i am cuba (mikhail kalatozov, 1964)

This is the latest film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 9 is called "ASC 100 Milestone Films Week":

Here, the American Society of Cinematographers have rounded up the films from the 20th century that stand out in terms of their achievement in the art of visual storytelling. So keep your eyes on the screen and be amazed.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from the ASC's list of 100 Milestone Films of the 20th Century.

I Am Cuba is a film about the Cuban revolution, sponsored by the Soviet Union with a Soviet director.

Neither Cuba nor the Soviets approved of film, as noted on the IMDB site:

Both the Soviets and the Cubans were disappointed in the film. In Cuba, it is referred to as "I am NOT Cuba". They never felt it was a portrait of themselves - but, rather a depiction of Cuba imposed on them by the Soviet Union. Soviet Union wanted to make a straight-forward propaganda film. They felt the director Mikhail Kalatozov made an 'art' film instead.

Both countries are right. The Cuban people in the movie never rise above stereotypes: the prostitute, the farmer, the student. And while there is plenty of "art" in I Am Cuba, it presents itself as a ironic contrast to what the Soviets probably thought they were paying for. America is consistently shown in a negative manner, but at times the Western style seems pretty darned cool. All of this is important because I Am Cuba got practically no distribution at the time. The Soviets didn't like it, the Cubans didn't like it, and the Americans were in the middle of a Cold War. It wasn't rediscovered (or rather, discovered) until the mid-90s.

I Am Cuba is a terrific example of great cinematography (Sergey Urusevskiy is credited) ... it it certainly a milestone. I only hesitate to include these clips because the quality isn't great, which does a disservice to the cinematography. But at least you get the idea. First, the opening of the film. Watch the long take that begins a little more than 2 minutes in. And watch until the end, keeping in mind this was the early 1960s.

And my favorite of all the long takes:

And if that isn't enough, Raquel Revuelta plays "Cuba" ... it is she who narrates, always returning to "I Am Cuba". #343 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.


music friday: mink deville

I wrote the following back in 2007:

Mink DeVille, "Spanish Stroll." Somehow, this song manages to be vaguely New Wave while recalling the kind of culture that might have also spawned disco. We saw these guys once, and the opening act was an unknown local comic named Dana Carvey. Carvey was funny enough, but who comes to a rock concert to see a comedian? So he wasn't going over very well, and at one point he did some bit about a then-current commercial for Irish Spring soap. When no one laughed, he ad-libbed "what, you guys don't wash?" To which I shouted in reply, "We don't stink!" It was the only good heckle I ever got off. Robin liked Carvey, though, and so she wrote him a note on a napkin saying she thought he was funny and had our waitress take it to him. No word on whether or not he actually saw the note. He doesn't stink anymore, though.

The band was touring behind their first album, which made #29 on that year's Pazz & Jop poll. They had begun as Billy de Sade and the Marquis. As Mink DeVille, they were a house band at CBGB. That first album had a few memorable songs besides "Spanish Stroll", including a favorite of ours, "Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl".

The band lasted until 1986, and Willy DeVille had a solo career, releasing albums through 2008. He died in 2009.

Here is an Irish Spring commercial from the late-70s:

As for Dana Carvey, well, you know him. Here is my favorite Dana Carvey bit ... I believe this is from his tryout tape for SNL:

A few decades and a lot of money later:


swing time (george stevens, 1936)

Generally considered one of the two best Fred and Ginger movies (along with my favorite, Top Hat). An Oscar winner for "The Way You Look Tonight", which is perfectly sung by Astaire, but which is a bit spoiled by the fact that Rogers has her head covered in shampoo during the scene. The score, by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern, also includes "Pick Yourself Up", "A Fine Romance", and "Never Gonna Dance". The plot is the usual Fred and Ginger trifle ... the plot is never the point of their movies.

The dance highlight is "Never Gonna Dance" (many of these clips are of poor quality, especially unfortunate since Criterion has recently released a restored version):

The most famous dance in the movie is "Bojangles of Harlem", a tour de force as a dance and as a production, that is problematic because Astaire wears blackface. This time, it's hard to get a clip that shows the entire number, so here's an excerpt:

Finally, here is probably the best dance number in the film, "Waltz in Swing Time":

Bonus, because I can never resist posting it again: the greatest scene in Fred and Ginger history, one that never fails to bring tears to my eyes: