Through a Lens Distortedly

A new documentary about Hugo Chavez plays it fast and loose

Just hours later, as Chavez supporters mass outside, that same Palace Guard dashes past with guns drawn, retaking Miraflores in Chavez's name and hunting room-to-room for the would-be coupsters. Meanwhile, rather than report on any of these changing developments, Venezuela's most popular TV station, Venevision, airs Pretty Woman and a steady diet of cartoons.

All of this is ably captured in The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. As a film it's never less than thrilling, a real-life Seven Days in May, complete with sinister-looking generals and a plucky aide-de-camp who comes to the rescue.

As a historical documentary, though, The Revolution is strictly agitprop, as one-sided as any of the coverage its directors set out to debunk. The anti-Chavez opposition is constantly referred to as nothing more than a handful of "oligarchs" and a few pampered dilettantes. Yet if the opposition is only this tiny elite, who exactly are the hundreds of thousands of protesters Bartley and O'Briain show angrily marching on Miraflores, demanding Chavez's head? And if the broad mass of Venezuela's workers support Chavez -- as the filmmakers insist -- why is the Venezuelan Workers' Federation, the country's main labor union, shown at the forefront of this same opposition?

Chavez: Castro puppet or populist hero?
Chavez: Castro puppet or populist hero?

Behind the scenes lies an even more curious alignment. Trolling the corridors of our own Capitol on Chavez's paid behalf is none other than former New York congressman and 1996 Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp -- one of his party's fiercest advocates of privatization and conservative business principles. He's hardly a man one would associate with Chavez's followers, clad in their Che Guevara T-shirts. Still, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, Kemp has met repeatedly with U.S. Department of Energy officials, hoping to smooth ruffled feathers and cement a billion-dollar increase in Venezuelan oil sales. Chavez even dispatched Kemp to visit the Journal's editorial board in the hope of damping down some of its pithier headlines, such as "Chavez's Law: The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves."

Meanwhile, acting as a media consultant to the Venezuelan opposition is the very architect of Kemp's 1996 defeat -- Democratic Party honcho James Carville. As the opposition collects signatures for a recall vote on Chavez's presidency, they're hoping Carville can work the same electoral magic he conjured up as one of Bill Clinton's campaign strategists. (With luck Carville's advice will be a bit more coherent than his storyline on HBO's K Street.)

You can see these odd alliances as cynical proof that the lure of the highest bidder trumps any tribal allegiance. Or, as Kulchur prefers, take it as evidence that the fissure lines between Red and Blue America are nowhere near as deep as each crews' staunchest advocates would have you believe.

Just as encouraging, for all the spinning going on in Caracas, some folks are still managing to catch the subtext. On April 11, 2002, Kulchur was reporting on a story in Havana as news of the coup broke. Predictably Cuba's media shifted to a fevered pitch: The state-run TV and radio ran nonstop coverage warning that Chavez's toppling would mean more than the loss of a strategic ally, more than a victory for "imperialism" and presumed U.S. interests. It would be a powerful blow aimed at the heart of Cuba's own revolution.

At an informal rap concert inside a Centro Habana community center the next evening, the young crowd there took that message to heart -- but not exactly in the way it might have been intended. One MC leapt onto the stage and, choosing his words very carefully, told everyone to think hard about what they'd been watching on TV. The possible overthrow of Chavez had lessons for everyone in Cuba, he added cryptically. He was met with an eerie quiet: No one needed an announcer to read between the lines for them.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised screens at the University of Miami's Bill Cosford Cinema Saturday, November 29, at 9:00 p.m. and Sunday, November 30, at 7:00 p.m. (call 305-284-4861 for details); at the Regal South Beach 18 cinema beginning Friday, December 5; and on HBO later this winter.

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