Using material from QUE VIVA MEXICO!

 (Sergei Eisenstein, Mexico/USA, 1933/194) 56 minutes


Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Producer: Marie Seton
Photography: Eduard Tisse
Editor: Marie Seton, Paul Burnford
nonprofessionals from various parts of Mexico

Reviews and notes

Eisenstein, who had long been fascinated by Mexico, then embarked on a disastrous project to direct a Mexican film. In the face of warnings from Ivor Montagu, he signed away all his rights to a Mexican picture in return for miscalculated finance raised by the radical American novelist Upton Sinclair and his wife, who appointed her irresponsible brother Hunter Kimbrough as production manager with access to the funds. In December 1930 Eisenstein, Tisse and Alexandrov took a train from Los Angeles to Mexico City.

As soon as the three Russians arrived, a cabled tirade from Pease [Major Frank Pease, a professional American patriot who had previosly circulated a 24-page document alleging Eisenstein's responsibility for every atrocity committed by the Bolsheviks] to the Mexican government had them arrested and jailed, but a Spanish ambassadorial friend of Eisenstein's secured their release and the authorities apologetically announced that Eisenstein was 'an honoured guest'. After three months' inactivity, Eisenstein, absorbed in the Mexican atmosphere, started shooting his project QUE VIVA MEXICO! (1931) and sent to Sinclair a film treatment and later an unfinished scenario. The theme was the living history of Mexico and its 'eternal circle' of death and birth. The structure evolved through sharply contrasting locations, with a prologue and epilogue elaborately framing four stories symbolizing different periods. Eisenstein used up 213,000 feet of film - footage he adored above everything else he ever shot - and sent it all to Sinclair in Hollywood to be processed.

He had managed to shoot all but one episode when Sinclair suddenly halted production - the result of his brother-in-law's misdemeanours. Sinclair refused to meet anyone who had been present and knew the facts of the case. He ended all further sponsorship of Eisenstein, who pleaded he could edit a film from the footage already shot. Eisenstein was told by Sinclair to return to Moscow where his rushes would be sent to him. None ever was. For twenty years Sinclair heaped abuse on Eisenstein and blame on the Soviet film authorities for the QUE VIVA MEXICO! catastrophe.
-Marie Seton, The Movie No. 122, Orbis, 1982.

After corresponding with Eisenstein, Seton was given access to all the footage not previously used [in three 1933 films produced by Sol Lesser]. From this she tried to reconstruct Eisenstein's conception, whose connecting theme, in her words, "was that of the eternal circle - the idea of the passing of one life and the birth of the next... I took the memory of what he had told me and attempted to reconstruct his dream in order that it might not be entirely lost." The film certainly had a wide critical success. The photography is impressive - especially in the final sequences showing the Indians attitude to death - but the construction is uneven and episodic and is surely only a pale shadow of what might have been.
-George Sadoul, Dictionary of Films, University of California Press, 1972.

Back to screening list

Home Page | Schedule | Membership