November 5-7

1.  Before we move on to Cuban cinema, I have a few questions about feminist art. I understand the importance and the difficulty that woman had breaking into the art scene in the 1960s and the decades that followed. I am wondering whether much of the feminist art coming from this period was done in an attempt to gain recognition from the art elite of the time or to really appeal to the masses? To me, it seems as though some of the statements made by the feminist pieces would be lost on the general public. Can only women produce feminist art? Can the art speak for itself or in some cases is the back-story necessary?

2.  Thomas Guitierrez Alea talks about his to draw to filmmaking as the synthesis of a range of mediums. Why is it that film was originally considered inartistic and later became well regarded? What enabled that transition? Did it differ around the world? Is there a line between “cinema” and just “movies” and is it subjective?

3. Where do Bordwellian Theory and these different narration theories come from? How does Bordwellian theory deal with women? What is Italian neo-realism and how did it influence Cuban cinema? Why were Cubans going to Italia to study film instead of the United States?  How does Cuban cinema fit in with other Latin American cinema besides Mexico?

4.  Could we explore the Bordwellian theory/idea of the “fabula”. “The term fabula refers to the “imaginary construct” created “progressively and retroactively” by the spectator (effectively, the spectator engaged in an active engagement and construction of the story through applying schemata, testing hypotheses, making inferences etc.)”

4.  The piece you sent our group to put Cuban Cinema into some historical context brought to light some very interesting dynamics between the Mexican film industry, Hollywood, and the ICAIC. I was wondering, what exactly is the line drawn between “cuban cinema” and the “cuban filmmaker?” It seems that as cuban filmmakers in America at the time began to gain popularity, these cuban films weren’t necessarily a product of Cuba itself but rather cubans now living in America. Perhaps I misread, but if this is true, is this difference important in understanding these cuban filmmakers and their films? (Sorry if this doesn’t make sense, maybe I can articulate it better in class.)

5.  Can we explore the role of the ICAIC in terms of women’s involvement, has there been feminist Cuban films? From what I understand, women were involved in the ICAIC but only in the typical gender roles for women in cuba—costume department, personal assistant. Women are expected to take care of the family and therefore can’t be involved in the production work as it requires living outside of the house for many months, and women weren’t really allowed to do that, but also weren’t seen as “capable” of living on the road in the conditions that required.

6.  So what exactly is “palimpsest narration” as described in Memories of a Revolutionary Cinema? I’ve read the text closely, but it seems like a very abstract concept so I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it.

7.  The piece talks about palimpsest narration as the most “opposed to a classical format”—how is this Bordwellian and could we perhaps investigate this idea of palimpsest narration further?

8.  What made Cuba in particular (compared to other latin american countries at the time) such a hub for cinema? The Jump Cut article mentions that proportionate to its population, Cuba had the most moviegoers in Latin America. What conditions made Cuba perfect for a blossoming movie industry? How exactly did it then gain traction in America? Was this a reaction against mainstream Hollywood?

9.  In his essay, Alea states that he sees filmmaking as an undeniable social responsibility. After the Cuban revolution, it was used as a powerful tool for spreading ideology. In this way it can also be a powerful weapon against women if it continues to reduce them to expected roles and exclude them from the field. Is there a feminist film movement? Judy Chicago talks about feminist art as affirming and validating the woman experience. What would feminist film look like?

10. Alea: “movies are, first of all, performances – and, therefore, esthetic productions, sources of pleasure – their effectiveness as ideological weapons has been considerably diminished”.

This aligns with our conversations on ‘spectacles’, in that the spectacle can disguise the real issue at hand- in this case; it is the ideologies the filmmakers are hoping to challenge.  We talked about whether art is ‘worth’ art if people have difficulty comprehending the artists’ intent behind the work.  Could this also be said for this film?

11.  Frontiers: “the possibility of altercating public images of women – away from the passive, stereotypical constructions in the form of mother, seductress, domestic servant – had to await the emancipatory changes in status for the majority of women that accompanied large-scale, socioeconomic transformations in the post revolutionary era”

This seems rather opposite in what we have been talking about in terms of feminist art.  In my mind, I feel like the relationship between the rise of women’s status and art/film was that it fed off of each other.  Yet, this quote is unsettling in that it neglects to acknowledge the power film has in social transformation for women.

12.  Why did Alea’s films treat women differently compared to other feminist films during the time? Memories of Underdevelopment treated women more as an object to be viewed instead of as thoughtful individuals. What is cine retrato and how exactly does it fit in with Mulvey’s theories? How do the Cuban feminist films fit in with the other art that women were being created at the time and how is it different?

13.  I personally felt sympathetic towards Sergio’s character in the film. After seeing his blatant displays of machismo and his sexual aggression towards Elena, what is it that makes it possible to feel sympathy for him?

