Article published in Dropline.biz on April 17, 2006
By Samuel Lieberman (co-authored by Dino M. Zaffina)
The “most powerful” executives of the major Hollywood studios are finicky. They will greenlight some films that are obvious “dogs” just because they are produced and directed by an Academy Award winning director or others with a controversial subject matter. For example, Focus Features’ co-president David Linde greenlighted Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain with a storyline that centers around two young men—a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy—who meet and fall in love during the summer of ’63, and continue this love affair even though one of them (“Ennis Del Mar” – Heath Ledger), weds his sweetheart. Many people wonder how this movie was made in such a Christian climate.
Then there are movies of a historical nature such as The Lost City that should be told; yet, Hollywood would not give Andy Garcia the go ahead for over sixteen years. Some experts surmise that it has to do with Garcia’s anti-Castro slant, and others feel that it is Hollywood’s negative stereotype of Hispanics, portraying them as gang members, prison inmates, drug traffickers, and welfare leaches.
Andy is a strong supporter of actors of Hispanic origin who have struggled through the years to receive the respect of Hollywood. “I have fought against stereotyping Hispanics and have succeeded, though I sometimes get offered that type of role,” Andy said. “In general, I am proud of all the work I’ve done, but in fact, in my most successful films, I did not play a Hispanic, but an Italian or Irishman.”
The Lost City is one story that Garcia yearned to tell—the story of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution in 1959. He was asked how long he had been pursuing his dream of making this movie. He thought for a moment and answered, “I guess it started the day I left Havana, when I was five-and-a-half years old.”
An exiled Cuban himself, Andy Garcia (born Andrés Arturo Garcia Menéndez) came to the United States with his parents in 1961 when he was just a little boy. Against enormous odds, Garcia went on to become one of Hollywood’s successful actors, starring in such hit feature films as The Untouchables, Godfather: Part III, and Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s Twelve.
In 1991, Andy formed his own production company Cineson Productions, Inc. Since then he has produced such movies as Cachao…Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos, Just the Ticket, Swing Vote, For Love or Country: The Arthuro Sandoval Story, The Man from Elysian Fields, and Modigliani. He made his directing debut with a documentary entitled Cachao…Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos based on the legendary Cuban musician Israel Lopez, known as Cachao, the musical prodigy who created the mambo. “I’m proud of that work, because in addition to debuting as a director, I did it as a tribute to Cuban music through such a fascinating character as Cachao,” Andy said.
Now, Garcia has produced and directed The Lost City,a screenplay written by Guillermo Cabrera Infante that is based in part on his novel Tres Tristes Tigres (published in English as Three Trapped Tigers). When Garcia read the novel, he knew he had found the perfect voice to help realize his longtime dream of making a film about Cuba.
Infante, a onetime supporter of the Castro regime, went into exile in 1965, first to Madrid, Spain, and later settling in London, England until his death on February 21, 2005. Andy sought out the exiled writer in London and the two set out on a journey to build The Lost City.
Infante was not new to screenwriting. He wrote the cult English film Wonderwall and worked on an adaptation of Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano for director Joseph Losey. He also wrote Vanishing Point, the 1971 film directed by Richard C. Sarafian. During an interview after the release of the film, he later commented: “I wrote a film about a man in a car with troubles and they made a film about a man with car troubles.”
In 1997, Guillermo Cabrera Infante was honored by King Juan Carlos of Spain receiving the Premio Miguel de Cervantes (the Miguel de Cervantes Prize). This award is given out annually to honor the lifetime achievements of an outstanding writer in the Spanish language. It is regarded as a type of Nobel Prize in Literature in the Spanish language. The award is named after Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quizote.
The Lost City builds like a vivid tropical fever-dream; a love story and revolution set to music against the backdrop of Havana’s turbulent transformation from lustful Caribbean destination filled with sex, gambling, and torrid nightlife under a corrupt regime, to a repressive and puritanical Marxist society at the hands of Fidel Castro and Ché Guevara. It captures Havana in full tropical bloom during the late 1950s.
Where Buena Vista Social Club commemorated an era of Cuban music before it slipped away, The Lost City captures the moment where performers like Beny More electrified audiences with that rhythm, a rhythm that made Havana the Pearl of the Antilles.
Centered in El Tropico, a nightclub roughly modeled after Havana’s famous Tropicana, proprietor Fico Fellove (Andy Garcia) tries to hold his family and club together as the dictator Batista’s (Juan Fernández) reign of terror comes crashing down around him. Ultimately, to survive, Fico must leave everything he loves.
The Lost City is every immigrant’s story—a paean to lost culture. It’s a time and place in history that still lives vividly in the imagination of the exile. And as conjured by Infante and Garcia, this is a land where rhythm can’t be exiled. You can leave the country, but the rhythm will never leave you.
Along with its original score, The Lost City sings with 40 different songs, mambos, chachachas, rumbas, toques, danzones, and boleros. Together they create an oral history of Cuba. They are love songs to an indomitable culture—that reveals itself in music, but also in dance, in poetry, in Catholicism, in African and European heritages, in Revolution, in tobacco, in Santeria and the azure sky and water that surround the island.
For both Infante and Garcia, music is the key character in the film, so the songs heard on the soundtrack represent Cuban music in its prime: Beny More, Israel Lopez “Cachao,” Roland Laserie, Bola de Nieve, and others. The songs and artists presented will be familiar to any fan of Latin music, but even without that knowledge, it’s difficult to deny The Lost City’s rhythm. You may not know what the singers are saying, yet somehow you do.
The same can be said about the Afro-Cuban rhythms and chants in The Lost City. They are an intrinsic part of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria. Specific toques or rhythms are played to invoke the orishas (deities), who themselves represent elements of life like “war” or “new beginnings” in much the same way Greek and Roman gods did. Garcia uses these “Santerian” accents, (e.g., during the attack on the palace), to dramatically up the ante and also provide a distantly Cuban subtext to the action.
The story centers on Fico and his two brothers, Luis Fellove (Nestor Carbonell) and Ricardo Fellove (Enrique Murciano). Fico owns El Tropico and tries to stay out of politics. His family comes first, but ultimately, the politics of the day tear his family apart.
Luis chose a destructive path as a terrorist and supporter of the idea of Castro’s Revolutionary talks. Luis leads a group of rebels to assassinate Batista.
The third brother, Ricardo, becomes a freedom fighter for Castro. Ricardo soon realizes that Castro is nothing more than another dictator who wants to control the people of Cuba and that everything he thought he was fighting for turned out to be a lie. The realization of Castro’s real motives came to Ricardo when his beloved uncle, Don Donoso Fellove (Richard Bradford) died of a heart attack brought on by Ricardo’s news that his Uncle’s tobacco farm is now owned by Castro’s government.
The role of the infamous mobster Meyer Lansky is brought to life by the brilliant acting of Dustin Hoffman. Lansky, in a consortium with the corrupt Batista regime, organized the Mafia’s gambling and prostitution business in Havana. Lansky always respected Fico; he was always trying to form a business partnership with him. To thank Hoffman for his participation in the movie, Garcia bought him a set of bongo drums.
Bill Murray’s character of the Writer was The Lost City’s comic relief from the movie’s serious storyline. Garcia explained how Murray came aboard. He said, “I went to call Bill to see how he liked the script, and Bill said to me, ‘Most Extraordinary movie I’ve ever read. No one is going to go and see it, but I would like to be in it,’ and in turn, I told Bill that I could only pay him in scale, which is like $3,000 a week. Bill then paused and talked to his wife to see if he should do the movie. I could hear Bill’s wife in the background telling Bill to do the movie because she thinks that I am a nice man.”
Fico’s parents Don Federico Fellove (Tomás Milian) and Doña Cecilia Fellove (Millie Perkins) worried that they would lose their one and only remaining son, so they urged him to leave Cuba for America, and go to New York City to save himself. Fico reluctantly and painfully leaves everything behind him in hopes of starting over in New York; and also in the hopes of bringing the rest of his family to America someday.
The beautiful scenery of the Dominican Republic (doubling as Cuba in the ’50s) where the movie was shot, does not hold a candle to the alluring beauty of Ines Sastre (Aurora Fellove). Fico and his sister-in-law Aurora fell in love after he promised Luis that he would care for and watch over her if his brother was killed. Their sweet love affair only lasted a short while when Aurora decided to choose Castro’s regime and her motherland of Cuba over going to America and New York City with Fico.
Andy Garcia is a staunch opponent of Fidel Castro and supports events and activities that call for Cuba’s return to democracy. “Cuba’s new leader should be a woman, because during 47 years of dictatorship, we’ve had more than enough machismo,” he said.
Now, more than 40 years have passed since he left Cuba; Garcia enjoys his life in Southern California with his wife Marivi and their four children, Andres Antonio, Dominique, Daniela, and Alessandra.
The movie opens on Friday, April 28, 2006, in selected Landmark theatres. For more information on theatre locations and times go to: www.landmarktheatres.com. The Lost City’s official website is at www.thelostcitythemovie.com.
Articles Written or Co-Authored by Dino M. Zaffina
© 2022 Dino M. Zaffina. All rights reserved.