Well, I Broke My Brain

March 9th, 2011

So, believe it or not, I’ve just got about got some critique copies of my novel ready (I ordered the first proof for myself mere moments ago).

Naturally, being the typical, pathetically insecure writerly type, I am now convinced that it sucks beyond all redemption. My response to this was to spend all last night reading 1-star reviews of popular books on Amazon, both traditionally published and indie. While this helped at the time (for some reason), I then had nightmares about reviews of my own work piling up. Although, in my unconscious’s defense, most of them were not negative. Strangely, though, the highly positive ones scared me just as much.

So a word about this whole indie publishing thing. Since this book is the first of a series, I’m not bothering to give it away until at least one sequel is ready. In fact, I will probably do little if any marketing until then. So I expect all of two people to ever find and buy it at first, but I’ll be getting my foot in the door.

I’ve also been sampling some of the indie lit out there on my brand new Kindle (thanks, honey!), and what I’ve tried so far is, honestly, subpar. Not badly written, as one might suspect, just kinda . . . meh. Yet the titles I’ve tried, not to name names, are ones that are selling reasonably well despite their indie status, and have boatloads of glowing, seemingly authentic reviews, so what do I know?

Another worry I have is that maybe I have lost interest in most fiction. I used to read a lot more back in high school when I had more time for such things, and I’ve only grown more cynical and impatient over the years since. I’ve put down several popular, traditionally published novels lately, wondering what the appeal is. I never used to do that. I’m almost afraid to go back and read some of my old favorites. Take, for instance, the Wheel of Time series, which is finally scheduled to be concluded next year under the hand of Brandon Sanderson. I plan to go through and read the whole series then, as I liked what I read of the series–12 years ago! Was I even the same person then?

So, yeah, I’m a mess. If I go read some Heinlein and discover I don’t like it anymore, I will probably go cry in a corner.

College Sucks: An Epic Post of Higher Learning Suckitude

February 18th, 2011

Behold the American Dream laid low. While the university system exists to edify, uplift, and provide boundless opportunities to eager young minds, all while promoting valuable research meant to represent the best intellectual offerings of our times and promote cultural and technological progress in American society at large, it seems to do little of either these days. Or, to put it bluntly, college sucks.

This is just an undergrad student’s perspective. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories from those poor souls entrenched in grad school and the faculty. No offense, but I hope to never join your ranks.

This rant may come off as petty and self-indulgent, but so be it. I’ve gone to several colleges over the years (for rather boring reasons) without a lot to show for it, so I’ve got some pent-up complaints on the subject. So, why exactly do I think college sucks?

1. General Education Requirements. They suck. In countries that aren’t retarded, they’ve already taken these classes in high school. This isn’t solely a complaint about the university system per se, as it is America’s dysfunctional primary education system that regularly churns out a stream of ever more functionally illiterate, lazy, self-entitled morons. I understand the sentiment behind a broad liberals arts education, but forgive me if I just want to get on with my life at this point. Not to mention it’s something easily studied on one’s own–watch a movie with subtitles once in a while, my fellow ugly Americans.

2. School is sexist–against men. Now hear me out. Females are, on the whole, better students than males. There are any number of theories to explain this, though I suspect it comes down to innate differences between men and women. Studies have shown that there are, indeed, basic differences between the ways the two sexes tend to think, which boil down to the fact that men tend to have linear, single-track minds that can focus intently on a single subject, while women are better multi-taskers. Guess who’s going to excel at taking five or six radically different subjects in a single semester? As a male, I have personally performed much better during short, focused summer sessions or during intense, single-subject study in the military.

