GERMAN PUIG, RICARDO VIGON & HENRI LANGLOIS


Pioneers of the Cinemateca de Cuba


Original Article written by Emmanuel Vincenot (In French)
Universite de Versailles, City St Quentin en Yvelines

Translation into English by Robert Alan Hall

For those who wish to obtain information on the Cuba Cinematheque (Cinemateca de Cuba), the website http://www.cubacine.cu, official gateway of Cuban cinema, offers the following historical perspective...

La cinemateca de Cuba nació bajo los auspicios del Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC), y desde entonces se ha mantenido como un archive estable.  Es miembro de la Federación Internacional de Archivos de Filmes (FIAF) de [sic] 1961, y de la Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Archivos de Imágenes de Movimiento (CLAIM). Es la única verdadera cinemateca en las islas caribeñas y una de las que mayor patrimonio fílmico conserva en nuestra área geográfica.

Even if it is clear, this presentation is nonetheless erroneous and constitutes a perfect example of what Juan Antonio Garcí Borrero called “Icaicentrismo”.  In fact, even if the Cuba Cinematheque as we know it now was created in 1961 by the initiative of Alfredo Guevara and the ICAIC, this creation was in fact a rebirth, an extension of the work of two forgotten pioneers: Germán Puig and Picardo Vigón.

As we will see, these two young men, united by a strong friendship, and possessed by a love of cinema, were at the source of the blooming of cinema clubs before the Revolution and founded in 1951 – with the decisive help of Henri Langlois – the first Cuba Cinematheque.

 

Historical Summary

 

Before delving into the conditions under which Germán Puig and Ricardo Vigón came to work with Henri Langlois and how the lines that bonded these three men lead to an unrecognised episode in Franco-Cuban relations, it seems necessary to review the ways in which Cuban Cinematic historians and different witnesses of the period looked upon their work.  There is the greatest amount of confusion overshadowing this question and only by reviewing the personal files of Germán Puig, who lives presently in Barcelona, have we been able to fully understand the errors and ambiguities that have affected the published texts until now.

One of the most extremist stances has been to silence the existence of the first Cuba Cinematheque in order to make the myth live that the history of Cuban cinema has begun with the creation of the ICAIC in 1959.  It is for this reason that, in 1963, the review journal Cine Cubano did not dedicate a single line to the efforts of Germán Puig and Ricardo Vigón in the article they published about the institution, of which Héctor García Mesa is the director.  The article began like this: -

 

La Cinemateca de Cuba fue creada, como un departamento cultural del ICAIC, a mediados de 1961, con el propósito de adquirir, conservar, y en la medida de lo posible exhibir, todo material interesante al conocimiento y estudio del cine (films, literatura, equipos, etc.), con especial atention de cuanto se refiere al cine nacional. Ese mismo año fue admitida como <<miembro profisional>> de la Federación Internacional de los Archivos de Films (FIAF), cuyo Secretario reside en París.1

 

Neither does Mario Rodriguez Alemán refer to the work of Puig and Vigón in his article entitled “Bosquejo histórico del cine Cubano”2 (Historical Sketch of Cuban Cinema), published in the same issue.  It is the same silence that we find José Antonio González wrapped up in 20 years later, author of a particularly dogmatic historical review, “Notes on the history of a Cinema without history”3, that by contrast insists on the importance of Nuestro Tiempo, the cultural society that was associated for a while with the Cuba Cinematheque.

The historian pays equal homage to José Manuel Valdés Rodríguez, professor of the Havana University who developed cinematographic studies in his country and organised, from 1942 onwards, summer classes that knew a tremendous success and gave rise to an entire generation of cinephiles, Germán Puig and Ricardo Vigón amongst them.

Michael Chanan also subscribes to the pioneering work of Nuestro Tiempo and of Valdés Rodríguez, but he himself brought up the existence of a Cuba Cinematheque before the revolution.  Nevertheless, he does it with much discretion and in such a non-specific way that it fails to satisfy the reader.  Here we have what you can read in his piece, The Cuban Image, published in 1985:

 

During the 50s, [Carlos] Franqui had been prominent in the aficionado film movement.  He belonged to a group that included Germán Puig, the future ICAIC cameraman Ramón Suárez, and the writers Edmundo Desnoes and Guillermo Cabrera Infante, which revived the Cinemateca; and he had made, together with Puig, a short publicity film (Carta de una madre, ‘Letter to a mother').  Puig and Desnoes made a short which was produced and edited by Suárez.4

 

The name of the group that Chanan talks about is not specified; the text mentions the Cinematheque as if it had already been mentioned before, which was not the case; the title of the short made by Puig and Desnoes is not given (that of Sarna, 1952); with regard Ricardo Vigón and Henri Langlois, their involvement is not even mentioned.  This passage therefore raises more questions than it answers and leaves the story of pre-revolution cinema in a thick fog.

In 1981, American Julianne Burton published for her part a long article much richer in information.  Even if the above are mostly wrong, the text that she produced for the collective work directed by Guy Hennebelle and Alfonso Gumancio-Dagrón, Les Cinémas de l'Amerique Latine, including a paragraph dedicated to the Cuba Cinematheque, again referred to Nuestro Tiempo and José Manual Valdés Rodríguez.  Julianne Burton began by stating that Valdés Rodríguez had run the Cinematheque, which was incorrect, and then added:

 

So the Cuba Cinematheque was directed by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, better known for his novel Tres Tristes Tigres […].  The “Cinemateca”, that did not exist before 1956, counted as its members two people that played a constructive role in post-revolutionary cultural life: the writer Edmundo Desnoes and the filmmaker Tomás Gutiérrez Alea.5

 

The name Herman Puig disappeared, that of Ricardo Vigón is also absent, along with that of Langlois, and most importantly the historian provided two bits of false information: Cabrera Infante has never directed the Cinematheque (even if he was gratified with the honorary title of ‘Director') and of course it was not created in 1956.  In contrast, Burton mentioned the participation of Gutiérrez Alea, who was effectively, as will be seen, an active member of the institution.

 

Augusto Martínez Torres and Manuel Pérez Estremera, in their book Nuevo Cine Latino Americano, themselves brought up the existence of the group of cinephiles indicated by Chanan and Burton, and this from 1973:

 

Por los años cincuenta, un grupo formado por Edmundo Desnoes, Ramón F. Suárez, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Germán Puig, Carlos Franqui y Néstor Almendros crean la Cinemateca de Cuba, que proyecta un ciclo compuesto por algunas de las películas más importantes de la historia del cine, y realiza los cortometrajes Carta a una madre, El guante, Pintura, Hamlet, en los cuales colaboran unos y otros.6

 

Ricardo Vigón and Henri Langlois are not always mentioned and the creation of the Cinematheque is presented as a collective act, which is also inexact, but the text has the bonus of referring to the activities of the Institution directed by Germán Puig.

All these approximations and omissions are all the more surprising because, [] in 1966, the Cuban historian Arturo Agramonte traced exactly the history of the Cinematheque:

 

Iniciada en 1948 como el primer Cine Club que funcionó en La Habana, la cinemateca de Cuba, ya con una perspectiva más amplia en sus funciones, se convierte en una institución con todas las características inherentes a la misma, pero sin los recursos económicos necesarios para su buena marcha.

De allí que con gran pesar vieran desaparecer valiosas adquisiciones como M, El sombrero de paja de Italia y otras por carecer de lugar apropiado donde conservarlas.

Auspiciada por la Cinemateca Francesa, y con la colaboración de la primera directiva de la Sociedad <<Nuestro Tiempo>> y el apoyo de la Dirección de Cultura, la Cinemateca de Cuba exhibió en menos de un año de labor continuada los filmes más representativos de la historia del cine […].

