Documentary a Day: Chevolution (2008)

Directors: Luis Lopez, Trisha Ziff

Chevolution is a documentary about the most reproduced image in the history of photography: the Guerrillero Heroico image taken by Korda (and is one of three about the image)  The film is an in depth look at the origins of the iconic  photo and of Che himself.  The image is contextualized from the event that it was taken all the way to the broader discourse on its subsequent commercialization (for example there are a republican and a libertarian wearing Che shirts to “demonstrate how the shirts are made possible by capitalism).

The image was not initially even printed in Cuban news papers, but was first widely circulated by Feltrinelli and later made into a more pop-art style by Fitzpatrick.  Its mass appearance coincided with events like May 68′ amongst other uprisings that were going on in the time around the world.

There are some problems with the documentary, for example there is a long segment about how people don’t realize the “violent nature” of Che, or how his ideas lead to a “totalitarian dogmatic state” without an adequate counter-argument by people who appear in the documentary who clearly sympathize with Che.  Those more sympathetic with the potential of Che are more portrayed as idealists instead of Marxists, although perhaps that is implied by their sympathies.

The co-optation of rebellion, a popular topic amongst the more cultural Leftist theory, is dealt with throughout the film (even with a reference to Marcuse).  The interesting thing here is that the “culture industry” theories of the Frankfurt school seem to apply even to the Leftist reproduction of Che’s image.  What I mean by that is that the original mass production of the famous image were almost the reverse of the co-optation  that we subsequently saw with the commercialization of Che’s image.

The film does an excellent job at examining the origins and meaning of the image from various different perspectives, and takes it very seriously.


Documentary a Day: Herbert’s Hippopotamus (1996)

Director Paul Alexander Juutilainen

Herbert’s Hippopotamus is a film about the New Left philosopher Herbert Marcuse.  The film details his coming to the USA and his experiences while he was teaching a UC San Diego in California.  Marcuse reached a high level of fame in California and around the world for his role in the student and radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s (although his involvement as a Marxist theorist goes all the way back to the German Revolution towards the end of WWI).  His most notable student was Angela Davis, who is featured throughout the film quite often, recounting her experiences with Marcuse.  His celebrity-like status would remind a contemporary viewer of Slajov Zizek, although Marcuse was much more active in social movements even though he remained an intellectual the whole time.

In the film and and subsequent reviews, he is often accused of being a Communist, although it’s “cleared up” that he never joined the Party, although he did remain a Marxist and employed a Marxist analysis of his critique of industrial society (including the USSR).  His politics made him have enemies in high places, including the American Legion (which already has a bad history with the Left), and Ronald Reagan: who was for removing Marcuse from his position.

The film is an interesting account of a radical thinker of the 1960s who had a complicated relationship with the college he worked at, and capitalist society at large: of which he was a major critic.

At the time of this posting, the film can be viewed in its entirety on Google Video or YouTube:

Google Video

Further viewing:

A lecture by the co-editor of Marcuse’s selected writings – YouTube