BEFORE NIGHT FALLS
About The Production
Drawing from Arenas' novels and poetry as well as his posthumous 1993 memoirs, Before Night Falls mirrors Arenas' writing in its beauty, force and multiplicity of meaning. It is at once a vivid portrait of a prodigiously talented and responsive human being; a piercing account of political repression, persecution and exile; and a soaring testament to art's liberat ing power, its ability to confront, illuminate and transcend.
Painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel first became aware of Reinaldo Arenas when he saw the documentary Havana, an oral history of Cuba directed by Jana
Bokova. Arenas captured Schnabel's attention and imagination, both with his story and the way he told
it. Recalls Schnabel, "He said: 'For the moment, my name is Reinaldo Arenas and I'm a citizen of nowhere. The State Department has declared me stateless, so legally I don't exist.'
I thought he was very funny and very humble. Then there was a fragment of a prose poem called 'The Parade Ends,' which gave me the idea that his life could be a film."
Schnabel had recently completed work on Basquiat, his acclaimed 1996 directorial debut about his friend and fellow painter Jean Michael
Basquiat. "I didn't know if I was going to make another movie. When Reinaldo showed up, there was so much he had to say that touched me. I can't give you a logical answer why it was so important for me to tell this story," he acknowledges; instead, he cites 'The Parade Ends,' (above) in which Arenas evokes the liberating power of the creative process as he sends forth a dazzling cascade of images. "He talks about all these things that arrive with the tap-tap of his typewriter: people, places, a climbing plant, a parrot, a mil lion parrots, whatever comes
to his mind. And so what is a
movie, anyway? It's an art form that can conjure a world."
In making Before Night Falls, Schnabel set out to conjure Reinaldo Arenas' world in its many
permutations: the temporal world
that he lived in as a child and
an adult, the world of his
imagination and the world he created on the page. The film draws from several of Arenas works, including his posthumously published memoir, also titled 'Before Night Falls'; the nov els 'Hallucinations', 'The Color of Summer' and 'The Palace of the White Skunks'. It also draws on his poems including 'The Parade Begins' and 'The Parade Ends,' one poem com bining two poems written 20 years apart, illustrating both the enthusiasm and disillusionment with the Cuban Revolution. Before Night Falls gives equal weight to invented and recorded
indicents, moving fluidly between moments of poetic beauty and gritty reality. In so doing, the film achieves an uncommon immediacy and intimacy.
Before Night Falls also incorporates the personal stories and recollections of Arenas' close friend and heir,
Lazaro G6mez Carriles, who shares screenplay credit with Cunningham OKeefe and
Schnabel. Carriles recalls that he spent hours discussing his friend with
Schnabel. "When it comes to Reinaldo, I could talk forever. But Julian never got tired; he patiently listened to everything I said. That commitment to his work, I think, is re flected in the movie."
Before Night Falls evokes the event, color and texture of Arenas' life, beginning with his childhood in the Cuban countryside. Translating Arenas' lyrical descriptions of the natural landscape to film, Before Night Falls imbues water, forests and earth with a breathtak ing physicality and richness. By anchoring the narrative in Arenas' childhood, the film also highlights the contrast between Arenas' youth and his adult life, between the indifference of
nature and the cruelty of social and political structures. "The concept of being free in nature and restricted by society is just a fact," notes Schnabel. "Even though nature can be violent o
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