3. Transfer credits. Thinking about transferring schools between states? Don’t. That is, unless you enjoy navigating the byzantine waters of transfer credits, where your previous hard work is often wiped clean off the record for no particular reason. Which brings me to my next topic:

4. Out-of-state tuition. Is there any bigger joke in the state-sponsored educational system? While it seems logical on the surface–people who pay state taxes have presumably contributed more to college funding–it’s not like these American states are islands of autonomous economies. You think people graduating from a certain state college will hesitate to take the right job out-of-state afterwards? Of course not, it’s ridiculous. Besides which, it’s not like you build some sort of “tax credit history” with a state while you pay its taxes; you can live in a state for 25 years, change your residency for one day and you are instantly boned. To top it all off, the whole thing might just violate the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution.

5. Government funding and promotion. Despite the best efforts of state legislatures to fairly distribute tuition costs between residents and “non-residents” (which don’t exist legally except to school bureaucrats), the cost of tuition rises every year. This is due to several factors, but the big two are the current cultural emphasis on the importance of going to college (which is overblown, as college isn’t for and shouldn’t be pushed on everyone) and government funding. This began decades ago with the introduction of the GI Bill, which seems great (and is a benefit I have used myself), but what do you think is going to happen when more students are suddenly flush with cash to spend on education? Tuitions rise. In order to combat the rise in tuition preventing the poor from attending college, the government creates grants to subsidize the costs for some people. So, tuitions rise again. The government ups the benefits, etc. And now the school employs a small army of pencil-pushers to do all this paperwork, and costs rise yet again. It’s an endless, absurd cycle, and in the meantime those that are above the income thresholds (or don’t want to kill foreigners) are forced to take out loans for the ever-increasing tuitions and fees. I suspect even a 100% across-the-board subsidized college education which some other countries have (and I don’t support) would be preferable to our broken system that makes debtor-slaves out of millions (is it any wonder the powers-that-be like the status quo?). I would place some of the blame on corporations for, for many years, lazily demanding degrees of nearly everyone, instead of looking at their actual job skills. There’s so many graduates now, however (and coming from schools with plummeting academic standards), that possessing a degree is no longer a reliable litmus test for finding a bright future employee, more technical degrees being generally excepted.

6. Increasingly uncertain payoffs. Your degree will probably not be worth much. The government-touted figure about college grads making a million more dollars in their lifetimes than high school grads is dubious at best, an outright lie at worst, and in any case it depends highly on your specific degree (and, you know, things like the economy, your work ethic, etc.). In our tanking economy (the recovery of which never quite seems to get started when the “experts” predict), the job market is crowded with underemployed college grads. Unless you enjoy and wish to enter the world of academia for a lifetime (if you’re lucky), please for the love of all that is good and holy do not pursue a liberal arts major. Degrees in medicine and engineering are still likely good bets, you know, because they might actually teach you marketable skills. Which brings me to my next point:

7. The gulf between college and the workplace. Let’s face it, most people go to college in order to land a better job, but in most cases the two are nothing alike. Why do we insist on continuing this farce? Do companies really think they can get away with not having to train their employees? No matter what the industry, specific on-the-job training inevitably follows hiring. What happened to the days of apprenticeships and working your way up? Or why not have industry-specific trade schools for the 90% of students just looking for job skills, and leave the university system to the minority seeking to go into academic research?

8. Parties and weekend football. I’ve never cared about any of this, so it’s a minor detail for me. I could never fathom why state-funded colleges can get away with having highly profitable sports franchises in the first place, much less why people actually care about the teams. (Also, the crime of college athletes being unable to seek a fair wage for the services they provide.) As for students who only attend college for the party atmosphere, they and their parents are going to find a four-year binge-drinking vacation an increasingly unjustifiable luxury. Also, they are idiots.

9. The Researcher-Lecturer. An ability to conduct top-notch research does not confer an ability to lecture to undergrads. I imagine this set-up comes from the long-gone days when universities were truly elite places of learning and only a handful of students would closely follow and assist the work of a professor. In the mass market diploma mills today, this system is unworkable. Would a system of separate, professional lecturers catering to the unwashed undergrads be so bad? Students might later advance to working side-by-side with a tenured researcher, most students aren’t going to college to do research anyway, they would leave earlier to hit the job market.

