- Screening Cuba: Film Criticism as Political Performance during the Cold War
Amaya’s Screening Cuba is an original study of Cuban film from the perspectives of film reception, film criticism, and citizenship. According to Amaya, the reception of Cuban film during the Cold War was affected by issues of citizenship and how the film critic wished to represent his or her identity as a citizen of either Cuba or the United States. What makes this study unique is that Amaya compares the political landscapes of both countries and [End Page 248] explains how the film critics’ political identities nuanced their critiques of four Cuban films: Memorias del subdesarrollo (1968, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea); Lucía (1968, Humberto Solás); De cierta manera (1977, Sara Gómez); and Retrato de Teresa (1979, Pastor Vega). While critics in Cuba performed their role in accordance with the ideals of the Revolution and openly adopted the language of state cultural institutions, critics in the United States had a more ambivalent relationship with the state and performed their role in agreement with what Amaya terms a liberal and progressive identity. In the first half of this study, Amaya describes the field of culture first in Cuba and then in the United States. In the second half, the author directly addresses the four films in question and compares specific reviews of each film in both countries from the perspectives of film reception, film criticism, and citizenship.
In chapter 1, “Cuban Culture, Institutions, Policies, and Citizens,” Amaya describes Cuban culture during the Cold War as a product of the “events and cultural policies” of three periods following the Cuban Revolution: “1959–61, the beginning of the revolution; 1960–70, cultural experimentation and idealism; and 1970–85, institutionalization and socialism” (5). Throughout the chapter, the author explains how the events following the Revolution and the policies adopted by the new government affected cultural production as well as reception. Two significant events that framed this production were the creation of ICAIC (Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos, 1959) and, later, Fidel Castro’s speech entitled “Palabras a los Intelectuales” (1961). As the first cultural policy created by the revolutionary government, Law 169 initiated ICAIC in order to control Cuban film production, exhibition, and distribution within the country and without. As Amaya explains, Cuban cultural workers were encouraged to produce art that educated viewers on how to be revolutionary citizens. Furthermore, in Castro’s speech to Cuban intellectuals, he addresses what is appropriate for revolutionary art and famously states, “Dentro de la revolución todo, contra la revolución nada” (13). In chapter 2, “The Cuban Revolutionary Hermeneutics: Criticism and Citizenship,” Amaya details how Cuban culture became political and how art became a political manifestation of the artists’ beliefs. Furthermore, filmmakers were asked to produce films that educated and decolonized citizens; whereas, film critics were asked to police this cultural production so as to ensure proper revolutionary aesthetics.
In chapter 3, “The U.S. Field of Culture,” the author focuses on how the social unrest of the 1960s influenced culture, in general, and film reception and criticism, specifically, in the United States. Although the author uses the unfortunate term “fluke” to refer to two historical periods coinciding, this chapter does provide an excellent overview of film exhibition, distribution, and reception in the United States. Insightfully, Amaya identifies “the increasing tendency to equate foreign film to art film and to fit it within a cultural politics of dissention” (69). Thus, the act of viewing a foreign film was political and distanced the viewer from the masses and from mainstream [End Page 249] American culture. In chapter 4, “U.S. Criticism, Dissent, and Hermeneutics,” Amaya discusses the rise of popular film criticism in the United States and addresses Cuba’s symbolism in the popular imagination. In this chapter, the author also discusses how changes in academe and developments in feminist theory affected film criticism in the United States.
In the remaining four chapters, Amaya examines the four films in...