Cubanow offers you a biographical synthesis about German film director Kurt Maetzig, who died recently and had a long relationship of love with Cuba.
The 1960s were charming: the decolonization process in Africa continued, the Cuban Revolution began, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones headed the so-called British invasion, and the Age of Aquarius opened: that of changes and freedom.
Filmmakers and intellectuals of world fame visited Cuba during those years and, dazzled by the fascinating revolutionary experience, they endorsed a good assortment of film and work projects.
Under those spells, they traveled to, thought about or worked on Cuba. Among them were Errol Flynn (Cuban Rebel Girls), Gerard Phillipe (a film, which fell through because of his premature death, about the “Frank País” Second Eastern Front of the revolutionary struggle), Agnes Varda, Silvana Pampanini, Graham Greene, Alec Guinnes, Ernie Kovacs, Maureen O’Hara, Noel Coward, Francoise Sagan, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
Countries of the former socialist bloc also joined the merrymaking of the tropics and by then Havana received famous Soviet documentary maker Roman Karmen (Cuban Dawn), filmmaker Mikhail Kalatosov (Soy Cuba / I Am Cuba) and German Kurt Maetzig, who along with Konrad Wolff, made up the duet of great communist German filmmakers.
Maetzig (January 25, 1911 - August 8, 2012), son of Robert Maetzig and Marie Maetzig (the latter born in Lyon, France) and raised in the Charlottenburg neighborhood in Berlin, began to learn the rudiments of cinema during the golden years of German impressionism.
The German capital carried out an intense and fruitful film production that captivated the world. Based at the Babelsberg studios, this is where F.W. Murnau, G.W. Pabst, R. Wiene, Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre brought to light The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, Nosferatu and the devastating seduction of “Professor Garbage” (Emil Jannings) through the subversive charm of the irreverent Lola (Marlene Dietrich) in The Blue Angel.
Maetzig enjoyed that atmosphere from a very young age, as his father was the proprietor of a factory that produced film copies. Educated at the Leibniz-Oberrealschule, the Technical University of Munich and the Sorbonne, he studied chemistry, engineering, sociology, law, psychology and business economics.
Working in his father\'s factory during vacations made him an expert in all fields of film production, and in 1932 he began to shoot his first movies. Three years later, he ran his own cartoon workshop, where he also worked on titles and credits for short films.
The young filmmaker had a solid film culture that would provide him with a brilliant career anywhere in the world. But following the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, his work permit was revoked in 1937 by the Reich’s Film Chamber, directed by Joseph Goebbels, as punishment for his mother\'s Jewish heritage. Fearing physical and psychological reprisals, she committed suicide soon thereafter.
Kurt Maetzig joined the Communist Party and fought in the Resistance. In 1947, after the defeat of Hitlerism, he filmed Ehe im Schatten (Marriage in the Shadows), his first feature film as a director, in which he dealt with the story of an actor married to a Jewish woman – a film with evident biographical nuances.
This movie was the most successful of the German post-war period, attracting 12 million viewers throughout the world.
In Cuba he was known mainly for two films: Ernst Thälmann - Sohn seiner Klasse (1954) and Ernst Thälmann – Führer seiner Klasse (1955), about the life of the first secretary of the German Communist Party, who was assassinated in 1944 in the Buchenwald concentration camp. A curious fact about this film is an important role played by French actor Michel Piccoli (Inspector Max).
Co-founder of DEFA studios, a bastion of the state-owned industry of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Maetzig also headed the school of East German cinema for a decade.
Preludio 11 (1963) was his Cuban film. It was played by celebrated German actor Armin Müeller-Stahl who later would triumph in the West in films like Colonel Redl and Music Box, the latter in the role of the fascist father of U.S. actress Jessica Lange.
Cuban actors Roberto Blanco, Aurora Depestre, Helmo Hernández, Miguel Benavides, Carlos Moctezuma and Alejandro Lugo performed in Preludio 11.
Filmed in black and white, the motion picture tells the story of Daniela, a young militiawoman who must choose between love and the cause she has embraced in the difficult days preceding the April 1961 invasion of the Bay of Pigs.
Kurt Maetzig retired in the mid-1970s, although he continued to be a member of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin until the end of his life. He always professed a great love for Cuba and the Cuban people and he once confessed that in relation to this Caribbean country, he projected the best of his art and humanism.
Translated by Roberto Espí Valero
Revised by Susana Hurlich