relaci6n con la fisicalidad del present parece prescindible.
No hay referencias a ritmos nuevos, ni cubanos j6venes, ni historic mu-
sical reciente. La Trova, Los Van Van, Irakere, NG la Banda, el rock, los
debates en torno a la salsa, la tradici6n de cantautores, no existen o no
important. No se explica que el olvido de esos viejos cubanos remite
precisamente a esta historic de gustos y disgustos locales. El relato in-
terno del filme infiere que no hay vida musical fuera de los sonidos de
antafio y que 6stos estan a punto de extinguirse. Se anuncia asi un nue-
vo tipo de protagonista o "broker" cultural que de cierta manera recuer-
da al personaje central de Los Pasos Perdidos de Alejo Carpentier, aun-
que la gesta recuperativa en este caso no proviene de un music6logo
cinico y frustrado sino de un logrado broker musical capaz de hibridi-
zar creativamente el viaje y la confecci6n de nuevos products.
Podria argilirse que BVSC esta dirigido a un piblico fundamental-
mente no cubano. Ello quizA explique la proyecci6n de una Cuba cu-
yos sonidos remitan exclusivamente a los treinta, cuarenta y algo de
los cincuenta. Pero por qu6 omitir la 6poca revolucionaria, es decir,
todo el period desde los sesenta.18 El filme parece evadir las
implicaciones political de esta borradura, sin embargo se vale de ella
para nutrir la trama del abandon de los valores musicales de antafio.
Se sugiere ligeramente en varias escenas que los musicos y cantantes
encontrados por las calls ya no tenian vida professional en Cuba. Luego
se reitera la misma an&cdota por medio de testimonios autobiogrdficos
que parecen transformar a los m6sicos en objetos de studio
antropol6gico. Cada hablante hace escasas referencias a su vida en la

18 Redondeo aqui un poco las fechas. Es consabido que la revoluci6n cubana
toma el poder en 1959.


6poca pre-revolucionaria, que para casi todos signific6 un period duro
pero formativo. En cuanto a la 6poca posterior al 59, cada uno confir-
ma que ha sido para ellos de menos riesgos en terminos de supervi-
vencia, pero tambien de menos posibilidades profesionales.
Para la est6tica global el pasado de las modernidades truncas no
exige un mapa diferencial de sus roces con el capitalism y el socialis-
mo. Se da a entender que la historic cubana se puede soslayar sin
mayores riesgos comerciales, debido a que 6sta no goza de suficiente
acceso al mercado global. El 6xito international del filme y el CD lo
confirm. Un p6blico vasto y extraordinariamente diverso-europeo,
latino, norteamericano-parece descubrir el objeto de un viejo deseo
reprimido en la presentaci6n de una Cuba sin present. ,Sera el soni-
do de un romanticismo perdido, el ritmo de un internacionalismo ut6-
pico, o simplemente la musica cubana de los 30 y los 40? No urge esco-
ger, puesto que el film parece apostar que la nostalgia cultural cobra
coherencia en el terreno de una ambiguedad cuyos pormenores son
inaprensibles, o que remiten a una historic cuya relaci6n con el pre-
sente se ha vuelto inconmensurable. Se buscan testigos afectivos de
una promesa incumplida, o espectros de una 6poca que se creia perdi-
da, y se han encontrado en Cuba. Al sacar del olvido esas grandes
figures que andan desatendidas por las calls de la Habana se invoca
un nuevo mesianismo que entiende la "salvaci6n" desde una formula
aparentemente irresistible y por ende sublime: 6xito commercial y nos-
talgia cultural, otredad racial y celebraci6n global.
La industrial del "affect" advierte el valor de relatos musicales
contemplativos como BVSC. Algo andlogo ha ocurrido con el renaci-
miento del bolero que se ha aduefiado de la carrera de Luis Miguel,
entire otros. Podria decirse que la cultural musical norteamericana
contiene sus propios paralelos, ya que el rock de los cincuenta y los
sesenta mantiene su p6blico, aunque nunca totalmente aislado de las
promociones subsiguientes, ni de sus relaciones con la escena mas
contemporanea. Habria que observer, sin embargo, que la mfisica
popular del Caribe tambi6n resisted el aislamiento cronol6gico. No le
son ajenos los movimientos corporales de antafio, ni presume que todo
meneo anterior deba ser obsolete. Al contrario, suele integrar los so-
nidos y cuerpos afiejos con mas carifio que el rock, o el hip-hop, por
ejemplo.19 La calidad vocal e instrumental del son, al igual que la dulce

19 Para una mirada incisiva sobre la musica y la cultural neoyorquina actual, ver
Juan Flores, From Bomba to Hip-Hop, Columbia University Press, 2000.


lentitud de los sonidos y cuerpos de BVSC, quiza sugieran un contras-
te a la fisicalidad agresiva del rap y ciertas formas de la salsa, pero no
debe olvidarse que la rumba, el mambo, el guaguanc6, y muchos otros
ritmos bailables, tambi6n se han nutrido de la misma tradici6n musi-
cal. En ese sentido, Cooder y Wenders, rockeros de otra 6poca, cre-
yendo necesario alejarse del ruido y la velocidad, expelen de la panta-
lla los cuerpos j6venes que bailan y tambien consume el son de hoy.
N6tese que las tomas del concerto en el Carnegie Hall de Nueva York
recurren repetidas veces a la canci6n "Candela," cuyo ritmo se aleja
bastante de la suavidad romantica, y que el pOblico apenas se conte-
nia en sus asientos.
,C6mo distinguir la tradici6n de la comercializaci6n y la vulgariza-
ci6n cultural? La defense del arte y la cultural es un impulso urgente
pero equivoco, que responded a multiples inquietudes artisticas e ideo-
16gicas no siempre alineadas en formas predecibles. En parte ha sido
ocasionado por el desafio de la globalizaci6n a los imaginarios nacio-
nales y a la cultural modern que los albergaba, y aun mds concreta-
mente, remite a la expansion masmediatica que ha transformado sibi-
tamente lo que se entiende por cultural, incluso los gustos, la educa-
ci6n, y hasta las disciplines dedicadas a su studio. Como se puede
observer en el caso de BVSC, es un impulso que tambi6n responded a
imaginarios transnacionales de gran escala, con proyectos fundados
en una est6tica capaz de gestar un encanto sublime, ex6tico y contra-
dictorio. Sublime, por desear un objeto cuya relaci6n con el tiempo
actual s6lo puede ser inconmensurable; ex6tico, por la ficci6n
poscolonial que nutre su utopia afectiva; y contradictorio, porque el
valor cultural a fin de cuentas s6lo puede ser redescubierto en el pla-
no del mercado global. Obviamente, este film tambi6n confirm que la
cultural cubana constitute un locus ideal para esta puesta en escena,
por su gran historic musical, por su contorno de ontologias limits, y
por el espacio que ella ocupa dentro de la mitologia national e interna-
cional de resistencia.

Compases para una suite cubana'

Vivian Martinez Tabares
Casa las Americas, La Habana Cuba

61o una obra de arte puede convertir los atributos de la pobreza

material en signos est6ticos de la resistencia, y motivar hacia las
arrugas profundas de la vejez un compromise de empatia capaz
de general, a un tiempo, melancolia y engrandecimiento, estremeci-
miento y fe en la capacidad del ser human para encontrar un reducto
digno de si en la belleza que puede sacar de su interior.
El lenguaje cinematografico de Fernando P&rez en su Suite Habana,
la mejor pelicula cubana que he visto en much tiempo-y luego de
tres oportunidades mi impresi6n se sedimenta en convicci6n y juicio-
es efectivo y elocuente para hablar del sesgo mas intimo de nuestro
perfil social, el de un pueblo esencialmente abnegado y trabajador, y
mirar quienes somos -sin asepsia emotional pero si con la distancia
critical que emana de la autenticidad del gesto social visualizado.
El t&rmino suite, que viene de la mfisica francesa, design una for-
ma instrumental en su origen derivada de la danza y que consistia en
una series de movimientos coincidentes en el tono y contrastantes en
ritmos y atm6sferas. Luego sirvi6 para caracterizar una selecci6n de
fragments, generalmente sinf6nicos, extraidos de una obra larga y
destinados al concerto. La suite de Fernando P6rez elige la imagen, el
cine puro y duro, que renuncia casi por complete a la palabra -apenas
poquisimas dichas y algunas otras escritas- para seguir a dieciocho
personajes -doce "protag6nicos," seis "secundarios" y unos pocos mas
"incidentales" -agrupados en siete nicleos familiares diferentes e in-
terconectados por la puesta en escena de una obra singular del g6nero
documental, o de lo que suele llamarse no ficci6n.

Reprinted from Revoluci&n y Cultura 2(2003): 11-13 with author's permission.


Los personajes son ciudadanos comunes, trabajadores, estudian-
tes, jubilados que cubren la retaguardia familiar o que recurren a alter-
nativas informales de supervivencia, desde la sencillez, sin palabras
superfluas. Pero a la vez son singulares en su contradictoriedad, ni
tipicos ni convencionales, marcados por conductas que se sobrepo-
nen a la adversidad o atrapados en circunstancias que les debieran
ser ajenas. Son heroes del trabajo de cada dia, de la lucha por la vida,
ganada a fuerza de pedal y de arroz con frijoles negros. Son los prota-
gonistas de una revoluci6n que se hizo para ellos y que les ha ensefia-
do a defender su derecho a sofiar, a construirse una utopia y alimen-
tarla con todo su empeflo. Ernesto seguramente debe su nombre a las
imAgenes que exhiben mis de una de las paredes de su casa. Aunque
Amanda ya no suefia mas, y envasa el mani de la pr6xima jornada mien-
tras "va muriendo la tarde" y nos duele, inquietados por las expectati-
vas de una poblaci6n cada vez mas longeva.
El testimonio visual de la vida ordinaria de cada uno a lo largo de un
dia, sus hdbitos cotidianos, su entorno mAs personal, su rutina de
movimientos, el espacio de trabajo, su profesi6n y desempefto social,
su elecci6n de esparcimiento refugio spiritual que compensa sacrifi-
cios y permit encontrar el pequefio instant de la satisfacci6n y quin
sabe si un atisbo de la felicidad-, se pone en pantalla con una mirada
que revela respeto, empatia y humanidad. Junto a ellos, palpita la vida
de La Habana, la ciudad cuna, madre, gran espacio intimo y pfblico,
sublime y brutal que los acoge y permit que sus vidas se crucen, se
empasten y se sincronicen en una suite de despertares, laboreo, textu-
ras que sugieren olores y sabores que se superponen, menfes que se
parecen -como los referentes y los iconos urbanos, mediAticos o de la
vida sociopolitica, que flotan en torno a ellos, en su memorial, en la
propia care de su actividad vital- o como los atardeceres, placeres e
El piano sonoro de la suite es una atronadora mezcla, entraftable y
violent, de gritos sin recato, claxons, mfsica que se regala y se impo-
ne al vecindario, viejos motors sin sordina, instruments de trabajo y
sonidos naturales, como el aleteo de las palomas que sobrevuelan las
azoteas, las olas del mar que rompen contra los arrecifes, el ladrido de
un perro que ha perdido a su duefio, o la lluvia tropical que se desata,
torrencial, sin anuncio previo, como un acto sagrado de limpieza. El
rumor de La Habana es un crescendo perfect, un contrapunto multi-
tonal y polif6nico, explosive y contagioso, propio y abusivo, incorpo-
rado y enloquecedor que nos rodea, como una cita que es tambien un
pedazo vivo de la memorial emotiva de cada uno.


