CubaNews Notes from Los Angeles - September 28, 2004
- CubaNews Notes from Los Angeles
by Walter Lippmann, September 29, 2004
The CubaNews Notes is an occasional commentary which I like
to provide to readers of the CubaNews list. Here I write of
some of the central themes which are of interest regarding
Cuba and US-Cuba relations, and related topics which don't
necessarily fit in with the usual mixture of news articles
with introductions. Here I also speak in a more personal
voice than at some other times.
On Sunday the 1979 Cuban film PORTRAIT OF TERESA was shown
here in Los Angeles at the Workmen's Circle as part of the
ongoing series of Cuban films presented by the Coalition
in Solidarity with Cuba. I found the movie depressing and
dreary, so I asked Karen Lee Wald to help provide us with
some context to help me better understand the picture.
She wrote a detailed commentary which was quite helpful:
For your information, I'm going east to New York on Friday
of this week where I'll visit for several days. The main
reason for the visit is to attend the big "SLOW BOAT TO
HAVANA" celebration Tuesday night with the Center for Cuban
Studies. I'm looking forward to meeting both new people
and familiar friends at that event. It's expensive, but
the cause, supporting the CENTER FOR CUBAN STUDIES is a
very important one. If you are in New York and can afford
the ticket ($150.00), I hope you can be there.
I hope to get a chance to meet with subscribers to the list
for dinner somewhere. Nothing big or formal, just a group of
folks who are interested in Cuba and the work we can do for
Cuba via the internet. I'm open to your ideas, and will be
available via e-mail to discuss options.
After the week in New York City I'll be going to Mexico City
and from there on to Cuba for another visit. I'm glad to be
able to return to the island where I'll be able to continue
providing first-hand reports on life, culture and politics
REFLECTIONS FROM A BI-NATIONAL OBSERVATION POST
Sometimes people ask me why I don't simply pack up and move
to Cuba lock, stock and barrel, being as passionate about
the subject as I am. The thought has never occurred to me.
My personal interest in Cuba can be traced to events long
before my appearance on this earth. My father along with
his parents lived in Cuba from 1939 to 1942. I those days
Washington would only permit German Jewish refugees into
the United States in microscopic numbers. Thousand of the
Jewish people who faced annihilation at the hands of Hitler
tried to get into the United States but were denied. Many
perished because of this. My father fortunately was able
to both live in Cuba where he picked up the Spanish
language, a skill he used through the rest of his life.
Being able to observe life in the United States and life
in Cuba first hand gives me a very special vantage point
which I think is unique and which I try to share with the
readers via these reports.
Things that I'll miss when returning to Cuba include the
high-speed internet access I have here in Los Angeles,
hot water at the tap, and the ability to see brand new
movies from all over the world soon after their release.
Yes, of course, I like my own home with its quiet back
yard, and I'm glad to have my own car, too, though both
are extremely expensive.
Part of the process of bi-national observation is the
necessary comparisons between Cuban and US life. One
powerful example is the way the two different countries
have responded to the recent hurricanes. In Florida the
poor are left to fend for themselves, as you see in the
following article, which includes links to the vicious
assaults on Cuba in the MIAMI HERALD and LA TIMES after
Cuba survived the hurricanes with virtually no loss of
life. Very well worth taking the time to read closely.
PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS IN THE UNITED STATES TODAY
Thursday night we'll see the first supposed debate between
the two dominant parties of the US political establishment.
From what we hear, it's all totally scripted, yet because
it's to be held in Miami we'll want to pay close attention.
Kerry and Bush will both bash Cuba's revolutionary govern-
ment. Each will offer himself up as the better candidate
to get rid of the pesky Castro regime which has been a
burr under Yankee saddles for forty five years. And yet
there are a few modest but real political differences
between the candidates. Of course we cannot know if any
will come out at the debate. We'll see soon enough.
Supporters of Cuban sovereignty have been arguing for
ages on what's the best approach to these elections.
Many believe a Kerry victory would reduce pressure on
the island a bit because he's called for a "review" of
US policy toward the island and expressed disagreement
with the Bush-imposed travel restrictions.
While the dominant discussion among left-minded people
is whether or not to support Kerry as the necessary
way to remove Bush from office, there are a range of
other views. Some are supporting the campaigns and the
candidacy of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo. Others are
backing the Peace and Freedom Party campaign of Leonard
Peltier, the Workers World Party campaign of John Parker,
or the Socialist Workers Party campaign of Roger Calero.
CubaNews, as I hasten to repeat, isn't a political party
and doesn't have a "line" beyond opposition to the US
blockade of Cuba. I support the Cuban Revolution with
an obvious enthusiasm, but this list makes a contribution
by providing a wide selection of materials, and should
continue to do that in the future.
