Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Old Man Bebo": a gentle documentary, from Cuba to northern Sweden

Tonight (Wed. April 22) FilmfestDC presented “Old Man Bebo”, (film website) a celebration of the life of Cuban mambo musician Bebo Valdes (actually named Ramón Emilio Valdés Amaro according to Wikipedia, born in 1918 near Havana, now living (at 91) near Malaga, Spain. The film (110 min) is directed by Carlos Carcas and was produced in Spain.

The video projection is cropped to look like 2.35:1 with room beneath the cropping for subtitles. There are many stills, some of them old and in black and white, especially of Cuba long before Castro.

The film discusses his music style, and mentions “impressionism” and the use of ninth chords.

The most interesting part of the film occurs in the middle, as it accounts for Bebo’s reaction to the arrival of Communism and Castro. Bebo wanted to be “neutral” but was told by clubs that his appearance could cause them to become targeted. “You’re for the revolution or you’re against it”. You couldn’t be just neutral.

So he wound up in Sweden, and some of the photography late in the film shows his favorite outdoor areas north of the Arctic Circle. (I visited iron mining town Kiruna myself in August, 1972.) There is a passage where he says that the most important value in his life is his family. Later he would have surgery that could have paralyzed him, but he remained an effective pianist, not really needing “left hand alone” literature. Late in the film there are some recording sessions.

There have been a couple of major indie films about the pre-Castro period in Cuba recently, including "Dirty Dancing, Havana Nights" (Miramax) and "The Lost City" with Andy Garcia (Magnolia). And don't forget Fine Line's "Before Night Falls" (2000) about gay Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas.

Picture: Kiruna City Hall, from Wikipedia, republished under a GNU commons license (“copyleft”) explained here. I believe I recall this building from my visit, but Wikipedia says that the city will be relocated in 2010. Bebo would be familiar with this area. When I was in Scandanavia then, I crossed the Arctic Circle twice on the train, once between Trondheim and Bodo, and then coming back to Stockholm from Kiruna (originally from Narvik – itself a city covered earlier on CNBC as having horrific losses in the 2008 financial crisis!). This movie brought back memories of my own coming of age.

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