Cinematographer. Nationality: Cuban. Career: Cameraman, Cuban Film Institute; 1966—first film as cinematographer. Died: In November 1981.
Films as Cinematographer:
La salación (Gómez); Manuela (Solás)
La primera carga al machete (The First Charge of theMachete) (Gómez)
Las dias del agua (Gómez)
Cantata de Chile (Solás)
Alsino y el condor (Alsino and the Condor) (Littin)
By HERRERA: articles—
"Apuntes sobre la fotografía de La primera carga al machete," in Cine Cubano (Havana), May-August 1969.
Cinema 2002 (Madrid), March-April 1980.
On HERRERA: articles—
Littin, Miguel, "Recado a Jorge," in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 102, 1982.
In The Cuban Image: Cinema and Cultural Politics in Cuba, by Michael Chanan, London, 1985.
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Best known for the expressive realism of his cinematography in Lucía and The First Charge of the Machete, Jorge Herrera was at one with the revolutionary cultural effervescence of the late 1960s in Cuba. An outstanding cameraman of the Cuban Film Institute (Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográfica)—and one of the most creative in Latin America—Herrera argued that the most important role of the camera was to make images live with their greatest intensity. Thus, he felt that cinematography should be expressive rather than naturalist, penetrating into reality to decipher it, rather than remaining at the surface of things, with a mere reflection of nature. He perceived the camera as a participant in film: not just watching, but inciting, stimulating, and impelling the action.
For Herrera, the hand-held camera was the means to achieve his cinematographic goals. He stated: "The hand-held camera is more human, more authentic, and more intimate. It implies freshness, spontaneity, and improvisation; it lives, feels, loves, and hates. It also provides the actors with greater liberty of action, helping them to feel themselves as human beings and not just actors." Herrera felt that this technique led away from the artificial sense of films produced with enormously complicated apparatus for lighting, set decoration, and cameras, and moved toward a light, agile cinema more suited to Cuban reality and, obviously, greatly influenced by the Cuban tradition of documentary film.
However, if Herrera's use of the hand-held camera was a step beyond the traditional cinematography of Hollywood, his style must also be differentiated from other forms which employ this technique. For example, in contrast to the casual, personal aesthetic of the French New Wave, where the hand-held camera emphasizes the fact of the auteur, Herrera's style stressed collectivity and the reality of revolutionary struggle. Here, however, it is important to note that Herrera was not searching for a realist aesthetic, but attempting to convey a certain attitude toward reality. Thus, Herrera also goes beyond what might be described as the television news style of on-the-spot reportage. He accomplishes this, first of all, by having the camera participate in the action, demonstrating that everyone is involved, even those who attempt to remain calmly on the sidelines reporting on the occurrence.
Herrera's most important contribution to world cinema, though, is the manner in which he demolishes the classic dichotomy of realism and expressionism in the battle sequence of The First Charge of the Machete. There, the hand-held camera initially appears to effect the characteristic form of modern realism, reproducing the sensation of television's live coverage of events. However, as the sequence evolves and the battle heightens, Herrera's camera begins to career wildly, taking on the frenzy of the hand-to-hand combat; combined with an extreme high-contrast film, this produces a screen image which at times is little more than a swirling mass of abstract patterns. The poles of realism and expressionism are joined in this paean to revolutionary struggle in the field and with the camera, resulting in the simultaneous distancing and sensuous identification for which the cinema of Cuba has been justifiably praised.