10. Group projects. Professors often assign group projects, likely so there are fewer projects to be graded, usually with the excuse that in the “real world” group projects are the norm. First of all, college is not meant to mimic the real world; this is a filthy lie designed to imply that college is actually teaching you job skills, which it usually isn’t. Secondly, you are assessed and graded as an individual to determine if as an individual you have demonstrated the learning necessary to progress in your field. This is the purpose of college. Whether or not you work well in a group is irrelevant if you have not personally mastered the requisite skills. You will learn quickly in the “real world” how the group’s dynamics function. Finally, you are likely to be saddled with lazy, stupid teammates, who have skated through college thus far thanks, in part, to group projects (and later export their well-honed mooching skills to the “real world”). Many students do not have (or ignore) the obvious incentives to work well with others that people in industry have. Also, forgive me if I’m not inspired to work in groups when the half the people in them will never graduate.

Sadly, there may be a sequel to this post someday.

Of Enthusiasm and Existential Crises

February 3rd, 2011

One of the great emotions in life–and increasingly rare in this aging cynic–is that of enthusiasm. Having spent most of my life in school of one sort or another, I am acutely aware of the hopefulness I experience at the beginning of every school term; soon I shall be learning new things every day, expanding my horizons and improving my lot in life. The blank notebooks and unopened texts ache to be scribbled with my penetrating insights into the sum of man’s knowledge.

Soon, however, reality sets in: the daily grind wearing me down, the inevitable shortcomings of the instructor, the insufferable idiots surrounding me, the textbooks that are contractually forbidden from just getting to the point already, my own imperfect memory betraying my best intentions. By the end of the semester, I am happy to forget the whole experience. Rinse, lather, repeat.

After so many years of this cycle, only the faintest glimmer of hope remains, and is extinguished before my first class is over. And this is how I feel in the course of study for a subject I actually like, so you can imagine the severity of my existential crisis when I dropped out of my last program.

I even felt this enthusiasm before I joined the military–I was going to be a shining example of a young patriot, by Jove. Reality kicked my ass good and hard.

Now, the fraction of my spirit that hasn’t been crushed has turned to other pursuits, the ones I wish to discuss being filmmaking and writing.

Some of my friends and I have always been interested in indie filmmaking, but we never did anything due to the usual litany of real-life circumstances. However, at one time, I had great enthusiasm for the idea. But the more I thought about the cost and complications involved–besides the fact that the ultra low-budget indie scene of the 90′s is long dead–the more and more it drifted into the background.

Recently I watched a film called Feeding Frenzy, from the geniuses at Red Letter Media who created the Plinkett Star Wars reviews (which are, without hyperbole, the best art criticism in any form ever created). It’s a nearly zero-budget film that’s a spoof of 80′s “rubber monster” movies, and it is surprisingly smart and entertaining despite its obvious rough edges. So, naturally, the creativity bug hit me, and I practically raved like a madman, “Why aren’t we making movies?!?”, “Oh, look how much the price on such-and-such camera has come down!”, “We’ve got the script, let’s aim for shooting this summer!” Then I do the worst thing possible and listen to the creators’ commentary on the Feeding Frenzy DVD, and the trials they went through just to make this seemingly simple movie were, quite frankly, staggering. The realities hit me again–I have no money, time, equipment, cast, crew, or know-how. I lapse into my usual I-have-wasted-my-life despondency.

So I return to the cheapest and most solitary of artistic pursuits, writing. I need to finish that novel anyway, right? Miraculously, I am close to that point, and if my previous post is any indication, I was rather enthusiastic about becoming an “indie author” online. After exploring this dank, hopeless, rightfully shunned corner of the Internet, I just . . . Jesus Christ. The millions of man-hours these people pour into fruitless marketing and networking, their completely unjustified optimism (if not downright delusion), their bitching about the traditional publishing industry. Of course, that’s the next level, the thousands of wannabe authors scrambling at the virtual gates of the publishing houses like so many Depression-era workers. The very thought of it is so instantly sad and soul-crushing.