En 1955, la cinemateca de Cuba volvió a reanudar sus actividades, pero las mismas no fueron muy duraderas. La directiva estaba integrada por: presidente, Germán Puig Paredes; primer vice, Roberto J. Branly Deymier; segundo vice, Adrian Garcia Hernández; director, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, vicedirector, Néstor Almendros Cuyasm tesorero, Rine R. Leal Pérez; vicetesorero, Placido Gonzáles Gómez, secretario, Julio Matas Graupera; vicesecretario, Jaime Soriano Gelardino; vocales: Maria Lopez Salas, Paulino Villanuez, Rodolfo Santovenia y Emilio Guede.7

 

If Agramonte is in a position to supply this information, it suggests he himself participated in the activities of the Cinematheque, assuring the projection of certain films.8

Even if the historian does not always mention the role of Ricardo Vigón and does not explain the exact conditions of the creation of the association, he delivers the closest chronology along with the most complete list of names.  In addition, he even mentions Henri Langlois, but associates him with José Manuel Valdés Rodríguez:

 

El profesor José Manuel Valdés Rodríguez fue invitado al Festival de Cannes y aprovechó la ocasión para visitar al Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores Francés, quien donó a la Universidad de La Habana diez películas, entre ellas Balzac, Paris 1948 y El correo de Lyón. A través del Departamento de Cultura del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, se relacionó con el señor Henry Langlois, logrando de su entrevista el envió de programas a Cuba.9

 

Immediately after, Agramonte goes on to recall the struggle that José Manuel Valdés Rodríguez faced coping with the very young Cuba Cinematheque, and highlights the limits of his historical knowledge:

 

El primer programa de la Cinemateca Francesa que se proyectó en Cuba procedía de México, donde había un Cine Club. Sin embargo, inexplicablemente, dichos programas se facilitaron a la Cinemateca de Cuba, de reciente formación.  Esto provocó una protesta del Departamento de Cinematografía de la Universidad de La Habana a través de su director, el profesor José Manuel Valdés Rodríguez.10

 

The interesting aspect of this passage is its subtle reference to the struggle that shook the little world of the cinema clubs and cultured society in the 50s.  But it refrains from entering into controversy, because these seemingly harmless subjects, in reality, have had profound repercussions after the Revolution, as Castro's victory permitted open score settling.  Discretely, Agramonte points out a historic noose, one of those moments where the lines of disorganization become apparent between the different culturally sophisticated entities; as we will see later, Valdés Rodríguez will never forgive his old students Germán Puig and Ricardo Vigón, for having created the Cinematheque before him and for succeeding in becoming the official spokesman for Henri Langlois.

Unfortunately, Agramonte's book had a limited distribution over time, the ICAIC having quickly taken the majority of copies out of circulation, and the historical data that the publication contained was not able to be suitably revived and used.  We had to wait until 1997 before a new publication could explain to us in detail the creation and history of the Cuba Cinematheque.  Eulalia María Douglas brought up in La Tienda Negra at the same time the Cinema Club of Havana and the Cinematheque:

 

[Marzo de 1948:] se funda el Cine Club de la Habana, que en 1951 se integra a la Sociedad Cultural Nuestro Tiempo y que posteriormente tomará el nombre de Cinemateca de Cuba.12

 

With authority, the historian creates the base for a historical discussion that, while keeping the appearance of neutrality, in fact follows the outside path and stays faithful to the official line that makes Nuestro Tiempo the focus of cultural life before the revolution. María Eulalia Douglas does not speak of either Puig or Vigón and immediately links the Cinema Club of Havana to Nuestro Tiempo, so that the two will only be associated briefly and in a conflicting manner.  It is about making people believe that the cinema club has recognised the authority of Nuestro Tiempo from the moment of its creation, when really Germán Puig and Ricardo Vigón had always wanted to be independent.

When, next, María Eulalia Douglas says that the Cinema Club has taken the name of the Cuba Cinematheque (Cinemateca de Cuba), she prepares to further her point, in aiming to deny the position of Cinematheque to the body created by Germán Puig in 1951.  The following is in effect how the historian presents the facts:

 

[Noviembre de 1951:] El cine Club de La Habana cambia su nombre para Cinemateca de Cuba y continúa integrado a la sociedad Nuestro Tempo.  A fines de este año, debido a una crisis económica que atraviesa Nuestro Tiempo, la Cinemateca se independiza.  En 1952 suspende sus actividades y las reanuda en 1955.

Por carecer de sede propia, de depósitos para las películas y de archivos de documentación, esta cinemateca funcionó como un cine-club, no pudiendo alcanzar durante su existencia el estatus de cinemateca.13

 

Douglas refers back next to the list of the body's members of management, as much as they appear in the work of Artyro Agramonte (and correspond to 1955).  The text attempts to explain that the Cuba Cinematheque is not in fact a real Cinematheque, and states that it does not even have the status thereof, which is juridically incorrect.  In fact, the historian tries to limit the importance of the efforts of Germán Puig in order to better defend the legitimacy of the current Cuba Cinematheque (of which she is in the employee).  For the same reason, her text tries to pass the Cinematheque for a branch of Nuestro Tiempo, which is, once again wrong.  Douglas continues a few pages in: 

 

[Mayo de 1956:] La Cinemateca de Cuba interrumpe sus exhibiciones debido a diferencias de criterio entre los miembros de la Junta Directiva. Poco después, al reorganizarse la directiva, en la que permanecen algunos miembros de la anterior, reanudan sus exhibiciones en la sociedad Lyceum Lawn Tennis Club.14

 

Like Agramonte, she remains very evasive when she recalls the conflicts and disagreements that shook middle-culture in the pre-revolutionary period.  The “differences in criteria” of which she speaks were in fact transformed by violent disputes between Germán Puig, accused of keeping the Cinematheque outside of political conflict, and of other members of the body, like Cabrera Infante or Gutiérrez Alea, who wished to confront the Batista regime.  Cabrera Infant even brings the situation into the columns of Carteles, a publication where he exercised cinematic criticism under the pseudonyme of G. Caín. It was at that moment that the fate of Germán Puig was sealed, and he found himself alone in front of the members of Nuestro Tiempo.  They left him to one side, along with Ricardo Vigón, when they rose to cultural power after 1959.

María Eulalia Douglas concluded by briefly discussing the disbandment of the Cuba Cinematheque in December 1956:

 

[Diciembre de 1956:] La Cinemateca de Cuba suspende definitivamente sus actividades. Al disolverse, devuelve al Museo de Arte Moderno de Nueva York los filmes que recibió en préstamo.15

 

By reading the principle documents dedicated to Cuban Cinema we see that the subject of the Cinematheque de Cuba has benefited from a very dispelling treatment on the part of historians, who have either made its existence silent, or searched to minimize the importance while making it an appendage of Nuestro Tiempo.  Even the most informative works (those of Agramonte and María Eulalia Douglas) have numerous omissions and mistakes and grant far too much attention to the activities of Nuestro Tiempo, the members of which, we know, went on to found the ICAIC.  Dominant historical discourse looks to deny the pioneering nature of the efforts of Germán Puig and Ricardo Vigón, and even goes to the point of making the name of the latter disappear.  However, in 1963, Guillermo Cabrera Infante was able dedicate two pages of the preface of his critical compendium, Un oficio del signlo XX, and writes:

 

Todo lo que sé de cine […] se lo debo a tres personas: Ricardo Vigón, Germán Puig y Néstor Almendros.  Pongo a Vigon en primer lugar […] porque es a él a quien debo más.16

 

So for what reasons did the founders of the Cuba Cinematheque and the first companions of Cabrera Infante finish by disappearing from official Cuban Cinematic history?

It is this question we are going to attempt to answer in the pages that follow.