Because US-Cuban relations are of decisive importance for
the Cuban Revolution, discussions of the positions of the
various candidates and campaigns is not just appropriate,
it is NECESSARY.
Friends of Cuba have a range of different viewpoints which
all have found themselves reproduced by this list. We've
also posted material by opponents of the Cuban Revolution,
from the right, the far-right, the ultra-right, the left
and the far left. If it's about Cuba, it's something you
may want to read and be aware of. On the other hand, a
few readers have written in to complain about seeing the
comments by Libertarian Frank Gonzalez on the list. Such
complaints reflect a misunderstanding of the purpose of
list list, which is primarily informational.
Anyway, we have some contributions on this topic from
list subscribers, and a small number from others to whom
the subscribers refer. NOTE: Discussion on the presidential
campaign is quite welcome, BUT IT MUST FOCUS ON CUBA AND
THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE CAMPAIGN AND CANDIDATES TO CUBA,
OR TO US-CUBA POLICY. There are plenty of other places
to discuss these issues. Here we endeavor to keep the
focus predominantly on Cuba. Please keep that in mind.
The exposes by disaffected CIA officials of the collapse
of Washington's invasion and occupation of Iraq has had
a salutary effect, encouraging some serious thinking of
what happens when the government, and in this case the
Bush administration, puts its extreme-right unilateralist
foreign policy agenda in charge over the facts in Iraq.
Pete Seeger's wonderful song against the VIETNAM WAR,
WAIST DEEP IN THE BIG MUDDY, couldn't be more strikingly
reminiscent of the way Bush is following in Lyndon B.
Johnson's footsteps in Vietnam during the sixties, so
I've added its lyrics below. Read or re-read them again.
It's peculiar, isn't it, that while the media and the
government shriek to the skies about those supposedly
"independent" "journalist", "librarians", and so forth,
who are on Washington's payroll to make mischief within
Cuba, they want to impose heavy manners against genuinely
independent [of Bush administration policies] voices from
within the US intelligence and military establishment?
One last point: People who support Cuba shouldn't get all
bent out of shape with one another over these issues. We
will all be marching in protest together, whether Bush or
Kerry gets elected, selected or whatever in November.
BLOQUEO - THE DOCUMENTARY MOVIE
The new documentary film BLOQUEO is now available and
readers who wish to obtain a copy of the promotional
flyer for the film, it's now been posted to the FILES
section of the CubaNews list. Unlike the postings, which
are all open publicly, you have to subscribe to the list
to access the files section. For subscribers, go to:
ON THE EVE OF MY DEPARTURE FROM LOS ANGELES
As my departure approaches, I've tried to catch up with
as many of the new movies as I can before I leave. This
past week, in addition to seeing the beautiful new Che
movie MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, there are two other movies I'd
like to recommend to everyone. Like a number of others
which come to mind recently, they deal with the rise
and consequences of fascism's triumph in Germany during
the 1930s. These movies are of personal and political
interest to me. Some have been presented in Cuba, too,
such as NOWHERE IN AFRICA, and some others. I saw that
here in L.A., and again in Cuba. These movies deal with
moral choices and their consequences.
GLOOMY SUNDAY has been playing here in Los Angeles for
47 weeks at the same theater. It's a German movie that
takes placed before, during and after the occupation of
Hungary by Nazi troops during World War II. Most of the
reviewers of this 1999 film seem to have missed its key
significance, though audiences haven't. One New Zealand
theater has been showing the film for close to three
years. Given the darkeningly fascistic mood which we're
seeing in the United States since September 11th, this
movie helps us to see how much further along the process
of social, cultural and political decay can go. Here's
a thoughtful review of this movie. And while there's
plenty of gloom in the movie, the ending couldn't be
GLOOMY SUNDAY REVIEW FROM WORLD SOCIALIST WEBSITE:
A song, an era that still haunt us
By Joanne Laurier
30 December 2003
Gloomy Sunday [Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod], directed by
Rolf Schübel, written by Schübel and Ruth Toma, based on
the novel by Nick Barkow; In America, directed by Jim
Sheridan, written by Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan and Kirsten
The German film Gloomy Sunday (released in Germany in 1999)
begins in contemporary Budapest, Hungary, with the 80th
birthday party of a German businessman, Hans Wieck (played
as an older man by director Rolf Schübel). The
import-export king arrives with great fanfare at the Szabó
Restaurant, an eatery in which a young Hans (Ben Becker)
spent lonely hours in the 1930s devouring the house
specialtybeef rollsand pining away for the restaurants
beautiful manager Ilona Varnai (Erika Marozsán), girlfriend
of the restaurants owner. At the sight of Ilonas
photograph on the piano, the octogenarian drops dead.
