[Marxism] New DVD of note

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 20 11:05:31 MST 2007

NY Times, November 20, 2007
Critic’s Choice
New DVDs


Filmed in 1964 but largely forgotten until a screening at the 1992 
Telluride Film Festival, “I Am Cuba” remains one of the great U.F.O.’s 
of the movies, a stylistic exercise so inventively extravagant that it 
still provokes gasps of amazement. The Soviet government had 
commissioned the director Mikhail Kalatozov, whose 1957 “Cranes Are 
Flying” was one of the few postwar Soviet films to attract international 
attention, to create a stolid, Socialist Realist monument to the Cuban 
Revolution; what it got instead was an avant-garde freakout that 
continues to cast a spell over filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese and 
Paul Thomas Anderson.

The film is grounded in propaganda-poster imagery that even the film’s 
Cuban screenwriter, Enrique Pineda Barnet, found excessively 
romanticized: noble peasants, evil capitalists, bearded revolutionaries 
battling for justice under a tropical sun. But Kalatozov and his 
cinematographer, Sergei Urusevksy, quickly left realism behind, using 
infrared film, a hand-held camera and an extreme wide-angle lens that 
stops just short of a fish-eye effect to create a series of radical long 
takes, the exact opposite of the fast-cutting montage style that defined 
Soviet cinema in its glory days of the 1920s.

In the film’s most dazzlingly shot sequence — a funeral parade for a 
martyred student protester — the camera begins at eye level among the 
mourners, rises several stories in the air and floats through the window 
of a cigar factory, where it follows a Cuban flag passed from worker to 
worker, then moves out a back window and into the street again for an 
overhead vision of the parade, now several blocks long. The camera, 
suspended from a cable, continues to soar down the street as onlookers 
toss flowers from balconies. Politics dissolve in the face of such 
grand, formalist gestures, as the Communist press sternly noted at the 
time of the film’s first, unsuccessful release.

For this new edition of “I Am Cuba,” Milestone Film and Video has 
bundled a new transfer from a Russian fine-grain print with “The 
Siberian Mammoth,” Vicente Ferraz’s 2005 Brazilian documentary about the 
film’s making, and a documentary on Kalatozov by his grandson, Mikhail 
Kalatozishvili. The three discs come packaged in a miniature cigar box, 
quite an inventive formalist gesture in itself. (Milestone Film and 
Video, $44.95, not rated.)

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