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Detail from Soy Cuba poster

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Soy Cuba: The Art of the Film Poster in Cuba

Special Collections Gallery
Charles Marvin Fairchild Memorial Gallery
March 1, 2021
July 12, 2021

Introduction:

This exhibition highlights the creative poster designs of the Cuban Institute of Art and Film Industry (Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos), or ICAIC.  Founded in March, 1959, just 83 days following the Cuban Revolution, the ICAIC was one of the first institutions implemented by the new Cuban government. One of the main instruments of the Institute, the Cuban film poster was a means of promoting the work of native artists who immortalized historic films and figures in their bold and colorful designs.  Our aim is to explore the Cuban cinematic experience and corresponding silkscreen poster in order to reveal the artistic range of this ubiquitous medium in the production of Cuban visual culture after the revolution.

Stylistically, Cuban cinema posters combine elements of photography with Abstract Expressionist, Pop, and Art Nouveau influences. Works by noteworthy artists such as Eduardo Muñoz Bachs (1937–2001), René Portocarrero (1912–1985), and Antonio Fernández Reboiro (born 1935) focus on the essence or central character of a particular film, translating them into popular visual icons. The results are strikingly beautiful and highly original works of art that reflect the interplay of state discourse and the cultural subconscious in revolutionary Cuba.

Cuba’s far-reaching cultural exchanges with the world produced a unique style of silkscreen poster used to publicize widely varying activities such as health and education campaigns, historic commemoration, concerts, performances, exhibitions, rallies, and of course, movies. The exhibition is subdivided into four sections: films made in Cuba; foreign films; film festivals; and heroes and characters.

The 25 posters in this exhibition are drawn from the collection of 322 Cuban film posters acquired from German collector Thomas Hill and housed in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections. This exhibition was first presented in 2009 and is the work of Guest Curators Alvaro Baquero-Pecino, Pedro Cruz and Patricia A. Soler, former graduate students in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Additional comparative images have been added for this installation.

Film in Cuba

Soy Cuba

Soy Cuba

René Portocarrero (1912 – 1985)
1964
I Am Cuba, directed by Mikhail Kalatozov (1964)
2008.10.522

Synopsis:  Four vignettes in Batista’s Cuba dramatize the need for revolution; long, mobile shots tell almost wordless stories.

René Portocarrero was an internationally acclaimed Cuban painter. He drew inspiration from imagery in carnivals and cultural tradition. In 1935 he published the book Las Máscaras (The Masks) depicting female faces in profile surrounded by elaborate head pieces. Portocarrero was also a muralist and painted the walls of many important buildings including the National Hospital and Cuban National Theater. For the iconic film Soy Cuba, he designed this poster along with the costumes.  The film was shot in black and white and presented four short stories about the hardships of various citizens, from farmers to students and a server in a bar.

Lucia

Lucía

Raúl Martínez (1927 – 1995)
1968
Directed by Humberto Solás (1968)
2008.10.523

Synopsis:  The film is divided into three episodes that describe the lives of three Cuban women, each of whom is named Lucía (played by Raquel Revuelta, Eslinda Núñez, and Adela Legrá). The three Lucías also depict three historical periods: the struggle for Cuba’s independence from Spain in 1895; the so-called revolution of the 1930s, and the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Lucía was the ICAIC’s most expensive production to date, and represented a total success. Original, exuberant, and innovative, it was an experimental film which soon became a classic and now is considered a milestone not only in Cuban cinematography but also in Latin American Film History.

Memorias del subdesarrollo

Memorias del subdesarrollo

Antonio Saura (1930 – 1998)
1968
Memories of Underdevelopment, directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío (1968)
2008.10.524

Synopsis:  An intellectual leaves the Cuban revolution and “underdevelopment” behind, only to find himself at odds with the ambiguities of his new life in the “developed” world.

Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (also known as “Titón”) (1928 – 1996) wrote and directed more than 20 feature films, documentaries, and short films. Some of Gutiérrez Alea’s most relevant work is part of the cinematic movement of the 1960s and 70s known as the New Latin American Cinema or Third Cinema, also represented by directors such as Brazilian Glauber Rocha and films such as La hora de los hornos (Hour of the Furnaces, 1968). These films were concerned largely with the problems of neo-colonialism and cultural identity. In his last years, Titón co-directed with Juan Carlos Tabío internationally acclaimed films such Fresa y Chocolate (below).

Cecilia

Mucha's Zodiac

Cecilia

Antonio Fernandez Reboiro (b. 1935)
1984
Directed by Humberto Solás (1982)

Synopsis:  In 1830s Havana, amidst the Cuban independence movement, social climber Cecilia uses Santería to conquer the son of a rich colonialist family.

Now a classic, Cecilia by Humberto Solás generated great controversy when it was released due to its free adaptation of Cirilo Villaverde’s 19th century novel Cecilia Valdés.

and

Study for Zodiac

Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939)
1896
Pencil, ink and watercolor
Mucha Museum, Prague

This poster by Antonio Fernandez Reboiro relies on the Art Nouveau designs of Alphonse Mucha, especially his profile portrait known as Zodiac. It was the artist’s first commission for the printer Champenois, and was intended as a calendar design for the company’s use. Mucha surrounded his idealized beauty with twelve signs of the zodiac.

Image credit: Bade, Patrick and Victoria Charles, Alphonse Mucha (New York: Parkstone Press, International, 2013), p. 21.

Manuela

Manuela

Eduardo Muñoz Bachs (1937 – 2001)
1967
Directed by Humberto Solás (1966)

Manuela is one of the most important Cuban films of the 1960s. It is the first of Solás’s films to embrace, in his words, “more genuinely Cuban forms of expression,”* beginning an artistic exploration that continued throughout the director’s career. It is also the first of many films in which Solás tells a story through the eyes of a woman, as in his masterpiece Lucía (1968), the controversial Cecilia (1982), and Amada (1983), among others.

*  Burton, Julianne, and Marta Alvear. “Every Point of Arrival is a Point of Departure.” Jump Cut  19 (December 1978): 32-33.

Vampiros en la Habana

Vampiros poster

Vampiros en la Habana

Nelson Ponce (b. 1976)
1999
Directed by Juan Padrón (1985)
2008.10.514

Synopsis:  A vampire family in Cuba prepares for a showdown between vampire cartels in the USA and Eastern Europe. They want control of a vaccination that enables them to live in daylight.

and

Vampiros en la Habana

Eduardo Muñoz Bachs (1937 – 2001)
1985
2008.10.515

Animation has been a popular genre of Cuban cinema in the past decades. Two of its greatest successes were created by Juan Padrón. In 1974 he created Elpidio Valdés (see poster in Heroes & Characters) and he also directed the full-length Vampiros en la Habana in 1985.

Born on 1937 in Valencia (Spain) Eduardo Muñoz Bachs came to Cuba with his parents in 1941. He made his first poster for the ICAIC in 1960 for the film Historias de la revolución with no formal training, inaugurating a lifelong career as a poster designer. He also drew comic strip illustrations.

A member of the UNEAC (National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), Bachs made over 2,000 movie posters for the ICAIC and received international acclaim, including at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.

Bachs passed away in 2001 but his graphic legacy continues inspiring artists to this day. In October 2007, the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana featured a comprehensive selection of his work. He is considered the most significant of Cuban film poster artists.

La bella del Alhambra

Mucha's La Blonde

La bella del Alhambra

Julio Eloy Mesa (1943 – 2004)
1989
The Beauty of the Alhambra, directed by Enrique Pineda Barnet (1989)
2008.10.520

Synopsis:  An allegory of the Cuban republic is told through the story of a musical theatre star in Havana of the 1920s and 30s.

and

La Blonde

Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939)
1901
Monochrome hand-colored lithograph

Alphonse Mucha’s fame was secured in December 1894 with his poster for Sardou’s play Gismonda  starring Sarah Bernhardt, one of the greatest actresses of the time. Mucha’s design with its new unconventional style gave birth to “Le style Mucha,” as Art Nouveau was known in its earliest days. His style continues to influence artists, as can clearly be seen in Eloy’s 1989 poster for La bella del Alhambra.

