Monday, February 2, 2009

Güero, the Commie Bastard?!

Let me start off by stating what a great Superbowl game it was yesterday. I actually sat through the entire game. But perhaps more amusing than the twisted ultraviolent adverts that were aired, was the fact that I received a reply to my email to local film critic, Mick Lasalle. I sent it two weeks ago after I read his review (click here) of the new flim "Che" directed by Steven Soderberg and starring Benicio del Torro. Stranger yet, he included it in his weekly "Ask Mick Lasalle" column in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle.

Here is my original, email:
Although you might be right that the film is one big boring stroke off to Che Guevara, I think your review was way too stewed in your own politics. I think that instead, you should have just questioned why Soderberg stayed away from some of the more controversial and questionable actions of Mr. Guevara. Your political attack is weak because while you mention Castro's faults, you don't mention that Batista was a dictator and a stooge for the corporate and criminal elements of the US. Castro was/is a dictator as well but he won independence for the people of Cuba. Things might not have been so bad in that country had the US, and the powerful Cuban lobby, in Florida not isolated it. Why for instance, is the U.S. so favorable to China? They are communist and oppressive as well. This is why I wish you stayed away from the politics. It read like you have your own political axe to grind.

John Nuno Jr.
San Francisco, CA

And here is how my email was edited in his column yesterday. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like he made me sound like I'm some kind of radical Pro-Castro communist.

Dear Mick LaSalle: I think your "Che" review was way too stewed in your own politics. Your political attack is weak because, while you mention Castro's faults, you don't mention that Fulgencio Batista was a dictator and a stooge for the corporate and criminal elements of the United States. Castro was/is a dictator as well, but he won independence for the people of Cuba.

John Nuno Jr., San Francisco

Dear John Nuno Jr.: Reviewing a movie about a political figure inevitably leads to a political response because the aesthetics of the movie become tied up with the politics. For example, if you praise Leni Riefenstahl's Hitler documentary, "Triumph of the Will," you end up either saying or implying that the film's great achievement is that it makes a monster look glorious and decisive. Now, there's nothing controversial in calling Adolf Hitler a monster, but that's still a political response. In the case of "Che," three-quarters of what's wrong with the film has to do with purely aesthetic considerations, but the rest of the problem is that director Steven Soderbergh chose a dubious figure for deification and then didn't make the case for treating him in that way. Had he chosen, say, Joan of Arc, as Jacques Rivette did in "Joan the Maid," the choice would have been less discordant and would have required less justification or explanation. Of course, to say that is both a political and an aesthetic judgment, but to refrain from making it would be to duck the task of criticism. Frankly, I would challenge anyone to review a 257-minute hagiography about Josef Stalin or Benito Mussolini or Benjamin Franklin or, for that matter, Dan Quayle without dealing with the contrast between the celebratory form and the worthiness of the subject. My point is, your problem is not really with the review, because there was nothing wrong with the review. Rather, your problem is with the opinion that inevitably came through it, which is that a dictator who prevents free elections in his country for 50 years is no liberator and that the revolutionary who helped bring him into power is a bizarre subject for heroic screen treatment.

Indeed, Mick Lasalle is the critic and it's his column but I still feel his own political views overshadowed why some one like Che Guevara could develop such a following in the first place. Look, I'm aware that Guevara committed some pretty horrendous atrocities, including ones that even shocked and awed his own revolutionary comrades. I think it's completely fair for anyone to challenge Soderberg for making a 257-minute film about Che Guevara and not delve into his darker and down-right murderous and Stalinist tendencies. Mick Lasalle, however only sticks to his own views, without considering the whole context of what nefarious activities were being perpetrated in Central and South America in our country's name. National Independence is an American legacy which we all celebrate, but back then the U.S. did almost everything to crush any kind of movement in that direction, even when the leaders were primarily moderate, in order to keep a handle on the natural resources there. Needless to say, I was disappointed but probably not surprised that Lasalle didn't mention anything about our close economic ties to China, a large communist country that's also well known for it's deplorable human rights - even on a greater scale than itsy-bitsy Cuba. China also has the world's largest army and nuclear weapons. I don't think Mick Lasalle has ever made a big fuss about any films that have been produced from that country and he hasn't complained about why we show them here. He also doesn't seem to want to entertain my point that change may have come to Cuba from within itself, if we didn't isolate the country as we have and continue to do.

But now, there I am, in his column, in print, sounding like some kind of pro-communist supporter. Shit like this in the 1950s could have got me blacklisted or my phone bugged. But maybe, that's only assuming I had any influence...which I don't. And did I mention that I haven't even seen the movie? It looks interesting but I hear it's a snooze-fest...

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1 comment:

Leti said...

I just bought the damn movie on my DVR. Even though it may be a snoozer I will have to watch it...really I only wanted to watch it because I love Sodenberg's work and I think Benico Del Torro is an amazing actor!