Viewing political selves in film: a comparative reception study of Cuban films in Cuba and the United States

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Amaya, Hector

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The author analyzed political viewing of five Cuban films in Cuba by official cultural writers and compared this to the viewing of the same set of films by critics, essayists, and film commentators in the United States. The analysis used Janet Staiger’s film reception theory, the work of Michel Foucault on technologies of self, and Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas on cultural fields and habitus as theoretical frameworks. Each set of evidence was analyzed in relation to the types of political identities available at the time in each country within cultural institutions, and then each set was compared with the other. In Cuba, official workers, responding to the Cuban government’s need for cultural policies, crafted an interpretive apparatus based in debates that explored the relationship between aesthetics and politics. The interpretive apparatus, which the author termed “revolutionary hermeneutics,” became a preferred rationale for interpretation and cultural evaluation, a discipline, that shaped the Cuban cultural field from 1958 to 1985, the period the author studied, and that cultural workers used to interpret and value Memories of Underdevelopment (1968, d. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea), Lucia (1968, d. Humberto Solás), One Way or Another (1974, d. Sara Gómez), Portrait of Teresa (1979, d. Pastor Vega), and Up to a Certain Point (1983, d. Alea). U.S. critics, influenced by the political changes of the 1960s, which made common feminist and leftist ideas about culture and the politicization of all things Cuban, interpreted and valued the same Cuban films with hermeneutic tactics that included anti-totalitarianism, feminism, auteurism, and Marxism. The range of these tactics failed to show the disciplining of the Cuban revolutionary hermeneutics but did provide evidence of the complex ways in which cultural interpretation served U.S. cultural workers in their negotiations of the cultural field’s relation to economic and political structures (the field of power). As in the Cuban case, the relationship between the cultural field and the field of power shaped the critics’ understanding of the Cuban films.