Magazine article The New Yorker

El Super

Magazine article The New Yorker

El Super

Article excerpt

Sometimes in New York you see a whole lot of people gathering in a state of high excitement and you have no idea what's going on. That happened on a recent Friday at the Bronx Museum, 165th Street and the Grand Concourse, at about five-forty-five in the evening. Crowds started to show up and converse animatedly in Spanish and English--hugs, laughter, elders exclaiming over beautiful grownup women who had been girls in grade school the last time the elders saw them, etc. Turned out that everybody was there for a screening of the beloved Cuban-American movie "El Super." Generations of Spanish-speaking immigrants have watched and rewatched this movie since it came out, in 1979. The screening, part of the Bronx Museum's "First Fridays!" program of evening events open to the public, was to celebrate the movie's thirtieth anniversary. Free admission, free empanadas (soy meat, or ricotta with spinach), soft drinks for two dollars and beer or wine for three--why not?

Every exhibit in the Bronx Museum has to do with the Bronx. One room is devoted to the ideas of artists and city planners for redesigning the Grand Concourse, the Bronx's main street. Another has works by artists who live in the Bronx or are otherwise connected to it: graffiti paintings, Willie Cole's famous "America" blackboard, relics found by Lisa Kahane (a bus driver's coin dispenser, made vestigial by rust), photographs of salsa stars, a video in which Balozi Dola, the Tanzanian rapper, walks into a Bronx barbershop and dazzles some old hip-hop pros with high-speed raps in Swahili; images of the D train, big splashes of color, photos of flames, a display of spray-paint cans . . .

"El Super" was shown in an upstairs gallery that seated about a hundred and fifty and stood thirty or so more along the walls. Faces turned upward to the screen with the expectant, half-smiling expressions of those waiting to be shown a favorite magic trick. English subtitles helped the few who needed them. Sometimes the crowd laughed at lines the subtitles didn't provide. "El Super" 's story is about a Cuban exile named Roberto, who has taken the job of super in a Washington Heights apartment building, where he lives in the basement with his wife and teen-age daughter. The movie's first line, shouted from upstairs, is "Super, turn on the boiler!" The time is winter, late nineteen-seventies. Every time the family closes the apartment door, they rearrange a strip of carpet put there to block the drafts. …

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