January 30, 2009

About Benicio del Toro's Che-related walk-out on the interview with that Washington Times reporter.

On Tuesday, I called foul at this Washington Times piece about how Benicio Del Toro walked out on an interview when pressed with questions about Che Guevara, the character he plays in Steven Soderbergh's new movie "Che." I wanted to respect the actor who sees his place to be acting a role, not mouthing off about history and politics.

The author of the article, Sonny Bunch, wrote to me and — when I asked — gave me permission to publish this response:
You know, I was hoping that the walkout wouldn't come across as a "gotcha"-type moment. Rather, I was hoping it could be used to demonstrate just how contentious the movie is: In the midst of an otherwise ordinary interview, the actor/producer largely responsible for its creation just up and walks out. I wanted that to set the stage for a broader discussion of the movie involving the director and the regime's dissidents.

And I say "otherwise ordinary" because it was--I thought the interview was going really well until he cut it off. It wasn't particularly heated or repetitious and never veered too far off topic; the last question he took was an innocuous one about how you portray a failed revolution on film as opposed to a successful one. (I hope that came across in the web video my editorial overlords asked me to tape...) We ended up cutting most of that context because the piece was too long, but I can assure you that it was your average interview with a movie star, with one key difference: I asked follow-ups.

The movie itself isn't nearly as interesting as the trailer makes it out to be: Guevara comes across as Jesus with an AK-47, healing the sick, teaching the illiterate to read, and mowing down enemies of the people. It's split into two parts, one about the successful Cuban revolution and the second about the failed Bolivian revolution. What's left out is the time Guevara and Castro spent ruling Cuba. It's an interesting artistic choice to make, but it's also one that leaves you open to criticisms of infidelity to history by way of omission. I was curious to know what he, as a producer, made of those criticisms. That's all...
Thanks.

By the way, I've seen this trailer for the movie several times — not voluntarily, as part of a captive theater audience — and it didn't seem to take sides about whether we ought to think well of Che. It ends with this question and answer: "How does it feel to be a symbol?" "Of what?" That sounded distanced and existentialist. It made me think the movie might be a work of art of some complexity. In that context, I imagined del Toro to be an artist who immersed himself in the role and, in doing that, lost the critical eye and political perspective the reporter wanted him to use.

I'm not blaming Bunch for asking the questions now, though.

33 comments:

Revenant said...

I stand by my earlier analysis: del Toro's a big pussy.

former law student said...

Which reminds me:

The mall Borders near my house has a display of books about Che, near their Latin American/Spanish language book section. They still have a shrine to Obama, but it was next to a display of books about Abraham Lincoln. Now that I know there's a new movie about Che, the display makes sense: Borders displays correspond to current events.

For interest, Borders had about eight patrons on a Wednesday afternoon. There was an elaborate display of Valentine's merchandise, but no books were part of the mix.

(I had gone to Sears, to replace my cracked water heater, and was walking around, recovering from the shock of paying more -- for heater, installation, and a building permit -- than I did for my first pickup.)

Bissage said...

When Benicio Del Toro was on the Colbert Report he went as limp as a boned fish.

Still, I’d pay money to have him impregnate Kate Winslet with a thespian super-baby.

Tibore said...

" What's left out is the time Guevara and Castro spent ruling Cuba."

Hmmm... well, I guess if you leave out the purges, neither Stalin nor Pol Pot were bad fellows either. (*Rolls eyes*)

traditionalguy said...

Oh no, not another Messiah movie. Is this the season for Messiahs? So this movie is really a Passion Play for Leninist true believers. The poor actor was hesitant to expose any doubts about Che-Messiah's victorious life for fear of offending his true believer target audience.

Salamandyr said...

Darn it Tibore, I came in here to snark about the same thing!

Eli Blake said...

Che and friends Fidel-ed while Cuba burned.

Bart DePalma said...

Ann:

By the way, I've seen this trailer for the movie several times — not voluntarily, as part of a captive theater audience — and it didn't seem to take sides about whether we ought to think well of Che.

Replace Che with Heinrich Himmler in that trailer and then tell me that the trailer does not romanticize its subject.

The trailer tells us that Che was "the inspiration for a revolution that spread across the world." Actually, he was a late coming leader in a long established movement that murdered over 100 million people across the world.

This movie reminds me of Reds, where the film romanticizes a monstrous movement and only casually raises negatives to spin them as honest mistakes made for the greater good of the revolution.

LarsPorsena said...

Old Joke:

Fidel was at a noisy politburo meeting and asked the assembled faithful for a volunteer to run Cuba's industry.
There was a lot of cross-talk, then Che raises his hand. Matter settled.


