Remembering Cuba’s Neighborhood Cinemas

Dariela Aquique

The old ABCDF movie theater on Calle Santo Tomás, Santiago de Cuba.

I used to get impatient on Sundays waiting to go with my brother and the neighbors to see the matinée adventure movies that were shown at the “Capitolio,” the cinema in the Santiago de Cuba neighborhood where I lived as a child.

The prowess of the superheroes, with their capes and swords, made us applaud and cry.  We girls dreamt of those gallant figures as the boys imitated their gestures.

After sundown, they would change the marquee and the posters announcing the next movie to be shown.  Around that time couples would come in, hand in hand, to find some spot where they could kiss during the darkened scenes of some sentimental drama.

The cinema offered interesting and varied programming for all ages and tastes.  They had everything from classic westerns, terror, musicals, suspense, and even the corniest of Mexican productions.  These would all find a faithful public that would cram through the enormous glass doors of that or any other cinema in the neighborhoods of my city twenty years ago.

These days cinemas aren’t a ready option for lovers to hide in the shadows or for children’s Sunday-afternoon excursions.  The majority of the old neighborhood cinemas no longer exist.

Many of the buildings that these theaters once occupied are now abandoned ruins that truly blight the public environment.  These places that have not been maintained for two decades, yet their remnants guard the memory of the pleasant times of a people when everything promised to be different.

Urban planning, cultural or traditional reasons haven’t been enough to get anyone busy trying to restore these sites.

Those getting on in their years can remember when they pass by the door of an abandoned cinema, the comical mischief of childhood…. that scene that was so moving or perhaps the naive declaration of love that carried with it a first kiss…

Today’s young people, on the other hand, won’t have that opportunity.  They will have to be satisfied with the gadgets for youth: listening to the most vulgar reggaeton on their MP3s, looking at political propaganda or watching movies in their computers or on DVDs (those who have these) without knowing that the big screen exists.  They won’t know that cinemas used to be in neighborhoods, as they casually walk by those sites that lie there so horrendous and strange.

A well-worn plot might seem insignificant.  They won’t be able to understand that actor (in the Italian film) who returns to his town for the funeral of the old man with whom he worked as a projectionist and finds only gloom in that once sacred place.

For that character, his Paradiso Cinema was like my old Capitolio Cinema, a warm but distant memory of childhood.


2 thoughts on “Remembering Cuba’s Neighborhood Cinemas

  • Even if I wish very much to leave my comment in English I just can’t
    “Lo que el viento se llevo”

  • Although change is the essence of life, I feel great sadness at the passing of both the neighborhood movie houses, and also the art/foreign film cinematheques. Often, after the showing of a film, we would adjourn to a nearby cafe or watering hole for a lively discussion. Often, when there was bad acting or lame dialogue, a member of the audience would embelish with some witicism. Now, the remaining cinema in my town only plays big budget Hollywood “block busters,” long on special effects and action, but short of character development or interesting stories. For these, we are reduced to either our own television, connected to a DVD, or the tiny computer panatellas. Even the “multi-plex” in the strip-mall at the edge of town has closed, and the downtown “picture palace” has been chopped up into several smaller auditoria, which now, ever since the closing of the multi-plex, has switched entirely to playing Hollywood “product.”

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