by Tomás Gutierrez Alea
Translated by Julia Lesage
Cut, no. 32, April 1987, pp. 57-60
APPENDIX: MEMORIES OF MEMORIES
More than ten years have passed since MEMORIES was presented in the fourth Pesaro Film Festival (Italy, 1968). A feature-length documentary about Vietnam by Joris Ivens and MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT were exhibited late the first night, after a long agitated day of discussions, protests, explanations, and confusion. The echos of France's May '68 resonated through all Europe and in some places, like Italy, were being felt with renewed fury. Cannes had already suffered the onslaught of May. A lot of intellectuals solemnly proclaimed their decision to commit suicide as a class. Really, few of them really did it, but at that moment, anyone might have believed them because everything that was happening was so unusual and lovely — too lovely.
Venice also was shaken by the spreading wave. The shocks within the superstructure were spectacular and revealing, and affected in terms of the film festivals what would happen at Pesaro. Evidently, in this case it wasn't a bourgeois festival. There weren't any stars there to exhibit themselves and the starlets wouldn't have the chance to do their little numbers to attract producers' attention. There'd be no gala reception or cocktails. We were outsiders in terms of prizes, businessmen's greediness, advertising, and the "big world," On the contrary, here the most restless filmmakers got together — the "independent ones," those who were trying to pull film out of the crisis of superficiality, conformity and commercialism. There they made their work known and established contacts, which were almost always fruitful, and took part in a real confrontation of ideas.
I remember the first panels where Metz, Pasolini, Barthes and others argued about film and linguistics and later, little by little, ever more about film politics. I remember Brasilian cinema novo, New American Cinema, underground filmmaking, parallel cinema, militant cinema, revolutionary cinema. From the beginning there, you could learn about the works made within that spirit of renewal that was coursing through the cinema of various countries. People also found out about Latin American cinema at Pesaro. In effect, it was a festival of the Left.
Nevertheless, that year people questioned Pesaro, too. A race had broken out between different groups to see who was furthest Left. Everyone was talking about "manipulation" and "instrumentalization," and you got the dangerous impression that the "Establishment" was a powerful monster capable of devouring anything and assimilating any rebellious manifestation. At the same time fascist provocateur groups appeared who were ready to fish in the churning waters. Finally, of course, the "forces of law and order" came down violently against the festival participants who had gathered en masse in the plaza: tear gas, clubbing, broken heads, people running here and there through a labyrinth of narrow streets, and arrests. The monster couldn't swallow it all so placidly. A few things got in its way, and it had to try to chew them up first. That police action defined the terms of the issue and facilitated the momentary uniting of the different progressive tendencies within a festival which remained "outside."
I'm remembering all of this now because more than ten years have passed — plenty of time for a film to age, exhaust its possibilities for distribution, and be forgotten. Nevertheless, MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT — along with LUCIA by Humberto Solas (also from 1968) — continues to work with viewers each time it's shown, and it's far from being forgotten.[open notes in new window] In addition, and above all, the film has a special meaning for us because it seems to reveal in a most diffuse yet exemplary way how those mechanisms function which can emanate from the spectacle/ spectator relation and which aid the citizenry "to participate in the critique of itself," as Antonio Gramsci put it. However, the exceptional reception which the film has had in the United States removes all our former doubts about how a system that is essentially hypocritical might manipulate a work. That encourages me to reflect a bit on the film and to define a few perspectives.
Manipulation has become converted into a kind of evil spirit that can manifest itself when it's least on your mind, at the most unexpected moment, That constant threat weighs above all on those who want to express themselves in a given medium and whose action can have certain repercussions. Essentially that gets translated into our healthy concern to not lose sight of the ground we are walking on, the values we're defending, and the enemies against whom we're fighting. That implies that we would have to be very ingenuous if we didn't know that there are actions which — in spite of the good faith in which they are executed — imply that the enemy will momentarily appropriate something of our arms.
Ingenuous or astute, filmmakers will always be prone, to a greater or lesser degree, to having their works be manipulated to fulfill the different interests of those who defend a given work. It happens to a greater or lesser degree because truly some works are more manipulatable than others. Indeed, in passing, I'd point out that those who seem to adhere most to orthodox canons politically and ideologically, do not always turn out to be least susceptible to manipulation.
MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT was no exception. The year after its premier, an article appeared in a British film journal where you could read the following:
Evidently the critic unabashedly identified with the character Sergio, and along with Sergio he shared the destiny awaiting the bourgeoisie with the arrival of revolution. As Allen writes,
A while later, in 1973, the film received the U.S. National Film Critics award. Yet the government of that country refused to give me a visa to be able to attend the awards ceremony in New York. At the ceremony the president of that association, after having read our telegram aloud, said things like this:
The critic Andrew Sarris clearly reveals a real weakness for all kinds of ambivalences. After assuring us that the prize "was motivated more by artistic than political considerations," a little later he states that "what most drew our attention favorably to MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT is its very personal and daring confronting of artists' doubts and ambivalences concerning the Cuban Revolution." To what can those doubts and ambivalences correspond if not to political considerations? That seems quite clear. Immediately after that, Sarris supports this idea by referring to the assistance which the prize might give to my developing career, which as he puts it, seems to have been truncated after MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT, presumably because of political problems. Aside from the lack information that plagued him (in 1973 I'd already made another movie), the critic's "ambivalence" culminates a little later when he tosses fascists and communists together in the same sack as "victims of bureaucratic intolerance and black lists."
From such a critical position, it's really easy to identify with characters like Sergio and see in MEMORIES a "valiant confrontation of the artist's doubts," etc., and to raise one's "ambivalences" as a flag. It follows from a whole way of thinking in the U.S. that finds fertile ground there, and from a way of defending one's own interests which are not, of course, those of the revolution. What you get then is the well-known phenomenon of "manipulation."
It is in cinema that this mechanism is most objectively located. Filmmakers work with images and sounds, which constitute material capable of providing an illusion of reality — more so than the material unique to the other arts. Film isolates and separates fragments of reality from their original context and arranges them in such a way that they mean something specific — often something very different from what they meant in their original context. Therefore we can say that cinema itself most obviously reveals what we could call the "art of manipulation." This is because the films are fabricated as the result of the filmmaker's "manipulation" of the elements — the material which reality in its broadest sense offers him/her. Each film, in turn, may respect the formal integrity of reality — i.e., not have cuts or introduce formal changes in editing (montage) — but still constitute a phenomenon of manipulating reality. Just taking things out of their original context allows us to see in them other things, so that the material filmed becomes charged with new meanings.
But whether it occurs in cinema, which manipulates elements from reality, or in a reality that manipulates cinematic works, the success of that "manipulation" — its range and effectiveness — depends on many very complex factors, not just on the possibilities inherent in the material utilized or the skill with which the operation is carried out. And finally what's important is to know if the work seeks to reveal, hide, or turn its back on the profound significance within the reality it's dealing with — that is, if "manipulation" goes on as a function of truth or deceit.
Therefore, we have to keep in mind the changing significance of the cinematic spectacle, according to the concrete circumstances in which it establishes a relation with the public. Different groups of spectators can understand the content in diverse ways, according to the ideology permeating each group. Thus, an advertising documentary produced in South Africa with the goal of attracting cheap labor for the sugar harvest from neighboring countries can be effective among certain groups dominated by the ideology which that relatively powerful country emits; it even might elicit some degree of admiration. Nevertheless, a viewer's consciousness which has fundamentally broken with that ideology — bourgeois ideology in one of its most brutal and retrograde manifestations — will receive the documentary as a stimulus to reject not only the documentary's goal but also that whole world. Thus, without having set out to do so, the film arrives at having a progressive function since it's turned into a testimony of denunciation against a tragic and unjust reality.
In terms of MEMORIES, the general tone of the reviews it has received in the United States are in the balance very positive and sometimes surprisingly perceptive. Still, beyond the very few attempts at consciousness "manipulation," as I cited before, there was also some demonstrations of what I could label "unconscious manipulation," made in good faith among the more or less progressive strata in the North American intellectual world, where there's an abundance of positions defined as "left liberal."
