Monday, April 19, 2004

I caught the tail end of Oliver Stone's Looking at Fidel on HBO. Apparently, Castro likes OS's movies and granted him a special 60-hour interview. Stone produced a sympathetic pro-Castro movie which was not aired when Castro jailed 75 dissidents soon after the interview was conducted; OS went back to Cuba for more interviews and ended up with a movie that is slightly more skeptical. Slightly.

What struck me about this movie -- and granted I did not see it in its entirety -- is its naivete. In one scene Castro surrounded by a crowd on the street; the crowd ecstatically shouts praises; one short,young woman screams "All that we have -- our education -- is due to the revolution"; a youthful-looking (black) man shouts "where else in the world can a black man be accepted like here?" Their screams look oddly robotic.

Yet OS takes these effluvient outpourings of emotion at face value. Slate's Ann Louise Burdach interviewed OS for Slate. The man is delusional:

ALB: Let me ask you about the part [in the film] where Castro's in front of eight prisoners charged with attempting to hijack a plane [to Miami]. He says to them, "I want you all to speak frankly and freely." What do you make of that whole scene, where you have these prisoners who happened to be wearing perfectly starched, nice blue shirts?

OS: Let me give you the background. He obviously set it up overnight. It was in that spirit that he said, "Ask whatever you want. I'm sitting here. I want to hear it too. I want to hear what they're thinking." He let me run the tribunal, so to speak.

ALB: But Cuba's leader for life is sitting in front of these guys who are facing life in prison, and you're asking them, "Are you well treated in prison?" Did you think they could honestly answer that question?

OS: If they were being horribly mistreated, then I don't know that they could be worse mistreated [afterward].

ALB: So in other words, you think they thought this was their best shot to air grievances? Rather than that if they did speak candidly, there'd be hell to pay when they got back to prison?

OS: I must say, you're really picturing a Stalinist state. It doesn't feel that way...

He reminds me of Leon Feihtwanger, who visited Russia during the height of the terror in 1938, interviewed Stalin, and ended up writing a sympathic account of Russian society.


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