Decades ago, Wieck had photographed her as part of his
experimentation with a relatively new technology.
The camera moves in on the beautiful face in the photograph
and the time-frame switches to the 1930s. Szabó Restaurant
owner László Szabó (Joachim Król), Ilonas lover, hires a
penniless pianist and composer, András Aradi (Stefano
Dionisi), at Ilonas urging. She is instantly intrigued by
the intense young artist. László, Ilona and András embark
on a sometimes rocky, but generally enlightened sexual
threesome. András composes a song for Ilona so
melancholically haunting it begins inciting people to
commit suicide. As András melody wafts across the
air-waves, the suicides become an international phenomenon.
Unable to cope, András shoots himself. He dies largely
unconscious that his creation has captured a popular mood
associated, if only semi-unconsciously, with the rise of
fascism as it goose-steps forward.
The film, and the novel by Nick Barkow, were inspired by
the song, Gloomy Sunday, composed in 1933 [significantly,
the year of Hitlers taking of power] by Hungarians Rezsö
Seress and László Jávor. Shortly after its composition,
authorities began to connect the song with a rash of
suicide cases throughout Hungary. Suicides notes with
references to the song and recordings of the tune on
turntables were routinely found in the rooms of the those
who had taken their lives. Composer Seress killed himself.
Most famous was Billie Holidays 1941 rendition of Gloomy
Sunday, but Artie Shaw and more recently Bjork and Elvis
Costello were among the many artists who recorded the song.
When Ilona rejects the ambitious Hans, the latter throws
himself into the Danube, only to be rescued by László. Hans
reappears in the 1940s as the German officer in charge of
the Final Solution in Hungary. The process begins by the
expropriation of Jewish businesses.
Hans attraction to Ilona and personal debt to László, who
is Jewish, are in the end subordinated to opportunist
maneuvers: he saves only rich Jews whom he feels will
benefit him after the war. Hans comments to a Nazi
colleagueWhy destroy what can enrich you? László does
not fall into this category. Despite degrading attempts,
Ilona does not succeed in preventing Hans from sending
László to the concentration camps. A pregnant Ilona,
divested of both her loves, returns to the restaurant.
The film reverts to the present, revealing the truth about
Hans Wiecks death. Ilona and her son have exacted their
With a gentle and careful hand, the film conveys something
about the era. A fictional scenario effectively circulates
around the peculiar real history of the song that gives the
film its title. Although none of the horrors of the
Holocaust are shown, the movie manages to transmit a strong
sense of the experience. Its specter haunts the film from
beginning to end.
The love triangle formed by Ilona, László and András, a
kind of refuge from the increasingly ominous outside world,
has an innate logic given the unfolding of a terrible
Tension permeates the films elementsthe faces of its
characters, its mood and visual details. The giddy
obedience of Hans Nazi secretaryprior to her being
whisked away to an undisclosed fateevokes the underlying
The scenes of Hans the Nazi, accompanied by other officers,
trying to be nothing more than a casual patron of the
restaurant are constructed with chilling psychic tautness.
Hans transition from a trusted friend to full-blown
monster is well done.
The whole project is marked by a strong commitment to
shedding light on the Holocaust through exploring its
impact on the personal lives of the films characters.
The four main protagonists dig deep into emotional recesses
amidst beautifully clear and affecting images. If there is
a criticism to be made it is that a certain banality and
lack of subtlety afflict portions of the dialogue. Too much
is spelled out for the spectator in an unnecessary fashion.
This at times creates an interruption of feeling and a
subversion of the exquisite tensions.
In general, the film could have relied more heavily on its
intuition and less on its tendency to explain what is
repeatedly reinforced psychically and visually. For
example, the continuous discussion surrounding András
inability to pen more than two stanzas of the song was
redundant. The historic impulses that flowed through
András creativity (or lack thereof) were visually
apparent and embedded in the mood of the film.
Gloomy Sunday touches upon momentous events in European and
Hungarian history. The year 1943 saw the Warsaw ghetto
uprising in Poland and the defeat of German forces by the
Red Army at Stalingrad. On March 19, 1944, in response to
Hungarys attempt to get out from under World War II and
withdraw its armed forces from the eastern front, Germany
invaded the country, installing a pro-Nazi puppet
government. Between May and July of that year, nearly half
a million Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz and
gassed shortly upon arrival. Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi
official in charge of the Final Solution, had plans to
kill the rest of the Jewish population in one day, but in
December, Soviet forces completely surrounded Budapest.
