THE LAST SUPPER (LA ÚLTIMA CENA) (1976)

Filmic Context:  Print - Video - Online

Print Resources

Anonymous.  Editorial.  Cineaste 22.2 (1996):  1.

The editorial board of Cineaste pays tribute to Alea who, though he was a Cuban revolutionary, remained a pleasant man to be around, whose "wit and candor were a constant joy, whatever the political climate of the day."  The Last Supper is mentioned briefly as a film in which Alea "plumbed the ideological roots of Cuba's experience of slavery."  The writers think of Alea fondly when they went to hear him speak at the eleventh annual meeting of the Association of Third World Studies held in Tacoma in 1993, where Alea discussed the filmmaker's option to show reality or hide it:  "A filmmaker could hypnotize an audience or try to connect with it.  A filmmaker could inculcate a sense that the world is like it is and that there is no way of changing it, or the filmmaker could seek to stimulate the audience to criticism and participation."  The article works as a eulogy, a benefit to anyone beginning to look at Alea's work.

Bogle, Donald.  Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks:  An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films.  New York:  Viking, 1973.

Bogle finds the criticism of the black in American film before and at the time this book is written to be both insufficient and misleading.  He finds that what Peter Noble and critics like him from years past "clearly failed to see was what certain black actors accomplished with even demeaning stereotyped roles" (9).  Bogle's work, then, attempts to do these performances justice.  Moving through American movie history decade by decade, Bogle examines how the performances by blacks in the assigned roles of the times helped to move beyond such roles as the jester, the mamie, and the servant.  Bogle sees his own time as an opportunity for the black to take an equal place in film to the whites, largely due to the work of preceding generations.

Cripps, Thomas.  Slow Fade to Black:  The Negro in American Film, 1900-1942.  New York: Oxford UP, 1993.

Cripps examines the role of the black in film during the first half of the twentieth century, particularly with films written and created by Afro-Americans.  Cripps cites the fact that American films notoriously depict the blacks as a clearly inferior and dangerous group as the primary reason for the book.  Looking through a variety films, Cripps gives kudos to several directors and actors who move beyond the barriers placed on the black by Hollywood such as Lucia Lynn Moses, a black actress of the 1920's.

Dauphin, Gary.  "Motion Pictures."  Village Voice 44.4 (1999): 64.

The Last Supper is briefly mentioned as one of Alea's better accomplishments and compared to a trilogy of slave films by Cuban filmmaker Sergio Giral.  For Dauphin, Alea's film is a work that "nervily recasts the New Testament with 12 slaves and their owner, who sits down to dine with them in order to prove (mostly to himself) his essential good nature. Supper uses a mix of absurdity and brutality to approximate the unthinkable realities of widespread chattel slavery while also linking it to features of contemporary Cuban society:  the peculiar apostolic rationalism of socialism, old-line Christianity, the island's color caste system, and its syncretic Afro-Catholic religions" (64).  For Dauphin the film is among the more didactic of slave films, and Alea is to be commended for pushing these moral lessons on his viewer.

Davis, Natalie Zemon.  Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000.  41-68.

Chapter-length comparison with Burn! (1969) and the article by Mraz below are the best inm-depth studies on the film.

Miller, Paul B., and Dennis West.  "Memories of Underemployment, Thirty Years Later:  An Interview with Sergio Corrieri." Cineaste 23.2 (1999):  20-23.

Sergio Corrieri, now working in the Cuban government,  worked with Tomás Gutiérrez Alea both in The Last Supper (what part he played is never clear) and Memories of Underdevelopment, what has largely been considered Alea's masterpiece.  Corrieri brings up The Last Supper in passing, crediting it as a film where Alea was able to exploit the strengths of his actors.  Corrieri comes back to the film later in the interview, saying that what he likes most about the film is that it is "raw and tough," qualities which Corrieri believes make it a better film than Alea's Strawberry and Chocolate.

Mraz, John.  "Recasting Cuban Slavery:  The Other Francisco and The Last Supper.”  Based on a True Story:  Latin American History at the Movies.  Ed. Donald R. Stevens.  Wilmington:  S.R. Books, 1997.
106-22.

For Mraz The Last Supper offers “a Hollywoodian window onto the world of the past” (107).  While the majority of Mraz’s focus is on The Other Francisco, the concentration of Mraz’s work on Alea’s film examines the representation of the necessity of Christian doctrine for the slaves, something the film shows is in constant conflict with the actual work the slaves have to do on the plantation.  The Count’s motives, while seemingly well intentioned, are dismissed around him as outdated and foolish by the whites, insane by the blacks.  Mraz finds that the best accomplishment of the film is that it “has opened a window onto the past rather than constructed a particular version of it” (121).  With this contribution in mind, the article approves of Alea’s construction of the plantation history of Cuba, a satisfying version of what history ought to be.

Representacion extendida por Don Diego Miguel de Moya y firmada por casi todos los duenos de ingenios de la jurisdiccion, en enero 19 de 1790.

