Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I've been fortunate enough to view Steven Soderbergh's Che twice; first when it premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival (where I wrote it up) and then again more recently in anticipation of its theatrical release. I was disappointed when I watched the theatrical print to discover the excision of the introductory maps which situated each film's narrative. Thus, I'm heartened to hear from Michael Hawley's write-up that the roadshow doesn't tamper with the film's original presentation.

Soderbergh is once again making the rounds in preparation for Oscar consideration. I was struck by his interview in this month's issue of Esquire. Asked if he felt art makes the world a better place, Soderbergh responded: "What tragedy has it kept from happening? Tell that to the 13-year-old girl from Somalia who got stoned to death last week after being raped by three men and then convicted of adultery, buried up to her head, and stoned in front of a crowd of 1,000 people. If the collected works of Shakespeare can't keep that from happening, then what is it worth? Honestly?" Unflinching words from an uncompromising auteur.

My thanks to Michael Hawley for sharing his focus on Che's traveling roadshow with The Evening Class.

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As you may know, Steven Soderbergh's 2-part, 4½ hour Che epic was scheduled to open across the country last Friday, January 9 as two separate films requiring two separate admissions. At the last minute, however, IFC Films changed its game plan and will now release it a week later in the "Special Roadshow Edition" that played to sold-out crowds in NYC and LA in December.

Nine U.S. cities have been selected for this exclusive one-week presentation, including San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. But here in San Francisco we're getting something extra these other cities are not, and that's the opening night appearance of director Soderbergh. He'll be on hand to do a Q&A at the 7:30 show on Friday, January 16 at the Landmark Embarcadero Cinema. Soderbergh's Q&A in NYC was reported to be a lively, contentious affair that went on until 1:00 in the morning, and I'm predicting this screening will be one of the Bay Area's biggest, not-to-be-missed movie events of 2009. Admission is $18.00 and advance tickets can be purchased here.

Anyone younger than 50 is probably wondering just what the hell's a "Special Roadshow Edition" anyway. Well, back in the 1950s when the advent of TV spelled potential disaster for movie theaters, Hollywood came up with a number of gimmicks to attract audiences. These included new widescreen formats like Cinerama and Cinemascope, 3-D and the limited engagement Roadshow release, which sought to duplicate the experience of attending live theater. Blockbusters like The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia or The Sound of Music would open in a handful of large cities with reserved seating, a pre-screening musical overture, an intermission, exit music and a printed souvenir program. Occasionally the roadshow version of a film might even contain extra scenes that would be cut for the film's general release (note to self: it's time to finally watch the roadshow DVD of South Pacific I purchased two years ago—with 20 extra minutes not in the version I've seen a zillion times). Wikipedia has a terrific entry on the whole roadshow phenomenon.

As I understand it, the roadshow edition of Che will be shown without trailers, PSAs or artsy Stella Artois beer commercials beforehand. An overture is played before each of the two films, during which time an on-screen map provides a brief geography lesson for the country in which each film takes place—i.e., Cuba for Part One (a.k.a. The Argentine) and Bolivia for Part Two (a.k.a. Guerrilla). There will be an intermission inbetween, and every ticketholder receives a nifty 32-page souvenir program (16 pages per film that meet in the middle thanks to a reverse, dual cover design).

Che world-premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival, where Benicio Del Toro won the Best Actor prize for his portrayal of Ernesto Guevara. I caught it at a press screening two weeks ago, and found it engaging enough to warrant a second look—especially in its roadshow presentation with Mr. Soderbergh in attendance. Some people will be disappointed that Che isn't a straight-up biopic, although Part One leans somewhat in that direction. Instead, as Michael Guillén articulated in his review of the film from the Toronto Film Festival, it's more of a discourse on revolutionary philosophy and guerrilla warfare tactics. In the two films we get to experience how these ideals succeed brilliantly in one environment (Cuba) and fail disastrously in another (Bolivia).

If you're unable to attend the opening night screening with the director in attendance, the "Special Roadshow Edition" of Che will continue at the Embarcadero Cinema through Thursday, January 22, with two shows daily at 1:30 and 7:30 (the matinee tickets are $15.00). Starting January 23, the two films will be shown separately at regular ticket prices.

Worth a look:

IFC Films Che website, which includes the U.S. trailer. Wikipedia entry for the film, with extensive material on the film's development, screenplay, financing, shooting, distribution and critical reaction. Michael Fox's write-up at SF360.

Cross-published at
film-415 and Twitch.

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