Missing Cuba’s Saturday Night Movies Was Unforgivable

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez

Photo: Sara Waisvisz

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 10 — Crushed. That’s how I would feel whenever I failed to fight off my sleepiness before the start of the Saturday night movies on Cuban TV. That was back in the ‘90s, but those memories still live within me.

We didn’t have a TV at home, which made it difficult for me to program my eyelids well ahead of the beginning of the first film on Saturday. I remember always being kept in a limbo of uncertainty.

Many times I woke up in the middle of the night with everything in the house turned off, which meant that I was faced with the terrible reality of there being an interminable six-day wait before seeing the “best” movies of the week. On those occasions, my efforts had been in vain.

It was as if that weekly cycle never ended. It was like Monday was connected to Friday, and all amusement would lie gutted if I proved too weak to cope with my fatigue on Saturday.

Starting on those Saturdays, my expectations would begin to form in my mind about the two films coming within the next seven days. The sensationalist presenter of the tele advances (previews) would always feature the most exciting scenes and come up with ways of informing us about the approaching police suspense thriller or the nail-biting terror flic in store on midnight that weekend.

During those remaining days that separated me from Saturday night, those scenes of American beat cops or diabolic dolls never ceased to haunt me. This made television viewing an experience in photographic exorcism.

This is why whenever I missed those films that I had so anxiously awaited I was saddled with those pictures for another week, until the hopes that were stirred by the next series of previews were also dashed.

Nothing was worse for me as a teenager. I didn’t even get over the fright that caused me to rush home in the middle of the night after I finished watching the second film on Saturday, technically Sunday morning.

I remember the satisfaction of being able to predict the end of the last movie, though this was followed by the hair-raising panic of having to run two blocks to get back home as quickly as I could.

I always stayed until the owners of the apartment would let me leave, with an ironic gaze, after indicating that this neighborhood viewing exercise was over.

I remember when they premiered “Choqui. El muñeco diabolico (“Chuckie,” in the movie Child’s Play). I saw it at the house of a sailor who lives on the block. His modern color TV was the best place to enjoy the premiere.

The bad part, though, was that his house was at the end of a dark tenement surrounded by lots of trees. I knew that getting home would be hard. Still, I couldn’t fight the temptation of seeing that bright red blood gushing out of people on a color TV.

On those nights, I would get home with my heart beating fast. It only took a matter of seconds for me to reach home, but never had such fear entered my soul as when I ran down those lonely back streets on those eerily silent nights.

Still, nothing was more frustrating than to miss those experiences, with their joys and sorrows.

Now my tastes have changed. I almost never watch television, and I don’t remember when was the last time I watched a Saturday night movie.

Currently new technologies, the tepid reforms in television programming and illegal satellite dish broadcasts have pushed those Saturday night films on channel six into the background. The audiovisual entertainment now flows throughout the week.

Such is the passing of time; it changes everything in an apparently paradoxical manner.

Now my weekly cycle ends in morbidly idle rest on Sundays. It’s my day of resting up from the weekdays. I do nothing but vegetate.

From time to time, I’ll take a look at the five government channels on Cuban television and I might stumble on a Saturday night movie. Now, though, these only serve as reminders that the next day will be Sunday, or that it’s getting late and I need to finish my chores before going to bed.

But sometimes they don’t make me think about that. Sometimes, when I find the undisputed style of an action movie, a bit of nostalgia comes over me. It’s a feeling that makes one aware of a conviction.

You gradually leave behind many things, but there never remain empty spaces for what was once welcomed. It’s as if we preserve some of the superficial details so as not to subtract too much importance from what we once lived.


Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.