In an interview with AufbauOnline, actress Erika Marozsán
commented about her experience in making Gloomy Sunday:
This is a period where humanism broke. The world just fell
apart. Before World War II, we had the feeling that humans
could not treat other humans like that. So the whole
morality was destroyed by the war. This is why we cant
stop thinking about this period and analyzing it.... I have
the feeling that it could [again] happen at any time.
Gloomy Sunday makes you aware that politics can change very
Schübels film brings aspects of this history and reality
vividly to life.
LOS ANGELES TIMES REVIEW OF "GLOOMY SUNDAY"
"Gloomy Sunday" is a satisfying collection of twists and
turns of a lovers' triangle set against World War II.
By Kevin Thomas
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Nov 7 2003
Budapest, late 1980s or early 1990s: A
distinguished-looking German tycoon (Rolf Becker) has
returned to Budapest to celebrate his 80th birthday at the
restaurant that was his favorite when he was a colonel in
the Third Reich's army of occupation. He orders for his
party his beloved Magyar roulade, requests a certain
cherished song, suddenly becomes transfixed by a photograph
of a beautiful young woman in an Art Deco frame and, taking
a sip of champagne, drops dead.
Thus begins "Gloomy Sunday," which takes its title from
that song, setting in an instant a tone of romantic
melodrama for a flashback to the late '30s. Then as now,
Restaurant Szabó is a timelessly elegant establishment. Its
proprietor, László Szabó (Joachim Król), is a
pleasant-looking, somewhat paunchy man who may be 40. He is
dedicated to his business, which is bustling, and is
happily involved in a romance with his waitress, Ilona
(Erika Marozsán, who possesses the magnetism her role
demands). She is the gorgeous creature of that photograph.
When Szabó hires a handsome, moody young pianist (Stefano
Dionisi), the attraction between Dionisi's Andras and Ilona
is immediate and mutual, but soon the urbane and wise
László, while offering Ilona her freedom, has deftly
orchestrated a workable ménage à trois. Happiness pretty
much reigns again at Restaurant Szabó, and then a young
German tourist Hans Wieck (Ben Becker, son of Rolf), so
smitten by Ilona that he promptly proposes, becomes neither
her lover nor her fiancé but the trio's friend. But war
draws ever closer.
Three years later, Hans is back as a German colonel; in the
meantime Andras has become the celebrated but increasingly
controversial composer of "Gloomy Sunday," a haunting song
so reflective of the times that a startling number of
people have committed suicide while listening to it. (The
song was actually composed in 1935 by Rezsö Seress, with
lyrics by László Jávor, and did in fact accompany a number
of suicides as Europe grew darker; Billie Holliday recorded
a popular American version).
At this point, director Rolf Schübel and his co-writer,
Ruth Toma, in adapting Nick Barkow's novel, allow "Gloomy
Sunday" to kick in with an acute sense of immediacy,
suspense and danger. In a sense the film turns back on
itself. Schübel has risked seeming old-fashioned, with all
the heady tempestuousness of three men in love with the
same woman, to set up a sharp and darkly ironic contrast
with all that follows. Throughout the film, Król is its
linchpin, revealing László to be a man of character and
resolve as well as warmth and sophistication. However,
László can no longer afford to be indifferent to his own
The blond and commanding Ben Becker creates an
exceptionally complex Nazi officer, charging the film with
ambiguity. He believes wholeheartedly in the Third Reich,
although perhaps in himself even more, and can be ruthless
in supporting it, but he also has a need to see himself as
humane and civilized. So rigorous is "Gloomy Sunday" in
peeling away its layers that only in its last moments do we
understand why Hans would feel so comfortable returning to
Budapest to celebrate his 80th birthday.
The well-turned English in the subtitles suggests the
German dialogue must be exceptionally literate, and the
four principals give complex and shaded portrayals. "Gloomy
Sunday" is a beautiful period piece, set against one of the
world's glorious cities, adding poignancy. Twists and turns
heighten a gradually accruing effect, building to a risky
moment of truth, a coup de théâtre that is as daring as it
MPAA rating: Unrated.
Times Guidelines: Nudity, some sex, adult themes.
Waist Deep in the Big Muddy
by Pete Seeger
It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That's how it all begun.
We were -- knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.
The Sergeant said, "Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?"
"Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
'Bout a mile above this place.
It'll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We'll soon be on dry ground."
We were -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.
The Sergeant said, "Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim."
"Sergeant, don't be a Nervous Nellie,"
The Captain said to him.
"All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I'll lead on."
We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.
All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain's helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, "Turn around men!
I'm in charge from now on."
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.
We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn't know that the water was deeper
Than the place he'd once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
'Bout a half mile from where we'd gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.
Well, I'm not going to point any moral;
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man'll be over his head, we're
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!