Comrade Saul Landau has died. He wrote a lot of great articles on Cuba, which is mostly what I remember him for. His views of Cuba were not starry-eyed, and he really told it like it is. He also made a number of movies, none of which I have ever seen. He was a great man.
Below is a fairly decent article from the horrific New York Times. I was expecting a hatchet piece, but apparently that was not to be.
Saul Landau, a determinedly leftist documentary filmmaker and writer whose passion for asking what he called “the most intrusive questions” yielded penetrating cinematic profiles of leaders like Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende, died on Monday at his home in Alameda, Calif. He was 77.
The cause was bladder cancer, his daughter Julia Landau said.
Mr. Landau aspired to marshal art and literature to illuminate social and political problems, and his point of view was almost always apparent. In the 1980s, he wrote essays berating the administration of Ronald Reagan for trying to depose the leftist government in Nicaragua, and recently he urged the United States not to become involved in Syria.
He said he saw no difference between documentary and fictional films. In both, he said, a director manipulates light and sound to put across a vision. “One has to simulate reality,” he said in 2005 in an interview with The Capital Times in Madison, Wis. “The other one says, ‘Here’s reality,’ whether it is or isn’t.”
Mr. Landau emerged from the roiling New Left politics of the 1960s to make more than 40 documentaries, including six about Mr. Castro. One of them, “Fidel,” released in 1969, was a rare intimate look at the Cuban leader. It shows him arguing with a finger-wagging peasant woman, visiting his nursery school and playing baseball and striking out.
“I found Fidel a sympathetic figure and a hell of a good actor,” Mr. Landau told The Washington Post in 1982.
His most acclaimed film was “Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang,” which he directed with Jack Willis in 1980. With cinematography by Haskell Wexler, the documentary, broadcast on PBS, told of the cover-up of health hazards from a 1957 nuclear-bomb test in Utah. The film won an Emmy Award and a George Polk Award.
The title referred to Mr. Landau’s friend Paul Jacobs, a journalist who died of cancer — believed to have been caused by radiation exposure — before the film was completed.
Other films by Mr. Landau portray poverty in big-city slums, the destruction of indigenous Mexican culture, the inner workings of the C.I.A., torture in Brazil and life inside a San Francisco jail. Most have a leftist political edge that some saw as propagandistic, but Mr. Landau characterized the films as educational.
“All my films try to teach people without preaching too hard,” he said. “I try not to be too tendentious.”
Mr. Landau released two films relating to Mr. Allende, the Chilean who had become Latin America’s first democratically elected socialist president the year before. One was an interview with Mr. Allende.
The other film, “Que Hacer!” (1970) — the title is a translation of the title of Lenin’s book “What Is to Be Done?” — is a fictional movie, a playful spy story with music concerning a C.I.A. case officer in Chile. There are two casts: a Chilean one directed by Raul Ruiz and an American one directed by Mr. Landau and Nina Serrano, his wife at the time. Country Joe McDonald performed and produced the music. The film won awards at film festivals in Cannes, Venice and Mannheim, Germany.
Orlando Letelier, Chile’s ambassador to the United States, invited Mr. Landau to screen it at the Chilean Embassy in Washington, and they became friends. A few years later, Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew the Allende government and imprisoned Mr. Letelier.
Mr. Landau worked with other international supporters to win Mr. Letelier’s release and to arrange a job for him at the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-wing research organization in Washington Mr. Landau had joined in 1972. In 1976, Pinochet agents used a car bomb to kill Mr. Letelier and another institute worker. In 1980, Mr. Landau and John Dinges published a book about the case, “Assassination on Embassy Row,” documenting the Pinochet government’s ties to the killings.
Mr. Landau was at least as prolific a writer as he was a filmmaker. He wrote 14 books and thousands of newspaper and magazine articles and reviews.
Saul Irwin Landau was born on Jan. 15, 1936, a few blocks from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and grew up playing stickball in the streets. His father was a pharmacist who had fled pogroms in Ukraine to come to New York in 1920. His mother was a teacher.
As a youth, Mr. Landau once abandoned school to hitchhike across America. When he returned, his mother urged him to take the test for the academically elite Stuyvesant High School. He passed, and went on to perform brilliantly there.
The summer after he graduated, he met Ms. Serrano at a camp in the Catskills, where he was the fry cook and she the drama teacher. Ms. Serrano, who became a published poet, encouraged his interest in leftist politics and a bohemian lifestyle, according to their daughter Valerie Landau.
Ms. Serrano also accompanied Mr. Landau when he went to the University of Wisconsin. When a dean found out that they were living together, he threatened to expel Mr. Landau (Ms. Serrano was not a student then) if they did not marry. They did.
At Wisconsin, Mr. Landau got involved in a so-called Joe Must Go club, which advocated the recall of Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin over his demagogic attacks on people he accused of being Communists.
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history at Wisconsin, Mr. Landau became a researcher for C. Wright Mills, the sociologist, traveling with him to Western Europe, the Soviet Union and Cuba.
Moving to Northern California with Ms. Serrano, he worked toward a doctorate at Stanford but did not complete the studies. In San Francisco, they gravitated to the Beat poets and the emerging New Left movement. Mr. Landau joined Students for a Democratic Society and helped organize the leftist magazines Ramparts and Mother Jones.
He also joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, for which he wrote a parody of a minstrel show, “A Minstrel Show, or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel.” Performers in the show, which satirized racial perceptions, appeared in blackface. The show traveled to New York and elsewhere.
“Through the entire evening there is really nothing to laugh at, no matter how funny it is,” Richard F. Shepard wrote in The New York Times. “There is the ominous theme of what hypocrisy and oppression breed.”
In 1966 Mr. Landau got a job as a reporter at KQED-TV, San Francisco’s public television station, and a year later went to Cuba to make a news documentary. Mr. Castro liked it, and invited Mr. Landau to return to do an in-depth documentary about him. Mr. Landau’s marriage to Ms. Serrano ended in divorce. Besides his daughters Valerie and Julia, he is survived by a son, Greg, and two other daughters, Carmen and Marie; his second wife, Rebecca Switzer; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
“You want to do what you can while you’re on this earth,” Mr. Landau said in 2006. “Otherwise the alternative is to go shopping.”