La banda sonora de Edesio Alejandro sigue revoleteando en los oi-
dos much tiempo despues de terminada la proyecci6n. Las notas al
piano, lentas, dejan escuchar, con elocuencia, el hastio del doctor Juan
Carlos o se elevan en allegro con la alegria inocente de Francisquito.
La direcci6n consigue vertebrar la sonoridad con la precisa edici6n de
Julia Yip, en sublime suite audiovisual, como cuando las acompasadas
vibraciones de la olla de presi6n de Norma se empastan con los golpes
del mortero de la madre de Heriberto sobre el ajo, y una sucesi6n de
mulatas siguen el ritmo en su andar por la calle. 0 cuando la oraci6n
religiosa del coro, en rec6ndita exploraci6n social de la sensibilidad
colectiva, se analoga con la pasi6n beisbolera o el desenfreno del baile
multitudinario en el Sal6n Benny More de La Tropical.
Y en cada secuencia, en cada angulo o composici6n, sobresale la
fotografia de Rafil P6rez Ureta, que sabe emplear hasta la saciedad el
primer piano para escrutar, sin violar la intimidad, en lo mis privado
del mundo interior tras el rostro grave, absorto y en apariencia solita-
rio. La camara capta la presi6n bajo la tapa de la cafeteria, y produce
un efecto sensorial con el que casi olemos la cebolla que se corta, o el
aroma a brea del malec6n frente a la farola del Morro, o saboreamos la
leche en la que se disuelve una cucharada de azicar, mientras el soni-
do del metal al chocar con el cristal del vaso alcanza un protagonismo
por sobre el sonido ambiente. La fotografia saca partido del efecto de
contrast por la via del color, cuando las frutas amarillas y rojas en
bandejitas de aerocatering se suceden por las sabanas manchadas de
sangre del antiguo hospital. La camara recoge lo factual y lo contex-
tualiza, indaga en trasfondos y macrocosmos, construye una elipsis
conceptual acerca del defasaje entire trabajo professional y remunera-
ci6n econ6mica, o las relaciones filiares atravesadas por circunstan-
cias political.
Decia que Suite Habana es un documental singular, pues se empa-
rienta tematicamente con los primeros origenes del free cinema, toma
de la vida los sujetos y sus acciones, tal y como son, e intervene al
enfrentarlos en una red para conformar el entramado de la fabula, ani-
mada por el palpitar de la ciudad. Fernando P&rez propone una suerte
de nuevo y criollo neorrealismo, cine verdad que se erige visiblemente
en la mirada abierta de un nifio que saluda a la camara, o en el hecho
de que, como los "personajes principless" una vendedora de agro-
mercado se disponga a colaborar al dejarse tomar en su quehacer ha-
bitual con la mayor naturalidad.
Elocuentes signos de la cubania, vista desde la mias sencilla cotidia-
nidad y desde la contemporaneidad absolute, marcan las caracteriza-


cones: El valor de la familiar, como instancia bAsica de conciencia e
inserci6n social y humana, como espacio intimo de los afectos y apo-
yo inmediato, pero tambi6n como habitat de convivencia involuntaria,
donde pueden coexistir, en un espacio minimo, tres generaciones y
mas. Cuanta capacidad de entrega en el padre que se ha consagrado a
cuidar y a educar a su hijo hu6rfano y limitado, cuanta ternura sin
adornos, cuanta dedicaci6n, sencillez y humildad trasluce el acto de
compartir en la noche un rato para mirar la luna y las estrellas, o para
crear, con las manos, histories de sombras chinescas. La obsesi6n por
la limpieza, en el esmero con que los hogares humildes mantienen una
condici6n decorosa de higiene y orden, y en el afAn con que los perso-
najes se bafian -jarrito en mano que acarrea el agua desde un cubo
en el suelo- y se estregan con jab6n para una breve fiesta de la espu-
ma, que barre el sudor y el polvo de la dura faena y el azaroso viaje por
la ciudad. El valor que se concede a la comida, objeto preciado de
culto, y el caracter ceremonial que asume, en el Ambito hogareho, el
acto de comer. Y la mirada dual al caracter del cubano, elusiva de t6pi-
cos reductores: la bullangueria y el estadio "en baja", el choteo y la
introspecci6n reflexiva.
Algunos leitmotivvisuales se han elegido para recrear, desde el aliento
mas intimo y a la vez mAs publico de dos millones de cubanos: La
farola del Morro, puerta de la ciudad, perfil fijo en la distancia, paisaje
nocturno romAntico y vista congelada de postal turistica. El mar, que
aparece por primera vez despu6s de la partida de uno de los persona-
jes, es el espacio geogrAfico que marca nuestra condici6n insular, que
nos une y nos separa del mundo, de amigos y enemigos, de afectos
lejanos. El mar de los sargazos y las balsas, que concrete en arcoiris
liquid, infinito e insondable, "la maldita circunstancia del agua por
todas parties se desboca en el recurrente cicl6n caribefto como una
amenaza, y que acaricia a la ciudad y a sus habitantes como una explo-
si6n innombrable de belleza, gigante, azul, abierto, democratic, en
fin... el mar. La estatua de Lennon, resume de una historic cultural y
sociopolitica, curioso signo dial&ctico e hist6rico y scenario de una
tradici6n que se funda o de un signo sociol6gico que se revela en la
dinAmica peculiar de un guardia que cuida a toda hora, bajo la lluvia o
el sereno, con un estoicismo al que no le falta, tambien, cierta dosis
de esa inercia inmovilista que con demasiada frecuencia nos roe y nos
estanca. Y la ciudad misma, piedra y humanidad, que clama por el
carifio en la apot6osis del final.
Como en obras anteriores de Fernando P6rez, el suefio es un super-
objetivo explicit, la meta del personaje pero tambien la sustentaci6n


de la utopia, que evidencia cuAnto nos falta. Si en Madagascar Laurita
sofaba con un viaje al lejano pais africano, convertido para ella en un
refugio de la dura realidad en el moment mas critic del period es-
pecial -un viaje que para el director era mas hacia el interior que hacia
fuera- y en La vida es silbar siempre se planteaba a los personajes la
posibilidad de elecci6n, aqui los suefios coexisten con la vida diaria y
son el sosten que permit Ilevarla adelante. Frente a la precariedad
material extrema y la incertidumbre de future, el suefo apunta a una
sublimaci6n artistic, como una suerte de redenci6n de lo cotidiano.
Otra de las preocupaciones de Fernando P6rez tambi6n aflora aqui:
el tiempo. Y si en Madagascar Laura sofiaba con la realidad exacta de
cada dia y, si lo que los otros personajes vivian durante doce horas,
ella lo vivia en veinticuatro, en Suite Habana compartimos en ochenti-
cinco minutes las veinticuatro horas de una ciudad, con sus tempos y
palpitares. La linealidad cronol6gica y el montaje crean la ilusi6n del
tiempo real, y favorecen elocuentes trAnsitos de sensaciones y senti-
do de divers alcance, como cuando Heriberto se baja de su bicicleta
para subir una calle muy empinada y suda, mientras Raquel chorrea
agua al lavarse la cabeza, o cuando la nifa sonrie con la banderita
cubana extendida al viento, despues de sacarla de donde antes s6lo
habia un pafuelo, y el avi6n se aleja en el espacio.
Juan Carlos, Ernesto e Ivan se maquillan y desmaquillan ante el es-
pejo para alcanzar la realizaci6n. S61o enmascarado Juan Carlos habla
-aunque con una voz que no es la suya- como s6lo asi Ernesto rie o
Ivan se desata en una fiesta sandunguera. La mAscara es una bajtinia-
na instancia de liberaci6n del espiritu, una fiesta precaria y fugaz, im-
perfecta e incomplete.
,D6nde estA la felicidad? En la risa de Francisquito y los nifios de su
escuela, en el breve instant en que Heriberto cierra los ojos y sopla
su saxo imaginAndose parte de una gran orquesta, cuando Ernesto se
suefia Sigfrido o Albrecht alzando a la primera bailarina, o en el mo-
mento fugaz en que Raquel fabula el 6xito de IvAn y se ve a si misma,
acompafiAndolo en la vuelta al mundo de su aclamado espectaculo, y
el suefio sigue hasta que son recibidos con gloria al pie de la escaleri-
Ila que los trae de regreso a casa. Pero tambi6n en la armonia con la
naturaleza y con variadas species animals: ranas, perros, gatos, cu-
rieles, pajaros. En la solidaridad y el apoyo al otro, en la tolerancia, en
el espacio para el pequefio placer que significa ponerse un traje nuevo
y bailar. En los valores aprehendidos en un orden social en que el ser
human es lo mas important y que forcejea con las tremendas para-
dojas y encrucijadas en que vivimos.


Fernando P6rez ha dicho que prefiere el cine que primero emociona
y luego provoca una reflexi6n -lo que consigue con productividad bre-
chtiana- y que "ninguna utopia se realize si no estan presents los
anhelos de cada individuo." En Suite Habana ha encontrado un modo
de decirlo desde la elocuencia de la imagen que afirma su belleza en la
sensibilidad, el humanismo y el mejor arte. Una pelicula que marcard
un antes y un despues en la experiencia de cada espectador, porque
forma parte de nosotros mismos.

