Jump to content
The Education Forum

Che Guevara and Ocean Press


Recommended Posts

For anyone interested -

James

***********************************

THE LAST ACTION HERO

The Ocean Press story:

How does a leftist Melbourne book publisher manage the lucrative legend of Che Guevara? In good conscience, writes Michael Dwyer. Melbourne Age, July 25, 2006

THERE are no fake action heroes in Cuba. The absence of commercial advertising means no Superman signage, no Wolverine-flogging cable TV, no Mr Incredible or Lightning McQueen luring your kids into a fast-food joint.

What billboards exist feature slogans of national pride and solidarity such as “Cuba podra probar que este mundo puede salvarse” (Cuba will be able to prove that this world can be saved), typically under the bearded faces of real-life action figures Fidel Castro or Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Only one of them grows older from one picture to the next. El Che, who was executed in Bolivia in 1967, remains forever young, handsome and charismatic, an image-maker’s dream.

Since the success of The Motorcycle Diaries in 2005, his star has once again gone global. But next year, the 40th anniversary of his death, his international billboard profile is likely to make Superman look like last year’s underpants.

In January, film director Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Oceans 11), began shooting a biopic titled Guerrilla, starring Oscar-winner Benicio del Toro, based on two books of Guevara’s memoirs.

Like The Motorcycle Diaries and 15 more volumes of the Argentinian revolutionary’s written works, the global rights belong to a North Melbourne publishing house, Ocean Press.

It’s an independent company with “a radical world view” and, with a million copies of Diaries sold last year alone, a pretty radical cash flow as well.

David Deutschmann, who founded Ocean with his partner, Deborah Shnookal, in 1989, acknowledges the ideological dilemma this presents.

“Ocean Press has a political heart and a political soul, I hope, but it’s still a business,” he says. “And despite ourselves — because we’re quite bad as business people — it’s been a success. Even before Che Guevara we were a moderate success. With Che, I’d say we’ve become quite a good success in Australian terms.”

How a Melbourne company came to manage the complete written works of Che Guevara is perhaps worth a screenplay in itself.

It could begin in front of a butcher’s shop near the corner of Elizabeth and Flinders streets in 1969, where a 14- year-old kid from Sunshine joined his first political protest to support the Gurindji land claim on the Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory.

With the election of Marxist Salvador Allende as Chilean president in 1970, Deutschmann’s interest in the politics of Latin America blossomed as he pursued various left-wing causes through high school and university.

After the CIA-sponsored coup of ’73, he became involved with political refugees from Chile who helped deepen his admiration for Guevara. It wasn’t until the early ’80s that Deutschmann made his first trip to Cuba at the request of a progressive American publisher for whom he was working in New York.

“I had an Australian passport, so I didn’t have the travel restrictions to Cuba that Americans are subject to,” he explains.

In 1987, he edited The Che Guevara Reader, which has since become the most authoritative anthology of Guevara’s work in the English language.

In the past 25 years he’s revisited Cuba dozens of times. He now owns a house there, and is due to return in mid-August at the invitation of Fidel Castro, to participate in the President’s 80th birthday celebrations.

“The first time I met Che’s widow, Aleida March, was about 10 years ago,” he says. “In 2000 we began to have serious discussions with her about one or two books. It was a gradual process of proving we were people she could trust, but also who could actually deliver.”

Today, Ocean Press services more than 2000 bookstores in the United States. It’s shifted 400,000 English copies and 45,000 Spanish copies of The Motorcycle Diaries there, and sold the translation rights to 39 other countries. The Italian deal alone accounts for $US1.5 million ($A2 million).

Aleida March’s motives for this arrangement are not financial. Deutschmann emphasises that the “significant proportion of money” flowing from Ocean Press goes to the Che Guevara Studies Centre in Cuba, a resource centre that “seeks to illuminate (the) cultural depth, political incisiveness, irony and passion” beyond the iconic T-shirt image.

“Che’s widow and four children live in Cuba, and they don’t see a cent,” he says. “They still drive old cars, and she lives in an old house with paint peeling off the ceiling. If she wanted to receive this money she could easily live quite differently, but she believes it should go to the studies centre, to social projects, to Cuba.”

Aleida March was herself a guerrilla fighter before the Cuban revolution, which is how she met Guevara in the late ’50s. That story will be part of Soderbergh’s film, Deutschmann says. He’s facilitated many meetings between March and the director since he sold the film rights for two books, Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War and The Bolivian Diary, for $US700,000, to Soderbergh last year.

As for Ocean’s share of all that filthy lucre, “that was one of the things we were losing sleep over”, Deutschmann says.

Four months ago, they established Ocean Sur, a company dedicated to publishing books from and for Latin America, at greatly subsidised prices.

Deutschmann has since spent most of his time setting up offices in Cuba and Venezuela. Branches in Chile, Colombia and Mexico will open in coming months.

Ocean Sur is publishing a new Spanish language title every week, with a strong emphasis on the politics of the region. There’s also Ocean Film, which specialises in making documentaries on Latin America with young filmmakers.

“I’m not on any campaign for Cuba,” Deutschmann says. “Obviously I support very strongly what they’ve tried to do these last almost 50 years, to create an alternative, but it’s by no means a paradise and by no means a model. Nevertheless it is, for the Third World and Latin America, an example of what you can do if you prioritise social concerns above others.

“What I feel most strongly about is that Cuba has the right to determine its own destiny.”

Only Hollywood, however, can determine the destiny of Che Guevara. For Puerto Rican star and producer Benicio del Toro, Guerrilla has been a labour of love for seven years — it was he who brought Soderbergh to the project while they were making Traffic together in 1999.

But the commercial imperatives of mainstream filmmaking are known to trade historical fact for popcorn sales on occasion. Is David Deutschmann concerned that Guevara could turn out to be next year’s Mr Incredible?

“I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to some nervousness, some hesitation,” he says.

“We’re still involved in the process of working on the script, but I personally have no veto over the script. Neither does Aleida March or Cuba. The film is Soderbergh’s. But we are involved in helping that team prepare the script, introducing them to people, clarifying historical details.

“I will say that Soderbergh insists on this being historically accurate. I think all the key people involved in the film have a real commitment to doing a really challenging, honest film about Che.”

Perhaps his personal entreaty from beyond the grave will be persuasive enough. In Guevara’s prologue to his Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War, he makes an open invitation for others to add to his recollections.

“I only ask,” he writes, “that such a narrator be a strictly truthful.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

“The first time I met Che’s widow, Aleida March, was about 10 years ago,” he says. “In 2000 we began to have serious discussions with her about one or two books. It was a gradual process of proving we were people she could trust, but also who could actually deliver.”

Today, Ocean Press services more than 2000 bookstores in the United States. It’s shifted 400,000 English copies and 45,000 Spanish copies of The Motorcycle Diaries there, and sold the translation rights to 39 other countries. The Italian deal alone accounts for $US1.5 million ($A2 million).

Aleida March’s motives for this arrangement are not financial. Deutschmann emphasises that the “significant proportion of money” flowing from Ocean Press goes to the Che Guevara Studies Centre in Cuba, a resource centre that “seeks to illuminate (the) cultural depth, political incisiveness, irony and passion” beyond the iconic T-shirt image.

“Che’s widow and four children live in Cuba, and they don’t see a cent,” he says. “They still drive old cars, and she lives in an old house with paint peeling off the ceiling. If she wanted to receive this money she could easily live quite differently, but she believes it should go to the studies centre, to social projects, to Cuba.”

Aleida March was herself a guerrilla fighter before the Cuban revolution, which is how she met Guevara in the late ’50s. That story will be part of Soderbergh’s film, Deutschmann says. He’s facilitated many meetings between March and the director since he sold the film rights for two books, Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War and The Bolivian Diary, for $US700,000, to Soderbergh last year.

Interesting article. Ocean Press also publish the work of the Cuban expert on the JFK assassination, Fabian Escalante.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1828086,00.html

This article appeared in yesterday's Guardian:

Is it over for Che as an icon?