Image credit: Mucha, Sarah. Alphonse Mucha: Celebrating the Creation of the Mucha Museum, Prague (Prague : Mucha Ltd.: Malcolm Saunders, 2000), p. 69. La Blonde, design from Documents décoratifs plate 45 (1902).

Fresa y chocolate

Fresa y chocolate

Hubert Delestre
1999
Strawberry and Chocolate, directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío (1993)

Synopsis:  Diego, a cultivated, skeptical young gay man, falls in love with David, a heterosexual communist full of prejudices and doctrinaire ideas. A great friendship eventually develops between the two men, overcoming incomprehension and intolerance.

In the poster, Delestre symbolizes the contrasting natures of the two lead characters in his choice of imagery. In the film, Diego choses strawberry ice cream instead of the universally preferred chocolate. David initially views this with suspicion. As Diego explains: “I couldn’t resist the temptation. I love strawberry! It’s the one good thing made in Cuba.”  

Fresa y Chocolate broke box office attendance records in Cuba and achieved world-wide recognition, winning important awards and also becoming the first Cuban movie nominated for a Best Foreign Film award at the Oscars. Directors Alea and Tabío also worked together on Guantanamera  (1995), Titón’s last film.

El elefante y la bicicleta

Camel Turkish Gold cigarettes

El elefante y la bicicleta

Eduardo Marín (b. 1965) and Manuel Marzel
1995
The Elephant and the Bicycle, directed by Juan Carlos Tabío (1994)

Synopsis:  After two years in jail, in 1925 a man returns to the island of La Fe, ruled by the dictator Francisco Gavilán. He arrives with a movie projector and shows Robin Hood to the people. The next day the bridge that communicates La Fe to the mainland is destroyed, and the people plan to overthrow Gavilán. The title refers to a scene in which children argue over the shape of a cloud in the sky: is it an elephant or a bicycle?

The design of this poster is a clever parody on the famous Camel cigarettes package and incorporates the brand’s distinctive typography. The split image mimics the effect of watching a reel-to-reel film.

Foreign Films

Harakiri

Harakiri

Antonio Fernandez Reboiro (b. 1935)
1964
切腹 [Seppuku/Harakiri], directed by Masaki Kobayashi (1962)

Synopsis:  An elder samurai warrior, instead of committing seppuku (ritual suicide, better known in the West by the colloquial term harakiri) after his lord was deposed, was ordered to stay alive.

Reboiro’s poster for Harakiri won a prize in the International Film Poster Competition organized by The Cinema Sixteen Society of Ceylon (Cambodia) in 1965. Its forceful and simple design, a jagged red cross, suggests the violent nature of the film without being explicit.

El enemigo principal

El enemigo principal/Jatun Auka

Artist unknown
Date unknown
Jatun Auka [The Principal Enemy], directed by Jorge Sanjinés (1973)

Synopsis:  A peasant goes to reclaim his stolen bull and is killed by the landowner, who organized the theft. Based on real events, the film analyzes the relationships between a group of guerrillas, a political avant-garde and the peasants in a specific area of the Andes. Jatun auka is Quechua for the principal enemy.

Que paso con Baby Jane

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? DVD

¿Qué pasó con Baby Jane?

Pablo René Azcuy Cárdenas (1939 – 2019)
c. 1962
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, directed by Robert Aldrich (1962)

Synopsis:  Two aging film actresses live as virtual recluses in an old Hollywood mansion. Jane Hudson, a successful child star, cares for her crippled sister Blanche, whose career in later years eclipsed that of Jane. Now the two live together, their relationship affected by simmering subconscious thoughts of mutual envy, hate and revenge.