 

First Step: The creation of the Havana Cinema Club

 

Germán Puig and Ricardo Vigón met on the first of December 1946 while at a concert.  They were two adolescents born of modest means, who lived through their first artistic troubles (together) and very quickly created an indefectible friendship.  Over the course of the following months, at the beginning of 1947, they began to frequent the concert halls and cinema, and developed an enthusiasm for the works that they discovered, notably Odd Man Out [Carol Reed, 1947], who quite literally brought them to tears.  Very quickly, they decided to join José Manuel Valdés Rodríguez's course at the Havana University, and it was there that during the months of July and August 1948 they participated in the training programme entitled “El Cine: industria y arte de nuestro tiempo” (The Cinema: Industry and Art In Our Time) where they have projected and studied tens of classics such as Ivan The Terrible [Serguei Eisenstein, 1945], La belle et la bête [Jean Cocteau, 1946] or Henri V [Laurence Olivier, 1944].  Germán Puig did in fact obtain a grant financed by Kodak after writing a review of Captain from Castile [Henry King, 1947].

Even if the project to create a Cinema Club occurred within a few months of the summer course, it was already in gestation in the month of May, as we have been able to confirm from the letters of Ricardo Vigón.  From the month of March, Puig and Vigón organised French and American film showings in private cinemas, having obtained copies from the distributors, the premises of which were found in an area called La Corea.

From the 7th of May to 5th of June 1948, Germán Puig went to New York where he worked as a Hot Dog vender during the day and went to Museums in his free time, and the two young men wrote each other nearly everyday.  The 23rd of May, Ricardo Vigón recounted an interview that he had with Valdés Rodríguez and the picture he painted was not a flattering one:

 

El sábado por la tarde fui a ver a Valdés Rodríguez, desolador Germán, terrible, lo esperé largo rato fui a las seis y media y llegó a las siete y media, le dí [sic.] tu dirección y hablé de muy pocas cosas con él.  Poco antes de irme me decidí y le hablé de la próxima clase.  Pero me dijo que estaba muy ocupado, que no podía ser ahora y que esperáramos a que tú llegaras.   Yo lo expliqué que era necesario, para mantener el ambiente, continuar regularmente.  Pero me dijo que lo pensaría, tú sabes una resistencia pasiva. Que [sic.] mal [sic.] está eso de V.R., se ve que no tiene interés no le gusta haberse creado ese compromiso, le resulta mucho más cómodo sus artículos. Además su curso.17

 

Ricardo Vigón hints at the participation of Valdés Rodríguez in organised projections by the two young men, and that he constituted the embryo of the Cinema Club they were trying to create.  At first the university had accepted to encourage debate after the films its enthusiasm had quickly and evidently relapsed.  As we will see later, the relationship between Puig, Vigón and Valdés Rodríguez quickly becomes conflictive and the disappointment of the two students will be even greater than they first thought when associating the professor with their project.

The 25th May, Ricardo Vigón composed a new letter where he explained in detail the way in which the Cinema Club could operate:

 

Germán estoy decidido a formar el club, para los primeros días del mes que viene. Mira a ver si te gusta el plan.

Cuatro funciones al mes. Cada socio tendrá derecho a asistir a dos funciones; en cada funciones [sic.] asistirán 50 socios o sea que los 10 disfrutaran de las dos funciones mensuales y será una entrada mensual de 100 pesos, pues cada socio pagara un peso mensual. Nunca faltara gente, pues si no hay gente que se comprometan a pagar todos los meses un peso fijo, sin embargo, si [sic.] irán un día u otro y siempre estará llena la función, alquilaremos sillas y con los 100 dólares podremos alquilar cualquier película, además obtendremos prestigio y las compañías facilitaran muchas películas nuevas. Pondremos Ivan el Terrible, La Bella y La Bestia, Las Puertas de la Noche, antes o después de V. Rodríguez. Aramis me ayudara en todo después de las elecciones, sé que será un formidable cerebro organizador.18

 

While the sessions organised until then by Puig and Vigón had been isolated experiences, it was now necessary to give a legal and structured aspect to the project, to create a real, authentic Cinema Club.  The 27th of May, Vigón brought up once more the question:

 

Tengo que empezar a recolectar los futuros socios del CLUB, hablaré con Jorge Leon, Leonor, Raul, etc, etc…. Quiero que cuando vuelvas te encuentres con nuestro flamante Club, como [sic.] le pondremos? Pro-Arte Cinematográfico? Me parece acertado, además y no es por vanidad, e; nombre le daría cierta continuación con Pro-Arte Musical, hacen falta varios Pro-Artes. Si has pensado otro dímelo, de todos modos sera una eleccion democratica.19

 

Contrary to what Ricardo Vigón expects up to that moment, the cinema club could not be formed before Puig's return to Havana, beginning of June, and it is only in May 1949 that the posts will be settled.  The official documents carry three signatures: that of Germán Puig, Ricardo Vigón and of one of their friends, Victoria González.  The founders of the association declare that they pursue the following objectives:

 

Propulsar la difusión de la cinematografía artistica en Cuba con fines de alta cultura exhibiendo las cintas de mayor dignificacion en el avance de la cinematografia universal y con la utilidades que producen dichas exhibiciones, la creación de una biblioteca cinematograficam, asi como la adquisición de cintas y aparatos cinematograficos en general, ya sean al efecto para los fines de la sociedad, haciendo posible de esta manera la realización de films artisticos dentro de la sociedad, elevando con ello nuestro nivel cultural. 20

 

As we can see, the idea of creating the Cinematheque was already underlying, along with that of producing films.  The Cinema Club quickly found numerous young, curious and enthusiastic members, some of which would know very remarkable artistic careers: Néstor Almendros, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Tomás Gutierrez Alea, Ramón Suárez, among others.  The organised projections multiplied with increasing success and Valdés Rodríguez finished by becoming extremely jealous, to the point that the University student used his connections to the ARTYC (Asociación de Redactores Teatrales y Cinematográficos) to deny attention being given to the cinema club in the press and to prevent its organisers from renting the cinema halls.  [Even] if the first manoeuvre proves successful, the Cinema club manages nevertheless, to find residence for its projections (albeit having to frequently change its address and occupy places as diverse as the Royal News hall or el Instituto de Previsión y Reformas Sociales).  But the most violent conflict has not yet irrupted, and it is in 1951 that the hostility between Puig, Vigón and Valdés Rodríguez degenerates into open war.

 

The creation of the Cuba Cinematheque and the Langloisaffaire

 

Everything begins with Germán Puig's journey to Paris in October 1950.  While Gutiérrez Alea has already filmed a few shorts (either on his own – El Fákir [1947], La Caperucita [1947] – or with Néstor Almendros, Una confusion cotidiana [1950]), Puig has not produced anything (he will produce Sarna in 1952 in the house of Wifredo Lam).  On the other hand, he is the first to go to Europe to launch his study of Cinematography.  Raul Roa, Director of Culture at the centre of the Cuban Ministry for Education, grants him a scholarship that he applied for in the month of September 1950, permitting him to leave his post as Master of Internship at a school in Havana while guarding his salary for a further one year.  Puig left for France on the 13th October and reached Le Havre eleven days later.  In love with the French culture and cinema, he wishes to study at the IDHEC and not in an American Cinematic school, as would have been simpler and less costly.  But at the time of departure, he did not know that the school had just closed firmly its doors and would not welcome a single student from 1950-1951.  The letter that informed him of this arrived at his mother's home while his boat made its way towards Le Havre.  Upon arrival in Paris, Puig enrolled at La Cité Universitaire and despite everything looked to take advantage of his time in France.  Therefore, in the beginning of January, he asked to meet Henri Langlois, the director of the Cinémathèque Française.  He was away on business, but he sent him a message the 18th of January agreeing a meeting upon his return to Paris, the following week.  The first encounter between these two men shall be brief but decisive.

