In Cuba it is well known from Frank Padrón (Pinar del Río, 1958): essayist, art critic and cultural promoter. For twenty years Frank has been the host and critical commentator of the television space Cine de Nuestra América. This media platform exhibits him fairly as an influential figure of what it looks like and what it looks like in audiovisual matters. Some ignore how much the author had to spend, among others, from Beyond the Lantern and The Filmmaker inside me. More than thirty years in the magazine Cine Cubano (1984-2015), to remain in the preference of many viewers. Others do not imagine that he has been training in the exercise of judgment from a very young age. Not only television, but radio, newspapers and the magazine world have recorded and recorded their presence. If today his name provokes respect and controversy, it is due to Frank’s intellectual commitment to his readers, for his critical writing on film, for example, is colloquial and serious, entertaining and fraternal. Legitimizing yourself as a writer in an art as legitimized by its own codes and history as cinema seems like an easy task, but it’s quite the opposite. What about a plot without telling it or how to address a topic that, appreciated or not by other viewers, has an impact on both the promotion and reception of the cinematic work? With Frank there are no half-inks: when he understands that he has to have an opinion on a film, one has no choice but to attend to it. Perhaps, in the field of criticism, he is not everyone’s favorite, but he has been more than a well-known audience winner. There are the books that enable this popular insider of Cuban film criticism. Between family and other unusual questions, Frank Padron dares to answer them all.
What is a film critic for you?
“An emulo of Sagittarius (which by the way, for those who follow these subjects, is my sign); that man or woman who unravels, analyses, who disrespects – and sometimes tears apart, even if that is part of ‘bad fame’; that helps in the understanding not only of one-off works but of cinematic phenomena; that places films in context(s); He reviews, reviews and turns them like a glove to bring conclusions and judgments, which he shares with his potential recipients, companions on that wonderful journey that goes from the screen to the brain, to the heart and to every cell and neuron in the case of those we have made of those visits to the cinema, not only a profession but a whole priesthood.”
What is film criticism for?
“I think I partly answer you with my previous words, but, over looking for a few messes with too passionate directors, actors and viewers (who don’t admit dissent and are responsible for that black legend: ‘what the critic says…’) I think serves – or at least should serve – to help better understand that complex world that is cinema or , as you know, audiovisual, using a broader and more contemporary term. It does not seem to me, as the enemies of this practice claim, that it is a question of imposing personal criteria, just opening a door, hindering certain windows to understanding and understanding.
“There are many prejudices. When I started I would sometimes listen to people who said of me, speaking in the third person, ‘He is one of those who catches the flaws in the movies.’ I think it is above all about making comprehensive, deep, systemic analyses, where that work of art appears in a clearer and more visible way, and in any case, of sharing an experience, of dialogue with the other than before a digital or printed page, before TV or radio, allows us to enter its peculiar worldview and leave some ideas , criteria and concepts before or after the experience of watching a film.”
Of the most accurate and precious comments found by this reader in The Cursed Profession there is one I wish to quote: “Addressing the issue of criticism is something that demands not no longer isolated essays, but books, continuous volumes; like everything complex, it does not sell out, it does not accept consensus, and ultimately how well it is, because it maintains vitality and vividness, fire and flow, and with it, renewal, constant contributions, the crossing of arms (and souls) that, among others, demonstrate not the legitimacy of criticism, but its eternal need, its indispensable function in cultural processes , which should not be underlined either, is in its own right.” Fourteen years later, do you confirm these approaches? And don’t you think that these “continued volumes” – not yet written or at least assembled – could also become a kind of review of Cuban and international cinema while constituting a testament to cultural interests and (dis)tastes?
“For thank you for the praise and I do subscribe to these approaches; The cursed profession is one of my most beloved film books, because in addition to so many other topics that I address, there I set out to reflect on criticism itself, as the title announces with some irony because, as you know, no matter how much we love it and consider it blessed, it is a profession that is not pleasant and quite misunderstood, so anatheized and often repudiated , proscribed, even if it is not expressed in this way or disguised by its detractors.
“On the second part of your question I also answer yes, only that after the book came out that year 2005 by the Editorial Oriente, it has rained quite a bit with regard to film literature; for example, the editor of ICAIC has been much more consolidated with not a few and several titles that try to cover cinema from multiple angles, and others, in addition to the santiaguera (which to the truth, was pioneer and avant-garde in this regard), which also deal but to a lesser extent with cinema. Of course, it is never enough, therefore, we should not stop to the extent that the ever-limited resources allow it, so that we continue as you say, ‘reviewing the thought about cinema…’ everywhere.”
While there are specialized receptions in different artistic spheres, there are critics with knowledge who write very well and do so on more than one cultural manifestation. By the way, what do you think about someone steadfast as a cultural critic?
