Last night I watched the half-amazing I Am Cuba, a piece of propaganda made by the Soviet Union in the sixties and not released in America until 1996, when it was presented by a joint alliance of Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. It's a really well-done film, one of the shots was stolen for Boogie Nights. The first chunk is really joyful and ecstatic filmmaking, weirdly- It's set in the times of Capitalism, and there's these scenes shot at danceclubs and poolside and stuff that are kind of tinted with bad vibes and misdeeds, but there's all these long tracking shots of beautiful people set to music. Capitalism rears its head, but oh man, the joy at work as this camera just runs around Cuba. It's so immediate. The only thing that's distancing is this weird voiceover, translating what the Cuban characters are saying into Russian for the Russian audience. There's also some English spoken, by the Americans who ruin everything.
I have this kind of ongoing and kind of racist conversation about what countries, in general, don't make good movies and which ones do. In this, Asia and Spanish-speaking countries come out well, and France and Russia get it pretty hard. For different reasons. Russian films, as well as literature, are just these miserable depressed things. And that emerges in I Am Cuba, in voiceover talking about how certain sounds of the ocean might as well be constant tears. There's kind of a weird tonal disparity.
The director's Russian, so I kind of do have to attribute the fun and joy that's present to him.
Anyway, as the movie goes on- it's over two and half hours long- it becomes tiring. There is a transition as the revolution begins. This stuff is presented with some of the same joy- molotov cocktails are thrown, there's a certain romance at work that allows for it. At the end it becomes a bit more of a war movie, as people die and get caught up to join the struggle. I was imagining that the finale would just be ecstatic, some kind of presentation of a utopia, although I guess that would just be people working and not really as fun-seeming as the swimming in pools footage. But no, it definitely just becomes less fun as it goes on. But it's pretty amazing on the whole, really moving movie-making.
It really reminded me of the strength of cinema as a thing where visuals can accompany music and really communicate joy in a way similar to how music can. It's not all dance numbers, I Am Cuba- There's also shouts of defiance against the forces that control us, which is the same principle, even though there's more drama at stake. People just tear themselves apart and give in, and there's always just this energy at work.