In the next issues of the magazine, as part of the report Ernest Hemingway in 1960s Cuban cinema, we’ll delve into the presence of the US novelist in the films Hemingway, Desarraigo and Memorias del Subdesarrollo.
Beyond the cultural appeal that Hemingway could have on ICAIC filmmakers at that time, it would be interesting to trace the symbolic imprint, that is, what the use and circulation of a name like that of Hemingway represented in a foundation decade...
Juan Antonio García Borrero
Driven by the previous statement by García Borrero(1) , I felt the immediate need of focusing on a theme that is part of the book The Hemingway myth in Cuban audiovisuals(2)and sum up in a text some ideas that, focused on this foundation decade the seasoned critic refers to -which he like no other Cuban researcher has managed to reflect in terms of film analysis, which means not only the study of texts but also of context- can arouse new thoughts in those interested in the topic.
It is necessary, before delving into and analyze three Cuban films of the 1960s that “made use of and circulated\" Hemingway as a topic or referent of broad symbolic connotations(3), to approach the specific situational peculiarities giving rise to the Cuban myth of Hemingway in the collective imagination of the emerging revolutionary Cuba of those years.
Hemingway is a complex sign, first, because it represents, internationally, one of the 20th century’s cultural myths. In the world, his mythical importance has dissimilar connotations, for which time and space are variables determining and distorting meaning. Cuba, in the 1960\'s, acts as one of these variables.
The triumph of the Cuban Revolution surprised Hemingway in the United States. He was excited (4) about the change and made three visits to the island: March-April, 1959; November, 1959; February-July, 1960. It’s worth mentioning that Hemingway\'s public comments about the Cuban Revolution were always favorable. The Revolución newspaper published his words of November 4, 1959, upon his arrival in Havana: “I am very happy to be here again, because I consider myself a Cuban. I did not believe any of the information published abroad against Cuba. I sympathize with the Cuban government and with all our difficulties. I do not want you to think of me as a Yankee.” After kissing a Cuban flag given to him as part of the welcoming ceremony, a photographer asked him to repeat the gesture to capture it, and the writer refused, arguing: \"I\'ve kissed it sincerely\" (5).
Reports on his arrival in Havana on November, 1959, prompted a letter sent by Hemingway to his friend Colonel Charles Buck Lanham, in which he explains that having said that he wasn’t a Yankee did not mean to deny his condition as an American, since he had fought more than any other man for his country without expecting any compensation, adding that he believed in \"the historical necessity of the Cuban Revolution.\"
Hemingway, like Sartre and other non-Cuban writers would be one of the voices that publicly defended the Cuban Revolution in its early years. His condition as an American and, in turn, as a resident on the Caribbean island, give importance and credibility to his comments and made them representative, in addition to being one of the best-known figures internationally. Therefore, his stance before the media as a friend of Cuba and of the Cuban Revolution is one of the key signifiers in Cuban environment, and with important political connotations for the vision of the new Cuba being formed then in the international arena.
But some comments to his friend Hotchner show his difficult position in the conflict between his country of origin and the Caribbean island:
... The climate created by Castro is something else. It’s not good. It is not completely good. I can’t tell you what will happen when I return to work in January, and what I most want is to return to writing. I pray to Christ for the US not to cut the sugar quota. That would be really unfortunate. It would turn Cuba into a gift for the Russians. You\'d be amazed at the changes. Good ones and bad ones. A lot of good things. After Batista, any change could only be an improvement. But the anti-American feeling is growing -everywhere. It scares you. If this really changes, I\'m sure they will take me out of this business(6).
With respect to Hemingway’s relationship with Cuba in those years, Edmundo Desnoes said: \"Hemingway had doubts in private about our Revolution, but his public position was almost always worthy.\" (7)
Undoubtedly, from all his statements we can interpret that Hemingway not only shared the enthusiasm of his time regarding the emerging Revolution of 1959, but that he also perfectly understood the need for political change on the island.
However, his condition as an American –vital in Hemingway-; the possible end of the lifestyle he had until then, in the Las Vegas of that time, being part of the country exerting power over its neo-colony: the growing conflict between the two countries and the aggressive nature U.S. policy was adopting until the breaking-off of its relations with Cuba; the aggravation of anti-American and anti-imperialist slogans proclaimed by a passionate people, gradually shape an increasingly complicated situation that explains other more personal reactions -doubt, questioning, the possibility of having to leave the country-, narrated by his friend Hotchner and by his last wife, Mary Welsh.
In May, 1960, Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro met during the Marlin Fishing Tournament and no records of other encounters can be found. However, the snapshots taken during the awards ceremony by important Cuban press photographers like Salas and Korda gave birth to the myth of friendship between the two figures.
