The scene is set in an empty, post World War II, tract home in Hialeah — probably the victim of the foreclosure wave. A Realtor guides an aging, dapper man in a white suit through the faux archway of the underwhelming structure — a mundane occurrence that would otherwise not garner any attention if not for the fact that the “man in the white suit” is none other than Tom Wolfe, one of America’s most noted and influential writers.
The man who has depicted the nuances of American living for the past 60 years was in town to conduct research for his new, upcoming novel Back to Blood (due out later this month), and former Miami Herald reporter, now filmmaker, Oscar Corral is filming Wolfe’s every subtle move and rhetorical afterthought.
As the famed scribe sketched the dimensions of a home similar to the one where he planned on housing his characters for the book, the author of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Bonfire of the Vanities, noted that “Hialeah is the real Little Havana because it’s where there is the greatest concentration of Cubans.”
In one fell swoop, after only a few visits to Miami, Wolfe’s observation highlights the writer’s keen sense for the subtleties of the multiple subcultures that make up our new American fabric. Corral’s film, Tom Wolfe Gets Back to Blood , which premieres Oct. 19 at 10 p.m. on WPBT2, is an unfiltered view of the master at work.
In 2007, after having interviewed Wolfe for a Herald piece on former Miami Police Chief John Timoney (a friend of Wolfe’s), Corral wrote a letter to the author of The Right Stuff thanking him for having granted him an interview and humbly offering his help “in any way.” About a week later, Corral’s phone rang and the voice on the other end sounded eerily familiar. It was Wolfe asking Corral if he would consider handling logistics for him when he came down to Miami to research the book.
“I was shocked silent for a moment in the middle of the bustling and noisy Herald newsroom. It was my ‘wow,’ starstruck moment,” Corral told me. Soon after, Corral began working as Tom Wolfe’s “fixer” (logistics coordinator) in the Magic City.
After a few adventures together, Corral asked Wolfe if he could begin to film their experiences. The result is an hour-long, insightful documentary in which we observe Wolfe diligently delve into the wilds of South Florida’s most culturally fused cities — from botanicas in Little Havana, historic locales in Overtown, to the raucous Columbus Day Regatta off Key Biscayne.
“If somewhere along the lines, preconceptions don’t explode then I’m not happy,” Wolfe explained to Corral.
For Corral, it was “an exhilarating ride. This film should motivate storytellers to go out and find their stories. It is a call to get out from behind the desk and learn about your subjects and maybe even a little about life,” said Corral, who as a reporter, covering some of Miami’s most controversial beats, had a first-hand perspective of how tumultuously complex and explosive Miami can be.
In talking with Corral, it is evident that working on this project has had a profound professional effect on him. Somewhere along the creative journey of producing this film, the journalist became a filmmaker.
It is a remarkable obra prima (first work). In Tom Wolfe Gets Back To Blood, Corral is able to do what many seasoned filmmakers cannot — and that is to get out of the way so as to let the viewer get a clear, unfiltered view of the subject.
The documentary, skillfully edited by Corral and editor Mario de Varona, precisely follows Wolfe’s recipe for interesting storytelling, and that is to let the layers of the narrative naturally unfold as characters collide within the framework of their surroundings. Can you think of a more extravagantly nuanced story — literature’s most touted voyeur exploring the city where America’s future arrived early?