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Movie Critics Aghast at Andy Garcia's 'The Lost City'

Sunday, 30 April 2006 12:00 AM

Andy Garcia blew it big-time with his movie "The Lost City." He blew it with the mainstream critics, that is. Almost unanimously, they're ripping a movie 16 years in the making. In this engaging drama of a middle-class Cuban family crumbling during free Havana's last days, which he both directs and stars in, Garcia insisted on depicting some historical truth about Cuba – a grotesque and unforgivable blunder in his industry. He's now paying the price.

Earlier, many film festivals refused to screen it. Now many Latin American countries refuse to show it. The film's offenses are many and varied. Most unforgivable of all, Che Guevara is shown killing people in cold blood. Who ever heard of such nonsense? And just where does this uppity Andy Garcia get the effrontery to portray such things? The man obviously doesn't know his place.

And just where did Garcia get this preposterous notion of pre-Castro Cuba as a relatively prosperous but politically troubled place, they ask. All the Cubans he portrays seem middle class. Where in his movie is the tsunami of stooped and starving peasants that carried Fidel and Che into Havana on its crest, they ask. Where are all those diseased and illiterate laborers and peasants my professors, Dan Rather, CNN and Oliver Stone told me about, ask the critics.

Garcia – that cinematic bomb-thrower – has seriously jolted the mainstream media's fantasies and hallucinations of pre-Castro Cuba, of Che, of Fidel, and of Cubans in general. In consequence, the critics are unnerved and disoriented. Their annoyance and scorn are spewing forth in review after review.

Garcia blew it. If only his characters had spoken with accents like John Belushi's as a "Saturday Night Live" killer bee! If only they'd dressed like The Three Amigos! If only they'd behaved like Cheech and Chong! If only they'd mimicked the mannerisms and gait of Freddie Prinze in "Chico and the Man"! If only the women had piled a roadside fruit stand on their head like Carmen Miranda in "Road to Rio"! If only the cast had looked like the little guy who handles my luggage when I visit Cancun! Or the guys who do my lawn! Everybody knows that's what Hispanics look like!

If only masses of Cubans had been shown toiling in salt mines like Spartacus, or picking crops like Tom Joad, or getting lashed by a vicious landlord like Kunta Kinte, or hustling for a living like Ratso Rizzo!

"In a movie about the Cuban revolution, we almost never see any of the working poor for whom the revolution was supposedly fought," sniffs Peter Reiner in The Christian Science Monitor. "'The Lost City' misses historical complexity."

Actually, what's missing is Mr. Reiner's historical knowledge. Andy Garcia and screenwriter Guillermo Cabrera Infante knew full well that "the working poor" had no role in the stage of the Cuban revolution shown in the movie. The anti-Batista rebellion was led and staffed overwhelmingly by Cuba's middle and, especially, upper class. To wit: In August of 1957 Castro's rebel movement called for a "national strike" against the Batista dictatorship – and threatened to shoot workers who reported to work. The "national strike" was completely ignored.

Another was called for April 9, 1958. And again Cuban workers blew a loud and collective raspberry at their "liberators," reporting to work en masse.

"Garcia's tale bemoans the loss of easy wealth for a precious few," harrumphs Michael Atkinson in The Village Voice. "Poor people are absolutely absent; Garcia and Infante seem to have thought that peasant revolutions happen for no particular reason – or at least no reason the moneyed 1 percent should have to worry about."

What's "absolutely absent" is Mr. Atkinson's knowledge about the Cuba Garcia depicts in his movie. His crack about that "moneyed 1 percent" and especially his "peasant revolution" epitomize the cliched idiocies still parroted by the chattering classes about Cuba.

"The impoverished masses of Cubans who embraced Castro as a liberator appear only in grainy, black-and-white news clips," snorts Stephen Holden in The New York Times. "Political dialogue in the film is strictly of the junior high school variety."

It's Holden's education on the Cuban Revolution that's of the "junior high school variety." Actually it's Harvard Graduate School variety. Many more imbecilities about Cuba are heard in Ivy League classrooms than in any rural junior high school.

"It fails to focus on the poverty-stricken workers whose plight lit the fires of revolution," complains Rex Reed in the New York Observer.

You're better off attempting rational discourse with the Flat-Earth Society, but nonetheless I'll try to dispel the fantasies of pre-Castro Cuba still cherished by America's most prestigious academics and its most learned film critics. I'll even stay away from those "crackpots" and "hotheads" in Miami. In place of those insufferable "revanchists" and "hard-liners" I'll use a source generally esteemed by liberal highbrow types: the United Nations.

Here's a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) report on Cuba circa 1957: "One feature of the Cuban social structure is

In 1958 Cuba had a higher per-capita income than Austria and Japan. Cuban industrial workers had

And get this, Maxine Waters, Barbara Walters, Andrea Mitchell, Diane Sawyer and the rest of you feminist Castro groupies: Cuban women got

The anti-Batista

By 1961, however, workers and

The New York Times' Stephen Holden also sneers at Garcia's implication that "life sure was peachy before Fidel Castro came to town and ruined everything."

In fact, Mr. Holden, before Castro "came to town," Cuba took in more immigrants (primarily from Europe) as a percentage of population than the U.S. And more Americans lived in Cuba than Cubans in the U.S. Furthermore, inner tubes were used in truck tires, oil drums for oil, and Styrofoam for insulation. None were cherished black market items for use as flotation devices to flee the glorious liberation while fighting off hammerheads and tiger sharks.

The learned Mr. Holden is also annoyed by "buffoonish parodies of sour Communist apparatchiks barking orders." Apparently, Communist apparatchiks should be properly depicted as somewhat misguided social workers, or as slightly overzealous Howard Dean campaign staffers.

It's no "parody," Mr. Holden, that the "apparatchiks" Garcia depicts in his movie incarcerated and executed a higher percentage of their countrymen in their

Andy Garcia shows it precisely right. In 1958 Cuba was undergoing a

In "Havana," the brilliant director Sydney Pollack casts Fulgencio Batista with blond hair and blue eyes. In fact Batista was a black. In "Godfather II," Francis Ford Coppola, to show Havana streets on New Year's Eve 1958, casts more people than marched in Los Angeles last week and depicts them in a battle scene right out of "Braveheart." In fact, Havana streets were deathly quiet that night.

I don't presume to the exalted position of a film critic. So I don't comment on the dramatic and cinematic criticisms made by these august critics. I'm not saying, or even implying, that "The Lost City" is a better movie than "Godfather II." I'm simply criticizing the critics on their criticism of the historical accuracy of "The Lost City." In these reviews we see – in all its classic splendor – the mainstream media's thundering and apparently incurable stupidity on matters Cuban.


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Andy Garcia blew it big-time with his movie "The Lost City." He blew it with the mainstream critics, that is. Almost unanimously, they're ripping a movie 16 years in the making. In this engaging drama of a middle-class Cuban family crumbling during free Havana's last days,...
Sunday, 30 April 2006 12:00 AM
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