Soderbergh, Guevara, Lawrence

The usual simplistic knee-jerk responses have flooded in since last night’s summary and posting of a link to Michael Fleming ‘s piece about Steven Soderbergh‘s plan to shoot back-to-back Che Guevara films as of May ’07. I ran a response in “comments” this morning, but just so everyone sees it…

I gave this a think-through last night and came to the rudimentrary conclusion that The Argentine and Guerilla combined are are going to resemble parts I and II of Lawrence of Arabia — the promise, the dream and the mixed glory in the first section, and the bitterness, madness and despair that manifests in the second. Presumably there will be much more to these two films than what I’ve just summarized, but it took me just under 15 seconds to figure out the basic strategy — it’s fairly obvious — when I read Fleming’s story last night.
When the Soderbergh-del Toro-Guevara flick was just a single-film project (i.e., for the last several years), it was just Guerrilla — about how Guevara’s revolutionary fervor led him to quit his Cuban posts and embark upon a failed attempt to spark a revolution in Bolivia. It’s a story about failure, isolation…listening more and more to the sounds of your own rhetorical spinnings to the exclusion of real-world reality to the extent that it invites pathetic self-destruction.
As Christopher Hitchens once wrote, “Che’s iconic status was assured because he failed. His story was one of defeat and isolation, and that’s why it is so seductive. Had he lived, the myth of Che would have long since died.”
Because it’s largely about Che’s and Fidel Castro’s glory period (i.e., fighting and winning the Cuban revolution, which everyone marvelled at the world over…Batista’s allegiance was strictly with the moneyed elements who provided for him…he cared not for the poor), The Argentine will be about the hard climb up the mountain and then the reaching of the summit and throwing one’s hat in the air and dancing beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free.
So The Argentine is the upper and Guerilla is the downer. Up the mountain, down the mountain. I doubt if Soderbergh, del Toro and Buchman will make the two films as black-and-white simplistic as this, but this is clearly the basic scheme.
Even the folks in charge of the withered Cuban propaganda ministry would have trouble framing Guevara’s Bolivian episode in a positive light. Give Soderbergh, del Toro and Buchman a break and assume, as any reasonable person would, that they’re certainly not going to attempt to glorify Guevara in part 2…no way. These are intelligent artists making this film. Show a little respect.
They’re primarily attracted to Guevara’s life for the arc that it represents (everyone of any spirit strives for something fine and shining in this world and some achieve it, and then the dream fades and the muddled, sometimes bitter reality kicks in), for the highs and the lows, to the Lawrence of Arabia angle. Because this is the story that will captivate audiences 100 or 500 years from now.

  • donnyboy

    Why do you need two movies?
    What about an editor in movies these days.
    Departed what was that 2 1/2 hrs.?
    Could have cut off 30+ minutes of that baby.
    Flags needed to be one flick.
    Soderbergh I love, especially The Limey because of the crispness of the narrative.
    Make it one, force it down, and you could have a riveting classic.

  • Craig Kennedy

    For the kind of arc Wells is imagining here, the epic structure would give it more weight and resonance. I loved the sparseness of The Limey also, but I don’t know if that would work here.

  • NYCBusybody

    “Listening more and more to the sounds of your own rhetorical spinnings to the exclusion of real-world reality to the extent that it invites pathetic self-destruction.”
    See, this is what Conservatives believe of Socialists in GENERAL. One has to ignore the reality of humanity, and engage in propaganda, to even believe in Socialist, and this is what inevitably leads to Socialist regimes becoming Communist depostisms.
    To liberals, the first part of the story IS glorious (hurray for the romantic leader who saved the poor from the evils of white American capitalism!); to me, it’s just as bad as the second, because they’re intrinsically linked.

  • bachelorcool

    Apart from politico/cineastes in the cities, I can assure you there won’t be any interest in ONE round these parts (i.e. the trenches where people actually a) pay to see movies, and b) be entertained.

