Saturday, 30 October 2010

Que viva México! - Eisenstein

One of the greatest filmed sequences depicting the Mexican Day of The Dead was made by Eisenstein.

You can read the influence that Eisenstein may have had on Lowry at my good friend Chris Ackerley's Companion to Under The Volcano

Qué viva México! (Russian: Да здравствует Мексика!) is a film project begun by the Russian avant-garde director Sergei Eisenstein. 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".

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 lineal feet of film (30 to 50 hours) before, for a variety of reasons, the Mexican Film Trust stopped production, and still was not completed as planned by Eisenstein. Again for several reasons, Eisenstein was not allowed to return to the United States to construct a finished film, nor could the footage be sent to the USSR for completion by him there. The Mexican Film Trust had two short features and a short subject culled from the footage and in release during 1934. (Thunder Over Mexico, Eisenstein in Mexico, Death Day) and others, with the Trust's permission, have attempted different versions (e.g. Marie Seton's Time in the Sun). The title ¡Qué viva México!, originally was proposed by Eisenstein in correspondence with Upton Sinclair during the last months of shooting, but was first used for a version made by Grigori Alexandrov., 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 archive. At least one other version followed Alexandrov's, and another has been proposed during the first years of the 21st century. Read more on Wikipedia

The BBC also used the Day Of The Dead sequences out Que viva México! for their little seen documentary on Lowry called Rough Passage made in the late 60's. The documentary was shown at the Lowry Lounge last night and a report on the evening will be posted in the near future.

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