Puig wanted to request the loan of certain films for the Cinema Club of Havana, but Langlois informed him that one of his colleagues had come to see him for the same reason.  His name: Valdés Rodríguez.  Puig explained to him immediately what the activities this person carried out in the area of cinematography, but not knowing what relationship his old professor had made with the director of the Cinémathèque, he did not divulge the tensions that existed in the Cinema Club.  Langlois asserted, raising his index finger towards the sky, “You are hiding something from me!”

Impressed by the intuition of his interlocutor, Puig exposed in detail the conflict that existed between himself and the professor of the University of Havana, and the jealousy that fed his disregard for the Cinema Club.  Langlois took his decision there and then, declaring, “The films are yours!”  The meeting was over, having lasted no more than 5 minutes.  Understand, Valdés Rodríguez took Langlois' decision very badly, and accused Puig and the other members of the Cinema Club of having plotted against him.  In reality, Langlois had found Rodríguez very unfriendly and had instantly got along with Germán Puig, whose enthusiasm and idealism had reminded him of his own journey (Langlois had founded the Cinémathèque Française in 1936 with an other Cinema illuminé, Georges Franju, just as Puig and Vigón came to create their Cinema Club likewise on the basis of the same friendship and the same passion).

 

A letter from Gutiérrez Alea, dated 30th March 1951, sheds new light on the question:

 

[…] Néstor me escribió desde Mexico diciendome que había visto una carta que la Cinemateca [sic.] le habia enviado al Cine-Club de Mexico donde les decia que tenian dos peticiones de películas desde la Habana: una de <<un personaje oficial muy desagradable>> (sic. En el original), (ya puedes suponer quien [sic.] es, y otra de unos muchachos jóvenes, y que preferían enviarselas [sic.] a estos ultimos. (los muchachos jóvenes supongo que debemos ser nosotros). Con estos antecedentes resulta desconcetante el anuncio del viejo V.R.21

 

From the month of February 1951 onwards, Puig put himself in contact with the Cuban Ambassador to Paris, Héctor de Ayala, and Raul Roa, in Havana, in order to organise the shipping of the spools of film that the Cinémathèque Française had agreed to loan him, but for his part Valdés Rodríguez was putting himself in position to intercept the films on their arrival in Cuba.   Study of the abundant correspondence between Puig and the members of the Havana Cinema Club, members which included Gutierrez Alia, shows us that the French Cinema Programmes were the object of an intense struggle with a lot at stake.

Valdés Rodríguez tries to impact upon the young managers of the Cinema Club by multiplying the effects of his own advertising, and from March 1951, he pretended to be in a position to project the films sent by the Cinémathèque.  This is in fact what Gutiérrez Alea wrote:

 

Querido amigo:

Una carta muy apresurada para darte una mala noticia. Se trata de las películas de la Cinematheque [sic.], las cuales Valdés Rodríguez anunció que pondría en la Universidad, pues las habia conseguido a través del Cónsul francés.  Esto sucedió ayer, y no sabemos qué pensar ni qué hacer, pues no tenemos ninguna comunicación oficial de Henri Langlois concediéndonos dichas películas.  La noticia como veras, es desalentadora.  ¿Qué crees tu que se pueda hacer?  No pidrias conseguir con M. Langlois que nos mandara una comunicación oficial de la Cinematheque [sic.] para presentarla ante la Legacion de Francia donde nos indique como destinatarios de dichas películas? 22

 

In fact, at that time, Valdés Rodríguez is no longer able to project the films he is advertising, yet in the month of May, his moves prove to be fruitful, and he succeeds in having some films shown that were initially destined for the Cinema Club.  The 27th May 1951, Gutiérrez Alea writes:

 

Querido amigo:

Aquí estamos desesperados por saber de ti y de todo el problema de la Cinematheque [sic.].  Hoy (ahora son las 8 de la manana) me he levantado, y lo primero que he visto en el periodico es un anuncio del Cine de Arte de la Universidad, de Valdes [sic.] Rodríguez << El Cine de Arte de la Universidad se complace en anunciar su nueva serie de Clasicos del Cine Galo […].>> No sé donde las habra conseguido, pero creo que nos está tomando de delantera. […].

No voy a echar la carta hasta pasado manana para poder decirte con seguridad si el programa que presentara V R es el mismo de la Cinematheque [sic.] u otro. De todas maneras, debes enviarnos noticias de lo que haces en ese sentido.23

 

After having attended the projection, Gutiérrez Alea writes:

 

Efectivamente, las películas que puso V R en la Universidad son las de la Cinematheque [sic.], y las consiguió por mediación del Embajador de Francia: Monsieur Beauvergais, y vinieron a traves del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Francia, los Affaires Etrangères. Se vé [sic.] que VR tiene mucha palanca con M. Beauvergais, lo cual hizo posible la realización de sus maquiavelicos propositos de usuperacion.  Como ves estamos jodidos. Por lo menos supongo que algo habras aprendido de estas cosas: TODO HAY QUE HACERLO CON PAPELES […]

 

 

As we can affirm, the struggle to gain control of the films from Paris was harsh, and it was only from August onwards that Puig found a way to send the spools without them falling into the hands of Valdés Rodríguez.  In fact, the managers of the Cinema Club depended on Germán Puig to have the films sent from the Cinémathèque Française and at first they put responsibility for the first failures on his shoulders, before finally admitting that they themselves had lacked efficiency in Havana.

The problem of official papers and documents came back piercingly in the correspondence between Puig and the other members of the Cinema Club, who communicated slowly and awkwardly.  Gutiérrez Alea and Cabrera Infante cannot imagine the considerable travail that Puig is enduring in Paris while, from his side, Puig cannot understand why certain shipments are not reaching their destination or why his friends are taking so long legally to create the Cinematheque.  This question is crucial for him, since he can only send the films regularly and securely if the Cinema Club becomes a Cinematheque.  The institution directed by Langlois can only exchange films with a similar organisation.  Puig therefore invites his friends still in Cuba to create new positions within the company, and remodel themselves on the Cinémathèque Française.  The same name of the new institution would be the reflection of their model: firstly baptised “Cinemateca Cubana” (and not “Filmateca Cubana”) it ends by becoming “Cinemateca de Cuba”.  In relaunching the institution in 1961, the ICAIC involuntarily kept traces of the French origins of the project.

As Germán Puig explained, it was effectively Langlois that suggested to him to create the Cinematheque in Cuba, on the model of that which existed in Paris.  The inefficacity of communicating between Paris and Havana hindered the setting up of this body, more so than the members of the Cinema Club being all unpaid and monopolised by other activities or taking trips abroad.  Gutiérrez Alea finished his law studies, Cabrera Infante threw himself into journalism, Néstor Almendros found himself in Mexico while Puig furthered his experiences and training in cinematography.  Over the course of the first semester of 1951, he followed a course of the Institute of Filmography at the Université de Paris, where most notably George Sadoul taught, and he completed work experience on the filmset of L'auberge rouge, by Claude Autant-Lara, in the capacity of Third Assistant.

In the month of July (from 12th to 17th to be exact), Langlois invited him to participate in the FIAF (Federation Internationale des Archives du Film) Congress, which took place at Cambridge.  Puig attended the congress in the capacity of Observer representing the Cuba Cinematheque, which for the first time attained official and international acknowledgement.  Next the new institution became involved with the FIAF, and Germán Puig insisted to Cabrera Infante, Almendros and Gutiérrez Alea once again that they carry out the legal steps required to create the Cinematheque.  From their side, the members of the Cinema Club were waiting for Puig to establish their position.  Here is what Gutiérrez Alea wrote the 16th of August 1951:

 

En primer lugar, no tengo que decirte lo muy agradecidos que estamos todos de ti.  Eso ya tú lo sabes.  Y para los que no lo saben, lo diremos el día de la primera función.