Changing Imaginaries or the Importance of the
Independent Indie for the Reconstruction of
Caribbean Portrayals: the Case of Raising Victor Vargas

Rodolfo Popelnik
University of Puerto Rico,
School of Communication

Introduction: the significance of filmic representation
Elsewhere I have discussed the issue of representation and self-
identity with respect to Caribbean portrayals within commercial
cinema.1 In explaining the process whereby one comes to
apprehend reality and construct identity, my contention is that the
definition of Self that commercial film confers precludes any major
differentiation among Hispanics or Caribbeans, and that generic
categories that loosely fit all inhabitants of these varied regions are
paramount.2 The Hispanic Caribbean, for example, is mostly presented

"Cultural Ethnocentricity in Commercial Cinema: Representation and Self-
identity" in The Cultures of the Hispanic Caribbean, eds. Conrad James and John
Perivolaris, Macmillan Education Ltd., 2000.
2 Ibid; see p. 220. The lack of uniformity in the manner labels such as Hispanic,
Latino and Caribbean are applied to different social groups is an issue that requires
further research. It seems the film industry does not differentiate among these
various identities except that the Caribbean region, more than Latin America, is a
place of laid-back, pleasure-seeking, flamboyant and passionate beings. The degree
to which the very population who receives this branding is agreeable to the mostly
indistinct usage of such concepts is not clear. The confusion is probably the result
of several forces pulling in different ways and responding to particular needs. On
one hand, there is the official adoption of the category of Hispanic by the US Federal
Census dating back to 1970 as a distinct classification among other racial groups.
On the other, there are the specific identities forged by nationality that point to the
particular country where a person or his/her parents were born. Somewhere in


as a geographical conception whose cultural differences are
downplayed. Vast contrasts among a complex archipelago are reduced
to the common Eurocentric view conceded to the region. The end result
is, of course, a cultural devaluation that has echoes in the way the
Caribbean native is perceived within and without his or her society.
Many scholars have made the topic of representation their source of
scrutiny as stereotypes of the region and its inhabitants go back to the
earliest years of cinema.3
The undisputed position of the United States as the sole hegemonic
power since the last decade of the 20th century and its steadfast
dominance of the entertainment industries permit mass audiences to
view this nation as the cultural center of the world. The aggressive
marketing strategies of big Hollywood studios and the industry's control
of distribution and exhibition channels, together with a formidable
advertising apparatus, explains much of the US's dominion of
commercial film and guarantees both internal and global consumption.
While there is no question that the overwhelming majority of images
seen on the giant screen all over the world come from Hollywood,
exactly how much impact these representational practices have on
audiences requires further study. Still, it is undeniable that film reaches

between, lies the more ample concept of Latino that allows different nationalities
to find common ground with other groups whose cultural heritage includes the
Spanish language along additional characteristics like religion or family structure.
The Latino category can even be seen as an evolution of national identity once it is
rooted in the transnational experiences of Latin American and Caribbean
populations that migrated to the US. Issues of gender and empowerment are also
at the heart of these discussions and further complicate the analysis. One author
who has researched the politics of representation is Suzanne Oboler. See her Ethnic
Labels, Latino Lives: Identity and the Politics of (Re)Presentation in the United States.
More details in the bibliography.
3 One interesting example may be seen in D. W. Griffith's production of The
Americana (1916). It tells the story of Paragonia, a generic Caribbean island that
may be thought of as Cuba, which is taken over by the United States to restore
order and protect American interests from the ruthless hands of the Minister of
War, Colonel Espada, who ousted the lawful president. The first scene describes
the island as a "jewel" in the Caribbean Sea, "a land of sunshine and music, adventure
and romance." The film opens with a couple dancing in a plaza to a rhythm
completely alien to the region, as cultural specificity has never played a part in the
filmic representation of the Caribbean. This film becomes a model of representation
for the tropics and the Caribbean. Authors with varied approaches to the topic of
representation include: Woll, 1977; Miller, and Woll, 1987, Hadley Garcia, 1991;
Marchetti, 1991; L6pez, 1993; Shohat and Stam, 1994.


millions and through the movies whole generations have watched
themselves be represented. These representations have been mostly
affirmative of a world-view that has privileged some at the expense of
others. It may be true that other cultural institutions also ratify our
imaginaries and help construct or deconstruct them, but few have done
so with the forceful impact of cinema. Film influences values, conditions
mores, tempers attitudes, imprints behavior, transforms viewpoints,
modifies social relations, establishes normalcy, and its representations
of ethnicity, race and gender are incorporated into identity construction
processes. Thus it may be said that film does construct the world we
This view brings us to another topic of debate: the issue of
contestation. Can only the targeted group itself execute contestation
or correction of Hollywood's representational practices, or can any
independent production effectively show an alternative? Since the
writings of Frantz Fanon, who called for the restitution of identity
and representation in all cultural practices as a necessary tool of
decolonization, theorists like Stuart Hall, Ward Churchill, and Richie
P6rez assign this goal-to break the "regime of representation"-solely
to the native artist.5 A small film about Dominicans in New York-Raising

4 If the construction of imaginaries is seen as central to this question, something
I feel is undeniable given the thrust of the previous discussion, communication
theory may be useful. Two approximations may serve well to understand the
construction of imaginaries. One is Gerbner's "Cultivation Theory," an approach
developed for television analysis but which may be applied to the media in general,
including film. This view affirms that television cultivates a common world-view
among audiences. Also pertinent is Noelle-Neumann's "Spiral of Silence" where in
controversial issues people form impressions on the basis of what they perceive is
the distribution of public opinion. Those who feel they are outnumbered will tend
to remain silent on a given issue. The media creates opinions, some of which are
the result of powerful images that are consumed globally. Thus there is a need for
research on what the consequences may be for both dominant groups and minorities
when the latter are systematically ignored or poorly represented in media in general,
and film in particular. Other approaches to this important issue may be found in
sociology, film studies and post-colonial theory.
5 Hall (along with Richie P6rez among others) argues for this restitution as part
of a national cultural project for the Caribbean native, to liberate ourselves from
the "regime of representation." Ward Churchill asserts the same for the US Native
American. While this debate lies beyond the scope of this paper, the view among
some filmmakers and critics coincides that the path to a fair representation can
only happen when minority scriptwriters and directors are able to tell the stories
of their group. Such is the plea of Kino Garcia when he writes: "Me parece necesario


Victor Vargas (2003)-is a gem of movie-making that does much to prove
this view wrong. This low-budget film by non-Hispanic director and
scriptwriter Peter Sollett, demonstrates just how useful the alternate
route offered by Independent cinema can be in challenging and changing
our imaginary. By going back to the basics, an intelligent script, talented
performers, on location shooting, and naturalistic directing, this film
effectively liberates the Hispanic Caribbean native from the despotic
hold of Hollywood's regime of representation.

Are all Latins Maid in Manhattan?'

In a global society whose preference is for the visual modes of
representation found in film and television, the exploration and the
questioning of filmic images is an essential strategy to counter the
ideological bias of an industry promoting a discourse that is at the
root of hegemonic practices. These practices mostly support a world
that is at odds with social reality, at least when it comes to the
representation of certain social groups. Yet, in the construction of
stereotypes that Hollywood promoted, sanctioned and sustained,

desarrollar un cine puertorriquefio que respond a nuestros intereses y cosmovisi6n
colectiva para, partiendo de nosotros mismos, proyectarnos al mundo tal cual
somos como ente colectivo, mais alli de los folletines turisticos y de las
distorsionadas imAgenes que sobre nosotros otros hacen." See"Puerto Rico: Hacia
un cine national" in Centro, II. 8 (Spring 1990): 90. A similar viewpoint is offered by
Lillian Jimenez in her analysis of alternative cinema during the 1970s and early 80s
when she writes: "As we live in a complex and changing world, our special place
within the margins allows us to interpret American culture and society in a unique
way. We can contribute to the contemporary cultural discourse by producing filmic
texts that present the complexity, innovative and myriad experiences of our survival
in an often-hostile terrain. Our contribution can be to deconstruct and reconstruct
the assumptions of this society by presenting other perspectives that are more
dialectical in embracing the contradictory nature of life and its dynamic movement.
By presenting another sense of space, rhythm, time, and seeing that it is multi-
dimensional, pollinated by a melange of rich cultures and traditions that are ever
changing." See "From the Margin to the Center: Puerto Rican Cinema in New York,"
in Centro, II 8 (Spring 1990): 42. See Works Cited for details on Garcia, Jim6nez,
Fanon, Hall, P&rez, and Churchill.
` I am purposely fusing the film title Maid in Manhattan (2003) that stars Jennifer
Lopez along with segments of the title of the excellent essay by Ana M. Lopez, "Are
All Latins from Manhattan?" See Works Cited for details.


famous Latino or Caribbean stars of yesterday validated many of the
questionable representational practices that to this day define Latino
ethnicity. Similarly, there are notable Latin celebrities who currently
have an important role in the perpetuation of the exotic and flamboyant
qualities of the accepted stereotype. A continuous representational
line can be traced from Carmen Miranda and Desi Arnaz to Jennifer
L6pez and Ricky Martin. Little transformation in representational
practices seems to have taken place. If anything, the new crop of
entertainers reaffirms the safe space where they seem accepted within
the dominant culture. Indeed, Sandoval-Stnchez (1999) discusses the
place of Miranda and Arnaz in establishing the exotic and folkloric other
as an element of Latino representation. Miranda as the "lady in the
tutti-frutti hat" and Arnaz as the "Latin lover," were both successful
while their ethnicity was attenuated to forms agreeable to mainstream
American audiences. Since the early years of Franklin Roosevelt's Good
Neighbor Policy, when Latin identity was domesticated for consumption
within the social and political context of pre and post WWII US/Latin
American relations, few transformational instances have been
witnessed. It may be unwise, however, to deny that a slow change is
taking place in the representational practices of commercial cinema.
After all, such is the nature of culture and society. Imaginaries do
transform with time, even if only by degrees, but this does not mean
that the newer constructions are necessarily better or truer. Jennifer
L6pez and Carmen Miranda-the Brazilian Bombshell, who in the forties
was the best known and highest paid Latin actress in the US- still have
many elements they share.7 L6pez has certainly expanded her career
beyond film, but as Miranda did before her, she became a product to
be consumed by a public who does not differentiate cultural
singularities among Latina actresses. Both are situated at the
intersection of what the formidable Hollywood machinery has
determined is acceptable and profitable. In their respective historical

7 In 1945, Carmen Miranda was earning over $200,000 annually, becoming the
highest salaried woman in the United States. Her income was the result of her
combined Fox salary, radio, nightclub and recording careers. More on this at />. As for Jennifer
L6pez, she became the first Latina actress to earn $1 million for her role in Selena
(1997) and has steadily increased her fee to $20 million since then for her most
recent role in Shall We Dance? (2004). Interestingly, Miranda was a singer turned
actress and L6pez is an actress turned singer, although she started her career as a


moments they both occupy the space reserved for Latinas whose
stereotypical representation serves the larger ideological structures
of society well.8 As for alternative representations not being more
visible and inclusive, one prevalent argument suggests the circularity
of the media and its audiences. The industry assumes that audiences
get the product they want through television ratings and box-office
receipts, yet audiences may only fancy these products because no other
options are available. Still, some of the representational categories
that critics find objectionable in commercial cinema are indeed
changing. Issues of gender, race and ethnicity are of particular interest
to film scholars.
Several questions come to mind if we are to convert the usual inquiry
about the negative consequences of misrepresentation into a more
cogent analysis of the conditions under which these changes in filmic
representation take place. For example, how are these stereotypes
changing and why? How do audiences who see themselves in the big
screen apprehend those images that purportedly represent them? Is
such an alteration, if true, a permanent condition of the industry? How
culturally specific are these representations? What role, if any, do
Latinos reaching the upper echelons of power structures in the industry
play in these transformations? Is the demographic explosion of the
Hispanic communities in the US with their increasing affluence and
consumption patterns a factor? While all these queries will undoubtedly
illuminate the issue at hand, and probably offer varying degrees of
explanations, I propose to look at the role that Independent cinema,
and a small, low-budget film like Raising Victor Vargas as an example,
may play in changing imaginaries.

