Syracuse International Film Festival

by Miguel Balbuena

July 12 marked the first anniversary of Pedro Cuperman’s death in Buenos Aires, where he was vacationing. He was a prominent Argentinean art critic and artist who, in the course of his 40-year residence in Central New York, became the co-founder and associate director of the Syracuse International Film Festival (SIFF).

Pedro’s lineage can be traced back to literary megastars such as Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco. Borges was the forerunner of the Latin American literary Boom of the ’60s; Eco was an Italian theorist and novelist.

While studying at the University of Buenos Aires, Pedro was invested as the preferred intellectual son of master Borges, who placed him under his close tutelage due to Pedro’s promising future. As I honed my own literary talents under Pedro’s guidance, this purportedly renders me as Borges’s long-lost legitimate grandson.

At its 13th Annual October Festival, SIFF instituted a commemoration of the life of professor Cuperman. Christine Fawcett-Shapiro and Owen Shapiro, the other SIFF founders, announced that it consisted in the presentation of a Spanish-language motion picture every year from 2016 onwards.

More recently, SIFF expanded its activities by teaming up with the Syracuse Jazz Fest, 22 years its senior. The latest fest, which took place on the Onondaga Community College campus from June 8 through June 10, featured the showing of three jazz flicks, one per day, courtesy of SIFF.

Professor Cuperman’s theoretical framework for media analysis is based partly on the semiotics of Eco, who, by the way, in 1966 co-edited the volume “The Bond Affair,” about renowned Her Majesty’s Secret Service 007 agent James Bond. Furthermore, this framework could be employed to interpret books and movies alike, as 007 appears in both.

As one of the favorite disciples of professor Cuperman, it’s fitting for me to pay a heart-felt tribute to his love for film by reviewing the last movie screened at the fest: “The Benny Goodman Story.”

“The Benny Goodman Story” is a biopic of this famed clarinetist, which was released in 1956, starring Steve Allen as this musician, opposite his love interest, Alice Hammond, played by Donna Reed.

I am two generations removed from Goodman’s but his trajectory caught my attention since 1962, when I read an article in Life magazine about his tour, with his jazz orchestra, to a number of cities of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Adding to this factor, my father was a great jazz fan. Soon I learned that Goodman was in the pantheon of the Big Band era along with other figures such as Duke Ellington, Satchmo Armstrong, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Dizzy Gillespie.

I couldn’t fail to notice that Goodman’s personal development as depicted in this biopic parallels the development postulated in the theories of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Valentine Davies, the director and screenwriter of “The Benny Goodman Story,” structured its plot with a constellation of contradictions. Either wittingly or unwittingly, these are akin to those found in the thought of this German philosopher.

First, a “Cliff’s Notes” version of this philosophy. Harvard-educated Leonard Wheat, in his incisive book “Hegel’s Undiscovered Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis Dialectics” (2012) has a nifty summary of it.

“More than two centuries have elapsed since 1807, when G.W.F. Hegel published his first major – and most famous – work, ‘Phenomenology of Spirit,’ a.k.a ‘Phenomenology of Mind.’ The philosophy presented in this work and in Hegel’s later posthumously edited history lectures, ‘The Philosophy of History,’ is noted for its mystifying dialectical method. Hegelian dialectics is said to revolve around three progressive stages of development: (1) a thesis, which is an idea or concept, (2) an antithesis (anti-thesis), an opposite idea that contradicts the thesis, and (3) a synthesis, a climatic idea that somehow combines the thesis and the antithesis, or the best parts of them, into a sort of compromise, reconciliation, or previously unperceived identity,” Wheat wrote. “The microdialectics – short dialectics – can be likened to the play of children. Play develops a child’s muscles and physical coordination. Spirit in its juvenile state is exercising its mind. It is going through lots of practice dialectics – little thoughts – that bring it to maturity, to the Big Thought of self-realization.”

Goodman’s life could be construed as a form of microdialectic with his initial consciousnesses being the theses; the numerous oppositions that he encounters, the antitheses, and; his progressive higher consciousnesses at each successive stage, the syntheses.

About the author: Miguel Balbuena is a writer in the academic, scientific, journalistic and literary fields (in the fiction and non-fiction genres).