“Well, look who you’re asking that to. I get a little when I’m placed alone in film, although I understand it because a TV show is a very visible tip of an iceberg, but, as you know well, for many years I’ve been writing and in many other media about so many other manifestations: theatre, music, literature (which was ultimately what I graduated from college). But that lexema would have to be somewhat differentiated and with a greater perspective than that of the cultural press, with all due respect. A cultural critic must go beyond the specific ‘inventory’ of a work and delv into analyses that also have to do with the aesthetic, axiological, sociological, cultural scopes in short; for that, of course, besides not little culture and power of analysis, it takes more than a mere review, or it would have to be a more ambitious, essayistic, that allows its author to immerse himself thoroughly in all those coordinates, so imbricated and complex.”
Who, in the field of film criticism, were your greatest influences, both Cuban and foreign?
“I always mention first of all my teacher, by the way, someone also very close to you geographically and intellectually, although you are of a later generation: the pine forester José Alberto Lezcano. Although as a child I read to ‘national’ critics (Nicolás Cossío, Mario Rodríguez Alemán…), the chronicles of our daily life in the local newspaper inspired me by its grace, metaphorical style and multicultural references. At first, as always happens, I imitated it, then I think I gradually achieved what they call ‘own style’. Then other readings and studies were shaping my work not only critical but essayistic: from José Martí – who is my ‘guardian god’ in so many fields not only deeds –, Mirta Aguirre, Portuondo, Marinello… even a younger colleague who has influenced us in one way or another, all of them: Rufo Caballero. He was a great friend who, although younger, surpassed me in several fields of study, and although sometimes, in our frequent phone talks, he consulted me or commented on some theoretical aspect, I know that it ‘happened to me’ in certain areas that he was tracking and incorporating like no one else to form that original voice that it means.
“However, it is not precisely the film analysts, although I have read and consulted them, who have marked me the most, but theorists and scholars of the most diverse branches of art; the essential Desiderio Navarro always said that I was one of the most applied students of Criteria, that magazine, center, school! that he led with zeal and passion until his death, to the point that I was one of the few who commented on the books that came out of this monumental effort to nurture our critics and essayists of the international avant-garde in such lands.
“I started my work in essayism, both in film and other fields, very influenced by the Spaniard Carlos Bousoño, by the German School of Philology, many of whose tools I acquired in ours, where I graduated. Then came the Russian formalists, the French structuralists, the semiotics… names such as Lotman, Mukarovsky, Bajtin, Paul de Man, Eco and of course Barthes and Foucault have been headline authors, along with everything that has followed and continues to motivat us, even if it is to polemize or dissent, but that always enriches: narratology, feminist and queer studies, the ‘postcolonial’… yes, I’m a sponge, but I delimit myself, feed myself and prepare my own dishes.”
What might be the tools that writing for the radio can give to the critics or essayists of a more specialized publication?
“I’ve been writing for radio since my beginnings. First literally, that is, a text for it to be said by announcers and drivers; then I started doing it in my own voice… to this day. In reality, this practice, or that which is carried out for another similar medium (TV) can bring a little freshness and dynamism to the more complex writing involving criticism and even greater, essayism, as it means that in these you have to develop ideas in tight spaces and complex enough, which implies an undoubted conceptual density that often entails convoluted and under-affordable wording , in a nut words, the famous ‘metatranca’. I don’t know if I’ve made it, but a lot of people who read me say, ‘I think I hear you talking,’ which, for sure, I don’t know if it’s a compliment. For some, colloquialism and diaphanousness are an unworthy sin of great essayists, but I have never been bored reading Martí, Octavio Paz, Vargas Llosa, nor have I stopped learning how much they have to teach me because they are clear and simple, however profound and difficult they ‘rehearse'”.
Dissenting or supporting other people’s ideas to structure their own comment doesn’t seem to help faster and more comfortable production? What do you think of criticism dependent on other people’s texts?
“Sometimes there are criticism-responses, (in)directly or not, or metatextual criticisms, which endorse other people’s criteria, and as you say, stand on so many quotes that one ignores right where the author says. Mirta Aguirre called them with her characteristic humor ‘posadas’ (dating houses). I’ve never liked that procedure; when it comes to it because it is essential, and above all so that one does not believe that one pretends to be discovering the Mediterranean when someone has already commented on it, it is timely, but the truth is that I do not have the ‘citerío’. You lose space, originality, opportunity to develop your own ideas…”.
What is another author’s film book you would have liked to write?
“Any essay by Pauline Kael, for example, or Susan Sontag. But no, I really settle for mine: good, regular or bad, but essential, deep, tremendously mine.”
Even if you can soon become sure of the deficiencies of an audiovisual, are you one of those who stay until the last minute of what you see or consider not to waste your time?
