Miami Film Festival 2019: The name Errol Flynn resonates among moviegoers, even though many have never seen one of his films. The actor was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1930s, releasing swashbuckling pictures and one of the first iconic adaptations of “Robin Hood” ever made. Flynn became a legend but struggled to keep his status in Hollywood. On the backend of his career, he planned a comeback in Havana of all places. However, in 1958 the island nation of Cuba was about to change quickly. “Errol Flynn’s Ghost: Hollywood in Havana” attempts to unpack that change and the history of cinema on the island to mixed results.
Miami-based filmmaker Gaspar González begins “Errol Flynn’s Ghost” long before the Hollywood legend showed up. Wisely, he begins telling the story of movies and movie theaters and the art of cinema in Cuba. When discussion revolves around this history, the movie really pops. Studios build giant theaters, many resembling American theaters. They become love-letters to the cinema and art of filmmaking. These temples to the medium are gorgeous, even when we travel to them sixty years later. This was a theater-going experience like few others in the world.
In the late 1950s, Errol Flynn comes to Cuba. His stardom had plunged in recent years, and he could not adapt to the current studios. The breakdown of what constituted a Universal film versus what Flynn was capable of as an actor makes for interesting pieces of film history. González even tries to break down Flynn’s mental state at the time.
At the time that Flynn arrives in Cuba, Fidel Castro has begun to summon up forces for revolution. He hides in the mountains and plans his next moves. The fact that Flynn met Castro in the mountains of Cuba can be confirmed. Like many, Flynn buys into Castro’s rhetoric and believes helping the future dictator will allow him to be the hero he long played in Hollywood. Flynn set out to make a documentary about Cuba and Castro but dies before he can complete his work.
Sadly this creates the biggest pitfall of “Errol Flynn’s Ghost” and its ability to maintain momentum. During the middle pieces of the documentary, there’s not enough material to make Flynn interesting. In fact, much of the information about Cuba and its relations to Hollywood is far more captivating. It feels like González wanted to tell that story, but had to shoehorn Flynn into the narrative to get the project made. If the movie did not carry the name Errol Flynn in the title, the actor’s interest in Cuba would have been more interesting. Instead, his presence as a spectre over the film hurts its final execution.
The production quality of “Errol Flynn’s Ghost” leaves something to be desired at times. The audio could be a bit muddled at times, and the editing needs to be sharper. The pace slows down and struggles to build up later. These bring down the content on the screen and make it difficult to stay invested. Combined with the lackluster sections on Flynn, audiences may find themselves disappointed.
“Errol Flynn’s Ghost” will be an interesting piece of film history for those who actively seek it out. Combined with a runtime of only 50 minutes, this feels destined to air on PBS and provide education about how the world experiences going to the movies. There’s real value in “Errol Flynn’s Ghost” but it lies in the history of Cinema in Cuba. That could make for a far more compelling documentary in the future.
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“Errol Flynn’s Ghost: Hollywood in Havana” is playing at the Miami Film Festival on Sunday, March 10, 2019.