En cuanto al problema que no podemos cobrar la entrada, creemos que lo podemos resolver haciendo socios exclusivos del Cine-Club (que después que tú envies los estatutos sera la Cinemateca Cubana) a $0.80 mensual, aparte de los socios de NUESTRO TIEMPO. […]

Te dire que ya estamos inscritos con unos estatutos provisionales y con el nombre de CINEMATECA CUBANA, pero que aparecemos ante el publico como Cine-Club de La Habana, hasta que tú digas que podemos hablar de nuestras intenciones de crear una cinemateca. […]

Si no nos envian regularmente los programams que dices que ya nos tienen separados, no tenemos qué ofrecerle a nuestros asociados, y ya te puedes imaginar lo que sucederá.  Sobre todo por el hecho de que no solamente VR es nuestro amigos y que ahora solo esperan la oportunidad de atacarnos. Estoy hablando en general de la sociedad Nuestro Tiempo, que es a quien le dirigen sus ataques, no solo al Cine-Club.[…]

Por lo tanto, Germán Puig, casi puedo decirte que en tus manos está gran parte de lo que puede ser nuestro triunfo o fracaso.  Quiero que sientas plenamente esta responsabilidad.24

 

The remarks of Gutiérrez Alea allows us to confirm with how much intensity the Cinephile endured his internal struggles but it highlights equally the importance of Puig's role in the conflicts: his presence and his action at Langlois' side made him indispensable, and numerous were those who envied his position.  This jealousy will emerge over two attitudes: certainly, like Valdés Rodríguez, they will try to destroy his work.  Others will try more subtly to remove him from the project.  This is the case most particularly with the management of Nuestro Tiempo, the cultural society created in 1951, little after the arrival of Germán Puig in France, and to which Cabrera Infante, Almendros and Gutiérrez Alea had immediately subscribed.  There was great confusion from the beginning over the activities of the Cinema Club and Nuestro Tiempo, and later between those of the Cuba Cinematheque and Nuestro Tiempo. 

As the managers of the Cinema Club are equally members of Nuestro Tiempo, they decide to partner the two organisations without consulting Puig, who is by the way the President and founder of the Cinema Club.  They also looked to put the Cinema Club under the guardianship of Nuestro Tiempo, there again without the agreement of Puig, who will ask from Paris that the Cinematheque, that he presides over and that he created, remains independent.  This precise point will emerge over an open crisis between Puig and Alfredo Guevara, influential member of Nuestro Tiempo and future director of the ICAIC.

The beginning of August 1951, Langlois sent his first films specifically destined for the Cinema Club, but because of the inefficacy of Cuban Administration, the parcels will take several weeks to get to their destination.  The films will end up after all being projected in public in the month of September and from then on, the Cuba Cinematheque will manage to organise, in different locations, numerous projections dedicated to the classics of the Seventh Art, that will know increasing success until the activities of the body are interrupted in November 1952. 

The 13th October 1951, Puig sends a letter to Gutiérrez Alea to sum up with him regarding the creation of the Cinematheque, which is still not arranged.  At this time, relations between the two young men are stretched: Gutiérrez Alea expected Puig to help him join the IDHEC and organise a trip to France, and blamed him for not taking care of him enough.  Puig, for his part, believed he had sent him the necessary information and was annoyed by Gutiérrez Alea's inability to take charge of the situation.  Below are the instructions that were given:

 

Ahora, hablemos de la CINEMATECA CUBANA. He recibido tus cartas y el programa.  Langlois lo ha visto y esta muy contento y ha pasado por alto todas las demoras de las cuales no nos respondabiliza [...]. Lo urgente segun el es constituir la Cinemateca Cubana de acuerdo con los reglamentos que envie con el segundo programa, constituir la directiva que la encabezaran un presidente o representante oficial, que en este caso debe ser yo para los efectos de la FIAF [...] y tambien de un director o secretario general [aqui Langlois] que se ocupara de la direccion de la Cinemateca.  Si tu te quedas no veo a nadie mejor para ello, si te vas habria que tenerse mucho ciudado a quien se le confia.  Te dire que estoy un poco dsgustado contigo por el hecho de que nunca me has hablado de quienes estan trabajando contigo.25

 

Further on, Puig followed with:

 

Una vez constituida la Cinemateca tirar copia de los reglamentos y la directiva en mimeografo y enviarme varias copias para mi, la Cinemateca y para la FIAF; si no es asi Langlois me ha dicho que no puede justificar ante dicha Federaction de Archivos de Filmses la ayuda que no presta.  Esta muy bien el que le hayas escrito; por otra parte te dire que una vez constituida la Cinemateca queda automticamente separada de Nuestro Tiempo dicha union resulta problematica.

 

The last sentence could not be clearer, but it was not until Puig's return to Cuba in May 1952 that the separation between Nuestro Tiempo and the Cinematheque occurred.  Puig will confront Alfredo Guevara over the course of a heated discussion, and as a result the two men will develop a deep enmity.  Their opposition gets around the simple legal problem (that of the independence of the Cinematheque) only to introduce an ideological dimension : while Guevara was a communist and wished to put the art to political use, Puig defended the autonomy of the artistic sphere and did not want under any cost the Cinematheque to be used as [such] an instrument.  Ricardo Vigón was the only one to defend Puig's idea, and the two were banned from the ICAIC by Guevara.

At the end of the month of October 1951, Gutiérrez Alea finally left for Italy, for the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia de Roma, where he rejoined Julio García Espinosa.  There he stayed until 1953 (Ricardo Vigón, for his part, had returned to Paris towards the end of August and Puig had immediately presented him to Langlois, who had employed him at the Cinematheque Française).  In Gutiérrez Alea's absence, Néstor Almendros took a break in Havana, now receiving the films that Puig and Langlois sent regularly.  Even if the question of the status of the Cinematheque was not yet resolved, the director of the Cinematheque Française continued to lend all his support to Puig's efforts, and was glad to help in the circulation of the Cinematic side of French Culture.

The first letter that Almendros wrote 2nd November 1951 highlights again the importance of Puig's work in Paris, and equally allows us to understand why Nuestro Tiempo had wanted so much to take over the Cinema Club.

 

La ayuda tuya al << Cine Club >> (ahora Cinemateca Cubana) ha sido fundamental, sin ella no hubieramos [sic.] podido escapar de una muerte segura en manos de los distribuidores, de la incomprension y de ciertas personas que tu [sic.] conoces.  A << Nuestro Tiempo >> tambien la ha salvado.  Con la enfermedad de Harold la sociedad se quedo [sic.] practicamente sin cabeza y todo parecia se iba a desmoronar.  Todo el mundo se iba por su lado y nadie queria trabajar.  Hace unos tres meses que Nuestro Tiempo ha existido solamente gracias al cine club, ya que no ha habido otro acto en todo este tiempo [...].

Donde Nuestro Tiempo está teniendo casi un éxito << Delirante >> es en las funciones del cine club.26

 

As we can see, the popularity of the projections organised around the films of the Cinematheque Française allowed Nuestro Tiempo to survive, and increase its reach and influence.  Initially thought of as an organisation outside of political debate, this cultural organisation was rapidly becoming a chariot of the Communist Party – who pushed certain members to leave: Guillermo Cabrera Infante stepped down as a manager of Nuestro Tiempo in 1951 – and looked for a dominant position in the cultural and intellectual sphere.  With this strategy in mind, it was important to control the activities linked to this cinema, clearly more popular and federative than those cinemas linked to classical music or to theatre.