“We all commit that sin when we make up the jury at an event. In front of the marathon it is important to stop and not follow when you realize that it doesn’t give the thing anymore… albeit consensually; if any other member wants to see to the end it is necessary to follow, but I usually do not do so when I am alone in front of that text – which is the most common – out of respect for the work, the filmmaker, oneself.”
How many times do you have to watch a movie to comment on it?
“It depends, some, several times; others, with one enough… and even on average.”
Just classics or all kinds of movies, including regular and bad ones, for the formation of the critic?
“There is a first stage where watching bad cinema is also learned (or maybe it happens always?); let’s say, what should not be a film, how not to do it, despite all the subjectivity that this entails. Then, at certain heights of the championship, as I am now… come on, don’t overdo it.”
Your favorite movie.
“I have thousands.”
A favorite film director.
An actor and an actress of the past.
“Orson Welles, Liv Ullman.”
An overrated current film.
“Crash (the one that knocked Brokeback Mountain down from the Oscar)”.
A film that, despite a very widespread criterion against it, you defend at all costs.
“It would be better to speak otherwise. I don’t like Casablanca or Hair, had untouchable classics, and I haven’t written well about them.”
What is your favorite film genre and the one you hate the most?
“Actually, anyone who ‘tells me’ something, provokes me or just entertains me, that we’re not going to minimize that elementary, primary, function of the seventh art. I’m not comfortable with war movies, even though I recognize its great moments that even continue to occur today.”
Beyond the prizes and praise of friends and connoisseurs of your books, which one is most accomplished for you?
“You are asking a father to choose among his children. and I have a prole. Look, even if you ask me to ignore readers, you always have to count on them because one, however objective it tries to be, never has enough distance. Criticism, thank God, has treated me well, in any genre and in general terms. Some of those people who follow me (I have my little audience, yes) have told me that The Cook… it’s my best book; as you know, even if you paraphrase a film title, it is not exactly a text about cinema, but more about the rest of the arts, because I had already pressed the gastronomic theme in Co-cinema. I like both volumes, since I choose I privilege those books where I have developed, or tried at least, a thesis covering the full text, because I have also made several compilations, which are always useful as panoramic, but not as motivating as when you ‘rehearse’ on specific issues with their variations and nuances.
“Among the latter I would not hesitate to decide for The Condor passes. Towards a theory of ‘ourmerican’ cinema (2011, Union Editions), a book that began to receive awards (Reason of Being, Bolivar-Martí Scholarship of the Cultural ALBA…) even before being, as a project and with only a few chapters finished, clearer that the preference does not go for that, although it always helps, but because of the originality of thought there; as the subtitle reads, an attempt to analyze films, authors, actors, periods, movements within cinema in Latin America that have consolidated the idea of the ‘Big Homeland’ dreamed of by our patriarchs; in this sense, although always governed by aesthetic parameters, it is a book above all political even if that character is dormant, somewhat subterrate, but I think it has been somewhat useful when I see that a good number of students and scholars consult and quote it.”
What film writing project are you in these days?
“I am almost in the journal with media commitments, but right now I am not busy with the subject at the macro level, such as essays or books; I keep writing, as always (the day I stop doing it will be the end), but not exactly about film.”
What happens to you when, already published a text of yours or book, you feel that you have not succeeded in an assessment?
“It hurts; I regret rushing or not valuing more and better; it happens above all to those of us who suffer (and enjoy) diarism; rarely when the stand is more rested, you know, larger texts, where one can come back and… revolver, but it has happened. Luckily in this, as in everything, there are always second chances.”
Do you think there were more critics and film criteria if there was more than one magazine about the seventh art in Cuba?
“Of course, but we are limited by material resources; having at least one and visible presence in other more general magazines in itself costs work. Welcome, however, to all the diaries, seminars, messuary and supports (luckily, of these digitally there are several) where thought diversifies, multiplies and therefore arrives more.”
What has cinema meant to Frank Padron?
“Many nights and evenings and mornings swallowing, nourishing me, enjoying…; countless minutes, hours, days, years, decades of vision, reflection, study and further embossing in humble quartets; a lifetime dreaming, analyzing, reflecting; in short: pleasure, duty, profession and all together, at once, as one of those superproductions that cost a lot but reward at least visually, and although I told you that I didn’t love dating very much, I evoke right now the blunt definition of one of the greats, as well as another of my favorite directors, swede Ingmar Bergman when he said that cinema was ‘the pursuit of happiness’; well, at least I can tell you that I’ve found her quite often in movie theaters all my life.”
Has it been worth being a film critic in a country where many think they speak with ownership about everything, while others still disparage this “pretty dangerous and ungrateful work,” in your own words?
“Definitely and without a minimum of doubt. To the point where I close with a common place, but really sincerely, ‘If I were born again…'”. Ω