8 Miranda represented a folkloric and generic construction of Latino culture that
lacked specificity. By wearing colorful dresses, fruit-decorated hats and by dancing
to the rhythm of torrid and fiery music, she was placed in a category both
comfortable and useful for the Good Neighbor Policy years. With this policy, directed
to curry favor with Latin America, the US attempted to increase its sphere of
influence with the region during the difficult years of WWII by countering criticism
of negative stereotyping. Jennifer L6pez is equally afforded the space where the
US public feels comfortable. The "Latin Craze" that is so much a part of the current
pop world, and generates spectacular riches for the diverse entertainment
industries, serves L6pez and others well. But she is no more Puerto Rican (actually
Nuyorican) than Carmen Miranda was Brazilian (actually Portuguese) in their films.
Neither represents a distinct culture with discrete nuances; they are merely generic
Latinas playing the approved roles for their times. See Ana L6pez's "Are All Latins
from Manhattan?" for an enlightening discussion of Miranda's role in the GNP years.


Independent cinema as a bulwark against stereotyping

After a very long period during which Hollywood's filmic discourse
created most of the conventions we learned to love and suggested to
worldwide audiences a common world-view, it was during the 1980s
that Independent Cinema came of age. In spite of, or perhaps because
of, Hollywood's engagement then in expensive and spectacular
productions that exploited special effects in what appeared to be pure
entertainment, a space became available for filmmakers of a different
kind. Their interests were more modest; they were more experimental
in stylistic and narrative forms, as well as in their thematic choices.
They offered a voice to those who live on the margins of society,
ordinary types whose stories simply are not blockbuster material.9
With wide differences among themselves, the Independents are an odd
lot composed of those who simply finance their work outside Hollywood
as well as the statement-makers who express more personal views.
With such latitude, it is not surprising to find small films and big hits
thrown together under this category. Finally, the success of Independent
cinema did not pass unnoticed. Indeed, it became a victim of its own
success and may have been co-opted beyond rescue.
As it stands now, it truly requires a stretch of the imagination to
place a film with a production budget of less than $500,000 dollars
under the same banner as multi-million dollar projects like The English
Patient (1996). Moreover, since the 1990s big studios acquired important
Independent production and distribution companies like Castle Rock,
Miramax, New Line Cinema, October, and Working Title, and routinely
scout for Independent productions during film festivals like Sundance
and others around the world. Hence, the frontier between Hollywood
and Independent cinema has become foggy; their seemingly different

9 Some of these 1980s independents are Jim Jarmusch, Kevin Smith, the Coen
brothers, John Sayles and Steven Soderbergh. With time, some of these directors
are now closer to Hollywood than others. Together they rediscovered and
refurbished a space that although already existing-the 1950s had people of the
stature of John Cassavetes-was too narrow and seldom considered successful
from a monetary standpoint. It rarely appealed to the industry nor produced any
blockbusters. Films like sex, lies and videotape (1989) costing $1.4 million and
grossing around $25 million in the US alone, and even more so Pulp Fiction (1994)
costing $8 million and topping $100 million in domestic gross receipts came to
show how much independent cinema had changed since its early days. For
additional details including worldwide receipts of these and other films see: />.


goals have turned vague. As Janet Maslin suggests, changes occurring
in commercial cinema might be more the result of the crossover of
Independent cinema into the mainstream, than to a transformation that
started from within commercial cinema itself.10 It might be that the
best films today, many of the Oscar winners in fact, are "hybrids" owing
to this crossover of the Independent film into mainstream cinema.11
If the above holds true, to really find any transformation in the
construction of filmic imaginaries in recent times, we may have to look
closely at what I call the Independent Indies. These are films produced
completely outside of the Hollywood machinery, sometimes-as is the
case with Raising Victor Vargas-a directorial debut, are done under
the limitations of scarcity of funds, and sweat authenticity by trying
hard to portray and stay true to real people. 12 Despite the culture that
frames it, a film may succeed in reconstructing our imaginary, liberating
us from previously ingrained and comfortable conceptions merely by
showing a slice of life, and in so doing-move its audience's emotions
beyond the realm of melodrama and into true identification with the
larger human condition."3 To effectively create three-dimensional

10 Janet Maslin, "Meeting Halfway," Special Issue: The Two Hollywoods, The New
York Times, November 16, 1997: 101.
11 As film costs rise astronomically, few avenues are left for beginners in the
industry and the small Independent filmmaker. Luckily, there are alternative forums
that promote competition like Project Greenlight (awarding winners the resources
for production and exposure of their films), and La Cindfondation (Cannes) that
showcases a selection of short and medium length films from film schools. Also,
the expanding circuit of small film festivals like those that recognized Raising Victor
Vargas give exposure to films otherwise ignored by the industry. This film grew
from a short called Five Feet High and Rising, written by Sollett as his thesis project
for NYU's Film School. The film became a full length feature that did well in Cannes,
Toronto, Deauville (winner), San Sebastian (winner), and Sundance. Such
recognition facilitated a swift sale to Samuel Goldwyn Films. It was chosen to open
New Yorks' New Directors/New Films Festival in 2003.
12 Perhaps the best way to achieve this is by doing the opposite of what filmic
and genre convention does. Instead of creating simple characters whose bearings
are easily traceable in formulaic fashion, multi-faceted individuals with the evident
contradictions all human beings possess should be presented. A simple role-reversal
in the name of political correctness, as we have seen in the case of the Native
American who passed from red devil to noble savage, can be as limited and
questionable a view as the original portrayal.
1: Such was the case with Italian Neo-realism and not surprisingly an independent
director such as Eric Eason, whose Manito (2003) received rave reviews for precisely
this kind of honest portrayal, finds in directors such as DeSica and Rossellini the


characters that truly belong to a multicultural society, it is not only a
question of deliberating on gender, racial, or ethnic representation.
What is required is placing them within the larger framework in which
these representations occur. There are many ideas, many issues that
are relevant to living in today's complex globalized world that do not
find their way into mainstream cinema. In Raising Victor Vargas, Peter
Sollett has shown a fierce independence by propelling a small
"uncommercial" story into the larger realm of cinema's capability for
redefining representations.
Interestingly enough, film history, like that of nations, repeats itself,
for the goal of returning back to basics for the much needed
reconstitution of identity and nationhood was precisely what Italian
Neo-realism was all about. With shoestring budgets and hand-held
cameras, filmmakers like Vittorio De Sica or Roberto Rossellini, and
screenwriters like C6sare Zavattini, required nothing more than the
people of Rome to tell simple stories that shook the world. The
description Zavattini gave of the Neo-realist's role in Post WWII world
cinema is enlightening for it exposes the very same issues Independent
Indies can ascribe themselves to today:

From the very beginning, a few individuals understood that the road
to follow was not that of Hollywood; ... To return man to his place as
"grand performer"-that would liberate us. To place the camera on
the street, in a bedroom, to look on with infinite patience, to educate
ourselves in the observance of our fellowman and the most elementary
of his actions. We revoke all use of "tricks." ... To express ourselves
without marvel for the marvelous must be within ourselves. (1968:

This code, intended for a new cinema, offers a solution to the small
filmmakers in their apparently unwinnable battle against Hollywood.
Peter Sollett in Raising Victor Vargas tells his story in a straightforward
fashion-with no "tricks" and as life-like as possible. To give back to
human beings a position of importance, to observe quietly and patiently
so that life, as it is, is truly understood; to express oneself without use

roots and inspiration for his work. See Eric Eason's interview by Brandon Judell at
. As for Peter
Sollett's influences, he gives credit to Cassavetes, Fellini, Truffaut, Scorsese and
Bergman, all directors outside the Hollywood combine. See his Film Freak Central
interview at .


of technical novelties other than that which offers simplicity; to tell
one's story without marvel over life's daily occurrences, "for the
marvelous lies within ourselves"-this is precisely the stuff Independent
Indies can be composed of. And by doing so, they help transform our
seemingly steadfast imaginaries on a small but very effective level.

The real against the reel-the case of Raising Victor Vargas

People understand themselves better than the social
fabric; and to see themselves on the screen,
performing their daily actions-remembering that to
see oneself gives one the sense of being unlike
oneself-like hearing one's voice on the radio-can
help them to fill a void, a lack of knowledge of reality.
Cesare Zavattini (1953)

Raising Victor Vargas (2003) is the opposite of many films, including
some Independent productions that depict Latinos or Hispanic
Caribbeans as a monolithic group with a tendency for engaging in
various forms of deviant behavior. Films that are benign may offer an
explanation for such behavior as it being rooted in unresolved issues
of exclusion, inequality and discrimination. While mostly inadequate
and incomplete, these explanations still become the "official" view, the
dominant discursive practice that presents a problem group and brings
the narrative structure of the film to conclusion by reformation or
demise of the character who embodies the difficulty. Representation
in these films does nothing to transform imaginaries; on the contrary,
it reifies the view of a world previously constructed.
In Raising Victor Vargas however, one finds an innovative approach
to issues of representation that convey the nuances of cultural
specificity in a coming-of-age story. Written and directed by newcomer
Peter Sollett, the film's plot is simple. Victor Vargas (Victor Rasuk), is
a 16-year-old Dominican boy being raised by his Grandmother
(Altagracia Guzman) in New York's Lower East Side. They live in a small
apartment with Victor's brother Nino (Silvestre Razuk) and his sister
Vicky (Krystal Rodriguez). The story opens when Victor finds his
Casanova self-image diminished when he gets caught trying to have
sex with upstairs neighbor, "Fat Donna" (Donna Maldonado). Striving
to effect damage control to his deflated self-image, Victor sets his eyes
on the most beautiful girl at the local swimming pool, "Juicy Judy"