Almendros recalls the jealousy of Valdés Rodríguez, who continued to try to undermine the work of the Cinema Club:

 

Tal ha sido el exito que, segúun parece, V.R. esta [sic.] muriendose de rabia.  Hemos sabido que habla como nunca pestes de nosotros y que esta [sic.] haciendo todo lo posible para hundirnos.  Practicamente esta [sic.] coaccionando a los criticos para que no nos publiquen notas de prensa y su << campana >> en este segundo programa está teniendo exito aunque no todo el que él quisiera.  Sin embargo, hay que andarse con cuidado, es un tipo terrible.

 

Almendros also recalls the transformation of the Cinema Club into Cinematheque: 

 

Entre mi mama y yo hemos traducido los estatutos de la Cinemateca Cubana y solo falta hacerle algunas modificaciones para que se legalice u cambiemos oficialmente nuestro nombre por el de Cinemateca Cubana. [...].

Antes de salir Titon tuvimos una pequena reunion los del cine club para ver que reformas se hacian con su salida y principalmente como se ivan a distribuir los cargos.  Ya de acuerdo con los estatutos de la Cinemateca las << elecciones >> quedaron como sigue.  Presidente: German Puig, Vice: Guillermito, Secretario: Juan Blanco, Vice: Rine, Tesorero: Branly, Propaganda: Lisandro Otero y por ultimo a i me dieron un cargo con un titulo un poco raro: Director.  Yo desde luego no tengo las cualidades de director de Titon, ni la cpacidad de contemporizar con la gente, ya lo recuerdas, pero hare todo lo posible para hacerlo ahora, con la experiencia, mejor que antes.

 

The correspondence between Almendros and Puig indicates that the problems of transport and of receiving the films from the Cinémathèque Française continue after Gutierrez Alea's departure, and it so happens that certain shipments, that should have had a monthly cycle, were lost temporarily (the only satisfying point being that the packets were not falling into the hands of Valdés Rodríguez anymore).  The management of the Cinema Club should look for replacement films with the local distributors, but they do not attract nearly half as many people as those films loaned by the Cinémathèque Française.

In December 1951 or January 1952 (we have not been able to establish an exact date) after several altercations, a meeting took place between Valdés Rodríguez and the management of the Cinematheque (that had not yet resolved the question of its status change).  A little time later, Cabrera Infante writes to Germán Puig to continue the meeting, bringing up in his letter the anguish expressed by his university peers during an encounter with his old students.

He explained equally that Valdés Rodríguez has shown letters exchanged with Langlois and does not understand why the director of the Cinémathèque Française has preferred to collaborate with a group of young unknowns rather than with the University of Havana.  As Valdés Rodríguez cannot even conceive that Langlois found him detestable, he believes the Cinema Club has turned Langlois against him, and he even accuses them of having stolen the member list of his own Cinema Club.  Cabrera Infante concludes by stating that the meeting has not allowed them to resolve the conflict and everyone has kept their same objections.  The distaste that Valdés Rodríguez arouses is just as strong as that which Gutierrez Alea is able to express in his letters.

During this time, Germán Puig looks to pursue his trip to Paris, but the grant from Unesco that he believes he can obtain finally escapes him, and he must ask his mother to send him a little money to tide him over for a few months.  After having abandoned his membership with IDHEC who reopened their doors in September 1951, he considers for a time going to al Centro Sperimentale de Rome, but lacking the financial means, he abandoned the idea (it seems that it was Gutiérrez Alea that had inherited the position that the School Director, Mario Verdone, had previously reserved for Puig after having met him at the Cinematheque Française).  Germán Puig resolved to return to Cuba at the end of April 1952.  While waiting, he continued to work with Ricardo Vigón of the Cinematheque Française (which did not pay him or if so very little) and looked without success to get himself employed on the sets of certain films.  In Paris, he continued to worry about what had become of the Cuba Cinematheque, as we see in a letter written by Néstor Almendros the 16th of February 1952 (as a French type-writer was used, once again all the accents are missing):

 

Supongo sabras que espero ir a Cuba en Mayo o Julio y antes departir [sic.] necesito dejar aclarecer aqui una serie de cosas.  Parece ser que las cosas no van todo lo bien que debieran.  Por lo que veo no han adoptado el nombre de Cinemateca, lo cual les dije hace meses era urgentisimo e imprescindible para obtener la ayuda de aqui.  So esto no es ha hecho ni se han presentado los papeles para legalizarnos, puede facilmente ocasionar la suspension de envio de los programas, pues legalmente Langlois no puede ayudar a un Cine Club, tal vez se guera todo al diablo.  Hace ya sietre meses del congreso de la FIAF ante la cul eramos Cinemteca.  Quiero que estedes comprendan que lo que estoy haciendo aqui es tratar de construir la Cinemateca Cubana y es necesario que ustedes alla hagan el maximo o nunca se llegara a nada.  Por ejemplo te escribi una vez que era necesario conseguir viejas peliculas cbana o noticiarios y que averiguaras sobre los cartones que se hacen en Oriente para enviarlos aca.  No tan siquiera me mencionaste el asunto en tu carta.  Hay que tratar de obtener donaciones de ese tipo.27

 

This letter attests to the difficulties that Puig experiences orientating and controlling the Cinematheque from Paris, and so it is with a certain relief that he returns to Havana, on the 1st of May 1952.  He knows that he can count on Ricardo Vigón, who remains close to Langlois, in order to continue sending films in his place.  But this text equally shows that Puig, contrary to what his critics have written, did not design the Cuba Cinematheque as a bettered Cinema Club but rather regarded it for better or worse as a tool for the preservation of cinematic heritage, national and international, as stipulated in the statutes of the organisation.

Almendros, who seems to have taken into account Puig's reappearance, responded to him a few days later:

 

Voy detras de una pista de films mudos cubanos.  En esta semana se resolvera.  Guillermito está encargado de ver a santos y Artigas para lo mismo.  No se [sic.] si habra hecho algo.  Comprenderas que no puedo estar al tanto de todo: tengo tambien otras cosas ademas de la Cinemateca.28

 

Almendros' remarks highlight the limited involvement of the Cinematheque's members: their investment was voluntary, and only available during their free time in between work and study.  In addition, an important problem needed to be addressed, that of stocking the films.  Even if they had managed to find the Cuban films and to create copies of the films sent to them by the Cinémathèque Française (which they will try to do as soon as they are in a position to) they have not had a place to put them (contrary to Valdé Rodríguez, who had a few shelves available at the university).

The first of May 1952, Germán Puig returned to Cuba and tried hard to find a solution to the problem, unfortunately without success.  In addition, he busies himself with record for always the statutes of the Cinematheque (an official document attests that the steps took place the 23rd June 1952).  This text, that we have been able to consult, exposes the way in which the association functions and article 2 in particular fixes its objectives.  The first of them was the following:

 

a)     conservar toda clase de documentos (fotografias, articulos, revistas, libros, manuscritos, periodicos, programas, partituras musicales, material de publicidad, guiones, textos impresos, manuscritos o dactilografiados, maquetas de decoracion, dibujos, trajes, recuerdos) que hayan pertenecido a la cinematografia y films positivos y negativos que le sean confiados en deposito, prestados, dados y que puedan adquirirse.

 

The association, first and foremost, wishes to preserve films and documents related to cinema, even if other articles foresaw prioritization of the circulation of cinematographic knowledge and the projection of films.  It was all about, in the mind of its founder, creating in Cuba an authentic Cinematheque, and not to continue the Cinema Club created in 1948.

In order to mark the independence of the Cinematheque, from the point of his arrival, Puig separated his activities from those of Nuestro Tiempo, not hesitating, as we have explained, to risk getting Alfredo Guevara's back up.  Next he looked to locate the library of the Cinematheque on the site of the Colegio de Arquitectos, which had already been used for a few months to host the projections.  Cooperation lasted for a few months and then the Cinematheque had to look for a new site where they could organise the showings, but were met each time with closed doors.