Now we know that this term is highly ambiguous and contradictory in its most profound sense. You cannot be an effective leftist and at the same time be a liberal. But there are people who bear this label, and, of course, it's one of the most succulent little mouthfuls that the Establishment nourishes itself on. And it's also a little mouthful that's relatively easy to digest, because the left liberal does not want to change the system but rather to make it function according to an ideal pattern. Liberals struggle — when and if they do — for the system's idea. Sometimes liberals go to the stake for a cause which has never fully comprehended them. Such left liberals have expressed many times their enthusiasm for MEMORIES. And that could cause me a certain amount of uneasiness, because I know that their praises are not necessarily calculated in terms of hidden interests, but rather are based on a healthy identification with what seems to them clear proof that within the framework of the Cuban revolution we still have room for criticism and dissent.
But once we get this far, we must be cautious. We must not make a mistake. We have to know how to distinguish between one thing and another. That's our task. We must also understand that the criticism going on inside a film like MEMORIES has nothing to do with criticism as its practiced from liberal positions of any type or shading. Primarily the film is an example of militant cinema produced in a country where the revolution is in power. This fact perhaps requires a slight digression.
Among our peoples, rebellion seems to be ripening on the scale of the whole continent. Few countries keep up an appearance of stability. We've just finished experiencing Nicaragua's epic, and everything seems to indicate that this will not be the only one we'll live through in the next few years. Aside from the fact that living conditions throughout the world daily call out for, ever more urgently, essential changes, the examples of heroes are also contagious.
In Cuba the revolution is in power. That means the conditions of the struggle have changed.
What significance does film have in the middle of all of this? Where and at what point does cinema become really important as a weapon serving the revolution? When can it only aspire to be merely a cultural support, whose "revolutionary effectiveness" seems less evident or only evident in the long run?
The particular circumstances in each country determine the possibility of a genuinely revolutionary militant filmmaking practice. After executing all possible theoretical analyses, sometimes filmmakers do not sufficiently esteem the one decisive factor, the public. Also, c1nema's militant character is circumstantial and it functions in terms of the public towards whom it is directed. This is so in two regards: first, if the film gets there materially, physically, i.e., if it's seen by that public for whom it was originally made; second, if the film gets there intellectually and emotionally, i.e., if it's also understood by viewers and able to mobilize them.
Clearly in our country we have favorable conditions for developing militant cinema beyond merely supporting artistic culture. At the same time a militant filmmaking practice within the revolution, directed primarily by artists who share that historical circumstance, does not constitute a simple problem. Above all that's true when we don't want to content ourselves with the traditional formulae which tend to outline and simplify reality as they hide behind their supposed exaltation of revolutionary values. Above all, that's true when we're not content with useless rhetoric and when we assume that cinema provides an active and mobilizing element, one which stimulates participation in the revolutionary process. Then it's not sufficient to have a moralistic cinema based on preaching and exhortation. We need a cinema that uplifts and stimulates people's critical faculty. But how can we criticize and at the same time affirm the reality in which we are immersed? Towards what or towards whom is this criticism which MEMORIES provokes essentially directed? Let's look at the diverse aspects of that mechanism which a film ought to generate in relation to the public.
The image of reality provided by MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT is a multifaceted one — like an object contemplated from different viewpoints.
The scenes behind the credits correspond to a popular dance. It might be a carnival dance, with hot music and a certain appearance of chaos and release. Suddenly we hear shots from a pistol, which can almost be confused with the music. After that we can hardly perceive that a man is staggering in the middle of the dancers. The music continues its persistent rhythm. The people don't stop dancing, even when a man's bloody corpse falls in the middle of the dancers and almost immediately is raised up by agents of the law who carry it out through the dancing crowd. Nothing has changed. The dance goes on, and in the middle of the dance a black woman's defiant face gazes out with an expression of subterranean violence. All of this has been presented to spectators from our most "objective" point of view, the most disengaged one, the least compromised, the one most in "long shot."
Later, toward the end of the film, we go back to the same dance and the same situation, but then we see it from another perspective. New meanings will blossom, and a new uneasiness will be provoked. The images are the same or very similar, but the sound has nothing to do with what we've heard before, which corresponded (realistically, we might say) to the image. Now there are disconnected, vague sounds, which don't have a center of gravity and float confusedly and which correspond to a mental state obviously dissociated from what the image presents so abrasively within that context.