Ramirez (Judy Marte), who plays hard to get. After several attempts
to gain her attention are rebuffed, Victor devises the following scheme:
he promises Judy's brother Carlos (Wilfree VAsquez), to hook him up
with his little sister Vickie, if Carlos will help him with the unattainable
Judy. Judy, however, has her own scheme. While she lets Victor get
closer to her, one tiny caress at a time, she confesses to her friend
Melonie (Melonie Diaz)-with whom she made a pact to never date
boys-that her only goal is to use Victor to keep an array of harassers
away. "Think of him as bug spray," she tells Melonie. Judy is, after all,
a beautiful girl growing up in a predatory world. As the story progresses,
we see that each gets more than they bargained for. Victor actually
comes to see Judy as a person and not a mere conquest spurned by
his hormones, and Judy comes to appreciate Victor more for his
vulnerability than his bravado. A third relationship develops between
Melonie and Victor's friend Harold (Kevin Rivera).
The film is stronger on character development than it is on plot. It
slowly progresses into being a solid portrait of strong family values
that may unavoidably clash and produce conflict, but only temporarily
threatens tender and thoughtful relationships. Inadvertently, the film
becomes a finely interwoven psychological portrait of the universal
adolescent's process of learning to love, trust and empathize with
others. While the older generation may feel threatened by their coming
of age and inevitable acts of emancipation, the threat is overcome by
the awareness of a job well done. In effect, the film has little action but
the audience ends up absorbed by every word uttered, and every
gesture and nuance these characters engage in. Performances are
revealed as remarkable in a film that deals with universal themes by
simply allowing the camera to roll, and the audience enters into the
characters' world, thus making it their own.
Raising Victor Vargas is delightfully atypical in that it does not rely
on the worn thematic conventions of gangs, drugs, crime, prostitution,
and poverty that normally accompany the representations made of
Latinos throughout film history. In direct contrast to this, Sollett has
his characters move in a world of strong values despite the
neighborhood or living condition that surrounds them. Movie critic
Roger Ebert writes that the film "shows us a home where the values
may be old-fashioned but have produced three basically good kids.
It's refreshing to find a movie where a Latino family in a poor
neighborhood is not portrayed with the usual tired conventions about
poverty and crime, but is based on love and strong values." Film critic
James Berardinelli further notes that "Victor is clearly a good kid. He


doesn't do drugs, he isn't into crime, and he doesn't run with a gang."
He also observes that "characters have not been whitewashed and the
circumstances sanitized"-which reminds us of a statement made by
Zavattini when awarding film art its rightful goal-to tell a real story:

The cinema's overwhelming desire to see, to analyse, its hunger for
reality, is an act of concrete homage towards other people, towards
what is happening and existing in the world. And, incidentally, it is
what distinguishes "neorealism" from the American cinema ... reality
in American films is unnaturally filtered, "purified," and comes out at
one or two removes. In America, lack of subjects for films causes a
crisis, but with us such a crisis is impossible. One cannot be short of
themes while there is still plenty of reality. (1953: 65)

Indeed, far from asserting a filmmaking crisis in the US, Sollett's film
surprises us by letting his characters show their reality as they live it.
Fittingly, his film is shot on location, preferring, as did the Neo-realists,
real people instead of actors. There is no tired plot of kids trapped in
poor neighborhoods working their way to get out and build a "better"
future for themselves and their families. Neither is there the usual
convention of delving into the past to find explanations for current
behavior, thwarted expectations, or even family composition. We simply
witness the absence of Victor's parents and acknowledge Grandma as
the family's sole parental authority, which is, by the way, a truthful
depiction of the Hispanic Caribbean where a large percentage of
grandparents take care of their children's offspring. Essentially, the
film appears to assert its characters' positive capacity to overcome all
difficulties and move on. There are no cliches, no harangues or
patronizing sermons. The film reveals the difficult stage of life that
adolescence is, not by exposing any of the great crimes and passions
of inner city life, but by simply showing us three good kids come of age
and renegotiate the terms of their relationship with their elders and
with adulthood. Berardinelli writes: "[They] feel like real characters
groping in emotionally unfamiliar territory."
Film critic Geoff Pevere has written of the film: "Sollett's movie is a
marvel of closely observed, intimately captivating moments. There are
times when it seems almost startlingly naturalistic." This, indeed, is
one of the strongest points of this film. It is capable of presenting a
slice of life in an honest, sympathetic and authentic manner. The
interactions between characters are among the most natural one can
see on film. Victor and Judy depict all the awkwardness of love's first


attempts. When they walk through their neighborhood where chickens
run around freely, we see a community that lives life in a manner that
rings of authenticity. Openly, without groping for excuses, the film
reveals the idiosyncratic nature of a people whose bearings are
grounded in the agrarian qualities of Caribbean cultures transposed
by migrants to New York's urban setting of the Lower East Side. The
confrontation between Victor and Judy, when he accuses her of using
him for protection, while she tells him he is using her to cover his vain
insecurity, is a heartwarming moment where each discovers the need
for sincerity in their as yet unsure relationship. An important scene
has Judy coming to dinner to meet Victor's family, and although it
threatens to end in disaster, the result is of Victor not pretending
anymore and by doing so, is awarded his self-esteem and Judy's heart.
"I want you to see me in my beat down shorts," he asserts, "... meet
my crazy Grandma, my bitchy sister and my little brother. Cuz, that's
me." At this point, adolescent role-playing is turned into mature
commitment to another person.
The same naturalness is evident in the relationships between Victor's
family. A scene where Grandma shampoos Nino's hair speaks volumes
of the bonds that nurture this family. The immense pride she feels while
listening to her middle grandson's unpolished rendition of Bach on
the piano is a marvel to watch. Equally unconstrained are the
relationships between Victor and his siblings, whether it is with his
admiring younger brother Nino or his tattletale couch-potato sister,
Vicky. A touching and telling scene about grappling with male identity
takes place when Victor is giving lessons to his younger brother on
the art of conquering women. Rectifying his brother's inadequate
attempts at being "cool" by following his instructions, Victor wets his
lips and poses while asking Nino, "Do you want to be a Papi Chulo or a
Papi Feo?" While we may witness this to be normal teenage behavior,
we are asked to pause before the grandmother's skewed view of Victor
as a rascal whose schemes are an affront to the family. Her old-school
values perceive him as a sex-crazed teenager who encourages his younger
siblings to become interested in sex all too early. Despite her attempts
of control (she has placed a lock on the telephone), she is convinced
that Victor is "a bad influence on the house." Her proof is Vicki's sudden
interest in Carlos, and Nino's proclivity for spending inordinate amounts
of time in the bathroom. Upon discovering Nino masturbating in the
bathroom, she drags her three worried grandchildren to the Social
Services office, and tells the social worker that she no longer wants
Victor in her house. While she is questioned upon what his "bad"


behavior is exactly, in a comical twist, Grandma learns she may be put
in jail for negligence if she insists on abandoning a minor. Indeed,
perhaps the most hilarious and simultaneously touching scene in the
film is this one. While Victor speaks English throughout the movie,
here he pleads to his Grandmother in Spanish-the language of their
heart-as if to signify the gravity of the situation: "Ma, ,qu6 tu estas
haciendo?, Ma, ,qu6 tu estas haciendo?, Ma, vamos a hablar afuera,
Ma, Ma..." Back in the house, even though they all know that Victor
cannot be put out in the street legally, in deep repentance of his
disrespecting his grandmother, Victor promises to amend his ways and
gets the support of his siblings. They all go to church together and in a
moment that again reflects culturally specific religious values, the family
finds reconciliation and the need for mutual respect is reaffirmed.
The last film sequence will confirm this need for mutual respect as
the grandmother accepts the loss of her despotic control through the
simple act of relinquishing the telephone lock key. This quiet act
resonates as a completely believable and poignant rendering of the
grandmother's transformation. She needs to adjust her values to
accommodate the realities and needs of children coming of age in a
very complex world. There is no blatant apology, or big speech like
most important breakthroughs in movie families; the scene revolves
around a simple action that is more poignant than any word. And that
is why Raising Victor Vargas works. It isn't in your face, but is, rather, a
series of candid moments effectively strung together. All the characters
are likeable and it is easy to relate to them. They are of mixed race and
live in a poor neighborhood, but these are not issues that are defined
as problematic. Although the story takes place in New York's readily
identified Lower East Side there are no guns or violence. As writer-
director Peter Sollett says:

The likelihood of developing a story like this, in this type of
environment, is slim. For a lot of reasons. Because the people who
live in this neighbourhood don't look like the kind of people who draw
mass numbers of audiences to theatres on opening weekend. ... [I]t's
hard not to lean on some of those genre conventions as a crutch when
you're writing the thing. When somebody says to me, "I was waiting
for Nino to find a gun"-of course Nino does get caught doing
something in the bathroom that his grandmother doesn't appreciate,
instead of that. ... If you pulled Victor aside-the character or the
guy-and said, "Who are you? What are you about?" I don't think he
would say, "I'm about being poor. I'm about my socio-economic


affiliations." He'd say, "Well I wanna be an actor, I'd really like to find a
girl I'm happy with. Like everybody else, you know?"'4

Thus Sollett doesn't mistreat or misrepresent his characters'
identities; he accurately depicts them without focusing everything on
what is really just a simple, ordinary part of everyone's daily life.
The fact that Raising Victor Vargas, this small film that enlightens us
on the way a Dominican family lives, was written and directed by a
non-Hispanic filmmaker, drew some attention. In an interview during
the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival, Peter Sollett thanked
interviewer Bill Chambers for not asking "What the hell's an upper-
middle-class white guy doing make (sic) a movie about a Latino
neighbourhood on the lower east side of Manhattan?"'5 The lesson
learned here is that a filmmaker can effectively transcend his or her
own cultural identity to portray another, as long as one remains true
to the characters and works with them to comprehend what they are
really about. Raising Victor Vargas has no superfluous discussion of
racial or ethnic conflicts. The grandmother's role provides all we need
to know about where the family comes from and what is important in
her grandchildren's upbringing. As for the neighborhood that is
presented as another character in this film, Sollett acknowledges:

It's just a fantastic neighbourhood, and it hasn't been on film this way
before. Matt Damon may walk through the Lower East Side in a movie,
but you don't see how people who actually live here interact within
their environment. It's one neighbourhood where people have
managed to bring an awful lot of what life in their home countries was
like, whether it's something like keeping chickens or attending social
clubs and soccer matches.... Unfortunately, the neighbourhood is
changing. Rent is increasing, people are being priced out -some of
the locations we shot on are already gone! The location for the chicken
scene has been paved over and turned into a parking lot. The guy
who lived in that place slept in the little shed you can see in the film.
He fixed old bicycles and sold them for a living, but that's over now.
One of the most important things about this film for me is that it creates
a record of a special place at the end of a very special time. 1

14 See Peter Sollett's interview by Bill Chambers at>.
15 Ibid.
16 See interview with Director Peter Sollett in the Film Press Kit. It is available
online at .