Without any support or financial assistance and suffering from an unfavourable political situation (Batista had just taken power with a coup d'Etat) the organisation finished by ceasing activity, despite its unquestionable success with the public.

One can imagine that Valdés Rodríguez endless rustling played a role in the closure.  Below we have what Germán Puig wrote to Ricardo Vigón the 15th August 1952:

 

Ricardo:

 

Estas lineas para explicarte el asunto V.R.-Cinemateca-Artic.

Despues de varios intentos , hoy en casa de E. H. Alonso nos reunimos con V.R..

La Artic nos cerro la prensa hace ya dias y V.R. nos acusa de llamarle ladron, no teniendo otras pruebas que los comentarios de algunos de sus allegados.  El Sr. Alonso estima que las peliculas debieron ser entregadas a la Universidad por ser este organismo nuestro maximo centro documente, etc.etc. que es una manera sutil de ponernos frente a la Universidad pues ya tú sabras lo que les importa a estos la docencia, la decencia y todos esos conceptos que tan libremente usan.  Y nos acuso incluyendote a ti de querer perjudicarlo.

La Artic estima que toda la divulgacion cultura [sic.] de tipo cinemtografico debe ser ofrecida por la Universidad u no nos confere << estabilidad >> suficiente para que ofrezcamos nosotros esos programas.  Se nos acusa de haber tratado con Langlois la obtencion de los programas << por medio no miu recomendables [sic.]>>.  Nos acusan de difarmarlo, etc. [...].

 

This is followed with an astonishing incite:

 

Piensan querellarse contra M. Langlois y difarmarlo; aqui han dicho que es un orresponsable que no tiene suficiente moral para ocupar el cargo que ocupa.  Nosotros no queremos escribirle a M. Langlois informandole sobre estas cosas pues nos parece mejor que tú, que estás cerca de ellos, se lo informes personalmente.  E. H. Alonso es el Presidente de la A.R.T.I.C. (Asociacion de redactores teatrales cinematograficos).

De por medio estaran probablemente EL Sr. Embajador de Francia, El Ministerio de relaciones exteriores y en caso de fracasar sus gestiones nos han dicho que aperlaran en una campana difamatoria por medio de la prensa francesa.

 

In light of the tumultuous turn that events were taking, Puig could only conclude on these terms:

 

El problema es un sintesis: forzarnos a cederles las pelculas.  Tú sabes que no hemos tenido critica y que ninguno de esos senores amantes del cine ha pasado un solo dia a ver los programas de la Cinemteca.  El caso es acabar con nosotros por todos los medios.

 

But the danger did not only come from outside: at the heart of the Cinematheque, certain people criticized the work of its founder.  Hence, while on a trip to Venise, in September 1952, Gutiérrez Alea explained to Ricardo Vigón why Germán Puig was not the most suitable person to direct the organisation.  Vigón therefore resumes the discussion that he had with Gutiérrez Alea and García Espinosa:

 

Titon ha enrolado [a Julio Garcia Espinosa] en sus asuntos, y forman una unidad de pensamiento y perspectivas.  [...] Titon y Julio estaban de acuerdo en que tú no estabas capacitado para manejar los asuntos del Cine-Club y hasta me preguntaron quienes estaban trabajando alla en el Cine-Club y siguen con las ideas eternas de la dependencia de los periodistas, les afecto mucho la historia de la A.R.T.I.C.  Ademas inmediatamente me dijeron lo que te habria predicho en la carta anterior u opinaron que tú no habrias hecho nada en Paris y que oara tener una verdadera personalidad cinematografica habia que hacer una escuela.   Me trataron de empujar la idea de que elos hoy en dia tiene tal personalidad. [...].

Frente a la cuestion de si eras o no el que debias estar frente a los asuntos de la Cinemateca, les dije que tu eras la unica persona que de vida estaba comprometida con ella no solo en pasado y presente sino tambien en futuro y que todos los logros de ella (la Cinemateca) estaban basados en tu labor.  Te dire que esto los callo definitivamente.29

 

As we can see, Germán Puig was only able to count on the friendship of Ricardo Vigón;  the jealousy of some had joined with the ambitions of others, the structure that he had created finished logically by ceasing to function.  The Cinematheque projected its last film the 2nd of November 1952.  It was the Passion of Jeanne d'Arc, by Dreyer and this showing had the biggest audience since the creation of the organisation.

 

Transient renaissance of the Cuba Cinematheque

 

Even if the exact conditions of the momentary dissolution of the Cinematheque remains hazy (Germán Puig does not recall the exact details anymore, and it seems that that period had been complicated for him from a personal point of view), one thing is    This is what we can confirm upon reading the letters of Ricardo Vigón, most notably in that which he wrote to Adoración in 27th April 1953, the wife of Germán Puig.

 

Una cosa fundamental es que no me informas de si la Cinemateca existe o no (segun carta de Alejo, German dice que no anda bien por falta de films, pero esta no es la razon pues basta con pedirmelas para que yo hago todas las gestiones), Langlois y Meerson siempre me preguntan por ella y yo he tenido que decirles [...] que al parecer esta ha dejado de existir.  [...] Ellos le tienen un gran carino a German y siempre insisten preguntandome por el.30

 

In addition, Langlois continued to correspond with Puig, advising him specifically not to lose contact with the FIAF.

From 1952 to 1955, the members of the Cinematheque continued to meet, but relations were at breaking point and each followed their own path: Cabrera Infante began a career in journalism, Gutiérrez Alea, back from Italy, is grabbed by Nuestro Tiempo, Néstor Almendros is in New York and Germán Puig has found work as a creative-writer in a marketing company.  In 1955, Puig manages to film a short for road safety, sponsored by Esso and entitled “A mother's letter”(the film was so successful that the management of the petroleum company wrote to him to let him know how satisfied they were).  One year beforehand, he and Carlos Franqui had founded a small production company for the production of shorts.

In October 1995 (from 6th to 19th), Puig travels to New York in the company of Adrián García Hernández and takes advantage of his trip to visit the Museum of  Modern Art, where he makes contact with the Films Archive Manager.  He wished in effect to relaunch the Cinematheque and the collection of New York Museums interested him.  A short time before, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, likewise on excursion in the United States, succeeded quite exceptionally in convincing the museum to loan its films to the Cinematheque.  With the support of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura, directed by Guillermo de Zéndegui, who accepted to welcome the association's projections at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Puig is in a position to relaunch the Cinematheque and he organises a new cycle entitled “The Classics of the New York Art Museum”.  The first showing takes place the 3rd December 1955 and the last the 26th May 1956 (a second cycle will begin the 24th August, only to stop brutally).

