Movie Critics Aghast at Andy Garcia's
The Lost City
by Humberto Fontova
Andy Garcia blew it big-time with his movie The Lost City. He blew it
with the mainstream critics that is. Almost unanimously, they're ripping a
movie 16 years in the making. In this engaging drama of a middle-class Cuban
family crumbling during free Havana's last days, in which he both directs
and stars, Garcia insisted on depicting some historical truth about Cuba--a
grotesque and unforgivable blunder in his industry. He's now paying the
Earlier, many film festivals refused to screen it. Now many Latin American
countries refuse to show it. The film's offenses are many and varied. Most
unforgivable of all, Che Guevara is shown killing people in cold blood. Who
ever heard of such nonsense? And just where does this uppity Andy Garcia get
the effrontery to portray such things? The man obviously doesn't know his
And just where did Garcia get this preposterous notion of pre-Castro Cuba
as a relatively prosperous but politically troubled place, they ask? All the
Cubans he portrays seem middle class? Where in his movie is the tsunami of
stooped and starving peasants that carried Fidel and Che into Havana on it's
crest, they ask? Where's all those diseased and illiterate laborers and
peasants my professors, Dan Rather, CNN and Oliver Stone told me about, ask
Garcia--that cinematic bomb-thrower--has seriously jolted the Mainstream
Media's fantasies and hallucinations of pre-Castro Cuba, of Che, of Fidel,
and of Cubans in general. In consequence, the critics are unnerved and
disoriented. Their annoyance and scorn is spewing forth in review after
Garcia blew it. If only his characters had spoken with accents like John
Belushi's as a Saturday Night Live Killer Bee! If only they'd dressed
like The Three Amigos! If only they'd behaved like Cheech and Chong! If only
they'd mimicked the mannerisms and gait of Freddie Prinze in Chico and
the Man! If only the women had piled a roadside fruit stand on their
head like Carmen Miranda in Road to Rio! If only the cast had looked
like the little guy who handles my luggage when I visit Cancun! Or the guys
who do my lawn! Everybody knows that's what Hispanics look like!
If only masses of Cubans had been shown toiling in salt mines like Spartacus,
or picking crops like Tom Joad or getting lashed by a vicious landlord like
Kunta Kinte, or hustling for a living like Ratso Rizzo!
"In a movie about the Cuban revolution, we almost never see any of the
working poor for whom the revolution was supposedly fought,"sniffs Peter
Reiner in The Christian Science Monitor. "The Lost City' misses historical
Actually what's missing is Mr. Reiner's historical knowledge. Andy Garcia
and screenwriter Guillermo Cabrera Infante knew full well that "the working
poor" had no role in the stage of the Cuban Revolution shown in the movie.
The Anti-Batista rebellion was led and staffed overwhelmingly by Cuba's
middle-- and especially, upper-- class. To wit: in August of 1957 Castro's
rebel movement called for a "National Strike" against the Batista
dictatorship --and threatened to shoot workers who reported to work. The "National
Strike" was completely ignored.
Another was called for April 9, 1958. And again Cuban workers blew a loud
and collective raspberry at their "liberators," reporting to work en masse.
"Garcia's tale bemoans the loss of easy wealth for a precious few, "
harrumphs Michael Atkinson in The Village Voice. "Poor people are absolutely
absent; Garcia and Infante seem to have thought that peasant revolutions
happen for no particular reason—or at least no reason the moneyed 1 percent
should have to worry about."
What's "absolutely absent" is Mr Atkinson's knowledge about the Cuba Garcia
depicts in his movie. His crack about that "moneyed 1 per cent," and
especially his "peasant revolution" epitomize the clichéd idiocies still
parroted by the chattering classes about Cuba.
"The impoverished masses of Cubans who embraced Castro as a liberator appear
only in grainy, black-and-white news clips," snorts Stephen Holden in The
New York Times. "Political dialogue in the film is strictly of the junior
high school variety."
It's Holden's education on the Cuban Revolution that's of the "junior high
school variety." Actually it's Harvard Graduate School variety. Many more
imbecilities about Cuba are heard in Ivy league classrooms than in any rural
junior high school.
"It fails to focus on the poverty-stricken workers
whose plight lit the fires of revolution," complains Rex Reed in the New
You're better off attempting rational discourse with the Flat-Earth Society
but nonetheless I'll try to dispel the fantasies of pre-Castro Cuba still
cherished by America's most prestigious academics and its most learned film
critics. I'll even stay away from those "crackpots" and "hotheads" in Miami.
In place of those insufferable "revanchists" and "hard-liners" I'll use a
source generally esteemed by liberal highbrow types, the United Nations.
Here's a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization) report on Cuba circa 1957 : "One feature of the Cuban social
structure is a large middle class," it starts. "Cuban workers are
more unionized (proportional to the population) than U.S. workers. The
average wage for an 8 hour day in Cuba in 1957 is higher than for workers
in Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany. Cuban labor receives 66.6 per
cent of gross national income. In the U.S. the figure is 70 per cent, in
Switzerland 64 per cent. 44 per cent of Cubans are covered by Social
legislation, a higher percentage then in the U.S."