That being said, I’m still sold on my idea of just giving my book away, then just leaving it at that and not obsessing about my online “career”. I don’t have the time or constitution to jump through all these hoops, whether for elusive success as an indie author online, or with the print publishers. If it turns into something more, then great, if not, well, I had fun working on it. I guess I should pursue the traditional route if I want to be a “legit” author, but if there is one thing that’s obvious it’s that publishing, TV, and film executives are extremely poor at predicting what will be popular. Sure, they turn away scores of genuinely awful projects, but how many gems have never seen the light of day due to this system? (And how many abject failures have they greenlighted?) Since I can make this particular product so cheaply in this day and age, why not skip the middleman and let the customer decide? And how many poorly edited, amateurish titles have been released by publishers lately? Their standards seem to be getting lower everyday anyhow. Not that I consider this license to release a substandard product, but now that the end is in sight the usual pathetic artist’s anxieties have a firm grip upon me.

So, yeah, that’s how I feel.

On Writing, Waiting, and the Future of Publishing

January 16th, 2011

Guess what? I finished the second draft of the novel! At least, I finished transcribing (and editing as I went) everything in my notebooks. I’ve yet to incorporate the chapter intros I mentioned earlier (by which I mean, three bloody months ago–I officially hate time). Turns out I grossly overestimated how many words my handwritten pages contain, so the whole thing stands at over 95,000 words at the moment, which is probably a better length anyway.

Next, I plan to have a cheap print-on-demand version printed up strictly for my own edification (and round of minor edits), before I print up some copies for others to critique.

After that, well . . . I think I’ve gone crazy (again). I’m seriously thinking of giving the middle finger to whole traditional publishing route. And no, I am not going to pay some vanity press to make me feel good about myself. The fact is, in this day and age, it’s more of an uphill battle than ever for a new fiction writer to gain legitimate representation or get a publishing deal right off the bat. Most new writers end up wasting a ton of effort sending out their work, only to be rejected months, if not more than a year, later.

So, I ask, what freakin’ century is this? I can put my work online in e-book form and have it available to the whole world in seconds. Well, you ask, why would readers take a chance on paying for something by a no-name newbie like me? They probably won’t, honestly. So I am giving away my book for free.

Think about it. The hardest part for any new author is gaining a fan base, even if they are published. And while traditional publishers provide many valuable services for established authors, they don’t do a whole hell of a lot for the new guy. The system is completely outdated, really. Eventually, virtually every new artist will have gained a following online before he or she is signed to a professional deal, mark my words.

This way I can see if people like what I write, and they will take a chance if it is free. If they all say it stinks, well maybe it will be time to re-think things. If it is decently popular, I will continue. I could even charge for the sequel if it is popular enough. Maybe someday this will translate into a viable career, maybe not. But with some fans on board I’ll have a lot better chance.

There are already a few new writers who have done this, so I need to strike while the iron is hot; before every schlub on the planet puts his NaNoWriMo dreck on the Kindle store. So as soon as I have what I think is the most professional product I can produce without actually being a professional, my book will be available to all, free of charge, probably under a Creative Commons license.

Welcome to the brave new world of publishing.

Despite this Post, Fall is My Favorite Time of Year

October 2nd, 2010

So this little thing called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is coming up, where folks attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in November. I hate NaNoWriMo, yet I always sign up for it (I cannot boast of a single “win” after several years of participating, I’m afraid). Part of its appeal is the community that comes together to root for each other–but I hate people, so this has never been a big draw for me. Also, I swear the community is overwhelmingly female teenagers writing fanfic, and sometimes I feel a little creepy just browsing the forums. Many participants start a hopeful blog in October to document their little adventure, only to find that keeping up with the novel is hard enough, much less blogging at the same time, and the blogs inevitably dry up after two or three posts. It’s a bit sad, really. And nobody reads anymore anyway, so why are we bothering?

