Monday, October 13, 2008
In Part 1 of this discussion, Steven Soderbergh spoke of the logistics of making and presenting his latest film, Che, starring Benicio Del Toro as revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The full question and answer session covered a lot of ground. Here in Part 2, we conclude the discussion, as he gives us his take on the real-life Che and his ideology. On Soderbergh's impression of Che before he took on this project: "I think like most people in this country, I first heard Che’s name in history class at school, when you would get that sort of quick sketch of the history of Cuba. One of the great things about having this job is that, more often than not, I get paid to educate myself. A lot of the details of the Cuban Revolution, obviously, were not known to me. I thought that it was basically all Fidel. I didn’t know anything about these other groups that were trying to do the same thing. "My idea of Che was from those images of him, near the very end of the Cuban Revolution, with the beret and this cast on his arm. I had no idea about this transformation from being the medic to becoming a leader. I think the thing that I learned about him that was interesting to me was what a hard-ass he was. Talking to the people that fought alongside him, one of the doctors that he fought with also had a great quote. He said, 'You had to love him for free.' He just described how uncompromising he was. Most people wanted to be in Camilo [Cienfuegos]’s column, because he was fun. Che was just a very, very strict disciplinarian, and there was no moment where he sort of dropped the ideology, even in a certain personal one-on-one situation. A lot of people found him sort of cold and distant. So Benicio and I talked about that, a lot. That he really only reserved the warmer side of his personality for when he was in the doctor mode. When he was in the sort of leader-comandante mode, he was really, really harsh. I can understand why. The stakes are pretty high." On research regarding Che: "If you’ve read about Che at all, if you go to the bookstore, there’s an entire wall of Che material. There’s a lot to go through. We tried to get through all of it. We spoke to everyone who’s still around, and willing to talk, that fought with him, and knew him. And research can be… I think J.G. Ballard once said, 'Research is the refuge of the unimaginative.' There were times when I thought he was absolutely right. We were just overwhelmed with information. "As Jon Lee Anderson [author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life], who was one of our consultants, said at the press conference in Cannes, 'Look, there’s a billion Ches. He means something different to everyone.' And at a certain point, we, the core creative team, just had to decide what to use and what not to use. Frankly, a lot of it was by exclusion. I went in with more of an idea of what I didn’t want to do than what I wanted to do. At least that’s a start. I mean, you can begin to shape it a little bit. "I was trying as much as I could to avoid scenes that I thought were too typical. I didn’t want to have the scene where somebody says, 'Hey, why do they call you Che?' Or, you know, him in battle and his hat blows off, and he runs over and picks up a beret. I didn’t want to do that, so that helped, too. "We’d find these crazy little stories. One of our favorites we found very late in one of the memoirs written by the Acevedo brother, who we see at the end of the film driving the car to Havana. Che stops him and says, 'Turn around.' We found that story very late in the process. It’s such a perfect Che scene, a perfect expression of who he was, so I was always on the lookout for scenes like that." On Che as a political film: "I believe that any movie that accurately presents anyone’s life, or any situation; any movie that’s not a fantasy; that isn’t just a pure entertainment; any movie that makes an attempt to show things the way they are, is to me, by definition, a political film. Whether you’ve made a cop movie or whether it’s Erin Brockovich, any movie that attempts to look at things in a straightforward fashion, and not polish it up, I think you could argue, is a political film. Obviously, these are political films, in the sense that there’s an ideology that’s being expressed. But that isn’t what drew me to it, ultimately. "I’m obviously not a communist. As I said to someone a couple of weeks ago, there isn’t even a place for me in the society that Che was trying to build, literally. In Man and Socialism in Cuba [sic], he says, 'There is no great artist who is also a true revolutionary.' He didn’t have a lot of use for the kind of stuff that I do, and I think personally, he probably would have hated me. But again, I can still look at him, and find him one of the most compelling political figures of the last century. I do think the ideas are fascinating to debate, and to look at in the context of the world we live in now. "One of the things that was interesting to me about the Cuban Revolution is that is the last time you’re ever going to see a revolution like that, fought. That’s what I call the last 'analog' revolution. Today, that would have been over in two weeks. Technology just makes it impossible to fight a revolution the way they did, as we see even seven or eight years later. That doesn’t mean revolutions don’t happen. I’m just saying I don’t think they’re ever going to happen that way again. That was kind of interesting, to make a period film about a type of war that can’t really be fought anymore." On Cuba today: "As far as what’s going on in Cuba now, I think that the relations between [our] two countries… I don’t think we’ve been very smart in how we’ve played this. I think there are other moves that could have been made, on our part, to make a dialogue more inevitable. I’m still stunned that this embargo is still going on. It’s just shocking. It doesn’t seem to make much sense. It’s my personal belief that if you wanted the embargo to end, and you wanted to see some change there, you should flood them… There’s nothing like exposure to new ideas to get people thinking about new ideas. So in fact, our policy is the opposite of what I would be doing." On Che's ideology: "I don’t think the economic policy that flows from Marxist-Leninist doctrine works. I don’t think it works. That’s a core principle of his belief system... I don’t think you can build an economy that’s going to function when you base it on this ideology. It’s an ideology that worked in a very specific place, in a very specific time, in an industrialized situation. Mostly it works on paper because as soon as you start adding human beings to it, it falls apart. Do I support his ideas when a system is in place in which profit is only possible through the exploitation of the weak and the poor? I’d say, yeah, I want to see that eradicated. But his methodology, and his economic belief system, I don’t think work." Click here for Part 1 of Soderbergh's discussion. Still provided courtesy of Getty Images.