But in the image another new element also appears. Now Sergio is in the middle of the dancing crowd. He's there and he's not there. That is, he is trying to be there because he used to go dancing with Naomi. But he cannot get into the general flow of distraction, relaxation, release, joy, and violence. As much as he tries, he cannot submerge himself in "his" people's tide.
Thus the sound track expresses the protagonist's subjective tension and at the same time still keeps us distanced from the dance. It keeps us, the spectators, from letting ourselves passively be pulled along by the current. And it's no longer like in the beginning. Now with Sergio we feel that distance which separates him from the environment in which he moves. And that leads us by the hand to formulate criteria. Looking at the same sequence with Sergio as a point of reference, we see that we do not evaluate it in the same way when we consider it from his perspective as we did when we looked at it from our own point of view as spectators without any other previous information at the beginning of the film.
Perhaps a metaphor is made of a man who dies as the victim of violence in the midst of a community dance that never ceases while the incident occurs; the incident demonstrates a substratum of violence. Maybe the metaphor was not sufficiently meaningful for the spectator during the film's opening moments. Now seeing it for a second time, from another perspective, and relating it to the central character about whom we already have sufficient information so as to predict his tragic destiny, the metaphor becomes expanded. It stretches beyond its original meaning, its direct and contingent one, and it opens up and leads to considerations about the reality within which the protagonist is trapped and which he is incapable of understanding profoundly.
Later come the first sequences in the airport showing the exodus that took place in those first years after the triumph of the revolution. During those scenes, in which people don't talk and all that's shown is the moment of departure, we are constantly observing Sergio. We can't cease looking at his badly dissimulated mixture of relief and discomfort. When Sergio returns to the city in the bus and thinks about his relatives that left, above all his wife, the same sequences are repeated, but now from Sergio's perspective. Only then do we see his wife's and parents' faces; only then do we listen to Sergio's cold, almost clinical voice, which contrasts to the pathetic image of his family. The use of a telephoto lens for these images contributes to isolate the faces, which Sergio evokes, from the general environment of the airport and helps us understand those images as dreamed or thought, not as images being lived. We might say that we first observe this sequence of departure objectively about Sergio and later subjectively from Sergio's viewpoint.
Also, near the beginning of the film, we hear on a tape recorder an argument between Sergio and his wife. It is a dumb, frivolous discussion, which begins as a little provocation on his part and proceeds to assume an ever more aggressive tone. The sequences accompanying the recording show Sergio alone in their apartment, still evidencing the chaos of departure. He's playing with her personal things, prolonging the joke, until little by little his game turns into a bitter conjuncture of cynicism and loneliness.
Much later, on the night that Sergio fires Elena after having slept with her for the first time, the memory of that argument with Laura comes back to him. That sequence is repeated and continues past the point where Sergio turns off the tape recorder. Now there's a correspondence between the sound and Laura's image as she falls to the floor in the middle of a violent fight and arises sobbing, insulting Sergio and reaffirming her decision to leave the country. Once again the film presents first an evocation of an action, corresponding to Sergio's frame of mind, and later presents it again, but this time as a reproduction of the event, with the shape of information objectively given. (It doesn't matter that the second time our point of departure is also a certain one of Sergio's moods, nor that Laura's image is seen through Sergio's eyes; the event is presented with a certain objectivity.)
Later, during one of Sergio's first trips through the city, we see among other things the faces of the people in the street as Sergio sees them. They are sad, worn-out, tired, unhappy faces. Sergio asks himself,
"What sense does life have for them? For me? What sense does it have for me? But I'm not like them."
Nevertheless, the image freezes on Sergio's face, showing him to be equally unhappy. (Here we have jumped once again from the "subjective" to the "objective.") Then, at the height of the October crisis, Sergio also observes people on the street; we see faces again, but this time they reveal a mindset in open contrast to Sergio's. He's walking through the streets preoccupied and afraid of the atomic disaster, which threatens everybody and which he seems to feel more than the rest.
