Red DuskIt's time Hollywood gave up its love affair with communism.
BY BRIDGET JOHNSON
Wednesday, March 30, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST
HOLLYWOOD--Considering how steeped in elitism last month's Academy Awards were--with "lesser" winners forced to stay back in their aisles or dutifully line up on stage, thus robbing them of a once-in-a-lifetime trip down the aisle--Hollywood sure has embraced communism with open arms.
In a town where antiwar activism is hot, a militant icon is even hotter: "The Motorcycle Diaries," a saintly portrayal of Ernesto "Che" Guevara in his early days, executive produced by Robert Redford and the toast of the Sundance Film Festival, won the Oscar for best song. "Al Otro Lado del Rio" was sung onstage by Antonio Banderas, accompanied by Carlos Santana--clad in the ubiquitous Che T-shirt that has become the brand of wannabe suburban revolutionaries.
Now that "Motorcycle" has ridden into the awards sunset--ironically, considering the nature of communism, also picking up two Independent Spirit Awards--the sequel to Che canonization is on the horizon. Filming is scheduled to start later this year on "Che," a Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic") vehicle starring Benicio del Toro as the famed Marxist. The plot line as listed on the Internet Movie Database: "An epic about Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, who fought for the people."
Wait, there's more. IMDb lists another movie titled "Che" currently filming, written and directed by Josh Evans, son of Ali McGraw. If one can assume that Sonia Braga's "Celia" character is Guevara's mother, are we in store for another innocent, youthful portrayal of the guerrilla in "The Tricycle Diaries"?
Annoying as the Che adulation is, a recent comment by a 14-year-old on an online movie message board was truly disturbing: "I just saw The Motorcycle Diaries, which further made me question: Why is communism bad? . . . Young people are told how bad communism is, but we are not told why. . . . The Motorcycle Diaries showed me how Ernesto Guevara wanted to help people. . . . But this did not explain why he was such a 'bad' person and apparently deserved to be murdered by the U.S."
Is this a legacy of dangerous ignorance that the makers of "Che" wish to continue? Might this teen be taught that the product of Guevara and Castro's "revolution" is a nation whose inhabitants still risk their lives to escape--and an estimated one-third die trying? A nation where neighbor spies on neighbor, where dissent lands one in the clink--or worse--and persecution is punishment for everything from religion to homosexuality?
What feature films have showed the true nature of communism? There was "The Killing Fields," showing families torn apart, cities emptied, forced labor, bones littering the Cambodian landscape. Adding to the authenticity was its star, Oscar-winner and real-life survivor Haing S. Ngor, who would have been summarily executed had his intellectual background been discovered by the Khmer Rouge.
As a cinematic achievement, it ranks as one of the best films of all time. As a historical testament, it shows that communism had nothing to do with betterment of the masses but stripped away everything that comprised the individual. Though this film should be required high-school viewing, not much else springs to mind that could counter the effects of pro-Marxist cinema.
I'll bet the big studio execs have never thought--or cared--to do a big-screen adaptation of "The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression," by Stephane Courtois, et al. The book's 1997 publishing in France touched off a firestorm of controversy--mostly from offended French commies--and it stands as an astonishing comprehensive account of what this political ideology has wreaked on mankind in less than a century.
The film version of this 800-plus-page account would be excruciatingly long and painful--too long for a 32-ounce soda and too nauseating for popcorn. So since Hollywood is all about franchises now anyway, the book could be adapted into several movies, each covering a corner of the globe and that region's own unique suffering under communism.
How about a film on the Soviet Union, beginning with Lenin and the 1917 revolution, droning on to Stalin's purges with hundreds of thousands executed by firing squad, and millions forced from their homes or carted off to labor camps? We'd see Soviet bloc countries strangled under communist rule, Berlin divided with concrete and snipers, Nicolae Ceausescu destroying historic Bucharest. We'd see Soviet terror exported with the scorched-earth policy in Afghanistan.
Red China would make a stellar film that lacks a happy ending--for now. Viewers would see Mao Tse-tung turn the colorful Chinese culture into a gray, bleak "worker's paradise" steeped in hunger and executions. We'd see the Great Leap Forward to devastating famine, murder and destruction in Tibet, women forced to abort their children, and the blood of student demonstrators spilled on Tiananmen Square. Complete the Asian film series with the "re-education" by terror in North Vietnam, the Maoist insurgency in Nepal that has killed thousands, and the hellish nightmare that is North Korea.
Some brilliant young director would have to tackle Africa's woes under communism, such as the starvation in Ethiopia under Mengistu Haile Mariam. And we can't forget the Latin American films, highlighting Peru's Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorists. And, of course, add a stark motion picture on the fall of Cuba--to be directed by anyone but Oliver Stone--that, though bloody and tragic, can end on a slightly lighter note (and an ovation) with Fidel Castro's fall down the stairs last October.
It seems in all of these dark films there would be no room for heroes, but there are more than could fill the Kodak Theatre and its exclusive stage: the boat people who have courted death to flee from Cuba and Vietnam, Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement, Vaclav Havel and his cohorts in the Velvet Revolution, the Hungarian resistance fighters who valiantly tried to keep the Soviets at bay in 1956, those who tried to find any way across the Berlin Wall, a lone man who blocked a column of advancing tanks in Tiananmen Square during 1989's democracy protests.
Villains would include--you guessed it--Che Guevara, whose legacy includes both ordering and conducting executions and founding forced labor camps. "Guevara . . . quickly gain[ed] a reputation for ruthlessness; a child in his guerrilla unit who had stolen a little food was immediately shot without trial," writes Pascal Fontaine in "The Black Book."
Guevara also wrote in his diary about executing peasant Eutimio Guerra, a suspected informant, with a single .32-caliber shot to the head. Guevara, in his will, praised the "extremely useful hatred that turns men into effective, violent, merciless, and cold killing machines." He tried to spread the havoc caused by the Cuban revolution in other countries from Africa to South America, rallying for "two, three, many Vietnams!"
Guevara oversaw executions at La Cabana prison; some of those executed were his former comrades who wouldn't relinquish their democratic beliefs. "To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary," he said. He didn't assuage his barbarity by being a brilliant statesman, either, helping drive the economy to ruin as head of Cuba's central bank and minister of industries. "Though claiming to despise money," writes Fontaine, "he lived in one of the rich, private areas of Havana." Guevara told a British reporter after the Cuban Missile Crisis that the nukes would have been fired if they were under Cuban control--which would have wasted all of those future American suburban revolutionary wannabes.
Since "The Motorcycle Diaries" got an "R" rating for language, many teens missed out on the rosy, heroic portrayal of young Che saving a leper colony. But don't expect the MPAA judgment to get lighter for any of these proposed movies about the real toll of communism. The death count will surpass that of all "Rambo" flicks--nearly 100 million dead through the 20th century.
Yes, it would stretch the boundaries of Hollywood's tidy "R" rating. But being impaled by a Bolshevik isn't pretty.
Ms. Johnson is a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. Her blog is gopvixen.blogs.com
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