Following the eruption of racial violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the 1943 US War Department film, Don’t Be a Sucker, went viral, suggesting that news outlets and social media users found its message to be newly relevant. Don’t Be a Sucker, which warns Americans of the perils of falling for divisive fascist rhetoric, was one of countless films, radio broadcasts, and television specials produced by governmental and civic organizations during the mid-twentieth century.
One of the most significant aspects of the wave of protests and uprisings that began in Syria in 2011 was the use of the cell phone camera as a tool of documentation, political activism, and creative expression. With professional journalists and major news networks barred from entering the country, Syrian citizens took it upon themselves to record their own protests as well as the violent reactions they provoked from members and supporters of the Assad regime. In the first few months of protests (March–June 2011), these recordings were virtually the only images coming out of Syria. Gradually, however, exiled political activists smuggled cell phones, cameras, and laptops into Syria with the specific aim of documenting protests and violence.
It’s four decades now since those pretzel-logic days of possibility, transformation, rage, confusion, and defeat—and increasingly as they’re returned to us, it’s in the form that documentary currently prefers to dab at history: the immense flow of available news footage intercut with middle-aged talking heads placing themselves in careful safe accord with what all speaking take to be the story.
The two parts of Che are doomed to be shown separately after the initial “Special Roadshow” opening, but they rightly comprise one movie. This is not to suggest that Soderbergh is experimenting with temporal aesthetics; he lives on Hollywood time, and at four hours plus, Che isn’t visionary, it’s long.