In both cases the image of faces is "objective," in that these are genuine faces, captured haphazardly off the street. Still, the meaning of one group and the other is quite different. If at first we get a desolate impression, it's because obviously the protagonist, with whom we tend to identify at first, projects his own emotional state onto the reality which surrounds him and brings us to see it through his eyes. That is the reality which he sees, the one he prefers, not that which we could exactly refer to as "objective reality." Neither do the faces at the end constitute in and of themselves objective reality, but they draw us much closer to it because they negate the previous impression without totally canceling it out. The truth does not reside in one kind of face or the other, nor in the sum of the two, but rather in the confrontation between both those kinds of faces and the main character and what that suggests to the spectator within the general context of the film.
Using this multilateral perception of the object as a film's structural principle does not precisely equal "ambivalence," in the critical sense of ambiguity or indeterminacy. In contrast, it is the expression of contradictions, the significance of which within the film is none other than to contribute to the uneasiness and kinds of impulses for action that we hope to awaken in the spectator. Thus it constitutes an incentive to stand at a distance when confronted with the image offered us, and in this way it stimulates a critical stance, that is, "choosing sides."
Thus, on the one hand, we gain a vision of reality, given to us by the main character in his personal reflections and critical judgment. On the other hand, we judge that character. It's an issue of a character's observing reality like a distant spectator, but with sufficient critical sense so as to provoke alternate judgments in the film's spectator. For example, the telescope on the terrace stands as the most direct possible symbol of Sergio's attitude toward reality: he sees everything from on high and at a distance. He's capable of judging reality — from his subjective point of view, of course — but he cannot actively participate in it. This character judges everything, including himself, but his judgment is not always lucid even though sometimes it seems quite perceptive. And finally we have the "documentary" vision of reality, which the film offers as counterpoint to the protagonist's vision.
By including documentary images which alternate with explicitly fictional images, we can considerably broaden the scope of relations within which the protagonist's successive moments occur. Most important, the relation between the protagonist's subjective and objective world has recourse to diverse levels of approximating reality. We're dealing with that very reality which the spectator momentarily left behind. And this kind of recourse to various ways of approaching reality facilitates the spectator's return to reality loaded with doubts and a higher degree of information, even with greater comprehension.
The documentary images in the film help locate the conflict within its social and historical framework and come to the spectator via different routes: directly, when the images match some commentary or some reflection by the protagonists, or when the film uses television or the newspaper, as with its use of newscasts, which are also sometimes presented through the radio. And finally we get these images as the meaningful space through which the protagonist physically moves. When he walks through the streets going against those massing together for a May Day demonstration, when he's in the Hotel Riveria swimming pool, etc. — all those moments were filmed without any previous preparation, either with a hidden camera or, in any case, with our trying to alter the normal, spontaneous course of the actions we came upon as little as possible.
Although the more or less "documentary" images most appropriately express the objective world in which the protagonist is located, some of those images correspond to the character's own subjective world and reflect his state of mind, thinking, and conscience (as with, for example, the faces he observed on the street). Of course, this is the best proof of Sergio's false objectivity, that it's not a case of really objective images. That is, we must not confuse ourselves when confronting documentary images — acquired by a process of directly capturing aspects of reality, which are included in the film (fragments of newscasts, photos from magazines, newspaper articles, people in the street seized by a hidden camera). We must not think that those constitute an objective reflection of the reality in which the drama — or fiction — occurs. Those images also correspond to a selection and an ordering process effected by the filmmakers and for that reason are stamped with subjectivity. They are as tendentious as the rest of the images which appear in the film, and they are carefully elaborated before the camera ever begins to film them. Sometimes fragments seem incrusted in the film that belong to some other order of things, some other dimension which apparently has nothing to do with the dramatic or narrative development. Even when those fragments somehow conserve their autonomy (as with magazine photos or fragments of newscasts), once they've been incorporated into and form part of the film, they can no longer be understood in isolation but rather in a strict relation to the rest of the work, to the context in which they find themselves repositioned.
In this way, the confrontation between the individual and society, between individual consciousness and historical circumstances which, one way or another, condition it — these are brought to their full development via two interrelated lines of development, two areas of criticism, two perspectives, two angles of vision: one reflects the characters' subjective vision and the other the filmmakers' "objective" viewpoint, which envelops us.
