August 10, 2005

Cuba @ the Movies: I know it was you, Fredo

Cuba is only part of what’s at stake for Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in “Godfather II” (1974). If things go his way, he will inherit control of the casinos and hotels in Havana from Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg). Instead, the Revolution ruins everything. (The Hyman Roth character was based on Meyer Lansky.)

Just after Batista announces his immediate resignation, Pacino delivers the line to John Cazale: “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart! You broke my heart!”

Fredo runs away in fear of his brother’s anger, and Michael looses at once the Latin Las Vegas empire that symbolized U.S. authority over Cuba, and a brother that had betrayed him.

Not being able to film in Cuba, locations in the Dominican Republic were used, and production designer Dean Tavoularis does a great job of making sure the interiors and exteriors look very authentic. There are numerous street shots and views of the Hotel Capri and the Tropicana nightclub.

In the commentary track, Coppola explains that the gold phone used in the movie was based on a real gold phone given by ITT to Fulgencio Batista.

Most films that use the Cuban revolution as a backdrop (Havana, Cuba, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) don’t usually come close to portraying a realistic picture of the revolution. By staying with the gangsters exclusively, director, co-writer Francis Ford Coppola shows us the value of the Latin Las Vegas of the late 1950s. “We have now what we’ve always needed,” says Roth, “a real partnership with a government.”

Comedies can afford to deal with Cuba in a more subtle way. In the popular family film “Captain Ron” (1992), a family of 4 finds itself on Cuban soil after the “pirates of the Caribbean” hijack their sailboat. It’s unclear if the pirates themselves are Cuban, and there’s nothing to indicate that they are, other than the fact that they were unloading the sailboat in Cuba.

The family steals back their boat with the help of Captain Ron (Kurt Russell), who shows up in a stolen ’56 Buick and cracks a funny about how the “pirates are easy. It’s the Cuban cops you got to worry about. Grand theft auto is a major biggie around here!”

Eventually they’re able to get their boat into international waters, where the U.S. Coast Guard appears just in time for a happy ending.

The “grand theft auto” joke probably works outside the context of the embargo, but its political edge is more apparent if you’re familiar with recent Cuban history.



Blogger Manuel A.Tellechea said...

No, absolutely not: Cuba was never a fiefdom of the Mafia; Batista was not in Meyer Lansky's pocket; Havana was not a capital of vice; and the gold telephone is an invention of Coppola's. Please don't allow yourself to be fooled by Castro's propaganda as filtered through the lens of Hollywood. These myths were created precisely to exculpate Castro by slandering an entire people. Why would a �ountry with the third-largest GNP in the Western Hemisphere because a fiefdom for the Mafia whose earnings in the U.S., legal and illegal, never even approached the material wealth of Cuba? It's like Sicily becoming the master of Austria, or Jamaica becoming overlord of the United States. Preposterous. The cult of Meyer Lansky is quickly eclipsing Hemingway's as the dominant Yankee motiff on the island. Hemingway's presence in pre-revolutionary Cuba is also vastly overplayed. He was regarded by most Cubans as nothing more than an old drunkard who lent some local color, but nothing more. Another thing about Hemingway: he was never Castro's friend or supporter. And Castro more than any other factor is responsible for his suicide, which occurred shortly after Hemingway learned that his house in Cuba had been confiscated along with his MSs, papers and books: the only house he ever owned!

8:01 PM, September 15, 2005  
Blogger Jerry A. Sierra said...

I’m not sure how the “truth” of Batista’s corruption and his connections to organized crime and Meyer Lansky in particular is a “slander on an entire people.” The facts are there, and while I may consider ignoring them a shocking event in the age of abundant information, it’s refreshing to see somebody come out to defend the old dictator.

8:41 PM, September 18, 2005  
Blogger Manuel A.Tellechea said...

The "facts" whereof you speak come from Castro's propaganda mill. There was no connection between Batista and the Mafia. It is a canard on the whole Cuban people to suggest that they allowed their country to be run by the Mafia. These "facts" were unknown to Cubans before 1959. Never once did Castro himself mention any of these "facts" during his terrorist campaign (1953-1958). I am sorry to see that you have been so completely taken in by Castro's "facts." Do you also believe his figures (i.e. statistics)?

9:37 PM, September 19, 2005  
Blogger Jerry A. Sierra said...

Are you suggesting that historians Hugh Thomas, Jamie Suchlicki, and the Latin American History departments at universities all over the U.S. are part of “Castro’s Propaganda Mill?” What about the NY Times, the LA Times and the Miami Herald?

The connection between Batista and organized crime is a matter of fact, and denying it is pointless, as there’s too much evidence to hide.

This is not the first time that I’ve heard the war against Batista referred to as a “terrorist campaign.” What’s next, that Batista was deep down a humanitarian?

5:55 PM, September 20, 2005  

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