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CubaNews Notes from Los Angeles - September 28, 2004

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  • Walter Lippmann
    CubaNews Notes from Los Angeles by Walter Lippmann, September 29, 2004 ====================================== The CubaNews Notes is an occasional commentary
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 29, 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
      first hand.

      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.

      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
      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.

      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:

      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
      more satisfying!

      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
      specialty—beef rolls—and pining away for the restaurant’s
      beautiful manager Ilona Varnai (Erika Marozsán), girlfriend
      of the restaurant’s owner. At the sight of Ilona’s
      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), Ilona’s lover, hires a
      penniless pianist and composer, András Aradi (Stefano
      Dionisi), at Ilona’s 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 Hitler’s 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 Holiday’s 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
      colleague—“Why 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 Wieck’s 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 film’s elements—the faces of its
      characters, its mood and visual details. The giddy
      obedience of Hans’ Nazi secretary—prior to her being
      whisked away to an undisclosed fate—evokes 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 film’s 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
      Hungary’s 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 can’t
      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

      Schübel’s film brings aspects of this history and reality
      vividly to life.


      '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
      is satisfying.

      'Gloomy Sunday'

      MPAA rating: Unrated.

      Times Guidelines: Nudity, some sex, adult themes.


      Progressive Cincinnati

      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!
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