Sollett gives detailed attention to the neighborhood, its people and
how they go about their interactions. Yet this is presented matter-of-
factly, with no comment whatsoever. The original script that this film
is based on was autobiographical and set in the white, predominantly
Italian and Jewish neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where
Sollett grew up. As Sollett transcribes this script to an on-location
portrayal of a Dominican family living in the Lower East Side, he ratifies
the fact that while adjustments must be made, the important issues
are also truly universal. A simple replacement of white characters with
Latinos in mainstream American cinema is not the answer. Sollett
confirms that more voices must be heard, and they must tell stories
reflecting the lives of those on different paths, not as ethnic others,
but as culturally bound groups whose filmic representation remains
This is not to say that social issues such as those awarded by poverty,
injustice and brutality have no place in film narrative. Gang violence,
educational and social program cutbacks, racism, drug peddling, child
molestation, the deplorable situations that many people are forced to
live with should outrage us and should be protested. But far from what
Hollywood cinema would have us believe these are not the only
concerns that an inner city 16-year-old male wakes up to. It is possible
to wake up in the morning and think only about how to get your dream-
girl to love you. It is possible for a young boy of Hispanic Caribbean
descent to prefer pounding on a piano rather than on conga drums. It
is possible for a film to center upon an elderly woman's attempt to
raise three children alone and against all odds, on the simplest of terms.
At the moment, there are not enough stories and faces in the movies
to transform our imaginaries. A film like Raising Victor Vargas offers
hope in this respect. Contrasted with the superficiality most commercial
cinema treats characters or themes, this film is a true inheritor of those
made by Italian Neo-realism, which stood with towering beauty as
superficiality or banality were shed for emotional intensity and
commitment. These films fulfilled all narrative expectations and
definitions: the fierce simplicity of structure, the subtle commitment
to a social or political theme by the mere act of letting the camera
record, and the capacity to reach out into the mass audience and touch
us beyond all borders with the poetic and didactic revelation and the
beauty of the real.


Works Cited

Berardinelli, James. "2003 Review of Raising Victor Vargas." 2003 raising victor.html>.
Chambers, Bill. "Interview with Peter Sollett." September 10, 2002
Churchill, Ward. "Fantasies of the Master Race: Categories of
Stereotyping of American Indians." Fantasies of the Master Race:
Literature, Cinema and the Colonization of the American Indians.
Monroe: Common Courage Press, 1992. 231-241.
Ebert, Roger. "Review of Raising Victor Vargas." Chicago Sun-Times. April
18, 2003 041803.html>.
Fanon, Frantz. "From The Wretched of the Earth." In The Norton Anthology
of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton
& Company, 2001. 1575-1593.
Garcia, Kino. "Puerto Rico: Hacia un cine national." Centro. 11.8 (Spring
1990): 80-90.
Hadley Garcia, George. Hollywood hispano: los latinos en el mundo del
cine. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1991.
Hall, Stuart. "Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation." In EX-
ILES: Essays on Caribbean Cinema. Ed. Mbye Cham. Trenton, N.J.:
Africa World P, 1992: 220-236.
Jimenez, Lillian. "From the Margin to the Center: Puerto Rican Cinema
in New York." In Centro. Vol. II, No. 8, (Spring 1990): 28-43.
L6pez, Ana M. "Are All Latins from Manhattan? Hollywood, Ethnography
and Cultural Colonialism." Mediating Two Worlds: Cinematic
Encounters in the Americas. Eds. King, L6pez, and Alvarado.
London: British Film Institute, 1993: 67-80.
Marchetti, Gina. "Ethnicity, the Cinema and Cultural Studies."
Unspeakable Images: Ethnicity and the American Cinema. Ed. Lester
D. Friedman. Chicago: University of Chicago P, 1991: 277-307.
Maslin, Janet. "Meeting Halfway." Special Issue: The Two Hollywoods.
The New York Times. November 16, 1997: 101-103.
McQuail, Denis. Mass Communication Theory. London: Sage
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Oboler, Suzanne. Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives: Identity and the Politics of
(Re)Presentation in the United States. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota
P, 1995.
P6rez, Richie. "From Assimilation to Annihilation: Puerto Rican Images
in US Films." Latin Looks: Images of Latinas and Latinos in the U.S.
Media. Ed. Clara E. Rodriguez. New York: Westview Press, 1997.
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2003 pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_ Type l &c=Article&cid=
1057314109026 &call_pageid =102218355 7980&col= 1022183
Popelnik, Rodolfo. "Cultural Ethnocentricity in Commercial Cinema:
Representation and Self-Identity." The Cultures of the Hispanic
Caribbean. Eds. Conrad James and John Perivolaris, Macmillan
Education Ltd., 2000: 212-225.
Raising Victor Vargas. Peter Sollett (dir.). Samuel Goldwyn (dist.) 2003.
Sandoval-Sanchez, Alberto. Jose, Can You See?: Latinos On and Off
Broadway. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1999.
Shohat, Ella and Robert Stam. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism
and the Media. London: Routledge, 1994.
Woll, Allen L. The Latin Image in American Film. Los Angeles: UCLA
Latin American Center Publications, 1977.
Woll, Allen L. and Randall M. Miller. Ethnic and Racial Images in American
Film and Television. New York: Garland Publishing, 1987.
Zavattini, C6sare. "Some Ideas on the Cinema," Sight & Sound, October
1953, 64-69. Edited from a recorded interview published in La
Revista del Cinema Italiano, December 1952. Trans. Pier Luigi
"Diario de cine y de vida," Straparole. Trans. Juan Marse.
Barcelona: Libres de Sinera, 1968. 14-15.

Posibilidad de un cine puertorriqueho
Gilberto Concepci6n Suarez

El titulo sugiere que habremos de referirnos tanto al cine que se

exhibe como al que se produce en Puerto Rico. Se trata de dos
temas diferentes, pero estrechamente vinculados entire si. En
uno el panorama es posiblemente superior al de la mayoria de los lu-
gares, pero en el segundo estamos muy necesitados de tomar medidas
correctivas a la mayor brevedad possible.
En gran media, el cine a nivel mundial esta condicionado a las pro-
ducciones de los grandes studios de los Estados Unidos, que mane-
jan presupuestos que alcanzan cifras a veces de cientos de millones
de d6lares. Las enormes multitudes de Europa, Latinoam&rica, Nor-
team6rica y en muchos paises de Asia y de Africa, ven mayoritaria-
mente el cine que se hace en los Estados Unidos. Puerto Rico no es
una excepci6n.
La situaci6n de Puerto Rico es posiblemente mis grave que en otros
lugares ya que las salas comerciales practicamente no exhiben ningu-
na producci6n cinematogrdfica que no sea norteamericana o de Cana-
da, Gran Bretafia o Australia, por ser paises culturalmente hermanos
de los Estados Unidos.
Tenemos, sin embargo, dos pulmones que nos permiten bastante
oxigeno que son inexistentes en la inmensa mayoria de los estados de
los Estados Unidos, de los paises latinoamericanos y afin de muchos
lugares europeos. Se trata de tres salas de arte y ensayo llamadas "Fine
Arts" y un festival international de cine Ilamado San Juan Cinemafest.
En ambos se exhiben excelentes peliculas de todas parties del mundo
y constituyen ventanas abiertas a la humanidad.
Desde hace ya bastantes afios la evoluci6n del cine norteamericano
se ha dirigido principalmente a lo que, en t6rminos generals, ha sido
la aparici6n de una nueva "especie" gobernada por la cibern6tica. Los


ordenadores y la alta tecnologia han dado paso a nuevos efectos espe-
ciales que, a su vez, se han ido tornando en el factor principal de una
enorme cantidad de trabajos cinematogrificos. La cibern6tica se ha
convertido en un element de tanta importancia que esta por encima
de guiones, actuaciones y cinematografia y competir dentro de ese
mundo, aparte del distanciamiento que supone de la esencia del cine
original, es incosteable para alguien fuera de los grandes studios de
Ese nuevo cine es el que lleva multitudes a las salas de exhibici6n
cinematogrifica, el que se ve de forma masiva y el que, en consecuen-
cia, produce enormes dividends econ6micos. Quien quiera obtener
buenas ganancias en el cine debe producer ese, si es productor, o exhi-
birlo, si es exhibidor. Si exhibe peliculas de otra naturaleza corre el
riesgo de tener salas vacias y si las produce puede ser que nunca pue-
da exhibirlas. S61o algunas excepciones pasaran las barreras de la geo-
La situaci6n es equivoca para muchos por que creen que se puede
hacer cine por imitaci6n. La realidad es que con un gui6n no norte-
americano, sin los enormes recursos para la contrataci6n de "super
estrellas" y para realizar enormes gastos en efectos especiales y sin la
vision apocaliptica, se hace un cine mediocre. Termina no siendo ma-
terial exhibible ni en los Estados Unidos, ni en el pais de origen ni en
ninguna parte.
Las peliculas europeas en general, las latinoamericanas, las produc-
ciones independientes norteamericanas y muchas asiaticas y africa-
nas tienen la importancia de seguir los patrons tradicionales del cine.
El especticulo artistic que produce es uno en el que lo mis relevan-
te es el gui6n literario, la actuaci6n creadora, la mfsica, la fotografia,
la imagen visual y el montaje revelador de los elements externos. La
sociologia, la political y la filosofia, entire otros, son document vivo
para el manejo de hechos de la vida real, tanto los cotidianos como los
de la historic.
Las salas de Fine Arts y el San Juan Cinemafest, a pesar de las limita-
ciones de tiempo y espacio, sin embargo, nos ofrecen continuamente
la posibilidad de mantenernos vigentes en la parte mis important del
arte de la cinematografia. Fine Arts tiene inicamente tres salas y a
veces las mismas tres peliculas las mantienen ocupadas por mas de
una semana. El festival de cine, por su parte tiene una existencia de
ocho dias durante el afio, aunque exhibe alrededor de 30 peliculas. A
veces las posibilidades se amplian con exhibiciones a trav6s de cana-
les de cable television o de la telemisora del pueblo de Puerto Rico, asi


