‘Corazon Azul’ by Miguel Coyula

It would be better to think of Corazon Azul (Blue Heart), the new film by Cuban independent Miguel Coyula, as a quirky political satire for the digital age rather than science fiction. As science fiction, the plot could take place anywhere. Genetic experiments have produced human mutants with strange powers who go rogue. But it happens in Cuba, where the aim is to create Che Guevara’s ‘New Man’ and the secret project is called ‘the Guevara experiment’.

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After Beforetimes: a New Year reflection

The word that sums up what has happened: beforetimes. Beforetimes, life, we supposed, was normal. Our lives moved forward according to the rhythm of the seasons, the way stations of birthdays and anniversaries, and the passage of Shakespeare’s seven ages of man. This was normality, and we recognised it was imperfect. In beforetimes there was injustice, but many of us knew where we stood: underdogs in a struggle against the self-interest of capital. We were aware our weakness. We were hampered by the deficits of actually existing democracy after the collapse of communism, after the war on terrorism, after the near-death experience of capitalism. We didn’t agree about how to go about improving things or even exactly what a fair society ought to look like, but some progress was made through fighting to enlarge what society understood to be normal, insisting on everyone’s right to participate whatever their sexuality, ethnicity or religion, and protesting the injustice of the economic inequalities which exacerbated these differences. The first thing to impinge on this sense of normality was the growing awareness of climate change, which made the question of a radical change in direction a matter of increasing urgency, but still we believed that another world is possible. That was beforetimes. Continue reading

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Access Restored

So, Putney Debater is back after my websites got hacked and went offline. A salutary lesson in what happens if you just leave things ticking over instead of constantly upgrading, because one of the blights of IT is that it isn’t stable but constantly ‘improving’ itself, forcing the user to spend their time and money trying to catch up. If you don’t, programs stop working, your online security is compromised, and you have to shell out to get someone to repair the damage. We used to talk about built-in obsolescence as one of the tricks capitalism uses to promote consumerism, but this is even more insidious, because keeping up is not optional, but becomes part of the basic cost of living in our modern hyper-connected world. Rant over.

At least I can now wish my readers a happy new year – if that’s possible.

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Raúl Pérez Ureta

Saddened by the news this morning of the death of the great Cuban cinematographer Raúl Pérez Ureta. Raulito, as we knew him, was the cameraman on Havana Report, the film I made in 1985 with Holly Aylett on the Havana Film Festival for Channel 4. The film was the result of an invitation from Julio García Espinosa, then President of the Cuban film institute, the ICAIC, which ran the festival, and it gave us the chance to work with a Cuban film crew instead of bringing a crew from home, as I’d previously done. From the very first shot, Raúl inspired confidence, taking on board immediately the challenge of working with a pair of directors who themselves were working together for the first time amid the hurly-burly of the festival. I cannot remember it without thinking of a line from a Paul Simon song, ‘it’s four in the morning and the plans have changed’, because we never ended the evening knowing quite what we were going to film the next day. Raúl took it all completely in his stride, of course, having spent almost twenty years as a newsreel cameraman. His renown as a cinematographer would come later when, the year after Havana Report, he turned to fiction, where he began develop a distinctive visual style exemplified in Papeles secundarios (Orlando Rojas, 1989), which became the hallmark of a number of films he then made with Fernando Pérez.  An exquisite sense of composition which never falls into aestheticism, always respects the mise-en-scène, and perhaps above all, his masterly control over the notorious difficulties of photographing in the Cuban light, all of which come together above all in Pérez’s extraordinary documentary, Suite Habana (2003).

In this photo of the crew of Havana Report, Raúl is on the extreme left. In the centre, with Holly and me on either side, is Fernando Birri. The photo was taken by Chuck Kleinhans, who had tagged along with us, immediately after we wrapped the shoot after a final interview with Fernando. Raúl now joins Chuck and Fernando in the photo-album of my memory, where they all still live and breathe.

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Waiting Game

This is a time for sitting quietly, waiting (for the winter to unfold, and your turn for the vaccine), watching (remotely, because the action is all going on somewhere else), listening. To the pain which comes across in brief snatches in the television news from health workers and smitten families, lives interrupted and lost. Listening carefully to what the scientists say. Sceptically to pundits. And as for politicians, these should be heard with active mistrust, because they constantly tell lies, and if by chance they utter something half-true, it’s always the wrong half.

How long should we expect to wait? What actually are we waiting for?  Continue reading

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‘High-profile figures criticise university’s plans for large cuts to arts and humanities…’

As one of those referred to in this report by Times Higher Education (20.11.20) on cuts at Roehampton as having already taken voluntary redundancy, this new round of cuts (and more voluntary redundancies – I already know of some) is deeply disturbing. You might say I made a timely decision, but it was a personal one and I didn’t think I was leaving a sinking ship. Any university that shoots itself in the foot in this way will go on hobbling for a very long time.  Continue reading

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Paul Leduc In Memoriam

Latin American cinema has lost one of the foundational figures of the radical film movement which flourished fifty years ago, when the two avant-gardes, the aesthetic and the political – were conjoined. Paul Leduc, who died in Mexico City on October 21st at the age of 78, was the most maverick of filmmakers, in a continent that’s full of them. His public persona was reserved but in private he was far from austere, always an engaging conversationalist with an irreverent sense of humour. I shall miss our periodic meetings, sometimes over a meal in Mexico City, but I cannot now mourn his passing on a personal level without also lamenting his neglect in English-speaking circles. Even his great masterpiece, Frida, Naturaleza Viva (1984), is little known amongst us, and instead of Ofelia Medina’s magical personation of the painter, the screen image of Frida Kahlo is that of Salma Hayek in Julie Taymor’s far inferior biopic of nearly twenty years later.  Continue reading

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On packing up my library

Walter Benjamin wrote his delightful talk ‘Unpacking my library’ when he recovered his books after two years in storage. I turn to re-read it as I prepare to pack up my own far less impressive library in readiness to move house. The reason for the move is that I’ve given up my job as a part-time professor, and the reason for that arises from the calamity of coronavirus, not directly on myself but on the university.  Continue reading

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“Some compare what’s coming with a category 5 hurricane.”

Jean Stubbs writes about virtual screenings of ‘Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes’ during the pandemic. Read it here:


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