La vida provisoria

La vida provisoria

Eduardo Muñoz Bachs (1937 – 2001)
1970
A vida provisória [A Provisional Life], directed by Maurício Gomes Leite (1968)

Synopsis:  A journalist involved in a political affair is chased by two strangers who beat him and snatch away the files and papers he was carrying for a minister of state. Near to death, he has recollections of his past life and the women he loved.

La vida provisoria is a Brazilian film whose Cuban poster is noteworthy due to its graphic inspiration from the painting Guernica  (1937) by Pablo Picasso. The fleeting nature of life is expressed in this poster that visually echoes the suffering lives cut short by the Spanish Civil War.

Frenesi

Frenzy DVD

Frenesí

Antonio Pérez Ñiko (b. 1941)
1973
Frenzy, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1972)

Synopsis:  A serial killer is murdering London women with a necktie. The police have a suspect…  but he’s the wrong man.

Cria cuervos

Cría cuervos

Eduardo Muñoz Bachs (1937 – 2001)
1977
Raise Ravens, directed by Carlos Saura (1976)

Synopsis:  Disturbed eight-year-old Ana lives in Madrid with her two sisters and mourns the death of her mother, whom she conjures as a ghost. The film subtly evokes both the complex feelings of childhood and the struggles of a nation emerging from the shadows.

Madre Juana de los angeles

Madre Juana

Madre Juana de los angeles

Rafael Morante Boyerizo (b. 1931)
1963
Matka Joanna Od Aniolów [Mother Joan of the Angels], directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz (1962)

Synopsis:  Father Suryn has been sent to investigate a case of demonic possession at a nearby convent after a local priest was burnt for sexually tempting the nuns. He meets the abbess, Mother Joan, said to be the most possessed of all the nuns. Father Suryn will have to go to hell and back to save Joan, casting himself forever into darkness for her salvation.

Heroes & Characters

Espiral

Alicia poster

Espiral

Artist unknown
Spiral, directed by Miriam Talavera (1992)

Synopsis:  Cuban prima ballerina assoluta and choreographer Alicia Alonso (1920 – 2019) prepares for a performance.

Alonso has been the subject of several Cuban documentaries at different stages of her professional career. She was the founding director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and the mentor of a generation of international ballet stars.

and

Alicia

Antonio Pérez Ñiko (b. 1941)
Alicia, directed by Victor Casaus

Elpidio Valdés y el fusil

Elpidio Valdés y el fusil

Eduardo Muñoz Bachs (1937 – 2001)
1980
Elpidio Valdés and the Rifle, directed by Juan Padrón (1979)

Synopsis:  Elpidio Valdés tells the story of a mambí who wins a modern rifle thanks to his shooting skill with his old gun.

Elpidio Valdés, created by animator Juan Padrón in 1974, is the revolutionary Cuban answer to American comic books and animated movies. The hero is a mambí  (independence war soldier) who fights against the Spanish colonial rulers at the end of the 19th century. This character and those around him show the values that the new revolution should embrace such as courage and faith in the revolutionary process.

Che, entre leyendas

Korda photo of Che

Che, entre leyendas

Fabián Muñoz Díaz (b. 1972)
1989
Che, Among Legends, directed by Rebeca Chávez

Synopsis:  Harry Villegas, Leonardo Tamayo and Daniel Alarcón, the only survivors of Che Guevara’s guerilla band in Bolivia, talk about preparations for their last battle in October 1967. The figure of Che appears in most aspects of Cuban daily life, from state-sponsored murals to the local currency, signifying that the revolution lives on.

and

Heroic Guerrilla Fighter [detail]

Alberto Korda (1928 – 2001)
March 5, 1960
Photograph

This iconic image of the Marxist revolutionary militant was taken at a memorial service for the victims of an explosion of the French freighter La Coubre in Havana harbor. The ship was loaded with tons of grenades and munitions and the explosion killed over 100 people. The image has been reproduced countless times and became a Pop culture symbol in Andy Warhol’s 1968 silkscreen.