So the stimuli for criticism are given. What interests me now is to understand where and through what means these stimuli will lead.
The primary goal of criticism within the revolution ought to be to arm the spectator to fight for the revolution itself, to strengthen the principles it's based on and to accelerate its development. And here it might be interesting to see how the character's critical stance reaches the spectator through the mechanism of identification. At the same time, that identification with a character who is being critical constantly (justly or unjustly, it doesn't matter) inhibits that mechanism of identification from becoming absolute. That then helps keep the viewer's critical faculty awake and to share (or reject, of course) the filmmaker's own critique of both the character and the reality which includes us all.
Thus MEMORIES' functioning to remove alienation demands an impulse from viewers to identify with the character. If the film is directed primarily toward viewers who live within a revolution that already eliminated the bourgeoisie, a few years back, how then does it arrive at establishing identification with a character who clearly incarnates values belonging to that class? Sergio represents a bourgeois man who will have nothing to do with the person on the street, the worker, the farmer, or the revolutionary intellectual. Still, we discover that not just revolutionary intellectuals, but also blue- and white-collar workers find enough reasons to establish an identification with that character (this happens far less with farmers, more because of difficulties with the language than with the degree of relative ideological correspondence).
We should recall that the bourgeoisie was the dominant class until the triumph of the Revolution, and therefore its ideology was the dominant one until a few years ago. It's understandable that the values which have stamped all layers of society for centuries do not disappear completely overnight. And without a doubt, that is one of the basic problems the Revolution confronts, one the film assumes as a basis of discussion. Thus any spectator may not just understand the character but also, to a certain degree, share Sergio's outlook and hopes. Above all, this happens in conjunction with other, specifically cinematic resources, specifically those drawn from bourgeois cinema. The protagonist is not only lucid and intelligent but also well-mannered, elegant, handsome, possessing a certain wit. All his time is free for his own ends, since he receives a sizeable amount of money without needing to work. Furthermore, he owns a luxury apartment and sleeps with beautiful women. In this sense, Sergio represents more or less what every man at some time in his life has thought he might like to be or have.
But there's more to it. Sergio says things and makes observations about the reality in which he moves which are sometimes disconcerting, sometimes contradictory, but not always to be rejected. These can be a challenge and stimulus for thought, because obviously the film is dealing with an educated person and, in that sense, one above the level of ordinary thought. Without a doubt, he suffers from the mediocrity that surrounds him and viscerally rejects the traits of our physiognomy that makes us look like a branch office of Miami. That even leads him to come to an understanding of the ultimate significance of rather complex figures, such as Hemingway in that author's relation to this tropical island. But against such mediocrity, Sergio opposes what he thinks is the highest expression of culture: "I always have wanted to live like a European," he bemoans. His contradiction, the source of what's eating away at him, lies in his knowing that he's alienated within cultural patterns which do not measure up to his standards and that nevertheless he cannot rise above that condition through a position of struggle.
He is always and already a defeated man. Thus he reveals the cultural colonization that has victimized us throughout all our history. Broadly speaking, within the Revolution the sequel to that colonization becomes localized in our underdevelopment.
With all his profound contradictions, Sergio can lead us to become aware of what underdevelopment means, both on the economic plane and on the cultural and ideological one. At first viewers follow the character and share with him some of his observations and standards about our reality. But a moment comes when viewers begin to feel disturbed when the character with whom they have identified sinks further and further into a sea of contradictions, doubts and paralyzing failures to comprehend. Sergio never comes to understand the values which the world being born around him has already agreed to, and he loses to it. In a profound sense, it is Sergio who seems like underdevelopment in contrast to that world which surrounds him, in contrast to the Revolution.