Six months later and with Cuba beggared, Fidel angrily confronts Che:
Fidel: Everything is a mess.How can this have happened. Didn't you tell me you were a good economist?
Che: Oops!! I thought you said communist.

Tibore said...

"Salamandyr said...
Darn it Tibore, I came in here to snark about the same thing!"


Heh! It's all about the quick draw. :D


-----

Okay, in all seriousness: Sonny Bunch also illustrates the touchiness of the subject that Del Toro wants to avoid. As he said: "... I was hoping that the walkout wouldn't come across as a "gotcha"-type moment. Rather, I was hoping it could be used to demonstrate just how contentious the movie is...". So this was far less an ambush - not even close, according to Bunch - and far more the normal evolution of the conversation. And yet, Del Toro refuses to participate in even that.

We all know that the producers and directors will already be on the defensive from the obvious criticism everyone knows will come from the expat Cuban community. But to refuse to even discuss the issue makes you wonder if this is less defensiveness and more unwillingness to face facts. A refusal to discuss a most obvious point of discussion about the topic suggests that the director and producers do not care for alternate interpretations of their work. And while that's fine to a degree, on a topic like this, it's tantamount to closemindedness. A work about a topic like this will invite a number of contrary views, and to blatantly refuse to engage those views, even for the purpose of defending their own work, is to me an indication that they only consider one interpretation of this narrative to be the correct one, and that's the one excluding the atrocities in Cuba. Because as can be told from both Bunch's statement and the various movie descriptions on the 'net, the entire issue of Guevara's activities in revolutionary Cuba is ignored. And that's not the way to treat a historical figure, even in movies. Ignoring a central aspect of a historical figure is like trying to portray Santa Claus without Christmas: It doesn't matter if the result is supposed to be dramatacized or fiddled a bit in order to tell a story. Leaving out something that central would be just plain ridiculous.

Can we tell the Ted Bundy story without mentioning the serial killings? Or the Michael Jordan story without referencing basketball? See where I'm going with this?

If someone wanted to fictionalize Che Guevara, or only deal with a certain aspect of a historical figure's life (like what was done in the Motorcycle Diaries), then it's fair to avoid certain aspects. But missing central components of the narrative is to render history false, and if the purpose of this film was to display the Che Guevara story as a whole, then the end result is nothing less than dishonest.

Franco said...

Funny how leaders like Che and Castro are romanticized with all their giant flaws glossed over, while and Nixon and Bush are trashed their relatively minor flaws exaggerated.

One question I would like to ask the producers and actors of this film; How would Che want you guys to split the profits? Follow up: Why didn't you?

Bissage said...

I watched “Annie Hall” last night.

The portrayal of Manhattan was deceitful; all good, no bad.

Woody Allen should be made to answer!

Revenant said...

This movie reminds me of Reds, where the film romanticizes a monstrous movement

I have mixed feelings about that claim, because that wasn't how I felt watching the movie.

I thought it was interesting and well-acted. But the communists in the movie are a mix of egotistical pricks (John Reed and Eugene O'Neill), clueless dilettantes like the Diane Keaton character, and evil bastards (the USSR). For all their talk of high moral and ethical goals and concern for the common people, I didn't think there was a character in the movie who could plausibly be called a heroic figure.

Now, maybe the producers were just so far in the socialist tank that they didn't realize things would appear that way. Or maybe I'm just immune to being charmed by commie propaganda and other people aren't. But personally, I don't see how anyone would come out of that movie thinking "its just too bad the communists weren't more successful here in America".

rcocean said...

Interesting that with all the great people and subjects available, some lefty Hollywood producer picks Che.

Why Che? He was Caatro's Frank Nitty & killed any number of innocent people. And helped set up a monstrous Communist Dictatorship. He doesn't seem like a good role model or Box office draw.

So I wonder why.

Howard said...

Bunch sounds like a typical passive aggressive yenta. He was hoping the walkout would inspire a deeper discussion, right. I believe that because intellectual discourse sells newspapers.

I agree with the Rev, Del Toro is a big pussy. That is why he is so successful: most highly accomplished entrepreneurial people are lazy, stupid and have no guts. What is it with his squinting, somebody needs to get that boy some ExLax.

Big Mike said...

Jesus with an AK-47. What cool imagery. What a subtle way to stick the knife into the pompous Hollywood radical chic types.

Do Soderbergh or del Toro or anybody else among the Hollywood radical chic realize that if a person with Che's political philosophy came to power here they'd be lucky to be alive one year later?

Scrutineer said...

... I imagined del Toro to be an artist who immersed himself in the role and, in doing that, lost the critical eye and political perspective the reporter wanted him to use.

Let's say you're right. At what point does an actor who "lost the critical eye" become a moral idiot?