como mediante el alquiler de videos. Tambi6n, ocasionalmente, se
hacen exhibiciones en lugares especiales, por distintos motivos, inclu-
yendo la necesidad de sus autores de exhibir sus trabajos.
En Puerto Rico no existe una political gubernamental relacionada
con el cine ni para la exhibici6n ni para la producci6n. Aunque no fa-
vorecemos en modo alguno el dirigismo cultural, es imprescindible
que el pais decide hacia donde quiere dirigirse. En cuanto a la exhibi-
ci6n de peliculas es imprescindible el fomento de la mayor diversidad
de exhibiciones que expandan la vision de otros mundos, de otros es-
tilos y de otras maneras de ver la vida. Es innecesario intervenir para
evitar la exhibici6n de cinematografia que nada aporta a la cultural o al
saber, pero se deben hacer esfuerzos especiales para facilitar la exhi-
bici6n de obras de valores positives para el desarrollo cultural.
Las instituciones oficiales de Puerto Rico en el pasado fueron fun-
damentales para la apreciaci6n del cine, para su exhibici6n y para su
producci6n. Entidades como la Universidad de Puerto Rico, la telemi-
sora del Departamento de Educaci6n, la Divisi6n de Educaci6n de la
Comunidad y el Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquefia, entire otras, fue-
ron fuente o taller primaries para el conocimiento del cine y para su
producci6n. Centenares de escritores, fot6grafos, artists, t6cnicos e
incluso critics se formaron al calor de esas instituciones publicas que
hoy han desaparecido o son practicamente irrelevantes para el cine.
La realidad es que Puerto Rico, oficialmente, no tiene interns en las
proyecciones cinematograficas. Por supuesto, menos interns hay en
la producci6n cinematogrdfica, que es mas dificil y costosa. En afios
recientes se ha concebido la ayuda gubernamental mas que nada como
la facilitaci6n del uso del pais como lugar de filmaci6n. En los hltimos
dos afios se han hecho esfuerzos para la ayuda a proyectos privados,
pero ha sido una ayuda endeble o especialmente condicionada a pro-
yectos concebidos para competir en el mundo extrafio, ajeno y costo-
so del cine norteamericano. Puerto Rico es una naci6n latinoamerica-
na, que habla espafiol, con ataduras coloniales con los Estados Uni-
dos. Al paso de los afios las ataduras political se han ido convirtiendo
tambien en lazos invisibles con grandes contingentes de emigrados a
los Estados Unidos o primera o segunda generaci6n de sus descen-
dientes, que van culturizAndose de manera diferente, para muchos de
los cuales el idioma principal es el ingles. Para enredar el ovillo, las
posibilidades de los cineastas de lograr apoyo official mejoran si el tra-
bajo propuesto es en ingl6s, por el criterio equivocado de que hay que
competir por el mercado de los Estados Unidos y en ese mercado se
compite en ingl6s.


Tambien mejoran las posibilidades si los problems socioecon6mi-
cos y politicos no estan presents y si el format, la narrative y los
asuntos tratados conforman o pretenden conformar el gusto norte-
americano. Pero para que pueda crearse una industrial de cine, en cual-
quier parte, el punto de partida es lo national, tiene que estar concebi-
da con los recursos existentes y dirigirse a los mercados capaces de
recibir ese product o necesitados del mismo. El aspect cultural, de
desarrollo national, debe ser suficiente para trabajar en direcci6n a la
creaci6n de una industrial de cine, pero tambin desde el punto de
vista econ6mico existen buenas razones para asi hacerlo.
Aunque el cine fuera de los Estados Unidos, en general, no permit
obtener ganancias millonarias, la mayoria de las veces es autoliquida-
ble. El de Puerto Rico no tiene por qu6 no serlo e inclusive puede arro-
jar ganancias, pero tiene que ser atemperado a hacer cine puertorri-
quefio y no a intentar hacer cine norteamericano.
Desde el punto de vista official debe ser visto como ideal el estable-
cimiento de una industrial que no arroje p&rdidas o produzca alguna
ganancia direct, que genere miles de empleos, que no sea contami-
nante o peligrosa y que su product sea exportable. Si el product
ademas puede general interns, buena voluntad e informaci6n sobre el
pais y, por tanto, relaciones comerciales, intercambios y turismo, debe
fomentarse como primera prioridad. El cine, apoyado por el gobierno
y sin dirigismo, bien hecho y bien mercadeado, puede lograr todos
esos elements.
En Puerto Rico existen artists y t&cnicos al mas alto nivel. Muchos
han sido ganadores de premios internacionales. La producci6n de cine
permit ademas el intercambio o la coproducci6n para establecer co-
operaciones convenientes a todas las parties envueltas, para ampliar
los mercados y para facilitar la distribuci6n. El mercado inteligente de
los Estados Unidos, el mercado latinoamericano y el mercado europeo
forman conjuntamente una estupenda plaza que, de alguna manera,
ha empezado a disfrutar Espafia en sus coproducciones latinoameri-
canas y, mis recientemente, europeas.
Una pelicula hecha "a la norteamericana," puede realizarse Onica-
mente en los Estados Unidos y especificamente en los grandes estu-
dios. Una pelicula europea muy cara puede tener un costo total de seis
o siete millones de d61lares. Por comparaci6n, el no actor austriaco,
naturalizado norteamericano, que es un apretado conjunto de miscu-
los sin cerebro, Arnold Schwarzenegger, hoy dia gobernador del esta-
do de California, cobr6 61 s6lo $30 millones por su uiltima aparici6n en
el cine.


Ese cine "norteamericano," prototipico, se torn6, por un lado incos-
teable y, por el otro, en buscador de c6mo las necesidades que el pu-
blico supuestamente tiene de un product diferente, estramb6tico,
truculento, macabro, cargado de violencia y de visions imposibles de
ver en otros lugares y a veces de imaginar siquiera. Lo prohibido fue
material prima y objetivo fundamental y no existieron limits para dis-
cutir temas o mostrar escenas de drogas, sexo, evisceraciones u otras
actividades conocidas por las grandes masas 6nicamente de oidas.
El otro cine, que es el cine al que pertenece Puerto Rico por idiosin-
crasia, historic, cultural y economic, se concentr6 en el ser human
mismo, como ser individual, como ser social. Los problems intimos,
sicol6gicos, sociol6gicos y de political, fueron mas que tema, substan-
cia, el cine se hizo lento, reiterativo a veces, o de naturaleza que nos
induce o nos obliga a la reflexi6n, al andlisis y al encuentro de valores.
Cine aburrido para muchos, especialmente para los norteamericanos,
demasiado parecido a la vida.
La gran riqueza en la exhibici6n cinematografica que tiene Puerto
Rico, aunque haya que usar una lupa con mas frecuencia de la que
quisieramos, ha sido diferente cuando hablamos de la producci6n ci-
Aunque siempre ha habido una presencia, una aportaci6n y un es-
fuerzo, en Puerto Rico ni ha existido ni existe una industrial cinemato-
grifica. Tampoco ha existido ni existe un movimiento artistic que
pueda llamarse cine puertorriqueflo, con una trayectoria, un desarro-
11o y unas metas, alcanzables o no, fijas o movibles. Tampoco ha habi-
do ni hay factors de unidad que sirvan de parametros.
En una especie de dirigismo cultural a la inversa, en el pasado re-
ciente se establecieron controls absolutos, garantizadores de la falta
de independencia y de creatividad de los cineastas. Los artists, que
son una avanzada de los pueblos, tienen que ser critics, perceptivos
y denunciantes sociales sin cortapisas. Encadenados al estado son
verdaderos impedidos del habla.
El desarrollo del cine en Puerto Rico ha sido una gesti6n individual,
con demasiada frecuencia ligada a las posibilidades observadas o ima-
ginadas de recuperar en la boleteria o de alguna otra manera lo inver-
tido en la producci6n. Se trata de la triste y desastrosa situaci6n de
dar al public lo que supuestamente quiere condicionados por la re-
cuperaci6n econ6mica o lo que es igual, el condicionamiento del arte
por el dinero.
Aunque Estados Unidos no es el mayor productor de cine en el mun-
do, es el mayor consumidor y se trata de un consumidor muy particular.


El piblico norteamericano ve cine en ingles, y acorde con las percep-
ciones nacionales del estilo de vida norteamericano en el que el h&roe
principal es norteamericano, preferiblemente blanco, anglosaj6n y
protestante. Apenas el tres por ciento de ese enorme pais, posible-
mente el mas inculto de la humanidad, esta dispuesto a ver cine de
otra manera.
A ese tres por ciento, que a veces Ilega a un cuatro por ciento y que,
por supuesto, se traduce en various millones de espectadores con po-
der econ6mico, es que tiene que dirigirse el cine no norteamericano y
especificamente el de Puerto Rico. Que Estados Unidos sea la meca
del cine, no por calidad y ni siquiera por cantidad, sino por dinero
recaudado es poco alentador, pero trastorna a algunos y debe servir
de punto de partida a otros, no para hacer cine "a la norteamericana"
sino para todo lo contrario.
Hemos hablado mAs que nada de largometrajes, de ficci6n en su
mayoria y hechos con el prop6sito de exhibirlos en las grandes panta-
llas en las salas de proyecciones cinematograficas, pero en la actuali-
dad tiene una gran importancia la exhibici6n de cinee" vinculada a la
television. Son multiples las variantes relacionadas con este medio que
incluyen, entire otras, peliculas hechas expresamente para la televi-
si6n, cortometrajes o mediometrajes, "miniseries" que pueden tener
una extension much mayor que la normal y que no se exhiben de
manera consecutive el mismo dia, peliculas hechas para el cine, modi-
ficadas o no para ser exhibidas en television, peliculas convertidas a
video o hechas originalmente para ese medio y la correspondiente
exhibici6n casera, y asi sucesivamente.
Al present hay un gran impulso en Puerto Rico para la realizaci6n
de peliculas hechas para la television, pero estan presents todos los
peligros que supone un process dirigido a las masas y controlado eco-
n6micamente por los grandes capitals comerciales.
En terminos generals el product que hemos podido observer en
ese rengl6n de peliculas para la television es indeseable, con pocas,
aunque honrosas excepciones. Nos confrontamos con dramatizacio-
nes hechas improvisadamente, sin adecuado ensayo, con guiones in-
satisfactorios y a veces aficionados, con actuaciones generalmente,
faltas de coherencias y de brillantes y con mas errors t6cnicos, de
continuidad, de fotografia, o de informaci6n compatible con la ver-
dad, que aciertos. (Debemos hacer por lo menos una excepci6n, visto
el trabajo realizado con bastantes niveles de excelencia en la pelicula
para television de finales de 2003 Desandando la vida.)


La television, por otro lado, ha sido un factor contribuyente a la
revoluci6n de los espectadores. Muchos que no iban al cine han desa-
rrollado la aptitud de exponerse al medio mientras otros han desarro-
Ilado un gusto particular, matizado muchas veces por la grandiosidad,
los elements mAgicos la violencia o la crudeza descarnada. Los mds
afectados son los nifios.
Todo esto es fundamental para el desarrollo de una industrial cine-
matogrdfica que pretend ser un factor important en la economic a la
misma vez que pretend hacer una aportaci6n significativa a los fun-
damentos nacionales y al desarrollo positive de la cultural. En Puerto
Rico tenemos parte del terreno ganado. Nos toca a los presents pre-
parar el camino a los del future.

