Whacking the Beard
D. Hartley | Seattle, WA USA | 09/26/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Conspiracy-a-go-go enthusiasts will definitely want a peek at British director Dollan Cannell's documentary, "638 Ways to Kill Castro".
Mixing archival footage with some knowledgeable talking heads (including a surprising number of would-be assassins-it's hard to believe this many lived to tell their tale!), Cannell traces the evolution of Cuban politics via a recap of literally hundreds of attempts by the U.S. government to knock off Fidel over the years.
The number in the title (638) is derived from a list compiled by a couple of former members of Castro's security team (they are among the interviewees). They even go so far as to crunch the numbers by U.S. presidential administration (thier resulting breakdown may surprise you.)
The film begins its timeline in 1959, the year that the CIA received the first official go-ahead to take Castro out. The initial schemes sound like they were hatched by Wile E. Coyote and his Acme Intelligence Agency. The plans ranged from relatively benign subversion (making his beard fall out, spraying a TV station with LSD while Castro was on air,a contingency to accuse Cuba of zapping John Glenn's space capsule with "magnetic rays," had Glenn not made it back to Earth) to more ominous (a poisoned diving suit, booby trapping shellfish in Castro's favorite scuba diving spot with dynamite, and most famously, planting poisoned and/or exploding cigars into his humidor).
Although Cannell initially appears to be playing for yucks (especially with the exploding cigar type shtick) the underlying theme of the documentary soon becomes much more sobering. The most chilling revelation arises from an examination of the possible machinations behind the downing of a commercial Cuban airliner off of Barbados in 1976.
This is a fascinating film; the only criticism I would give it is the director's "wacky" approach (that kooky CIA and their nutty ideas!)-it doesn't quite match the subject matter at times. My favorite quote from the doc sums it all up quite nicely-when asked to explain the decades-long obsession about Castro by one administration after another, one pundit cracks "There's just something about (Castro's) Cuba that affects these administrations like the full moon affects a werewolf...there's no real logic at work here."
Filled with the early stuff.
Jesse S. Walker | Huntington, WV USA | 06/12/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD despite being made recently feels a little dated because most of the attempted assassins are now elderly. Since many of the attempts on Castro date to the 1960s and 1970s, the people involved are now aging. I'd like to know more about recent attempts as well.
It does provide a fascinating glimpse into the presidents of the US. In a short segment it breaks down the plans or assassination by president. It's kind of a shorthand for the politicians attitudes towards Cuba.
Unfortunately the one thing this movie really lacks is running time. For a movie that about 638 ways to kill Castro it barely covers a dozen."