I don’t know. I guess we’re just a little crazy. If nothing else, NaNoWriMo acts as a handy goalpost for me. I had wanted to finish the second draft of my fantasy novel by the end of the month so I could start something fresh for NaNoWriMo. Of course, I’m also a wearied engineering student, as I’m not foolhardy enough to assume the whole professional novelist thing will pan out. I’m not saying I’m giving up, but the necessary mental energy is at a premium these days. So, any writing I can get done is a victory of sorts.

Minor novel update: while the second draft is delayed, I did manage to write some additional back-story that will appear as snippets in the chapter headings. Huzzah!

Random Movie Wisdom

August 18th, 2010

From Roger Ebert’s Great Movies entry for 1969′s Easy Rider:

One of the reasons we have so many buddy pictures is that Hollywood doesn’t understand female characters (there are so many hookers in the movies because, as characters, they share the convenience of their real-life counterparts: They’re easy to find and easy to get rid of.)

Of Facebook and Existential Crises

July 10th, 2010

Facebook is a blight upon the earth.

You know that grade school friend you haven’t seen since the last century? A quick search and you see him all grown up with a youngling piggybacking on his shoulders. Wouldn’t it be nice to meet him at a reunion of some sort and catch up in person? Maybe enjoying some barbequed hot dogs in the setting sun. Instead you share e-mails like so much spam. Add such folks as friends, and suddenly the sum of our lives are reduced to a few text boxes in an online profile. Somehow all this instant human contact is dehumanizing.

And there are some people you do not want to keep in touch with, or even hear anything about. Do I need to know what my parents’ ex-spouses from 30-some years ago are up to, or even look like? I think not. I have nothing against them personally, but sleeping dogs need some bloody rest.

Or Facebook just serves to remind you how shallow and fleeting many of your relationships were. Oh, so-and-so from a part-time job a few years back wants to add you as a friend. Once you electronically befriend them and say hi, you have nothing else to say. What you once had in common is lost.

What used to be the sole domain of cherished (or dreaded, etc.) memories now becomes an immediate confrontation with the mundane, unimportant present, as the specters from your past tell you what they had for lunch, or what they think of the latest iPhone app.

If there is anything else on this earth which is a clearer example of mankind’s impossible, grasping attempts at interpersonal connections with the mass of humanity and a disregard for the sacredness of the unchangeable past, I have yet to find it.

That being said, I have a Facebook account and I hate myself a little more each day.

(Note: I wrote this about 9 months ago and quickly unpublished it. I found it again while cleaning up some files and thought it was actually pretty good. I removed some personal details and toned down the alcohol-fueled rage and now present it to the world.)

Knife in the Water (1962)

June 19th, 2010

215_knifeater

Criterion Collection #215

The story of Knife in the Water is, on its surface, very straightforward: a well-to-do couple takes a 19-year-old hitch-hiker along for a weekend jaunt on their sailboat. Criterion describes it as a “psychological thriller”, which led me to expect something more sinister (I have seen Rosemary’s Baby, after all), but the emphasis should be firmly placed on “psychological”. Which is not to say the movie does not have its intense moments (it does), but it’s well, different. Anyway, the aforementioned couple is comprised of a middle-aged journalist and his younger, hotter wife. They don’t seem particularly excited by each other’s company, but are used to it. Both the men in the movie, the husband and the hitch-hiker, are kind of jerks and less intelligent than they suppose themselves to be. The husband nearly runs the hitch-hiker over showing off his driving skills, the hitch-hiker daringly (i.e., stupidly) hitches by standing, unyielding, right in the middle of the road.

What ensues is a petty, macho battle between the two men; one would guess for the wife’s attention, but she is barely spoken to. She is a trophy wife (did they have that term in 1962?), a sex object only in the sense that she’s attractive to other men; the husband couldn’t seem less interested in her personally. All the male posturing, hyper-competitiveness, and one-upmanship is less a way to attract mates, as it is popularly supposed, than it is a way to impress one another, and might even be slightly gay. Women, in much the same way, seem to obsess over their bodies and wardrobes and generally make themselves miserable more for the approval of other women than anything.

