Saturday, October 20, 2007

"Miranda Returns:" Hugo Chávez's Debut as a Sponsor of the Cinematic Arts

Chávez Is Also Producing a Film on the Life of Posada Carriles

What we find most striking about Hugo Chávez is his nonchalance about aping every idiotic idea that ever entered another despot's head regardless of whether it serves any purpose at all other than bringing him closer to absolute power. Being irrational is also a means to be original, the only means open to Chávez. His latest stunt is to finance at the people's expense the production of films and television series intended to popularize the chavista take on Venezuela's past. As Cuba did in 1959, Venezuela at the time of Chavez's ascent had the largest television industry in Latin America, which produced programs that were aired throughout the region as well as Europe (their soap operas were wildly popular in Spain). This was not enough for Chávez, or, rather, it was too much. The wrong Venezuelan culture was being exhibited to an appreciative world. He had to purify and revolutionize the national media in order to project his vision of Venezuelan history and culture to the world. "There is no revolution if we don't recover our culture, our own values," Chavez said. "It's part of the fight against (U.S.) imperial hegemony." On more practical grounds, having already taken over the nation's largest broadcasting network because he objected to its coverage of his regime, Chávez had to provide something for Venezuelans to watch other than his own execrable television show, "Alo, presidente."

The first fruit of his artistic vision has just been revealed. Of course, his artistic vision has a lot in common — in concept if not execution — with Hitler's and Stalin's. Just as they bankrolled the wartime production of patriotic biopics about their respective heroes, Ivan the Terrible and Frederick the Great, Chávez, too, has sought to cloak himself with the mantle of his country's epic prohombres.

The first film released by the state-run Villa del Cine [Cinema Town] studio, entitled Miranda Regresa [Miranda Returns], is dedicated to the life of Francisco Miranda, known in Venezuela as the "Precursor" because his efforts to free his country from Spanish rule predated Bolívar's. Miranda was a Venezuelan-born general in the Spanish army who switched sides during the French Revolution and become a general in Napoleon's army. He wanted to liberate the South American continent and attempted, unsuccessfully, to secure the help of everyone from William Pitt to George Washington. Meanwhile, Bolivar, on the ground in Venezuela, started the revolution that Miranda had hoped to lead. The Liberator invited Miranda to join him, which he did (this is to the credit of both). Placed at the head of his own army, Miranda, without advising Bolívar or any of the other generals, immediately negotiated an armistice with the Spanish. Repudiated by Bolívar, who thought him a traitor, Miranda was captured and handed over to the Spanish, who, ignoring their "armistice," shipped him in chains to Spain, where he died on the anniversary of Bastille Day in a Cádiz prison in 1816. This proved, at least, that he was not a traitor, though a very poor judge of men. Miranda's lofty ideals for the region were never realized because of his low opinion of his countrymen, whom he did not trust sufficiently to lead into battle. Bolívar would lead the Venezuelans to victory but would, in the end, become as disillusioned with them as Miranda did. His last words were either "The two biggest dolts in the universe, Jesus Christ and me" or "I have ploughed the seas."

The moral to be derived from this story is that while Miranda and Bolívar found the Venezuelan people ungovernable, that is, too unenlightened for the Enlightenment, Chávez, their self-styled organic successor, has found a way to govern them according to their merits. The Indian has bested the patricians while laying claim to their legacy, and Chávez wants Venezuelans and the world to know it.

The film, incidentally, features Danny Glover as a Haitian supporter of Miranda's, not at all unusual since in his many peregrinations Miranda had lived in Haiti, except that he met this fictional Haitian in New York. If you are thinking of an 18th century Starsky and Hutch you are not far from what this movie aims at. The soap opera star who portrays Miranda, 25-year old Jorge Reyes, ages in the film from age 18 to 66, the kind of transformation one hasn't seen on the big screen since Little Big Man. Miranda Regresa was filmed in Venezuela, Cuba (a stand-in for Haiti) and the Czech Republic (a stand-in for France). The budget was $2.3 million and for that they even managed to stage grand battle scenes.

Villa del Cine's next production is to be a film on the life of Luis Posada Carriles, the well-known Cuban freedom fighter with connections to Venezuela. We suppose that he will not be given the hagiographic treatment. I haven't figured it out yet, but I am sure that there will be a part in the film for Danny Glover and I can't wait to see whom they choose to play Fidel Castro.

1 comment:

Vana said...

In other words, Miranda "La Cago" obviously not a fair leader of men, I'd like to see how they will portray Posada Carrilles, as a horned devil perhaps?