Duncan Campbell

Tuesday July 25, 2006

The Guardian

When Prince Harry was photographed popping to the supermarket in Gloucestershire last weekend, his trousers still muddy from playing polo, he perhaps hadn't give much thought to his choice of a Che Guevara T-shirt. But does acceptance by the royal family affect Che's street credibility?

That famous photo of Che, taken by Alberto Korda, is one of the most reproduced images in history. The V&A in London is running a Guevara "revolutionary and icon" exhibition that demonstrates all the different ways in which the Argentinian's image has been used and abused since his death in Bolivia in 1967. The museum shop is selling items with the Che imprimatur and they include everything from lip balm to finger puppets, chocolate cigars to dolls, as well the more familiar badges and T-shirts.

But does any of this affect the iconic status of the man who fought in liberation struggles in Latin America and Africa? First of all, Che was famous for his sense of humour, and he would doubtless have been tickled that a European prince was wearing the face of a man who fought against privilege and class. Coming from a reasonably privileged background himself, he would have been sympathetic to the baggage Prince H has to carry.

In any case, the image remains almost as powerful today as it did before it became commodified. In Cuba, posters and paintings of "commandante, amigo" Che still adorn the streets of every town and his image remains more prominent than anyone else's on the island. This week, the Cuban and Venezuelan leaders, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, made a pilgrimage to his boyhood home in Alta Gracia, Argentina, while at a conference nearby. The crowd who watched the visit chanted that Che was still present in spirit.

There have been beers and boutiques named after him, films and books based on his life, and still the market for any item associated with the guerrilla who died before he was 40 is as strong as ever. The fact that countless capitalists have used that image to make money has done nothing to remove his magic. That iconic status looks as secure today as ever.

However, I think we can assume Harry has not changed his politics. See below:

post-7-1153893256_thumb.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting article. Ocean Press also publish the work of the Cuban expert on the JFK assassination, Fabian Escalante. (John Simkin)

John,

Ocean Press is a very interesting concern. The company also published Claudia Furiati's 'ZR Rifle: The Plot to Kill Kennedy and Castro'.

James

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I will say that Soderbergh insists on this being historically accurate. I think all the key people involved in the film have a real commitment to doing a really challenging, honest film about Che."

Perhaps his personal entreaty from beyond the grave will be persuasive enough. In Guevara's prologue to his Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War, he makes an open invitation for others to add to his recollections.

"I only ask", he writes, "that such a narrator be a strictly truthful."

he also relates the advice from someone that all a teller of these histories need to do in order to get the message across is to tell it like it is without embellishments. In so doing he follows a tradition among left wing historians.

............

The Ernesto 'Che' Guevara poster is from a photo of a funeral in 1960. (others at the funeral were J.P. Sartre and S. De Bouvoir)

The photographer himself was a big fan of Che' and seldom sought to invoke copyright, but rather supported the use of the image.

(photo alteration)

An irish artist rotated it slightly and enhanced the whites of his eyes to subtly change the expression.

Edited by John Dolva
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I will say that Soderbergh insists on this being historically accurate. I think all the key people involved in the film have a real commitment to doing a really challenging, honest film about Che."

Perhaps his personal entreaty from beyond the grave will be persuasive enough. In Guevara's prologue to his Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War, he makes an open invitation for others to add to his recollections.

"I only ask", he writes, "that such a narrator be a strictly truthful."

he also relates the advice from someone that all a teller of these histories need to do in order to get the message across is to tell it like it is without embellishments. In so doing he follows a tradition among left wing historians.

............

The Ernesto 'Che' Guevara poster is from a photo of a funeral in 1960. (others at the funeral were J.P. Sartre and S. De Bouvoir)

The photographer himself was a big fan of Che' and seldom sought to invoke copyright, but rather supported the use of the image.

(photo alteration)

An irish artist rotated it slightly and enhanced the whites of his eyes to subtly change the expression.

Che' was a trained Doctor MD. with no clients.

Fidel was an attorney, with no clients.

During the Revolution Castro forgave a former turncoat,

Che' had him executed.

Harry

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...