Alea's film seems to be based on the incident described in this document.  The piece is unavailable in English and attempts to locate it have been unsuccessful up to this point.  The information is given by Fraginals.

Ruby, Rich B.  "Tomas Gutierrez Alea 1928-1996." The Village Voice Apr. 1996:  62.

Ruby discusses Alea’s life, focusing on the time Ruby spent with Alea when he traveled to Cuba with a group of Americans in 1978 to learn about Cuban film.  The Last Supper is mentioned as proof that Titon (how Alea was known by those close to him) dedicated the majority of his work to themes of injustice and oppression.  The article details Alea’s life before Castro’s forces won the revolution, although Ruby’s bias becomes obvious by the article's end:  “You couldn't ask for a better friend; Cuba couldn't have asked for a better supporter, compatriot, or symbol."  The article serves best as a background provider of Alea’s life and personality, certainly not as unbiased evaluation of Alea’s work.

Smith, Valerie, ed.  Representing Blackness:  Issues in Film and Video.  New Jersey:  Rutgers UP, 1997.

The position and criticism of the black in film has changed rapidly since black migrations from the rural South into urban centers in the North and West.  As opportunities and wages for the black remained low, the black became synonomous with these urban centers.  This fact becomes a starting point for this collection of essays, including pieces by James Snead, Thomas Cripps, and David Van Leer.  Smith's selections seek to intervene in the debates concerning black representation in visual media, showing how these debates have been presented and criticized.  The films covered are diverse, ranging from Birth of a Nation to Van Leer's piece on Black gay and lesbian film.  While the topics are hard to keep related, all deal with the changing and challenging role of writer and actor in moving beyond the stereotypical role of the black in film.

Snead, James.  White Screens, Black Images:  Hollywood from the Dark Side.  Ed. Colin MacCabe and Cornel West.  New York:  Routledge, 1994.

James Snead died in 1989.  This book is an attempt to unify and complete several pieces Snead had been working on or completed up until his passing.  Several films where the black is exploited or misrepresented are the focus of the essays, examining such films as King Kong and Birth of a Nation.  Snead claims that, while Birth of a Nation is an attempt to reunite the northerner and the southerner, the black desire for and need of justice gets lost in the equation.  Snead's chapter on female, black film stars in the thirties is definitely work looking at, where Snead claims that Mae West and other white, female stars of the time became succesful through the complicity and encouragment of black women.

Taylor, Clyde.  The Mask of Art:  Breaking the Aesthetic Contract in Film and Literature.  Indianapolis:  Indiana UP, 1998.

Taylor's book focuses on what he calls the "politics of representation," challenging the viewer of aesthetic pieces to resist the world he is told to believe in when he experiences a piece of art.  Taylor focuses much of his work on the "Black Aesthetic," a group he feels began with the intention of working against the largely white power structure that dictated the subjects and messages of art, but soon found themselves furthering the control of the power structure they were supposed to be fighting against.  Through sensory manipulation in painting, music, and film, Taylor sees a need for artist and audience to transcend beyond their presumed roles and look beyond the worlds they are told to present and believe.

See also:

Alea, Toma Gutierrez.  "The Viewer's Dialectic."  New Latin American Cinema.  Vol. 1.  Ed. Michael T. Martin.  Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1997.  108-31.

Caetano, Maria do Rosario.  Cineastas Lation-Americanos: Entrevistas e Filmes.  Sao Paulo: Estacao Liberdade, 1997.  151-58.

Chijona, Gerardo.  "La Ultima Cena: Entrevista a Tomas Gutierrez Alea."  Cine Cubano 93 (1977): 81-89.

Downing, John.  "Four Films of Tomas Gutierrez Alea." Film and Politics in the Third World.  New York: Praeger, 1988.  279-301.

Video Resources

A Son of Africa.  California Newsreel, 1996.

Olaudah Equiano, an African forced into slavery who travelled the world under several different masters and eventually bought his freedom, wrote one of the first slave narratives to earn national recognition.  This piece is a docudrama based on Equiano's autobiography. Equiano's life is shown as best as it could be in twenty-nine minutes.  The journey begins with Equiano being kidnapped around his home in West Africa, with special attention being paid to his methods of educating himself and surviving in the white world.  A good source for examining the dramatization of the slave narrative, though extremely brief considering the subject matter covered.

Tales from Havana.  S.I., 1993.  Unseen; information from WorldCat.

An interview with Alea, concentrating on his 1968 film Memories of Underdevelopment.  Alea discusses the government's policies towards film making, art, and responses to American film.

Online Resources

STANLEY KAUFFMANN ON FILMS: HUMAN RITES.
http://www.thenewrepublic.com/magazines/tnr/archive/07/072898/kauffmann072897.html

Kauffmann looks at Alea's last film, Guantanamera.  He pays close attention to the progression of Alea's work since Memories of Underdevelopment put him on the foreign directors' map.  Alea, who once was a strong supporter of Castro's regime, creates a film that mocks the revolution on many levels.
 
 

Copyright (c) 2000  by Sean Patrick Magee, Graduate student at Lehigh University.

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