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Ghost Canyon

'The Fidel Castro Tapes'
(DVD / NR / 2014 / PBS)

Overview: In 1959, Fidel Castro rose to power in Cuba. He has been one of the most controversial figures in the world ever since. This is the story of the Cuban dictator's turbulent career, told in part through media reports, rare images and recordings.

DVD Verdict: In truth, 'The Fidel Castro Tapes' DVD from PBS is one of the most thought provoking, fascinating documentaries that I have seen in the past decade - easily! Containing a wealth of film clips, some not seen for decades, 'The Fidel Castro Tapes' bring us the story of this charismatic leader told from childhood.

One of seven children, young Fidel attended Jesuit school. In 1952 he ran for Congress but before the actual election, Fulgencio Batista came to power. This is when Castro began organizing the resistance movement that some years later would oust Batista. He also served a year in prison prior to that triumph.

If the man could live forever there's little doubt he would rule Cuba in perpetuity. Of course there's anti-Castro Cubans, but many have left the country while those who remain must of necessity keep quiet for fear of harsh reprisals. Yet it's remarkable that a small island nation has a one-man socialist government for more than half a century that has outlived even Mother Russia (USSR). Fidel Castro, now well into his 80s, remains as its hero and standard bearer, even in supposed retirement.

The style of this documentary is "quick edit," with the average film clip on screen for three seconds. But when more time is given to a single moment, such as a passionate Fidel harangue, therein lie the show's highlights. His oratorical skills were second to none, as we see here in many examples.

Most interesting is a 1/11/59 FACE THE NATION excerpt where Cuba's new Prime Minister answers an interviewer's question in halting English. Early on, Fidel declared he was against "all kinds of dictators," but we know how that resolve was abandoned. When Castro's alliance with the USSR came about, President Eisenhower began the trade embargo against Cuba that remains in place to this day. Do yourself a favor and check this PBS documentary out today, because if you think you know all there is to know about Fidel Castro due to the news, trust me, you're wrong! [AR] This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.