Culture, hegemony, et al.

Tom Condit tomcondit at
Thu Feb 9 23:10:58 MST 1995

Perhaps the dichotomy between the status of writers and that of
film makers in Cuba is related to the nature of the media.

The highly suspect "Grab Bag" column of L. M. Boyd pointed out
recently that film directors, symphony conductors (and, I would
add, classical musicians in general) and football quarterbacks
take strong exception to the notion that success in the arts or
sports is a matter of individual achievement.  You can write a
novel anywhere.  You can only make a film if you have access to a
studio, financing, and colleagues who share your perception of
what you're doing.  Writers tend to be among the most
"individualistic" of human beings and don't work well for the
most part even in ordinary collaborative situations, let alone
under the aegis of a bureaucracy.

Cuba, like most of the "socialist" countries, has put a fair
amount of support into the film industry and has given the
filmmakers a pretty free hand.  I suspect there might be ulterior
motives related to foreign currency and prestige involved, but
let's skip the motives.  The fact is, there's a lot of incentive
for film makers to stay in Cuba where they have support, as
opposed to jumping to another country where they might be subject
to just as much red tape and censorship (mostly corporate rather
than governmental), without any guarantee of financial support.

I think if you look at the whole eastern bloc in recent years
you'll see similar stuff.  Compare "Ashes and Diamonds" (Poland)
or "The Cranes are Flying" (USSR) with Polish or Russian
literature of the same period.  (I may be out on a limb here,
since I'm profoundly ignorant of the latter subject, but you see
what I mean.)  (I'm also aware of how dated my examples are.
"Don't get around much anymore," as the song goes.)

Of course, film makers jump ship too. Aleksandr Ford left Poland
for Israel, where so far as I can tell he's done nothing of note.
(Many would say the same of much of his Polish work, but I like
it.) Roman Polanski came to the U.S., where he's done some great
stuff and some mediocre stuff.  But on the whole, fewer East
European film people have come to Hollywood than Germans or
French or Italians.

The state-supported cultural institutions of "socialist"
countries have been accompanied by dreadful censorship and been
more often than not turned into propaganda institutions, but for
those who work in fields which require buildings, finance and
large numbers of (paid) colleagues, the situation in ballet,
classical music, "folkloric arts" and cinema has been far better
than in this country.  Why would anyone except a few superstars
want to leave?

(I should say that I am fervently in favor of socialist
revolutions to overthrow these regimes, in case someone mistakes
the tone of the above.)

Tom Condit


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