14.  The description of this course as presented on our WordPress site reads: “Rather than cultivate a nostalgia without memory, our aim in this seminar is to remember the vitality and energy, the utopic yearnings, of this earlier moment. This looking back is meant to be instructive for imagining new possibilities.” As I watched Memories of Underdevelopment and reflect on our readings for the week, I wonder how this looking back at Alea’s ground-breaking work is instructive for us to imagine new possibilities today. In today’s neoliberal, hyper-globalized world, Alea’s critical, historical materialist film is, in many ways, still relevant. The Bay of Pigs invasion may have taken place over 50 years ago, but American imperialism continues; the Cuban Revolution has come and gone but anti-capitalist movements begin to sprout across the world.

What can this movie teach us today? Our readings speak of the connection between the personal and the political, the postcolonial reality of patriarchy, and the need for films with multiple, complex, and contradictory narrations. These all seem like relevant ideas to me. As does Alea’s description of the “evident contradiction for filmmakers” that “we must affirm our identity and our Revolution—that is, our reality—and, at the same time, criticize it in order to help improve, transform and perfect it.” Is a film like this the way for us to criticize and transform our society today?

15.  What is Alea’s background and are his views on cinema and national identity representative of most others from his class and/or industry?

16.  How does a filmmaker practically affirm its national identity and revolution and simultaneously contradict/criticize it without aligning oneself or attracting the interest of what may be considered foreign enemies?

17.  I’m curious about portrayal of the female characters in the film. It seems like Sergio is incredibly critical of all of the Cuban women in the movie. Sergio courts Elena, the young Cuban working class woman. He uses her as an example of the underdevelopment of Cuba. He tries to “socialize” her by bringing her to museums and bookstores. He says he feels like a European but that she “makes me feel the underdevelopment at every step” (Lesage). Sergio’s relationship with Elena is mirrored by his relationship with Hanna, the “unattainable, ideal European woman” (Lesage).  Sergio truly fell in love with Hanna, but she left for New York and he stayed in Cuba. Sergio regards Elena, the darker-complexioned Cuban woman, as primitive and Hanna, the fair blonde German woman, as the ideal woman.

Of course, ideal female beauty characterized by fair skin and blonde hair is not new, nor was it new when the film was made. At the same time, I do have questions about Alea’s characterization of the two women. I am reminded of the Situationist “j’aime ma camera” image. Was Alea that out of touch with sexual politics, or was he making a comment about female beauty standards? Were the women just used as props for us to understand Sergio’s rejection of all things Cuban?

18. The Lesage article claims that the film “satirizes the family’s treating a female child as property” in the case of Elena and her family. Although it is clear that this film criticizes and deconstructs a number of things, can we really interpret it as satire?

19.  Sergio is at once very critical, especially of women, for being “inconsistent,” yet he “cannot break out of angst to enter commitment” with either a woman or, as it seems, a political opinion. What does this irony say about his character? Has he internalized the symptoms of “underdevelopment” that he notices around him?

20. Can we investigate the male gaze in Memories of Underdevelopment—the film is told through the thoughts and eyes and memories of the male character. When and where do we start to hear from the female perspective, especially since a lot of this film revolved around women, or ideas of women, we still never hear the voice or experience from the women’s perspective.  I think it would be important to explore the rape trial that happened during the film, and wonder why we never really see the experience of the women who has to go through the rape trial, and whether or not the accusations are true (she’s 16), what is the experience like for her? Often after rape, the victim disappears.

21.  What were the gender politics like in Cuba at the time of the revolution? Were women treated as familial property to the extent that it is shown in the scenes with Elena and her family? Was it common for women or women’s families to bring rape cases to court? Were they ever successful?

22. Was the purpose of the ICAIC and it’s films purpose to propagate the ideology of the revolution? How does Memories of Underdevelopment critique the port-revolutionary “socialist” Cuban society and the lack of revolutionary consciousness through the social turmoil. How is cuban film used to spread the Cuban socialist ideology, and how is Cuban film then also used to critique it. Going further, how does this film or Cuban film in general address feminism.

23. Why the term “Underdevelopment”? Was this Alea’s decision to use? What kind of underdevelopment is he hinting at, and how might an American vs. Cuban audience interpret this word differently?

24.  Can we investigate the significance of the use of the term “underdevelopment”, especially related to the women in the film.

25.  How does Elena’s character comment on a different kind of underdevelopment than the kind Sergio is obsessed with?

26.  What is the significance of the scene in Hemingway’s home/museum?

27.  Was Sergio’s experience common or unique amongst other men of a similar class?

28.  What makes this film revolutionary cinema?

Contributors: Kirsten Aguilar, Gregg Butler, Elizabeth Foody, Caroline Goodwin, Stewart Hoffman, Kristina Johansson, HiMi Kanaumi, Hanna Mahon, Adam Schreiber, Alex Strott

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