Che: Steven Soderbergh interview
The revolution will not be televised, but it will be in cinemas in two parts. Che: Part One opens on 1st January with Che: Part Two coming out hot on it's heels on 20th February. So we thought it was about time we caught up with director Steven Soderbergh to ask him how he chose which periods of Che Guevara's life to focus on and what it was like directing in a second language. Steven also told us about the surprising way he plans on approaching his next historical subject.
LOVEFiLM: Did you always plan it to be two movies?
Steven Soderbergh: I always saw it as one big movie, but it would have to be, for mostly business reasons, split into two parts. Meaning, this thing started as one film that was just Bolivia and then through the process of development it just kept expanding and expanding. You had scenes that were a page and a half, and you just couldn’t sit with anything. Finally I said, “Look, it’s going to be two.” So that’s what we did. But in my mind I always saw it as... What was the last film I saw with an intermission? Reds, probably.
I just thought he was interesting enough and since we weren’t following the traditional model of a biographical movie, I felt it really was about the accumulation of detail, of incidents that aren’t necessarily as you’d watch them in aid of some larger narrative device. They’re just scenes of people interacting to make you feel that must have been what it was like to be there.
I wanted it to be somewhat impressionistic and not have those big movie moments. I just had these images of those old paintings where they’re portraying a historical event and they’ve combined like six different things that happened into this one frame. And I just kept thinking about that. About arranging people and light and shadow and depth.
And then the second film’s a little different because it’s just got a different feel to it. The first one very consciously has that more Hollywood sense of composition and scale, and the second one is a little less controlled. You know, not as wide a frame and all handheld, less colour as the movie goes on…
LF: More guerrilla.
LF: Why did you start off with Bolivia?
SS: I guess the reason we settled on that initially was a kind of knee jerk reaction, which came from my own superficial knowledge of him, which was, “Oh, how did he die?” I thought, “If we answer that question, then we’ve done our job.” And then it became apparent that you really didn’t understand Bolivia unless you saw Cuba. Because if you saw it on its own, you just kept thinking, “Why don’t they leave? Everything’s going wrong, why don’t they leave?”
LF: Is the two films together the ideal way to see it?
SS: Yeah, I think so. I understand that’s not an option for most people, but I think the call and response of the two films is much more present if you can see them in one go.
LF: Did the fact that The Motorcycle Diaries had already been used make you not want to focus on why the man wanted to become a revolutionary in the first place?
SS: Well that was certainly a help for us. It’s kind of Act One. They did Act One for us. But that never would have occurred to me. I was really interested in the war part. The procedural of waging that kind of war. I felt like, do you really have to explain why somebody feels like this situation could be better? And that something should be done? I mean, he wasn’t unique. There were hundreds of people and ultimately thousands who felt as strongly as he did. What’s unique about him is his will. His unbending will. He’s sort of the opposite of what you’re told a character in a movie’s supposed to be. People talk about arcs and Che is just a straight line. The tension is in whether or not external forces will become great enough to make him bend.
LF: When did you decide to film it not in English?
SS: That was about the time that I started saying, “We’ve got to bring Cuba into the story and it’s got to be two movies, and by the way, we gotta do it in Spanish.” Nobody really blinked at that because, you know, that s***’s got to stop. They’ve got to stop making movies in other cultures where they don’t respect the language.
LF: How was directing in Spanish?
SS: I loved it! Because it was sort of freeing in a way, because you’re kind of listening to music and you know when a note’s wrong even though you don’t know the lyric. And I knew enough of the language and the translations were going back and forth... I came away thinking I‘d love to make a movie in Japanese or whatever. I didn’t find it a hindrance at all.
LF: You’ve got some interesting projects coming up including Cleopatra, a musical in 3D. How’s that going to work?
SS: It’s gonna be awesome! I hope I can get somebody to pay for it. It’s not that expensive, but it’s pretty weird. It’s a real Elvis musical. It’s like Viva Las Vegas meets Tommy. It’s not serious. You know, it’s supposed to be a gas. Catherine Zeta Jones… I think Hugh Jackman’s going to do it. We’re still in the process of finding the other parts. I want to be able to shoot the way they used to shoot. I want to be able to do a four minute take. Where you go, “Wow! That looked hard. There’s no cutting there.” Because I miss that proficiency. It was so exhilarating to watch.
LF: Why 3D?
SS: Because it really lends itself to that. The technology, now, is really there. It’s gonna be this splashy, colourful thing. I just thought, “This could be really neat.”
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