Image credit: “Guerrillero Heroico” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 29 March 2021

Páginas del diario de José Martí

Jose Marti photo

Páginas del diario de José Martí

Servando Cabrera Moreno (1923 – 1981)
1972
Pages from the Diary of José Martí, directed by José Massip (1972)

Synopsis:  Passages from the field diary of José Martí, Cuban intellectual and organizer of the War of Independence.

José Martí (1853 – 1895), known as the apostle of liberty, is considered the founding father of the Cuban nation. He died young during one of his first battles for Cuban independence. He is also known as one of the most influential poets and writers of the 19th century. This film mixes documentary with dramatization of some passages of his short-lived military field diary.

Servando Cabrera Moreno was a Cuban painter and supporter of the Cuban revolution. Many of his works depict the lives of Cuban peasants

and

Photograph of Jose Martí in Jamaica, 1892

Image Credit:  Bejel, Emilio. José Martí: Images of Memory and Mourning (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), fig. 1.6.

Fidel aprieta que a Cuba se respeta

Fidel aprieta que a Cuba se respeta

Eduardo Muñoz Bachs (1937 – 2001)
1980
Fidel Demands that Cuba be Respected

Fidel Castro was the revolutionary leader who governed Cuba as Prime Minister from 1950 to 1976, and as President from 1976 to 2008. Under Castro, Cuba became the first country in the Western hemisphere to adopt Communism, with a one-party socialist state in control.

In Bachs’s humorous caricature Uncle Sam’s arms are bound by a length of reel-to-reel film, suggesting the cinematic arts are greater in Cuba than the U.S.

Film Festivals

Muestra de filmes salvados por FIAF

Chaplin photo

Muestra de filmes salvados por FIAF

Nestor Coll (b. 1948)
1990
Showing of Films Saved by The International Federation of Filmed Archives (FIAF)

and

Charlie Chaplin in The Pilgrim, a silent film produced by First National Film Company, 1923

In this film, Chaplin plays an escaped prisoner who steals a minister’s clothing in order to hide his identity. This leads him on an unforeseen chain of events.

Image Credit:  Chaplin, Charlie. My Life in Pictures (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1975), p. 200.

Cinemateca de Cuba 45 aniversario

Cinemateca de Cuba 45 aniversario

Montes de Oca
2004
45th Anniversary of Cuban Cinema

Cinema Cubano/XIII festival internacional del nuevo cinema Latinoaméricano

Cinema Cubano/XIII festival internacional del nuevo cinema Latinoaméricano

Roberto Matta (1911 – 2002)
1992
Cuban Cinema/XIII International Festival of New Latin American Cinema

The Festival Internacional de Cine Latinoamericano (International Festival of the New Latin American Cinema) is one the most important events of its type in Latin America and has been celebrated each year in Havana since 1979.

The International School of Cinema, Television and Video of San Antonio de los Baños was founded in 1985 and is supported by the Fundación del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano; its president is Gabriel García Márquez. There, hundreds of young students from all over Latin America have studied direction, script, photography and editing.

This poster is significant due to the event’s prominence as well as the renown of the late Chilean artist Roberto Matta, a leading Surrealist painter and printmaker recognized throughout Europe and America.

III Muestra nacional de nuevos realizadores

III Muestra nacional de nuevos realizadores

Lázaro Abreu Padrón (b. 1941)
2004
Third National Showing of New Directors

Marilyn Monroe in memoriam

Marilyn Monroe in memoriam

Pablo René Azcuy Cárdenas (1939 – 2019)
1967
In Memory of Marilyn Monroe

This documentary about the life and career of the legendary film star was released five years after her death by drug overdose. It is one of the few Cuban film posters featuring a photographic image of an actor’s face. The photographer has not been identified.

Acknowledgments: 

Art Curator: LuLen Walker
Guest curators from 2009: Alvaro Baquero-Pecino, Pedro Cruz and Patricia A. Soler
Web page: Stephanie Hughes