Cinema Antillais: Cine en las Antillas
Francesas-Guadeloupe y Martinique
Frances Santiago
University of Puerto Rico, Mayagiuez

El cine de las Antillas Francesas, Guadeloupe y Martinique, ha

sido un misterio para muchos en el ambito del cine mundial.
Mientras que el mundo se pregunta si existe un "cinema antillais",
los cineastas antillanos' buscan la manera de garantizar la subsisten-
cia de la industrial cinematogrifica local que ha sido afiadida a la lista
de speciess en vias de extinci6n". Es usual que productores france-
ses, con fondos provenientes de diversas fuentes vengan a las Antillas
Francesas a rodar alguna que otra pelicula, mientras que para los pro-
ductores y directors locales el hacer una pelicula result en una ha-
zafia azarosa.
Dada la dependencia econ6mica que existe entire las Antillas Fran-
cesas (Guadeloupe y Martinique) y la mdtropole (Francia), muchos
proyectos cinematogrdficos se ven afectados por la falta de fondos y
subvenciones necesarias para llevar a cabo los rodajes. A partir de
1948 las islas de Guadeloupe y Martinique pasaron a ser Departements
d'Outre-mer (DOM Departamentos Ultramarinos) de Francia, lo que
convirti6 a los habitantes de estas dos islas en ciudadanos franceses.
Por esta raz6n, un gran nfmero de los cineastas de Guadeloupe y
Martinique viven y trabajan en la metropole, mientras que otros se han
ido a los Estados Unidos, por lo que los directors y productores loca-
les son dificiles de localizar.2

El t&rmino "antillais" se usa en Francia para designer una persona oriunda de las
Antillas francesas, Guadeloupe y Martinique; por ejemplo, un cubano, un dominicano
y un puertorriquefo no son llamados "antillais" en el context de las Antillas francesas.
Se usard esta misma acepci6n del termino "antillais" en este articulo.
2 Este es el caso de Euzhan Palcy (Rue Cases-Negres / Sugar Cane Alley), quien es
un ejemplo de una cineasta muy exitosa oriunda de Martinica.


A pesar de que existen o han existido, tanto en Guadeloupe como
en Martinique, estructuras culturales capaces de apoyar la industrial
cinematografica (algunas creadas especificamente para ese fin), como
la CACG y OMDAC de Guadeloupe y la CMAC y SERMAC3 en Martinique,
estas no han dado abasto para la producci6n, realizaci6n y distribuci6n
de peliculas en estas dos islas. Las trabas de orden econ6mico son las
que mas han afectado esta industrial en las Antillas. Ademds existe un
solo circuit de distribuci6n cinematogrifica para peliculas comercia-
les: Max Eliz&. Las siguientes categories se han establecido para las pe-
liculas en las Antillas: Serie B que equivale solo a las peliculas america-
nas, tambi6n estan las categories de francesas, asiaticas, hindfes, de
karate y de kung fu, dejando fuera cualquier pelicula que no entire en
dichas categories. Por otra parte, Max Eliz6 es el inico organismo en-
cargado de la promoci6n y distribuci6n de las peliculas locales ya que
tambien participa en el financiamiento de algunas de ellas.
Aunque las organizaciones culturales antes mencionadas apoyen la
cinematografia local, se encuentran limitadas en cuanto a la distribu-
ci6n y a la presentaci6n de las peliculas y no cuentan con suficientes
fondos. En 1985 se cre6 la ADRC (Agence pour le Developpement Regio-
nal du Cin6ma),4 la misi6n de dicho organismo es evaluar el desarrollo
del cine en sus regions (Guadeloupe, Martinique, la isla de Reuni6n y la
Guyana francesa). En la actualidad dicho organismo se dedica a asegu-
rar la promoci6n del cine frances, el cual se ha visto afectado por la
competencia de la cinematografia commercial norteamericana.5
No es sin raz6n que se ha dicho que los cineastas de Guadeloupe y
Martinique escasean y ain mas sus obras cinematogrdficas. Tanto
asi que los cineastas que existen y sus obras son muy poco conoci-
das y discutidas. Para contrarrestar este silencio del cine de las
Antillas Francesas, sefialaremos mis adelante las contribuciones
mas importantes y sobre todo pioneras de various cineastas antilla-
nos. Este articulo se dedicard a la trayectoria del cinema antillais
desde sus comienzos hasta las mIs recientes manifestaciones en las
Antillas Francesas.

3 CACG, Centre d'Animation Culturelle de la Guadeloupe; OMDAC, Office
Municipale d'Action Culturelle; CMAC, Centre Martiniquais d'Animation Culturelle;
SERMAC, Service Municipal d'Action Culturelle.
4 Agencia para el desarrollo regional del cine.
Para detalles estadisticos ver: Osange Silou. Le cinema dans la diaspora africaine:
Les Antilles Frangaises. Bruxelles: OCIC, 1991.


I. Cine en las Antillas Francesas-Antillais en el cine frances

Durante la 6poca colonial no faltaron los cineastas franceses y ex-
tranjeros en busca de un decor apropiado para sus peliculas. En su
gran mayoria se buscaba un entorno "ex6tico", "tropical", "salvaje".
Desde los afios 1940 (antes de la departamentalizaci6n de las Antillas
Francesas) Martinique sirvi6 de ddcor para varias peliculas. Entre 6s-
tas, La Savane (La sabana)6 rodada durante la segunda Guerra Mun-
dial, y luego, en 1944, Port de l'angoisse (To have and have not) rodada
por Howad Hawks, con la participaci6n estelar de Lauren Bacall y
Humphrey Bogart. Existe un largo period durante el cual no se rod6
ninguna cinta cinematogrcfica en las Antillas Francesas. En realidad,
no sera hasta fines de los afios sesenta y comienzos de los setenta que
resurge el interns en estas islas. Hasta el moment el inico interns lo
era el decor, ni los habitantes, ni sus vidas fueron tema de peliculas en
el corto period que sirvi6 de trasfondo para peliculas extranjeras.
Los cineastas buscaban un paisaje ex6tico donde rodar sus peliculas,
y algunos se beneficiaron de fondos locales otorgados para llevar a
cabo sus proyectos. Las autoridades locales estimaban que seria be-
neficioso para las islas recibir a estos cineastas y sus equipos de tra-
bajo ya que se promoveria (de alguna manera) la economic local. En
gran parte de los casos, fue muy poco el beneficio que se gener6 para
las islas que sirvieron, por asi decirlo, de "playground" para cineastas
extranjeros y algunos representantes de las autoridades francesas.
Entre los afios 1920 y entrados los 1930 existi6 un cine colonial fran-
ces. Este cine logr6 imponer una imagen y los estereotipos "necesa-
rios" para la defense de la empresa colonial. Los franceses administra-
dores de las colonies, soldados, m6dicos, legionarios y otros eran siem-
pre "los buenos de la pelicula", mientras que sus rivals malos lo eran
los indigenas, rebeldes, negros, faniticos religiosos, etc. No sera hasta
los 1970 que los cineastas franceses comienzan a enfrentar la realidad
brutal de su pasado colonial.7 Entre 1930 y 1970 fueron censuradas

6 Todas la peliculas citadas en esta articulo Ilevan titulos en francs o creole, un
pequefio nfmero tiene titulos traducidos al ingles. Todas las traducciones de titulos
al espaliol se hacen de manera casi literal, guardando el sentido del titulo original.
Generalmente, las traducciones de los titulos de las peliculas no correspondent al
titulo original, de tal manera que aqui he sido consistent en traducer los titulos lo
mas fielmente possible a los titulos originales. De haber traducci6n al ingles se
proveera la misma.
7 Dina Sherzer. Cinema, Colonialism, Postcolonialism: Perspectives from the French
and Francophone World. p. 3.


varias peliculas del g6nero film colonial que no se conformaban a los
cliches del cine colonial clasico. Es important sefialar tambi6n que las
Antillas, asi como Indochina, la Nouvelle Caledonie, Madagascar y la
Guyana son practicamente inexistentes en el cine colonial de ficci6n.8
Por otra parte, y durante este mismo period, algunos actors y actri-
ces de las Antillas participan en rodajes franceses, en su gran mayoria
se da el mismo fen6meno que en los Estados Unidos, y en el cine en
general (independientemente de donde provenga), donde los actors
negros se encontraban siempre en los roles de salvajes, esclavos, sir-
vientes, prostitutes y ladrones, entire otros roles denigrantes y
estereotipados. Muchos de estos actors y actrices, tanto de teatro
como de cine mAs adelante, comienzan a trazar una trayectoria hacia
roles que seran de gran relevancia converti6ndose en agents de cam-
bio de la imagen, y sobre todo de la percepci6n generalizada y
estereotipica de los negros en el teatro, el cine y la television francesas.
Algunos de los actors y actrices mas reconocidos por el p6blico
antillais y francs lo son: Simone Gabriel Desbordes, Jacqueline
Lemoine, Theo y Pascal Legitimus, Darling L6gitimus (pionera de la
familiar L6gitimus). Esta (iltima es reconocida como la antillaise que
mas roles ha interpretado en el cine francs, con mas de 150 en panta-
lla. Dos de sus actuaciones mas c6lebres fueron en 1956 en Les Sorcieres
de Salem (Las Brujas de Salem) de Raymond Rouleau francs6) y en
1983 cuando interpret el rol de la abuela en Rue Case-Negres (Sugar
Cane Alley) de Euzhan Palcy (martiniquense). Su carrera artistic fue
coronada en 1983 precisamente, cuando obtuvo el premio de mejor
interprete femenina en la Mostra de Venecia, por su actuaci6n en Rue
Case-Negres. Pascal Legitimus, de la misma familiar, es tal vez el actor
martiniquense mAs reconocido por el piblico antillais y francs en los
61timos diez afios. En 2000 estelariz6 Antille sur Seine y en 2003 es el
alcalde de la pelicula Nord plage.
Otros actors y actrices de las Antillas Francesas son Jenny Alpha,
Moune de Rivel, Doudou Bab6, Cathy Rosier, Lissette Malidor, Robert
Liensol, Benjamin Jules-Rosette, Emilie Marie-Claude Benoit, Laura
Moutoussamy, Gladis Ambre, Ketty Hilaire, Michele Maillet, Joby
Bernab6, Liliana Liseron, Grez Germain, Roger Tannous, Pierre Saintons,
Jacques Martial, France Zobda y Toto Bissainthe entire muchos otros.

8 "Rever: L'lmpossible tentation du cinema colonial." P. 119-135. en: Culture
Coloniale: La France conquise par son Empire 1871-1931. Pascal Blanchard, ed.
Editions Autrement, 2003.


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