After his death in 1961, tragic as that of any mythical figure, different elements would create in our country the substance to feed a new version of the myth, one that emanates from the imprint he left on the island. His well-known anti-fascist stance and his image of a man of action and adventurer, of a \"hard\" writer, were ideal for strengthening the revolutionary intellectual paradigm proposed by the doctrine of \"the new man\". Thus, the image of the writer committed to his time gradually erased his international image of a play boy, and away from our borders.
Controversial disputes are always woven around myths, of course. Each of us can have a different approach, arguably with Hemingway quotes and, from that point of view, truthful; but the enigma that lies in the contradiction boldly pointed out by Stettmeier, a psychoanalyst psychiatrist who lived in Cuba and met and indirectly analyzed Hemingway, will always survive: \"He was too leftist for his bourgeois friends and too bourgeois for left-wingers.\" (8)
All these attributes or possible meanings of the sign are the amorphous material that nurtures and will always nurture the myth and its representation, at least as long as this writer can be a valid cultural paradigm. Some meanings, in certain contexts, may be more privileged and highlighted, and others tend to be overlooked - intentions denouncing a look towards the sign, which will never be neutral.
Once, Hemingway said:
He (Fidel Castro) does not bother me personally. I am good publicity for them, so they may never bother me and let me live here as always, but I am an American above all things and I can not stay here when other Americans are being kicked out and my country is being defamed.(9)
The image of Ernest Hemingway was emerging after his death from the perspective of researchers, journalists, writers, filmmakers ... Cubans, limited to the very personal approach of those who knew him or of those who imagined him. From literature, cinema, television, the press, and cultural and academic institutions, the Cuban Hemingway myth was gradually consolidating, from memory.
The press was perhaps the first one to do so. On the issue of August 14, 1961, of the newspaper Lunes de Revolución, the bells tolled for Hemingway. This issue was entirely devoted, as a special one, to pay tribute to this American writer, a month after his death. Today, it’s a documentary treasure that shows the significance of this author in Cuba, from a publication that also had special connotations in the intellectual life of nascent revolutionary Cuba. This number -118, one of the last of this newspaper- could be the first posthumous tribute carried out in our country and therefore a disturbing object to inquire into the significance in Cuba of Hemingway’s death and his re-mythification.
But there’s nothing as dangerously seductive and persuasive as the seventh art. When letters drain, the image prevails and survives. In the 1960s, three Cuban films discourse on Hemingway. Approaches are as diverse as that period in Cuban culture.
From documentary or fiction, seen as a central or collateral theme or as simple reference, Hemingway emerges as an extremely complex symbol in all of them, and from the intellectual and questioning acumen and the then young filmmakers Fausto Canel and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, the myth appears and fades, it’s built and contested, it’s used as a prism to analyze whether Hemingway belongs to the cultural imaginary of 1960s Cuba or not.
(1)Taken from the text \"Hemingway (1962) by Fausto Canel,\" which can be consulted in García Borrero’s blog: CINE CUBANO La pupila insomne, September 29, 2011, [sp].
(2) Book published by Ediciones ICAIC in 2011.
(3)I’m talking about the documentary Hemingway (1962), by Fausto Canel, and the feature films Desarraigo (1965), also by Canel, and Memorias del Subdesarrollo (1968), by Tomas Gutierrez Alea.
(4) When the Revolution triumphed, Hemingway was interviewed in the United States by the media in his country. He said he was \"thrilled\" about change, but later he called the editorial office of The New York Times to change the word for \"hopeful\".
(5) Statements published in the newspaper Revolución, on November 5, 1959, and quoted by Norberto Fuentes in Hemingway en Cuba, op. cit., p. 493.
(6) Quote translated by the author. In the original: \"... the Castro climate is something else. Not good. Not good at all. Can’t tell what it will be when I come back to work in January, and what I want most is to get back to writing. I just hope to Christ the United States doesn’t cut the sugar quota. That would really tear it. It will make Cuba a gift to the Russians. You\'d be amazed at the changes. Good and bad. A hell of a lot of good. After Batista any change would be an almost have to improvement. But the anti-United States is building. All around. Spooks you. If the really turn it on, I\'m sure will put me out of business. \" See Aaron E. Hotchner: Papa Hemingway. A Personal Memoir, Random House, New York, 1966, p. 235-236.
(7) Edmundo Desnoes, op. cit., p. 55.
(8)See Inaury Portuondo and Idalberto Batista: “Ernest Hemingway y Franz Stettmeier. Una relación poco conocida,” Paper presented at the 13th International Colloquium on Ernest Hemingway, Finca Vigía Ambos Mundos Hotel, Havana, June, 2011.
(9)Quote translated by the author. In the original: \"He (Fidel Castro) does not bother me personally. I\'m good publicity for them, so maybe they\'d never bother me and let me live on here as always, but I am an American above everything else and I can not stay here when to other Americans are being kicked out and my country is being vilified.” See Aaron E. Hotchner: op. cit., p. 243.
Translated by Brenda Sheehan