Throughout all that I've been saying up to this point, I've been trying to point out that it's precisely the spectator who constitutes the target of criticism which MEMORIES unleashes — the spectator who lives within the Revolution, who is part of our revolutionary reality. Those are the viewers to whom the film ought to reveal the symptoms of possible contradictions and incongruities, which exist between good revolutionary intention (in the abstract) and a spontaneous and unconscious adhesion to certain (concrete) values that characterize bourgeois ideology. And the film's very goal is to question the continued existence of values from bourgeois ideology in the midst of the Revolution. As the film progresses, throughout the destruction that the major character undergoes, the viewers ought to be becoming more self-aware about their own situation, about the inconsistency of having identified at some point with Sergio. Thus, after having seen the movie, viewers do not go out satisfied. Their passions have not been discharged but exactly the opposite. They've been filled with uneasiness which ought to be released in action — first, action on themselves and following that, action on the reality in which they live. It's a question here, of course, of revolutionary action — the viewers' coming to consciousness about their own contradictions and their drive to arrive at some kind of intellectual coherency and to project themselves actively upon reality.
Now inevitably the question arises: Why MEMORIES? To some people it could seem an easy target for manipulation. Why MEMORIES, more than other films?
We believe that any work created during the Revolution, if it casts a critical glance on reality, can be used by the enemy in some way — above all, in these difficult times of constructing socialism as we're living through now. Above all, that seems to be the case with works like this one. Here problems are suggested but not resolved with the last image appearing on the screen; rather, they tend to be prolonged — way beyond the viewing room. It is an open work — open to a problematic situation, the previous development and the eventual conclusion of which are located in the consciousness of the viewers whom the film has invited to reflect. As we've seen, those are MEMORIES' characteristics — most noticeably, its impulse to jolt the viewers, posing problems and contradictions for them that they ought to resolve, in the indicated direction. It's in those traits, however, which constitute the film's apparent vulnerability, where its greatest force and revolutionary reach lie.
At first I mentioned that, after more than ten years, the film keeps on having this kind of effect on the public each time it's exhibited. I think it will have lost its first significance, its operativity, that it will age, only when all the vestiges of bourgeois ideology in viewers have disappeared. At that point it will simply remain as a testimony to a moment in our struggle, a difficult moment but also lively and hopeful.
Of course, I hope the film ages in this way as soon as possible.
5. Brecht said, "The bourgeoisie passes beyond, in the theater, the threshold of another world which has no relation at all to daily life. It enjoys there a kind of venal emotion in the form of a drunkeness which eliminates thought and judgment." Quoted in V. Klotz, Bertolt Brecht, p. 138.
6. "And, above all, my body, like my soul, is guarded with arms crossed in the sterile attitude of a spectator, because life isn't spectacle, because a sea of pain isn't a proscenium, because a man who's screaming isn't a dancing bear."
7. Brecht in Writings on Theater states: "The distancing effect consists in transforming the thing which you wish to make explicit, the one you want to draw attention to. You want to get it to stop being an ordinary, well-known immediate object so as to turn it into something special, noteworthy, and unexpected. In a certain sense, what's been known too well ends up as not 'understood,' but your only goal is to make it more understandable."
8. The film BURN offers us an eloquent example of contrast between its explicit message — set out verbally through spoken language and through words which encompass concepts and ideas that are definitively revolutionary and specifically anti-colonial — and its implicit myth about Europe's "immutable" superiority — expressed not just through Marlon Brando's potent and dynamic image and charismatic personality and the dramatic situations where he shows himself to be always above the people's drama, but also through the film's very "treatment," what others would call its "structural dynamics" (Althusser). Perhaps that's using a stricter criterion but equally referring to the phenomenal, the immediate, the formal — which, in this case, may correspond to the filmmakers' unconsciously paternalistic attitude.
9. Slogans have their appropriate moments Then they express an urgent necessity and at that moment they have the greatest efficacy. "Slogans are excellent, flashy, and raise spirits, but they lack something fundamental," said Lenin in "On Revolutionary Phraseology." When they exceed their appropriate moment, slogans turn into pure rhetoric. Then they can only have an effect on the person whom Lenin himself called "a revolutionary sentimentalist" — i.e., someone for whom revolution is something like a religion. I don't have to stop to explain all this obviously implies in terms of being an obstacle to the full development of consciousness.
10. As Yuri I. Surovtsev stated in In the Labyrinth of Revisionism: "For that (petit bourgeois) mindset, reality is doubly terrible. They are terrified by and indignant at the evil it contains, but they are shocked by as frequently indignant at revolutionary violence as the method of transforming it."
11. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, trans. C.J. Arthur (New York: International Publishers, 1970), pp. 58-59.
12. "Epic theater does not combat emotions, but rather it examines them and doesn't hesitate to provoke them" (Brecht, Writings on Theater).
"Dramatic art has no reason to completely set identification aside. But it should — and can without losing its artistic character — leave a path open for the spectator's critical stance" (Brecht, Writings on Theater).
"12/1/ 41. We must never forget that non-Aristotelian theater is just one form of theater. It serves specific social goals and does not have a significance which usurps all others, in terms of theater in general. In certain plays I myself may use Aristotelian theater alongside non-Aristotelian theater. If I were to put on stage today, for example, St. Joan of the Stockyards, it might suit me to produce a certain identification with Joan (from a contemporary point of view, I might say, allow a certain identification with her). This would be the case only when the character undergoes a process of self-recognition: and empathy will help spectators to see clearly the essential elements of the situation" (Brecht, Work Diary, I).
13. "My cinematographic tendencies began three years earlier with the filming of THE MEXICAN, 1920." (Eisenstein, Ediciones ICAIC.)
14, "To criticize the course of a river means, in this case, to improve it, correct it. Social criticism is revolution. That's the executive, finished criticism." (Brecht, Writings on Theater).
15. "The basic elements of theater are born from the spectators themselves and what we direct to the spectator in a specific sense. Attraction (as we analyze theater) is all of those aggressive moments in the spectator, that is, all the elements which awake in the spectator those feelings or that kind of psychology which influences his or her sensations, all elements which could be demonstrated and mathematically calculated to produce certain emotional shocks or collisions in an adequate order within that combination. It's the only medium through which you can make the final ideological conclusion perceptible." (Eisenstein, Film Sense, Edicion Lautaro)
Of course, this theory of "montage of attraction" or "artistic stimulants," as Eisenstein elsewhere called it, has a fundamental validity. But it is not everything that you can do. Even more we might point out that the hypertrophy of that stance (or that method) leads to an authoritarianism, because directors have within their reach so many expressive resources which could emotionally condition spectators in a specific direction — and there's no reason to suppose it's always the best direction. Nevertheless, we must not discount this phenomenon as a possible phase in the process of artistic communication, which could have a revolutionary effectiveness if those aggressive or irritating moments which Eisenstein talked about served to stimulate spectators to discover answers for themselves and, as a result, to act on reality. That is, if the tactic does not impose a paralyzing response.
16. "The author establishes the decisive factors of his/her compositional structure on the basis of his relation to phenomena. This dictates the structure and characteristics, through which the portrayal itself is unfolded. Losing none of its reality, the portrayal emerges from this immeasurably enriched in both intellectual and emotional qualities." (Eisenstein, Film Form)
17. "To accuse me of tearing the emotional from the intellectual is without any foundation! Quite the contrary! I wrote: 'Dualism in the sphere of 'feelings' and 'rationality' must be completely overcome by this new form of art. It is necessary to give back the intellectual process its fire and passion, to dunk the abstract thinking process into the boiling material of reality.'" (Marie Seaton, Eisenstein)
18. In a recent survey, published by James Monaco in the Canadian review, Take One, conducted among a group of the most important film critics from all over the world and asking them to select the "best films of the decade, 1968-78," MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT received most votes of the so-called Third World films: "What's the Score? The Best of the Decade," Take One, 6, No. 8 (July 1978).
19. In 1973 it was broadly exhibited in the so-called art circuits and various institutions and universities in the United States. It was chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best films of' the year, received a prize from the National Film Critics Association, and another from the Young Critics of New York.
20. See the telegram I sent to the National Film Critics: Cine Cubano, Nos. 88-89.
21. In 1970 I made A CUBAN FIGHT AGAINST THE DEVILS, surely not as fortunate as MEMORIES as far as public acceptance and international impact go.
22. See Daniel Diaz Torres, Cine Cubano, Nos. 86-87.
23. Julianne Burton comments on this phenomenon in "MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT in the Land of Overdevelopment," Cineaste, 8, No. 1 (Summer 1977).