This rebirth of the Cuba Cinematheque draws new attacks from Valdés Rodríguez.  Five years after having reclaimed the monopoly on use of films sent by the Cinémathèque Française, the professor at Havana University claims to have exclusive rights on the distribution of films from the Museum of Modern Art.  But a curator of the museum writes to Germán Puig to reassure him:

 

Mr. Adams tells us that Senor Rodríguez [sic.] has claimed that ‘he was the only man in Cuba who has permitted to import Museum films, that we had given him an exclusive license to do so.'  This is, of course, manifestly impossible: we never grant exclusive licenses to anyone to rent films in a given area. […]

Please do not hesitate to write if we can help in anyway.31

 

Valdés Rodríguez will be however less of a nuisance than the first time, and it seems that his attempt to destabilise the Cinematheque has not been successful.  The crisis will come from the interior, a violent dispute erupting between the members of the management in the middle of the cycle (this is to say, over the course of the first semester 1956, at a date we have not been able to determine with any accuracy).  While the Instituto Nacional de Cultura, before the success brought to it by the projections of the Cinematheque, prepared itself to give more consequential support to the association in providing it with the locations needed for storing films, part of the management decided to initiate an act of protest against the Batista regime.   Germán Puig summarises the incident as follows:

 

En medio del ciclo, que duro del 3 de diciembre de 1955 al 26 de mayo de 1956, parte de la directiva, en nombre de una << toma de conciencia politica >>, decidio interrumpir el ciclo de Bellas Artes secuestrando una de las peliulas a punto de exhibirse. Yo no entendia esa actitud. Siempre he sido apolitico. […]

No recuerdo de que pelicula del ciclo se trataba, pero logre rescatarla antes de que Guillermo Cabrera Infante y Adrian Garcia Hernandez se hicieran con ella. Me entreviste con Guillermo de SZendegui lo puse al tanto de los acontecimientos, ratificandole mi respeto al compromso contraido y mi decision de llevar a termino la proyeccion de todas las peliculas de ciclo. […]

Al finalizar el ciclo y a causa de este conflicto, Zendegui me retiro su apoyo y quede solo con Julio Matas, excelente companero, y Rodolfo Santovenia, amigo excepcional.32

 

Puig later recalls, disenchanted, the end of the Cinematheque for which he had fought so hard:

 

Al perder el apoyo del Instituto Nacional de Cultura y el local de Bellas Artes se reprodujo la menesterosa busqueda de locales del pasado.  Llego a mis oidos que los desertores (como llamarlos?) no encontraron otro medio de ejercer su militancia que repetir las << hazanas >> de Valdes Rodriguez para que no consiguieramos locales. Eso se me dijo y nunca pude comprobarlo, pero volvimos a arrostrar las mismas dificultades de antano hasta que el Lyceum Lawn Tennis Club nos presto su local.  Durante tres semanas Guillermo Cabrera Infante sostuvo en Carteles una polemica,si mal no recuerdo con Julio Matas, en la que afirmo cosas como estas: << La Cinemateca exhibiria sus films en una institucion feminina>> y <<puede que triunfe, los films se lo merecen.  Puede que fracase, ese senor (se referia a mi) se lo merece.>> 33

 

The implosion of the Cinematheque cements the momentary reunion of Cabrera Infante and Nuestro Tiempo, certain members of the Cultural Society, including Gutierrez Alea, who had participated in the sinking.  It is ironic, the two ideological inclinations that each represented were going to confront each other some years later during the P.M. affaire, and Guevara would therefore get the better of Cabrera Infante.

 

Return to Paris

 

Disturbed by the conflict and the break down of the Cinematheque, Germán Puig returned to see Langlois, whose friendship was in no doubt.  In December 1956, he writes to him to explain the situation, and to make known his desire to return to Paris, in order to work at the Cinémathèque Française. The letter, originally written in French, contains numerous faults that were left in the original publication.*

 

*This has meant innocuous inconsistencies in the translation.

 

Dear Henri:

 

I saw yesterday Carlos Figueredo, he spoke at length about you, and your little file filled with commissions, the last of which is entitled “News from Germán Puig”.  I feel a little guilty for not giving you my news myself more often, but I don't like to complain and my struggle has been terrible and worse than dull.  Nearly everyone is against me due to their less than pure interests […].  The Cuba Cinematheque is dying without having known the life it deserved. 

 

A wave of feeling has surrounded me for a long time now without me realising and has resulted in our departure from the Institute of Culture, forced by certain members of our former-management: Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Roberto Branly, Jaime Soriano, Paul Villaneuva, all conscious of the fact it was (they were taking) the first steps towards the liquidation of the Cuba Cinematheque, as was confirmed later.  Finally, stolen and read correspondence by Cabrera Infante who has become my worst enemy and in being critical he has adopted the same character as Valdes Rodriguez.  It's too painful and uncomfortably to go over it in a letter.

Carlos told me that he has worked with you, that you gave him the means to live, and upon leaving him you asked him if he could leave you someone in his place.  And so if this place is open for me I'm ready to leave straight away.  I am completely sure that the only possibility to regain my life and creation is in France, next to you.  I'm sure that I could do more for the Cuba Cinematheque from there than here.

 

Langlois accepts of course to help him but warns him of the difficulties he will face: the Cinémathèque Française doesn't have money and can only provide him with the miserly position of “stagiaire” (apprentice or intern).  Inspite of everything, Germán Puig has decided to leave Cuba and doesn't hesitate to abandon his wife and son for several months as it is necessary for him to leave the suffocating atmosphere that smothers Havana.  The 8th of May 1957, he leaves for France, arriving on the 27th of May.  Once in Paris, he starts to work at the Cinémathèque Française for several months, but his pay is miserly, and he asks for and is granted a study grant from the French government to attend Audio Visual courses at the E.N.S de Saint-Cloud.  He leaves with a diploma in the month of June 1958 and multiplies his trips between France and Spain, looking for work in Marketing.  Unaware of his financial problems, Henri Langlois will reprove him for having left the Cinematheque after only a few months, but nevertheless will continue to respect their friendship.  It's at this time the Cuban Revolution comes to pass: the old friends of Germán Puig find themselves with new responsibilities.

 

 

THE END

 

Translation Note:

 

Due to the flowery nature of the original document, it was not always possible to guard the same grammatical structure and tone of expression as employed in the text. For this reason, where necessary the translated sentence has been reworded completely to communicate the same meaning.

 

Projets Avortes

 

The final section of the original document has been omitted from the translation at the request of Herman Puig.

 

1 Cine Cubano, no 23-24-25, p.58

2. Ibid p. 25-34

3. Cine Cubano, no 104, p. 37-45.

4. Michael Chanan, The Cuban Image, BFI Publishing, London 1985

5. Julianne Burton “Cuba”.

6. Augusto Martinez Torres and Mañuela Perez Estremera, Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, Ed. Anagrama, Barcelona, 1973, p. 133.

7. Arturo Agramonte, Cronología del cine cubano, 1966.

8. From a letter to German Puig dated 7th June 1999.

9. Arturo Agramonte, op. cit. p. 86.

10. Ibid. 87. We highlight.

11. Interview with Arturo Agramonte in February 2001

12. Maria Eulalia Doulas, La tienda negra, El cine en Cuba.[1897-1900].

13. Ibid, p. 129.

14. Ibid, p.141.

15. Ibid, p.144.

16. Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Un oficio del siglo XX, 1963.

17. Letter from Ricardo Vigón to German Puig, 23rd May 1948.

18. Letter from Ricardo Vigón to German Puig, 25th May 1948.

19. Letter from Ricardo Vigón to German Puig, 27th May 1948.

20. Excerpt from the statutes of the Cinema Club of La Havana.

21. Letter from Thomas Gutierrez Alea to German Puig, 30th March ‘51

22. Ibid.

23. Letter from Tomás Gutiérrez Alea to Germán Puig, 27th May 1951.

24. Letter from Tomás Gutiérrez Alea to Germán Puig, 16th August 1951.

25. Letter from Germán Puig to Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 13th October 1951.

26. Letter from Néstor Almendros to Germán Puig, 2nd November 1951.

27. Letter from Germán Puig to Néstor Almendros, 16th February 1952.

28. Letter from Néstor Almendros to Germán Puig, End of February 1952.

29. Letter from Ricardo Vigón to German Puig, 11th September 1952

30. Letter from Ricardo Vigón to Adoracion Gonzalez de Chavez, 27th April 1953.

31. Letter from Margareta Akermark (MoMa, Circulation Director) to Germán Puig, 25th October 1955.

32. Germán Puig, inedited text.

33. Ibid.

34. Letter from Germán Puig to Henri Langlois, 29th December 1956.

 

.

Contact Us | ©2007 Herman Puig