Christine M. Flowers | HOPELESS IN HAVANA, CLUELESS IN HOLLYWOOD
ANDY GARCIA has the entire package: good looks, the ability to speak articulately (in at least two languages), a decades-long marriage, solid moral values. He's basically Mel Gibson with a sprinkling of cilantro.
For almost 20 years, the Cuban-born actor has brought power and elegance to a wide range of characters from the doomed poet Garcia Llorca to the man who taught Sofia Coppola how to roll gnocchi.
But his dream was to move to the other side of the camera and recreate a world that now exists only in memory: the pre-Castro Cuba of his parents. This was his "Passion," so to speak.
Like Gibson, he poured his own money into this labor of love. And, like Gibson, he managed to outrage mainstream Hollywood by making a film that doesn't do what it's supposed to: please the most "progressive" constituency this side of Beijing. Andy Garcia refused to make the communists look like the good guys.
Critics have panned his movie "The Lost City" as historically inaccurate since it fails to show how Castro and his henchman Che Guevara had the unified support of the working poor. They say that he paints too sanguine a picture of Batista and the monied classes, and that he twists the facts to make Che look evil. How could a guy who looks so fine on trendy T-shirts be on the wrong side of history? How indeed.
The reaction to Garcia's film reminds me of how the chattering classes lobbed grenades at Gibson's "Passion," calling it everything from anti-semitic to - surprise! - "historically inaccurate."
If accuracy were the sine qua non of celluloid, would Tony Curtis have been able to hail Spartacus in a Brooklyn accent? Or would the creamy-skinned Liz Taylor have been cast as an Egyptian queen, or Rock Hudson as a ladies' man?
This perverted desire to whitewash communist brutality is a throwback to the time when Alger Hiss rubbed shoulders with heads of state and Joe McCarthy was ridiculed as delusional. History has proven that Hiss was a traitor, and that McCarthy, whose methods were famously flawed, was actually raising legitimate issues of national security.
In fact, many have criticized the country's failure to legitimately recognize the communist threat in the years after World War II. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, hardly a conservative, once wrote that "President Truman was almost willfully obtuse as regards American Communism."
But the cold war is over, yesterday's news. We don't hate the communists anymore (and some never did in the first place).
In fact, so distant is the fear of communism that Cuba has now become a fabulous vacation destination. Strolling through my favorite bookstore the other day, I found, sandwiched between a book on Colombia and a pictorial tour of Denmark, a lovely guide to the delights of our Caribbean neighbor.
On the cover was a lovely beach vista, all white sand and sun and swaying palm trees. Looking closely, I could swear I saw little Elian Gonzalez playing with a beach ball. Must have been my imagination (or a bad cuba libre).
And then you have the college students who spend "learning semesters" in Havana, immersing themselves in the expansive culture and coming back with their very own sanguine view of the country and its people.
They must have missed the political dissidents in the rat-infested prisons. They must have overlooked the men and women on the street and in the bodegas, young and old, male and female. Waiting to die. These are the broken souls of Castro's revolution, the ones who never noticed that the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. But the left doesn't want to hear what they're saying, just as they closed their ears to the cries of Stalin's victims.
This is a dangerous blind spot. Communism is a creeping illness that didn't die when the Iron Curtain fell. Some on the left would like to deflect attention from it, and downplay its importance. But the lines between the newest form of socialism and Castro's creed are blurred.
Hugo Chavez is a prime example of the danger. Venezuela's socialist president stands arm-in-arm with the Cuban dictator while he violates the civil rights of his people and antagonizes the U.S. Evo Morales, the newly elected leader of Bolivia talks about empowering the indigenous populations while embracing Chavez.
So Andy Garcia tells some uncomfortable truths about his homeland, and Hollywood won't listen. They'll lionize Ed Murrow, who challenged the anti-communist bogeyman. But criticize the murderous Fidel? That's box-office poison.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Plain and lucid
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