¡Que viva México!

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¡Que Viva México! - Da zdravstvuyet Meksika!
¡Que Viva Mexico!.jpg
Italian poster
Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein
Written by Sergei M. Eisenstein (original screenplay) and Grigori Aleksandrov (additional material)
Narrated by Sergei Bondarchuk
Distributed by Mosfilm
Release date(s) November 1979 (USA)
Running time 90 minutes
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian

¡Que viva México! (Russian: Да здравствует Мексика!) is a film project begun in 1930 by the Russian avant-garde director Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948). It would have been an episodic portrayal of Mexican culture and politics from pre-Conquest civilization to the Mexican revolution. Production was beset by difficulties and was eventually abandoned. Jay Leyda and Zina Voynow call it his "greatest film plan and his greatest personal tragedy".[1]

Overview[edit]

Eisenstein left for Mexico in December 1930—after various projects proposed by Charles Chaplin and Paramount Pictures fell through, and Paramount released him from his contract. The Mexican film was produced by Upton Sinclair and a small group of financiers recruited by his wife Mary Craig Kimbrough Sinclair, under a legal corporation these investors formed, the Mexican Film Trust. Their contract with Eisenstein called for a short, apolitical feature film about or involving Mexico, in a scenario to be designed and filmed by Eisenstein and his two compatriots, Grigori Alexandrov and Eduard Tisse. Other provisos of the contract, which Eisenstein signed on 24 November 1930, included that the film would be completed (including all post-production work) by April 1931, and would show or imply nothing that could be construed as insulting to or critical of post-Revolution Mexico (a condition imposed by the Mexican government before it would allow the three Soviets entry into their country). Filmed material was also to be subject to censorship by the Mexican government, at first after it was filmed and printed, later in 1931 during shooting via an on-site censor.

Eisenstein shot somewhere between 175,000 and 250,000 linear feet of film (30 to 50 hours) before the Mexican Film Trust stopped production, the Trust having run out of money and patience with Eisenstein's unwillingness/inability to complete the film expeditiously, and Eisenstein having received orders for his "speediest return" to the USSR from Soyuzkino, from which he had been absent since 1929. Although the original intent was for Eisenstein to proceed from Mexico to California and edit the film he had taken, he was not allowed to re-enter the United States by the Department of Immigration, nor later could any agreement be reached by the Trust with Soyuzkino which would have allowed the footage be sent to the USSR for completion by him there.

Through Sinclair, the Mexican Film Trust attempted to arouse interest from a major American motion picture concern to finish the film, but after months of failure to find among them anyone interested in the property, finally contracted with independent producer-distributor Sol Lesser to produce two short features and a short subject culled from the footage, Thunder Over Mexico, Eisenstein in Mexico, and Death Day all released in 1934.

Later, others, with the Trust's permission, attempted different versions, such as Marie Seton's Time in the Sun (1939). The title ¡Qué viva México!, originally proposed by Eisenstein in correspondence with Upton Sinclair during the last months of shooting, was first used for a version made by Grigori Alexandrov,[2] released in 1979, about a decade after the footage was sent to the USSR by the Museum of Modern Art in exchange for several Soviet films from the Gosfilmofond film archive. At least one other Russian-made version, "Mexican Fantasy", followed Alexandrov's, and another has been proposed during the first years of the 21st century.

The film was awarded with the Honorable Golden Prize at the 11th Moscow International Film Festival in 1979.[3]

Eisenstein and Mexico[edit]

In the early 20th century, many intellectuals and artists associated with the European avant garde were fascinated by Latin America in general, and by Mexico in particular: for the French artist and leader of the Surrealist movement André Breton, for instance, Mexico was almost the incarnation of Surrealism.[4] And as film historian David Bordwell notes, "like many Leftists, Eisenstein was impressed that Mexico has created a socialist revolution in 1910".[5] His fascination with the country dated back at least to 1921, when at the age of twenty-two "his artistic career started with a Mexican topic" as he put on a theatrical version of the Jack London story The Mexican in Moscow.[6] Film scholar Inga Karetnikova details this production as a classic example of avant-garde aesthetics, an exercise in form rather than documentary realism; but "indirectly", she argues, "he did recreate the Mexican atmosphere". Above all, he saw in the Mexican revolution an instance of a "zealous idealism" that was also "close to Eisenstein, just as it was to the entire generation of Soviet avant-garde of the early 1920s".[7]

Some years later, in 1927, Eisenstein had the opportunity to meet the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who was visiting Moscow for the celebrations of the Russian revolution's tenth anniversary. Rivera had seen Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin, and praised it by comparing it to his own work as a painter in the service of the Mexican revolution; he also "spoke obsessively of the Mexican artistic heritage", describing the wonders of Ancient Aztec and Mayan art and architecture.[8] The Russian director wrote that "the seed of interest in that country . . . nourished by the stories of Diego Rivera, when he visited the Soviet Union . . . grew into a burning desire to travel there".[9]

Plot summary[edit]

Original vision[edit]

There is no evidence that Eisenstein had any specific idea for a film about or set in Mexico before his actual arrival there in December 1930, although he began shooting almost immediately. The Sinclairs had made it clear that they were expecting Eisenstein to concentrate on visual imagery, and anything by way of a plot would be secondary: they were looking for an artistic travelogue. Furthermore, although the film was to have been completed by April 1931, it wasn't until about that time that Eisenstein even settled on the basic idea of a multi-part film, an anthology with each part focussed on a different subculture of the Mexican peoples. Only later still would this idea resolve itself into the concept of a six-part film encompassing the history of the nation, its people and its societal evolution to the present time. Specific details and the contents of each section, and how to connect them, would evolve further over the ensuing months while Eisenstein, Alexandrov and Tisse shot tens of thousands of feet of film. Toward the latter part of 1931, the film was finally structured, in Eisenstein's mind, to consist of four primary sections plus a brief prologue and epilogue.[10]