In 1958 Cuba had a higher per-capita income than Austria and Japan. Cuban
industrial workers had the 8th highest wages in the world. In
the 1950's Cuban stevedores earned more per hour than their counterparts in
New Orleans and San Francisco. Cuba had established an 8 hour work-day in
1933-- five years before FDR's New Dealers got around to it. Add to this:
one months paid vacation. The much-lauded (by liberals) Social-Democracies
of Western Europe didn't manage this till 30 years later.
And get this Maxine Waters, Barbara Walters, Andrea Mitchel, Diane Sawyer
and the rest of you feminist Castro groupies-- Cuban women got three
months paid maternity leave. I repeat, this was in the 1930's. Cuba, a
country 71 per cent white in 1957, was completely desegregated 30 years
before Rosa Parks was dragged off that Birmingham bus and handcuffed. In
1958 Cuba had more female college graduates per capita than the U.S.
The Anti-Batista rebellion (not revolution) was staffed and
led overwhelmingly by college students and professionals. Unemployed
lawyers were prominent (take Fidel Castro himself.) Here's the makeup of
the "peasant revolution's" first cabinet, drawn from the leaders in the Anti-Batista
fight: 7 lawyers, 2 University professors, 3 University students, 1
doctor, 1 engineer, 1 architect, 1 former city mayor and Colonel who
defected from the Batista Army. A notoriously "bourgeois" bunch as Che
himself might have put it.
By 1961 however, workers and campesinos (country folk)-made up the
overwhelming bulk of the anti-Castroite rebels, especially the
guerrillas in the Escambray mountains. And boy, would THAT rebellion make
for an action-packed and gut-wrenching movie! If by some miracle it ever
got made you can bet these learned critics would pan it too. Who ever heard
of poor country-folk fighting against their benefactors Fidel and Che?
The New York Times' Stephen Holden also sneers at Garcia's implication that
" life sure was peachy before Fidel Castro came to town and ruined
In fact, Mr Holden, before Castro "came to town," Cuba took in more
immigrants (primarily from Europe) as a percentage of population than the
U.S. And more Americans lived in Cuba than Cubans in the U.S. Furthermore,
inner tubes were used in truck tires, oil drums for oil, and styrofoam for
insulation. None were cherished black market items for use as flotation
devices to flee the glorious liberation while fighting off Hammerheads and
Tiger Sharks .
The learned Mr Holden is also annoyed by "buffoonish parodies of sour
Communist apparatchiks barking orders." Apparently, Communist apparatchiks
should be properly depicted as somewhat misguided social workers, or as
slightly overzealous Howard Dean campaign staffers.
It's no "parody," Mr Holden, that the "apparatchiks" Garcia depicts in his
movie incarcerated and executed a higher percentage of their countrymen in
their first three months in power than Hitler and his apparatchiks
jailed and executed in their first three years. As well complain that
the guards and police in Schinldler's List , Julia or The Diary of
Anne Frank come across as hackneyed caricatures. Instead let's portray
them with more "complexity," as misguided idealists who followed a leader
who unshackled the German working class from it's subserviance to snooty
barons, who eradicated Germany's unemployment and who ended Germany's
national humiliation at the hands of Europe's premier Imperialist powers.
Andy Garcia shows it precisely right. In 1958 Cuba was undergoing a
rebellion not a revolution. Cubans expected political change not
a socio-economic cataclysm and catastrophe. But I fully realize such
distinctions are much too "complex" for a film critic to grasp. They prefer
boneheaded clichés. Garcia might have followed the laudable examples of "historical
complexity" and "accuracy" shown in previous movies on Cuba. Take two that
these critics compare (favorably) to The Lost City, Havana and
In Havana, the brilliant director Sydney Pollack casts Fulgencio
Batista with blond hair and blue eyes. In fact Batista was a Black. In
Godfather II, Francis Ford Coppola, to show Havana streets on New Years
Eve 1958, casts more people than marched in Los Angeles last week and
depicts them in a battle scene right out of Braveheart. In fact
Havana streets were deathly quiet that night.
I don't presume to the exalted position of a film critic. So I don't comment
on the dramatic and cinematic criticisms made by these august critics. I'm
not saying, or even implying, that The Lost City is a better movie
than the Godfather II. I'm simply criticizing the critics on their
criticism of The Lost City's historical accuracy. In these reviews
we see--in all it's classic splendor--the Mainstream Media's thundering and
apparently incurable stupidity on matters Cuban.
Humberto Fontova is the author of Fidel; Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant,
described as "absolutely devastating. An enlightening read you'll never
forget." By David Limbaugh. Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart says, "Humberto
Fontova has done a great service to all those who wish to discover the truth
about the only totalitarian dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere."