I Am Cuba

This long scriptwriting project which I’m co-authoring with my chum and colleague Tobias Steed – our working title is REVolution – continues to fascinate. The film is to be set in 1958 Havana and only recently, thanks to a tip from great filmmaker and director Peter Macdonald, I finally saw the 1964 Russian film I Am Cuba by Mikhail Kalatozov. It is astonishing in every way: technically, culturally, artistically. I asked my much cleverer friend Phil about it and he said:

“The cinematographer in question was Sergei Urusevskii, universally acknowledged as one of the greatest cinematographers of his time, both in the Soviet Union and abroad. The film has been extensively written about in Russian. The opening sequence was filmed with a handheld Konvass-avtomat camera, the Soviet equivalent of the Eyemo. Basically, Urusevskii stepped onto an exterior lift which took him down to the poolside. He had a specially made glass case fitted around the camera which allowed him to film underwater. There are tracking shots in the film which were more complicated to organize, but basically they involved fitting the camera to wires stretched between buildings. The opening shot is referenced in the long-tracking shot at the beginning of Spectre, the last Bond film.”

Scorsese and Coppola re-championed the film in recent years, hence its new availability in DVD format.

The storytelling – in the spirit of the great ’60s directors like Varda and Antonioni – is bold, graphic and entirely aligned with the filming techniques and approach. It is genuinely unforgettable.

Havana, 1961

I’m doing some work for a publishing company at the moment on a story set around the time of the Cuban revolution of 31st December 1958. As part of the research, I came across this extraordinary documentary by the French Marxist filmmaker Chris Marker. He was in Cuba at the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 and that upset colours the tone of the film, giving it an elegiac quality which led the French government to ban it on the grounds of its anti-Americanism. But what Marker is already mourning in 1961 is the loss of innocence of the revolution itself. The dance sequence that begins 40 minutes in is utterly beautiful.