Tom Wolfe Gets to Know Miami in “Tom Wolfe Gets Back to Blood.”
A Local Documentary Shows Tom Wolfe Isn't Making Any of This Up
It was hard to tell if the reviews were about Tom Wolfe’s new book or about Miami itself.
“Cartoonish,” griped Esquire.
“Utterly unbelievable,” scoffed USA Today.
“A camp skit that drags on till long after the fire has burned out,” cried the Washington Post.
The fact that it’s hard to tell shows Tom Wolfe probably got it right.
Wolfe’s new book “Back to Blood,” which satirizes Miami in the detailed, forcing-you-to-look-in-the-mirror-after-a-three-day-bender way only Tom Wolfe can, has been ripped apart by critics.
Critics in New York who have probably only been here for vacation. And never been west of I-95.
None of whom spent as much time with Tom Wolfe as Oscar Corral.
A TRUE MIAMIAN SHOWS TOM WOLFE THE TRUE MIAMI
To chronicle exactly how Wolfe came to dissect and display Miami like a cadaver in a med class, Corral - a former Miami Herald reporter - created “Tom Wolfe Gets Back to Blood.” The documentary lets us ride along as Wolfe sweats his way through our city, learning to portray the realities few believe and even fewer would admit.
“For anyone outside of Miami,” Corral said of his film, “It shows the novel was heavily researched, and how it was brought to life on our streets.”
The film, which runs about an hour, has the white-suit clad Wolfe standing out like a virgin at an orgy. Strolling our multi-cultural cesspool with his pale skin and southern gentility.
“Tom Wolfe could have Googled and Wikipediaed his way through his research,” Corral says at the beginning of the film. But instead, we see Wolfe make countless trips to the South Florida over five years, getting to know and understand the eccentricities that make Miami Miami.
“It’s a case study in what makes Miami unique,” Corral said. “(Wolfe) is drawn to the parts of Miami that are just as wild, just not as known.”
Wolfe tours tiny Hialeah homes that house three generations, but asks questions most wouldn’t think to ask.
“Where would grandma live?”
“Where would you put a boat back here?”
“How many feet is this back yard?”
“Where would you roast a pig?”
He learns enough to dub Hialeah “The Real Little Havana.” And goes into a lengthy explanation of Miami Cubans as being like wine vintages. Those from 1959 are the rarest and finest. Those from 1980, what you’d find on the bottom shelf at Navarro’s.
The almost-octogenarian Wolfe also careens through the maze of boats at the Columbus Day regatta, a scene he describes as “The most hedonistic thing I’ve ever seen.”
He recounts a trip to Thee Doll House in Sunny Isles (now Beach Cabaret) where he was astounded by a stripper crawling on stage for dollar bills. We watch the old man visit a Santeria shop in Hialeah, as well as meet many of the interview subjects who were inspirations for his characters.
“He gets inside the heads of the characters, which is really a testament to how much time he spent down here,” Corral says. “In that respect, I think he was spot on.”
OR IS OUR REALITY JUST THAT UNBELIEVABLE?
Despite the years of grueling, sweaty, shoe-melting research, reviewers seem flummoxed that such a collection of clichés can inhabit once city.
For example Corral mentions a review where an academic accused Wolfe of inventing the Columbus Day Regatta. Clearly, an academic who was fastidious about doing one’s homework.
“I think any time a writer fictionalizes a city there are going to be people who say it doesn’t ring true,” Corral said. “But I think people who are from here, or have lived here a long time, will see it’s accurate. There’s nothing in this book that’s not possible.”
If you read “Back to Blood” and find it sensational, consider how well you know the city. If you’ve read the reviews, consider the sources. And if you want to see exactly how a master of civic satire goes about capturing the essences and extremes of a city, watch “Tom Wolfe Gets Back to Blood.” You’ll see he’s NOT making any of it up, and that as surreal a picture as he paints of Miami it’s often dead-on.
“It is one of the sharpest and most scathing works of literature that has been written about this city,” Corral said. “If someone wants to come to Miami, or learn about it, people won’t say ‘oh you should watch 10 episodes of Jersey Shore.’ They’ll say ‘you gotta read Back to Blood.’”
Photos courtesy Oscal Corral
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"Tom Wolfe Gets to Know Miami in “Tom Wolfe Gets Back to Blood.”"