The modern theoretician Bordwell also claims that each episode would have its own distinct style, be "dedicated to a different Mexican artist", and would "also base itself on some primal element (stone, water, iron, fire, air)".[11] The soundtrack in each case would feature a different Mexican folk song.[12] Moreover, each episode would tell the story of a romantic couple; and "threading through all parts was the theme of life and death, culminating in the mockery of death".[11] If true, these details were never communicated to the Sinclairs, who simply found themselves with recurring requests for additional funding as Eisenstein's vision expanded, with no attempt by Eisenstein to respect the economic realities involved in making such an epic work and the financial and emotional limitations of his producers, his contract obligations, and his inability or unwillingness to cogently communicate to them before acquiring permission to proceed away from those contract obligations. This was the ultimate legacy of the film and would be repeated in the similarly aborted Soviet Eisenstein project, Bezhin Meadow.

Alexandrov's construction[edit]

In Alexandrov's 1979 version, which attempts to be as faithful as possible to Eisenstein's original vision, the film unfolds as follows:

Prologue

Set in the time of the Maya civilization in Yucatán.

Sandunga

Life including marriage and motherhood in Tehuantepec. It follows the courtship involving a golden necklace as a dowry, and eventual marriage, of a Concepción and Abundio.[13]

Fiesta

This part depicts the celebration of the Holy Virgin of Guadalupe, and then bullfighting in the Spanish colonial era (played by real-life bullfighter David Liceaga Maciel and his younger brother). There is a brief pause between this episode and the following one.[14]

Maguey

About the pulque industry under the rule of Porfirio Díaz. It follows a tragic romance between peon Sebastian and his bride Maria. Maria is held captive and abused by Sebastian's boss, an hacendado, at which point Sebastian and his fellow workmen devise revenge. They are eventually chased, shot down and those captured are buried in the sand and trampled by riders. Maria breaks free and holds Sebastian's dead body to her.[15] Eisenstein repeatedly told Sinclair that the tale told in this episode would be threaded through the entire six-part picture, while contradictorily describing it as a separate intact episode in other correspondence.

Soldadera

Story of the Mexican revolution as seen through the experiences of the woman soldiers who followed and fought with their men. No material for his episode was filmed, so it is the shortest and is constructed out of still photographs only.[16]

Epilogue

Showing Mexico at the time of filming, and the celebration of the Day of the Dead. Evidence indicates that Eisenstein secretly planned to compose this segment of satirical shots of fat priests, pompous generalissimos, girl scouts and football players, at least for the version to be shown in the U.S.S.R.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Leyda & Voynow 1982, p. 61
  2. ^ Bordwell 1993, p. 287
  3. ^ "11th Moscow International Film Festival (1979)". MIFF. Retrieved 2013-01-20. 
  4. ^ Castleberry, May, "America Fantastica: Art, Literature, and the Surrealist Legacy in Experimental Publishing, 1938–1968", MoMa: The Museum of Modern Art, retrieved 2008-05-10 
  5. ^ Bordwell 1993, p. 19
  6. ^ Karetnikova 1991, p. 5. Ronald Bergan states that Eisenstein was merely the set designer, and dates the production to 1922, but equally emphasizes that Mexico had "gripped [Eisenstein's] imagination" ever since his involvement with this play (Bergan 1997, p. 217).
  7. ^ Karetnikova 1991, pp. 5, 6
  8. ^ Karetnikova 1991, pp. 8–9
  9. ^ Qtd. in Karetnikova 1991, p. 10
  10. ^ Geduld.
  11. ^ a b Bordwell 1993, pp. 203
  12. ^ Eisenstein 1972, p. 28
  13. ^ Eisenstein 1972, p. 35
  14. ^ Eisenstein 1972, p. 69
  15. ^ Eisenstein 1972, p. 47
  16. ^ Eisenstein 1972, p. 78

References[edit]

  • Bergan, Ronald (1997), Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict, London: Little, Brown, ISBN 0-316-87708-5 .
  • Bordwell, David (1993), The Cinema of Eisenstein, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-13138-5 .
  • Eisenstein, Sergei (1972), Que Viva Mexico!, New York: Arno, ISBN 978-0-405-03916-4 .
  • Geduld, Harry M.; Gottesman, Ronald, eds. (1970), Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making & Unmaking of Que Viva Mexico!, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, ISBN 978-0-253-18050-6 . Composed of correspondence from the files of Upton Sinclair, including letters, telegrams contracts and other documents to and from Eisenstein, Kimbrough, the Amkino Corp., Stalin and others.
  • Karetnikova, Inga (1991), Mexico According to Eisenstein, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, ISBN 0-8263-1257-8 . In collaboration with Leon Steinmetz.
  • Leyda, Jay (1960), Kino: A History Of The Russian And Soviet Film, New York: Macmillan, OCLC 1683826 .
  • Leyda, Jay; Voynow, Zina (1982), Eisenstein At Work, New York: Pantheon, ISBN 978-0-394-74812-2 .
  • Salazkina, Masha (2009), In Excess: Sergei Eisenstein's Mexico, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-73414-9 .
  • Seton, Marie (1952), Sergei M. Eisenstein: A Biography, New York: A.A. Wyn, OCLC 2935257 .

External links[edit]