To speak too much more of the plot will spoil a lot. There are only three characters in the entire movie, most of which takes place in the confines of the sailboat. That this was filmed mostly on water by a first-time feature director by a small crew on a small budget is, needless to say, impressive. There are a couple spectacular shots–the boat beached in a rainstorm, the boat sitting motionless in the reeds in the early morning–that, as far as I could discern, involved no special effects. They just went out there and filmed it. I like that.

knifewater

I could mention how this was Roman Polanski’s first feature length film, and open up the whole Polanski can o’ worms, but I’ve really got nothing to add to that debate. But speaking of Poland, my one big concern is regarding the subtitles. It is obvious to even the non-Polish speaker that entire lines of dialogue go routinely un-translated. I can’t say for sure how this affects the movie (though everything that happened seemed pretty clear) but it is distracting in any case. I viewed Knife in the Water on Netflix’s Watch Instantly, which shows the Criterion cover on their site. Criterion’s page says the subtitles are a new translation by Polanski himself. So either (a) the Netflix feed was not Criterion’s version or (b) the director thought a lot of the dialogue was unimportant. You decide.

The final shot at first made me a little angry that yet another film was indulging in gratuitous ambiguity, but I soon realized that what happens next doesn’t matter: the central contest in the movie has already been decided. The rest is another story.

I couldn’t help but imagine what this movie would be like if Hollywood made it today (and since they are officially bereft of ideas, they are liable to remake just about anything). The sailboat would become a yacht, the series of Polish lakes Miami or Honolulu, the trophy wife a bevy of bootylicious hip-hop video extras; Flava Flav would be the ship’s captain; a CGI dolphin would be involved; the titular knife would be the murder weapon of countless skinny-dippers; Shia LaBeouf would be the hitch-hiker; and at some point a speedboat would be forced to make a daring jump over the yacht. Finally, Morgan Freeman’s soothing voice would wrap up all the loose ends. But I digress.

15,800 Words in Four Days

May 27th, 2010

So as it turns out, there is an upside to going back to school and not having a functional car (both rather depressing tales I’d rather not get into just now). Faced with many hours with nothing in particular to do while waiting for my girlfriend to get off work, I’ve been workin’ on that novel. To be more specific, I finished it.

No, seriously. As the title says, I estimate I wrote 15,800 words in four days’ time; I say estimate because it’s not on a computer but rather in 10-cent spiral notebooks I stocked up on at a back-to-school sale years ago. This was enough to make the push to the finish line. I hardly believed it happened. I got there, and had to consciously remind myself, “Oh yeah, this is the end of the story.” I’ve been working on this particular iteration of the story for two-and-a-half years (there have been several others), but it’s the first one I’ve finished.

Well, it’s not an end exactly, since it’s meant to be the first of a series, but I don’t think I left too much hanging. But we can talk about that later.

I’ll probably let it gestate for a couple weeks and then start editing the heck out of it (because, honestly, it’s a mess right now–I left many of the finer details to the wind in order to just keep going).

If only I was always this productive . . .

(Oh, as a side note, I think the movie reviews I wrote actually helped get the writing juices flowing again. Thanks, Criterion!)

Update: the whole thing stands at about 113,000 words, if you were curious.

Che (2008)

May 12th, 2010

che_poster

Criterion Collection #496

Regardless of your political stripe (and I’m decidedly anti-Communist), Ernesto “Che” Guevara has a certain mystique, or at least he did until dipshits started wearing his visage on t-shirts. But he is, in any case, a figure worthy of study. Steven Soderbergh’s Che, which is based upon Che’s own journals, is a not-quite-biopic, not-quite-epic, not-quite-political account of Che’s revolutionary campaigns in Cuba and Bolivia.

