Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chevolution (2008)

Luis Lopez and Trisha Ziff

ocumakers Trisha Ziff and Luis Lopez begin with an intriguing premise: Trace the history of the most frequently reproduced image of the 20th century, Korda's famous photograph of Che Guevara. "Chevolution" covers every conceivable aspect of the photo: its subject, its creator (a fashion photog turned revolutionary shutterbug), its initial obscurity, its explosion on the '60s politico-cultural scene and its final commodification, as capitalism co-opted the image to peddle everything from T-shirts to vodka. Offering multiple viewpoints on the mass phenomenon, docu seems tailor-made for Netflix distrib Red Envelope Entertainment. Steven Soderbergh's Cannes-premiered "Che" could add fuel to the fire.  Filmmakers manage to recap Guevara's short life succinctly and nonjudgmentally. Photographer Alberto "Korda" Diaz emerges as less fully fleshed out, though filmmakers interview several associates who recall the man and his work. But, as the title suggests, it is the evolution of one specific image the film addresses. But why this image, so replete with Mona Lisa-like ambiguity? What does it imply?  Diaz's iconic photo of Che in a beret staring (sadly? adamantly? pensively?) slightly off to the left of the frame, titled "Guerillero Heroico," was snapped during a mass funeral for those killed in a suspicious explosion at Havana harbor. Passed over for publication in the periodical Revolucion, the informally captured photo remained pinned up in Diaz's studio until a left-wing Italian entrepreneur turned it into an instantly recognizable worldwide symbol of '60s political ferment.  Cuba did not recognize copyright law until relatively recently, but Diaz initially had no objection to the unpaid proliferation of his work -- whether repurposed by artists (in the age of Warhol, such raw material proved irresistible) or used to adorn placards -- until corporations appropriated it to sell their products.  Filmmakers then examine what the photo became: Do those who wear images of Guevara on their shirts and bikini bottoms know who he was? The man-on-the-street answers are as generally amusing as they are potentially disturbing (most of "Chevolution" was shot in the U.S., though co-helmers Ziff and Lopez are Mexico-based).






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