You should watch the movie and tell us if it's merely nonjudgmental or hagiographic.

Tibore said...

"Big Mike said...
Do Soderbergh or del Toro or anybody else among the Hollywood radical chic realize that if a person with Che's political philosophy came to power here they'd be lucky to be alive one year later?"


Yes. Soderbergh has come out and directly addressed that. I mentioned it in the previous thread Prof. Althouse had on this movie:

"At the same time, Mr. Soderbergh seems to harbor few illusions about just who Guevara was.

"I don't know that there's any place for a person like me in the society that he was trying to make," the director said. "I'm the poster child for a lot of the [stuff] that he was trying to eradicate."


Source: Washington Times story "'Che' spurs debate, Del Toro walkout"

Revenant said...

I agree with the Rev, Del Toro is a big pussy. That is why he is so successful

If by "so successful" you mean that he's had seven starring film roles and six of them flopped -- the exception being "Traffic", eight years ago -- then sure, I guess he's pretty successful. In the sense that Alicia Silverstone is a successful actress.

Big Mike said...

@Tibore, I should have remembered that. Good catch.

Pogo said...

I haven't seen the movie, but I would think that Benicio del Toro must be one hell of an actor.

I mean, here's this big candy-assed wimp, who crumbles like an Icelandic bank, after just the barest whiff of a hard question, and yet...
And yet...
He plays a murderin' commie bastard who killed some men in Cuba just to watch 'em die, and apparently it's believable.

Where's his goddamned Oscar, I ask.

Pogo said...

Brave Benicio ran away.
Bravely ran away, away!
When danger reared its ugly head,
He bravely turned his tail and fled.
Yes, brave Benicio turned about
And gallantly he chickened out.
Bravely taking to his feet
He beat a very brave retreat,
Bravest of the brave, Benicio del Toro!

Richard Fagin said...

Lesson to take away from this affair is that anything communicated by "the media" about communist dictators, their henchmen and their millions of victims is going to leave out the murder, mass starvation, gulags, psyhchiatric and other torture and every other atrocity in the name of "building socialism" because "the media" are invariably filled with useful idiots. Diane Sawyer should go give Fidel another affectionate hug just to make the point.

Floridan said...

Why doesn't some producer make a movie that shows what's good about America and exposes the Hollywood leftists?

Oh wait, they did - An American Carol.

How is that film doing at the box office?

Revenant said...

How is that film doing at the box office?

Well, according to the Internet Movie Database, its profits are roughly equal to American Dreamz, just behind "Redacted", slightly ahead of "Home of the Brave" and "In the Valley of Elah", and way ahead of "Stop-Loss".

Which is to say, it lost a bunch of money because nobody wanted to see it. :)

But the really funny thing is the "that movie" part. As in, the one pro-American, anti-leftie movie in recent memory. If you said "what's that movie about how conservatives suck and American soldiers are a bunch of thugs?" people would be like "which set of Oscar nominees are you talking about, now?"

Bissage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bissage said...

I think I might have seen “American Carol” on DVD.

Is that the one where Frazier Crane joins the Army and lives on nothing but McDonalds?

I don’t remember any ghosts but I think there might have been a pretty funny joke about someone not getting an ass lift or something.

blake said...

Which is to say, it lost a bunch of money because nobody wanted to see it. :)

No, I doubt it lost any money at all. Movies don't usually lose money, regardless of box office, and this is seen to before the move is ever filmed with the sale of various rights.

XWL said...

Movies don't usually lose money

Unless you are a profit participant, then no film ever, made a dime . . .

(see Buchwald, Art)

As far as this Che business goes, I'll believe they didn't intend to aggrandize the bastard by giving him the 5 hour biopic treatment when they also turn in a similar picture on somebody like Franco.

Skeptical said...

What's left out is the time Guevara and Castro spent ruling Cuba. It's an interesting artistic choice to make, but it's also one that leaves you open to criticisms of infidelity to history by way of omission.

That's funny: failing to depict Castro ruling Cuba is infidelity.

reader_iam said...

The Diane Keaton character to whom Revenant refers was Louise Bryant, who, whatever one's reaction to her, was surely an interesting character in her times, and someone caught in contradictions. (Emma Goldman, for example, had a choice thing or two to say about her, as did people who were quite far on the other side from Emma.)

Some day I'd like to [take the time to see if I can] find a solid citation to pin down whether she was the source of a quote which led to another and eventually to a common comment[/cliche]. Here's the quote:

"If that's what you have to do for 15 minutes of fame it says something about the character of the person."

/end OT (assuming it's OT)

PatCA said...

Who the heck do they think they are asking these tough questions?

Oh yeah, the press.

It's an overtly political movie. Grow a pair, B!

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