I should mention that I’m a fan of Soderbergh’s indie work, and I think aspiring filmmakers would do well to watch Bubble, which changed everything I thought I knew about acting, and The Girlfriend Experience, which was shot in just two weeks using only available light for nearly every scene. I ended up less enthusiastic about Che, however. (Also of note is that Che was filmed with the RED system of modular digital cameras, which have gained a lot of popularity with the indie set.)

The film is split into two parts, each over two hours in length, the first dealing with Che’s exploits in Cuba, the second with Che’s ill-fated exploits in Bolivia (thus skipping Che’s abandoned campaign in Congo in between). The narrative, or what little of it exists, starts with Che as a rebel hiding out in the mountains, and avoids much discussion about political motivations and deals mostly with immediate concerns, which becomes at times a pretty mundane picture of haggling for supplies, meeting new recruits, and schlepping through the wilds, occasionally punctuated by skirmishes with the Cuban army. If this is indeed representative of Che’s journals, it’s no wonder the film is entitled “Che” and not “The Cuban Revolution”.

che

What Che is, film-wise, is hard to say, and in a short interview on Criterion’s site, Soderbergh says he deliberately avoided a lot of the trappings of conventional films. The result is at times affecting, but mostly distant, both from Che and from the other people involved. I am left to wonder if this is Soderbergh’s interpretation of Che’s outlook on the situation and life in general, i.e., while Che was consumed with the plight of the “people”, he had little attachment to any single person–you could regard him as the perfect Communist! If this feeling was intentional, the film succeeds magnificently, if not, then the film has failed utterly. The audience (by which I mean, Che) is introduced to dozens of sympathizers and recruits throughout the movie, who quickly become mere assets of the revolution, and we never see them at any deeper level. Again, I’m not sure if this human distance was on purpose (I might just assume it was so I like the flick better). But if it was, the movie is not as pro-Che as some reactionaries might claim. But the man’s extraordinary military successes in Cuba and singular revolutionary intensity cannot be ignored.

As the anti-Batista revolution gains traction with the Cuban people, Castro and Che’s rebels are beset with more volunteers than they can possibly use, and end up turning away many of them, particularly those without weapons. As the movement builds momentum, government police and soldiers surrender or desert en masse. By the time they reach Santa Clara, the site of the last major battle before Batista fled the country, the revolution seems all but inevitable (and really made we want to re-watch the amazing Cuba scenes from The Godfather: Part II). To this point even I sympathize with the revolution, for what were they fighting but a foreign-backed, murderous puppet regime? Beyond that, well, Che and I part ways. As far as the less savory aspects of Che’s legacy, such as his role in executions of purported informers and traitors, we are privy to nothing besides the execution of two deserters-turned-bandits. Is this because the filmmakers were trying to avoid this messy controversy, were trying to paint Che in a better light, or was this simply absent from Che’s journals to begin with? I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt in guessing the latter, but I’m afraid I’m not inclined to read Che’s journals in order to find out if they are as long and grueling as this movie.

In Bolivia, the life of the revolutionary is even less glamorous, as Che and his men face illness, lack of supplies, and uncooperative locals, all while being pursued by US-trained commandos. While Soderbergh amply portrays the hardships of the rebels, we are left to wonder what Che has thought about nearly everything he’s done. Finally, near the end, he says only of Castro’s Cuba that it is “progressing”, and laments not better explaining their position to the Bolivian people.

My favorite scene is a cutaway to a post-revolution trip to the UN headquarters in New York, where Che thanks Senator Eugene McCarthy for the Bay of Pigs, saying there is nothing like a US-backed invasion to solidify popular support. Who knows, if Americans didn’t think they owned the world, the Communist regime in Cuba might have disintegrated before it really got started, and without Batista to rally against, may never have existed at all. Americans, however, are far too proud to learn anything from history. But we’ve got these groovy Che t-shirts.

(It was only happenstance that I began this project with two ambiguous Communist-related films; I should review Fireman’s Ball sooner than later, as I know it has a brilliant take on the subject.)

(Also, I availed myself of Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature to see Che, thus didn’t have access to the supplemental materials.)