  • bachelorcool

    )

  • JD

    It’s worth noting that one of Soderbergh’s dear friends, Andy Garcia, is an avowed Che-hater whose wealthy family got booted out of Cuba back in the day (see The Lost City). If you think Garcia — who killed numerous people in an extremely brutal way in The Godfather Part 3 — would let Soderbergh get away with white-washing the Che Guevara story, you are sadly mistaking.
    But seriously, when has Soderbergh ever made one dimensional, black and white — and no, I’m not talking about The Good German/Kafka kind of black and white — movies? Even Traffic was loaded with grey area and ambiguity, not to mention mockery of the kind of teenage political posturing that Nicol D and NYC fear will be at the core of these Che movies. You guys need to chill out and wait for the movies. I know you think of Che as the left’s answer to Hitler, but even Hitler (who I think we can all agree was far worse than Che) has been the subject of many truthful and respectable movies. I really don’t think Soderbergh is aiming for Triumph of the Will territory, believe it or not.

  • Nicol D

    Jeffrey,
    Obviously there is a good film to made at the core of the Che Gueverra story; but that story would have to not only show the downfall of Che and his rebellion, it would also have to show the failure of the ideology he believed in; communism.
    If the films merely show Che as being well-intentioned but falling prey to his own celebrity, this is not enough.
    The films would have to show the inherent failures of the ideology of communism itself. The philosophical contradictions inherent within it. It would have to show how Che worshipped Stalin, who killed more people than Hitler; how even Mao thought Che was insane. How Che would go into parishes and shoot priests and nuns in the head because they were Catholic. How he was responsible for the deaths of thousands and how his and Castro’s gulags lead to the torture and imprisonment of homosexuals, artists and dissidents.
    If Soderbergh shows all of this, yes he will have made a balanced film. Do you think he will?
    Will this be in the script? Can you get a copy of it?
    Again, I agree a complex, intelligent film on the Che legacy can be made, but when it comes to simple knee jerk views, of left-wing historical figures, Hollywood does not get the benefit of the doubt.
    More than you know, I hope I am wrong.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    Um… didn’t we already have one movie about the idealistic young Che?
    To extend the Hitler analogy, this is like one movie in which the young artist Hitler first sees the poverty in Vienna (and attends his first Karl Lueger speech), a second movie in which Hitler comes back from WWI and tries to start a political movement to help his people after the betrayal of Versailles, and only in the THIRD do we start to get the idea that something’s not so great about Nazism….

  • Sean

    Nicol, that sounds like a really shitty, boring movie. As would your straw man version of the Che story you imagine Soderbergh telling, extolling the virtues of Communism. Interesting stories are about people, not philosophies, and Che seems like an extremely dramatic character. Certainly an interesting one, especially given how much thought and research you’ve clearly put in on him (and he’s somebody you hate!).

  • cjKennedy

    For the kind of arc Wells is imagining here, the epic structure would give it more weight and resonance. I loved the sparseness of The Limey also, but I don’t know if that would work here.

  • Mgmax

    Um… didn’t we already have one movie about the idealistic young Che?

    To extend the Hitler analogy, this is like one movie in which the young artist Hitler first sees the poverty in Vienna (and attends his first Karl Lueger speech), a second movie in which Hitler comes back from WWI and tries to start a political movement to help his people after the betrayal of Versailles, and only in the THIRD do we start to get the idea that something’s not so great about Nazism….

  • D.Z.

    Mg: There actually was a movie about Hitler as an artist a while back. It was called Max.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    Okay, D.Z., you made me laugh.

  • Dave Polands Gut

    Yay! Lets canonize a killer! Cant wait! Maybe sainthood next.

  • christian

    yeah, let’s canonize mafia hitmen instead, which is where middle-class white people like to place their admiration for thugs these days.

  • Dave Polands Gut

    Oh yea? What movie is that? What mafia killer has shirts made with his face on it? What mafia killer is a far left icon?
    Didnt think so.

  • Mgmax

    Okay, D.Z., you made me laugh.

  • christian

    gee dave poland’s gut — cos it’s clearly not your head you speak from — ever seen a show called GROWING UP GOTTI?
    THE SOPRANO’S? you can buy their cookbooks too. and even”the tao of tony soprano” — zen advice from a mafia killer.
    howz about a film called THE GODFATHER?
    thought so.

  • christian

    gee dave poland’s gut — cos it’s clearly not your head you speak from — ever seen a show called GROWING UP GOTTI?
    THE SOPRANO’S? you can buy their cookbooks too. and even”the tao of tony soprano” — zen advice from a mafia killer.
    howz about a film called THE GODFATHER?
    thought so.